Most of the characters herein belong to Renaissance Pictures, MCA/Universal, Studios USA, Flat Earth Productions, and any other individuals or entities who have an ownership interest in the television program Xena: Warrior Princess. This story was not written for profit and no copyright infringements are intended. In my world, the Xenaverse intersects with the Buffyverse in a character Ive created named Kallerine, who bears a striking resemblance to Sarah Michelle Gellar. No copyright infringements intended toward the owners of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, either.
Violence: This is Xena were talking about here. She doesnt use that chakram to file her nails. Nuff said.
Subtext/Maintext: PG-13, nothing too graphic here, but if two women being in love rocks your world, too bad for you. Move on to something you can handle.
Questions/Comments/Suggestions welcome: email@example.com
Setting: Gabrielle and Xena are living together in the Amazon village. Gabrielle is queen and Xena is her champion/consort. This story falls sequentially after my first story, "March the 16th." Ive taken some liberties with history here, but then so does the show.
A SOLSTICE TREATY
By Texbard a/k/a Texbard
For a divine seed, the crown of destiny,
Is hidden and sown on an ancient, fertile plain
You hold the title to.
- from "In a Tree House," The Subject Tonight is Love - 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, versions by Daniel Ladinsky, copyright 1996, Pumpkin House Press, PumpkinH@aol.com.
"Gods be damned!" Xenas heart pounded as she sat up in bed, untangling Gabrielles legs from her own as another loud knock on the front door startled her from her warm comfortable nest. She had finally fallen back asleep, and judging from the position of the moon and stars out the window she had probably slept all of three-quarters of a candle mark since Eponin and Amarice had left to find Kallerine.
Grumpily, she began to crawl over the bard again when Gabrielle pulled her down, curling back around her and slipping a small hand inside her sleep shirt. "No. Make em go away, Xena. Its all nice and warm here. Stay." The bard mumbled as she drew teasing fingers back and forth against the warriors ribs.
Xena growled, leaning into her partner, momentarily forgetting the door until the knock resounded again. Up warrior. She chided herself and gently pushed Gabrielle away and then rolled on top of her, kissing her briefly before she sat up.
"Shhhh. Maybe if were really quiet theyll think were not home." The bard tugged at the ends of the warriors hair.
Xena laughed. "Youre obviously not all with me." She leaned over her soulmate, kissing her effectively and enjoying the little whimper that emerged from the bards throat. "Sorry, love. gotta go see whats wrong now. Be right back."
"Poooey. Youre no fun." Gabrielle pouted and snuggled up with her pillow, having not opened her eyes during the entire exchange.
The warrior shook her head in amusement and swung her legs over the edge of the bed, hearing satisfying cracks as she stood up and both ankles shifted into alignment. She tugged the bottom of her sleep shirt down and made her way into the sitting room. "Pony?" Xena opened the door and blinked, peering out at the weapons master.
"Yeah. Its me. We found Kallerine on the trail right outside the village. She was on her way back here."
"Shes fine . . ."
"And you woke me up to tell me this because . . .?" The warrior tapped one toe impatiently, crossing her arms over her chest.
Eponin shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "Its Gabrielles father. Hes been captured by four strange Amazons and theyve made camp about three candle marks travel north of here."
"Oh. Come in. Where is Kallerine, anyway?" Xena held the door open until Pony passed through, and closed it softly behind her, hoping Gabrielle had fallen back asleep and wouldnt hear them talking about her father until she could get details. She cocked her head and with relief, heard the bards soft snoring.
"Shes in Amarices hut. Xena, theres more. She . . . um . . . found her sister."
"Her sister? Lila? Amazons captured Lila?!" Xenas brows shot up into her hairline.
"No no no. Not Gabrielles sister. Kallerine found her sister."
"Kallerines sister? But I thought . . ."
The warrior searched her sleep-fogged brain and her eyes grew wide. Her sister. "So, is she a bacchae?"
"Apparently so. Kallerines pretty shook up. She somehow managed to get her sister tied up and left her in a cave a little ways north of here. She kept mumbling something about bats and sunlight."
"What about Herodotus? Is he okay?" Xenas forehead furrowed, trying to solve two problems at once.
Eponin drew one leg up, resting her foot on the edge of the chair and wrapping her arms around her knee. "She said he seemed fine. Said they have him tied up but it doesnt look like they intend to hurt him."
"Hmmmm." The warrior stood up and peered out the window. She studied the star patterns more closely. "Weve got about four candle marks, maybe a little more, before dawn."
"What should we do?" The weapons master looked up at her friend, confident that Xena had probably already figured out what to do about both Kama and Herodotus.
The warriors stomach growled, unheard by Eponin, but reminding Xena that she had only eaten a small bowl of soup and a piece of bread since breakfast the previous morning. Cant travel without fuel. "Pony. Go over to the dining hall and grab us something to eat."
"I need to talk to Gabrielle for a minute and then I need to get a little food in my stomach. After that you and I and Kallerine are going to ride back out and rescue Gabrielles father. Itll be faster on horseback, and then well go take a look at her sister. I want to get to Herodotus before they break camp and move on."
"Okay. Ill be back in a minute." Eponin stood up and exited the hut while Xena went back into the bedroom.
The warrior knelt down next to the bed and gently shook her sleeping partner. "Gabrielle."
The bard rolled over on her side and opened her eyes, to find two pale blue ones inches from her own. She smiled dreamily. "Hey." As she slowly gained full consciousness, she noted the serious look on her partners face and frowned. "Xena, whats wrong?"
The warrior idly stroked the bards arm. "Gabrielle, its your father. Hes been captured by some Amazons and I need to ride out to rescue him. Ill probably be gone until sometime mid-morning. Its about three or four candle marks round trip on horseback between here and where theyre holding him."
"Amazons took my father? My Amazons?" The bards eyes grew wide and she sat halfway up.
"No. Some more that we dont know." The warrior continued the light movement against her partners skin, gentling her.
"Is he alright?" Gabrielle grabbed the hand on her arm.
"I think so." Xena squeezed the small hand. "Kallerine saw him and said he seems to be fine. Im almost certain this is probably tied in with everything else thats happened around here, and I want to get there before morning and they start moving again."
Gabrielle sat completely up and placed her feet on the floor, resting one hand on Xenas shoulder while she slowly stood up. "Im coming with you."
The warrior stood up with her, resting her hands on the bards hips. "No. Youve been sick. I dont want you doing anything to jeopardize your health. I can get Amarice to stay here with you, but youre not going."
"Xena. Its my father. I have to go." The bards eyes pleaded with her tall soulmate.
The warrior detected the familiar stubborn tone in her partners voice, along with the tense clenching of her jaw, and sighed. "Gabrielle. Less than twenty-four hours ago you were puking your guts up. I dont think youre ready for an extended horseback ride."
"Xena. Please. My stomach feels fine. I still feel weak, but I think Ill be okay as long as Im riding. I drank three full flasks of water yesterday. Please. I have to go." Her voice was a bare whisper.
The warrior read the pleading look in her partners eyes and felt her defenses crumble. Gods Im such a sucker. Youre whipped, warrior. By one pint-sized bard. "Okay. But Amarice comes with us too, and if you start feeling bad at all you have to tell me. Promise?"
Gabrielle waged a brief internal war and let out an exasperated breath. "Okay. Promise."
"If you do start feeling bad, Ill leave Amarice behind to stay with you while we go on. I know you want to help save your father, but I think hes fine, really. Kallerine says hes not hurt, and I have a feeling if they were going to hurt him they already would have." Xena thought for a moment. "One more condition."
The bard rolled her eyes. "What?"
"I just sent Pony to get some food. You have to eat some of it and keep it down. We should know by the time we reach the edge of the village if youre going to be able to or not. If not, back to bed with you, no argument, got me?" Stern blue eyes met green ones without wavering.
Gabrielle blinked. "Oh okay." She poked out her lower lip and moved over to the dresser, pulling out her old green cropped top and brown short skirt to wear for the trip.
The mostly silent group had been riding for half a candlemark on the narrow trail, bathed in bright silvery moonlight. Kallerine had briefly filled Xena in on everything concerning Herodotus and how she found her sister. Warrior and bard rode side by side at the front, Kallerine and Amarice were behind them, and Eponin brought up the rear. Argo and Star were glad for the early morning journey, having spent far too much time in the stable since their owners had moved to the Amazon village. The two horses pranced and touched noses, wanting to go faster.
Gabrielle had shoved down a few rounds of nausea, hoping Xena didnt notice. So far though, the soft rolls and apple shed consumed had stayed down. She felt her tongue cleave and another wave washed over her. She took several deep breaths, wiping her hand across her forehead as a light sheen of sweat broke out. She was glad it was dark. As the nausea subsided, she shuddered and lifted her waterskin, about to drink when she felt the warrior watching her. She turned and regarded her stern-faced partner. "What?"
"Thats the third time youve had to fight that off." Xena nudged Argo closer to Star.
"Fight what off?" Innocent green eyes looked back at her.
"You know good and well what." Xena placed one hand on her hip. "Gabrie-ellllle . . ."
"You only said I had to keep it down. You didnt say I had to enjoy it." Gabrielle took a sip of the water and then stuck her tongue out at her partner.
The warrior chuckled and handed her own water skin across. "Here. Drink from mine."
"Why?" The bard shrugged and hooked her waterskin back over Stars saddle horn, reaching for Xenas. She took a tentative sip and smiled. "You put ginger in there."
"Yeah. Helps with an upset stomach. Figured you might need it."
"Thank you." Gabrielle took several more sips before handing it back to the warrior.
"Anytime." Xena reached across and rested one hand on her soulmates thigh, gently caressing the soft skin covering firm muscles. She smiled as a small hand covered hers and frowned when she realized the hand was trembling. She interlaced her fingers with the bards. "Hey. Whats wrong?"
"My father. Hes really going to hate Amazons after this. Xena, what if they hurt him?" Gabrielle looked across at her partner with a troubled expression.
Xena lifted the bards hand and kissed it before resting their hands back on her partners leg. "Im not gonna let that happen, love. And Kallerine is right, if they wanted to hurt him they would have. Theyre holding him unharmed for a reason. We just need to get in there and get him away from them, and then I plan on finding out why they took him."
"Youre right. Poor Kallerine. What are we going to do about her sister?" Gabrielle briefly glanced back at the silent brooding slayer.
"That part I havent completely worked out yet. Bacchus is dead, so Im a little confused as to why there are still bacchae. And Im not quite sure what we need to do to turn her back into a mortal. The rules have changed and no one gave me a copy of the new play book." But I think I know where to find out. She added silently.
"If itll help, Ill be glad to bite you on the neck again like last time." A mischievous grin crossed Gabrielles face.
The warrior returned the grin. "Tcchh. If it takes saving a bacchae to get you to bite my neck, I may need to go find a whole cave full of em."
The bard giggled and lifted up Xenas hand from her thigh, gently nipping at the warriors long fingers, before she kissed them and then returned the hand to her leg, once again wrapping her own hand back around it. "Later. I think I might need to practice my bacchae-saving technique."
"Is that a promise?" The warrior waggled one eyebrow.
"Xena." Kallerine pulled up on her other side. "Sorry to interrupt. See that cave over there?" The slayer pointed toward a small opening in the side of the rocky ridge.
"Yeah. Is that where you left your sister?"
"Yes. Can we check on her real quick before we go on?" Anxious brown eyes peered across the shadowy landscape toward the small cavern.
"Tell ya what." The warrior half-turned in the saddle, the well-oiled leather creaking with the movement. "Amarice, pull up closer." She motioned toward the Amazon.
The tall redhead complied, guiding her sleek bay gelding in behind Star. Star lightly flicked her tail in the other horses face, causing him to nip at the Appaloosas flank, which resulted in a quick warning kick from the mare.
"Whoa there." Gabrielle rode a few paces ahead, reaching out with one hand to pet Star on the side of the neck in an effort to calm her down. "Gods Xena, she sure is jittery tonight."
"We need to get her back into the practice ring for some more training as soon as youre up to it." The warrior turned back toward Amarice. "You and Kallerine stay here and guard the cave opening. Pony, Gabrielle, and I will go rescue Herodotus and take his captors into custody, and then meet back up with you."
"But there are four of them." Amarice eyed the warrior with some trepidation.
"And your point is?" Xena tilted her head at the girl.
"Oh. Right." This is the Destroyer of Nations. What are a few measly Amazons after fighting entire wars? "Come on Kallerine."
The two younger Amazons stopped their horses and dismounted, leading them off the path through the dark underbrush toward the cave.
"Think theyll be alright?" The bard watched as the two figures grew smaller.
"I think Kallerine is so worried about her sister right now that she might get herself hurt if we end up having to fight to free your father." Xena stood up in the stirrups, giving her rear end a brief rest before she settled back down into the soft fur that covered Argos saddle. "I dont want her to get distracted and make a mistake."
"Good point." The bard side-stepped Star next to Argo. "Hey, hand over that ginger water."
The warrior cocked an eyebrow and lifted the water skin from its hook, handing it across. "Feeling puny again?"
"No. Just not taking any chances. If you get into a fight in a little while, you may need me." Gabrielle took several long sips.
Xenas face softened and the intense blue eyes reflected deep adoration. "I always need you."
The bard merely grinned, handing the water skin back across and allowing her fingers to brush sensually across her partners during the exchange. She bit off a chuckle as she watched Xena suck in a short breath. Later, warrior. I promise.
They left the horses tied to some low trees a few hundred meters from the Amazon camp, around a bend in the trail out of sight. Xenas keen nose and ears detected the smell and sound of the crackling campfire ahead of them long before they were close enough to see it. The moon had set leaving the landscape in relative darkness, which afforded them a longer time to walk toward the camp before they were forced to drop to their hands and knees and creep up for the last several meters, the rough rocky soil digging into their hands and knees.
The warrior stopped and held a hand up, indicating Gabrielle and Eponin should stop and wait for her. She closed the distance between her and the ring of brush and trees that enclosed the camp, and peered up and through a break in the cedar bushes, getting the layout of the site. Two Amazons were asleep on their bedrolls near the fire while one sat further away, her back propped against a tree with a sword laying across her lap. The fourth one sat near Herodotus, leaning against a large boulder, but apparently asleep, her head tilted severely to one side toward her shoulder. The bards father also appeared to be sleeping, his chin resting against his chest and the sound of deep nasally breathing carrying across to where Xena was crouched down.
She backed away to where Eponin and Gabrielle waited for her and rested her arms on both womens shoulders, inclining her head inward so they could hear her whisper. "Okay. Heres what we need to do. Pony, you take the one sitting at guard against the tree. Shes the furthest away from us on the other side of the fire. Gabrielle, you sneak in behind your father and get him untied. If you have to, use your boot dagger to cut the ties, but you need to put a hand over his mouth before you start so he wont make any noise when he wakes up. Ill take the two sleeping by the fire. Get in position and then wait for my signal before you start. Everything clear?" Pale blue eyes gone almost silver in the inky darkness questioned them.
The weapons master and the bard nodded mutely and crawled cautiously around the perimeter of the campsite in opposite directions, while Xena quietly made her way directly ahead through the bushes. She listened intently and watched until she saw both Gabrielle and Eponin slip into their appointed places. They watched her and waited until they heard Xena's faint bird call, signaling for them to begin their tasks.
Gabrielle slid one hand around to cover her fathers mouth and he immediately sucked in a surprised breath. "Shhhh." The bard whispered. "Father its me, Gabrielle. Be quiet while I get you untied." She briefly tugged at the knots in the medium-grade hemp twine that bound Herodotus hands before she gave up and reached down for her boot dagger. She pulled it out and flipped it around, slipping it between the rope and the tree trunk, and cut the bindings with one swift flick of her wrist. Just as she dropped the dagger back into her boot, Herodotus tried to stand up and staggered on legs which were quite stiff from being in the same position for too long, falling into the Amazon who was supposed to be guarding him and waking her up.
"Hey!" The tall stranger leaped to her feet. "Wake up!" She yelled to her companions. "Prisoners escaping!"
Damn damn damn. Gabrielle cursed inwardly and jumped up, grabbing her sais from their loops on the outsides of her boots and running around the tree, placing herself between the Amazon and her father. Simultaneously, the camp erupted with activity as all the Amazons woke up and began engaging their various opponents in hand-to-hand combat. The bard found herself fighting with another Amazon who had thick long blonde hair and was roughly a head taller than herself and quite a bit heavier, who was armed with a sword almost as large as Xenas. She began a defensive round of parlays, effectively fending off the other womans sword, but having a hard time getting inside the girls defenses. She felt a wave of nausea and bit her inner lip until she tasted blood, willing the feeling to go away.
The Amazon who had been sitting against the far tree quickly stood up and was about to move toward the fire ring where she saw Xena leaning over her friends, when she heard Eponin step in behind her. She quickly spun around, lifting her sword, and made a quick side swipe that Pony ducked. The weapons master went down to one knee and made a series of upward strokes against the other Amazons sword, fighting her back until Eponin could regain her feet. Once she was up again, they began a rapid exchange of almost equally-matched sword strokes, and the hiss of metal sliding against metal permeated the dark early morning air, small sparks flying in the darkness on some of the harder strokes.
Xena was just about to grab hold of a sleeping Amazon when the noise of Herodotus fall caught her attention and distracted her eyes away from the girl she was kneeling over. Unfortunately for the warrior, the young Amazon woke up and nailed her with a savage upper cut to the jaw which snapped Xenas head back and sent her sprawling backward. She recovered into a backward roll and came up on her feet, drawing her sword and shaking her head to clear the stars she was still seeing from the power of the punch, working her jaw and wincing in pain as it popped into place.
As her vision cleared, she found herself being approached by two armed Amazons, one wielding a sword and one spinning a staff expertly from fist to fist. The warrior grinned evilly and laughed. "Come on ladies. Do you want to play?" She laughed again and twirled her sword, relishing the familiar feel of the well-worn and polished hilt in her hand, and holding out the other hand, extending her long fingers, beckoning them forward.
The Amazon with the sword attacked her from the front while the one with the staff moved in behind her. With skills honed from years of battlefield sparring, Xena instinctively met the sword stroke for stroke, while she followed the staff in her peripheral vision, pushing it away with a series of side and back kicks, occasionally ducking the other womans sword and switching hands with her own sword, using it to first fend off the staff and then quickly switching back to meet the other sword. At one point she threw her sword high into the air and turned, grabbing hold of the staff with both hands and flipping up and over the Amazon that held it, using the momentum to in turn flip the Amazon over her head and dumping her on her back and jerking the staff out of her hands.
She tossed the staff to the ground and caught her sword, just as it fell from the sky where she had thrown it, and with one savage swipe, disarmed the sword-bearing Amazon, sending her weapon skittering across the campsite. The surprised girl looked up into wicked blue eyes that taunted her. It was the last thing she saw before Xena back-handed her, rendering her unconscious.
In the heat of the moment, the warrior didnt hear the other Amazon get up and retrieve her staff, but Herodotus saw her a she stood and brushed herself off before starting back in Xenas direction. The older man grabbed a rock from the ground and moved toward the Amazon, thinking to fight her. With one hard blow, she brought the staff down against his wrist, knocking the rock from his hand, and eliciting a yelp of pain from his parched throat.
As Xena turned, the Amazon had the staff raised high in the air, preparing to bring it down on Herodotus head. The warrior lurched forward, propelling herself against her partners father, pushing him out of the way and then turning with sword in hand to meet the staff. She never executed the move, as in his confusion Herodotus tugged at her sword arm to re-gain his balance. Xena half-turned, trying to free her arm from his grasp. Too late. As the arm pulled free the staff slammed against the warriors skull with a loud crack. The world went black as Xena hit the ground with a loud thud.
"Xena!" Gabrielle watched over the shoulder of her opponent, as the Amazon with the staff raised it again, thinking to finish off the warrior. A rush of adrenalin coursed through the bards veins and she kicked her opponent with a powerful leg, sending her flying against the boulder behind her. Gabrielle drew back one arm and with swift precision, sent a sai sailing through the air in tight circles, planting it into the shoulder of the Amazon with the staff.
The Amazon shrieked and fell to her knees, dropping her staff and rolling over onto her side, crying out in pain. The bard lunged forward toward her opponent, who was starting to push up from the boulder where she had landed. Gabrielle quickly moved inside the girls defenses, forcing her to stay on her knees, and held the sharp point of her other sai against the tall blondes throat. "Im Gabrielle, queen of the Amazons. Yield to me, now!"
The blonde looked up with wide brown eyes. "Youre Queen Gabrielle?"
"Yes." The bards jaw twitched in anger.
"You look too small to be the queen." The girl mocked the young queen and looked up to meet crystal green eyes that shone coldly in the firelight. Uh oh. The tall blonde realized her mistake.
"Sometimes looks can be deceiving." She pressed the sai point more firmly against the girls pale smooth skin, a hairs-breadth away from drawing blood. "Why in the name of Artemis did you kidnap my father?"
"We took him into protective custody, my queen." The girl lowered her eyes. "I yield to you."
"Pro . . . protective custody?!" By the gods I dont have the patience for this right now. Worry clenched in her gut as Gabrielle turned her head toward the center of the camp where her soulmate lay on the ground, not moving.
Eponin had managed to disarm her opponent, a short stocky Amazon with jet-black spiked hair. The weapons master quickly pushed the shorter girl onto her stomach, binding her arms behind her back. She then rushed over to Gabrielles side. "My queen. Ill take care of this one if youll see to Xena."
"Thanks, Pony." The bard briefly touched a hand against the weapons masters arm before she rushed over to her partners still form. Kneeling down, she rested her fingers softly against the warriors cheek. "Xena?"
"Xena, come on now. Wake up." Gabrielle felt something sticky against her fingers and turned Xenas face. An ugly gash over the warriors temple was slowly oozing blood, which was matting in her hair and trickled down the side of her face. Oh gods. "Pony. Go back to Argo and get Xenas healers kit. Quick!"
"Yes my queen." The weapons master took off at a run down the trail and around the bend.
"Ohhhhhh." The Amazon with the staff moaned and rolled onto her back, clutching her upper arm where the sai had been embedded. "I think my arm is broken."
"Shut up." Gabrielle growled.
"But you have to help me." The girl whined and sniffled, as tears ran down her face, which was half-obscured by long straight brown hair.
"I said, shut up! As queen, I have the power to decide what we are going to do with you once we get you back to our village. Im not in a very good mood right now, and the less you say, the more likely I am to not order you executed." The bards furious eyes quickly swept over the girl, effectively limiting her to mere whimpers.
Herodotus stood off to the side, silently rubbing his wrist where the Amazon staff had struck him, and watching as his daughter tried to get the warrior to wake up. He took a deep breath and stepped forward into the light of the campfire, and sat down on the ground next to his eldest offspring. "Gabrielle, Im sorry. Im afraid she took that blow for me."
"I know." The bards tone was sharp. "Thats the kind of person she is. Always putting herself in harms way for someone else. Usually me." She scooted around, sitting cross-legged and pulling Xenas head into her lap, gently stroking the side of the warriors head that wasnt injured. "Xena. Sweetheart, please wake up."
The warrior remained silent, her breathing shallow. Gabrielle felt tears sting her eyes and she drew in a long shaky breath as they began to fall down her face, dripping off the end of her nose and landing on Xenas forehead. The bard closed her eyes, remembering another day and another trail of blood down the warriors face, and a cold lonely trek up a snow-covered mountain that ended in ultimate heartbreak. Artemis. Help her. Please.
"Hey." A deep hoarse voice rasped. "Ow. What hit me?"
The bards eyes flew open and looked down. Artemis, if you woke her up, thank you. Ill bring an offering to your temple later.
Xenas own eyelids fluttered and slowly blinked open, just as one last tear trickled off the bards chin onto the warriors face. "You trying the Chin water torture on me?" The warrior reached up and rested one hand against the bards lower leg under her head, curling her fingers against the muscular calf.
"Thank the gods." The bard laughed through her tears. "Honey, be still. You got hit on the head with a staff. Ponys gone to get your healers kit."
"Staff?" A quizzical expression crossed the warriors face and her brow furrowed. "Ow. That hurts." She touched the side of her head with her other hand. "Hey. Im bleeding."
"Yeah. But its not flowing very fast." The bard gently wiped some of the blood off Xenas upper jaw.
"Gonna need stitches, huh?" The warriors lips twisted ruefully.
"Afraid so, sweetheart." Gabrielle tenderly stroked a high cheek bone, feeling the somewhat clammy skin against her fingers. "Ill try to be gentle."
"You always are. Sailor." This brought a slight blush to the bards face, visible in the warm firelight, and the warrior managed a small smile before she closed her eyes again. Xena concentrated, trying to get her bearings and remember what happened. The eyes opened again and looked up. "Your father? He okay?"
"Im right here, Xena." Herodotus had watched the entire exchange, gaining a bit more insight into the complicated relationship his daughter had with the dark warrior. Any remaining doubt that they were in love was completely dispelled. Sailor? Whats that all about? Maybe I dont want to know. He leaned in so that his face was in the warriors line of sight. "Im fine. Um . . . thank you."
"For what?" The warrior turned her head to look at him. "Ouch."
"Xena, dont move around." Gabrielle gently pushed her face back toward the sky. "Fathers thanking you because you got between him and the staff that hit you."
"Oh. No problem." The warrior coughed, spitting out some blood. She reached up and touched her jaw. "Got nailed there too, with a fist. Musta bit my tongue or something."
The bard leaned over, peering at her partners jawline. "Um. Yeah. Youre gonna have a nice bruise there by daylight, I think."
"Right here love."
"Is there enough light from the campfire for you to see my eyes pretty good?"
The bard shifted until the firelight brushed over her partners face, casting a golden glow on the tanned skin. "Yeah. Now I can."
"Okay. You know the drill. Im gonna close my eyes and open them, one at a time. You tell me if my pupils are reacting properly, okay?"
Gabrielle tilted her head sideways for a better angle and watched, holding her breath. Xena opened first her left eye and then her right. The bard exhaled with relief as both pupils in turn went from wide open to a smaller pinpoint, and then allowed herself to get lost in the blue depths for several long moments.
"Gabrielle?" The warrior turned her head and cocked her eyebrow in question. "Ow. I gotta remember not to do that." Xena winced. "So. Howd they react?"
"No concussion." Gabrielle bent over and gently kissed her partners forehead.
"Good." The warrior closed her eyes. "Ponys coming back."
Gabrielle carefully tied off the last stitch and dusted the wound with a liberal amount of antiseptic herbs while Eponin poked and prodded at the injured Amazons stab wound. The weapons master had already wrapped a bandage and splint around Herodotus wrist, as it appeared to be sprained.
"Ouch. Youre hurting me." The girl whimpered.
"I am. Good." The weapons master continued to look over the injured arm. "You got a name?"
The irritating whine was starting to get on Eponins nerves. Some Amazon. "Shivonne, I cant tell if your arms broken or not."
"Here. Let me have a look." Herodotus got up and walked over, sitting down and running the practiced fingers of his good hand over the tense shoulder and upper arm muscles. "Can you lift your arm over your head?"
The girl complied, letting out a sharp gasp at the pain the movement elicited.
"Your arms not broken. You just have a nasty puncture wound." The older man turned and looked at this daughter. "Gabrielle, when youre finished, hand me the healers kit."
"Just finished." The bard leaned across and gave her father the kit. She relaxed her shoulders a bit, idly tracing small fingers up and down the warriors soft cheek while she watched her father.
The warrior also turned her head and observed Herodotus as he first cleaned and then bandaged Shivonnes shoulder. "Didnt know you were a healer."
"Im not, at least by trade anyway. Had to learn out of necessity." There was a slight glint in the older mans eye as he appraised the warrior and his daughter.
Xena thought about that for a moment. "Me too." She remembered tending to hundreds of post-battle wounds in the field, with no healer for leagues around to help her. Her skills had been pretty rough at first, but adequate, and with time shed learned to be gentle as well, much to the relief of the men she led. But Gabrielles father was a simple farmer. The warrior looked at Herodotus again. "Necessity?"
The older man chuckled. "Think about it, Xena. You know my daughter. She was a trouble magnet long before she met you. Who do you think kept her patched up before you came along?"
"Oh." The warrior looked up at her partner with bemused blue eyes. "Shoulda figured."
"Xena!" Gabrielle feigned outrage. "If you werent hurt Id have to hit you."
"Ooooo. Good thing Im hurt."
"Warrior princess, youre pushing it."
The warrior turned her head, ignoring the pain, and gently kissed the palm of the bards hand which had been caressing her cheek. "Just teasing."
"Hows your head?" Eponin moved over and stood, looking down at her tall friend.
"Im about to find out." Ignoring an outpour of protest from Gabrielle, Xena slowly sat up, relieved when she felt a headache but no dizziness. Cautiously she rose to her feet and waited for a moment as the world righted itself. She turned her head from side to side, ignoring the pounding inside her skull, concentrating instead on her sense of balance, which seemed to be intact. The warrior took a few tentative steps and then broke into a light jog for several meters before she turned around and came back. Gods that hurts. She felt the blood throbbing against her temples.
"Xena. Sweetheart. Take it easy." The bard wrapped one hand around a strong biceps and with the other, offered up a water skin. "Here. Drink."
"Thanks." The warrior took a long swallow and looked up at the sky, noting the familiar twinkling star patterns. She turned her face into the slight breeze and could just detect the slightest hint of warmth coming from the eastern sky. "No time to take it easy. Weve got about a candle mark and a half until dawn, and we need to get back to Kallerine and Amarice."
"Oh. Right. I almost forgot about them." Gabrielle looked pensive for a moment before she turned toward the tall blonde Amazon she had fought. "What did you mean when you said you were taking my father into protective custody? What, exactly, were you protecting him from?"
The girl looked down at her feet and shuffled them a bit. "From Xena." The girl mumbled so softly they could barely hear her.
"What?!" An outraged bard moved toward the girl before a large warrior hand closed around her shoulder, pulling her back. "Let me guess." Xena drawled and pinned a stern gaze on the tall blonde. "You got a note that said I had threatened your queens family unless she co-operated with me in a plot to sell the Amazons into slavery to Caesar."
The girls brown eyes grew wide. "How did you know that? Spies! There must be spies in your village!"
The warrior let out a heavy sigh. "No. There are no spies and I am not forcing your queen to do anything against her will, nor am I selling the Amazons as slaves. Youll see that soon enough when we return to our village. You wouldnt by any chance have an Amazon living in your village named Chaulzie, would you?"
"Yes." The girl eyed Xena suspiciously. "What have you done with her?"
"Relax. Shes got a nice comfy pallet in a holding cell in our village. I wasnt in the mood to kill anybody when she and your other friends attacked us." The warrior smiled evilly, the firelight glinting off shiny white teeth.
"Uh . . . are you in the mood to kill anyone right now?" The girl unconsciously stepped back a few paces, putting more distance between herself and the six-foot warrior looking down at her.
"Oh for gods sake. I was joking. Amazons!" Xena rolled her eyes and stalked off in a huff down the trail towards where they had left the horses.
Theyd decided to tie all four captive Amazons together, single file, so that any thought of running for escape would be nipped in the bud. Xena and Gabrielle rode ahead of them and Eponin walked behind, leading her own black stallion by the reins. Herodotus was at the very end of the line, quietly observing the Amazons, who were still a great mystery to him. The weapons master occasionally gave gruff instructions for their charges to pick up their feet and move faster, or to quit slumping, muttering to herself about lack of discipline in young Amazons these days. Not that Eponin was that old herself, being only a few summers older than Xena.
Eponin silently entertained herself with visions of the warm bed shed left candle marks earlier and her even warmer partner, Raella, whose beautiful amber eyes and thick auburn hair enchanted the weapons master to no end. That shed managed to win the heart of one of the most beautiful women in their village was beyond her comprehension at times. While a fierce warrior, when it came to matters of the heart the gruff Amazon often found herself shy and tongue-tied. Shed worshiped her partner from afar for several moons, unsure how to get the pretty girls attention.
Then theyd been attacked by Rome and Brutus killed her best friend, Ephiny, the reigning regent at the time. Shed found her world crashing in at the loss of the only truly close friend shed ever had, and had felt quite lost without someone to talk to. Then the queen and Xena had returned to the village after shed sent Amarice to find them. Xena had led the Amazons in a battle against both Brutus and Pompey, eventually lopping off Pompeys head with her sword and depositing it at Brutus feet before returning to the village to mourn the regent at her funeral pyre.
The weapons master had watched as Xena comforted the queen while she sobbed silently into the warriors chest and they held each other, overcome with grief at the death of the first friend theyd made in the Amazon village after Gabrielle had accepted Terreis rite of caste. As Eponin studied the tall dark warrior, she was surprised at Xenas soft and gentle side, which was a stark contrast to the many other faces the weapons master had seen the warrior exhibit on other visits to their village.
She couldnt help but remember one visit, when the warrior had come to see her son in the nearby Centaur village and Gabrielles daughter Hope, sired by the evil god Dahak, had killed him, and then the queen had poisoned her own demon-child daughter. She recalled the twin funeral pyres for the two lost children, and the brief cold exchange between the two women before theyd simply left each other, walking in opposite directions. She remembered the bards desperate tears as she tried to apologize to the warrior, and the hatred that had rolled off Xena in return, so different from the warriors later words and gestures of comfort to the queen when Ephiny died.
But the most vivid memory of Xenas visiting the village occurred shortly after Solans death, when the warrior had come storming through the village to collect the queen, hitting anyone in her way and breaking Ephinys arm in the process. Eponin had seen many, many displays of vengeance, but nothing compared as she watched Xenas whip snake out and wrap around the queens ankles, and the warrior savagely dragged Gabrielle out of the village behind a stolen horse. The weapons master had shivered, sure she would soon be leading a search party to retrieve the queens bloody and battered body. She was certain that given a choice, dying at the enraged hands of the Destroyer of Nations would be last on her list of ways she would want to meet her own demise.
She hadnt seen either queen or warrior again until Ephiny died, but she had heard that somehow they had survived the awful rift between them and managed to salvage their friendship, choosing to travel halfway across the world to India together on some cock-eyed quest of the queen for greater meaning. Shed been amazed they were alive at all, much less that they were still friends. But at Ephinys funeral pyre shed watched thoughtfully as Xena continually stroked the queens short hair and kissed her head, murmuring gentle words of comfort as the bard wept, the small body silently heaving in the warriors strong embrace. She remembered the warriors respectful deference to Gabrielle as queen of the Amazons during the battle against Brutus and Pompey, despite the fact that they all knew Xena was the one truly planning the strategy.
As she observed the warrior and her peace-loving queen, shed merely assumed they had become lovers, and had decided that maybe Xena, of all people, might be able to give her some pointers on how to approach Raella. Shed been very surprised when the warrior had denied anything more than friendship between herself and Gabrielle. "I love her more than anyone or anything else in the world." The warrior had stated emphatically. "But we are best friends and nothing more, and thats just how it is."
Nonetheless, Xena had been forthcoming with several suggestions as to how to be a good lover and friend, as well as win a womans heart. "Names Raella, huh? Thats a pretty name." The word rolled off her tongue and the warrior had silently realized her mouth had an affinity for saying names with three syllables and two ls in them near the end. "She as pretty as she sounds?"
"Yeah. She is." The weapons master had discreetly pointed out the slender auburn-haired beauty as she crossed the courtyard several meters from where they sat next to the central fire ring.
Xena had let out a low whistle. "Wow. I guess youve got some competition for her."
"Only every unattached woman in this village, with the exception of you and the queen." Eponin had sadly played with a tall tuft of grass at her feet.
"Okay." The warrior looked at her seriously. "Listen to me Pony. First of all, make sure youre willing to be just friends with her, in case thats all you ever get."
"Well. I guess that would be okay." The weapons master didnt like the prospect of mere friendship, but it was better than nothing at all.
"Then just be yourself, and talk to her, ask her questions about herself and really listen when she answers. And try to remember what she says. Make sure you like and appreciate her just like she is, faults and all. Dont go trying to make her be some fantasy youve created in your head. Encourage her to fulfill her dreams. And pay attention to the little things like complimenting her on her looks or her skills."
"I can do that." Eponin brightened a bit. Maybe this relationship stuff wouldnt be so hard after all.
Xena warmed to the task, despite herself. "If you do become more than friends, ya gotta still keep doing all that nice stuff, and even more."
"Yeah. Like bringing her small gifts and making sure her basic needs are being met. Put her before yourself and make sure you communicate with her openly and clearly. Spend quiet moments just holding her and gazing at the stars or the clouds together. And dont forget to tell her that you love her. Often."
"So. Is that what youd do if you were trying to win someones heart?" Eponin eyed her enigmatic friend.
"Yes. Thats exactly what I would do." Xena smiled.
"Seems to me you already are."
There are a few rare moments in life that are satisfying above the rest, and that had been one of them, as Xenas mouth flew open to protest and then simply closed. The weapons master had smugly watched as several emotions swiftly crossed the warriors face. Enlightenment finally settled in, and Xena had gotten a soft misty faraway look in her eyes before she quietly rose and rested one hand on Eponins shoulder.
"Yeah, Pony. Thats definitely what Id do."
The tall warrior had stalked away with a somewhat lighter step in her gait. Shed left the village with the queen later that day, and Eponin had assumed that Xena and the bard would indeed soon be lovers. And that had been true, sort of. Except that they had the minor complication of dying and coming back from the dead to tend to first.
"Pony. You paying attention?" Xenas voice carried over the four captives, slowly drawing the weapons master out of her fog.
Damn. Caught daydreaming. Some example of discipline Im turning out to be. "Yeah. Whatd you say again?" Eponin stood up tall, putting on her tough warrior persona.
"Uh-huh." The warrior chuckled. "I said, you need to stay here with Herodotus and guard our prisoners while Gabrielle and I go into the cave and talk with Kallerine and Amarice, and figure out what to do about her sister."
"Oh. Sure. No problem." The weapons master looked around and realized sheepishly that they had reached their destination. I have got to start paying attention. She chided herself silently as she herded the four bound Amazons to a space beneath the tall cypress tree that was their landmark. "Have a seat, ladies. We could be here a while."
Xena and Gabrielle dismounted and left Argo and Star in Eponins care as well, and started through the brush toward the cave, the warrior walking ahead of the bard and using her sword to cut through the thicker bushes and brambles. Gabrielle observed her partner, taking in the tense set to Xenas shoulders and the slight stiffness in her steps, the only outward signs that the warrior was in pain from her head injury, signals that would be lost on anyone else other than the bard, whose eyes had become quite familiar with her partners body language.
She moved up as close as she could and gently placed a hand in the center of the warriors lower back, kneading the tight muscles through the leather that covered them and hearing the almost imperceptible sigh she got in response. The hand gradually worked its way up to the back of Xenas neck, and the small fingers dug into the knotted muscles, eliciting a low moan from the warriors lips. "Gods. That feels good. Wish we had time for you to do a more thorough job of it."
Gabrielle smiled. "Xena, when we get back to the village, Im going to draw us a nice hot bath, get us some breakfast, and then Ill give you a whole-body massage. How does that sound?" She continued working the kinks out of her partners neck.
"That sound like Elysia, love." The warrior dropped her head forward to give her soulmate better access.
"Oh, I assure you. I will see to it that your every need is taken care of." The bard moved to Xenas side and the fingers slipped up, carefully pushing back long locks of hair that covered the fresh stitches. "Hows the head?"
"Head? What head?" Xena captured Gabrielles hand and brought it around, brushing her lips against the soft skin several times.
The bard chuckled.
They reached the entrance to the cave and heard two voices talking quietly within. The warrior gave a low series of bird-calls, signaling their arrival, and was relieved when Kallerine whistled back from within, indicating that it was safe to enter. Xena pulled a flint and striker out of her belt pouch and retrieved a branch from the ground, lighting a torch and motioning for the bard to follow her inside. They made their way down the passage and turned the corner into the main chamber of the cave, to find Kallerine and Amarice sitting against the far wall, legs stretched out and comfortably resting with Amarices arm draped casually across the smaller slayers shoulders.
Guess Im two for two in the Amazon matchmaking department. The warrior grinned. "So, wheres your sister?"
The slayer stood and walked over to the small rocky prison shed built earlier. "Shes in here. Unfortunately she started stirring around and I had to knock her out again. On the bright side, she hasnt turned herself into a bat, so Im guessing she cant do that while shes all tied up."
Xena knelt down and cautiously removed a few of the rocks that blocked Kama in, and peered into the hole. "Good. Still out." The warrior replaced the rocks and stood, pacing around and idly looking at the odd uneven surfaces of the cave wall. She finally stuck the torch into a crevice in the wall and turned to face the slayer. "Any signs of other bacchae since youve been in here?"
"No." Kallerine moved closer to the warrior and looked up at her with sad eyes. "Xena, what are we going to do?"
"Im working on it." The warrior laid one hand on the slayers shoulder and squeezed it briefly.
"Hey. What happened to your head?" Kallerine peered anxiously at the stitches that were barely visible in the low torch light.
"Ended up on the wrong end of an Amazon quarterstaff." Xena lightly touched the wound and grimaced.
"Yeah, ouch." The warrior turned toward Amarice. "Speaking of . . . Amarice, could you go out to the cypress tree outside? Ponys holding those four Amazons captive and Id like you to help her guard them."
"My queen." Amarice regarded the bard. "Is your father alright?"
"Hes just fine. Thank you for asking." Gabrielle smiled. "Why dont you go on out and introduce yourself? Maybe see if you can get some more information out of those Amazons."
"Yes my queen." The tall redhead stood and smoothed down her leathers before moving cat-like out of the inner chamber and down the passageway. I always miss out on the fun stuff. She muttered inwardly.
Xena watched until Amarice was out of sight. "Gabrielle, Kallerine, go sit down in the far corner over there." The warrior gestured toward a small alcove that sunk into the cave wall.
Bard and slayer looked at each other, shrugged, and silently went to their appointed position. The warrior began walking around the cavern again, extending her senses, and finally stood in the center of the chamber. She removed her chakram and flipped it in her hands before raising it high over her head. Closing her eyes, she allowed the dark side to surface, feeling it coursing through her veins and tingling in the tips of her fingers and toes, causing her nape hairs to prickle. She laughed deliciously at the seductive power and threw her head back, licking her lips before speaking. "Ares. I need you. Show yourself."
A flash of red smoke momentarily blinded Gabrielle and Kallerine, and the strong smell of brimstone permeated the chamber before the god of war materialized in front of Xena. "By the gods you are beautiful when you allow my gifts full rein." Ares appraised his daughter and walked around her in a slow circle, as the warrior opened her eyes and lowered the chakram back to her belt loop. She followed the war god in her peripheral vision, turning her head slightly over her shoulder as he stopped behind her.
"Seems to me Xena, that every time I see you these days its because you want something." Ares stared across the room and directly into Gabrielles eyes and then briefly gave Kallerine the once-over. My my my. Do they have any ugly Amazons in that village? He allowed himself a second more lingering gaze at the slayers lithe body and shiny long light brown hair. "Hello Blondie." The god of war gave the bard the briefest of nods.
"Hello Ares." Gabrielle eyed the god warily.
"I guess I owe you my thanks. I see youve been heeding my request to take care of um . . . my chosen here." He moved in behind the warrior and gently rested his hands on both shoulders, and then raised one hand, tracing a finger over the neat stitches. "I saw you nail that Amazon bitch with your little toy weapon, Blondie. Very gutsy move, if I do say so myself. We may make a warrior out of you yet."
"I take care of her because I love her Ares, but youre welcome anyway." The bards voice was indignant.
Kallerine watched the exchange with half-open mouth and wide eyes. She leaned over to Gabrielle and whispered. "Is . . . that . . . Ares? The god of war?"
Ares laughed deeply from his gut. "The one and only, at least in Greece, Slayer. Although Im afraid there are gods from a different realm who guard your destiny."
"Huh?" Kallerine took in a large gulp of air. How does he know Im a slayer?
"Oh. I know everything about you." The god of war smiled evilly. "Did I mention that I can read your thoughts?"
"N . . . no." The slayers jaw clamped shut.
Ares looked away from Kallerine and down at his daughter, as he began to gently massage the warriors shoulders, causing her to involuntarily drop her head and close her eyes, her lips parting slightly as the dark energy increased, licking at the doors of her soul. A soul that rested safely and firmly in the capable hands of one very small bard.
"Tell me Xena, what do you want this time, and whats in it for me?" The god of war purred into a nearby ear.
Xenas eyes flew open and she spun around and swallowed. She hadnt called on the god of war since shed found out he was her father, and suddenly she felt awkward. "Ares. The last time I saw you I believe that you said you owed me. Im cashing in on that now."
"Fair enough. I did say that." Ares dropped his arms and stalked over to a low ledge and sat down, lazily bringing his hands up behind his head and leaning back against the rough stone. "Im listening."
"No strings attached?" The warrior cocked one eyebrow in question.
"No strings attached, at least for now." The god of war grinned a big toothy grin and shifted, causing his leather vest to stretch more tightly across his well-developed chest muscles.
"Fine." Xena let out a short breath. "Why are there still bacchae when I killed Bacchus over two summers ago?"
"Remember our conversation about Satan and Hell?"
"Its very hard to kill a god. But when one does die, Hades has never been particularly fond of having them hanging around down in Tartarus with him. I guess there isnt enough room down there for more than one god-sized ego at a time, and I think my brother always feared that a dead god would try to fight him for control of Tartarus."
"You mean none of them go to the Elysian Fields?" A wry grin crossed the warriors face.
"None so far."
"Why am I not surprised." Xena chuckled.
"Do you want an answer or not?" The god of wars voice took on a vaguely offended tone.
"Oh, get over yourself." The warrior put on her best bored look, gazing down and dispassionately studying her upraised fingernails.
Shes never been afraid of me. Ares smiled in appreciation. "Anyway, ever since Hades found out Hell exists, thats where hes sent all the dead gods. Thats partly why Callisto is there, along with my nephew Strife. And I believe Blondies old friend Valesca is there as well."
"Shes no friend of mine." An angry bard called across the room.
"Me neither." The warrior shuddered, remembering a power that she had been afraid she wouldnt be able to defeat, and the even greater fear that the Amazon-turned-goddess would kill her partner.
"Bacchus is in Hell too, and like Callisto, he got into Satans good graces and garnered a favor from him."
"What sort of favor?" Xenas eyes narrowed.
"A few moons after you killed Bacchus, Satan allowed him to return to earth for a fortnight, and the old blood-sucker didnt waste any time creating as many bacchae as he could. When his time was up and he had to go back to Hell, he left behind a fairly impressive force in his wake. The bacchae he created have in turn continued to create more and more bacchae. Theyve expanded their masses far beyond Greece now, into Gaul and Britannia, where the bacchae are called vampires."
"Vampires." Xena tasted the word for a moment. "Is there any way to make the bacchae human again? Killing Bacchus broke the spell before, but hes already dead. Do I need to go find Orpheus?"
"No. Orpheus cant help you this time. Bacchus supposedly left behind a large cauldron of his blood, which has since run out, but if a bacchae didnt get a chance to drink from Bacchus chalice, the spell can be reversed, at least in theory."
"In theory?" The warriors brows shot up.
"Its not actually been tested yet." Ares stood and idly paced about the chamber. "The one god, the one that fights against Satan, didnt want the world to be overcome with bacchae, so he put some safeguards in place. Remember Xena, how you had to collect the Dryad bones to kill Bacchus?"
"No need for that anymore. A wooden stake will do. Or sunlight. Or a silver-tipped arrow." He eyed Kallerine, who was hanging on his every word. "Your slayer friend over there managed to figure those things out on her own through trial and error. Very shrewd, Slayer."
"Th . . . thank you." Kallerine looked down shyly.
"Along with making it easier to kill a bacchae, it is said that the one god also created a way to make them human again, but its a method that cant be used more than a few times."
"Go on." Xenas voice was slow and steady, hiding the sudden inexplicable increase in her heart rate.
"It is said that if a bacchae feeds on the blood of a slayer they will become human again."
"Come again?" The warrior looked thoroughly confused.
Ares sighed. "To each generation will be born a slayer, or so the legend goes. The slayer will possess great strength and fighting skills, and certain supernatural senses. She will be driven to wipe out bacchae." The god of war turned toward Kallerine. "You are the first."
The slayer stood and with trembling steps, walked over to Xena, who instinctively placed herself between Kallerine and the god of war. "Youre telling me that Kallerine has been chosen by some deity to fight bacchae?"
"Yes." Ares eyes took on an almost compassionate look. "Kallerine, its no coincidence that you have been slaying bacchae. Its your destiny."
"I . . . um . . . that is . . ." The slayer finally closed her mouth, having no clue what to say, her mind reeling with the new information.
"Ares." The warrior sounded weary. "Why is it that every time I call upon you for help, you also have to deliver earth-shattering information in the process?"
"Gotta keep the upper hand, Princess. Keep you on those pretty little toes of yours, as it were." The war god winked at her.
"So my sister has to drink my blood?" Kallerines mind finally caught up with her voice.
"Exactly." Ares stepped closer, his face deadly serious. "But a word of warning. She must be stopped from feeding before she has drained you too much and you die."
"Okay. But wont her biting me turn me into a bacchae?" Anxious brown eyes looked up into black ones.
"No. Slayers cant become bacchae. But they can die. And Slayer?"
"Dont get any lofty ideas about letting every bacchae you find feed on you. It would kill you. Use it in only the most extreme of circumstances. You were meant to slay the bacchae, not save them. There is a balance that must be maintained. The gods of Satans realm have decreed it. Besides, you have no way of knowing which bacchae have fed on the blood of Bacchus and which have not."
"And my sister? Has she drank from his chalice?" Kallerines voice shook.
"That is a risk you have to take. If you let her feed on you, you wont know until afterward if your efforts were fruitful or not." The war god cocked his head, as if listening to some unheard call. "Gotta go."
"Ares. Wait! I know you know if Kama has fed on Bacchus blood." Xenas anger rolled to the surface, still boiling from the dark energy deep inside.
"Come on, Xena, I cant hand you all the answers. Where would be the fun in that?" Ares grinned.
"Ares . . . !" Xena pinned him with a menacing stare, her hands clenched into tight fists at her sides.
"Later, Princess." Ares reached out and brushed his fingertips across the warriors cheek, and then with a puff of red smoke, the war god vanished.
"Gods be damned piece of sheep dung . . . I oughtta . . ." Xena walked over to the low ledge and sat down, resting her elbows on her knees and forgetting her injury, dropped her head into her hands. "Ouch! Dammit!" Her head flew up and the blue eyes snapped, reflecting the dim torchlight.
Gabrielle recognized the remnants of dark energy that still floated around her soulmate, and reflexively moved to the warriors side, gently stroking the broad back through leather that was quite warm from Xenas increased body heat. "Its okay, Xena. He told us most of what we need to know."
"Gabrielle, I dont trust him. How am I supposed to know if hes telling the truth or not? What if he made the whole thing up? I cant let Kallerine risk herself based upon some bizarre tale that came from the lips of the god of war."
"Think about it Xena. That was a pretty far-fetched story, too far-fetched to be made up, even by Ares. Im inclined to believe him." The bard traced strong shoulder muscles with her fingertips, feeling the warrior slowly relax.
"Im willing to try." The slayer broke in softly. "If theres a chance I can save my sister, I want to take it."
"No. Too risky." The warriors voice was emphatic.
"Xena." The bard continued the soothing movement against the tense muscles. "You and I both know what its like to love someone so much that were willing to risk everything for them. You and I can help Kallerine with this. We can help control the situation. We can let Kama feed, and then knock her unconscious again before she does too much damage. If she wakes up and shes still a bacchae, then we can deal with that . . . if it become necessary." Gabrielle cut short of suggesting that they might have to kill Kama if feeding on Kallerine didnt work, although from the slayers eyes, she knew that Kallerine understood that might be a possibility.
The warrior looked up at her partner, her eyes bloodshot from lack of sleep and her nerves frazzled from dealing with the pain of her injury and the stress of dealing with the god of war. Her face softened as she looked into clear green depths that seemed so sure of the right course of action. "Okay. When Kama wakes up, we can give it a try."
"Thank you." The bard leaned over and placed a feather-light kiss on her soulmates head.
As if on cue, a low growling moan erupted from the space where Kallerine had imprisoned Kama, and the sound of claws trying to scratch their way through the rocks reached their ears. The slayer walked over and deftly began removing the rocks, one at a time.
"Kallerine . . ." The warrior stood up.
"Xena. Let me handle it. I want to give her as much as she needs, but I dont know how much that is. As soon as she begins to feed, you watch me. When I look like Im about to pass out, you knock her out, okay?" The slayer gave short sharp orders as she removed the last rock and tugged her sisters bound body from the space where she had tucked it.
"Okay." Xena drew her sword from its scabbard, nervously twirling it in the palm of her hand.
Kallerine first unbound her sisters feet and then ever so slowly, released the ties around the girls wrists, careful to avoid being scratched by the long black claws. As soon as the bacchae was free, she screamed, making an unearthly sound that caused all three womens skin to crawl. In one swift motion, Kama was on her feet, extending her claws and drawing the slayer toward her, who meekly moved into her sisters grasp, turning her head and giving the bacchae plenty of access to her neck.
Kama grinned and sputtered, and then opened her mouth, revealing long fangs that bit down savagely, tearing into the exposed skin at Kallerines throat and feasting on the warm blood, the rich red liquid running down the slayers chest and pooling on the cave floor. The slayers eyes grew wide and she gasped in pain, fighting the instinct to turn and plant a wooden stake in her sisters chest. After a few moments, Kallerines skin grew pale and her eyelids fluttered. "Xena. Now . . ." Her voice trailed off as her knees began to give way.
The bacchae was so focused on the delicious meal before her, that she never heard Xena move in behind her until it was too late. The warrior turned her sword and brought the hilt down hard at the base of Kamas neck. The bacchaes mouth opened in surprise right before she fell to the floor. Kallerine quickly followed, passing out on top of her sisters motionless body.
A half candle mark passed before the slayer slowly regained consciousness. For a moment, she simply lay on the ground with her eyes closed, assessing her situation and trying to recall why she was on the ground in the first place. She was chiefly aware of pain at the base of her throat, and she lifted one hand and touched it. "Ouch!" Her voice was hoarse, and her eyes opened to see concerned blue ones peering down at her. "Xena?"
"Hey. Welcome back." The warrior smoothed a lock of hair off the slayers forehead and dabbed an herb-soaked piece of linen at the wound on Kallerines neck.
The slayer suddenly bolted up. "Kama! Is she . . .?"
Xena smiled. "Come see for yourself."
Kallerine looked over to where Gabrielle was cradling Kamas head in her lap. The slayer quickly scrambled over and looked down at her sisters face. The distinct bacchae characteristics were gone, replaced with familiar, if not older features. Kamas eyes were closed and the previously pale skin held a faint rosy tint.
"Has she woken up yet?"
"Not yet." The bards eyes were shining.
The slayer continued a careful examination, noting that the long black claws had magically disappeared, to be replaced with simple short blunt fingernails. She carefully parted her sisters lips to discover that the long fangs were also gone. Kamas eyelids fluttered and slowly opened. Brown eyes very much like Kallerines blinked several times and looked around, finally coming to rest on the slayers face. "Kallerine?"
"Im here." The floodgates opened, as a torrent of tears began to stream down the slayers face.
"What happened?" Kama tried to sit up but found herself gently held down by a bardic hand. "You look older. I cant remember . . . I was running through a field and then I dont remember anything after that . . . I was trying to get home and . . . cant remember . . ." Kama closed her eyes as her voice dwindled to a bare whisper.
"Shhhh." Gabrielle spoke softly. "There will be plenty of time for you to catch up with Kallerine. Rest now."
"Yeah. Rest." Kama took a deep breath and fell asleep.
The slayer leaned over and gently kissed her sisters cheek before she stood up and bolted for the cave entrance, with Xena fast on her heels. Kallerine sank to her knees just outside the cave, and began to weep loudly, and suddenly found herself in a warrior-sized hug, as Xena gently pulled the slayer against her and rocked her. "Hey." The warrior stroked the dark brown hair. "Everythings gonna be okay."
"I know." Kallerine sniffed and finally looked up. "Im just a little overwhelmed right now." She pulled back and stood up, wobbling and almost falling over before Xena caught her at the last minute.
"Careful. Youve lost quite a lot of blood. We need to get some water and food in you and get you back to the village and into bed."
"But . . . Kama."
"Were taking her back to the village with us. Im going to have her put in one of the holding cells just until were sure shes completely back to normal. Just a precaution, you understand?"
"Yes. But can I stay in there with her? I dont want her to wake up alone and be afraid."
"I think we can arrange that." The warrior gazed across to the cypress tree. "Amarice!" She yelled. "Come help Kallerine get back to her horse. I want you to ride double with her and make sure she doesnt fall off. Pony, make a liter and tie it behind Amarices horse, since she wont be riding it. We have an extra guest to take back to the village."
As Amarice reached them, Xena stood and allowed the tall redhead to take over the job of comforting the slayer. The warrior went back into the cave and peered around the corner at her partner, who still sat on the floor tending to Kama, using a wet cloth to clean Kallerines dried blood from the girls face and arms. She indulged herself in a few moments of undetected observation, enjoying the sight of the familiar lines and contours of the bards body, and taking in the gentle compassion that accompanied Gabrielles actions. A tired smile twitched at Xenas lips. Mine.
"Gabrielle, lets go home."
Continued in Part 6
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