Living in the Past:
Book 1- Ripples in the Water
This was the first thought Xena had as she watched the young girl heave onto the snow. Probably young, and drunk. Robbing her will be easier than taking candy from a baby, even if it is a little messier. But then the girl said her name. The warrior was very rarely wrong about anything, and was surprised even less of the time. What is this strangely dressed Greek girl doing in Japa? And furthermore, how does she know me?
Though Xena was momentarily taken aback, she was also intrigued. Moving into a squatting position, she held fast to the sword positioned at her victim’s heart while coming closer to her face for an even more foreboding interrogation.
“What’s your name, little girl?” She said with a Cheshire grin.
“Sarah.” Was the response. If it takes every ounce of courage in me I will not stutter. She thought to herself.
“Sarah huh? Well Sarah, you picked a bad night to take a drunken nature stroll. I’m about to rob you blind. The only thing halting this inevitable outcome is my interest in how exactly you know who I am.” The warrior said as if she were discussing what kind of crumpets to have with the afternoon tea.
Shit, here we go. Sarah thought briefly as she prepared herself to lie to The Destroyer of Nations.
“Akemi is one of my closest friends.” She spewed.
As much as Xena is known for exercising perfect physical control in a fight, her expression did not fare so well in this battle of wits.
“Akemi.” She breathed as much as spoke. The predatory expression fell from her face just for a moment, only to be replaced by an even deadlier one. With the agility of a cat Xena tossed the sword and quickly jabbed two fingers in each side of Sarah’s neck. “Keep talking, girl. And start praying that I like what I here, cuz you’ve only got thirty seconds to live if I don’t.”
Sarah tried to breath, but it was like sucking air through a straw. Her whole body was numb, but her head felt like it was going to explode. She couldn’t focus on anything else until her assailant started yelling at her.
“I said talk, girl!” Xena screamed as she held her up by her shoulders.
Sarah couldn’t tell how many seconds had gone by, and she didn’t have time to worry about it. All she could do was lie; lie so big the warrior would take the pinch off and let her live.
“Akemi is my friend.”
“I heard she was in trouble, so I came to Japa.”
“Then I heard a Greek woman named Xena rescued her.”
How many seconds has it been? She thought with a fear she had never known before. The anger that she had not been freed from her affliction was starting to bubble. If I’m about to die I’m not going to do it without mouthing off.
“If you want to know more take this off of me. Otherwise go fuck yourself.”
Taken aback by the girl’s sass, Xena could only stare, dumbfounded for a few seconds before hitting the pressure points she knew would release her. She watched as Sarah fell forward onto the ground; choking and sputtering before vehemently speaking in a foreign tongue. Once the coughing fit was over and equilibrium was restored the two women just stared at each other, before Xena decided to speak.
“Continue.” She said coldly.
Sarah took a few breaths to gather her thoughts in an effort to save her skin. After carefully choosing her words she continued.
“Akemi and I have been friends for a long time. I try to keep up with trader gossip about Japa when I’m in Greece. I heard the daughter of Yodoshi had been kidnapped and then rescued by you. I came here to make sure she was ok.” She stood up in defiance of the warrior, trying not to show an ounce of the fear that threatened to overtake her at any moment. “So you can either tell me what happened, or I can keep going on my path to find out for myself.”
Xena simply stood there. The expression on her face was completely unreadable.
Balls of steel: Just keep acting like you have balls of steel. It got you through the pinch; hopefully it will get Xena to loosen up more. She thought to herself as she started moving past the warrior with false confidence.
“Fine.” Sarah said. “I’ll find her on my own.”
She had actually walked five paces past Xena before the warrior spoke.
“You won’t find her at Yodoshi’s fortress.” Xena called over her shoulder.
Sarah stopped, trying to time everything perfectly. She took a deep breath, and then spoke.
“And why not?” She said without turning around.
The warrior turned to face the girl who, just a few moments ago, was nothing more than her next victim.
“Because Akemi is here with me.” Xena said evenly.
Sarah turned around quickly, as if she didn’t know where the mellow dramatic dialogue was leading.
“Where?” She asked eagerly.
She watched as Xena’s face fell. The tall woman slowly reached into her coat and pulled out an ornate looking urn. With slow hesitation she presented it to Sarah. Grasping the urn, Sarah fell to her knees. Come on now, work up the tears. She thought to herself. It worked on five speeding tickets, it’ll work on this. As one solid tear descended down her face she looked up at Xena.
“How?” She asked, her voice cracking. If this were on film I’d be “thanking the academy” next year.
Xena swallowed hard to keep her own tears at bay and started explaining what happened to the girl at her feet.
“I don’t know whether you were aware of this or not, but Akemi wasn’t exactly Daddy’s little girl. Apparently Yodoshi dishonored her entire family and in order to restore honor to them she was required to kill him.”
“And you let her?” Sarah said, with feigned concern.
Xena’s eyes flashed with anger as she stepped closer and defended herself.
“I was just along for the ride you little shit. Akemi made sure to keep the details from me.”
Ok, I might be over playing this. Sarah thought and calmed her tone.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t blame you.” She paused as if trying to place her anger in check then continued. “So she went through with it?”
“Yes she did.” Xena said with a scowl. “And apparently even though Yodoshi had it coming, Akemi had to die for killing him. Otherwise, her soul would lose its place among the ancestors.”
Doing good so far, I just have to get a little further in those emotional defenses. Sarah thought before she spoke.
“I never knew how brave she really was.” She added a small pause for dramatic effect. “Did you love her?” She asked, this time truly wondering what the answer was.
Xena looked away, not caring to meet the other girl’s eyes.
“I loved her as much as I can love another person at this point in my life.” The warrior paused with sincere thought. “She broke my heart.” Twin tears fell from her eyes as the words were spoken and Xena looked away in shame as Sarah moved to comfort her.
After placing her hand on Xena’s shoulder she started to speak.
“Will you allow me to accompany you to the graveyard? I want to be there when her ashes are laid to rest.” Sarah said.
I took a moment for Xena to wipe her face, but eventually she moved to pick up her sword and answer in a cold and nonchalant way.
“You have just as much right to be there as me.” She said while sheathing the sword. “I was going to stop in Higuchi to have a few drinks, but I suppose Akemi deserves to be honored first.”
“You’re a good friend, Xena.” Sarah said.
Xena laughed. “You wouldn’t say that if you really knew me.” She turned to face the girl behind her. “C’mon, let’s get this over with.”
The two women said nothing to each other on the way to the graveyard. The younger afraid to speak, and the older lost in her pain; both glad for the silence. Upon reaching the shrine Xena knelt down and bowed until her head reached the snowy ground. Taking her queue, Sarah did the same until the warrior finally raised up. She gathered her long dark hair into one hand and drew her sword in the other. Xena employed little resistance as she dragged the blade through her locks then placed them at the base of the shrine. With deliberate slowness she pulled the urn from her belongings and closed her eyes as she poured the ashes over the offered hair.
“Akemi,” she said softly, “though it is certain I will never be allowed the peaceful afterlife you deserve, know that for a small time you brought that peace to my heart.”
Sarah looked at Xena with peculiarity. It’s so hard to imagine her going back to her old ways after saying something so beautiful. She mused. After noticing Xena was staring at her she decided she’d better think quickly about her own parting statements.
“Akemi, my friend,” she said with hesitance, “the world is darkened by the absence of your light. My only wish is that you know how dear you were to my heart.”
‘Please buy it, please buy it, please buy it. I don‘t have enough hair to cut off.’ Was all she could think as she bowed her head to the ground in honor of the deceased.
Xena sat in silent observance for a moment as she contemplated the girl before her. This was the exact response Sarah didn’t want. Thinking too hard would lead Xena to start wondering if Sarah had some kind of ulterior motive. And even though the ulterior motive was nothing more than keeping the warrior from massacring a town, she didn’t want her to catch wind of it. Moving quickly onto her knees she reached into her pouch and pulled out the bottle of whiskey. She’s gonna go right back to that town and drink anyway, might as well get on her good side and hope she invites me along. At least then I’ll be able to distract her from fighting; and hopefully a drunken Xena is easier to control than a sober one.
With a quick twist Sarah removed the plastic cap and handed the bottle to Xena. The warrior looked at her with a questioning eye.
“It’s what you asked me for when you found me in the snow; alcohol.” She said.
“You drink first.” Xena said warily.
“Ha ha.” Sarah chuckled “To Akemi.” She said before taking a generous draught from the bottle, cringing prior to speaking again. “Believe me, one taste of that and you won’t be comforted by the fact that I drank first. If I had more than a flask bottle you’d feel like you were dead by morning.”
Xena took the statement as a personal challenge. With a smirk she yanked the bottle away and swallowed half of it in one gulp. A sputtering cough erupted from her throat, but the whiskey somehow stayed down. Sarah’s knowing look caused a leer to form on the warrior’s face.
“What in Hades is that, Centaur piss?” She asked.
“I know it’s rough, but if I learned anything in all my years of sneaking booze from liquor cabinets it’s the worse something tastes, the quicker it works.”
On that note Xena looked at the bottle with determination and took a breath before turning it up and finishing off the rest of the dark liquid.
Jesus Christ, Sarah thought, maybe she’ll pass out before we even get back to town.
Tossing the bottle she stood and offered her hand to Sarah who took it. Lifting the girl to her feet, Xena spoke authoritatively.
“Tonight we drink in memory of Akemi.”
And with that the two women silently left the grave yard and headed into town.
“Ok, now this is the last time I’m going to explain this so everybody pay attention.” Sarah said to the full bar of Japanese patrons. “First you take the little cup of Sake and balance it on the chopsticks that are resting on the glass of beer. Then when I give the signal you smash your fist on the table and chug the Sake bomb. Everybody understand?”
There were grunts of affirmation and enthusiasm coming from everyone including Xena who loved this new game. Upon entering the bar, Sarah had asked for the flashy drink as a joke, but when she found out they didn’t know what it was she had to enlighten them. If there was one thing she needed to make sure of it was that the future didn’t miss out on Japanese bar flair.
“Alright here we go: I say Sake, you say bomb. Sake….” She waited.
“Bomb.” They yelled back.
“Ok, everybody now Sake Bomb.” She shouted, then became part of the crowd as she smashed and chugged. Xena finished first; as she had the prior two rounds. Once all of the raucous laughter and pats on the back were over the two women easily fell into conversation.
“You know what the problem with women is?” Xena said with a slight slur as she started her first full bottle of plum wine. Just as Sarah had promised, the whiskey worked quickly, but it wasn’t nearly enough to drown the whole of her sorrows. “It’s the mystery.”
“Huh?” Sarah asked, not even trying to act as if she understood the warrior’s meaning.
“Women are mysterious.” Xena said as if that statement alone explained precisely what the “problem with women” is.
“Ok.” The girl said with a shake of her head and a drink from her own bottle.
“You’ve never been with a woman, have you?” Xena said, figuring that was why she wasn’t being understood.
“That is absolutely none of your business.” She said with more nonchalance than she was actually feeling.
“Uh-huh.” Xena said with a smirk. “Too exotic for you? You’re not as adventurous as I thought you were.”
With the alcohol loosening her tongue and inhibitions, she proudly fired back at the warrior. “I’ll have you know that back home I am considered a gold star.” She said, and then took another drink. “And that, my friend, means that I’ve only been with women.”
“Well you should know what I mean if you have so much experience.” Xena said.
“I didn’t say I had a lot of experience. I said I’ve only ever been with women. There were only two and that‘s hardly plural.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” The warrior said, draining more of her bottle. “We’re not talking about you here, we’re talking about me.” She paused. “Wait, no we’re talking about women.” Another pause and then she looked to Sarah. “What was I saying about women?”
Sarah let out a small chuckle. I think I’m holding my liquor better than the warrior princess.
“You were saying that the problem with women is they’re mysterious.”
Xena slammed her bottle on the table and said “Exactly! Women are mysterious. Even the ones that talk all the time have secrets to hide. They can make it so you’d never suspect they were keeping something from you then WHAM,” she said, smashing her fists together for emphasis, “you find out that there’s this mountain of stuff you don’t know about them. The problem is that the more you find out, the more you want to know. It’s like a drug or even an aphrodisiac.” Finishing the bottle, Xena’s face fell. “Akemi surprised me quite a few times. She’d say things that were all insightful, and it would show me that there was more to her than I thought. Even when I knew she had tricked me I still wanted to protect her.”
With that she angrily threw the now empty bottle against the wall.
“Two more.” She yelled at the bartender.
Sarah quickly downed the rest of her wine, not wanting to argue with an angry Xena. She stayed quiet, lost for what to say. As the other two bottles arrived she was saved as the warrior broke the silence.
“Let’s go get our faces painted by those geisha women.” She said, grabbing the sake and Sarah, and then dragging both out the door.
Sarah looked in the mirror at the black and white paint that now covered her face.
At least she didn’t want to get matching tattoos. She thought.
“Hey!” Xena said, pulling Sarah from her musings and throwing a coin at her. “Make yourself useful and go get us another bottle while they do me.”
God, when is she going to pass out? Sarah thought as she stumbled out the door.
Upon reaching the bar next door she was met with weary stares from the bartender and the few patrons that were left. She approached the bar and leaned against the counter waiting for the man to approach her. Without a word from her he brought two bottles over and began to speak.
“Your friend seemed very upset about something.”
“She had a hard day.” Was the response he got.
“She is Greek?” He asked.
“What does it matter?” She countered.
“We have heard that a lone Greek warrior would be coming through here to honor the death of a murderess.” He said accusingly.
“Well obviously that’s not my friend because she’s not a ‘lone warrior,’ she’s with me. And I don’t like people spreading rumors about my friends.” She said menacingly before grabbing the bottles. “Last I checked we were drinking and complaining about women. I’m sure that’s something you can relate to.”
The last remark was made to put the man at ease. With reluctance he laughed and Sarah breathed a sigh of relief. Her luck was running completely to her advantage so far, and a little more at this point would ensure that the angry mob didn’t come looking for Xena.
She grabbed the bottles and left the bartender with a wink and one of Xena’s pieces of currency.
By the time Sarah arrived next door Xena was exiting with a newly painted face and a forlorn expression that the make up did little to hide. She grabbed one of the bottles and took a few hard pulls.
They walked in silence for a few moments; Xena caught up in her own thoughts and Sarah not knowing quite what to say. Once she noticed a few sniffles from the warrior she decided to give conversation a go.
“I know how hard it is to lose someone, Xena, but something you have to understand is Akemi died doing what she thought she had to do. It’s what she wanted.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Xena asked. “It still doesn’t ease the hurt. Akemi was pure and good. Something I haven’t come across in a person in a long time. And she cared about me, really cared. I’ll never have that again.”
“You don’t know that. Fate has a way of leading us down paths we never thought we would take.” Sarah said, half to herself.
“You’re young; you don’t know what you’re talking about.” She paused for another swig and let the tears fall some more as they walked. “What kind of person could ever love a monster like me?”
“A brave person.” Sarah said without hesitation, thinking of Gabrielle.
Xena rolled her eyes and replied, “Look, you’re a nice girl and everything, but I’ve had my fill of wide eyed innocents for the time being.”
Sarah’s eyes widened as it dawned on her that Xena took her comfort to be flirting.
“Oh, no! I didn’t mean…” She stuttered. “I mean you’re like…” related to me “not my type. I was just saying that it’s totally possible that someone will love you again and that person will have to be incredibly brave what with the warlord thing and all.”
Xena shrugged her shoulders, not knowing if she believed her, and obviously not caring.
“Well, I’m done with women for now. I’m sure I’ll change my tune in the future, but from here on out I’m sticking to men who can offer me strategic advantage and a little fun in the sack. I’ll probably head out in the morning and look Borias up again. Who knows?” She said, finishing the rest of the bottle.
“Speaking of morning, don’t you think we should be hitting an inn about now? It’s getting pretty late and…” She was cut off by a snowball hitting her in the face.
Turning toward the origin of the attack she noticed five burly men from the bar, each holding some kind of weapon.
Oh shit, it didn’t work. The mob is going to attack anyway. She thought.
“Ladies shouldn’t be walking around unescorted at night.” The leader said. “It’s not safe.”
“Yeah, well we’re just about to head in for the night, so if you’ll excuse us.” Sarah said.
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that little girl. I saw you and your friend throwing around quite a few coins in the tavern, and we’ve come to collect whatever you’ve got left.”
Thieves! They’re thieves. This might not be so bad after all. Sarah thought just before Xena spoke.
“Boys you picked on the wrong helpless individuals tonight.” Xena said, a grin forming on her face. “You see I was drunk and depressed, now I’m drunk and pissed off. You’re about to enjoy the wrath of the pain that has plagued me for the past few days. Shiiiiii-ya!” She cried out and flipped toward them.
“Oh shit.” Sarah exclaimed, throwing herself into the mix.
Gotta keep them alive. She thought.
The fight that broke out could hardly even be labeled as such. Everyone was drunk and throwing punches all over the place. Sarah had to admit that Xena was better than the men’s combined forces by far. Though the younger girl tried to hold her own she was thrust out of the fight by the angry and seasoned warrior and left only to look on in awe at her skill.
Xena fought with such precision that the fight could have been choreographed. She started off by using the men against each other. As they all went at her at once she somersaulted backward, out of the way. Two of the men ended up knocking each other unconscious, leaving only three agitators left to be dealt with. They advanced on her together, the man in the middle held a sword and the other two had staffs. With an ease that seemed impossible, Xena quickly jumped cheerleader style into the air with both feet hitting the two flanking men, and both hands directing the on-coming sword into the ground. Upon landing she held tight to the sword hilt and kneed the owner in the face. He stumbled onto his back, stunned but not unconscious like his cohorts. With a satisfied grunt Xena pulled the sword from the ground and headed over the struggling man.
“You know, pal, that was really pathetic.” She said as she took her stance directly over him with the sword poised on his chest. “Here you are, middle of the night, taking on two women with four men to back you up and now all of you are on the ground at my mercy. And mercy is something that I am completely out of at the moment.” She said before giving out a war cry and raising her sword.
“Wait!” Sarah said as she moved to hold Xena’s arms in the air.
“What?” The response came not only from Xena, but from the man at her feet as well.
“Look, while killing him would be mildly entertaining for about five minutes, we could hold off and do something else that would be just as much fun for us in the morning.”
Xena lowered the sword which demonstrated she was listening, but looked at Sarah as if she had grown a third eye.
“This better be real good, kid.” Xena said with little patience.
Sarah smirked at Xena, and then decided to whisper her plan into the warrior’s ear considering one of the men was still conscious and listening with rapt attention.
He studied Xena’s face as it turned from an impatient scowl to a grin. Fear caused his skin to prickle.
“Humph!” Xena chuckled as Sarah pulled away awaiting her answer. “Ok, you go get the guy, and I’ll stay here and make sure our little subjects don’t get away.”
With one last glance at the men on the ground Sarah ran as fast as she could to the town shops. Hoping against hope that she would return before Xena changed her mind.
The Japanese man watched as Sarah ran away, but quickly brought his attention back to the warrior as she knelt to speak with him face to face.
“Right now you need to be thanking whatever gods you worship that I’m drunk and she’s clever. Because without those two conditions you’d be dead by now.”
Morning brought a sense of anxiety and a hangover to Sarah. She had checked herself and Xena into an inn with the money she’d confiscated off the thieves then promptly passed out in her bed. As she made her way down the stairs she wondered if Xena would be down there waiting on her, or if blood lust overtook the warrior during the night and caused the massacre that was supposed to happen in the first place.
Slumping on the bar at the inn she ordered a pitcher of water. A strong hand clamped down on her shoulder and a familiar voice spoke loudly into her ear.
“Good morning, sunshine.” Xena said, grinning as she took a seat next to her. “How ya’ feelin’?” She asked.
“Not as good as you obviously. What’s with the ‘earth says hello’ attitude?” She asked.
“Oh, I took some bitter herbs and drank a pitcher of water before I passed out last night.” She said, matter of factly.
“Well, it would have been nice if you’d shared that wisdom with me.”
“Pfft.” Xena let out the sigh with a roll of her eyes. “I tried to get you to do both, and all you did was beat me away and start snoring. I was too tired to argue.” She then poured her own glass and continued. “So when are you heading out?” Xena asked.
“After a few more glasses. Trying to start the day off right.” She said, finishing her first and pouring the second from the pitcher. “You leaving this morning, too?” She asked, hoping for an affirmative answer.
“Yep.” Xena said, looking around. “Not much left for me here. I know you’re probably headed back to Greece by boat, but if you want to take a detour through Chin, and travel west on land, you can ride with me till I find Borias.”
“Oh I see, you’re gonna ditch me once you find the big burly man. What’s the matter? Scared he’ll take one look at me and reevaluate his affections for you?” Sarah teased.
The warrior chuckled. “Don’t put so much stock in yourself kid; you’re not that cute. C’mon and finish up with that water, you can walk me to the boat and make up your mind.”
Upon exiting the inn the two women noticed a fairly large group of people gathered together. They were talking and laughing loudly at whatever was in front of them. It took only a few moments for Sarah to register what was going on.
“Oh yeah, they must’ve found those guys that attacked us last night.” She said.
“Oh goody, goody.” Xena said with what could have been called a purr. “Let’s go admire our handiwork.” She then grabbed Sarah and they started pushing their way through the crowd.
The sight they saw could only be described as satisfying. All five men were naked, gagged and bound together around a lantern pole in the street. The crowning achievement of this sight was the symbols tattooed on their foreheads signifying that they were all thieves. The town’s people were heckling, swearing, and throwing rotten fruit at the men who could have possibly stolen from them at some point in time.
One of the men’s eyes focused on Xena and Sarah and he started to scream something that was muffled by the gag they’d tied around his mouth. As he struggled against his bonds the crowd reacted with more laughter and taunts. Xena simply smirked and tipped her large hat at the man and started to make her way back through the crowd. Sarah backed away as well, both middle fingers poised in the air.
Once they made it to the docks the two women finally stopped joking about what the cold weather was doing for the naked men’s reputations among the single ladies of the village, and they said their goodbyes.
“So you’re sure you don’t want to travel with me for a while. I promise we could get into a lot more trouble than that on the way.” Xena said.
Sarah laughed. “You know it’s pretty tempting; unfortunately I do have some really important stuff that I need to get back to. But let me say this, it’s an honor to be asked, Xena.” She said with full sincerity as she put her arm out to the warrior. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you.”
Xena rolled her eyes and grabbed the offered hand at the forearm. “If I’da known you were such a sap I would have never let you drink with me.” She said just before turning the hand shake into a hug. “Take care of yourself, Sarah.”
And with that the warrior broke away and boarded a boat headed for Chin. Within moments the boat started to clear the dock and set sail. Sarah waved, not knowing if Xena could actually see her, and spoke softly. “I’ll see you soon.”
To be continued…
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