Disclaimer: The recognizable characters in this tale belong to Rob Tapert and Co., RenPics, Studios USA, MCA/Universal and anyone else who has an investment in Xena: Warrior Princess.  I am just borrowing them for use in this story.  No profit is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended.  This is all just for fun and to keep me busy and out of trouble.

Thanks: To Phil – who beta read this for me at the very last minute… because that’s when she got it.  And to the Boss – for inviting me to play again.

Author’s Note: This is the beginning of what will eventually be a new multi-fandom epic that Phil requested.  It sets the stage for what is coming and falls nicely into the Halloween story category.  However, before this becomes the epic I know it will, Phil has to do her part and I have to finish Caught in the Storm.  This will be the next thing up though.

The Storyteller’s Cardinal Rule is in effect.


A Twist of Faete
By D


The candlelight flickered as another cold wind blew through the cavern he was currently crouched in, but he smiled in satisfaction as the last charm snapped in place.  “Finally,” he grumbled.  “Finally I have a way to take them all down and destroy them.  And when I’m done, there won’t be anyone left to worship... except me.”  His grin was demonic and harrowing, but his laughter was particularly bone chilling.  He lifted his hand nonchalantly and watched the bracelets rise with the motion.  With a wave, he banished them from his presence and nodded in satisfaction the next instant when they disappeared.  “Now all I need to do is to sit back and wait.”


Chapter I

It wasn’t the worst accommodation they had ever shared, but it certainly didn’t rank among the best either.  On the plus side, they were out of the storm, dry and relatively warm – that is to say… not completely frozen - and they were getting warmer by the moment.  Their clothing and the majority of their bedding would dry eventually.  For now they were curled up naked together wrapped in the one dry fur they had salvaged.

Xena leaned down and brushed a kiss over the still wet blonde head as another shiver traveled through Gabrielle’s body.  “You feeling any warmer?”

Gabrielle jerked her head once sharply and burrowed further into Xena’s embrace.  “Y-yeah,” she whispered.  “At-t l-least it’s... n-not p-painful... anymore.”

“I wish we’d been able to build a fire.”

“N-not your f-fault... w-we w-were in the... m-middle of f-flat s-scrub... l-land with n-no s-shelter... in s-sight w-when the s-storm b-broke, Xe.  I’ll b-be... all right.  It j-just t-takes me a... little l-longer to w-warm up these d-days – you... know... that.”

“Doesn’t mean I don’t wish....”

“I... I know.  M-me too,” patting the warm chest over the strong heartbeat she could feel pulsing in her ear.  “B-but it... is w-what it... is.  Y-you’ve d-done all... you c-can for the m-moment.”  Gabrielle shifted slightly, snuggling her cold nose into Xena’s neck and licking lightly over the barely there mark she’d made earlier that still visible to her glowing eyes... even in the darkness.  “W-when I get... a,... l-little w-warmer, we... we’ll s-see w-what we can d-do to t-take your... mmmind off... things.”

The raised eyebrow and pained smirk was apparent in her tone of voice.  “Maybe we should try to take my mind off things in an effort to get you warmer.  It’s never failed us before.”

Before Gabrielle could respond, the cavern lit up with an unearthly glow.  “Better listen to the Warrior Babe, Gabs.  I’m thinking she’s got a bitchin’ idea.  Love is always a rockin’ choice, and hot and heavy sex.... I mean – who doesn’t totally dig that??”

“Hello, Aphrodite,” Xena greeted dryly.  “What do you want?”

“Do I have to want something to come visit you two radically awesome chicks?” frowning when Xena and Gabrielle exchanged glances before turning to her with knowing expressions.  “Okay... fine,” she relented after only seconds.  She waved a hand, providing her with a comfortable place to sit and a bright, warm fire close to where Xena and Gabrielle were currently ensconced.  “Least I could do,” she replied to their unspoken question.

“So what do you want?” Xena asked a little acerbically.  It bothered her more than a little that Aphrodite could provide Gabrielle with the warmth she needed with just a flick of her wrist.

“Xe,” Gabrielle chided lightly.  Then she leaned up to whisper in her ear.  “It c-can’t hurt to l-listen to her.”

“It’s gotten us into trouble every other time,” Xena commented wryly, then looked at Gabrielle’s warm expression.  She huffed an impatient breath.  “For you, my bard,” she growled.  “But if she asks to join us in a threesome....”

“... all b-bets are off.”  Gabrielle turned red-rimmed golden eyes towards Aphrodite.  “B-but she w-would n-never ask us s-something like that... would you, Dite?  Y-you would never j-jeopardize our f-friendship over something s-so p-personal to us, w-would you?”

“NO!  No, of course not!” she mumbled with a blush.  “Though I wouldn’t say no if you offered either.  I’m blonde, not stupid.”  She waved her hands before either of them could retort.  “So not the reason I’m here.”

“You gonna share that with us sometime this century?  Or are we supposed to guess?”

“Ya know, a little gratitude would go a long way here.”  Aphrodite glared at Xena, but the blue eyes held her gaze, and she snorted impatiently before looking away and meeting Gabrielle’s now green eyes.  “How do you put up with her?” waving her hands again.  “Doesn’t matter.  There is some radically uncool crap happening, and I need your fabulousness to totally find out what’s going on and who is, like, behind it.”

“You got proof?  Or just suspicions?”

“A little of both.”  Aphrodite sighed.  “More suspicion and speculation, but a little proof.  Something not-so-gnarly is happening to the gods.  All the gods... like worldwide.”

“And you know this how?”

Aphrodite shrugged.  “We talk, ya know.  It keeps us honest... to a point.  We tend not to, you know, cross boundaries or whatever.”

“So what’s the word?” Gabrielle asked, finally warm enough to have lost the shivers and stuttering.

“It’s....”  Aphrodite shrugged and sighed.  “It’s weird.  You know... like totally bizzarro.  Let me start at the beginning.  Maybe you can, like, make sense of this.”  She conjured up a pair of glasses and a scroll. She unrolled the parchment and peered at them over the tops of her lenses before clearing her throat.  “So, um... ‘Once Upon a Time’....” glancing up to see two identical blank expressions staring back at her.  “Whaaaaat??” she whined.  “I thought that was the way all you gnarly bards started your stories.”  When their countenances didn’t change, she growled and returned her eyes to the scroll.  “Fine... whatever.  Don’t judge me.  Do you know your history?”

“Sure – which part?”

“No,” Aphrodite responded, glaring at them.  “Not your personal history, because DUH?  I mean your world history – the history of the gods.”

“We know enough to know….” Xena growled, but before she could continue her rant, Gabrielle interrupted.

“We know Gaia and Uranus created the Titans and that Zeus defeated the Titans to usher in the Olympian Pantheon.”

“I’ve heard a bit about a few of the Norse and Celtic gods,” Xena added, shaking her head silently when Gabrielle looked a question at her.  Gabrielle sighed and tucked her head back into Xena’s neck, knowing there wouldn’t be any answers from that direction any time in the near future.  “Why?”

“Because once, a long time ago, the world was a much different place.  And the gods….”  Aphrodite sighed.  “Once we were one world... one community... and everything had its place.  Light and darkness; yin and yang; strength and weakness; good and evil.  Everything existed in perfect balance and harmony.  Then evil got greedy and the world was thrown into Chaos.  When that happened, my great-grandparents – Gaia and Uranus – retired from the field of godhood, turning the ruling of the gods over to my grandfather Cronus and his siblings. Unlike the Titans, though, Gaia and Uranus still exist today on Olympus, but they mainly just watch the world going on around them.  They contribute very little to either the humans that once worshipped them or the family that tends to ignore their existence these days.”

“Okay, soooo...?” Gabrielle prodded when the silence started to lengthen.

Aphrodite pushed the glasses a little further up her nose and let her eyes refocus on the parchment.  “In the midst of the ensuing confusion and pandemonium, the Titans didn’t realize that a new threat had been awakened and let loose to prey not just on the human population, but the gods as well.  His name was Saligia, and greed was just the first indication of his presence on Earth.  It was because of him that Zeus slayed his father Cronus and assumed the role as King of the gods.  It was also because of him that the gods fractured – that we suddenly had Pantheons across the planet – each part of their own culture.”

“So you’re saying it’s because of this Sal person that we have....”

“Sal introduced seven of the worst plagues possible into the world and made them part of our culture – humanity’s as well as the Pantheons.  He did far more damage than Pandora ever dreamed of causing.”

“He’s why her box was empty,” Xena stated flatly with an understanding look in Gabrielle’s direction.  Aphrodite just goggled at them.

“How did you...?  You know what? Nevermind.  I don’t wanna know.  But yeah, he did.”

“Okay, so what happened then?”

“This is where things get a little tricky – because there was obvious evidence of his presence, but we could never actually find him.  Not a flesh-and-blood incarnation anyway.  But we lost a significant amount of power then.  We always suspected he was behind it in an effort to coup the Pantheons.”

“You don’t think it was directed at anyone in particular?” Gabrielle asked.  Xena remained silent, but it was apparent from her demeanor that she was taking Aphrodite’s concerns seriously.

Aphrodite glanced up, gratified to see they were listening with due consideration.  “No... because we all suffered this major drop in power and influence.  It was, you know, disconcerting.”

“So what happened?”

“I dunno.  Saligia didn’t disappear, but he seemed to mellow a bit, if you know what I mean.  He was always there in the background, but kind of like a noise that you’re not consciously aware of unless it’s suddenly gone.”

“Except he’s not gone is he?”

Blonde curls shook vehemently at Aphrodite’s negative reply.  “Not even close – except....”

“Except what?”

“We can’t find him.  Evidence of his presence has always been on a slight ebb and flow, but it’s heightening again, and this time gods are disappearing.”

“Like literally?”

“Well, yeah – I mean, no.  I mean – it’s not like they’re dying or vanishing from being or whatever.  They’re just not gods anymore.”

“He’s sucking their powers?”

“That’s the consensus among the gods, yeah.”

“Do you have any reason to think he’s responsible aside from ancient history?” Xena spoke for the first time in a while.  Aphrodite shifted her attention and met Xena’s eyes seriously.

“No.  But it makes the most sense and what is totally scary is that all the Pantheons are on the same radical page about this.”  She watched the skepticism pass over Xena’s face and rushed to qualify her statement.  “I know we can be rash and petty and hateful, and we probably meddle with humans more than we should....”

“Probably?” Xena snarked.  Aphrodite huffed, but shrugged apologetically.

“Yeah, well, anyway....  The gods don’t really mess with each other outside of our own Pantheons unless we’re, like, forming alliances or, you know, stuff.  We’ve got enough to do trying to maintain our own gnarly biz.  I know I so don’t have time for much else.  Do you know how much radical work goes into a totally bitchin’ love match??”  She fanned herself.  “Makes me tired just thinking about it.”

“Back on point,” Xena instructed. 

Aphrodite growled.  “Hey, this isn’t my fault.  I’m just looking for a little help here.”

“We get that, Dite,” Gabrielle responded, laying a light hand on Aphrodite’s forearm.  “But we need the whole story and you’re kinda running in circles instead of making your point.  We need to hear everything you know or suspect.  Aside from all the Pantheons agreeing, why do you think this Sal guy is behind the gods disappearing?   And how is he doing it?”

“Saligia makes the most sense, because frankly, no one else has stepped up to claim responsibility.  And trust me – no one around this joint could keep that kind of secret. We all like to brag about our fabulousness.”

Xena nodded her acceptance of the statement without making a comment.  “Okay, so how’s he doing it?”

“We’re not sure. I mean, we have a few ideas, but we can’t find much of a common thread aside from the fact that it only really happens on the eve of the Day of the Dead.”

“When the veil between worlds is at its thinnest.”

“Um hmm... exactly.”

“So how long as this been happening?”

“We don’t know.”

Xena sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.  “Okay. What ideas do you have about how he’s doing this?”

“The best we can figure?  Enchanted talismans.”

“Why?  What makes you think that?”

“Again... it’s just a hunch.”

“So why not just avoid them?”

Aphrodite exhaled in frustration.  “If only.  We’re not even sure what they are.”  She held up a hand and closed her eyes, rubbing her forehead.  “Here’s the deal – each god this has happened to so far has been received a symbol of their godhood shortly before their powers began waning.  They’ve all be among the offerings and they’re never found until the offering is accepted by the priest or priestess on behalf of the god or goddess in question.”

“What do they look like?”

“We’re not sure.”  She shrugged.  “They’ve all been different so far... at least as far as we can tell.  They seemed to be tailored to not only the god, but also the culture and Pantheon they belong to.  If we’ve guessed right about what they are, they’re not even made of the same material.  The only thing they have in common is their size and shape.  That’s what made us start noticing them to start with.”

“Which are?”

“Huh?  Oh… you mean the similarities.   Sorry.  It’s been a really crappy day around here lately.  Anyway, it’s about an inch square.”

Xena’s eyebrows went into her hairline.  “That’s it?”

Aphrodite nodded.  “That’s it.”

“And are they hidden within the offerings or blatantly laid on the altar?”

Aphrodite scrunched up her forehead in thought.  “I haven’t actually seen one before it’s been accepted.  The gods who have been affected just started sharing with the rest of us, and of course it’s been after the priests and priestesses have collected the bounty for the day.”

“So the gods in question doesn’t actually have to come into physical contact with the talisman.”

“I don’t think so,” Aphrodite replied.  “Do you think you can help?”  She paused a beat, then continued.  “I know we can be real assholes sometimes and we probably shouldn’t mess with you guys because we’re bored or playing games or whatever, right?  Because maybe you deserve better than being pawns or wagers.  But better the gods you know, right?  I mean, at least we kinda know and respect one another a little bit.  I’d totally help you guys out if positions were reversed.”

Xena and Gabrielle turned to one another, conversing silently while Aphrodite watched in fascination.  Finally, Xena sighed and kissed Gabrielle’s forehead before Gabrielle gave Aphrodite her attention.  “What exactly are you asking us to do, Dite?”

Aphrodite broke into grins and clapped her hands together in excitement.  “So you’ll do it??  You’ll help me... us??”

“We can try.  Depends on what you want us to do.”

Aphrodite took a deep, calming breath.  “Oh.  Well, the best scenario for us would be that you get rid of Saligia and all those talismans we suspect he has.  Barring that?  Either option would be nice, but I think it might be easier to find the talismans than destroying Sal.”

“Why do you believe that?  This Sal person is just one man.”

“He’s more than a man.  I don’t know that he’s a god exactly, but he has the means to become one if he’s the one collecting the powers that are being lost.  Besides, he unleashed the seven plagues – there’s power back of him somewhere.”

“Do you have any idea where he is or how we can find him?”

“Notta clue, really – given the fact that he’s affecting all the Pantheons at once.  We’re not even sure what he looks like.”  She sighed.  “I know it’s not much to go on, and it’s a lot to ask, but I don’t know what else to do.  Given the Chaos he caused with his introduction, I’m not sure any of us will survive – humans or gods - if he’s successful in his coup.”

Gabrielle stared at Xena a long moment before she turned back to Aphrodite.  “We’ll do our best, Dite. That’s the best we can promise.  But you need to make sure the Pantheons need to know not to accept any more offerings until we can figure this out.  And that’s likely to take a while.”

“It’s more than I hoped for.”  She kissed them both briefly on the lips before shimmering out of sight.  “Thanks, you guys!  You totally rock!”

They gazed at one another in silence for a full minute after the rose petals settled on the floor around them.  Then they reclined in the warmth now completely surrounding them, and began making tentative plans to find Saligia.


Chapter II

Words spread quickly between the Pantheons, and soon offerings were being left to molder and ruin until they could be combed through thoroughly to weed out anything that could be considered a talisman.  That, of course, created even more issues - the largest obstacle being that it could not be an acolyte or priest of the god for whom the talisman was intended who found it as that was construed as acceptance.  So there was a shuffling of acolytes between Pantheons and gods in an effort to prevent the talismans from activating accidentally, which caused any amount of heartache and discontent.

Xena and Gabrielle tried to collect the talismans as they were discovered in their travels, though it was extremely difficult... especially given the trials and tribulations they suffered through during their journey.  And those difficulties made them overlook the influences the talismans exerted over them both.  They didn’t even recognize their anger and wrath until it was almost too late.

Hope pulled them off track for a long time and they were months recovering the faith and trust they’d had between them.  When Gabrielle took Hope into the pit, Xena lost sight of everything for a very long time.  It wasn’t until Aphrodite admitted to saving Gabrielle and telling Xena where to start looking that Xena remembered their task; she resumed collecting the talismans as they surfaced.  They were coming less and less often and Xena chanced to wonder if Saligia had discovered their activities or if there just weren’t that many left.  Then she found Gabrielle in Potidaea and everything else went to the wayside for just a little while, even as things continued to bubble and ferment just under the surface.

There were a few talismans in India – not as many as she expected, but enough to assure them both that Saligia was still busy at whatever game he was playing.  Their lusts and desires increased exponentially but it wasn’t really talked about... much like their Bacchae natures. It was simply something they enjoyed to the point of over-indulgence.  Then came their crucifixions and months of anger and distrust and frustrations after Eli revived them.  A few more gods were lost, but Xena couldn’t bring herself to care and neither could Gabrielle.  They had far more important – and selfish – things to focus on... until everything between them exploded and nearly destroyed them.

It was when Gabrielle lay recovering after being healed from the debilitating head wound Xena had inflicted that Xena began recounting their journey in her mind… from the moment things had started going so wrong for them.  Every instance of increased anger; of greater selfishness; of intensified greed; of augmented hatred; of amplified pride or desire or jealousy – every single incident could be traced back to the discovery of another talisman placed in their possession.  Then she thought back to Aphrodite’s words to them years before – about the plagues Saligia had released and how they had been meant for gods and man.  And she realized that though each of the curses resided in mankind now as a matter of course, the talismans enhanced their effects exponentially.

But instead of calling for Aphrodite and railing at her for putting her – them – in such an untenable position, Xena traced Gabrielle’s face with the back of her fingertips, leaning forward and murmuring apologies that only she could hear.  She let a single teardrop roll down her cheek and drip onto Gabrielle’s lips before she leaned forward and brushed a kiss over her forehead.

“I’m sorry, Gabrielle,” she whispered.  “If I could turn back time and do things differently....”  Then Xena turned abruptly, jerking the pouch holding the talismans from the saddlebags and striding out the door into the stormy darkness.  She never saw the tears that leaked from Gabrielle’s still closed eyes.


Xena stood in the center of the courtyard, letting the rain wash over her until it wasn’t cold any more.  Then she tied the pouch to her armor, clutching her chakram in her left hand and raising her sword high in her right.    Then she lifted her voice to the heavens... and bellowed.


There was no sound beyond the rumble of thunder for several long minutes, but Xena waited patiently.  She knew he would come to her on this day of all days... especially when he realized the power she held in her hands.  She nudged the pouch gently, allowing the talismans to jingle together, and within seconds a figure started to form in front of her.

He wasn’t attractive – not to Xena’s way of thinking anyway – though it was obvious by his expression that he was a very vain individual.  He maintained a completely dry circle around him and looked her up and down with disdain, unimpressed by her appearance.  Then she jingled the pouch again and his eyes widened when he recognized exactly what had conjured his physical presence.  His round, double-chinned face grew purple with apocalyptic rage.


Xena gave him a half-smirk and shrugged.  “Yeah... what about it?”


Her eyes narrowed and turned to ice.  “Not nearly what you did... or what I’m going to.  The suffering you’ve caused....”

“Oh blah blah blah and boo hoo.  I’m no worse than the cancers known as gods that you pathetic creatures worship.  And at least I offer some fun.”

“Fun?!” Xena mocked.  “Really??  You call what you did to the world fun??”

“Well, yes.  It was all rather boring before.”

“I see,” Xena replied as she dropped her sword to rest on her shoulder and started walking around him.  He spun to keep her within his sight and frowned when he realized she was dripping into his dry sphere of existence.  She pretended not to notice and continued her circle.  “So what are the talismans for?”

“You mean you don’t know?” asked slyly.  “I expected you to know, given that you’ve been collecting them for years by the sound of it.”  He reached a hand forward and she swatted at him lazily, grinning when he jerked his hand back and cradled it protectively.  “You cut me!!” he wailed when black blood flowed sluggishly from the wound.

“Yep.  And I’ll do it again if you try putting those hands where they don’t belong again.”

“But those things... those talismans – they belong to me.”

Xena snorted.  “Not anymore they don’t.  Finders keepers and all that.”

“But they’re MINE!!!”

“You got rid of them – gave them away.  I found them.  Therefore, they’re mine now.”

Saligia smiled craftily.  “And how’s that working out for you, my dear?  I created them – I know the power they possess and the purpose they were intended for.  They can’t give you anything that’s not already there, but they can enhance your desires to the point of insanity – to make everything else in your life lose its importance.  Tell me... have they driven you mad yet?”

Xena let every single negative emotion she could feel come to the forefront of her mind, then she turned wild eyes in Saligia’s direction.  “I dunno, Sal – what do you think??” raising her sword and taking a swipe at him.  He screeched when a lock of his curly hair fell to the ground and realized with a touch that she had shaven him almost to bare skin on one side of his face.

“HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND???  WHAT DO YOU THINK...??” screaming again when she did the same to the other side of his face.

Xena chuckled lowly.  “You asked.  I just thought I’d demonstrate.”

Saligia held up his hands in surrender and stepped back a pace, dismayed when Xena followed as a matter of course.  “I can help.  Just give me the pouch and you’ll be back to normal.”

“Yeah... no.  ‘Cause see... if I give these back to you, it won’t remove the plagues you left.  It’ll just mean you go back to killing gods.”

He shrugged.  “Why do you care?  You don’t worship them - it’s not like you even believe in them.  So what difference if I rid the world of them and take their followers for my own.  We’ll have fun....”

“Until you destroy the world.”

“Oh pish posh.  Again... why do you care?  You won’t be around when it happens.  Humans aren’t cursed with the boredom of immortality.”

Something flashed through Xena’s eyes then, but it was gone so quickly, Saligia didn’t even notice it.  She sneered at him.  “Doesn’t matter.  Mankind deserves the right to choose for itself – not rely on the whims of some bored immortal being.”

“Aren’t you already subject to the whims of bored immortals?  You can’t tell me they don’t interfere in your life – we wouldn’t be here otherwise.  Because those talismans?” gesturing to her waist.  “They were meant for them... not you.”

“Perhaps.  But their powers will wane and wax according to mankind’s beliefs and choices – not because some punk wannabe wants to be more than he is.”

“Punk wannabe??  Do you know who you’re talking to??

“Yeah – I’m talking to the punk wannabe that tried stealing the powers of the gods with subterfuge and trickery.  You think you can win in a straight up fight with a real warrior?” mocking him and swinging her sword again.  She grinned maliciously when she left a reverse Mohawk across the top of his skull.  He screamed again and drew a sword from within his robes.

“Prepare to die, Mortal.  I have nothing to fear from you!”  Then he swung and found his sword caught and held in her hand and his eyes widened.

“Maybe not yet, you don’t,” she challenged and shoved him away from her.  She licked the blood from her hand and felt her incisors elongate and her eyes flash.  “But you will.”

Saligia recognized in that moment that Xena was both more and less than he expected.  And he knew he was in trouble when keeping up was a problem.

Saligia lost his protected circle almost immediately and had to adjust to the storm that surrounded them.  Back and forth they went, neither gaining nor losing ground, though he got the distinct feeling he was being toyed with.  He spared a thought to wish for some kind of power to defeat this inhuman woman who stood in front of him when she hesitated.

Saligia grinned at what he perceived to be a weakness he could exploit, and swung with every ounce of strength he had left.  He had no way of knowing what his actions were going to cause.


Xena was focused on her fight with Saligia – despite the despair she felt, she didn’t intend to lose.  She had things to that didn’t involve some half-wit upstart.  Aside from not wanting to owe Ares anything, she needed time with Gabrielle to fix all that was wrong between them.  So she was focused on defeating him while she exorcised some of the rage she could feel coursing through her veins – which at the moment involved allowing him to wear himself out until she was ready to destroy him.

Then she heard Gabrielle call her name softly, and she hesitated.  Without warning, Saligia aimed for her neck, knowing even a Bacchae couldn’t survive decapitation.  Almost immediately, she felt Gabrielle’s touch on her hips and she moved her sword with lightning speed to block his blow.  His blade slid off hers and hit the pouch, knocking it from her waist and causing the talismans to scatter.

It was all the distraction Xena needed.

With a mighty roar, she swung, hitting Saligia in the jugular and following through across his neck and spine with a clean, smooth slice.  But instead of his head falling to the ground and his body toppling over unsteadily, a bright light blinded them and they were forced to look away.  When they opened their eyes again, the talismans were gone and only his sword and the sound of his laughter remained of Saligia.

Xena stepped forward and the sword shimmered as Saligia spoke.  “Oh Xena... don’t you know you can never defeat me?  I am ingrained in the fabric of the world.  It may take a while, but we will meet again, my dear.  And when we do, I shall emerge victorious.”  The sound of laughter rolled as the shimmer faded, then a bright flash followed, removing the sword from their purview.  Xena and Gabrielle remained still for a moment longer, then Gabrielle clenched her hands on Xena’s waist.

“We need to talk.”

“We do... I know we do, Gabrielle.  But I think we need to take care of this first.  Wait... hear me out,” Xena asked, turning to face Gabrielle, but allowing her to choose their distance.  Gabrielle didn’t move closer, but she didn’t move further away either and Xena breathed a sigh of relief.  “You need to feed and you need some more time to heal.  But we also need to send some scrolls.”

Blonde eyes went into an equally blonde hairline.  “Huh?”

Xena smiled briefly, then it fell.  “What happened... what’s been happening....  Gabrielle, I know I’ve made some bad mistakes.”

“We both have.”

“No... not like....”  She stopped when Gabrielle held up a hand.  “Okay, yeah, we’ve both made mistakes.  But things seemed to snowball and get worse every time we picked up a new talisman.  Even our good adventures had undertones of uncontrolled emotion.”

Gabrielle nodded slowly.  “Okay – so what do you want to do?”

“I think we need to set up some kind of avant-garde – people that will keep an eye out for the talismans... who will collect them and keep them safe.”

“You think it’s necessary?”

“Yeah.  You heard him – we’re gonna meet again.  I just don’t think we should be the ones looking for those things anymore.  It’s been killing us, Gabrielle... tearing us apart.  You can’t tell me you don’t feel the difference in having them gone.”

“I do.”

Xena clasped her hands and brought them to her lips, brushing them with kisses and bathing them with her tears.  “I can’t.... Gabrielle, if we ever made a conscious decision to not be together anymore – it would be your choice.  I made my choice years ago when I offered you a bedroll outside of Amphipolis.  That hasn’t changed despite everything – madness, anger, disappointment or misunderstandings.  But those talismans...  they were meant to destroy gods, Gabrielle.  They were destroying us.”

Gabrielle leaned forward and kissed Xena’s forehead, causing both of them to close their eyes in benediction.

“All right, Xe.  We’ll feed, then you can write out the scrolls.  I think you’ll need one for each Pantheon, so seven? Eight?”  She shrugged.  “We’ll figure it out and then ask Aphrodite to deliver them.  We’ve still got some things to talk about and you’re right – I still need some time to heal.  But we’ll get through this.”

“I love you, Gabrielle.”

Gabrielle leaned forward again, this time meeting Xena’s lips with her own and allowing her incisors to scrape across the fleshy part of her lips.  Xena moaned and felt her incisors lengthen when the coppery scent of blood filled her senses.

“Take me to bed, Xena.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to worry about Saligia and talismans and avant-gardes.  Tonight is for us.”

“Tonight and every night... for as long as we live, my bard.”

It would be a very, very long time before they ever discussed Saligia again.

THE END (for now)