Legal disclaimer: Xena and Gabrielle belong to Renaissance Pictures and MCA/Universal studios, the concept of immortality belongs to Highlander that belongs to Davis/Panzer Productions. Rickie Gardner and Emil Holt belong to Redhawk. Mustang is a registered trademark of Ford Motor Company. Vlad Dracula is a historical person on which Bram Stoker based his novel. The rest belongs to me.
Subtext/sexual/violence disclaimer: There is always a chance of subtext. Xena and Rickie are lovers, but Ive concentrated more on the story than on depicted lovemaking. There is going to be violence, especially in the end of the first part.
Timeline/continuity disclaimer: This story takes place some time after the events in 'The Longing' and I strongly recommend that you read it before this story. This story is an addition to Redhawk's Infinity series.
Thanks: To Garnet for beta reading the story and Redhawk for initially starting the series.
Constructive criticism is always welcome and can be sent to Protek.
Prologue: Northern Atlantic
"Whenever you are ready, sir." Captain Jerome Thompson said to the tall man next to him.
"Thank you, captain." James Collins took a glance at the metallic urn in his hands.
The urn held the ashes of Meggan Collins Hawthorne, who had died recently at the relatively high age of 93. She was born in Dublin Ireland in 1906. She had lost her parents in a fire and she lost her grandfather in the Titanic disaster in 1912. She was saved from the doomed ocean liner and eventually adopted by one Seamus O'Riordan. In 1931 she married Matthew Hawthorne. After Matthew's dead in 1980, Meggan moved to live with her grandson James, where she spent the rest of her life.
Only a few people knew that James Collins wasn't actually Meggan's grandson and even fewer knew that he and Seamus O'Riordan were the one and same person. One of those people was standing next to him. Her name was Xena Amphipolous. They both held the gift of immortality that had enabled them to live through centuries without aging. They both had been involved with different events of history. They had seen rulers getting in power and others falling. They had seen births and extinction of nations. Wars and battles colored their lives. If they weren't fighting for some other's cause, they fought for their lives. They and their kind were the participants of the great game where everyone fought against everyone to the bitter death because, in the end, there could be only one.
"Matt would probably kill me for doing this, if he were still alive." Collins looked at the raven haired woman.
A hint of smile dropped on Xena's face. "That wouldn't be an easy task. Besides, this was her last wish."
They were on board of the Journeyman; a ship designed to do oceanography. The ship was on the exact location where the Titanic had sunk after she had hit the iceberg. Was it irony or merely just a coincidence but today was the 15th of April. It was 87 years to the day from that fateful night. The majestic liner would now claim yet another one of her passengers.
James Collins opened the urn slowly and handed the lid to Xena. A single tear ran down on the warrior's cheek.
"G'bye, lass," Collins said as he sprinkled the ashes into the ocean. The warrior stood silent.
Little further, young fair haired woman followed the ceremony. Rickie Gardner had met the old woman only once, just a little before her death. That woman had reminded her about her own mortality, that her time with the one person she loved was limited. Now, when she watched those two to bid their farewells, she realized how much it must hurt to do it over and over. Oh, Xena, I wish that I didn't have to leave you in the first place. She thought about the kind, honey haired bard that had loved the warrior about two thousand years ago and whose partial reincarnation Rickie had turned out to be. She walked to them and put her arm around Xena's waist. The arm was gladly accepted and responded with a gentle hug from the warrior's side.
The captain made a salute to the departed and withdrew discretely. The three stood silently there for a moment, until Collins turned to the two women next to him.
"I want to thank you both for being here today," he said with a silent voice.
"It was the least we could do," Xena replied. "Sorry, that we couldn't make it to the funeral." The actual funeral service and the cremation had been held about a week ago.
"Well, I think Meggan would have appreciated this more." James took a wistful glance at the horizon, where the first signs of dawn began to show.
"How will you take it from here?" Rickie spoke for the first time.
The Irishman gave a little smile to the young woman. "I don't know. The healing is going to be a slow process, so I guess I'll take it one day at a time."
They all walked to the aft. Xena noticed that the ship was relatively big, over 150 feet. "I hope you don't mind me asking, but how did you manage to arrange all this?" She asked James.
Another hint of smile appeared on his face. "The Journeyman? Well, I could say that I practically own this ship. This research unit as some would say, gets its funding from the company, whose founder I am. Besides, she was exploring the Golf current at the time, so it didn't require so much arranging as you might think."
James Collins took a firm grip from the railing and inhaled deep the fresh sea air. "I don't know about you ladies but I sure feel up to some breakfast right now. Meggan surely wouldn't want us to starve on her behalf."
A deep growl in Rickie's stomach betrayed her. She gave an embarrassed grin to her companions. "Well, now that you mentioned it "
"Then it's settled. If you follow me, we'll get to see what the cook has made up." James led the two women inside.
Portland, Oregon, two days later
"What do we have? Detective Emil Holt asked the officer who was knelt beside a body.
"A female, Caucasian, between 15 and 20 years, no clothes or ID. Not a very pretty sight, sir," the young officer said.
"They usually aren't," Holt remarked. "Has the forensic analysis been made?"
"Yes, the guy from the lab is over there." The officer pointed at the back of the alley.
"Thanks." Holt walked towards the overweight man whose hair had started to thin out from the top. "Hi, Ed! What have you got?"
Eduardo Gonzalo turned at the voice and nodded to Holt. "Afternoon, Emil. The kid probably gave you the headlines, so I'll fill you in with details." He walked back to the body with Holt.
"She has been dead for at least ten hours," Gonzalo said as he removed the blanket covering the body. "Cause of death is the traumatic loss of blood." He pointed at the two small wounds on the neck. "Normally, these wounds wouldn't be lethal but as you can see from these marks around the wounds, the blood has been sucked from her." Gonzalo turned to look at the detective standing next to him. "The actual killing has happened elsewhere and then the body has been dumped here, I would say, seven hours ago." He covered the body and stood up.
"Anything else?" Holt asked.
"There were traces of blood in her mouth and the marks on her teeth indicate that she has been forced to drink some blood. I ran the preliminary tests and it appears to type O negative. Her blood type is AB." Gonzalo wiped the sweat from his forehead.
"Well, I have to do some further testing, but on the basis of the blood type and MO I would say that we're dealing with the same guy as in the other cases."
Eduardo Gonzalo referred to series of killings that had been happening in the Portland area lately. In each case the victim had been a young woman, who had been drained from blood and then left naked in a dark alley. Emil Holt had been assigned to run the investigations. So far, there had been five killings and Holt had a feeling that this wouldn't be the last one.
Gonzalo read the expression from Holt's face. "Looks like we have a blood thirsty serial killer out there." He let his look go around.
Holt knelt down at the body and looked the pale face of the dead girl. There was something familiar in that that face but Holt couldn't quite recall, where from. He was about to cover the body again when he remembered. He opened his wallet and took a folded piece of paper out of it. He unfolded it revealing a photocopy of a picture that portrayed a young woman. He compared the picture to the face of the victim. The copy was of bad quality and the girl didn't look even remotely as appealing as in the picture but there was no doubt. The victim and the girl in the picture were the same.
Holt took his cellular and dialed a number. "Calista? Holt. Meet me at the Good Samaritan Hospital in thirty minutes." He ended the call and dialed another number.
Xena stood outside the DMV office building. She had waited for fifteen minutes now. She let the mild spring wind to run through her hair. She heard the door open and she turned to look at Rickie who was walking towards her. The warrior gave a kiss to the younger woman.
"How did it go?" Xena asked.
"Like hell, I was so nervous," Rickie answered and then grinned when she saw the expression on the warrior's face. "I got it!"
"You did? Oh, I'm so happy for you!" The warrior took the fair haired woman in tight embrace and gave another kiss, this time a little longer.
Rickie had had a pretty rough time at the driving school. She and automobiles just seemed not to be meant for each other. However, she had managed to go through it and she now had a fresh license to prove it.
"Where's your car?" Rickie asked when they walked on the sidewalk.
"I didn't come here with my car." Xena smiled mysteriously. "I came with yours."
Rickie looked the dark woman in disbelief for a moment. "M- mine?" She finally managed to ask.
"That's right. Do you like it?" The warrior stopped suddenly at a car parked by the sidewalk.
Rickie turned to look at the car next to them. It was a forest green '67 Ford Mustang convertible. The car looked like it had just been driven out from the assembly line. The sun reflected brightly from the new paint job and even more brightly from the alloy wheels and chrome bumpers. The word 'DREAMER' was neatly pressed on the license plates.
"It's- it's beautiful." Rickie let her hand slide on the sleek fender. She turned to look at the warrior. "It's absolutely beautiful, Xena. How can I ever thank you?"
"You are already thanking me by just being a part of my life. Congratulations, Dreamer." Xena gave her a squeeze.
"Hey, I got a great Idea! Let's drive to the make out point and spend the whole day there." Rickie lifted her other eyebrow.
"Mmm, sounds like a plan." The warrior smiled in approval. She dug a set of keys from her pocket and handed them to Rickie. "You drive."
They sat in and Rickie turned the key. The small block V8 responded immediately with a low growl. She put the gear on forward and slowly rolled on the street. At that moment Xena's cellular rang.
Shit! I should have turned that thing off, she thought as she answered.
"Emil here," the voice on the other end said.
"What is it?" Xena let her annoyance be heard.
"You remember that missing girl case, that you were working on, Katy Muller?" A pause. "I think I've found her."
"How is she?" The warrior was now listening.
"We found her from an alley south side." Another pause. "She was dead when we found her. I'm sorry, Xena."
The cover of the phone cracked under the warrior's grip.
"Can you come over at the Good Samaritan Hospital and make a positive ID? I also would like to discuss with you about this."
"Sure, we'll be there shortly." Xena closed the phone.
"Emil?" Rickie asked meaningfully.
"Emil." Xena answered.
"So I guess this means no make out point for today?" Rickie asked a bit of disappointment in her voice.
Xena smiled her apologetically. "We'll have to take a rain check on that, sorry. Take a left here, we're going to the hospital."
Holt was waiting them at the lobby when they arrived. "It's a good thing that you could come so quickly. I hope I didn't interrupt anything important." The detective had an uncomfortable feeling that he had in fact done exactly that.
"We were about to celebrate Rickie's driving license but I suppose that can wait a little while longer." Xena exchanged glances with Rickie.
"You got your license? Well, congratulations to you, Rickie!" Holt gave her a quick hug.
"Thanks. You really must see the Mustang, Xena gave me," Rickie said to him.
"Well, actually I have already seen it." Holt smiled meaningfully. "I gave Xena a hint that it was going to be sold at the confiscated cars auction."
"Let's get this over with." Xena interrupted them. "Where is she?"
"In the back," Holt replied. "Do you want to wait outside?" He asked Rickie.
"No, I come with you guys," she answered a bit unsure.
Holt led them to the lab. A tall blond woman was there, standing beside an examination table. She was dressed in a gray business suit.
"Xena Amphipolous, Rickie Gardner, meet Calista Leighton. She works as a profiler for the Bureau." Holt made the introductions. "She has been consulting me with these cases as a personal favor."
"Nice to meet you, Xena. Emil has told me a lot about you." Calista shook the warrior's hand. "You too, Rickie." She turned to the younger woman.
"Okay, you ready, Xe?" Holt asked when they turned their attention to the covered body on the examination table.
"Yep," Xena said. Holt removed the cover. The warrior looked at the pale body for a glimpse and turned away. "It's Katy Muller," she only said.
Rickie let her eyes stay on the body a bit longer. The girl was about the same age as she, maybe a year or two younger. "How did she die?" She asked Holt.
"She died of blood loss," Holt answered. "Apparently someone has sucked her dry."
"You mean like a vampire?" Rickie asked terrified.
"I suppose that would describe it quite well." The detective hunched his shoulders. "This was actually the fifth similar case in a short period. I think we have a serial killer on the loose."
"I've tried to gather a psychological profile on the murderer." Calista took over. "All the victims are young girls that have run away from home and live on the streets. That gives me a reason to believe that the murderer relives the experiences of his or her youth through the victims, only taking it further. The murderer has probably belonged to a cult that has gothic rites. That would explain the way that these girls have been killed. That's what I've figured out so far." The profiler ended her analysis.
Xena had been quiet most of the time. Now she opened her mouth. "How do I get the feeling that you haven't got very far with your investigations." She looked Holt straight in the eye.
"I'm in a dead end with this." Holt admitted.
"I suppose, I could do some of my own digging, but I need every bit of information, you have gathered so far." The warrior said to him. "And you're going to owe me one."
"Sure, anything you need," Holt promised.
"Well, I guess I won't be needed here anymore. See you at the station, Emil." Calista interrupted them. "It was nice to meet you both," she said to the women and left.
Xena waited for a moment, before she talked. "Emil, I'm going to ask you to return that favor now."
"Try me," Holt offered.
"Let me talk to Katy Muller's parents first, before you go see them," the warrior said silently. "I want that they hear this from me." She looked at the covered body.
"Sure, I can live with that."
"Thank you, Emil." Xena walked to the door with Rickie.
"Any time, Xena. Any time," Holt answered to the empty room.
A pair of eyes followed the two women from a distance. The figure watched from the shadows as the dark woman and her fair haired companion stepped into the green Mustang and drove away. The murderer had chosen the next victim.
It was late evening when Xena and Rickie returned to their home. Visiting Katy Muller's parents hadn't been a pleasant task The news had totally broken Mrs. Muller. The warrior had tried to offer some words of comfort without success. After giving their condolences, they had left. The immortal had been quiet all the way home and Rickie had had the good sense not to bring up any conversation. She parked her car next to Xena's and they stepped on the freight elevator. As soon as they were up, Xena walked to the liquor cabinet and poured some whiskey in a glass and emptied the glass with one sip. Rickie went to her and put her both hands around the warrior's waist. She could feel the tensed muscles relax a bit.
"Thank you, Rickie," the dark woman finally said.
"For what?" Rickie asked.
"For being you." Xena turned to face the young woman and kissed her forehead.
"You're welcome, Warrior-mine," Rickie answered and let the tip of her nose touch Xena's.
Rickie let go of the raven haired woman and walked to the refrigerator. "Xena?" She asked, when she opened the door and took a bottle of juice.
"Yes, Rickie?" The warrior asked back. She had poured another drink and sat on the sofa.
"Do you think that vampires really exist?"
The warrior hesitated for a moment and simply answered, "No."
"How can you be so sure?" The young woman didn't want to let her get away that easily.
"I've met lots and lots of people during my life and not a single one of them had turned out to be a vampire." Xena gave her a smile. "Some sick vampire wannabes are a different matter."
Rickie sensed that there was a possibility to a juicy bedtime story so she decided to throw more oil to the flames. "Have you met Dracula?" She could hear the warrior spill her drink.
"Dracula wasn't a vampire," Xena finally said.
"So you have met him." Rickie had caught a big one this time. "You want to tell me about it?" Another spill.
"I've only met him once - twice and only shortly. There's really not much to tell." The warrior tried to weasel out of the topic.
"How do I get the feeling that there's more to it than that." Rickie grinned meaningfully.
Xena let out a long sigh. "Okay, you win!" She was beaten. "I tell you what? You make us two mugs of that hot chocolate you are so famous of and I'll tell you about my encounters with Vlad Dracula, the prince of Wallachia. But don't blame me if you end up having nightmares because it's not one of those stories you would tell your kids at bedtime."
"Deal," Rickie said and started preparing the chocolate.
Targoviste, Wallachia, 1458
Pale moonlight enlightened the Xena's path when she approached the outskirts of Targoviste, the capital of the small province of Wallachia. The cloak that she was wearing cast a shadow on her face. She had been on the move most of the time after she had left Kiev about a week ago. She was heading towards Athens to catch a ship to the island of Melos, where she had her retreat.
Suddenly, she felt the sensations of the quickening. Another immortal was nearby. Xena slowed her horse to a gait. A fight was something that didn't really interest the warrior right now. She thought about her options how to avoid the possible struggle but a desperate scream of a woman just ahead made her think otherwise.
The warrior launched her horse to a gallop and pretty soon she saw a soldier leaning over a struggling young woman. There was no mistake about the soldier's intentions. He turned to face the warrior.
"You! Don't interfere if you know what's good for you," the soldier shouted to the rider.
"I'm afraid, I can't allow that." Xena gave a feral grin. That soldier was the other immortal that she had sensed just a while ago. He obviously wasn't aware of the gift that he held and the warrior princess wasn't going to bother to explain the rules of the game to him. That kind of animal didn't deserve it.
"All right, maybe I'll do you instead, after I've taught you some manners." The soldier approached her with his sword.
Xena removed her cloak and unsheathed her sword. She somersaulted behind the soldier and took a quick glance to inspect that the girl was all right. "Run away, quickly!" She told the girl who grabbed her belongings and disappeared into the forest.
"I'm gonna kill you slowly for this!" The soldier shouted as he swung his sword towards the dark woman.
Xena parried the strike easily and kicked him into stomach. He backed away a couple of steps, holding his belly. Xena wanted to end this short, so she gave a hit sending the soldier's sword flying to the ground. Then she stomped on his foot so that the man would straighten his back, enabling the warrior to give the final strike. She swung her sword and the soldier's head flew into the bushes, leaving the beheaded body to jerk and finally collapse.
For a while it was quiet. Then, the sky cracked wide open as the bolts of lightning fed the warriors body. The spasms were strong, almost unbearable. Xena straightened her arms wide open as in to receive ever drop of that ecstatic feeling.
It was over as suddenly as it had started. Xena fell down to the ground. Her body was totally consumed. Suddenly, she heard footsteps around her and she realized that she was surrounded. She tried to rise but her reactions were still slow after the experience. Something hit her hard from behind and everything went black.
She was first aware of the tremendous pounding in the back of her head. Xena opened her eyes and saw the dark clear sky. She moved her aching head a bit to get a view from her surroundings. She was in courtyard of castle. Soldiers were walking here and there and there were few horses around her. She tried to move but she realized that she was loosely chained to the horses around her.
"She's awake! Go get prince Vlad!" One of the soldiers said when he saw the woman lying on the courtyard move.
Prince Vlad. So she had been taken straight into the lion's den. She had heard stories about the ruler of Wallachia. Vlad Dracula was well known as being a firm and ruthless regent and keeping his nation in a tight grip. Well, Xe, how are you going to get yourself out of this mess?
She heard footsteps closing her and she bent her head to get a better view. There he was, accompanied by his guards. He was young, in his late twenties. Long curly hair dropped on the shoulder pads of his armor. Tiny mustache and a goat beard emphasized the vicious expression on his face. But the eyes, Xena had rarely seen such evilness as she saw now. Dracula gave a sign and the warrior was roughly brought to her feet.
"So this is the witch that killed one of my elite guard." The prince measured her from head to toes.
"If that was one of your elite guard, I sure hated to see the grade of your regular troops." Xena let her bravado show.
Dracula slapped her strongly on the face. "Silence, harlot!" Then he realized that the dark woman was testing him and calmed down. "Oh, you are good, aren't you." The prince gave a vicious smile.
"How about you letting me go so that I wouldn't have to kill you?" Xena smiled but not a hint of that showed in her eyes.
Dracula smiled condescendingly. "A tempting idea. But as a ruler I have to demonstrate my power to the people. I cannot appear weak to them so I'm going to make an example out of you."
"How? By ripping my limbs off with these poor animals?" Xena snorted.
"No, nothing that messy." Dracula lowered his eyebrows. "Although the horses will play a part in your execution. You will be impaled and set on a stake at the Market square." Dracula laughed.
As Xena realized what was going to happen to her, she tried to release herself from the grip of the men that were holding her but that was stopped with a hit to her stomach. The warrior bent down.
"Very well, let's get this over with. Set the horses!" Dracula ordered.
The horses pulled Xena's arms and legs apart so that hung tight horizontally a couple of feet off the ground. She watched as a ten feet long stake was oiled. She tried to squirm free, without success. Her breeches were cut off and two soldiers prepared to push the stake inside her.
"Proceed!" She heard the evil prince say.
Xena could feel the stake slide in between her folds. At first the feeling was merely nasty but when the stake entered her womb she registered the pain. She had destined not to let out a single sound. She didn't want to give the sadistic prince any hint of satisfaction. Every single muscle in her body twitched as the stake slowly and painfully ripped its way through the womb and the stomach and finally entered her esophagus. She couldn't hold a deep painful growl and she could see Dracula smile in satisfaction. When the stake finally reached her throat she was surprised that she was still conscious. The pain was tremendous. Her arms and legs were released and she was set on a cart. She tried to move but the horrible pain made that impossible.
After a time that felt like an eternity to the warrior she was picked up and set on upright position on the ground. Her arms and legs hung numb from her bruised body. When the sun started to rise behind the mountains, the warrior welcomed the darkness that claimed her.