Disclaimers: See Part 1 for disclaimers.
Constructive criticism is always welcome and can be sent to yours truly.
The burning afternoon sun reflected from the metallic forest-green finish of the '67 Mustang ragtop. A thin layer of dust coated the otherwise flawless paint job. Faint snaps could be heard under the hood as the 289 small block V-8 slowly cooled off and the process of thermal expansion reversed.
Xena looked at the young fair-haired woman who was sitting on the driver's seat. The sun and the mild desert wind made Rickie's hair look like blaze. The raven-haired immortal turned to look at the magnificent view that the Grand Canyon offered. She felt her lover's arm on her shoulder.
"Coming here was a wonderful idea, Warrior-mine", Rickie said a smile on her face. "Thank you, Xena."
"You're welcome, Dreamer", Xena answered and turned to kiss her lover and close her in a tight embrace.
"I love you Xena."
"I love you too, Rickie."
The immortal let go of her lover with a strange look on her face. Words weren't enough to describe her surprise when she took another look at her lover.
Rickie Gardner was gone. Xena stared her mouth wide open at the woman that was now sitting behind the wheel in her green top and brown wraparound skirt. "Gabrielle?"
"Yes, it's Gabrielle. Xena, are you feeling all right?" The bard looked at her, looking concerned.
"I- You- I mean you are-", Xena stammered.
"Am what, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena never got a chance to answer that question as a rope tightened around the bard and she was pulled away. In the other end of the rope was the warrior princess on her golden mare, galloping fast and pulling the bard away from the immortal .
"Xenaa!" The distressed bard screamed.
"Gabriellee!" The immortal reached out for her loved one but she was beyond reach.
"Go away, Xena!" Her evil counterpart shouted. "This is my world and she belongs to me!" She continued riding away from the immortal, dragging Gabrielle with her.
"GABRIELLEE!" Xena shouted again and jumped after them but her leap was rudely stopped as she hit something solid and fell to the ground.
The sudden pain brought Xena back to consciousness. She opened her eyes slowly and found herself lying on the floor next to wall. Her left shoulder was aching from the sudden impact with the wall as she has jumped from her bed in her sleep.
Whew, that was some nightmare,the immortal thought and stood up. She turned around almost instantaneously rubbed her eyes in disbelief when she came aware of her surroundings. She was in her bedroom all right. Only that it wasn't the bedroom of her Portland residence. It was her bedroom from the time she still had lived with her family at the inn. Everything was just like she remembered it to be. Slowly and reluctantly she came to the conclusion that she was still trapped to this alternative world where she had ended up after the incident at the Warehouse in Portland. Well, I guess it could be worse. I could be reliving the same day again and again. Xena smiled condescendingly to that thought.
"Good morning, Xena! Did we have a pleasant sleep?" A voice making Xena's blood boil said.
"Go away, Caesar", the immortal said coldly as she turned to face the emperor who was sitting at a small table by the bedroom window.
"My, my. Are we grumpy in the morning?"
"Speak for yourself, Caesar", Xena answered and walked to him. "Now you listen! I want some answers and I want them now! What the hell is this place? Why is there a twisted version of me terrorizing the whole region and what is my role in this?" The immortal slammed her fist on the table.
"Like I said earlier, this all is the product of your subconscious mind", the emperor said. "And that 'destroyer of nations' isn't a twisted version of you. It's you, or at least who you used to be. Why this all is happening the way it is? I can't answer that. It is something that you have to figure out yourself."
"Myself?" Xena asked.
"Yes, Xena. Maybe it's something from your past - or present that you really haven't dealt with. Like I said the answer is in your head."
"My head!" Xena said impatiently. "What the hell it could possibly be in my head that is the key to this?" The warrior asked the emperor. At that moment the door opened and Xena turned to see her mother stepping in.
"Who are you talking to, dear?" Cyrene asked.
"To Caesar he-" Xena turned at the table, only to see that it was empty. "Err, just thinking aloud."
"I thought you had a visitor when I heard you talking in that strange language", the older woman said.
"Strange language.." Xena said before she realized that she had been speaking English with Caesar. Why was that? Why everyone else here was speaking Greek but Caesar, who normally spoke Latin was now using English with her? Yet another question that needed to be answered. "Ah, yes. It's a rare dialect that is spoken in Britannia."
"I see", Cyrene said a bit oddly. "I came to ask you if you wanted some breakfast."
"Thank you, I'd love some", Xena accepted the offer. "I'll be down as soon as I get dressed."
"Take your time, dear", Cyrene said and left.
Xena walked to her clothes and got out of her nightgown. She took her T-shirt and put it on. Whew! I sure could use a fresh T-shirt and a shower, she thought as she smelled her armpit. Then she grinned. Well, Xe. You sure have gotten soft in your old days. She finished dressing up and headed downstairs. There, a cup filled with hot soup and a bowl of fresh fruits on a table was waiting for her. Xena sat down and took a sip of the steamy soup. She raised her look when she felt that she was being watched.
Cyrene was standing in the doorway, holding a wineskin in her hands. Her eyes were laid on the raven-haired immortal. The older woman felt embarrassed when she had been caught red handed. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare", Cyrene said and poured some wine in a mug. "It's just when I look at you, I think of my daughter and what she could have become." The older woman sighed deep. "You are all the things that my Xena isn't. You are warm, loving and caring. I can just sense it from you."
Xena blushed when she heard those words. "I haven't always been like this", she said to the older woman. "I used to be like your daughter."
"What changed you, then?" Cyrene asked.
"The love of a very special person", Xena answered. "It was a long and painful process but in the end it was worth it."
"My daughter is beyond any hope of redemption", Cyrene said. "I can't think of any person that could possibly change her head."
I wonder.. Xena thought when she finished her soup.
The town hall was the biggest building in Amphipolis, so it was no wonder that the warrior princess had chosen it for her residence. The building itself looked quite different from the one that was in the immortal's memories. It had gone through major modifications in order to meet the warrior princess' needs. The former monument of democracy was now a symbol of oppression.
Xena stood in the shadows and tried to figure out how to get inside. She knew that her counterpart had gone hunting with her closest lieutenants. That made the task at hand a bit easier but there were still a few obstacles in the way, including the two guards at the front door. Xena thought about her options. She could just boldly walk in through the front door and no one would question her. That alternative had its risks, though. Firstly, the warrior princess probably wasn't expected back until later on. Secondly, she wasn't properly dressed. She was still wearing her leather jacket and jeans. Cyrene had offered her a tunic and a skirt but that wouldn't have helped much. She had figured that she might as well wear her own clothes.
That in mind, Xena proceeded carefully through the alleys and approached the back entrance of the former town hall. The back door was also guarded but it was less in the open than the front. Only one guard in the back. A simple diversion would do nicely. Xena grabbed a piece of rock and threw it against a wall in the opposite alley. The guard reacted immediately to the noise and left his post. Works every time, the immortal thought as she walked quickly to the door and sneaked in.
Okay, you're inside. Now to find Gabrielle, Xena thought. She had had time to figure out what to do. It began to seem quite obvious that she needed to accomplish something here in order to get back. The more she had thought about it, the more obvious it seemed that somehow she needed to set things on the right track. Xena needed to know more about her counterpart and Gabrielle was the key to that.
Xena took a while to observe her surroundings. She appeared to be in a storage room of some sort. A small amount of spears, swords, shields and bows was placed neatly on the shelves. A door was at the other end of the room. According to Cyrene's description that door lead to the warrior princess' private quarters.
Xena let her hand rest on the handle. She had never hesitated so much as she did now. She breathed deep and pushed the door open. It was like two thousand years had suddenly been swept away. Xena looked at the young woman who was standing by the window and watching out. The breath of wind ran through the reddish gold hair. Gabrielle was just like the immortal remembered her to be. She stood there, unaware of Xena's presence.
"Gabrielle", Xena said quietly. The younger woman twitched in response, making the immortal's heart tear apart in guilt and agony.
"Yes, mistress.." Gabrielle said as she turned to face Xena. The young woman stopped and looked at her. "You're not her", she said almost immediately. "You look like her but you're not her."
"How do you know?" The immortal asked, looking surprised.
"From your eyes", Gabrielle answered. "There is something in your eyes. A kind of warmth and tenderness that I've never seen in my mistress' eyes." She walked to the immortal and touched her cheek gently. "You are two of a kind but yet so different. Like two sides of the same coin."
Xena took a while to observe the younger woman. She was wearing a sleeveless silk top and a wraparound skirt of same garment. The bare feet and the collar on her neck left little under suspicion about her role in this reality. Deep beneath the cool surface Xena's blood boiled of hatred towards her counterpart - and herself. One way or another, her past seemed to haunt her.
"You are partially right", Xena said to the younger woman. "I am Xena, but I am not the Xena of your world. I am not your mistress." She said the last word with contempt. When she saw the wondering look on Gabrielle's face, she continued. "You probably know the meaning of alternative realities", she said to her.
"You mean when we make choices in life, the reality divides into several alternatives and every alternative goes its own way", Gabrielle answered.
"Right", Xena confirmed. "I am Xena from an alternative reality. A reality quite different from yoursÖ"
"Ö and now I'm trying to figure out how to get back", Xena finished her story. She took a glance out of the window where the afternoon sun cast its rays over the town. She turned back to the honey-haired woman who was still staring at her, fascinated.
"Tell me more about Gabrielle of your world", Gabrielle asked. "What was she like?"
Xena was quiet for a while. She had hoped that the discussion would not come to this. "SheÖ", the immortal paused as if she tried to find the right words. "She was much like you. When I look at you I can sense that you're the kind of gentle and loving person that my Gabrielle was." Xena smiled at the sweet memory. "But tell me about yourself", she said to the younger woman. "What's your story?"
"Well, I am from Poteidaia but I think you already know that", Gabrielle looked at Xena who nodded in confirmation. "Two years ago, Xena came to my village with her army. The Poteidaians fought bravely but they stood no chance against the warrior princess' army. Many men were killed. Among them was my fiancé, Perdicus." Gabrielle's voice faded.
"Did.." Xena started but Gabrielle stopped her with a shake of her head.
"No, Xena did not kill him. It was that bitch, Callisto who is Xena's right hand." Xena could hear the hatred in the young woman's voice. "Anyway, having lost all passion for life and wanting to give my village a chance of survival. I sneaked out of the village at night and went to the warrior princess to offer her a deal. If she spared Poteidaia she could have me as a slave. To my surprise, she accepted. Next morning she announced that the village would be spared and I was now her property." A tear ran down her cheek. "I still remember clearly the look on my mother's face as the announcement broke her heart in pieces - and how my father tried to attack the warrior princess with all of his anger. To his luck, the other villagers restrained him." Gabrielle stopped there for a while, then she continued. "From there on, my life changed thoroughly. I became the warrior princess' personal slave. I was to fulfill her every possible need and I did it without a complaint, for I had made an oath to myself that I would not give my mistress any reason to go back on her word."
Xena stood there, quiet. She took a glance at the fair-haired woman. This Gabrielle was by no means less braver or sacrificing than the Gabrielle she had once known. "When you talk about needs, do you also meanÖ" The immortal started.
"Öher sexual needs?" Gabrielle finished. "Yes, those too. I wasn't too experienced in that field before my submission. Neither had I been with a woman before." A pause. "First time she took me can be described with one word: rape." Gabrielle looked at Xena just in time to catch the blush in her cheeks and the shame in her eyes before the immortal turned her head away. "Anyway, as time went by, I learned to satisfy her and somewhere in the process I found that I desired her touch, the way that she could push me beyond any point of pleasure. I also learned that there was a more gentle and passionate side in the warrior princess. In those rare occasions when she let it show." She walked to the immortal and took her hand. "When I first found about it I knew that there maybe was still some hope left for her. Since then, I've tried to influence her, tried to bring out that good side in her."
"Have you succeeded in that?" Xena asked. Gabrielle was still holding her hand, making her feel herself uncomfortable.
"Not so far", Gabrielle answered. "If I just knew a way to get through that wall that she seems to have built around her."
"Has she ever told you about her past?" The immortal asked.
"No, not really."
"Xena lost one of her brothers a long time ago, when Amphipolis was attacked", Xena started. She felt strange telling about her own past in third person but she assumed that her counterpart's past must have been similar. "She was angry and bitter when she had failed to protect her home village and a very dear person to her. Xena decided that she did not want to be a victim so she left Amphipolis and a begun a life of conquest and battle. At first she was not ruthless but after being betrayed by the people that she had trusted, she learned that she could only trust herself and became the person that is now known as the destroyer of nations."
Gabrielle looked at the raven-haired woman. "I never could have imagined. Not that it would justify her actions but I can understand her motives." A pause. "You must have felt that the whole had betrayed you and you wanted to get even."
That remark took Xena by surprise. "Yes. Yes I did", she finally managed to say. "So you figured it out?"
Gabrielle smiled. "It wasn't too hard. The way you were telling about it made it pretty obvious." She sat down on the bed. "Anyway, you are the living proof about that Xena can change", she said enthusiastically.
"MaybeÖ" The immortal did not sound too optimistic.
"Will you help me?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena had expected that question. That just could be the key to her return. "I see what I can do. I can't promise you anything", she answered. "I need to follow her to see if there's still hope left for her."
"Thank you, Xena. I couldn't ask for more." Gabrielle walked to the immortal and took her into embrace. Surprisingly enough, that gesture made Xena feel herself uncomfortable, almost guilty.
The immortal withdrew slowly. "I have to go."
"Will you come back?" Gabrielle asked.
Xena walked in the alley thinking over her meeting with Gabrielle. She couldn't understand how something so natural as the embrace of a person whose counterpart she once had loved more than anything could make her feel guilt. Deep inside she felt that she knew the answer but for one reason or another she couldn't get it. That had to wait, though. She had more urgent matters on her mind now.
Xena was preparing to sneak over the street when she heard noises. She peeked out to see what was going on. There was a small crowd on the street. Her counterpart was holding an old man from his collar above the ground. Callisto and a few others were gathered around the two. Now Xena recognized the man that was in the warrior princess' grip. Calimos! In her reality the old man had been the head of the town council.
"You incompetent old fool!" the warrior princess yelled to the old man. "I almost broke my neck when the saddle got loose and I fell to the ground!"
"I- I'm sorry, princess", Calimos said with a weak voice. "It won't happen again."
"You're damned right it won't!" the warlord said furiously and threw the old man on the ground, then she grabbed her chakram and threw it on Calimos' chest.
The dying man pointed his finger at the warrior princess. "Some.. day.. someone.. will.. put.. an end.. to.. your.. murderous.. ways", he managed to croak with blood spilling from her mouth. Then his arm fell restlessly to the ground. Those were Calimos' last words.
The warlord looked viciously around her. "Let this be a lesson to you all!" She said to the people who were standing on the street. "Now get this piece of centaur's poop out of my sight!"
A couple of bystanders rushed to pick up the lifeless body as the warlord and her lieutenants walked into her residence.
In the alley Xena found herself squeezing the handle of her Walther, the gun still inside the armpit holster. She let slowly go of the gun and looked at her palm where the impression of the grip could be seen. Her blood was boiling. A man that she had once respected as a spokesman and a friend was killed in front of her eyes and she could do nothing about it. Whatever sympathy she might have had for the warrior princess it was all gone now.
"Damned you, Xena!" the immortal hissed between her clenched teeth. "I swear I am going to make you pay for your brutalities even if it's the last thing I do."
Xena hurried back to the inn where she found Cyrene. The older woman was excited. "It's a good thing that you returned already. Follow me. There are some people I want you to meet", she said frantically.
Xena followed her to another room. In the dim candlelight, around a small table were six men either standing or sitting.
"Mother, are you out of your mind?" A voice that Xena knew very well said. "Why did you bring HER along?"
Xena turned to face the speaker. Toris, her brother, was just like she remembered him to be.
"I thought I already explained to you", Cyrene said. "This is not OUR Xena. She's from another world."
Toris snorted at the older woman. "Sure she is, and I am Hercules", he laughed.
Xena stepped forward and squeezed Toris' nose between her knuckles. "That's no way to speak to your mother", she said with an evil grin. "Don't you know mama knows best." She dragged him to Cyrene. "Now, apologize to your mother."
"Dhh oddy", Toris managed to say.
"What did you say? I didn't quite catch that", Xena said and let go of Toris' nose.
"I'm sorry", Toris repeated and rubbed his nose. At first, he looked resentfully at the dark woman then he laughed. "Whoever you are, you aren't my sister. The Xena I know wouldn't stand up for mother." He offered his hand to the immortal. "I'm Toris but I think you already knew that."
"You could say so." Xena took the offered hand.
Toris walked to the other side of the table. "You might wonder what this is all about", he started. "Some of us have gotten sick of fear and oppression and decided to do something about it."
"How many of you are there?" Xena asked.
"Not many, only about thirty", Toris answered.
"That's not much", Xena commented.
"No. That's why timing is essential", Toris said. "Tomorrow, Xena will launch her offensive against the Amazons. That will tie most of her men. That's when we'll make our move and take over Amphipolis." Toris looked down, then at the immortal. "I know it's a long shot but it's the best chance we'll get. We're hoping that the people will join us."
Xena said nothing. This attempt could only be compared to suicide. Xena knew these people. They were no warriors. Still, Xena could only admire their will to fight for their freedom, no matter the cost. This was certainly a different Toris. Quite different from the Toris she had once known.
"If we succeed. We can set an example to others. Eventually, we're hoping to bring my sister to stand trial for her doings." Toris turned to face the immortal. "Will you help us?" Toris asked her.
Xena didn't hesitate a bit as she answered. "Yes."