Title: Lure
Author: ManiacalShen
Rating: Teen
Genre: Action-horror
Synopsis: Was there glass? A coin? Something was catching the light, somehow, between the fronds. Gabrielle sees something interesting at the bottom of a pond, but the water has unknowable depths.
Warnings: Drowning, light dubcon
Author’s note: Please view my other Xena stuff on AO3!


Gabrielle yawned and flexed her leg. Just enough to float her head into the shade and out of the low, blinding sunlight.

Cool water leached away the heat and dust of a long day. It was a little early to make camp, but when she and Xena found this wide, sun-warmed pond, they found it irresistible. The feeder stream brought fish of a good size, which Xena caught handily, and there was no nearby town or farm to foul the water’s taste. Gabrielle sucked in a refreshing gulp as she turned over and paddled around a little, enjoying the clear view she had of the rocks and grasses at the bottom.

And- was something else on the bottom?

After wriggling around to fight the glare of the sun and her own turbulence, she gave up, took a breath, and dove for a better look. Away from the sand near the water’s edge, through a swirl of fish too small to eat, down to the smooth rocks and those undulating grasses.

Was there glass? A coin? Something was catching the light, somehow, between the fronds. Or no… producing light, even when shaded by the green. Closer, closer now, reaching into the plant.

Feeling it brush her shoulders, then her shoulder blades, and still, she couldn’t quite reach.

A little farther then…


Gabrielle realized her chest was burning. She blinked in suddenly murky water and felt her diaphragm convulse; she clamped her airway under control. How deep was she? She shifted her limbs and tensed her back like she had innumerable times before, but instead of steadying and orienting herself in the water, she felt her right knee catch on a weed. While untangling that with one hand, the other wrist got caught in another slimy, green string.

A burst of bubbles left her mouth, but she fought drawing water in to replace them.

The water wasn’t murky at all; she was just surrounded by a jungle of sinuous grasses shedding scraps into the current. She tried to turn back the way she came, to go up, but it was so hard. Some of the grassy particulates drifted into her eyes and made them burn. Then she saw spots.

She lost another bubble, a reserve of air she didn’t know she had.

In a moment of still horror, she realized her body floated down—which must actually be up. Which would make sense, with the way the plants were waving. How did she get turned around underwater like that?

No time. She wheeled in the direction she thought was up, successfully assumed a swimming position this time, and kicked for her life.

Up, and farther up—that little pond was this deep?—fighting the spasming in her chest until she broke the surface and gave into the need for air. Too early to avoid inhaling some water that followed her eruption from the depths, but she sucked in as much life-giving air as she could between coughs.

Once she had half a hold on herself, Gabrielle looked around for Xena, who she fully expected to be hurtling her way. But she was still alone. And it was dark. Not the deep dark of night, but far dimmer than it had been when she had claimed a pre-dinner dip. Clouds must have blown in awful fast, and they deepened the shadows cast by greenery around the pool.

She walked to the sandy shore and picked up a linen sheet to dry herself. No sounds of camp came over the little hill separating her from it, no snuffling from Argo or crackling of fire. Not even leaves shuffling in a breeze. Just the soft splattering of water on sand as she wrung out her long hair. Plus birds and insects, which seemed oddly discordant to her ears, but she chalked it up to poor humor at nearly drowning herself and not even getting a fussing-over out of it. Xena was so cute when she was worried. Speaking of-

“Xena?” called Gabrielle as she readjusted the linen around her. Nothing. The insects continued to drone, louder if anything.

Just then, something caught her eye in the trees. A flit of movement, a snatch of light. She concentrated on a patch in the direction the thing had been traveling and was rewarded with a small shadow that lurched between two large trees, distinctly heading away from her.

“Hello? Who are you? It’s okay!” Gabrielle was half-certain it was a child; it didn’t move like any animal she knew.

A breeze finally blew, bringing the rattling of fallen leaves and the strangely hollow tumble of twigs and pebbles across dry ground.

Farther away still, the shadow tumbled between two more trunks, and something like a whimper carried back to her.

“Xena!” Gabrielle called, more urgently this time. Still nothing. She looked around in frustration, ground her bare foot into the sand, and after a moment’s hesitation ran into the woods, calling after the figure. Xena was probably at the latrine they’d dug or disposing of fish guts away from camp. She was fine, and she’d see Gabrielle’s footsteps and follow shortly.

Gabrielle tucked the drying linen under one arm and tied it over the other shoulder, a hasty and revealing toga. Something was wrong with that child, and she had to figure it out. Now.

She ignored the scrape of roots and the bite of rocks under her feet and plowed ahead.


“Your turn, Gabrielle,” called Xena as she ambled back to the pond. She slowed to a pause, then continued to the shore, casting her gaze about and kneeling to wash scales and blood off her hands. Certain that Gabrielle would pop out of the water to startle the daylights out of her.

But there was no sign of her other than footprints leading to the sun-dappled water, right alongside Xena’s own steps. A fresh breeze brought a chill along the hem of Xena’s under-amor shift, damp from wading to fish a short bit ago. She hadn’t been long cleaning the catch, and she wanted her own pre-dinner dip.

If Gabrielle ever got around to cooking it. Where had she gone?


Gabrielle swore she was gaining on the figure, but she couldn’t quite catch it. Grabbing a coarse vine to use as a belt at least helped subdue the flapping of her toga, but it still caught some branches and shrubs. And the forest floor was still dense with plants, deadfall, and other obstructions. The figure was a quick little thing, for all that its movements seemed lurching and jerky. Damnit, why hadn’t she worked on her tree-climbing more? What a sorry Amazon she was.

She swatted a fine spiderweb away from her face. The buzzing of insects vibrated the base of her skull right through to her molars.

Finally, she burst into a clearing adjacent to a cliff-face and stopped in sheer relief. Breathing hard, she could still hear the figure’s voice carrying through the trees, but now it was giggling. High-pitched squealing, ratlike as it echoed from the trees, but it had to be from a child. An… unwholesome one. Why did it sound unhinged? Or maybe she was just pissed off, and in a minute she would find and catch that little sh-

“NnnnnnOOOoooo…” An echoing warble seeped into Gabrielle’s ears from ahead. Wait. She focused and realized it came from the cliffside.

Was that a cave?


Xena had checked the camp and the latrine. She had parted every tuft of grass along the water’s edge and called into the trees. She had found Gabrielle’s boots and traveling clothes and staff, all discarded near their saddlebags—but nothing else. There weren’t even signs that other large creatures drank from this pool, not one mummified dropping or chewed fern.

She looked again at Gabrielle’s last footsteps into the water, and utter dread swamped her senses. Stomach in knots, mouth dry, and her heart pounding at a dizzying rate in her ears.

Oh, gods.

If she wasn’t anywhere else… But even if—wouldn’t she have floated back up? Unless she got caught on something.

Xena had to know. Shaking, she walked into the chilled water at a steady pace until she could swim, shift and all. Then she took a breath and dove.


Gabrielle ripped a small sapling from the ground, tearing roots in her haste, and threw it across the cave entrance as she ducked inside. Xena would recognize her sign in the fresh, damp earth and the green scent of a broken trunk just a finger wide.

There was room to walk straight forward without twisting her shoulders in here. And when she stepped away from the light pouring into the cave’s mouth, her eyes began picking up light from ahead. A much-reflected glint carried down the shaft by shards of crystal embedded in the walls.


The echo made it hard to pin an age or gender on the voice, but its urgency was unmistakable, and Gabrielle followed it. When the path narrowed, she turned her shoulders until it widened again, steadily advancing. She dodged bits of crystal and gritted her teeth as she scraped the small of her back against a jut she couldn’t duck or step over.

Twice she came to forks in the cave, but she followed the light and an occasional shout that grew louder each time.


Gabrielle didn’t call out. The element of surprise and a sweat-soaked toga were all she had, and she meant to make the most of them. She would help this person, then get with Xena to find the kid outside and figure out if they were connected.


Now she could see a steady flicker of bright flame, and she dashed to it only to stop in front of a nook in the cave wall. It was backed with solid crystal, and before it there were two more turn-offs to either side. The light came through the crystal and glittered around the passage, but that’s all Gabrielle could see. She waited to hear another cry for help, hoping it would tell her which side-passage led to the room on the other side of the crystal.

Neither inky portal offered a hint. Another long look at the light through the crystal was similarly useless, and Gabrielle began to wonder what on earth she was doing here. Alone, barefoot, buried deep within what must be a plateau or small mountain, even though she hadn’t expected such a rocky formation in this area. Wearing a vine belt like a hermit, her hair dampened by equal measures of pond water and sweat by this point.

No idea where Xena was, not for sure. What if someone or something had gotten to her before Gabrielle hared off into the woods after some short trickster?

As she stood there, contemplating her decisions or lack thereof, something viper-quick whipped out of the side-passages. The first she knew, rough tendrils chafed against the skin of her wrists and ankles, and before she could even yell, cool, green vines bound all four limbs. They pulled her into a widened stance and held her arms out to each side at an upward angle.

It reminded Gabrielle uncomfortably of her crucifixion in Britannia. But instead of a Roman with a hammer approaching from below, a lithe figure melted down from the shadows above. A woman, backlit in amber by the still-flickering light, descended in the grip of yet more vines which retreated once she stood safely on the ground.

The light in the crystal wall ascended over her head, better-bathing the area. The glint reflected off wall crystals and shone in too-large eyes set deep in a heart-shaped face. Gabrielle took in strong cheekbones, grayish skin, and no clothing at all.

“Well, hello, Tadpole.” A wide smile revealed more and sharper teeth than Gabrielle expected, and the woman’s ensuing laughter had a reverberating undertone. “Or perhaps I should call you Fly? …No, I like Tadpole. You’re littler and curvier than my usual pond-catch.”

Gabrielle lowered her brows but kept her voice neutral. “Who are you?”

“You can call me Nyx or Nyxie, Tadpole. Not everyone gets to hear that, but you’ve been so much fun. Not a challenge, exactly, but novel.”

A gulp. “What do you want?”

“I want to eat you,” Nyx said simply. “Oh, be calm. I won’t tear you limb from limb; I want to eat your energy and the energy of your death.” She placed a hand against Gabrielle’s chest, on the exposed skin right over her heart, and quirked her lips at what she felt there.

Stall, stall, think, stall. “Do you have to eat me? What’s your usual ‘pond-catch?’” What tools did Gabrielle have?

“Men, though I’m not picky about it. More of them just stumble upon my pond.”

Gabrielle had been hoping to hear “frogs.”

Nyx looked into her eyes. “My usual supper chases a pile of gold or flash of leg and drowns as soon as he enters my spell. You’re much more entertaining.”

The skin under Nyx’s hand felt cold, and the weight of the long day suddenly made itself known in Gabrielle’s bones.

She bargained, “Okay, but you don’t have to kill every traveler you meet, right?” Her mind raced with stories from different cultures, inventorying and comparing every water legend she knew.

“Isn’t there something I could do for you instead? Is there maybe a man who made you like this who I could, say, beat up? Or I could turn him over to the village leaders for judgment. Or even…I could give him to you?” Gabrielle would never turn a man over to a monster like this, but she desperately hoped Nyx would think she could.

To Gabrielle’s surprise, Nyx snorted. “You just think you can fix anything, don’t you?”


“Do you know why you’re here? Because you couldn’t leave well enough alone.”

Shocked, Gabrielle listened. Her whole torso felt cold now.

“You didn’t think, you just saw something at the bottom of a pond that wasn’t your business and reached for it. And then you followed someone who was running away, as if they needed you.”

Nyx leaned closer. “Tadpole, I sense countless leagues of travel have led you to my lair. But have you learned ANYthing from it?”

An icicle of doubt shot up Gabrielle’s back and unleashed a flood of memory.

Had she learned anything? She thought about finding a rite in progress and helping the practitioners resurrect three Titans; she bumbled in and assisted people whose motivations she didn’t nearly understand.

She thought about a later day when she held onto a hastily-given Rite of Caste with no idea what it really meant. She just knew that a dying princess of a society she had thought was a myth, a total stranger, had decided rulership should be hers. She was lucky to have Ephiny to make up for her shortcomings. Lucky to have Xena to fix most of her other blunders.

Who was she, without Xena?

She thought, then, of a deal Ares offered her at a port far east of here. Of then warning a tyrant that her lover was going to kill him and nearly getting her killed in the process. Of definitely causing Xena to be beaten and kept in filth.

Why didn’t she ever think?

And Hope…

Nyx’s voice penetrated her fog of memory. “Come now, it’s not all bad. You’re going to die, but there’s more than one way to go.” Already very close, Nyx kissed her, making Gabrielle’s knees go weak and pushing the shameful memories aside. She might have mistaken it for desire if she didn’t already know what the touch of her true love felt like.

“Your emotions are feeding me so well, I promise not to make it quick.”

It took a very long moment for Gabrielle to parse the nature of Nyx’s offer, and then the realization must have shown on her face, because the evil nymph threw her head back to cackle. Gabrielle spared half a second to wonder how many travelers had heard the offer and how many had taken it up.

Xena wasn’t here to fix this mess, thanks to Gabrielle’s (typical) haste. But after inventorying everything at her disposal, Gabrielle knew exactly what Xena would do. After one deep breath.

She raked her eyes down Nyx’s supple, bare body and flexed her hands against their bonds. She licked her lips and let her gaze linger before raising up to meet Nyx’s. “O…okay.”

A lazy grin. “I thought you might be the type. Don’t look so scared.” Nyx kissed Gabrielle again, and Gabrielle returned the pressure after waiting a beat. Their eyes met from just a handspan away. “I can be gentle, or not.”

Gabrielle gulped. Then tipped her head forward to seek another kiss. Nyx was not terrible at kissing, and Gabrielle wondered, idly, if she could just seduce passers-by without murdering them and still live off that energy. She crafted a sense of enthusiasm for something that she, with relief, found neither titillating nor horrifying. Her impatient tugging at her restrained arms was real, however.

She broke away. “I want-” Another draining press of lips. “I can’t touch.”

After a searching, languid consideration where she flexed the fingers affixed to Gabrielle’s sides, Nyx said, “You get one, Tadpole. Just a little.”

The vine holding Gabrielle’s right arm slackened. Not quite enough, but she was able to touch Nyx’s shoulder and brush her shoulder blade. So she pulled back, caught Nyx’s eye, and slid her gaze to the knot of linen above her own right shoulder.

Eyes shining with real enthusiasm now, Nyx pressed closer, squeezed Gabrielle’s waist, and tilted her head to address the knot with her teeth.

Gabrielle grabbed a fistful of Nyx’s hair and pulled. Immediately, the tendril holding her wrist yanked her hand back toward the side-passage, but she held onto Nyx and fought to dash her head into a crystal jutting out of the mouth of the side-passage. The glancing blow took a gouge out of her temple, and she only remained upright by the force of Gabrielle’s hand on her hair.

With Nyx senseless, Gabrielle felt the tendrils around her limbs weaken. She planted her feet and pulled at her left hand with all of her might. As soon as her wrist got near her mouth, she tore into the green vine with her teeth, and it snapped when Nyx, struggling now to right herself, tightened her vines to once more pull her back into place.

Now she had one hand free and a furious water spirit in the other one, definitely still in kicking and clawing distance.

Gabrielle slugged her, twice, and took the additional moment of disorientation to pull apart the loose knot of her own vine belt. It was coarser and less flexible than Nyx’s kinky restraints, but it looped around Nyx’s neck readily enough. Gabrielle threw the end at her right hand before nabbing the other in her left and pulling the vine taut, wringing a startled grunt from Nyx. She had to drop the hank of hair to do it, but now she had a choking noose around the slender neck.

Gabrielle demanded, “Let me go!”

Nyx responded with a strangled hiss. “Arrogant…nosy…wench.” She grabbed at the vine around her neck.

Gabrielle gave a vicious yank against it, further closing Nyx’s airway. “I am not the arrogant one here, and you will NOT make me feel stupid about wanting to help people!”

Yes, she had started her life with Xena with excesses of teenaged arrogance and naive trust, and yes, that was a deadly combination. But experience and hard work had shifted the scales. And after all her mistakes, Xena was still waiting for her back at camp.

The placement of her hand and the vine and Nyx’s short stature meant Nyx was now dangling with only toes on the ground.

“Now, I said let me go!”

But Nyx did not loosen the tendrils. Eyes burning with rage and the dawning of fear, she finally thought to reach for Gabrielle herself. But she was already weakening, and she had no leverage.

“I’ll walk out; just let me!” Gabrielle bargained. “Come on, don’t be stubborn.” With unreasoning pity, she watched Nyx’s eyes go unfocused. She convulsed once, then went limp. Immediately, the tendrils around Gabrielle’s limbs went slack, and she let the noose fall.

Before Gabrielle could even sigh, tension returned to Nyx’s form. She caught herself when her feet were on the ground, knees bent, and launched at Gabrielle with a shark-like visage: too many sharp teeth, eyes huge and inhuman. Gabrielle shoved her back on instinct.

Shoved her head into a jagged patch of crystal sticking out of the cave wall.

Gabrielle watched her collapse in shock.

The light behind the wall of crystal went out.

And then the earth groaned around her.

Gabrielle swore, turned around, and hurried through the pitch black. She heard the cave behind her collapse, burying Nyx. Remembering the crystal obstacles on the way in, she kept her hands out and felt along the walls, suffering only bruised shins and one good scrape along her flank before she came to the first fork in the path.

Memory served her here, supplying the shape of her previous path, but the second one brought her up short.

Had this been a narrow angle or a wide one? Were there two passages to one side? Right or left?

From behind came a crash of fallen earth and shattered crystal.

Which way?!

She was about to pick at random when she heard it.

“Gabrielle!” Faint, but unmistakably Xena and coming from the rightmost passage.

Gabrielle ran as fast as she dared while rumbling and crashing echoed around her. Pebbles cast from one section’s collapse pelted her shoulders as she shimmied into the narrow section of cave near the mouth. She could smell fresher air now.


“Xena!” Gabrielle could barely hear herself over the roar of crumbling cave shafts. She wriggled into a more open section, and sickly outdoor light filled the entrance that was finally just ahead. She sped up, now able to avoid the crystals by sight. “Xena, I’m here!”

A Xena-shaped silhouette framed herself in the cave entrance. So close that they each reached out a hand-

A colossal weight swept down and forward onto her hips, and she went down as if tackled, yelling the whole way.

Gabrielle could hardly twitch her legs, caged by layers of rock. A large rock held down her hips. And still the earth rumbled.

Wordless, Xena rushed in and began pushing rocks and pulling at Gabrielle’s limbs, even as she was begged to run.

“Like hell!”

Gabrielle pleaded for her to save herself, because any second the ceiling would-

Xena pulled Gabrielle free and out of the cave’s maw just before the rocky passage collapsed fully in on itself. The pair tumbled over, Gabrielle sprawled over Xena’s legs and middle, and panted.

Xena cleared her throat. “Are you naked on purpose?”

Gabrielle lifted her head to look up, still breathing hard. “Well… which one of us is going to have to scrub mud out of their underwear?” She plucked at Xena’s garment with a scraped hand.

A grunt. “You’ve got me there. Are you o-”

The rumbling resumed, and a crack appeared in the earth by Gabrielle’s feet.

By silent accord, they scrambled upright and ran headlong through the woods, straight into the pond. The water deadened the sound of trees falling behind them, and they dove to the deepest part of the pond, where thick grasses surrounded a hole of black.

Xena practically shoved Gabrielle through it, and this time she could feel the sickening shift of forces as down became up and her body wanted to float in a new direction.

They burst from the surface one after the other but swam only as far as Xena needed to be able to stand, at which point she hauled Gabrielle in front of her, searched her eyes, and pulled her into an embrace.

“Are you okay?!” she spoke directly into Gabrielle’s ear.

Gabrielle could not stand at this depth, so she clung to her lover and savior with all four limbs. “I am now.” Nnnngh, this felt good, and safe.

“What happened?”

“What happened is that your stupid bard followed a shiny light into a trap built just for her ego. I’m sorry. I’m lucky you’re always there to save me.”

Xena pulled back to give her a bewildered look. “Gabrielle, all I did was move some rocks. Whatever spell that was, you seemed to break it just fine on your own.”

Gabrielle sniffed. “You shouldn’t have had to lift anything at all. I feel stupid.”

A quirked brow. “Well, we’ll be up all night if we have to compare life mistakes. You’re okay, and that’s all that matters.”


“Gabrielle. It is my privilege to help you as often as you need it and then some. Anyway, where do you think I’d be without you? We get in almost twice as much trouble by being together, but we’re four times as effective. Without you, I’d be dead or I’d wish I was.”

Gabrielle breathed and let herself consider what her lover was telling her. She smiled. “We’re stronger together.”

Xena smiled back, understated and beautiful in the sunlight reflected off the water. “Yes. Now you’ve got it.”

“And I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

Stomachs growled, one after the other.

“Why don’t you tell me all about what happened over dinner?”