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(copyright August 1994)
They were just beginning to feel the heat of the day build, out in the garden. Having spent the last hours of the early morning in rest and love, Gabrielle and Xena sat now together on a meditation bench in the shade near Aesop's door, where they watched the last of the students and instructors leave the villa. Only Eradius and Fecundo remained, attending the master empath, Aesop. The halls and classrooms were silent now, and the garden seemed wilder, somehow.
Clyt was gone also, with the students. Their parting had been difficult, but necessary. The rebellious teenager fought against her banishment with everything she had, but Gabrielle and Xena had been firm. Neither wanted to answer to Sibyl if something, anything, happened to the still very young woman. The last they had seen her, she had been storming out the entry hall, with only a knapsack for her possessions. Even Xena felt a tiny tug of affection and loss as they watched the angry acolyte join the evacuation.
Now they waited uneasily for a signal that it was time to enter Aesop's magical room. That came after the quieting had settled down to the level of the swirling sounds of water from the garden's pool, and then finally to their own heartbeats.
Sitting up straight, Gabrielle looked at Xena meaningfully, then the door to Aesop's room swung open soundlessly, as if blown by a playful breeze. The women looked into each other's faces, until they were ready. Xena smiled radiantly and took Gabrielle's smaller hand in her own, reassuringly. Then they both walked in.
There they found Eradius and Fecundo, on short stools just inside the door.
"I just love it when he does that," said Eradius blissfully, referring to the door, now closing softly.
"Very nice," complemented Xena.
Aesop waved at them from his platform, which had been moved out of the sand pit and onto the walkway opposite them. He concentrated on the center of the sand pit in front of him, and then at the women. "Go," he pointed, concentrating on the spot where he wished them to be.
"Us? You want us there?" Xena pointed.
Aesop nodded vigorously. Xena noticed he seemed much more communicative than she remembered. He caught her eye and winked at her. Sheepishly, she smiled and winked back, walking carefully out to the center of the sand, Gabrielle's hand still in hers.
When they reached the center of the arena, Xena stood behind Gabrielle, so she could see and support her, resting her hands protectively on the smaller shoulders. They looked around in some wonder at the tiny villages and farms. Xena thought she saw a diminutive Amphipolis, and Gabrielle, a tiny Potidaea. The starry dome above completed the suggestive imaging that made them feel like Titans, their heads crowned by the sky itself.
Suddenly, Gabrielle tensed, tilting her head as if listening. "He's ready, Xe. He's not wasting any time..." She looked up at Xena as if about to speak, then listened some more, nodding. "Okay! I guess... basically, we're going to gather up the energy of the earth and shoot it at the storm."
"Sounds epic. So, is he talking to you right now?" The warrior's hands went down the bard's arms, squeezing.
"Well, no, I'm the one talking, he's just sending...sort of." She cocked her head, as if listening. "Geeze, he's smooth."
"Remember to breath, Gabrielle."
"Okay, breathe." She took a deep breath, through her nose and looked up quickly. "Have we made plans for breakfast after?"
"You already had breakfast!"
"But, that was early this morning... Sorry, I'm nervous. Makes me hungry. Still love me?" She looked up sideways.
"Still love you." Xena suppressed a grin, then became suddenly alert.
Aesop croaked a single unintelligible word, and waved his little hand slowly, as if feeling the air pass through his fingers. The lamps around the room began to dim slowly. Rubbing his forearms feverishly with flat palms, he flung his hands over and over again into the air above his head. The last thing they saw was Aesop's face, tongue touching the tip of his nose, eyes transfixed on the starry dome above. Then the lights winked out.
But the room kept darkening, becoming impossibly dark, until they saw nothing but a black velvet field and a scattering of white diamond stars.
Xena's hands tightened around Gabrielle's waist, pulling her up into her tall body. Though she really had no idea how she anchored Gabrielle, her basic instincts were as always, flawless.
"Here we go," Eradius said, in a hollow voice nearby.
Then, across from them, around where Aesop had sat, they all saw a disturbance in the starscape that grew and became a churning cloud. Rising, it widened and seemed to stretch across the heavens, right above their heads.
Gabrielle, her body braced against Xena's, grasped her staff with both hands and gasped out loud the ancient triggering word Aesop had given her. Immediately, her young body stiffened convulsively in Xena's arms. The warrior held her tightly, her face close in beside her lover's, whispering encouragement.
Then, gradually at first, a filmy web of blue light formed, crackling and hissing at their feet. The light seemed to gather around their boots, then with a detonation of sound, it exploded up Gabrielle's staff like a bolt of lightening in her hands, launching itself into the very heart of the storm.
A bright blue disk grew in the turbulent cloud, immobile and strong. For a moment, it seemed the wave split, hitting against something hard that didn't give way, the protective wake fanning out behind, as they had hoped. Then, in an explosion of sparks, the shield collapsed and the storm merged again into one force, howling towards them with sickening speed, a roiling nightmare of destruction. As it approached, the ground below their feet began to tremble and shake, then a jagged streak of light broke searing across the breadth of the wave.
Suddenly, they were back in the room, the dome above them splitting wide open, a portion of it caving in completely. Xena pulled Gabrielle to the sand beneath and covered her, as dust and small stones pummeled her back. The shaking slowed to a vibration in the ground.
Xena rolled to the side, put her hand to Gabrielle's face, and called her name softly. To her relief, the eyes opened wide, two emerald green jewels illuminated by the sunshine pouring through the gaping roof. "Hey, Xena," she said hoarsely, "Remembering to breath had nothing to do with it..." then, her sunny face clouded over with tragedy. "Oh Xena... he's gone! And we failed..." She struggled to get up off the floor.
"Aesop!" Eradius' cry rang out shrilly.
Fecundo raced by them, heedless of the creations in the sand his feet were destroying, to fling himself down beside Aesop's still and crumbled form.
The ceiling had fallen in on the master empath, and he was half buried in rubble. Fecundo sobbed and tore his hands on the stones, trying to get them off his master. Eradius, just a step behind the younger man, reached down and felt for a pulse.
After a long, long moment, he straightened up, the despair plain on his face. "He's dead." He rested a hand on Fecundo's bowed shoulders.
Gabrielle held her head and groaned. "I can feel the storm, now. He must have shielded the house from it. Oh Xena!. We're almost out of time!" She clutched her head, feeling the earth move below them again, growling. More of the ceiling fell in, scattering Fecundo and Eradius, and burying Aesop's body completely.
Xena took charge. "C'mon! We've got to get out of here! Move! Now!" Numb with shock and grief, they let her commands move their feet, and stumbled out into the garden. The little pond had cracked and was draining quickly, a king's ransom of coy flapping hopelessly on the bottom. The ground still vibrated sharply, and they heard a dull pounding in the air all around them.
Gabrielle saw Xena's mouth drop open in shock, and spun around. "Look!" she cried out. "The mountain!"
They all stared at the phenomenal spectacle of Mt. Kalmeni in full eruption, a towering cloud of ash vomiting high into the sky, and spreading fast over the city. The sky darkened menacingly overhead, as the leading edge of the ash cloud touched the sun. Even as they watched, a piece of the mountain seemed to give way and fall, tumbling down it's flanks in a liquid avalanche.
Then suddenly, hot pumice and ash rained all around them, hissing into the muck left in the bottom of the pond, and burning holes through the leaves and flowers. Protecting their heads, they ran through the garden as fast as they could, toward the front entrance. There, under the relative safety of the verandah, the little group paused.
Eradius, his arm around Fecundo's bowed shoulders, was himself just barely hanging on to his fine, patrician composure. He made a valiant effort, brushing the hot dust from his robes. "Well, on behalf of Aesop and the Institute, thank you for your efforts. We should go quickly down to the docks and join the students on the Institute's ship, before the whole town swamps the harbor. I'm sure that everyone will be leaving Thera as soon as they can. Not that it matters much, our ships will never reach the mainland; this fardling cosmic storm will destroy everything, long before we land. But I would like the comfort of good company when that day comes. Shall we go now?"
Xena looked at him gravely, then down at Gabrielle. "Can't we try again on our own, without Aesop's help?"
Gabrielle leaned wearily on her staff, a hand on her stomach. "Well, I can still trigger the spell that musters and sends the barrier. But Aesop's power was part of the shield's strength. Without something to take his place I don't know..." Her hand rubbed small circles around her belly, a gesture she often made while thinking. I would need a power source, and then some way to tap into it..." The hand stopped it's circling, and Xena's crystal eyes narrowed on the bard. "What about... pure earth power?" Gabrielle's face illuminated with her idea. "What if we went to a place where there was so much earth power, we wouldn't have to waste energy gathering it all up?"
Xena concentrated on the line of reasoning, then she started violently, realizing where the bard was going. "No! No way, Gabrielle!"
Eradius and Fecundo stared, confused.
Gabrielle's face seemed to compress in determination, more and more sure of her thinking. "You know I'm right, Xena! Can you come up with a better idea?"
"This isn't because I didn't want to fight the Persians, is it?" Xena tested the frontier of Gabrielle's resolve.
"No, of course not, Xena. That was saving Greece, and this is about saving the world." Her hands waved apart. "Two completely different situations." Gabrielle's green eyes dared Xena to produce a comeback.
Xena sighed but was otherwise silent, thinking hard of alternative strategies and finding none.
"Hah!" the bard clucked, "that settles that."
Eradius spoke up, with some urgency. "What are you two talking about? The ash fell thickly, the garden now a collection of gray sculptures, and the thatch roof above was smoking from the rain of hot pumice. Even as he looked, a small flame ignited in the dry roofing. "Please explain, we must decide what to do quickly."
Xena agreed with that, but knew that Gabrielle planned to hop from the frying pan right into the fire. She shifted her weight to one long leg and tilted her head to one side, jerking it in Gabrielle's direction. "She means to climb the volcano and try from there." She looked at the bard. "Right?"
Gabrielle nodded, determination stark on her face. Through teeth that were almost clenched, she said, "That's right. It'll have to be near a place where the earth has opened, like the notch in Methoni. The cosmic storm also seems to amplify my sensitivity to the earth's power, so the closer it comes, the better I may be able to conduct the current from the earth. I don't know. What do you think?" She addressed her question to Eradius. She already knew what Xena thought.
Eradius just stared at her, gaping, then said. "You know, it has possibilities..." His face seemed absent of expression, then resolved into one of hope. "Yes, I do believe there is a chance it could work, I don't know why, but I am almost sure of it!" Then, focusing, he added, "But, this is suicide! If you conduct there you will surely cause a notch to open...it could unleash the volcano's full violence. You could not escape!"
Gabrielle's chin went up and her posture straightened, the warrior within the bard plain to see. "It's to save the world. There's no better way to die."
Xena rolled her eyes, but kept her silence because Gabrielle was basically right and she hadn't figured out another plan yet.
Then the bard said something that put the whole thing into perspective for the warrior. "Xena," she said solemnly, Eradius is right. There's almost no way to survive this plan, which means you shouldn't come. I'll conduct the current and then ...just let it take me. So you don't need to come and anchor me. I can go alone. I'm ready to give my life for the world." Gabrielle's face was absolutely serious.
Xena caught her breath for a heartbeat, then exploded into laughter, startling everyone. "so that's what it feels like to be told to stay put!" Xena laughed and laughed, grabbing the bard's staff and dragging her close with it. "Forget it, Gabrielle." She wrapped her arms around the bare waist and drew her close, pushing her hips into the embrace. "We're going up there together. And somehow, we're going to survive." She kissed the young woman's sweet lips until she saw hope bloom in her eyes. Then, wiping a smudge of ash from her lover's cheek, she added softly, "But thanks for the laugh, Gabs, I needed it."
Gabrielle just looked at her warrior with the eyes of a poet, her smile just for Xena.
Xena kept one arm around Gabrielle as she turned to the two men. "Well, it's not as if Gabrielle and I haven't tried long shot plans before. You two had better get going, the students will need you."
Eradius bowed with practiced grace, but Fecundo just looked at them with tears pooling in his brown eyes.
Gabrielle stepped up to him and tenderly kissed his cheek. "Don't worry for us. We will either succeed or fail, but either way it's worth doing." He nodded mutely.
The older man's face took on the absent look again and then his face broke out into a radiant smile. "Uranus blesses your quest."
Fecundo spun around beneath the older man's arm around his shoulders. "Uranus spoke through you? You mean...?"
Eradius nodded, beaming. "He's back."
Fecundo dropped to his knees and kissed Eradius hand reverently, then stood again by his new master's side, composed once again.
Turning discretely to Xena, Gabrielle whispered in low tones, "So, just like that, Uranus is riding within Eradius? No ceremony or ritual? No rites of possession, or sacrifices or chanting...these old gods are mighty informal, aren't they?"
Eradius overheard them. "Oh yes, not very formal at all, but it is never the less a great honor. Unfortunately, one of no help to you, as I will need some time to adjust to the new arrangement." His eyes unfocused, then focused. "We must leave, and you must go." He made a face, "Sorry. I hope my relays won't be so blunt after I get used to him. He is very upset about the loss of Aesop and not in the mood for polite communication."
Gabrielle couldn't resist a question. "So, can you actually talk with Uranus, in there, or what?"
He smiled enigmatically. "Gabrielle, some things are just too hard to explain. And it really is time to go, this villa is on fire, you know."
They all saw he was right. The fire in the roof was spreading in their direction, the smoke mingling with the rain of ash, swirling up in the eaves of the verandah. The air was becoming difficult to breath in the enclosed villa.
They hurried out the entrance hall and into the street, now shrouded in a mantle of ash, where they said their final hurried good byes and good lucks. Then the two men were hurrying down the street toward the now crowded boulevard and the women were all alone, once again.
Xena grasped her lover's hand and asked, "How much time do we have?"
Gabrielle shrugged, "Hard to say. A day, maybe two."
"Wait just a minute, I'll be right back." The warrior ran inside the entrance again, emerging moments later with a bag over her shoulder. "Dinner. And stuff." She explained briefly. "Here, use this." She wrapped a long red scarf around Gabrielle's face and shoulders. "Breathe through this, and be sure to shake it out a lot." She wrapped herself up in a black piece of embroidered cloth that suspiciously resembled an altar mantle. Then they hurried down the street, taking the first turn that went in the direction of the mountain, though they could no longer see it in the haze.
The ash muffled sounds, so they never heard the small footsteps of Clyt, the teenage acolyte, as she emerged cautiously from the reception parlor off the entry hall of the Institute, and padded after them with determined stealth.
As all this was taking place, a large, burning ball of molten stone seemed to fly out of the murk above the mountain, crashing into an empty open air theater. The fireball lit up the stone seats circling the stage, and then it suddenly went out, as if snuffed by a giant hand. There, in the middle of the oily smear that remained on the floor of the stage, stood Cyrus, King of the Persians, costumed for war. He climbed mechanically to the top of the arena, counting each step, and looked down regally onto the city streets below him. Chance, if such a thing really exists, played him a good hand, and he caught a glimpse of the warrior female and the blond, working their way against the tide of the crowd that pushed for the harbor. Bounding down the steps toward the theater's exit, he entered into the crowded streets and started shoving people out of his way.
They climbed and climbed, their lungs burning with the smoke and soot. Xena led the way, choosing a rout that switched back and forth across the mountain's flanks, up the west side, where the sea breezes made smoke on the ground less choking. She found many useful paths through the terraced plots of farmland that had been carved into the fertile volcanic soil. The eruption continued unabated, spewing ash and occasionally hot pumice into the sky, turning the day into a hazy twilight. The women learned to steel themselves against the sight of abandoned cottages and barns burning, knowing there was little they could do. They climbed throughout the day, rationing their water, as all the streams ran gray with mud.
But Mt. Kalmeni was a huge mountain, and could not be scaled by any living in a single day. As the sun dropped low, it's red light barely filtering through the sifting ash, Xena found an ancient olive grove on a terrace and stopped. Gabrielle leaned gasping against the burly trunk of one especially large tree, removed her mask to take a single gulp of water, and watched the warrior, who was up to something.
Xena opened her bag and produced a large piece of sailcloth and a role of cord. Gabrielle's eyebrows went up in surprise, and soon was helping the clever warrior to rig a lean-to in the branches of the olive tree, offering them some welcome relief from the falling soot. Toward the back of their shelter, the knarled and knotted trunk of the old tree gave them a back rest, after it had been swept clean. They lay their blankets right over the now thick padding of ash. It was almost cozy, but not quite. They leaned back together and watched the bloody sun set over the dim and surreal landscape before them, dotted with fires and rocked now and then by a shuddering groan of the earth.
Xena reached into her bag, pulled out a handful of jerked venison and handed it to Gabrielle, along with an unusual water bag she had never seen before.
"What's in this, Xena?" she asked, uncorking and sniffing it her eyes widening in surprise.
"Wine. I raided the kitchen. We're going to have a very nice meal, my dear."
"Seems appropriate since it may be our last." The young woman looked somber, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of jerky. "Aren't there some things we should talk about, if we know we are going to die?" She took a gulp and then another from the wine bag.
Xena made a face with big eyes at her, as she lit a tiny travel lamp. The cheerful little yellow flame softened the macabre red light that was all that remained of the day. She passed Gabrielle goat cheese and roasted nuts, wrapped in steamed olive leaves, scooped up from the breakfast leftovers in Xena's kitchen raid. "Naw," the warrior drawled, "Because, what if we survive? We won't have anything to say to each other on the day we really do die."
Gabrielle nodded slightly, looking like she was still thinking about that one. In the golden light, inside a tent with Xena, she could almost forget that they were halfway up the side of an erupting volcano on a suicidal mission to save the world. But not quite.
Popping another roll of goat cheese in her mouth, she looked down at her dirty hands and cringed with disgust. "You know, Xena, I've been noticing this kind of thing happens a lot, where we, especially I, get really, really dirty. I'm awfully tired of it. If we live, let's find a way to take only clean jobs." Holding up a limp lock of dust hair, she sighed.
"Here." Xena took her black scarf and wet it slightly from the wine bottle. Tenderly, she wiped the bard's face clean, then her hands, finger by finger. "There, much better for eating baklava, though we may have to clean up again afterward..."
Gabrielle's face finally shone with the joy that Xena had been hoping to free with her gentle nourishings. Chuckling, she pulled the bard close and handed her a piece of the honeyed crust. Before very long, the little bit of wine she had drunk had gone straight to her head, and Gabrielle slept soundly in the warrior's arms, exhausted from a long and bitter day. Xena corked up the wine carefully, hooded the lamp, and laid her other arm around the sleeping empath, locking her fingers together around the small waist. The night trembled with the heavings of the earth, and Xena's eyes gleamed in the dark, alert and watchful.
Cyrus, not nearly as well equipped as the women, was thrashing through some underbrush as the sun set, getting his armor hooked in the branches and thorn bushes. He had no water, and had forced himself to drink from the vile streams that flowed through the volcanic mud. So he also had a really bad stomach ache.
Back in the city, finding the women in the press of frantic crowd had been much harder than he had expected, accustomed as he was to having people cleared away before him. But he knew they were heading up the mountain, that much Ares had shared. He just hadn't thought it would take so long to find them.
Just as the light ran out, using his sword like a scythe, he cut a huge pile of brush and crawled inside it, wrapping himself in his cape. It was as disgusting a night as he had ever spent in his pampered life, but not one he expected to repeat. He lay there with his eyes closed, thinking about the abominable female warrior and her paramour, and waited for a troubled sleep that did not come easily.
Of all the travelers, Clyt had equipped herself most thoroughly, though she was also gifted with a stroke of very good fortune. She slept in a crude bed, in an abandoned shepherd's hut, only a little way up the slope from the warrior and the bard.
Ignoring the earth's occasional rattlings, and by the light of a single candle, she poured over scrolls borrowed from the Institute's library. A few questions answered, her eyes narrowed, trying hard to unravel the riddle of what the women were doing up on this mountain. Then...softly, she felt another presence growing in her awareness, like a gentle breeze, smelling like sun-warmed earth in the spring... Her magical eyes, one amber and the other blue, widened in astonishment, and her heart opened in welcome. Then they narrowed as Gaea's touch helped her to fully comprehend what the other women's plan just was...
Up on Olympus, there was a late night gathering of gods around Zeus' scrying pool, watching replays of the day's events on Mt. Kalmeni. Zeus turned to Ares, bushy eyebrows pulling together in a fuzzy bunch. "Isn't that one of your boy toys down there? What's a guy like him doing in that place like that, chasing after Xena and Gabrielle?"
Ares raised his hands innocently, his face angelic, "We are just acquaintances, besides, how am I supposed to know why mortals do what they do?"
Zeus wasn't believing a word of it, and opened his mouth to tell Ares so, when Hephaestus spoke up a puzzled voice, "You know, what gets me is that Kalmeni is erupting at all. That's usually my best forge, you know, for making thunderbolts? But somebody else is firing this one up. Never seen anything like it..."
Then Aphrodite spoke up from beside the volcan god. "And for heaven's sake, how are Gabrielle and Xena going to pull off this silly plan? Who are they working with, that scrawny acolyte, I think not! If Gaea's involved I can't tell, and that little panty-waste Uranus is all tied up with his little institute's relocation. None of this makes any sense!" She pouted almost violently. She was a little worried for the lovers.
"Well, at least they have a plan." Said Hades, his words jabbing at Zeus. "Better than what our 'quality management' decision-making system has produced after days of committee meetings!"
Aphrodite mantled at the god of the underworld, her eyes shooting real pink sparks. "You're one to talk, Hades, you've wasted an eternity complaining with nothing useful to say..."
"Oh, thank you very much Aphrodite, for another one of your castrating remarks that don't contribute anything positive to an already stressful process.."
"Hey, lay off the castration talk, Hades!" Hephaestus snapped.
Artemis rolled her eyes and gestured around the room dramatically, "And here we have the real waste of time, you make me sick with your secret alliances and backstabbing lies and-"
Zeus, rolling his eyes, sent everyone home with a wave of his hand, effectively ending the growing argument. "I think I'm going to have to rethink the whole decision to try quality management" he mumbled out loud. "The hierarchy was annoying, but at least it worked." Then he went off to bed with no idea at all how to deal with the situation he faced the next day. Rolling himself up in a puffy cloud, he fell asleep wondering about interplanetary vacations.
The sun rose dull and orange, revealing a ghostly landscape, shrouded in a deep layer of gray snow. The ash fall had stopped, though the air was still foggy with the cinder dust. Gabrielle and Xena simply left their shelter the way it was, bowed beneath the heavy accumulation. Without much more than a dirty kiss good morning and a visit to the gray-flocked bushes, they were on their way up again.
Gabrielle finished the last of the venison as she walked, then took her little tin whistle out of her boot. "It's much easier to breath this morning, isn't it?" She commented lightly. She started to play as they trudged upward. She played every march tune she could think of, then started playing whatever came into her head, trying to keep herself focused on climbing, and not much else.
Xena thought Gabrielle's musical selections were beginning to sound like requiems and funeral dirges, and was about to suggest something lighter when she stopped suddenly, raising her hand to halt them.
Gabrielle took the whistle out of her mouth. "What is it?" She hissed.
"Listen!" the warrior hissed back.
After a pause, "I don't hear anything."
"That's because you are talking, Gabrielle, shh!"
A long silence passed then something hiccuped.
Xena pounced over a large stone lying nearby, and emerged with Clyt's ear pinched in her hand. The rest of Clyt followed, howling in protest.
"Leggo, leggo, Xena! Ow ow ow ow!!!"
Gabrielle gaped. "By all gods above and below, you incorrigible little sneak!" She stepped right up to the defiant teen, and shouted right into her face. "You have gone too bloody far this time! How could you do this? Well, you'll just have to run down the mountain and see if you can catch a ride on anything that floats, because there is nothing for you here!"
Clyt's face was livid. She squared off with the red hot bard, ignoring the warrior's grip on her ear. "How could I? How could you, don't you mean? After all we went through, to just dump me off like that?" She shook her head. "That was a terrible thing to do, but I forgive you, under the circumstances."
Xena leaned down into her face, ear still pinched in her hand, blue eyes bright with intensity. "Will you leave if we ask nicely?" Clyt hiccuped again and shook her head emphatically, holding her breath.
Xena let go of the ear, giving Clyt's head a little shove as she did it. "Well, we're stuck with her again." She said to Gabrielle. "She won't leave, we can't make her go, and I can't tie her up and leave her here."
"Well, that about sums it up, doesn't it?" Gabrielle said gloomily.
Clyt just hiccuped again, and looked up from one woman to the other, watching them discuss her fate.
They stopped talking and glared down at her angrily.
"Then you'll come along." Xena said, turned, and started picking a path upward again. The bard couldn't detach as well as the warrior, but followed her, muttering about what she would like to do to Clyt, if she ever got a chance to.
Clyt trailed along last, hiccuping, unable to keep holding her breath because of the gigantic smile that crept secretly across her face the moment their backs were turned.
There came a time that dirty day when they knew they were getting close to the top. Gradually, they began to feel more and more vibration, and the thin air had a reek of sulfur. Gabrielle was feeling more and more a sense of urgency. Her empathic awareness was stretched out so far now she could feel the first fingers of the storm itself stir the cold climates of earth's sister planets. She knew they had only a few hours left before it was too late to set the shield.
They looked for a vent or cave in the sides of the mountain, where the earth's power broke through the crust. Xena had left them to investigate some rocks, and was returning with no luck.
She found Gabrielle with the point of a dagger pressed under her jaw, held by a richly dressed but obscenely dirty Persian warrior. In his rabid eyes, she saw the robed peacock she had glimpsed on the Persian flagship. ...the one that hung bodies in the rigging... The one she had chosen to spare, having considered shooting her fiery arrow into him, rather than his ship.
Somehow, in moments like these, Xena's whole being always stilled, and her face became exquisitely serene, but for a tightening around her eyes. She gazed at him through her lashes, calculating the distances. Clyt was nowhere to be seen.
He looked right at Xena and laughed, then leered down into Gabrielle's cleavage, taunting her. The tip of the knife slipped down between the laces and severed them, exposing her breasts. He grabbed one roughly and, looking again at Xena, dragged the edge of his dagger across Gabrielle's belly, drawing a pencil thin line of blood that dripped in red streaks down into her waistband. Gabrielle biting her lip, stood rigid and silent, eyes wide and watching Xena.
He snarled. "Disarm yourself or she begins to die."
Xena dropped her sword and chakram into the ashes without breaking her gaze from the Persian's face.
He spoke again, malice blazing out of his dark eyes. "Female!" There was no question he meant the word as an insult. "Abomination! Evil and unclean! You used witch magics to destroy my fleet and my flagship! Your life is forfeit, say I, Cyrus, King of Persia!"
"I'm yours, King Cyrus." Xena quickly dropped down on one knee, opened her hands out to him palms out in supplication.
Cyrus smiled, this was more like what he expected. The knife moved back somewhat from Gabrielle's shrinking skin.
Just then an explosion rocked the ground. About a stone's throw away, a big patch of earth and stones blew up into the air and came back down again with a huge whump.
While the debris was still falling, Xena launch from her crouch into a dead run at Cyrus and Gabrielle. Scooping up soot as she went, she flung it into his face, blinding him, then using the force of her momentum, smashed his face with the heel of her hand. His head snapped back and his hold on Gabrielle loosened, who dropped out of his grasp and she scrabbled away, leaving the Persian King for Xena to deal with.
Which was just what Xena felt like doing. She hissed at him, showing him all her teeth, white against the gray mask of ash on her face. Her cold eyes were deadly and mocking. Gesturing grotesquely, she offered a universal insult to his manhood and in calm but obscene language unrepeatable in any story, she speculated on his parentage, the poverty and ignorance of his kingdom, and the quality of his own sanity. Then she smiled and waited for the effect she hoped she had caused.
It took about two heartbeats. But for all his insanity and rage, the Persian King was a well trained fighter, having been drilled by his kingdom's best weapons masters since he was old enough to hold a scimitar. He brought up his weapon, the broad curved blade slicing figure eights in front of him and charged her with a brilliant assault of feints and lunges.
She danced back, pretending to trip, but leading him away from Gabrielle and towards her own weapons on the ground. She staggered her steps left, then darted right into a roll that sent up a cloud of obscuring dust. When she stood up, she was armed and smiling at Cyrus maliciously.
She goaded him some more. "You look like you haven't slept well, kingy. Have a bad night? Miss your servants much?"
Not bothering with a reply, he attacked again and the fighting began in earnest. Their blades rang as they clashed furiously together. Xena parried and fell back again and again, until she had led him well up the mountainside and away from her lover.
Gabrielle her face a mask of pain, checked her wound, stretched dripping across her stomach. The cut was deep and hurtful, though not life-threatening. But she had nothing clean to wipe it with, much less a bandage. She poured a little of the remaining wine over the cut and, when it started stinging, took a hearty swig. Then she removed and packed away the tatters of her halter, figuring her appearance hardly mattered much at that point.
Checking the fight, she could tell Xena was leading the Persian warrior up the mountain, where they needed to go anyway. She picked up her staff and Xena's satchel, and started looking for Clyt. She prowled around the area, making sure to check the place where the explosion had happened, hoping to find a vent into the volcano. There was no vent, but she did find Clyt, covered with black soot and barely conscious.
Clyt felt the gentle hands on her and opened her eyes finding the topless Gabrielle before her. "Wow!" she exclaimed, then amended her remark. "I mean it worked! Hey, hey!" The young woman struggled up to a sitting position, wincing when she tried to put any weight on her right arm.
Gabrielle supported her, taking the arm in her gentle hands to look at it. Clyt's hand was covered with scorches and burns. "What worked?"
Clyt grinned, her teeth stark and white in her sooty face. "The fire stick!"
"The what? What are you talking about?" Gabrielle's fingers could tell the arm was broken just above the wrist, both bones. She kept the acolyte talking, which wasn't nearly as hard as setting those bones was going to be.
"I got it at the Institute. They come from the far east, in the silk caravans. Look!" With her good hand, he pulled out a paper-wrapped cylinder. "If you light this little string it blows up! Neat, huh? Ouch!"
"Sorry, I have to feel where the injury is. You have a broken arm." Gabrielle, fashioning a splint out of sticks and her red scarf, paused. "So, that was you? The explosion?"
"Sure was! Damn but that stuff works great! You see, the stick is loaded with a black powder that ignites when you..."
As she prattled on, Gabrielle indulged her. She was so proud and relieved her ploy had saved the great empath that she really had no idea how badly she was hurt.
Gabrielle's eyes were warm and smiling as she finished the splint. Then she leaned in and gathered the teenager in a grateful hug of thanks, that set the younger woman's heart racing, what with Gabrielle's breasts being so full and naked and pressed against her, and all. "We need to move. Xena's fighting him still. Can you stand?" Clyt nodded, blushing, and pulled herself up with Gabrielle's help.
Meanwhile, the two fighter's had battled their way into a hellish landscape of smoking pits and sulfuric gases than burned in their mouths and rasped in their throats. Xena found that the Persian's insanity was often to his advantage; his fighting was unpredictable and savage. She settled on the balls of her feet and began to turn her retreat into an assault, trying to force him into an even more chaotic strategy.
Cyrus was very surprised the woman still had the strength to fight him, and fell back a step or two. Then, before he knew it, the steps back became three and four, and then he found himself being backed into a rock wall jutting up out of the mountainside. He growled deep in his throat, flecks of spittle on his lips and glared at the impossible female in his rage and hatred. He raised his scimitar high and rushed her, feinting left then right.
Xena saw the feints, as well as the dagger that materialized it his other hand, and spun sideways, letting it brush near her and hang up in her breastplate. Hooking the blade of her sword under the guard of his descending scimitar, she gave a quick twist and cut it from his hand, severing four of his fingers.
Cyrus screamed in his pain, blood flying from his hand, and hardly realized she had grabbed his other hand, still grasping the dagger wedged in her armor. Pulling it out and, spinning him around, she brought it up under his chain mail and drove the curved blade deep into his belly. In profound agony and utter shock, he looked down in time to watch himself eviscerated by his own hand, and that of the warrior female, his entrails spilling out into the dust around his feet.
Xena, her face a vicious mask of triumph, took the dagger, his bloody hand still clutching it, and cut his throat, cutting his screams short. Then she released him to fall against the rock wall.
Which gave way in a tumble of stones and smoke, to reveal a small dark hole in the face of the stone wall.
Xena, covered with grime and smeared with blood, took a moment to catch her breath and grasp what had happened. She stepped forward and peered into the gloom, and found it was an old lava tube, formed by the passage of lava during some long past eruption. She laughed with the irony of her discovery. "Why, thank you, King Cyrus. You'll never know what a big help you've been."
She wiped her sword on his robe and kicked his body out the way, rolling him over so the other women didn't have to see the details. Looking up, she found them just coming around the end of the wall. Recalling her obligations as Gabrielle's anchor, she tamped down the violence that surged through her blood until she was serene. With the gory sword she gestured to Gabrielle and then into the dark and smoking opening "Will this do for you, my magical bard?" she cried.
Gabrielle could easily see what had happened, had felt it happen, and hurried to Xena anxiously. "Are you all right?"
"Not a scratch. The blood's all his." She smiled down at her lover, her blue eyes clear. "Looks like you two didn't get off so easy, though I like your new look." The warrior winked rakishly at the topless bard, then bent down to check the long cut to her lover's beautiful belly.
A twinkle warmed in Gabrielle's eyes that clashed with the gore all around her. "No, but we're okay. Clyt's arm is broken. I assume he's dead?" she asked, gesturing to the body on the ground.
"Thoroughly. Finding his destiny in Tartarus. Probably hanging from the rigging of some ghost ship." Which was, as it turned out, exactly what was happening to Cyrus, even as she spoke the words. Xena had reason to understand how things worked in Tartarus.
Clyt just stared. She'd never seen the aftermath of a sword fight, and she couldn't seem to take her eyes off the sprawled body of the dead King. It was a nightmarish side of Xena she would never forget having seen.
With Xena's encouragement, Gabrielle turned her attention to the hole in the rock wall and was nearly knocked off her feet by the power thrumming and pulsing out of it's darkness.
Xena felt the bard sag against her and caught her in a strong arm, pulling her close, remembering the thrall Gabrielle had experienced near the crevasse below their room in Methoni. She called out her lover's name softly, like a caress, "Gabrielle...?"
"I'm still here, Xena." Gabrielle answered weakly. "Yes, I think this will do, but we'll have to go inside it further. I can feel a power source inside. The closer we can get to it, the better." She put a hand to her head, a pain spearing suddenly through her temples. "Uggh...and hurry. We need to hurry..."
Xena couldn't make it large enough to crawl through. But Clyt stepped forward gingerly around the body and produced a fire stick with all the flourish of a carnival magician. Quickly, Gabrielle explained to Xena the purpose of the eastern innovation, and the warrior's eyes widened appreciatively. When the fuse was lit, they ran around the edge of the rock wall and waited not long at all before they heard another boom and a whump. Returning, a gaping maw awaited them, big enough to walk into upright. Oddly, the air coming out of the darkness was cool and earthy smelling, in stark contrast to the hot acid air above ground. Xena and Clyt dug through their bags and produced the tiny travel lamp and some well used candle stubs. Xena passed around the water bottle and the trio was ready to enter the tunnel, the last stage of their quest.
Gabrielle was feeling too many things at once as she peeked into the dark tunnel, clutching her staff with both hands. Looking up at Xena, the exhaustion and the fear that haunted her expressive face nearly broke the warrior's heart. Taking the bard's grimy face in her big hands and looking deeply into the clouded green eyes, she asked her softly, "Do you still believe in me, Gabrielle?"
The green eyes bobbed up and down as she nodded, mutely.
Xena leaned in and kissed her tenderly, forgetting the filth and the danger. "I love you, Gabrielle."
On the threshold of that hellish door, Gabrielle's smile looked like a crisp morning sunrise. It was by the light of that smile, more than the lamp she carried, that Xena led them down, into the darkness.
Picking their way along, they soon discovered the floor of the lava tube was smooth and easy to walk on in the dim light. The sides of the tunnel, when they could see them, were sculpted in the frozen swirls left by the rapid cooling of molten stone. The tiny flames of their lights occasionally caught and reflected dancing off of glassy surfaces all around them, as the women walked on in silence for what seemed like a long, long time.
Then Gabrielle spoke up, her voice cracking with the strain of the power that nipped and licked at the edges of her control. But she was still Gabrielle of Potidaea, and wholly unable to abandon a life-long habit of breaking silences. "The power is just incredible in here. Can't you feel it?" Actually, both women thought that maybe they could. As they walked, they all began to heard a deep pulsation, a thrumming in the stone around them.
Xena took Gabrielle's arm in hers, giving it a gentle squeeze, and said, "Don't forget to breath, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle put her hand over Xena's and leaned in a little bit. "Like that advise was ever worth a damn." She remembered the first time Xena said that to her, on their night of love at Gaea's. Those words had done very little to calm her excitement that night. She pulled the warrior's fingers to her mouth and kissed the callused tips softly, remembering.
They walked long minutes more, the air warming, with a biting taste of sulfur in the air.
Clyt drew in close to them both, hooked the fingers of her good hand into Xena's backplate, and held her candle stub high over the warrior's shoulder. She kept an eye on Gabrielle, who seemed to be leaning more and more against the warrior, her staff dragging listlessly along the ground beside her.
As the three crept on, the thrumming began vibrating in their chests and up through their heels, getting louder and louder, till they would have to shout to be heard, had they something to say. Finally Xena felt the air shift and sensed they had emerged into an immense space. She pulled the women to a stop and held her lamp up. A black chasm yawned, no more than a couple of paces ahead. They stood on a shelf at the end of the tunnel, on the edge of a vast space.
With no warning, Gabrielle dropped her staff and fell to her knees, clutching her head. Xena bent over and pulled her back up, holding her firmly up against her body.
Clyt shouted over the pounding vibrations, jumping up so she could be heard, "You'll have to keep her anchored Xena! We must be in the core of the volcano! She won't survive it without you!" She tucked the staff in between the two women, just in case it could help, and stepped back.
Xena thought...whatever it is I do, I'd better do it... and spoke clearly into her lover's stricken face, "Gabrielle!! The key word! Say the key word!!!"
As if she was drowning, Gabrielle gasped for a lung full of air and uttered the strange and ancient word. Instantly, as before, she became rigid in a convulsion of raw power. Xena braced her legs and brought her hands together around Gabrielle's naked torso, below her terrible cut, pulling her in as tight as she could. Then there was nothing left to do but wait. It didn't take long.
Around them, the blue light gathered as it had in Aesop's room, but in this place it came from the stone itself, seeps that became trickles, that joined into rivers of liquid blue lightening, flooding and rising in the huge shaft beneath them. A wind whipped up as well, bringing with it the smell of burrowing things and tree roots, of secret, wet caves and dark springs. Then, seemingly of it's own volition, and with a heart stopping roar, the earth force leaped upward through Gabrielle's body, shaking her in a violent seizure, and launched itself straight up the vast rocky shaft of the volcano. The earthly wind wailed upward as well, pulling at their clothing and hair. In Xena's arms, Gabrielle's stiff body was pulled upward, and she clung to her, keeping her from being pulled up into the current.
Deep into space the earth fire reached, found the leading edge of the cosmic storm, and punched a hole through it with an immense fist of blue lightening. Then it formed into the shield and a wake began to spread out behind it.
But something was happening to Gabrielle. By the blue light Clyt could see that she was having trouble breathing, and shouted at Xena in a voice that was not her own. "Anchor her, Xena! You've got to anchor her NOW!!!"
Hanging onto Gabrielle, Xena heard the words and saw the need, but had no idea what to do. The panic rose in her as she saw the seizure take Gabrielle and shake her again, and in a wild need to find her lover and bring her back, she pulled Gabrielle back down to her, and took the parted lips in a savage kiss, meant to claim her back from Hades himself.
But the moment their lips touched, Xena fused to Gabrielle in the thrall of a mind-shattering rapport, and the earth-force leaped through her own body as well. She knew nothing more then, only the immolating ecstasy of being one with all the universe and the mate of her soul, Gabrielle.
Was it the combined duality of their nature that made them able to conduct the current? The negative and the positive? The sacred and the profane? It may never be known why, but the shield strengthened, and held true.
The storm roared mindlessly on, now divided. It missed our tiny system of planets and eventually, over the reaches of deepest space, it began to turn in on itself in a twisting spiral. And in that spiral helix appeared tiny organized clusters of star stuff, that were in actual fact, the seeds of a life form altogether too vast to even comprehend. Though they never knew, in that very moment of love and divinity, Xena and Gabrielle became the parents of a brand new being. But, that's another story...
Peering over the edge of the shaft, her broken arm cradled in her lap, Clyt saw the truth of the situation very quickly. Gabrielle and Xena, while successful at using a massive grounding to set the shield, had caused a notch to open somewhere beneath the volcano, and that molten stone was about explode up and out the shaft. In the deepest depths of the pit, where the blue light had been most dense, she saw a red soup of molten stone gushing quickly up the shaft.
She looked back at the warrior and the bard, locked together in their heroic embrace, the blue current of light that had raced through them finally seeming to diminish somewhat. She sat on the edge of the precipice, dangling her skinny legs over the side, and wondered if they would get enough time to finish saving the earth. The heat began to build beneath the soles of her shoes, as the blue light faded a little more, to be gradually replaced by the hot, red lava glow that illuminated nothing. A strange, hot gas began to fill the air, making her dizzy and lightheaded.
Clyt sighed, her feelings mixed about the whole situation. It never occurred to her she should leave, but she did get up and away from the gas now blasting up the cliff face. Suddenly, her back hit the wall behind her very hard, and she was sliding down, her knees coming up to her chest. Her head began to nod.
"Clytemnestra!" The voice rasped out at her from the stony walls.
She held up her candle, the wick long dead, and called out softly, "Who's there?"
Staring listlessly at the spot where she thought the voice had come from, she squinted at a swirling movement in the face of a stone wall. The surface seemed to bulge and constrict into a round hump, that condensed into the rough sculpture of a woman's head. It emerged and moved with the sound of scraping stone. It seemed to turn and look at her, then at Xena and Gabrielle. Then it withdrew back into the stone, as if it had never been there. She started awake again, when a section of wall around where the head had been blurred and then reformed solidly into an elegant wooden door, set into the red-stone rock that seemed so... that reminded her of somewhere ... somewhere nice...
Poisoned and broken, on a ledge in the core of a volcano hell-bound toward it's own obliteration, , Clyt had little left to grab onto hope with. Her young mind just went blank when stone became flesh, as the door swung open and Sibyl herself walked briskly through. Her leather vest flapped by her sides, as she marched over to Xena and Gabrielle slumping forms, their bodies still chasing with fingers of blue earth fire. "It's just me, honey. Come over help me get Xena out of here, would you?" Her hair looked like a silver crown around her face, in the soft light pouring through the doorway out onto the hellish ledge. Pulling the two women apart, her bracelets jangled as she lifting Gabrielle in her arms.
Long habit of obedience to Sibyl moved Clyt's feet and hands, the young woman never even noticed the lava, boiling up over the ledge behind her. She used her one good hand to pull on Xena's arm, who seemed able to stumble the few steps on her own, unaware. Just as they were about to step through the door, Clyt heard a detonation, a cataclysmic roar and saw a bloom of fire that was abruptly cut off as Sibyl closed the door of the room behind them. There on the door she saw the familiar carving of the woman meditating...
Her jaw hung. "But..." She reached over and opened the door, there was the room she expected: the stool and the lamps and small pillows of the meditation chambers in the lower levels of Gaea'a house. "Nice entrance." She just managed to croak out, before the room spun.
Clyt's legs had finally given out for good. Sibyl supported her to the ground and called for help. Several of Clyt's classmates came running, Sibyl gave a series of orders, and soon all three women had been bundled off, Clyt to the infirmary and the warrior and the bard to their old room, off the upstairs hall.
Neither the warrior or the bard knew when they were bathed and dried with reverent hands that healed them of their hurts and bruises. Gabrielle slept peacefully through the final discomforts of the receding storm's attack upon her awareness, as it raced on toward it's own distant destiny. Sibyl saw to it personally that both women, nestled against one another blissfully, were aware of nothing, other than the purest peace of sleep.
The gods held an off duty dance in their own new Acropolis disco, the music boomed like thunder and huge torches cast shadows of the most hedonistic behavior imaginable off the sides of the pillars. Zeus was nowhere to be found, and Ares was rumored to be restricted to his throne room. A good time was had by all.
Only Hephaestus couldn't seem to enjoy himself. The Olympic blacksmith was very upset over the titanic explosion of his volcano on Thera. The island, once roughly circular, was now in the smoking shape of a crescent, the vent itself cold and drowned beneath the waves of a huge, new deep water bay. He just couldn't figure how it was done, and it was such a bitter loss, he had used that particular forge for years... He sighed moodily. At least the island had been evacuated, so he didn't have Hades on his ass about getting swamped with too many dead people to sort out on the night of the party..
Aphrodite finally gave up on him and partied with some of her friends...men!! She thought...men and their tools...
They came up to the surface from their long, long swim together. There, on the shore of their dawning consciousness, they lay, eyes closed, each feeling the warmth of the other's nearness. They were spooned tightly into each other, and as they stirred they seemed to unstick from one another. Air passed between them, making their skin silky with it's cool, feathery touch.
As always, Xena opened her eyes first, instantly realizing that she was in her old room at Gaea's. Frowning, she reached down and, picking up the sheet, looked down at her own naked body, then over at Gabrielle's. Across Gabrielle's belly there was drawn the thinnest white line. Xena's eyes narrowed, remembering it all. She turned onto her side and sunk her fingers to the knuckles in the shining blaze of hair around Gabrielle's temples, looking into the still face, concern drawn her face tight. Wondrously, the mossy eyes popped open, sleepy but sparkling with awareness, and then love as they found the face of the warrior-princess.
Dark eyebrows struggled for control above Xena's brimming azure eyes, her tears like diamonds. Then the warrior's mouth found the bard's, and they kissed in a long, luscious greeting, finally pulling back to look again into each other's faces.
Gabrielle, her face illuminated with joy, whispered softly, "We did it..." Her eyes looked around the room in a quick circle. Her voice took on a note of certainty, then confusion. "We did it and...now we're at Gaea's?."
Xena, her face a finger's length away from Gabrielle's, let a flash of confusion cross her own face and opened her mouth to speak. But Gabrielle's finger silenced her, slipping inside her mouth and touching the soft flesh of Xena's tongue.
"I just know that we're safe, and we're at Gaea's. Or the Elyssian fields. Either way, I'm hungry and I've got to...oh...look!" She found a tray by their bedside, loaded with delicacies, a frosty pitcher of juice, a selection of their favorite finger foods, and a pot of tea and a vase of summer flowers, still warm and fragrant from the garden. Gabrielle sat up and lifted the lid of the teapot. The water was still steaming. "Definitely Gaea's, not the Elyssian fields. Sibyl, always the hostess." She smiled, looking forward to seeing their friend again. Then her face took on a panicked look and she bounded nimbly out of bed and danced over to the chamber-pot.
"Hey, hurry up" Xena was climbing out of bed herself, her legs clamped together. "Please." She added, for good measure.
When they were done, both women lay back on the bed under the clean sheets eating, drinking, and in every way possible, touching.
"You know, Xena, maybe it's because we're here, but, I feel normal." Gabrielle was babbling in her happiness, all sign of worry and exhaustion gone from her young face. "I don't feel any different than I did before Methoni. There's a lot of stuff I don't feel, again!" She crowed, "It feels great!"
Xena smiled and fed Gabrielle a piece of sweet fruit.
"Mmm. And we're not dirty, and this whole situation is very sexy, you know..." The warrior cozied up to the bard.
The door banged open and Sibyl came gliding in, the Twins bouncing and dancing in dizzy circles around her feet. Next through the door came Clyt, and behind them all marched General Grumpy and Pothos, the house cats, tails in full parade salute to the heroes, who clutched the sheets to their bodies in their surprise and dismay.
"Some things never change, do they?" Xena asked her bed-mate under her breath.
"Boy, you got that right, Xe." Gabrielle said out of the side of her mouth, then broke into a radiant smile at what seemed like a crowd. "Clyt! What a surprise! Sibyl! Come to tell us about the happy ending?"
Chuckling, Sibyl sat on the edge of the bed and folded her long brown hands into her lap. She smelled like a summer garden, like sage and roses. "Don't worry, girls, we won't stay long. We all just wanted to say hello and welcome back." She leaned over and gave each woman a warm embrace, her bracelets chill against the skin of their bare backs. Pothos jumped up onto the bed, looking for Xena's feet. "You girls scared me half to death with this last adventure." She shook her finger at Gabrielle. "I never would have let you out of this house if I'd have known the storm was coming. But things have a way of working out, sometimes. By the way Gaea says thanks for your help."
Gabrielle laughed. "Tell her we couldn't have done it without her!"
"Consider it told."
Clyt stood behind Sibyl's shoulder grinning at them from ear to ear. "Hey!" she said, almost cheering. "Well, what about this happy ending, huh?" She showed them her healed arm, wriggling her fingers.
For it to be a happy ending for Xena, she needed more details. "Clyt, what happened? How did we get here? How long have we been out?"
Sibyl's laughter was rich and thick. Her spiked hair had grown since they'd last seen her and the spun silver tresses shook gently around her ageless face. "I did something fairly unusual. Not difficult, just...unusual. I opened a type of portal between the two of you and the meditation room downstairs, then it was just a matter of going in and getting you. You were locked in a terrible thrall and you had both nearly stopped breathing. But, as you can see, you just needed some good rest and now you should wake up, eat, drink and do something."
Xena cringed, anticipating a chore, then asked, "How long were we asleep?"
"Four days!" piped up Clyt, earning a sharp elbow in her leg from Sibyl, who then smiled radiantly back at the bedded pair. "Clyt, why don't you go and tell everyone they are awake, hmmm?" The acolyte had been touched by Gaea, but that didn't mean she made all her own decisions, just yet.
"Ooops. I'd better skee-daddle." From the door she added, "Hey, when you can, would you let me introduce my new girlfriend to you?"
Gabrielle smiled patiently, "What's her name, Clyt?"
"Cleo, it's Cleodoupola. Funny how things work out, isn't it?"
Xena spoke up, "It sure is. And Clyt?" The young woman turned around, and Xena's face was solemn. "We never would have pulled through without your help. Thank you."
Clyt flashed her grin and then she was gone.
Xena laughed quietly.
Beside her in the bed, Gabrielle turned and commented lightly, her dark eyebrow raised knowingly, "You know, Xena, she's developed a certain charm that someone might find pretty appealing."
Sibyl snorted, "You don't know the half of it, she could have the pick of the summer class! You're little adventure made her a bit of a celebrity around here!"
Gabrielle laughed and said, "Good for her! Speaking of celebrities, I need to get some time to do some writing. I've got something new for the library, I think."
Sibyl's face was alight with questions. "About the apocalyptic explosion on Thera? Or how the earth fire saved the world?"
Gabrielle shook her head, a little sad. "No, I think I'll leave that one for some other bard to tell. I meant the stories I learned from Aesop, when he took me traveling through the heavens. He was quite a story teller, you know, but he just couldn't use speech to tell them to people, he needed a free range empath, like me. He told me hundreds as we flew along. I think I'll ghost write them, and call them Aesop's Fables."
Sibyl's eyes were misted. "That will be a fitting legacy for a great priest of Uranus, Gabrielle." Then she stood up as well, whistling to the dogs. Well, it's about noon, if you care to know. Can I expect you two for dinner at six?"
Both women chimed in heartily that they would be there as Sibyl and the dogs reached the door and looked back at them once more, her face still and soft. "You really had me going there, for awhile, you two. I'm mighty glad to get you back."
"Sibyl?" Xena called out her friend's name, "Thanks for the save."
Sibyl's smile was almost shy and then, with an elegant bow she left, closing the door behind her with a satisfying thunk.
The silence was deafening, until they both heard a resounding "Meeoowoowoo!!" and the General pounced up on to Gabrielle's bare chest, and Xena felt a familiar nibbling on her toes. The warrior leaped out of the bed and, scooping both cats off the bed set them firmly on their feet outside their door. She closed and then latched the door carefully, and then just to be on the safe side, she dragged one of her giant trunks up against the door, too.
Gabrielle watched the warrior princess hard at work, defending their room against invaders. Then she got a good look at the joy that filled the beautiful woman's face as she turned around and bounded across their room, leaping onto the bed like a big trampoline. The pillow fight took some time, the tickling took a little bit more. But eventually, Xena had Gabrielle pinned beneath her body and they were gazing into each other's faces with child-like joy. They stilled together.
"Well, what's next?"
"I would have thought that would be obvious." Xena let herself down a little more onto Gabrielle's soft body.
The smaller woman gasped, "Ohhh. Mmm, well, actually, I meant what's next after all this we've done? How can we top saving the world?" Her hips began to wiggle gently. She had always loved the way their banter was just a cover for their sex talk...
"Well, we'll have to go get Argo..." Xena's pubic mound found and softly pushed against Gabrielle's.
"Hmm. Doesn't seem quite as spicy. Well," Gabrielle's pelvis began to arch upward more forcefully, "you gotta admit, Xena," Gabrielle said, casually reaching up to touch the cheek of the warrior-princess, "We may get dirty a lot, but we sleep in some pretty nice places for a couple of traveling gals." She twined her fingers in Xena's raven locks.
"Mmm." said the warrior answered, letting the bard pull her face down into a kiss that ended up lasting, in one form or another, for the rest of that lazy summer afternoon, in their sunlit room at Gaea's.
-Gaea and Uranus were primal gods in early ancient Greek mythology
-Sibyls were magical seers, always women, living always near caves and water
-A sea battle, like that in this story did happen in 480 BC in bay near Athens (Salamis)
-A giant paddlewheel war ship was developed and discarded as a bad idea (by the Romans)
-Thera (now called Sandorini) did explode and reshape into a crescent shaped island during the time of earliest Greek history
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