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by Dalton S. Spence
I originally posted this story to the "Forever Knight" fanfic mailing list because it was a crossover between that series and Xena. For those of you who are unfamiliar with FK, it's about an 800+ year-old vampire (Nick Knight) who "wants to be mortal again, to repay society for his sins" by becoming a Homicide detective in Toronto. Aiding him in his quest to find a cure is the beautiful Dr. Natalie Lambert, a coroner who discovered his secret (and who is also in love with him).
This story is set in the third season of FK, when Nick is partnered with the blond and perky Tracy Vetter, the police commissioner's daughter. Ironically, she KNOWS about vampires, but hasn't a CLUE that her partner is one. I had already written the first two parts before I saw "The Xena Scrolls," so any resembance between that episode and my story up to that point is purely coincidental.
This is a work of amateur fiction, and is not intended to infringe on any copyrights of Columbia/Tristar, USA Network, Paragon, Sony, MCA TV, Renaissance Pictures or any other copyright holder. I'm too broke to be sued, anyway. (But if you think my literary skill presents that much of a risk, feel free to HIRE me!)
Parts one and two of this story were written before I saw "The Xena Scrolls". I plan to use the information about 'recent' history provided there as back story in this and later chapters. (Of course, the "Xena" TV series doesn't exist in the FK universe, so the last scene of that episode didn't happen.) So if you saw that ep, DON'T worry about the apparent inconsistencies, I promise to fix them as I go along. Oh, and no need to panic; Nat and Tracy do NOT have the same grandmother. ;-)
(02/14/97):Many thanks to all the kind people who have sent words of encouragement. (I must be doing SOMETHING right!) Special thanks to Sarah A. Houghton whose suggestion inspired part five. Let's hope tomorrow's episode of Xena doesn't obliterate one of the characters I'm introducing tonight.
Dalton S. Spence
PART 1 - Where a spell is cast ...
PART 2 - Where an exchange is made ...
PART 3 - Where meetings are held ...
PART 4 - Some questions are answered ...
PART 5 - More players enter the game ...
PART 6 - More questions are answered ...
PART 7 - Flashbacks and Fighting ...
PART 8 - Fact finding and feasts ...
"Why is it that any time somebody gets killed in a museum, WE get the assignment?" Tracy complained as Nick's caddy made its way up University Avenue. Noticing her partner's guilty look, she sighed, "All right, Nick. Give!"
"My first case with a partner was at a museum, and I made the mistake of mentioning a certain interest in archaeology to Captain Stonetree. I guess he put it on my record, because whenever a case comes up involving a historical artifact, somehow it ends on my desk. Sorry you got dragged along on your night off."
"That's okay, Nick," Tracy muttered grumpily, "it's my fault for letting myself be conned into being on call. Well, at least it didn't happen in the Planetarium."
"You have something against outer space?" asked a puzzled Nick as they pulled up in front of the Royal Ontario Museum.
"When I went there on a grade 5 field trip, the motion of the display made me so dizzy that I threw up on an usher," she answered as they walked up the steps. "With my luck, he'd probably running the place now."
"As long as you don't do it here and contaminate the crime scene," Nick chuckled. "Nat's still mad at Lapinsky for screwing up the Jane Doe in Leaside."
"Hey, at least this body hasn't been leaning against a closet door for a month waiting to fall on the first person who opened it. Besides, I have my wintergreen standing by in case I need it."
They made their way through the museum to the newly opened exhibit of recently unearthed Greek antiquities. The R.O.M. had been advertising this show for two months now, capitalizing on the fact that these artifacts dated to the time commonly ascribed to the ancient myths of gods and heroes. Apparently inspired by these legends, one of the guards had tried to be a hero himself by stopping a robbery without waiting for backup. Unfortunately all he got for his trouble was his throat cut by one of the weapons on display.
"Whoever did this was either very skilled or very lucky," Nat said as she finished examining the body on site. "He, or she, managed to throw the weapon from there," indicating a shattered display case across the room, "ricocheting it off that pillar with enough force to embed it in the victim's jawbone after severing his carotid artery. Death must have occurred in seconds. It's in there so deep I'll have to remove in the lab."
"What is it?" asked Tracy, trying to get a good look at the weapon. "Some kind of throwing star?"
Nick wandered over to the display case. "The card says it's a Chakram, an ancient Greek throwing ring. According to an inscription on a tablet found at the site, this Chakram once belonged to a warrior princess called Xena who for years led an army that was greatly feared throughout Greece. One day, she abandoned her army and gave up her conquering ways to become a wandering hero, using her skills to defend the weak and helpless that had once been her prey."
"Maybe she wanted to repay society for her sins," Nat commented, looking thoughtfully at Nick.
"Maybe," he responded uncomfortably. "Anyway, it was found in a sealed cave with the other artifacts in this room. Each of the artifacts was accompanied by a tablet claiming that it once belonged to some god or other legendary figure. I read an article in the paper that said they were so perfectly preserved that there is still some debate about their authenticity. Although carbon dating of the organic components verifies their age, several noted scientists believe they are only clever forgeries."
"Obviously somebody thinks they're the real thing," Tracy said while examining the rest of the room. "Otherwise, why break in here to steal them?" While they had been talking, Dr. Robert Davidson, the assistant curator in charge of the exhibit had arrived. Turning to him, Tracy asked, "Can you tell if anything else was taken?"
After looking around for a moment, he discovered two more display cases had been emptied. "Oh dear, this is terrible!" the young man stammered nervously. "A ritual chalice sacred to Bacchus, and the Orphean Lyre are gone. This will absolutely ruin the exhibit!"
"Orphean Lyre?" asked a puzzled Nick. "You mean the lyre is like the mythical one that Apollo gave Orpheus?"
"According to the tablet that was found with, this lyre was the same one! Just as Bacchus supposedly used the chalice himself in a secret ceremony to initiate a special breed of Bacchantes with his own blood. These Bacchi, as they were known, were the first vampires know to western civilization."
"Vampires?!? " said Nat and Tracy simultaneously.
"Yes," replied Dr. Davidson. "Much of the current mythology about vampires can trace its origins back to these legends. For instance, a Bacchi could only be killed by the bones of a dryad, or wood nymph. Since dryads were intimately connected with trees, it follows that their bones would be made of wood; hence the wooden stake. Bacchi could create others of their kind by biting them and drinking their blood, but until the initiate actually drank the blood of her master, Bacchus, they could be saved if another Bacchi killed Bacchus with a dryad bone stake." Looking sadly at the other display case, he added, "Oddly enough, the Lyre of Orpheus was reputed to be a powerful weapon against the Bacchi, stunning them with its music. That was the real reason that the Thracian Bacchanates decapitated Orpheus."
"Gee. Talk about a tough crowd," muttered Tracy.
"I don't know about that," replied Nick. "I feel the same way every time I hear Barry Manilow. Dr. Davidson, do you have a complete translation of those tablets you mentioned?" When he nodded, Nick asked, "Could you please give me a copy? The thief may have stolen them for some ritualistic purpose. If we know how these items were traditionally used, we could watch for the theft or purchase of any other artifacts or materials he might need."
"Certainly," the assistant curator answered without hesitation. "I have the complete text in my office right now. We were planning a promotional booklet with the material, but now ..." He shook his head sadly, then asked Nick, Do you have someone on staff who's familiar with Ancient Greece? "Some of the historical references might be a little tricky."
At this Nick smiled. "I took a few courses archeology in university, and have kept up with the recent discoveries." Looking at Tracy ruefully, he added "That's why I was assigned to this case."
"You know, Xena, I'm beginning to get worried. We haven't had a decent adventure in almost two weeks! The most dangerous thing we've faced was those two drunks in the tavern the other night. And they ran off as soon as the heard your name."
Xena smiled at her partner. "You worry too much, Gabrielle. Just because we have a little peace and quiet for a while doesn't mean total disaster is lurking around the corner. Just relax and enjoy it. I am."
"I think I've forgotten how! " replied Gabrielle ruefully. "I haven't so much 'peace and quiet' since before I met you. Not that I'm complaining, mind you! If I'd wanted a peaceful life, I could have stayed at home. It's just that -- well -- I've gotten used to all the excitement."
"That's not a problem," Xena commented. "The problem starts when you begin to need the excitement. When that happens, it's not too long before you start looking for excuses to make trouble if you can't find any. After that ..... Believe me, Gabrielle, you do not want to go there."
"Okay okay, I get your point! It's just that the waiting is getting to me." Gabrielle sighed. "I suppose a vacation is nice once in a while."
"Yes," was all Xena said to that, but she too was wondering just how long it could last.
The one who could answer that question was camped just short distance away. A freelance mercenary sorcerer who had used so many names that he had long since forgotten his own, he had followed Xena and Gabrielle for the last three days, remaining undetected through the judicious use of his magic and tracking skills. His anonymous client had paid him very well to cast a very specific spell on one of Xena's weapons, and he had been waiting for just the right moment to do it.
Finally the time had come. At midnight, the moon was full and all the stars were properly aligned. Carefully following the instructions given to him by his client, he burned the incense, chanted the words, and made the sacrifices. The spell took the whole night to complete, and by the end, the sorcerer was totally exhausted. It was the most powerful (and the most dangerous) spell he had ever attempted, and once it was finished, he swore to himself that he would never try to cast a spell like that again, no matter what he was offered. Even though he could see no outward affect of his spell, he knew that it must have worked because he was still alive and relatively sane.
What a complicated way to get rid of someone,he thought as he watched the first colors of dawn touched the eastern sky. It would have been so much easier to cast a simple death spell, or even to conjure a monster or turn her to stone! I wonder why my client wanted her to change places in time and space with the next woman of her bloodline to hold her Chakram? He shook his head impatiently. It's not for me to question the whims of the rich and powerful. That's a good way to get very, very DEAD! As he finally fell into an exhausted sleep, he failed to notice the parchment with his instructions fall out of his pack and blow across the clearing until it lodged firmly into the fork of a tree.
When the sun finally rose, Xena rose with it. After a long and restless night, she had decided that Gabrielle's words had some merit. They had both become a little too used to the recent peace and quiet. Just in case, it would be prudent to get in a little weapons' practice today. Deciding that, she reached for her Chakram, and ...
Nat and Nick looked at the ancient weapon that she had just removed from the head of the unfortunate guard. The blood had been carefully cleaned off, and the weapon checked for fingerprints, but none had been found. After a meticulous examination, it still yielded no clues to identify the murderer. A few marble fragments imbedded in the rim did match the gouge in the pillar at the museum, verifying Nat's hypothesis about the richochet shot.
"I still have trouble believing this thing is more than three thousand years old," Nat commented as she went over it one more time with her illuminated magnifying glass. "Aside from some nicks and scratches, it almost looks brand new!"
"According to the notes that Dr. Davidson gave me, the current theory is that some ionizing element in the cave's atmosphere prevented oxidation," Nick replied. "Or, if you believe in magic, there was an inscription inside the cave saying a spell of preservation had been placed on the contents." Noting Nat's sceptical look, he added, "What amazes me is that someone could throw that thing across a whole room."
"Hey, that's not too hard. I could do it easily!" Seeing Nick's silent "Oh, Really!", she responded, "I'll have you know I was department Frisbee champion two years running! Somehow, it comes naturally to me. You see, it's all in the wrist," she said, as she picked up the Chakram for the first time. Suddenly, ...
Suddenly she found herself totally paralyzed, as what looked like a golden cord of light sprang from the Chakram and began spiraling around her body. Starting slowly at first, it quickly picked up speed until a couple of seconds later she was entirely encased in a glowing cocoon which completely cut her off from the world outside. There was an odd sensation of movement in a direction she couldn't quite define. About half way through the experience, she had the odd impression of passing someone (another woman who was similarly trapped), and the walls of the cocoon changed from glowing gold to pitch black. She realized she hadn't taken a single breath since the experience had started, and was beginning to get light-headed from the lack of air. Just before she "arrived" at her destination she lost consciousness.
Gabrielle looked down in shock at the spot where, just a moment before, her friend Xena had been standing. In her place was an unconscious dark haired woman lying face down on the ground. She was wearing an odd white coat, light brown pants and very strange looking footwear, and was holding a chakram that looked like Xena's. When Gabrielle turned the woman over with her staff, she noticed for the first time the fresh blood stains that splattered the sleeves and front of the white coat. Her expression grim, Gabrielle took the Chakram from the woman's hand and dragged her to a nearby tree. Then she secured her prisoner as Xena had taught her, and waited impatiently for her to wake up. If anything had happened to her friend...
"Ohhh," Nat groaned as she woke up with a tremendous headache, "did somebody get the number of that asteroid?" Given the total wierdness of what just happened (a little much even by her current standards), she was reluctant to open her eyes. However, as the pain receded she realized that she was leaning against something that felt like the trunk of a tree with her hands tied behind her back. The distinctive scents and sounds of the Toronto city morgue had been replaced by those of the great outdoors. Only it was much too warm for this time of year.
Her silent observations were interrupted by a sharp poke in the ribs, and she opened her eyes to see a young blond woman standing over her. She was wearing homespun clothes, and was holding a large wooden staff in a decidedly hostile manner. "Excuse me," Nat asked nervously, "but could you please tell me just what's going on?"
"I was hoping you could tell ME! " she responded angrily, "Beginning with what you did with my friend!"
"Your friend?" Nat asked, trying to buy time. Something was odd about this conversation, besides the obvious.
At this, Nat's interrogator snorted. "You know, tall woman, dark hair, wears armor, carries a sword and a Chakram -- like the one you were carrying -- goes by the name Xena?" Noticing Nat's stunned disbelief, she added, "What's the matter, don't you understand plain Greek?"
She admitted, "Actually, NO! I thought I was speaking and hearing English. The only Greek I know is falafel and baklava." That's IT! thought Nat, No lip sync. The words I'm hearing and trying to say aren't what's coming out of our mouths.
"I don't know who this Baklava guy is, but I've met Falafel. He doesn't have ANY magic powers, except to make the most revolting fast foods imaginable. Making people disappear into and appear out of thin air is the work of the Gods!" Suddenly the blond woman thrust the end of her staff under Nat's chin. "Maybe I can't cut off the flow of blood to your brain like Xena can, but I can still make it very unpleasant for you. So tell me, you who claims to have the gift of tongues, who are you working for? Hera? Ares? Hades? Has that bitch Callisto gotten free of Tartarus again? Or is it Sysiphus this time? TELL ME! WHO ARE YOU? WHAT'S GOING ON?"
"I don't KNOW!" Nat answered, too frightened to think of anything clever. "I was in my lab, I picked up that Chakram thing, and the next thing I know I'm here, where ever here is!" Suddenly something clicked. "Wait a minute! Did you say Xena? The Warrior Princess? But that's IMPOSSIBLE! She lived over 3000 years ago."
As shocking as this realization was to Nat, it appeared to have an equal effect on the woman questioning her. "What did you say?" she gasped, leaning on her staff for support. Seeming more like a frightened girl than the angry Amazon (where had THAT come from) she had been only moments before, she looked desperately into Nat's eyes, as if pleading for a denial.
Although I can't give her that, at least now she'll listen to the facts,Nat thought as she calmed down. "My name is Natalie Lambert. I'm a coroner for the city of Toronto..."
"What's a coroner?"
"I examine dead bodies to discover how they died, when, and maybe something about who or what killed them. I was examining a man who had been murdered with that Chakram, which had been part of an exhibit of ancient artifacts. That is where I heard the legend of Xena, by the way. Anyway, he had apparently been murdered when he discovered someone stealing a couple of the other artifacts. When I picked it up to show it to someone, suddenly I couldn't move. Then there was this bright light, then darkness, then I was here."
"So what you're saying is, you're from the future?"
"That's what it looks like. Believe me, I find this as hard to accept as you do! Harder, maybe. In my time, we no longer believe in magic or gods. I'm a scientist; if I hadn't personally experienced some really strange things the last few years, I would have probably gone quite mad by now."
The young woman sighed. "It's not that I don't believe you. Since I started travelling with Xena, I've been trained as an Amazon princess, fought monsters, met gods, even come back from the dead - TWICE! ME, Gabrielle of Poteidaia. It makes a little time travel seems almost ... mundane. The trouble is if you're here, then where's XENA?"
Afterwards, Nick always wondered if Tracy hadn't come in when she did, whether his vampire speed would have been enough to get the Chakram away from Nat in time. As it was, they could only watch on in horror as Nat was quickly encased in a glowing oval of light. It vanished as quickly as it had come, leaving behind it the falling body of another woman. She was dressed very oddly, in a sort of brief armored bustier, with a wide array of edged weapons on her person including, in her hand, what appeared to be the same Chakram Nat had been holding when she disappeared.
"W-What the hell was THAT, Nick?" Tracy stammered, nearly incoherent with shock. Although she had managed to fit the existence of vampires into her personal cosmology, she was still at heart a very skeptical cop. And what she had just seen had broken all the rules. "Where's Nat, and who's she? Listen, if this turns out to be some strange sort of magic trick you and Nat have cooked up, I may have to shoot you!"
Nick, who had started relieving the stranger of her weapons, turned to Tracy and said, "It could be magic, but I don't think it's a trick. At least not the kind you mean." He paused, and took a look at the still form beside him. "I think it may be the real thing. And if she's who I think she is, then Nat could be in a LOT of trouble."
Tracy shook her head as if to clear it. "Come on, Nick! You've GOT to be kidding! You don't really expect me to believe that you think she's ..."
"... the original owner of the murder weapon? Tracy, I don't often tell people this, but I've seen some things over the years that could only be explained by REAL magic. Think about what you saw. And think about this; all of these weapons, with the exception of the Chakram itself, are made of either bronze or cold forged iron - not steel, not aluminum, not some exotic alloy. If you showed any of them to Dr. Davidson at the R.O.M., he would gladly accept them as authentic reproductions of weapons from the same period."
Tracy was baffled at Nick's apparently calm acceptance of this bizarre event. "How do you know all this, Nick?"
"It's like I told Dr. Davidson - archeology is a hobby of mine." Nick neglected to mention that he had been pursuing this hobby over several mortal lifetimes.
Tracy fidgeted uncomfortably. "What are we going to tell the captain? 'Gee cap, Nat just disappeared before our eyes, and left a warrior princess from three thousand years ago in her place!' He'd be reserving us a rubber room before you could say 'mandatory psychiatric evaluation'."
"Just tell him Nat had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency. Meanwhile, I'll try to figure out how to get our friend here out of the building without arousing suspicion."
"OK partner, if you say so," Tracy answered as she turned to the door. "I just hope you know your Ancient Greek! If she wakes up, and really knows how to use all those weapons, it could get painful." She paused for a moment. "Maybe I'd better stay, just in case. The poor thing will probably be scared out of her mind!"
Xena was glad she had followed her instinct to play dead. The hardest part had been remaining still while the man 'Nick' disarmed her, but her perseverance had paid off handsomely. She still couldn't believe she hadn't screamed when she had heard "Tracy's" estimate of her age. By all the GODS! she thought desperately, Am I really so far from home? And if magic is as rare as their conversation indicates, how am I going to find a way BACK? At least these people seemed as baffled by the whole thing as she was. And if their friend had really traded places with her, perhaps she could ask for their help.
Xena hadn't been aware that her 'hosts' weren't speaking Greek until the woman had mentioned it, but when she reviewed the conversation in her mind, she realized that they had been speaking in a language she had never heard before, but somehow understood. So the spellcaster, whoever he is, didn't want me to be totally helpless. I wonder if I started talking, what language I'd end up using? She had to think carefully about this. If she let them know she was awake and understood their conversation, the only advantage she had left in this situation would be lost. However, if they discovered it on their own, how would she get them to trust her enough to request their aid? The old Xena would have probably grabbed one of them as a hostage to enforce the other's cooperation. Fortunately for them, she wasn't that person any longer.
Nick had been aware for some time that their guest was shamming, but had decided that the best way to gain her trust was not to confront her on this. So when Xena leaped to her feet, he was still caught off guard. Both he and Tracy had automatically drawn their weapons at the sudden movement, but lowered them when the dark haired warrior took no other action, besides looking around the room to get her bearings. No magic, huh? she thought cynically as she took in the wonders around her. If they don't call this magic, I'd hate to see what they do! She tried to act unimpressed by what she saw, but somehow she doubted she was fooling anybody.
Finally her eyes came to rest on the only familiar thing in the room; a dead body. So this is the murder victim, she thought as she went closer to examine the deceased. There was no doubt as to the cause of death; she had seen that kind of wound too many times before. Definitely a Chakram. And from the depth and angle of the wound, thrown by an expert. Probably a ricohet, which isn't something an amateur could do successfully. Maybe if help them solve the crime, these people will help me get home.
Nick finally spoke up. "You know, Trace? I don't think she's quite as scared as you thought she'd be." Then using some fractured Greek he had learned long ago, he tried to tell Xena not to be afraid and that they wouldn't hurt her. Her reaction was not quite what he expected.
Although Xena tried very hard, she couldn't help but giggle hysterically. If this is all the 'Ancient' Greek they know, there is no way I can continue to play dumb! Ignoring the blond man's indignant expression, she managed to get herself under control. Finally she looked at them and said, "Be very thankful that whoever sent me here threw in a translation spell at no extra cost! I know you meant well, but PLEASE let's stick to your language. You really don't want to know what you just said to me."
Surprisingly, Tracy was the first to recover. "So, you're supposed to be Xena, huh?" The woman nodded, looking a little amused. "Now, that's very interesting. You see, my grandmother was an archaeologist, and that period in Greek history is a particular interest of hers. In fact, she probably knows more about the life of Xena than anyone else alive. She used to tell me bedtime stories about her amazing adventures. So I hope you don't mind answering a few questions, just to verify your identity?"
"Trace, could we put a hold on that, at least until we get her out of here?" Nick interrupted. Seeing his partner's surprise, he added, "So far, we've been lucky. If this really has to do with magic, and I think it does, she is obviously the key to getting Nat back. I don't want to arrest her as a material witness, and that's what we'll be forced to do if she's discovered here. Please, trust me on this one."
Ordinarily Tracy would have objected strenuously, but this situation was far from ordinary. She didn't doubt that REAL magic was involved somehow; she had seen Natalie disappear with her own eyes. However, she had heard enough stories from Granny Jan to know that situations involving sorcery were seldom what they seemed. Try as she might, she couldn't see where following procedure wouldn't make the situation more complicated. "All right." she finally agreed, "Nat showed me where she keeps her spare lab coats, so at least we can cover up that ... thing ... she's wearing. You ," she said, pointing at Nick, "figure out how to get those weapons out of here." With that Tracy left, and went in search of the morgue's locker room.
"Well," Nick began, "I suppose you want to know ..."
He didn't get to finish. Without warning, Xena did a handspring over corpse, landing on Nick's chest and knocking him down. Grabbing her sword from the desk where Nick had put it, she placed the blade against his throat and calmly asked, "What I want to know is whether it is common in this time to recruit Bacchi as city watchmen? Or does your partner even know what you are?"
Meanwhile at the Raven, a certain elder vampire was in a tense meeting with a couple of very nervous Enforcers. "Let me get this straight," said an annoyed Lacroix, "you want me to actively aid Nicholas in his current murder investigation? I suppose you have a reason for this absurd request!"
"Ordinarily we would not inform you of our reasons," said the elder of the pair, "but this case is important enough to break the rules." Taking a deep breath he didn't really need (a sure sign of his agitation), he continued. "Tonight's museum robbery is only the latest in a series that have occurred around the world where rare and very ancient Greek artifacts were stolen. The others involved private collections that had been acquired through less than legal means, which is why the police are unaware of them. We only became aware of them when one of our own became a victim. Realizing the significance of items taken, he informed us and we made further inquiries."
"And the significance of the items is ..."
"According to legend, the artifacts stolen can be used in used in a ritual that would destroy every vampire on Earth. There are several more items required, but all of them are available in the Toronto area. If they should fall into the wrong hands, it could be worse threat to us than the fever ever was."
"Surely you aren't serious?!?" asked a stunned Lacroix.
The younger Enforcer gave him a stern look that said, We wouldn't be here if we weren't! .
"Just how do you expect me to get my childe to agree to this?" asked Lacroix impatiently. "We don't exactly see eye to eye on a lot of things."
"That is up to you," said the elder. "Threaten him. Bribe him. Tell him the truth if you have to! But it is CRITICAL that someone with the community's interests at heart control this investigation."
"My Nicholas does not respond well to threats. They tend to make him stubborn. He probably won't believe the truth; his outlook has become hopelessly mundane in his new profession. And as to bribes ... well ... there is only one that might interest him. One that the very Code you Enforce prohibits you or I from offering."
The younger Enforcer looked at the elder uncertainly. Nicholas de Brabant's odd quest for mortality had become something of a joke around the community, but as long as his hobby did not become a threat to the Code, the Enforcers had chosen to ignore it. And the Code was very specific on this matter; while it was not forbidden for a vampire to seek a cure, it WAS forbidden to offer one. Most vampires interpreted the word 'offer' very broadly, including any aid or passive acceptance in the term. But strictly speaking, the Enforcers usually became involved only when the seeker's activities threatened you expose the Community.
However, the Council's orders were very explicit. Without a hint of expression, the elder Enforcer spoke the words Lacroix had been dreading to hear. "Due to the extreme danger of the situation, certain provisions of the Code have been temporarily suspended. If that is what it takes, you may offer him the cure ."
So, itdoes exist, thought Lacroix. I had always believed it a myth, a tale conjured up to confuse gullible fledglings and annoy their masters. This, more than anything else, convinced him of the seriousness of the threat. Even if they were lying about the cure (which they had been known to do on occasion), they would not have risked their reputation as impartial arbiters of the Code for anything less than the gravest emergency. Lacroix may have been a proud being, but he wasn't suicidal. If that's what it takes, I'll do it, but only as a last resort!
It had taken almost an hour for Natalie to convince Gabrielle to set her free. That was ok, because it had taken nearly that long to truly convince herself she had actually travelled back in time. At the moment, Gabrielle was out hunting for breakfast (a task she complained was usually Xena's job), and then the plan was to head to a local oracle that she had heard about. Nat doubted that this oracle would be able to answer their questions, but since she didn't have a better idea, she had agreed to go along. The whole situation seemed like one of the bedtime stories she had heard as a child.
"In fact," she muttered to herself as she tried to rekindle the campfire, "it's beginning to sound exactly like one of them. Maybe I should of have listened more closely to them. If I remembered them more clearly, I might have a clue as to why this happened."
"I think the why should be fairly obvious," said a masculine voice from behind her.
Nat quickly spun around, instinctively grabbing the Chakram that Gabrielle had insisted on leaving behind for her protection. The man standing on the edge of the clearing looked harmless enough, even if he was dressed entirely in black armor, save for the helmet that he was carrying under his arm. Behind him was a dark chariot, pulled by two black horses. How did he get so close without my hearing him? Nat wondered. He looked pale and tired, and somehow oddly familiar. She did not remember having ever seen him (which, given the situation, was highly unlikely), and yet it felt as if they had met many times before. Although the sun in the sky reassured her that this man was not a vampire, she was absolutely certain that he was intimately familiar with death. And not just because of the sword he carried. "Who are you?" she asked, glad to note there was no fear in her voice.
"Let's just say I'm an old friend of your ancestor, and I suspect of yours, even if this is the first time that I have met you ." Seeing her confusion, the stranger looked slightly impatient. "Surely you have figured it out by now. I'm talking about Xena!" Ignoring Natalie's stunned expression, he came forward until he was standing across the fire from. "I've always tried to tabs on her (for her own good, you understand), so I felt it immediately when she was abruptly removed from the world. Since I knew that it was not yet her time to die, I came as quickly as I could, and arrived in time to overhear what you said to her friend. "
"Then you had nothing to do with this?" Nat asked skeptically. When he shook his head, she asked, "Then how did you know we were related?"
"Aside from your beauty?" Nat rolled her eyes at this obvious flattery. "I recognized the type of spell that was used from your description. It requires a linear blood relationship between the people exchanged. I've never heard of it being used over so many generations, though." Noticing Nat's disbelief, he quickly added, "I've never used it myself, honestly. My kind, except for the Fates of course, are forbidden to mess around with time. Even for us, the consequences could be disasterous."
"Your kind? What exactly do you mean 'your kind'?"
He looked startled at Nat's question, and then laughed. "Oh yes, that's right! You said the people of your time not longer believe in us. I wonder what happened? Never mind, I don't think I want to know. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Hades, lord of the underworld and judge of the dead. And my kind are ..."
"... the gods of Olympus." Natalie finished weakly. The scientific part of her was rebelling strongly at the idea that a mythical being was standing in front of her, but her instincts told her he was speaking the literal truth. So that's what he meant when he said he was an old friend of mine. Few people know death as well as a coroner. And I know a few variations on the theme that may surprise even him. She looked into his dark, knowing eyes. Then again, probably not.
After waiting a while for her to continue, Hades said, "I'm amazed you are taking this so calmly. Usually when I introduce myself to a mortal, they are quickly demanding either proof, favors, or mercy. There is more of Xena in you than you think."
Nat shook her head. "It's more of a matter of waiting to wake up!" Seeing Hades consternation, she added, "Not that I really think I'm dreaming. I'm no Thomas Covenant -- I know this is really happening."
"I don't understand."
"When I was a child, my grandmother used to read the legends of Ancient Greece to me before I went to sleep. In my dreams, I was the one who fought monsters and villains, outwitted gods, found treasure, and rescued handsome young princes (who looked a lot like the boy next door). So much of this seems almost too familiar."
"Believe it!" said a voice from the bushes. Into the clearing stepped Gabrielle, carrying a skinned rabbit. "He is the real thing. I should know. Like I said before, I've died twice. But really, Hades, I didn't think this was your style."
"I came here to help!" he replied, sounding a bit hurt and offended. "I owe Xena a great deal, and thought this could be my opportunity to repay her. But if you really don't need my assistance ..." He turned as if to leave.
Realizing her mistake, Gabrielle rushed forward. "Please, wait! I'm sorry, Lord Hades. I know you have never been anything but fair to us (unlike some gods I could mention). It's just that I'm so worried about Xena it's clouding my judgement. Could you help us? Please?"
Hades pretended to think about it for a moment, then sighed. "I really don't have much choice. As long as Natalie remains here and Xena is in her time, the fabric of history is at risk. Besides, like I said before, I owe Xena. But I'm also doing it for you, Natalie."
"Me?!? But I don't understand. We just met!"
"Yes, you. Isn't it true that in your world, you are the final advocate for those who have become my subjects? Although your purpose is to delay the entry of others into my realm, you still serve the cause of justice. And such devotion must be rewarded."
Nick felt a little foolish, lying there on the floor with a sword held at his throat. I never would have been caught off guard like that in the old days, he thought with chagrin. He knew that he could easily disarm the warrior woman, but decided to let her call the shots. For now. At the moment he was more worried about something else.
"How did you know?" he asked in a calm, reasonable voice.
"I was a bacchi once," Xena said bitterly, "if only briefly. Even though I was able to cure myself by killing Bacchus, I've been able to sense your kind ever since. Now answer my question!"
"We call ourselves vampires now. Most people no longer believe we exist, and you would be called mad if you tried to convince them. Oddly enough, my partner is own of the few mortals who does know about us, but she doesn't know about me specifically. And I would appreciate it if you didn't tell her. It would put her in more danger than she's in already."
"What danger?" Xena asked. Even though he had freely admitted what he was, she felt no threat from him. Maybe it was because he hadn't tried to fight back, she was beginning to feel she could trust him.
"I don't have time to explain. Tracy could come back any moment, and she would probably shoot first if she saw this scene. Please put that sword down. I promise I'll explain later." Hoping she wouldn't regret this later, Xena did as she was asked, and helped Nick to his feet.
They were just it time, for Tracy came barreling through the door with a large gym bag in one hand and a heavy overcoat over the other arm. Smiling, she said "We're in luck! Nat gave me the combination to her locker a couple of weeks ago, and I remembered she said she was going to the Y after work. We can put Xena's stuff in here and she now has something inconspicuous to wear."
Tracy dumped the contents of the gym bag onto a nearby counter. There was a sweatshirt and pants (which were fortunately baggy enough to fit Xena's larger frame), some underwear (which wasn't, and which puzzled Xena quite a bit), a towel, a pair of rolled up sweat socks and a pair of gym shoes. They put everything except the sweats back into the bag, and Tracy shooed Nick out of the room so Xena could change.
"This really isn't necessary," Xena said as Tracy helped her out of her armor, "I could have just put the coat over top of everything."
"I know," Tracy said as the sweat top went over Xena's head, "but I wanted to tell you something without Nick overhearing."
"That sounds ominous."
"It isn't really. I just didn't want him to ask a lot of questions. According to my grandmother, the two of us are connected."
Xena looked at her oddly."I've felt that. But how is that possible?"
"It could be that her very best friend in the whole world is your direct descendant. But more likely it's because she is, and thus I am, a direct descendant of your friend Gabrielle."
Xena's eyes widened at that revelation. "I don't know why, but I believe you. There is something about you that reminds me of her." Tracy smiled at this. "But how did your family keep track of the relationship through all these generations?"
"I don't know," Tracy admitted. "Granny Jan never told me that. But I never doubted it; it just felt right somehow."
The was a knock at the door. "Are you ready yet in there?" Nick called in. "I've got the car pulled around out back, and it's almost dawn."
"Almost," Tracy answered. Turning to Xena, she explained, "Nick has this allergy to sunlight, so he can only work the night shift."
"Allergy?" Xena asked as put on the overcoat, after somehow securing her sword inside it. Her other weapons had already been put in the gym bag.
"Sunlight makes him sick."
"Oh," Xena nodded, understanding all to well. "Are there many people around with this 'allergy'?"
"No, its very rare. If Nick wasn't such a good investigator, I doubt they would let him on the force with such a severe handicap." There was another impatient knock. "We're coming, Nick!" Tracy answered, then turned to Xena. "You're going to see a lot of strange stuff out there. Nick and I will try to answer your questions when we're alone, but until then please try to look like you've seen this sort of thing every day. We don't want to call any attention to you until we have some sort of plan."
"That sounds good to me," Xena replied, and the two of them left the morgue. Fortunately, at this hour there were very few people about, and they were able to leave the building without being seen. On their way down the back stairs, Tracy suggested that Xena stay with her. Later, Xena was never quite sure why she turned this eminently sensible invitation in favor of Nick's, but at the time it seemed more important to keep a very close eye on him.
Xena had always been of the opinion that cities stank, and this one was no exception. But this stink was quite different that any from any she had smelled before; instead of the usual odors of horse manure, sewage, wood smoke and unwashed bodies, there was a strange pungent oily scent in the air that she couldn't identify. The sounds were also very odd, like nothing she had ever heard before.
The ride to Nick's loft was an eye opener for Xena. His 'car' was a long metal chariot painted an ugly green colour that somehow moved under its own power. (She had almost attacked the thing before Nick explained it wasn't an odd dragon waiting to eat them.) Apparently they were quite common, for they turned out of the alley behind the building they had been in onto a wide thoroughfare paved with some smooth black substance painted with dashed white lines. On either side of the street were mountainous buildings of stone, metal and glass, and their way was lit by stone and metal trees topped with the same steady 'electric' lights that seemed to be everywhere.
The only familiar thing she could see was the pinking eastern sky, and that was only seen in snatches between the buildings and down the side streets they passed. No wonder Nick chooses to live here, thought Xena, there must be many places the sun never reaches. Xena's attention turned to the "vampire's" partner. If I had any doubt at all as to Tracy's lineage before, I have none now! she thought with mild exasperation. Although she knew that Tracy was only trying to help, her cheerful explanations of the 'modern' world left Xena only more confused.
She was grateful when Nick finally told his partner, "Give it up, Trace. She not only doesn't have the educational background to understand, I doubt her native language had words for many of the basic concepts. Not to mention her radically different world view."
"Oh please, let's DO mention it," said Xena wryly. "I still don't understand why you won't call all this magic."
"Do you think of a bow as magic?" asked Nick, as they arrive at a large block-like building. He point a small box at the large door, which silently opened to receive them.
"Of course not. It's just a weapon. Why?" She tried not to wince as the door closed behind, shutting off the first rays of the morning sun.
"Think about how it would look to your ancient ancestors before bows were invented. Using a string and a long stick you could throw a short light spear with enough force and accuracy to kill something far away. Wouldn't that seem like magic to them?"
Xena nodded thoughtfully. "So what you're saying is that all these things were made without spells or incantations of any kind? You just learn how to make them?" They had entered a large box-like affair that had started to move slowly upwards. At least I can see how this works; there's a rope at the top that's pulling us up. But what's pulling the rope?
Nick nodded. "It's all learnable. Unfortunately, most of these things, even if they seem simple, are so complicated to make or have so many parts that require special knowledge to produce that many people spend their working lives simply putting the parts together without knowing how to make them or how they work. Most of us know just enough to be able to use them properly, and to know who to call to fix them when they break." The lift stopped, and Nick opened the door.
"That's a terrific explanation," Tracy said as the others entered Nick's loft.
"I'm afraid I can't claim credit. It's from an episode of Star Trek." Seeing Xena's puzzled expression, Nick sighed and added, "Never mind, I'll explain later."
"Well I'm sorry I can't stay, but we still have a murder to investigate, and I don't think the captain will accept time travellers as an excuse." Tracy paused before pushing the down button. "I think I know someone who might be able to help with both situations. I'll let you know if I make contact. Bye." The door closed before either Nick or Xena could ask what she meant.
Xena shook her head in disbelief. "Is she always like that?"
Nick just shrugged. "You get used to it."
Thinking about Gabrielle, Xena smiled. "I know what you mean."
The help that Hades had been able to give them wasn't much, but it was more than they had before. If the spell was the one he thought it was, it had to be reversed before the next full moon or else the exchange would become permanent. To know for certain they would need to find a copy of the spell itself AND the sorcerer who cast it. Unfortunately, Hades left without telling them how to do this.
"This is just great!" Nat grumbled as they trudged along the road to the oracle Gabrielle had first suggested. "I'm a doctor, not a sorcerer. I wouldn't know a magic spell if one hit me in the face!" Suddenly, a gust of wind blew a certain piece of paper out of a tree and did just that.
Gabrielle's mouth dropped open, and then she began to chuckle. "Really Hades, you're usually a little more subtle that!"
Nat plucked the paper off her face, and peered at it intently for a minute. Finally, she handed it over to Gabrielle. "You read it. The translation spell appears to only work on the spoken word." Gabrielle studied it for a while, then a sick expression stole over her face. "Okay, what is it?" Nat asked.
Gabrielle hands shook as she carefully folded the the paper and put in a pouch at her waist. Then she looked at Nat and said, "According to the spell, WE can't do anything to break it. Only Xena can where she is. But what she is supposed to do is impossible!"
"What do you mean impossible? This whole situation is impossible! Just what does she have to do?"
At this, Gabrielle seemed to get hold of herself. "You're right, of course. Xena always manages to find a way. But I can't imagine how she could use her Chakram to kill a man who has been centuries dead?"
It was Nat's turn to get pale. "I do," whispered Nat. Unfortunately, the description of the sacrifice also describes the man I love.
Before Gabrielle could ask Nat what she meant, there was a loud crash from the bushes, followed by a stream for particularly inventive curses. Nat jumped back, and grabbed instinctively for the Chakram she had tied with a slip knot to her waist, but relaxed when she saw that Gabrielle was more exasperated than alarmed. "Don't worry! It's only Joxer. I've been listening to him following us for the last mile. I'm amazed you didn't hear him yourself."
"An old friend of ours. He's mostly harmless, except to himself." Gabrielle turned to the figure hidden in bushes, and scolded, "Really, that was clumsy, even for you. I caught a glimpse of you three times. What do you want, anyway?"
Slowly, a pale thin face framed by an odd looking leather helmet rose from the bushes. But it was not the face of a man who was embarrassed at being caught out, but rather one of a man who was scared to death. Both women froze, realizing something was seriously wrong. Finally the man spoke. "W-W-What I want is to know is why people keep calling me Joxer! I'm Sam Klynman from Passaic, New Jersey." With that, he rolled his eyes back in his head and collapsed.
Nat immediately went over and examined the unconscious man. Although his face and hands were covered numerous small scratches, his pulse was good and his breathing was regular. After checking his pupil response she told Gabrielle, "I think he simply fainted."
Gabrielle stepped closer to take a look at the fallen figure. "If this isn't Joxer, he has got to be a close relative. I'd know that dopey face anywhere. And that's definitely his helmet."
"His relationship to Joxer is probably about as close as mine to Xena," Nat answered thoughtfully as the two of them removed the body from the the bushes for a better look.
"You KNOW this guy?" asked Gabrielle.
"Not personally," Nat admitted, "but the name sounds familiar. I think my grandmother may have mentioned it. But I certainly recognize the type of clothes." Aside from his strange headgear, his wardrobe definitely seemed to be twentieth century; a frayed denim jacket covering an olive drab teeshirt with words "Check out my appliances" printed on the front, a cheap imitation Rolex watch, a pair of very muddy faded jeans, and worn out blue jogging shoes.
Around his waist he wore a black leather fanny pack containing a wallet, a plain envelope marked "Expenses" filled with credit card and other receipts dated late 1995, an open roll of breath mints, a half used pack of kleenex, and a key ring with several keys, a penlight, a Swiss army knife, and a container of pepper spray attached. Nat was about to check his wallet when a groan alerted them that their guest was waking up. She dropped it and backed a away as the stranger opened his eyes.
"Geesh! When I have a dream, it sure is a doozy!" he said as he sat up and looked around.
Nat looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sorry I have to tell you this, but this isn't a dream."
"But it HAS to be!" he responded desperately. "This kind of thing only happens in the movies or on TV. And even if it didn't, it wouldn't happen to ME! I have the most boring life imaginable."
Nat sighed. "I know how you feel. One minute I'm finishing a autopsy, and the next I'm living an Ancient Greek myth."
The stranger's eyes widened. "Ancient Greece?!? THAT'S where we are?" When Nat nodded, he put his head in his hands and moaned softly to himself, "I'm really sorry I laughed at you, granpa. I guess you were telling us the truth after all."
"Are you okay?" asked Gabrielle, concerned the man was going to faint again.
At this, the man took a deep breath and looked at them. "I guess so. It's just a bit much to take in. I suppose you have to be Gabrielle of Poteidaia, then?"
"How did you know my name?" she asked, sounding very suspicious.
"I suspect his grandfather told him the same stories my grandmother told me," Nat answered for him. "In fact, I think they knew each other. Your grandfather was Jack Klynman, right?"
"Right! And I suppose your grandmother was Mel Pappas. Small world, isn't it?"
Nat shook her head. "Not really. If our ancestors weren't who they were, we wouldn't be here. How DID you get here, anyway?"
He sighed, and took off the helmet. "I think it was this thing. When I put it on, POOF, I was in a clearing with a couple of big guys with swords. They looked almost as scared as I was, and kept asking how I changed my clothes so fast. When I told them I wasn't Joxer, they mumbled something about sorcery, jumped on their horses, and took off."
"Smart move," interrupted Gabrielle, "sorcery is nothing to fool with, particularly if you don't know what's going on. Now, how did you find the helmet? Somehow I don't think it was just lying around."
"You know, the more I think about it, the more I think it must have been a set up from the beginning. I got this letter from a travel agency saying that because research had determined I was the descendant of an Ancient Greek hero, I had been chosen to receive an all expenses paid trip to Toronto to promote a new museum exhibit about him. Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I took the tickets. I was met at the airport this morning by a beautiful blond who said she had been hired to take some publicity shots for the promotion. She seemed nice enough, if a bit wired. We took a cab to her studio and when we got there, she told me to put on the helmet, which she said was a replica of one that my ancestor wore. I objected, thinking it looked silly, and she pulled out a gun and ordered me to do it. I did, and you know the rest."
Gabrielle was a little confused at all the strange words used, but had gotten the gist of the story. "Nat, didn't you say that the guard who was murdered with the Chakram worked at a 'museum' in 'Toronto'?" Nat nodded. "Listen, uh..."
"Sam. Call me Sam."
"Sam, did the woman say anything that might be a clue to her identity?" Gabrielle already had a pretty good idea who was behind this, but needed some confirmation.
Sam turned at bit red at this. "Well, I did make sort of a pass at her," he said, sounding a little embarrassed. Noticing their disapproving looks, he protested, "Hey, I'm only human, and she was gorgeous, if a little intense. Well, maybe more than a little. Anyway, she just laughed. When I asked why, she said I reminded her of someone she knew a very long time ago, and how some things never change." He paused for a moment, then said, "No, that wasn't it. What she said was 'Don't ever change, Joxer.' When I asked her why she called me that name, THAT'S when she said I reminded her of someone. At the time, I thought see was referring to my ancestor's reputation with the ladies, but now I'm now so sure. Do you think she might have done some time travelling too?"
Gabrielle looked a little pale for a moment, then turned away from her two companions to face the setting sun, her expression grim. "Probably," she growled, "if she's who I think she she was. DAMN IT, why won't she just stay dead!?!"
"Who?" asked both Nat and Sam simultaneously.
When Joxer woke up after that strange light carried him who knew where, he discovered that he was bound, gagged and blindfolded. After a minute he was somewhat grateful for the last, for he was apparently being carried in some large metal wagon surrounded by strange unearthly beasts which growled and howled in a manner he had never heard before. Their weird stench filled the air, and he wondered what these things had done to his poor companions, whose only crime had been agreeing to accompany him on the road to Athens. Whatever kind of creatures these were, they apparently terrified the driver, for they were travelling at a pace that Joxer had previously believed impossible, even if the ride was smoother than a boat gliding on a still pond.
Finally his journey came to an end, as the sounds around him suddenly muted, and the vehicle came to a halt. There was a sound of doors opening, and two strong pairs of hands dragged him roughly outside where they lifted him into the air, carried him into another room and strapped him into a chair. He then heard their footsteps leaving the room, and the door shutting behind them. They can't just leave me like this! he thought desperately, and it seemed his prayers were answered when gentle hands removed both gag and blindfold. He was about to thank his rescuer when his eyes adjusted to the bright light and he recognized her. Oh Gods, NO! he thought, his breath catching in his throat.
"Well, well, well. It's been a long time, Joxer," said the beautiful woman standing before him. "Oh yes, a VERY long time indeed!"
"Not long enough, Callisto!" Joxer answered bravely, trying very hard (but not too successfully) to hide his fear. Of all the horrors that he had encountered during his sporadic association with Xena, Callisto was by far the most frightening, if only because of the utter purity of her evil. She had transformed herself into the essence of vengeance, and nothing, not defeat, not the wrath of the gods, not even death itself could turn her from her course -- the utter destruction of Xena. And she would do anything, and use anyone, to achieve that end.
"You know, you should be flattered," she continued as if not hearing Joxer's retort, " It isn't easy to bring someone three thousand years into the future. Originally I had planned to bring Gabrielle forward as bait, but unfortunately her staff was stolen somewhere along the line, and I wasn't able to retrieve it in time to give it to her descendant." She shook her head as if to clear it. "No matter. You should do just as well. Perhaps even better; you are much less likely to escape and ruin my plans, and Xena is sufficiently fond of you to pursue your rescue with suitable zeal. Yes, it should work out quite nicely."
"It won't work. She'll see right through your plan and g-guh..." Joxer's brave speech came to a stunned halt as his brain finally digested what she had done. "Th-th-three THOUSAND years?!?"
"Give or take a century or two. I had a little help of course, but in the end it was MY plan we decided on. If you survive, you might fit in here quite well. It's a world of weaklings and fools who have no idea how to use the power they've got. Oh, but they'll learn." Callisto chuckled as she left the room. "They'll learn indeed."
Dr. Janice Vetter (nee Covington) might be just a few months shy of her seventy-fifth birthday, but she still kept the habit of waking with the sun. So she was wide awake and making breakfast when she got a call from her favorite granddaughter. After Tracy made it clear that she wasn't calling about her father (the recent funeral of Tracy's uncle being uppermost in both their minds), Janice asked just why she had called. "Not that I'm not always glad to hear from you," she quickly added, "but usually I'm the one who has to pick up the phone." After a brief (but guilty) silence on the other end of the line, she asked "Would this have anything to with the murder at the R.O.M. last night?"
"How did you know?" Tracy asked, surprised because news of the murder hadn't been released yet.
"Davidson called me last night after you left, and asked me if we were related. I worked a little on the project with him, and he thought I should be kept informed. Has there been any progress on the case?"
"You could say that. Actually, things have gotten a little bit weird, and that's why we need your help..."
In order to make Xena feel more comfortable with him, Nick decided to leave the shutters open so that a large part of the room was filled with sunshine. This made moving about the apartment a little tricky for him, but it was far from impossible (particularly for someone who could fly over the dangerous areas). Even though Xena was beginning to trust this strange Bacchi, she still had a lot of questions, and chose to ask them from a chair she had pulled right up against the windows.
"You said earlier that you would explain why it would be dangerous for Tracy to know what you are. If she already knows about your kind, why should she be in more danger by knowing about you?"
Nick sighed inwardly. "To understand that, I'll have to tell you about how Tracy and I became partners. It was supposed to be a temporary assignment while my partner and my captain at the time were transporting a prisoner to another city. Unfortunately, a madman caused their airplane to crash, killing almost everyone on board." Seeing Xena's confusion, he added, "Think of an airplane as a large flying ship. Anyway, Tracy and I were near the airport, and saw it go down in flames. The only survivors were a baby and one of my kind.
Later, when Tracy was at the place where the remains of the passengers had been taken for identification, she discovered the vampire survivor (whom she had noticed apparently dead at the crash site) rooting around in the body parts looking for his severed hand. Usually we can make people who discover us forget what they have seen, but Tracy proved resistant to the spell. For some reason Vachon decided not to kill her (even before I showed up to persuade him), and they later became good friends. But if others of our kind discover what she knows, she would be in terrible danger."
"You still haven't explained why."
"In your time and for a very long time afterward, our powers and mortal man's legitimate fear of the darkness were more than enough to protect us and allow us to thrive. But as people began rely less on the powers of gods and superstition and more on what they could discover about how the world worked, their fears lessened and their abilities grew. A few centuries ago it was decided that, for our protection, WE would become one of those superstitions. After all, no one would seek to eradicate something that didn't exist unless they wished to be thought mad.
Today, the greatest defense we have is the secret in our existance. To protect it, a group called the Enforcers does everything they must to prevent our exposure. They will kill anyone they consider a threat. Since this usually means hunting down and destroying vampires who have hunted indiscretely, they actually protect the mortal community. But mortals are not immune. If one discovers our existance, and cannot be made to forget what they know, they are usually killed unless another vampire is willing to guarantee their silence with his existence."
Xena interrupted. "If you are trying to tell me Bacchi ... vampires don't hunt any more, I won't believe it."
Nick hastened to explain. "Mortal healers have perfected the technique of storing blood to replace that which is lost through injuries, so it is easier (and safer) to aquire the stored blood than to hunt and kill. And a few, like me, prefer to drink animal blood that can be easily obtained from any butcher shop."
Seeing Xena's skeptical expression, he added, "I won't lie. Some of us still hunt, and most of my kind see nothing wrong in it as long as discretion is used. And for centuries I was one of them. But I finally came to understand it was wrong to victimize others to satisfy my needs. For over a hundred years I haven't killed to feed, and with the aid of the woman you replaced, I am trying to become mortal again. Until then, I try to atone for my past by using my abilities to track down mortal murderers who prey on their own kind, and bring them to justice."
Xena was beginning to feel a strange kinship to this tormented soul before her. She knew very well the pain and guilt that such a radical change of perspective could bring. But still had to ask one very hard question. "And what about the murderers of your own kind? If no one believes they exist, how do you bring them to justice?"
This was a topic that Nick had debated with himself (and with Nat) many times over the past few years. He had decided on an answer, but he wasn't too sure that his guest would find it acceptable. "Most of my kind who still hunt mortals are very scrupulous about disposing the bodies where they will never be found. The victims simply disappear, and that kind of case is sent to another division of the police force. If I DO find out about it, usually this means that the vampire has careless enough to put him in violation of our Code, and most of the time the Enforcers will get to him before I will."
Nick realized he was avoiding the real issue, a realization he saw reflected in Xena's eyes. "All right! You want my policy? Here it is. The motto of the police force is To Serve and Protect and I do my best to fulfill that pledge. But I will not be judge, jury, and executioner for my own kind because they are are following the same path I once walked. If I have to destroy a vampire to protect mortals who are in immediate danger, I will - but I won't hunt others down for past crimes. I don't have the right, and I would be destroyed if I tried. Only the future can be changed, and that is what I'm trying to do. I'm sorry if that doesn't seem enough, but that's the best I can do."
Xena was silent for a moment, considering what Nick had said, and more importantly how he had said it. Rather than being angry or defensive, Nick had explained his position in a calm (if somewhat resigned) tone. Finally, she nodded to show her acceptance of his answer. It obviously pained him that he could not do more, but in all honesty Xena could not see where she could make a different choice if she were in his place. At least not now. The one time I did, it literally came back to `haunt' me! she thought, remembering her decision to let Callisto die. As far as she knew, Callisto and Velasca were still battling it out in the bowels of the Earth. (She was wrong, but she didn't know that yet!)
While most of Xena's attention had been focused on Nick, she still kept one eye looking out the window, so she was the first to be aware of the rather worn yellow `car' with a funny looking ornament on top pulling up outside Nick's building. Out of it stepped a tired Tracy, who raced around the vehicle in a futile attempt to open the door on the other side. Before she could reach her destination, the door popped open, and a small, spry woman in a gray coat got out. She wore a broad brimmed hat that obscured her face, and held a gnarled black cane in an equally gnarled hand, which she was currently shaking at Tracy as she scolded the young woman for showing excessive solicitude.
Some things never change,thought Xena wryly as Tracy paid the car's driver and the pair made their way to Nick's door. A sudden buzzing from a device near the `elevator' startled Xena momentarily, but she relaxed when she heard Tracy's voice announcing her arrival with the `contact' she thought could help them.
"Are you sure this contact of yours can be trusted?" Nick asked.
Even through the distortion of the voice-box-thing, Tracy's exasperation could clearly be heard. "Nick, do you really think I would have brought her here if I had any doubts at all about this? Besides, I already told her everything. Just let us up so we can get started!"
Nick said nothing, instead pushing a stud on the device that apparently unlocked the door below. He then picked up a black box about three times the size of the one he had used to open the large door to the car's stable, and pointed it at the windows. "I'm sorry," he apologized as the metal shutters quietly closed, "but Tracy would wonder why they were open. You'll just have to trust me." The last of the sunlight vanished just as the elevator doors opened.
Gabrielle looked a little pale for a moment, then turned away from her two companions to face the setting sun, her expression grim. "Probably," she growled, "if she's who I think she she was. DAMN IT, why won't she just stay dead!?!"
"Who?" asked both Nat and Sam simultaneously.
"Her name is Callisto, and she is Xena's most dangerous mortal ... make that IMmortal enemy. Every time we think we have gotten rid of her for a while, she pops up again more dangerous than ever. First time we beat her, she escaped the dungeon where she was awaiting her execution and murdered my husband just because I was Xena's friend. We saw her die, but she managed to make a deal with Ares so she could possess Xena's body and slaughter everyone in her home village. We managed to defeat her and send her back to Tartarus, but then she made a deal with Hera to trick Hercules into leading her to the Tree of Life, where she ate one of the fruits and became immortal. Hercules trapped her underground, but then Xena had to rescue her to help defeat Velasca, a rogue Amazon who had tasted Ambrosia to become the goddess of Chaos. The last I saw of her, she had tasted Ambrosia herself, and was fighting Velasca for the title while falling into a river of lava."
"And you don't think that's going to kill her?" gasped Sam, appalled.
"Haven't you been listening? She's a GODDESS now! The only way she will ever die now is at the hands of another god or gods. I'm not even sure about that; she was already immortal from another source BEFORE she tasted Ambrosia. Maybe the most they can do is strip her of her powers, and make her an ordinary immortal again. In fact, from your description of her actions, I think that must be what happened -- WILL happen -- whatever."
Nat's scientific side desperately wanted to protest Gabrielle's idea but after everything she had experienced over the last twenty-four hours, Nat's disbelief was not only suspended, it was doing a high-wire act. "I suppose you could be right. I certainly never heard of a Callisto or Velasca joining the gods of Olympus in the time of Hercules; although I think there was a Callisto mentioned in another legend. I wonder ... you said if a mortal eats this Ambrosia stuff, he or she becomes a GOD?" Gabrielle nodded. "You know, that could explain a lot!"
"What do you mean?" Gabrielle asked.
Nat explained. "The gods of most religions are reputed to have great wisdom and mystic purposes, and seldom deign to directly interfere in the affairs of mortals. In fact, provable divine intervention in my time has become so rare as to be virtually non-existant, and there are a growing number of people who believe there are not and never have been any gods; that they were man's primitive attempts to explain the forces of nature they couldn't understand. But the legends of the Olympian pantheon portray them as more of a dysfunctional family with immense powers than personifications of the forces of nature. Many of their actions seem petty and cruel, and they were worshipped more to placate than to honor them. If instead of mystic beings from the dawn of time they were simply a group of mortals who discovered or created Ambrosia, their actions make a lot more sense."
Apparently this utter heresy was too much even for the irreverent Gabrielle. "Maybe the gods of YOUR time are weak and ineffectual, but they are far from that here and now. So watch what you say. The LAST thing we need at this point is to face the wrath of the gods."
"I second the motion," said a suddenly nervous Sam Klynman. "In fact, I suggest we head IMMEDIATELY for the nearest temple to burn a few offerings and seek absolution."
"What's got into you?" asked Nat.
"Th-th-they did!" Sam answered, pointing to something -- or someone -- behind Nat.
When Tracy's companion stepped off the elevator she thought for a moment that she had stepped into a time warp. From the incredible story she had managed to worm out of her grandaughter on the way over, she knew who the woman seated by the windows had to be. Too bad I can't tell we met fifty-three years ago. This situation is already too confusing; no need to throw reincarnation into the mix.
But it was the other person in the room who gave her the greatest shock. Even though she knew intellectually that this man had to be Tracy's partner, she couldn't get over his resemblance to a colleague of hers who had disappeared over forty years ago after being blacklisted.
Janice Covington's jeep barreled into the faculty parking lot, coming to an abrupt stop beside a small van parked behind the social sciences building. Without even taking a moment to remove the keys from the ignition, she jumped out of the car and raced into the building, leaving her partner to follow at a more dignified pace. Usually when she visited the hallowed halls of academe, she at least tried to present an image consistent with her credentials as a scholar and a scientist, but there was no time for that now. Only forty-eight hours ago she had been at her Mexican dig when she a telegram had arrived from a concerned colleague about her friend's troubles. Since then she had begged, borrowed, or stolen the transport required to get her home in time to help him.
Unfortunately, it appeared she was too late. The glass on his office door was scratched and clouded from the hasty removal of his name, and the lock on it looked shiny and new. It was slightly ajar, and opened with a touch to reveal a room that had been stripped to the walls. Even the carpet had been taken up. The only evidence that this had once been the office of Nicholas Girard, respected Professor of Archeology, was the man himself, standing silently on the bare hardwood floor, looking sadly out the window at the night shrouded campus beyond. She must have made some kind noise, for he turned to her and reached out his hand.
When she had first met Nick at a faculty luncheon several years ago, she had been surprised to learn that he was a colleague. Not only did he seem ridiculously young for such an impressive reputation, Janice had learned over the years to be an accurate judge of a person's nature, and to her Nick had always seemed more of a warrior than an scholar. There was no doubt that his knowledge of history was profound, but at times he made it seem that it was more a matter of experience than scholarship. An absurd idea of course, but one that she could never quite shake. He had a number of rather radical views on medieval society that were disputed by his peers, which made him instant friends with Janice whose views of Bronze Age Greece were equally radical.
Oddly, there had never been a hint of a physical relationship (something she could never understand, since he could have been model for a statue of Apollo); instead over the years their friendship had become almost a deep as the one she had with Mel Pappas. Mel sometimes teased her about it, once calling Nick her "knight in shining armor" when he rescued her from the verbal barbs of a visiting lecturer (who loudly stated that "home economics" was the only degree a woman needed) by simply staring him down. Not that his chivalry was limited to her; all of his students knew they could come to him with their problems (even if they had nothing to do with his course), and he would do his best to help them. Even if it meant going up against the college itself. This "breaking of the faith" had earned him a lot of enemies on the faculty, and now they had found a way to exact their revenge.
"I can't believe you aren't fighting this," Janice choked out in dismay at Nick's resigned expression. "This isn't like you. What happened to the man who publicly exposed another professor's stealing his student's work and publishing it under his own name, forcing the college to issue an equally public reprimand? They have no right ..."
"True," Nick said, interrupting Janice's stream of words, "but they DO have the power. The power of fear. It started when the Russians got the bomb, and it's been building ever since. You can smell it in the streets these days. That's how witch hunts work; the minute you are accused, you are condemned."
Janice couldn't believe this was happening. "Surely you could appeal the decision."
Nick slowly shook his head. "Even if I could get them to take me back, it wouldn't be the same. Once I was labeled a Communist, I became an untouchable. Most of my students pulled out of my classes before the hearings even began, fearing guilt-by-association. The rest left when it became obvious the way things would go. My publishers have returned as unusable the manuscript that only a month ago they had declared the best they had seen in years. The laundry I had used for years returned all my shirts with a note saying they no longer wanted my business. Even the cleaning lady wouldn't do my office any more. No, I'm afraid the career of Nicholas Girard is over."
"Why don't you come back to Mexico with me?" Janice offered. "I've come across some very unusual finds, and I could use experienced help."
"Fortunately for you, I like you too much to take you up on your offer. The label of fellow traveller is almost as bad as Commie these days, and our friendship has already put you at risk. Don't worry about me. I have a rather large trust fund to fall back on, so I'm better off than most. I'll just take a long vacation for a while, maybe see the world."
A knock came from the doorway, and burly man in a black baseball cap and dirty gray coveralls announced, "We're all loaded up, Mr. Girard."
"Just a minute," he answered the man, and turned back to Janice. "Don't worry about me, I always bounce back. I've got to go now, but I'll try to keep in touch. Bye." With that, Nick turned and left his former office, without once looking back.
Janice had worried, of course. She knew how much Nick loved teaching, and had been infuriated at seeing a good man's life ruined by a few politicians trying to scare up some votes. At first, when she recieved no word from him, she thought he was just trying to protect her. But later, after the witch hunts were over and McCarthy was a bad memory, she tried to find him again. She never did; it was as if Nicholas Girard had ceased to exist when he had left that room.
These thoughts had taken only a couple of seconds. Now, in the middle of her strangest meeting in over half a century, here he was again. Of course it can't BE him, she thought, but the resemblance is too strong for them not to be related. Maybe he can answer some questions, but that will have to wait. Not one to let matters stand still, she stepped forward and took the blond man's hand. "Hello, I'm Dr. Janice Vetter, Tracy's grandmother. And you must be Nick -- Knight, isn't it?" She looked back at her granddaughter and sadly shook her head. "Really Tracy, you never told me your partner was SO good looking."
Ignoring her embarrassed blush, Janice turned to the room's other occupant. "And you HAVE to be Xena. You look just like my best friend Mel did fifty years ago, and I KNOW she was your descendant."
"And I expect Gabrielle will look like you in a few decades," Xena responded, "if she's lucky. I take it that extended life spans are another advantage of modern living? No, don't tell me!" she quickly said, interrupting the reply, "I really don't want to know. What I WOULD like to know is why you were so sure of your lineage, and your friend's. And DON'T say it's because of family resemblance; you were certain enough to claim it as fact to your grandaughter when she was a child." Xena had noticed the woman's odd recognition of her host, and his of her, but had filed it away for future study.
"Straight to the point, as always," Janice replied, mentally kicking herself for not anticipating this question. "I wish I could tell you, but since the answer relies on what I know of your personal future, I don't think you want to know that either. Let's just say that I knew from personal experience that magic from your time could extend itself into this century, and leave it at that."
Although a bit fustrated by this response, Xena still managed a slightly amused smile. "As uninformative answers go, that one was worthy of your ancestor."
Both women quick turned to meet the threat; Gabrielle bringing her staff to a ready position, and Nat assuming a martial arts stance. I sure hope those self defense courses at the Y pay off, Nat thought as she saw the intruders. It was a motley crew, a half dozen ugly men wearing dirty leather armor and an assortment of nasty looking weapons.
"Well, well, well," said the leader, a wiry man with short cropped blond hair, "what do we have here? A couple of damsels in distress?" He looked briefly at Sam Kleinman, and quickly dismissed him as a threat. The women seemed more dangerous than he was.
"I hate to disappoint you, but we aren't in distress," Gabrielle replied bravely, all the while wishing Xena was there. She had spotted the scruffy pony standing silently behind the men, bearing a load of chains and manacles. Slavers! she thought with a shudder.
The leader smiled an evil smile. "Trust me, you will be." He turned to his men and shouted, "I WANT THE HORSE AND THE WOMEN ALIVE. GET THEM!" The men quickly surrounded the trio but didn't draw their weapons, mindful of their leaders orders. Besides, how much trouble could two women and a wimp be?
That was their first mistake. The two men who rushed Gabrielle were quickly laid out by her staff, while a third who rushed Nat was thrown to the ground and kicked hard in a delicate spot that left him moaning and gasping for breath. Suddenly the odds were even, and the slaver leader began to re-think his assumption that the warhorse belonged to the man.
His lieutenant wasn't quite so perceptive. Seeing three of his comrades so quickly felled by two women, he raced over to Argo and tried to mount her, thinking his boss might forgive his desertion if he could at least get the horse. They would probably get more money for her than for the other three combined. Gabrielle, seeing this, let loose a piercing whistle, and soon was smiling as the would-be horse thief sailed through the trees with two hoof prints imprinted on his behind.
Unfortunately Sam didn't fair quite so well. His assailant had managed to get behind him, and had him in a head lock with a dagger pointed at his throat. "STOP!" he yelled, freezing the women in their tracks. "One more move, and your friend dies."
"Don't listen to him," gasped Sam bravely, proving once and for all he was a true descendant of Joxer. "He's going to kill me anyway. Run! Save yourselves!"
"Brave words," sneered the slaver leader. "However, I don't think your friends are the kind of people who would do that. Take it from one who knows; loyalty can be the strongest chain of all."
Gabrielle was a little surprised at this philosophy being spouted by a thug. "Too bad your friends aren't so brave OR loyal," she taunted, nodding at the bushes where the body of his deserting lieutenant had fallen.
"Sam's a brave man," added Nat, thinking quickly. "To him, DANGER is the SPICE of life." Hopefully, he would pick up on her hint.
Maybe it was the adrenaline coursing through his system, or maybe it was simply an instinct for self-preservation, but Sam instantly understood what Nat was suggesting. While his two captors kept their eyes on his companions, he stealthily reached into his fanny pack and removed his key ring, holding it tightly so that the keys and the other items attached wouldn't make a sound. By touch alone he managed to find the short stubby cylinder and with a silent prayer he raised is arm, closed his eyes, and pushed the button on the little can of pepper spray.
The response was immediate. Sam's captor dropped his knife and released him, then fell to HIS knees coughing and screaming, "MY EYES, MY EYES!" Sam quickly dove out of the way of the slaver captain's swinging sword, accidently head-butting Nat's victim (who had just started getting to his feet) in the same area that had sustained the earlier assault, and effectively putting him down for the count. The leader, seeing that he was suddenly alone, decided that a strategic retreat was in order and quickly took to his heels down the road. The whole battle had taken less that two minutes.
"Gee, that was fun," commented Nat sarcastically a little while later, after securing the slavers with their own restraints. "Does this sort of thing happen often?"
"Only about once a week," Gabrielle answered. "You get used to it."
"Well, I'm glad that's settled," Tracy interrupted, trying to gain control of the conversation. "As I reminded Nick before I left, we do have a murder to investigate here. Solving it is probably the best way to get Xena and Nat back where they belong."
Nick was more than ready to agree. Turning to Tracy he asked, "Did you get a final list of the items missing from the museum?"
"Yes. Aside from the lyre and the chalice we already knew about, there was a set of mummified leather armor that hadn't been unpacked yet. The chest piece apparently disintegrated when the thief tried to remove it from the packing, but the helmet had been stored seperately, and may still be intact. Unlike most of the other artifacts recovered, there was nothing written to indicate who it belonged to, but it was found close to the other missing items. Dr. Davidson faxed me a picture of them as they were found at the dig ..." Tracy stopped for a moment to get a folded sheet of paper from her purse. "He thinks the positioning may have some significance." She handed it to her grandmother asking, "What do you think?"
Janice Vetter looked carefully at the picture, which showed the three missing items and Xena's chakram arranged in a curious fashion on an intricately carved stone table. The lyre was the center of the display, with the armor arranged so the arm pieces were stretched towards it and the helmet was on its side facing it. On the far side of the lyre the chakram stood vertically in a slot in the stone, with the chalice resting on its side inside the circle of the weapon. Janice immediately recognized the story represented by the tableau, but handed the photo to Xena asking, "Did this armor belong to who I think it did?"
Xena wanted to ask who had painted such a realistic picture, but decided to answer the question first. "If you mean Joxer, you're probably right. He acted as the hands of Orpheus in our battle against Bacchus, and was instrumental (no pun intended) in our victory. I'm sure that helmet was his; I suggested once that a metal helm would be better protection, but he said that it had belonged to his father and it brought him luck." She chuckled at the memory. "Although if I had HIS kind of luck I would probably be using it as a chamber pot." Her smile quickly turned to a puzzled frown. "Even if it IS valuable as an antiquity, I just can't imagine why anyone would want to steal it."
"Unless..." Nick interrupted, an odd idea forming in his mind. "I'm remember wondering at the crime scene why the guard was killed. All the alarm systems had been neutralized, and a tape loop was used fake out the security cameras. According the time logs, there was plenty of time for the thief to get in and out without anyone seeing them. What if ..." He paused, turning to Xena who handed him the photograph, "What if the guard was killed simply to leave your chakram in a place where your descendant would HAVE to touch it?"
"Come on, Nick," Tracy responded sceptically, "isn't that a bit of a stretch? Why do you think they are related anyway?"
OOPS,thought Nick nervously, I slipped up there. I'll have to bluff. "The chakram was handled by several people since it was rediscovered, including the murderer and the victim, and yet it wasn't until Nat held it in her bare hand that the exchange took place. Why? The only explanation that makes sense of the delay is that there was some connection between Nat and Xena that activated the spell, and one of blood was the simplest I could think of."
The younger women didn't seem too impressed by this theory, but Tracy's grandmother just looked at Nick shrewdly and said, "Actually, Detective Knight is probably right!" Ignoring Tracy's and Xena's startled looks, she shrugged and continued, "I figured it out on the way over, when Tracy told me the name of your missing friend. My best friend Mel, who I know for a FACT is a direct descendant, married a guy named Lambert and used to write me letters about how proud she was of her grandaughter Natalie who was going to be a forensic pathologist, carrying on the family tradition of solving the mysteries of the dead (even if her subjects were a little fresher than ours)."
Tracy looked at her grandmother in shock. "Talk about a small world! Why didn't you tell this before?"
"I wasn't sure it was anything but coincidence, until your partner described how contrived the murder seemed. What do you suppose the odds are that the partner of Gabrielle's descendant would be a good friend of Xena's descendant?" Or that said partner should look exactly like an old friend of their grandmothers' who vanished over forty years ago? she thought silently.
"I've seen some stranger twists of fate," Xena admitted, "but usually the gods helped destiny along a little. But it HAS been over three thousand years. Perhaps this was just the first time all the pieces were it place. But what has all this to do with the theft of Joxer's hel..." Suddenly Xena's eyes glazed over, her jaw dropped, then her face took on a disgusted expression. "Puhlease," she begged Nick, "DON'T tell me you're thinking what I think you're thinking!"
Nick stared blankly at Xena for a moment, surprised at her reaction to the idea, while Janice, her eyes twinkling merrily, erupted in a series of less than convincing coughs. Tracy, as usual, didn't get it and was a little annoyed about it. "Now this is interesting," she said, "Could somebody tell me what this is all about?"
Nick ignored Tracy's question for a moment, turning instead to her grandmother who had managed to get her "coughing" under control. "May I take it from your reaction that you know of a descendant of his too?" Janice nodded, not yet trusting herself to speak.
Nick turned to answer Tracy, but found it unnecessary as she put her hand over her eyes and groaned, "Let me guess. You think the helmet is going to be used to bring this Joxer here." When no contradictions were forthcoming, she looked up at Xena and asked "Why?"
They made an odd procession; five rough looking men chained together between two horses, the lead one escorted by two women and the trailing one ridden by nervous looking fellow wearing an odd helmet and carrying a spear. The prisoners were surpisingly docile; without their leader, who had (perhaps wisely) taken off for parts unknown, they had no idea how to plan an escape. They were much more used to being the predators than the prey, and were still stunned by this reversal of fortunes.
As the group made its way to the nearest village, where Gabrielle intended to turn their slaver captives over to the local magistrate, Nat noticed that Gabrielle was wearing a strange smile. "What's so funny?" she grumbled, finding their current predicament anything but amusing.
"Oh, I was just thinking. I think we did rather well back there, don't you?" This wasn't the first time she'd had to fight a battle without Xena, but she was quite pleased about how quickly they had dispatched this lot of villains.
Nat had to agree with this assessment. "Given that two of us are total amateurs at this sort of thing, I think we did VERY well. Either that, or we were very, very lucky."
"Speak for yourself" interrupted an indignant Sam Klienman. "I'll have you know I was almost killed in Operation Desert Storm." Technically, this was correct; he had worked as ground crew and general maintenance for a forward airbase, which had come under attack several times.
"I thought you said you had the most boring life imaginable?" asked Nat.
"Well I did, at least for the last few years, AFTER I got out of the air f... I mean the army. I joined up to see the world, and BOY, did I see it." Seeing the sudden respect in the prisoner's eyes, he boldly added, "I was responsible for the lives and safety of a hundred men." Well, he had serviced and repaired a lot of aircraft. He had wanted to be a pilot, but an inner ear problem had grounded him.
Gabrielle was puzzled; Sam wasn't like any warrior she had ever met (except for his ancestor, who was one mostly in his own mind). "I take it from the name of the battle, you fought in a desert?" she asked sceptically. Seeing his nod, she continued, "Did you see a lot of action?"
"Enough," he answered, trying for a tone of masterful understatement. "My commander told me he was proud to have me in his unit." Also true; this comment being made after he had fixed the air conditioner in the officers' club.
This conversation came to an abrupt halt as the rounded a bend in the road to find themselves on the outskirts of the village. Although the odd group was received with caution, the villagers readily directed Gabrielle to the magistrate's house. Apparently one of the villagers had gone ahead to inform him of their arrival, for when they got there he was waiting for them in front of his home, flanked by two burly lads from the village watch. "Well well, what do we have here?" he greeted them with a friendly smile.
The smaller woman introduced herself. "I am Gabrielle, companion to Xena." This declaration elicited a groan of dismay from one of the prisoners, who belatedly realized how poor their choice of prey had been. "My friend Sam and I were escorting her ... cousin Natalie to meet her, when we were set upon by these men and their leader, who got away. Unfortunately for them, we were not as helpless as they thought."
"They never would have won if HE hadn't used sorcery to blind me!" grumbled the slaver Sam had introduced to pepper spray.
"Cletus, you idiot!" yelled the man chained behind him, "You just HAD to open your big mouth." He proceeded to try to kick his indiscrete comrade, only managing to trip himself and bring the whole group down with him. This greatly amused the villagers who had assembled to watch.
Although the magistrate seemed a bit disappointed that the taller woman was NOT the fabled warrior princess, he quickly ordered his guards to take the prisoners in charge and secure them in an unused hut that doubled as the local jail to wait for trial. Fortunately, Gabrielle's reputation as Xena's bard had preceded her, so all the protests and denials of the would-be slavers were ignored. Since this gang had been plaguing the road to the village on and off for the past year, there was a small reward for their capture, which Gabrielle promptly requested be distributed to the families which had lost kin to the slavers.
"Surely there is something we can do to express our gratitude?" asked the magistrate. "At least stay for the night. It's much too late to go on the road now, and I have plenty of room here. I'll need your testimony at the trial tomorrow morning anyway."
"Thank you," answered Gabrielle after only a slight hesitation, "we accept your kind invitation. It would be nice to sleep indoors for a change."
"Amen to that," muttered Sam quietly, who had not been looking forward to a night camped out under the stars. He was a city boy at heart, and sincerely believed that the wilderness should best be left to the animals.
That night there was a small feast in honor of the visitors. All of the village elders attended, as well as some local merchants representing the families Gabrielle had donated the reward money to. The two travellers from the twentieth century decided to let Gabrielle do the talking, allowing her to expand on the explanation she had already given for their presence (a task, as bard, she was well suited for).
The only person present who seemed less than friendly to the guests of honor was the magistrate's son, a darkly handsome young man who had been trying to capture the slavers for months without success. As his father and the others heaped more and more praise on the heroes of the hour, he grew more and more sullen, until finally he could stand it no longer. Turning to Sam, who was enjoying the attentions of the very lovely (and wealthy) young lady he been wooing for over a year, he jealously sneered, "And exactly what was the sorcery you used to defeat that ruffian?"
Ignoring the sudden silence at the table, Sam blithely responded, "None at all, my good man. I didn't want to hurt the poor fool too much, so I simply threw some finely ground pepper in his face. Between the sneezing and the blindness, he was easy to subdue."
His listeners gasped at this explanation. "An extravagant weapon to use on a common criminal, isn't it?" the magistrate's son said sceptically, "Spices ARE rather dear, after all."
"True," answered Sam, "but I consider my life even more so. I'm afraid Xena will just have to sample my famous pepper steak another time. I HOPE," he confided nervously, "she will understand."
As the audience erupted in laughter at Sam's wit, Natalie noticed that at least one person was less than amused. As if we didn't have enough trouble! she thought as she turned her attention back to the meal before her.
To be continued...
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