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DIMENSIONíS END - Cont'd


CHAPTER SIX

Gabrielle stopped the nearest Amazon on the compound floor. "Have you seen Xena?"

The young woman thought for a moment. "Uh... I think I saw her leading her horse toward the stream. That was just a little while ago. Sheís probably still there."

"Thanks." Gabrielle was already moving toward the outskirts of the village. She wasnít sure if talking to Xena about Lizís latest bit of insanity was a good idea, but sheíd rather tell her than have her hear it from the rumor mill. Gods, this was getting complicated. The bard wiped the sweat from her brow as she made her way to the stream. The day was going to be sweltering. She hated the heat almost as much as the cold. She was a temperate kind of girl. She heard Xenaís voice coming through the trees, speaking to Argo in a rather conversational tone.

"I know, girl, itís hot. At least you have a tail to fan yourself with." Xena chuckled and Argo nickered.

Gabrielle smiled and thought, ĎThey are having a conversation.í She neared the stream, stopping short of bursting into the open. She could see Xena and Argo in the water. For some reason, Xena wasnít aware of Gabrielleís presence, or if she was, it wasnít concerning her. The bard chose to watch the interaction from cover.

Xena had stripped to her shift, sweat and the stream soaking the fabric. Gabrielleís mouth was dry taking in the sight. Xena lovingly tended her mount, running the sponge over Argoís back and down the muscled hindquarter in one... smooth... long... stroke. Gabrielleís eyes followed the movement and could almost feel Xenaís hand on her skin. Argo was one fortunate mare. The warrior bent over to plunge the sponge into the water. Her movement was fluid and almost in slow motion to the bardís eyes. As she brought the saturated pad from the water, a trail of droplets followed the ascending arc to Argoís shoulder. They were like little sparkling jewels in the sun, each casting its own rainbow of color. To Gabrielle, Xena was the center stone in this watery setting. The sheer beauty of the warrior eclipsed the magical effect of light being separated into its individual spectrums by the sun. Gabrielle took in a deep breath, sensation moving over her, much like the sponge over Argo. She watched as Xena gently squeezed the water from its carrier, the sweet wetness cascading over horse flesh, just as a moistness was forming on her own flesh.

Xenaís left hand steadied Argoís head as the sponge worked its way down the steedís proud chest... her head resting just below the mareís jaw. She took in the scent of her faithful companion and spoke quietly as she exhausted the spongeís supply of water in a clinched fist.

"I donít know what Iíd do without her, girl." Xena dipped the dry sponge in the water once again expanding the form with fluid. She raised it above her own head... threw her head back and let the cool water flow over her face and neck. Rivulets coursed between her breasts meeting the already wet shift. Argo shook her head, shifted in the stream and playfully flicked Xena with her tail.

"Hey! Iíd be lost without you too, silly!" Xena knew exactly what Argo was thinking. "Besides, you enjoy being ridden...and Gabrielle, well... hmmm... come to think of it..." She splashed her four-legged friend with childlike glee.

Gabrielle watched the whole scenario, heart pounding at the raw sensuality Xena exuded just standing in the water. It was almost more than she could stand. She shifted her footing, stepping on a dry branch in the process. Her voyeurism was unveiled in the sound of a sharp...craaack!

Xena and Argo turned toward the bank. "Gabrielle? How long have you been standing there?" The warrior asked in a teasing tone.

"Uh... not long... I was, well... looking for you." She stammered. "They... " She was pointing toward the village, her face bright red. "...um... a woman in the compound told me you were down here."

Xena raised her brow and had that little smirk on her lip. "Uh-huh... and what exactly was on your mind?"

Rumbling of distant thunder interrupted Xenaís playful interrogation of her lover. She looked at the darkening sky and began leading Argo from the stream.

"Nuts! Ainít that always the way. You clean up your ride and it rains. Oh, well. Címon, letís get back to the compound before the bottom falls out. You can tell me whatever brought you down here once I have Argo stabled."

The warrior smiled as she walked past Gabrielle, humming a soft tune. The bard watched, mouth agape as Xena and Argo meandered up the trail. She took a deep breath, really trying to remember what was so important. Surely it would come to her once the blood started flowing to her head again.

"Gods... Iíve got it bad!" She muttered and sprinted after the warrior. "Xena! Wait up! We need to talk about Liz."

Both warrior and steed slowed enough for Gabrielle to come along side. "And what exactly do we need to talk about?" Xenaís question was sharp.

"Listen, Iíve just come from the training ground. There was this ridiculous posturing contest between Liz and Kai." Gabrielleís voice was cut short.

Xena smirked, "So I heard. The roar of the crowd filtered through the woods." She stopped on the path and ran her hand between Argoís soft brown eyes, patting her lovingly. "And... who won... or did Vectra stop the fun?"

Gabrielle didnít like the sound in her voice. "Xena, this isnít funny. Liz could have been seriously injured. Kai was going after her. We have to do something."

"We?" The warriorís blues locked on Gabrielleís. "Listen, Gabrielle. Liz obviously has something boiling inside her. For all we know, Ares has had a hand in her belligerence."

"Oh, gods... we arenít going to go there again, are we? I thought we settled this at breakfast?" The bardís patience was beginning to slip away.

Impassively, Xena responded. "No... you resolved the issue. Mine is still the same. But I will tell you one thing. Training as an Amazon warrior may not be the smartest thing sheís ever done. If you ask me, she seems a bit self-destructive, and that could be very dangerous... for all of us."

Gabrielle sighed and stamped the ground in frustration. "Thatís what Iíve been trying to tell you! We have to do something, Xena. Sheís our friend... she saved my life... or have you forgotten?"

"No, Gabrielle, I havenít forgotten, and we saved hers... or have you forgotten?"

Xena pulled on Argoís mane urging the mare along the path. A deep clap of thunder accentuated the womenís conversation. Gabrielle pursued the duo, anger bubbling to the surface.

"Oh... and thatís it? The debt has been repaid, so weíre in the clear? Xena, friendship doesnít work that way. Itís not about keeping score. Itís about being there, regardless."

Rain was beginning to pelt the women, and the sky was turning an ominous black. Xena was about through with this conversation.

"Iíll tell what friendship is, Gabrielle. Itís about being open and honest. And right now, Liz is being neither of those. Until she is, Iíll be watching her, and youíd better too." Xena turned and moved through the woods toward the village, leaving Gabrielle on the path... getting soaking wet.


Randi and Roger were nervously waiting Ruthís arrival at the hospital. Roger was wringing his hands like a teenager on a first date.

"I donít like this. I donít like this at all. If Liz is in some dimensional reality again, this is very bad... very bad." In addition to hand wringing, Roger was a pro at pacing. Finally, Randi grabbed his arm as he passed by for the hundredth time.

"Roger! If you donít be still, Iím going to have Rita put you in ICU. Please save the theatrics until Ruth has a look at her, ok?" She released her grip and gently patted his arm. "Please, Roger, I need you to be together on this." The pleading tone of her voice temporarily stopped his nervous movement.

"Oh, God, Randi, Iím sorry. This whole thing has worn on me. I think even Lizís cats are scared this time. They are acting very strangely... you know like they know something we should. And I know from experience that animals usually have an in road for this sort of thing." He looked around the atrium, eyes darting in place of feet pacing. "Hellís bells... where is Ruth?"

Randi was about to jump on him again when she saw Ruth entering the front doors. Her stride was purposeful but not hurried. Roger, on the other hand, practically sprinted across the polished granite floor toward her. Randi opted to let the circus come to her.

Ruth intercepted Rogerís first verbal salvo with practiced aplomb. "Roger, before you get started, I already know the generalities of Lizís condition. I spoke with Randi this afternoon. So, please, honey, just relax. Itís going to be okay." Ruth was moving past him toward the waiting Dr.James even as she spoke. Roger fell in behind her. He felt better now that the psychic had arrived... as if she would have all the answers and Liz would certainly be all right. Randi extended a hand in greeting.

"Thank you for coming, Ruth. I didnít know what else to do." Her voice was quiet but controlled. Ruth embraced Randi in a heartfelt hug.

"Thatís all right, dear. Weíll get to the bottom of this. Now, letís have a look at Liz, shall we?"

The three moved toward the bank of elevators for the ride to ICU.

The nursing station was still abuzz with the latest developments in Lizís condition. The staff was waiting for Rita Spenser to arrive. Explaining the event would fall to Joanne. She was sitting with the chart trying to make some sense of the bizarre scene that had just occurred. It wasnít going to be easy. In fact, she was having a hard time believing it herself. Joanne shook her head and spoke under her breath. "How in the hell am I going to explain this?"

One of the charge nurses caught her words and leaned over her shoulder. "You could say she was possessed."

Joanne almost laughed. "Sure, and why donít I just go ahead and commit professional suicide in the process? Somehow I donít think Dr.Spenser would be amused."

A voice behind her stated the obvious. "Youíre right, Iím not amused." Rita Spenser was standing at the counter waiting for an acknowledgement. Joanneís back was to the counter, and the color was draining from her delicate face. The rest of the staff looked on helplessly, but offered no help. Joanne was clearly on her own. ĎDamn!í She silently mouthed and turned to face the music and the chief of neurology. She mustered her most proficient demeanor and turned to Dr.Spenser.

"Perhaps amusement wasnít the word I had in mind. Youíre right, this isnít the least bit funny. It is very unusual, however." Joanne browsed the chart and began relating the events. "Seems Ms. Remington had some sort of seizure or at the very least the beginning of one. She presented with all the classic signs of GM, but..." She hesitated trying to find the right words to express the event, as she perceived it. In exasperation, she closed the chart, placing the metal folder on the counter and looked directly into Rita Spenserís eyes.

"To tell you the truth, I have no idea what transpired here. One minute she was fine... the next, about to code... and then back to normal. Iíve never seen anything like this... I honestly have no explanation youíll be satisfied with. So, go ahead and chew me."

Rita took the chart from the counter and began reading the meticulous notes. She was amazingly calm about all this for some reason. It took her a few minutes to read through the notes, focusing on the details and flipping back and forth to the attached slips of graph paper denoting heart and brain activity. She sighed heavily, closed the chart and walked toward her patient... not a word had crossed her lips... she was processing. Joanne rose from her chair and followed the doctor. She still didnít know how to broach the subject of Lizís bruises. Doug Winston the RT tech was still in the cubical. Like most of the staff, he didnít have an explanation for the physical manifestations on Lizís neck and shoulders. Point of fact, he hadnít a clue where to start. Rita eyed him as she neared the bedside. Doug stood back to give Rita access to Liz. He nervously waited for the barrage of questions to be launched.

Rita stood over her patient, eyes scanning from top to bottom. She had a most curious look on her face... one of confusion. Tentatively, she drew the sheet back to examine the bruises and marks on Lizís skin. Without looking up, she finally spoke.

"According to the chart, you never initiated an tracheal intubation, correct?" Her question was directed toward Doug.

"Correct. She never fully coded and was breathing on her own." His answer was short.

Rita continued her exam, running her fingers over the wounds, gingerly palpating the areas in question. She saw evidence of a semi-circular mark on Lizís ribcage.

"When did you notice this bruising?"

"Hmmm... it was right after she started stabilizing again."

Rita had seen a fair amount of trauma in her career... most of it from horrendous accidents, but some from beatings and muggings. Using her knowledge base, she formed an opinion... it was improbable, but an answer just the same. At this point, logic would have to take a back seat.

"Tell me, Doug, have you ever been in a fight?" Rita raised her brow and looked directly at the tech.

Quizzically, he returned her gaze. "Fight? What do you mean?"

"Jesus... I mean have you ever been in a fight? God... am I speaking a foreign language here? Yíknow... a fight... fists flying... that sort of thing?" Rita had a short fuse some days.

Doug looked to Joanne for help. She shrugged her shoulders and gave him the I-donít-have-a-clue-what-sheís-going-for look.

"Uh... I suppose I have... I donít really remember. Why?" He couldnít understand why this was pertinent to the current situation. "Are you suggesting that I struck the patient?" Now he was getting defensive.

"God no!" Rita realized he wasnít following her internal reasoning. "What I mean is do you recall defending yourself from an attack?" She tried to be more clear and started slowly. "Look... say youíre in a fight with someone who has a... um... club or something. Where would you try to strike them?"

Doug stared blankly at the doctor. Rita didnít wait for an answer.

"You probably would look for an opening... a weakness... the hand or side that wasnít holding the weapon. In Lizís case, that would be her left side as sheís right handed. It would be your best chance at surviving... strike the undefended sides then worry about the club. Hopefully it would be enough to put your attacker off balance... possibly changing the flow of the fight." She paused waiting for him put the pieces together. "Are you following me?"

He shook his head. "Not if you had the K-Mart blue light special strobe over you."

"What Iím saying is our friend here was in a fight... and from the physical evidence, she was on the short end of the stick or club so to speak."

This time Doug had the what-the-hell-is-she-talking-about look. "Thatís not possible. There was no fight in here. Excuse me, Dr.Spenser, but I really donít understand what youíre talking about."

"Sheís talking about a psychic event." Ruthís voice spoke calmly from the doorway.

The assembled staff turned in concert toward the doorway. Ruth entered the room, moving with quiet confidence. Doug, Joanne and the rest of the attending cadre cleared a path. It was a scene worthy of The Ten Commandments as Ruth bridged reality and the impossible. Even Rita didnít protest her authority. Besides, if Randi had brought her, there had to be a good reason.

"I need to be alone with her please." Ruthís statement was simple and she waited for the room to clear.

Rita was the last to leave the cubical. She motioned for Randi and Roger to follow her to the small breakroom adjacent to the nursing horseshoe. Rita pulled relatively clean mugs from the cup tree and filled them with very strong coffee. She took her drink over to the small table and pulled up a chair, leaving Randi and Roger to scout for artificial creamer and sugar for their brews. Randi ripped open a packet of Sweet ní Lo, sprinkling half in the mug... she opted not to add to the nastiness with powered creamer... the clean end of a fork sufficed for a spoon.

"Ok, Randi, letís have it." Rita liked things straight to the point. She blew lightly across the pitch-black contents of her mug and took a sip.

"Ruth is a psychic... sheís..." Randi barely had the words out of her mouth.

"I know who she is. I want to know why youíve brought her here." Rita hooked her foot in the rung of the chair opposite her, pulling it close enough to prop her feet, her fingers were drumming the tabletop, a nervous habit.

Roger was still at the counter looking unsuccessfully for a napkin. "Good grief, Rita. Donít you have any napkins? Iíd even settle for a paper towel. This is appalling." He let out a disgusted sigh. "Oh, and for your information, Ruth is very acquainted with Lizís peculiar history. I thought you knew that."

"Look in the first drawer to the left, Roger. I believe there are some sterile gauze pads that will do for napkins." Rita smirked. "And yes, Iím aware of Ruthís previous connection with Liz."

He rolled his eyes and pulled a sealed square from the drawer. "Itís no wonder health care costs so damn much. As far as Ruth being here is concerned, you should have a clue by now, Toto, ĎWeíre not in Kansas anymoreí... yíknow?"

"No problem, we can wash it when youíre finished and use it later." She countered. "And if youíre going to use every queenís analogy concerning weirdness, let me be the Wicked Witch of the West... not that damned dog!"

"Touché." He leaned against the counter and took a swallow of the vile sludge, making a face in the process. "Ah... perfect combination of rank and disgusting elements.... Jeez."

"Sorry, the espresso machine is on the fritz." Rita took a huge gulp just to skeeve him out.

"Will you two stop. We arenít here to review a five star restaurant or replay the Wizard of Oz, remember?" Randi snapped her fingers in the air. "Helloooo... Honestly Rita, youíre as bad as Liz with Roger."

"Iíll take that as a compliment. Sometimes bantering helps ease the tension." Rita sat up and placed her arms on the table. The conversation was about to get serious. "Look, I donít know what has happened in there, but I have no real answer. All of Lizís tests are normal and then out of the blue she has whatever the hell that was this evening. At this moment, Iíd entertain a snake charmer if I thought it would help.

A serious look drew across Randiís face. "Well, Ruth isnít a snake charmer, but sheís got some mighty impressive credentials. Trust me, I have first hand knowledge of her prowess in this area. If thereís anything remotely odd, sheíll find it."

"Letís see what sheís come up with." Rita downed the last of her coffee, and made her way out of the room.

Joanne intercepted her at the horseshoe. In a hushed tone, she voiced her concerned at a civilian taking over her unit. "Who is that and what is she doing?"

Rita gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder as she passed by. "That is a psychic practitioner, and please, donít ask how I know that." Rita left the slightly confused nurse and proceeded into the cubical. Extending a hand, she introduced herself to the healer.

"Rita Spenser." Her handshake was firm. Physically, her hands were supple and warm. The years of plying her trade had transformed them. They were sensitive and free of calluses... organic instruments of healing. What Rita could accomplish with her hands Ruth did with her mind and psychic ability. They were equals.

Ruth took her hand and exchanged pleasantries. "Ruth Varner. Iím pleased to make your acquaintance finally... your reputation proceeds you. I suppose Randi has filled you in?"

"Well, actually, no, but Roger has." Rita smiled at the thought of Roger spazzing in the breakroom.

"Ah, Roger. Heís a piece of work, isnít he?" Ruth was in total agreement with Rita concerning Rogerís sometime manic behavior. "He means well and heís very concerned about Liz."

Rita sighed. "Uh-huh, that makes it unanimous. So, whatís your take on all this? From a physical sense, thereís nothing wrong with her. Oh... except for the fact sheís in a coma and just endured a beating." Ritaís sarcasm was flowing.

Ruth understood the frustration that Rita was experiencing. There was nothing more aggravating than not having an answer. She wasnít sure her appraisal of the situation would be any more palatable for the physician. All things considered, this was as bad as the last time Ruth was called upon to help. Explaining that to the assembled group would prove to be less than easy. With the exception of Roger, there were too many pragmatic minds in the room. This always made the truth, as bizarre as it was, hard to believe.

"Ok, hereís the deal. First, Rita, you were correct about Liz getting pummeled. For whatever reason, she has sustained some very physical injury..." Ruth paused before completing the improbable, "... in another dimension. In other words, whatever happens there will happen here. Which leads me to my second observation. Liz is tied to this other place by her own choosing. There is a very deep... soul-searching decision she will be making. All we can do is wait for her."

The silence was deafening. Rita wanted a real answer, one she could react to with treatment. Randi felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach, she wanted Liz back in this reality.

Roger wanted to cry and to vent. "God Almighty! Why canít she freaking process in this dimension with a shrink like the rest of us? I want her back, Ruth. Do something! I canít go through this again."

The healer looked at the three... all wanting the same thing in different ways. And in a sense, Liz wanted the same thing. They were all connected... a string attached through their lives. Ruth had sensed the reason Liz was on this journey... she had felt the influence of darkness and knew she could not interfere. She would have to wait as well.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Kai and Liz exited Sarasís hut. Liz was sporting bruises to her body and Kai insult to her ego. Neither was happy. Liz wanted to be left alone but Vectra had decreed Kaiís duty. The latter was the determining factor. The young Amazon would do what she must to adhere to Vectraís request. She began a terse dialogue with Liz as they walked across the compound.

"Letís get something straight. I donít like you. For whatever reason, Vectra has selected me for your training. We can do this the hard way or not. But as long as youíre in this village, you will abide by its laws and chain of command." She paused and looked Liz square in the eye. "Of course, should you decide to leave... well, whoís going to stop you?"

Liz adjusted her neck in an effort to loosen a tightening knot. "Oh, Iím sure youíd like for me to leave, and Iíll be more than happy to do just that as soon as...." The remainder of her thought vanished.

"As soon as what?" One of Kaiís strengths was her ability to read between the lines. She perceived Lizís unfinished statement as a vague threat. Silently, she filed this bit of information away.

Liz tried her best to grasp what was just in her mind, but it was gone. She had an unsettling feeling within her... one she couldnít quite get a handle on. The fact this had slipped from her lips angered her. Now Kai had the advantage... a position Liz was not at all comfortable with. She attempted damage control. "As soon as I have the necessary skills to leave. What did you think I meant?"

The Amazon shrugged her shoulders. "Iím not into guessing games. I deal with whatís in front of me... what I can see, smell, feel or hear. Why is it you operate in such a devious fashion?"

"I do not," Liz answered coolly trying to mask her anger.

Kai continued, "Of course you do. Youíre doing it right now. Youíre angry at my ability to see through you, yet you refuse to react honestly." She looked at Liz with her liquid brown eyes. "That is why I donít like you... too many hidden agendas. If this is how all of your kind interact, well, I feel sorry for you."

"What do you mean by Ďmy kind?í" Liz was clearly irritated.

"You know... from wherever it is you come from." Kai shook her head. She was bored with the conversation. "It doesnít matter. You are here... right now, and my advice to you is to pay attention to your surroundings." The woman shifted the focus of the discussion, causing Liz to concentrate to keep up. Following Kai was like tracking an elusive animal through thick brush... an animal that didnít want to be tracked. She peered into the darkening sky. "Weíre in for good storm. I suggest you take some time to consider the seriousness of training with me. I was restrained today... tomorrow wonít be so easy." Kai turned and walked off, leaving Liz at a loss for words save mumbling to herself.

"This sucks. First Iím dumped here again..." She gestured with her hand to no one in particular, indicating Ďhereí being the space in front of her. "Then Iím forcibly enrolled in the Amazon School of I-Can-Kick-Your-Ass." Liz ran her hands through her thick, dark hair, wanting to have clarity, but knowing there was none. The dream of the night before stayed just outside her conscious grasp. It nagged at her like a pair of ill fitting underwear. She clinched her fists in frustration trying to remember the image. "Gods!!! What is it!? What am I missing?"

A slight breeze blew through the compound, catching Liz on the back of her neck. Although it was quite warm, a shiver went down her spine and queasiness settled in the pit of her stomach. For a moment, she thought she was going to throw up. It passed almost as soon as her body reacted. She swallowed the fear rising in her throat. As the rain began to pelt down, Liz hurried off the compound floor toward her quarters... dismissing her paranoia.

"I must be coming down with something." She mused.

From a nearby spot, Callisto looked on, chuckling to herself. "Oh, you have no idea what youíre about to come down with."


Gabrielle hurried up the path, wanting to be out of the mounting storm. Xena was well in front of her, leading Argo to the stable. The bard wasnít through with her discussion, even though Xena apparently was. This, unfortunately for Xena, had never stopped Gabrielle in the past, and it wouldnít today.

"Xena, weíre not finished. You canít just walk away from this," she called.

Gabrielle quickened her step as a streak of electricity sliced the air. Almost immediately, a clap of thunder reverberated. Gabrielle didnít care for thunderstorms very much any more. She had a visceral reaction to them since that business in the Temple of Dahak. It was just too familiar and had had a lasting negative effect on her. She tried to calm her racing heart but her irrational fear was taking over. Gabrielle was suffering a type of post traumatic stress from that whole Illusia thing. She was almost running now as the storm was nearly on top of the village. "Xena!" Her cry was laced with fear this time. The combination of the slope of the path and the driving rain was making Gabrielleís journey difficult.

The warrior was already at the stable. The almost constant roar of the storm masked Gabrielleís cries. Only Argo heard her and although she and Gabrielle werenít best friends, she instinctively reacted to the bardís distress by nickering and stamping the stable floor.

"What is it, girl?" Xenaís attention was drawn to the mare. The next thought through her head was ĎGabrielle.í Xenaís sphere of influence was very small and she liked it that way. It was much simpler to keep track of... Gabrielle and Argo...in that order. She patted Argoís rear, sending her into the enclosure and headed for the stable exit to find Gabrielle. The bard ran head long into Xena at the door; she was soaked and trembling.

"Gabrielle, whatís the matter?" Xena knew what the bard was frightened of, but didnít want to verbalize her fear, wary that it would further upset the fair-haired woman. She wrapped her arms around her instead, walking back into the dry warmth of the stable.

Protectively, Xena held Gabrielleís head next to her chest and pulsing heart. "Itís okay.. itís just a storm, a natural storm. It will pass soon." The recent events had changed even the significance of a passing shower. Although Xena was quite sure theyíd weathered the worst, sometimes she couldnít help flinching at a sound... a smell. It was irritating to be at the mercy of oneís dreams. Most of the time, she shrugged the feelings off and never told Gabrielle. This time she would try to ally the fears of her lover. She led them to the comfort of some disheveled hay bales.

"Here, Gabrielle, sit down. Iíll get a blanket from the saddlebag, youíre soaking wet."

As she moved to retrieve the dry blanket, Gabrielle pulled at her arm.

"No, Xena, just sit here with me. I donít want you to move. Just hold me for a while."

The warrior protested, wanting to prevent the bard from suffering the ill effects of a drenching. "Gabrielle... Iím just going right over here to get a blanket."

"Xena, please! Just do this for me... this once. I donít need a blanket." She insisted and in a softer tone, she whispered, "I need you."

Xena aborted her attempt to move and focused her eyes on the woman next to her. For a moment she searched Gabrielleís face for the individual she used to be, knowing that person was gone. So much was new and different. Their eyes met and Xena looked for things yet to be discovered. Gabrielle was no longer an innocent... and the warrior was no longer jaded. They had come so far... from different directions. How much further would they travel?

"Gabrielle, I just donít want you to get chilled." The warriorís voice was low and soft.

"Then hold me Xena... close." Gabrielleís voice was calm and steady.

It was a simple request but it had taken nearly three years to be able to say out loud. They had dreamt their longing those many nights under the stars, restlessly tossing under the influence of unrequited want. So many times the words were on each otherís lips but failed to be uttered. There was always tomorrow, they thought. That was before that horrible day in the Temple of Dahak. Their lives had been forever changed that day... their futures forever altered... their destiny firmly entwined. This was a new chapter in their lives together and it still felt uncomfortable. Gabrielle had become more assertive... not relying on Xena for every decision. Even though the warrior had wanted Gabrielle to have more control over her life, actually seeing her do it was disquieting. In the recesses of Xenaís mind, she wondered if someday Gabrielle might not need her at all. She pulled the bard closer as the stormed raged outside. For the moment, she would be Gabrielleís shelter. The confrontation concerning Liz could wait.

The skyís anger tore relentlessly over the village. Liz didnít feel the need to hurry. She welcomed the stormís ire... dared it to harm her... prayed for a random arc from the sky to obliterate her. She casually strolled toward her hut taking an inordinate amount of time. At one point, she stopped, outstretched her arms toward the sky and silently pleaded with the heavens to end her pain. Lizís behavior looked very strange to those who watched from the dry safety of their dwellings. It was impossible to discern the tears on her face from the rain. It all looked the same... felt the same. Gods, she wanted to feel different... feel whole and alive again. She wanted to be loved again... held again... kissed again. What had she done that had been so terrible to deny her? Had she not totally loved Sam with all her heart? Wasnít that enough? Liz wasnít very good at waiting and even the promise of Artemis didnít ease her discomfort. She looked into the blinding rain and screamed at the top of her lungs. "I canít do this! It hurts too much... I hurt too much! Please... I canít wait."

Her voice and pleas to an invisible force were drowned by the storm. She had simply come to the end of her rope and wished to have a branch to swing from. The contract made with the dark gods waited for all her walls to disintegrate. Liz was very near that breaking point... just a little further.

"Canít wait? Well, thatís something I can help you with." Hissed the voice.

Callisto had decided to push her over the edge. She was tired of waiting for Ares and his infuriating need to dramatize this whole affair. She had been patient beyond all restraint... at least by her standards and was ready to put the game in high gear. Since the god of war was conveniently absent, Callisto had full access to Liz. She would wait until the woman was sleeping to unleash her version of Xena Jeopardy. Callisto was like a child waiting for a new toy; her excitement was barely contained. Liz hardly noticed the additional fireworks in the sky. All she wanted was to be alone in her quarters, away from everyone. She finally left the compound floor and sought the dryness of inside.

Calli was waiting for her, excitedly pacing and unseen by Liz. Her expectation had the molecules in Lizís quarters dancing creating a distinctive charge in the air. What was happening outside on a very large scale was also happening in the confines of the room... a microstorm with Callisto as its creator. The goddess hopped in a chair and crouched like a crazed animal. Absently, she twisted a ringlet of her golden hair around her finger in a rather obsessive manner, her eyes following Liz as she stripped the wet clothes from her body.

Callisto silently appraised the form before her. ĎUmm... not as impressive as Xena, and certainly not as formidable... but nice. Aw... too bad.í She sighed, ĎOh, well, someone has to lose...Xena, Gabrielle or you... it doesnít matter... youíre all the same.í She fixed her gaze on Liz, practically willing her to lie down and go to sleep. Liz pulled the blankets over her nude body and was pulled down into an uneasy dreamscape.

Callisto waited. When she was certain Morpheus had captured Liz, she slithered from the chair. She stood at the edge of the pallet, closed her eyes and entered the dream realm with Liz. She came to her in a body and form she knew so well and intimately. The dream reflected Lizís surroundings. It was like seeing multiple images in a mirror held up to itself... nearly impossible to see that which was the original. The lithe blonde slipped between the covers and began running her hand over velvet smooth, warm skin.

The physical sensation of being touched startled Liz. She knew it was all in her mind and as such, she remained still, wanting to hold the feeling for as long as possible. Her skin tingled with a reaction she had been so long without... it felt so real. A faint brush of soft lips on her earlobe and a whisper galvanized her core.

"Liz, itís me, Sam. Open your eyes honey. Iíve missed you." She punctuated her plea by lightly tracing her fingers across Lizís abdomen. The effect was immediate... drawing a deep intake of breath from Liz and a low moan of desire. The voice purred more insistently, " Gods, Iíve thought about touching you again... and again. Come to me."

Liz reached for the hand so knew so well, her fingers closing around the reality of flesh. She dared not open her eyes for fear the vision would dissolve; she allowed the hand to pull her on top of the warmth now nestled beneath. Every fiber of her being was screaming from want... need. Every inch of exposed skin felt on fire... her mind and body enjoining in a truce. She would accept this experience because she wanted it so badly. Familiar hands moved across her back, once again finding sensitive spots only known to two people. Liz felt the sweet movement of her lover under her, pressing, gently moving up to meet her. The words sent a wave down her spine to the very wet center of her. In a very low, raspy voice, the form verbalized what Liz could already sense.

"I can feel you on me... moving into me."

Gentle hands pressed on her back accentuating the description... hands that knew her so well... knew her desire and passion... hands that would exploit her abject sorrow and separation. Liz was lost in this reality and had no wish to be rescued.

A cry from her soul passed her dry lips. "Sam... Iím here... never to leave you again. I am yours... please take all of me." Liz fell forward into the voice wanting so desperately to be one again. She could smell the scent of Samís hair... her lips gently seeking her mouth. The familiar texture of Samís skin danced on her aching tongue as she moved across her features. A wash of memory held Liz aloft... the softness of Samís eyelids... the exquisiteness of her cheek... lips moved to the bridge of her nose and then to the outer edge of her mouth.

A hand trailed up Lizís back to the mangle of hair that Sam had loved. Fingers held on guiding Lizís lips to those of her love.

"Kiss me." Liz felt the words escape Samís lips and flow effortlessly to her own. They fell into a deep... abiding... passionate kiss. It was a kiss of remembrance... of two souls forever bound... a kiss of such longing there were no words to describe the depth. It was more than passion... it was an unparalleled connection.

A deep, spreading peal of thunder rode the sky. The rain continued to lash against the roof, providing a rhythm... a cadence for the dance of the lovers. Liz clung to Sam, devouring her mouth. She could kiss her forever and not get enough. She felt her loverís excitement and need against her... so heated... so wet. Liz desired to quench the thirst of her lover. She would give her anything and everything. Gently, she rolled to her back, cradling Sam against her and opened her eyes.

Samís features came into focus and Lizís eyes filled with tears. Her heart was trying to reconcile the impossibility of what her eyes were seeing. Sam pushed herself up to straddle Lizís legs, resting the firmness of her ass against taut thighs. In an excruciatingly slow movement, Sam began tracing her fingers over Lizís shoulders, feeling every detail of the developed flesh. Every pore on Lizís body was damp with sweat... it was beginning to pool beneath her. She totally mesmerized by what was happening on top of her. She could feel the incredible wetness of Sam literally flowing over her own. Seductively and almost involuntarily they began moving together... rocking... Lizís hardness sliding across Samís soft, slick, aching core. It was a balance... a sharing... a mutual consent... ebbing and flowing... equal parts of the whole. They simply belonged together.

The purity of the love they felt for one another was so evident in their eyes... they could see into each otherís soul. Liz reached up for Sam, her palms resting on her loverís arms as they lingered on her body. Slowly, she slid her hands along the soft skin of Samís forearms to take her hands in her own. One by one their fingers entwined as their hearts found one another again. Together they were complete... halves of the same soul. This connection almost overwhelmed Callisto... she could sense the powerful attraction the two had. It was becoming hard to maintain control of the situation. Although the form of Sam was an apparition, Lizís love had breathed life into its soulless heart... she was real.

"I love you." Liz was so close to collapsing into her lover. She felt drawn into her and wanted to go, never to be seen again. Sam peered into her eyes.

"Come with me." She whispered. "Come to me, Liz."

A wave of ecstasy welled from a very deep place. "Yes, my love... my life."

Liz kept her gaze locked on Samís eyes... her eyes... something about her eyes. The thought was swept away as she lost control and came with her lover. All thought ceased and only a nameless connection held them together. The tears flowed down Lizís face, her ache more acute than ever. Closing her eyes, she held Sam on top of her, sensing every nuance of her body. It was in this place of complete vulnerability that Callisto released the trigger.

"Please help me, Liz. Take me from this place back to you. Do what they want, and Iíll be yours forever." The plea spilled from Samís lips.

Liz wanted to open her eyes, but couldnít. A deep sleep was overtaking her. She grasped tighter the dissolving form that was Sam. The last words she heard before lapsing were those of her anguished lover.

"Gods...please donít leave me here... please."

Liz could hold the semblance of consciousness no longer. She slipped into a dreamless state. Callisto disengaged herself from the dream void still in the guise of Sam. She fully materialized in the room and for a brief moment was caught in the beauty of the interaction... she almost felt something. She walked to the water basin that sat on a table, peering at the transformed image on the surface. Her fingers moved over a face that was free from pain and hatred. A snarl crossed her lips. She ran both hands through Samís light hair, grabbing on either side of her head. Callisto pulled with all her might, literally ripping the facade away, revealing her true self. Casually, she discarded the ruse like old clothing. She regarded her face in the basin. It was familiar. It was sadly cold and empty. It was home.

She looked at Liz sleeping and left one last gift for her. At the foot of the pallet a sword appeared. It was ethereal... a weapon of perfection, forged by Hephestus and taken from Aresí personal collection.

She stood, arms crossed, fingers thoughtfully tapping her lips. "Hmm... what else?" A look of glee crossed her face. She pointed her finger at the unconscious woman. A pulsating ribbon of energy contacted Liz and spread to fully envelop her. Callisto had a very satisfied look on her face.

"There. Now you can fight any Amazon in this place, including Xena, and cause some serious damage." In faux shock, she apologized. "Sorry... I know you wanted to learn the Ďold fashioned way,í but I simply donít have time for that crap. For now, sleep. When you wake up you will have this intense desire to find and destroy the one thing that keeps you from Sam." She paused for the coup dígrace... letting her words settle on Liz. "Xena and Gabrielle."

Callisto prepared to leave. She walked to the pallet, bent over and kissed Liz on the cheek. "Iíll save you a seat in Tartarus." The goddess vanished leaving the room filled with her signature odor.


Ruth had been keeping a vigil next to Liz since sheíd arrived. She was dozing lightly in a chair near the bed. The faint smell of sulfur woke her, her pulse racing. She moved to the bedside and looked at Lizís face. Tears had streaked her cheeks. Ruth took her friendís hand, squeezing it lightly.

"Everything all right in here?" Joanne had seen the psychic suddenly wake from her sleep and move to attend her patient.

Ruth never took her eyes from Liz. In a very calm voice, she spoke to the nurse. "Would you please call Dr.Spenser, Dr.James and Mr.Bennington? Tell them itís starting and they should come as soon as possible."

"Whatís starting?" Joanne still didnít know why this woman was ordering her staff around. She half expected to see live animal sacrifices and chanting.

Ruth turned toward Joanne. She had a no nonsense look in her eye. "Joanne, just do it and donít ask questions. You are wasting precious time."

Something in Ruthís tone cut through the nurseís defenses. She nodded and went to make the call knowing this was out of her control.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Liz struggled in her sleep. She hurt inside with a deep pain. Her waking was like climbing from a pit of quicksand. There was no solid ground to stand on yet she willed herself from the suffocating confines of her sleep. The storm had passed and now only a steady rain was falling. Dawn had not yet broken and wouldnít for several hours. The entire village was still asleep save for the sentries. Liz opened her eyes and stared at the thatched ceiling. She could hear the rhythm of the rain outside. She was completely drained from her experience and tried to remember in exact detail all that had happened. Liz brought her hand to her chest and tried to soothe her breaking heart. The tears in her eyes flowed unrestrained. There simply was no answer.

Unseen by Liz, Callisto watched with rapt attention, waiting for the woman to spring into action. She fidgeted in anticipation, pacing the room. "Come on... I donít have all day." Her words fell silent on the mortalís ears.

Callistoís frustration level was about to peak. "Gods... do I have to do everything myself?" She realized Liz was focusing on the memory of Sam and that was getting in the way. She summoned one last effort to manipulate Liz... using that focus against her. A look of maniacal joy spread over her face. "Here, dear, letís see how this works." She summoned the most horrific image and sent it into Lizís consciousness. Sam was being torn apart...piece by piece. She screamed in agony for Liz to help her... "Please... Liz, do what they ask... change the one thing you can... kill Xena and Gabrielle... hurry ... please..."

That was the final push Callisto was hoping for. Liz caved in on herself, fully submitting to the suggestion of the goddess. A wave of something evil filled her, pushing the good that resided out of the way. She was consumed with one thought... one desire... one goal. Purposefully, Liz rose from the pallet. She quickly donned her clothes and picked up the gleaming sword. The hilt felt comfortable... familiar in her hands. It was an extension of her body. Whatever her mind willed, the blade would commit. And the most horrible deed was about to be committed. Liz moved from the room and steadily walked toward the Queenís chamber. Nothing would stop her from being with Sam again... nothing. Callisto skipped behind her, totally elated.

"Oh...Xenaaa.... here comes trouble... real trouble..."

 

Kai hadnít slept well at all with the raging storm creating havoc. She rose from her pallet and decided to walk off some of her restlessness. There was much on her mind with the arrival of another stranger. And there were issues within that needed closure. Losing her control on the training ground the previous day was not a good sign. She had allowed her ego to put her at risk. She would take this time to do some thinking while the village slept. Vectra would be expecting an explanation from her. She needed to have one. She dressed and prepared to leave her room. She would head for the perimeter sentry and her friend, Mysiaa. She could keep her company for the final few candlemarks of her duty and talk out this mess. They had been friends for many years and often each otherís counsel. She couldnít think of a better woman in which to confide. Out of habit, Kai slipped a dagger behind her back in the belt and opted for her sword instead of the bow. If she were going to stand watch, sheíd need armaments. Her path would take her past the Queenís chamber.

 

Xena and Gabrielle had stayed in the stable during the storm. Xena hadnít wanted to drag the bard back out into the weather, and Gabrielle didnít want to leave the protection of the building and Xenaís arms. They had fallen asleep on the hay... Gabrielle into a deep restful sleep and Xena into a light fitful state of being. Her senses were acutely tuned, and the stormís ferocity had heightened her awareness. Xena had tried not to alarm her lover but she felt a familiar gnawing in her gut that always signaled unpleasantness on the horizon. She hoped it would at least wait until daylight. The bard shifted in her arms slightly, and Xena drew her closer, kissing the top of her head and brushing an errant strand of light hair from her sleeping face.

"I so love you, Gabrielle," she whispered. "Donít ever leave me."

Gabrielle took a very deep breath and mumbled in her sleep, "...never leave you, Xena... never."

Xena sighed and tried to fight off the feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something wasnít right. She tried to sense Ares, but he wasnít there. And she always knew when he was. She was the only mortal who could do that. No, this had Callistoís signature all over it and that usually meant something sick and very twisted. The warrior was torn between reacting to her instinct and staying with Gabrielle. She wondered why the two things were frequently opposed. She rationalized that Gabrielle would be safe in the stable while she satisfied her need to know. Very slowly she eased from around the sleeping bard, finally extricating herself. Xena pulled the blanket sheíd tried to give Gabrielle earlier from Argoís saddlebag and carefully covered her lover. She kissed her cheek before grabbing her sword and chakram.

"Iíll be right back," she whispered in the bardís ear. Quietly, she exited the stable and headed toward the compound. She had an overwhelming sense she should go to the Queenís quarters. A steady rain was still falling.

Callisto was beside herself. She just loved mayhem, and when it centered on Xena... well, that was just the best. She fully expected the warrior to kill Liz, even with her heightened skills and a superb weapon. The truth was no one was a real match for Xena... except for the evil goddess. This little bit of slice and dice would reopen a tear between Xena and Gabrielle. It might even be enough to get them to give life to that which was still unspoken. Calli could only hope. She half wanted to give Liz a shove to hurry her along. If she needed to, Callisto would materialize to help annihilate either Liz or Xena. It didnít matter which one. She was an equal opportunity head case.

Liz felt she was watching from outside herself. It was her body moving, but it wasnít her will making it so. She was being carried along with this physical form, nestled inside... separated from whatever was in control. It was a very weird experience. She envisioned a fetus in its motherís womb... part of the whole with little control and a small voice. Strangely, the warmth connecting mother and fetus was missing. She felt a stranger in her own body. All she could do was watch.

The Queenís quarters always had a guard stationed at the door. It was a great honor to stand watch. There wasnít an Amazon in the village who would have declined the post. Many times the duty was held by experienced warriors, but tonight a young face stood proudly at the door. It would be her first true test as a warrior... one not expected within the walls of the village. Lysia watched as the woman approached. Her gait was steady and deliberate and she carried an unsheathed sword. The young guard peered curiously at the nearing form. Her mind weighed conflicting information and tried to decide if this woman posed a threat. Her inexperience and hesitation would place her in great peril. She had forgotten the most basic tenet preached by Vectra... "Believe nothing that you read and only half of what you see and hear." Lysia tentatively reached for the hilt of her sword, her body reacting to what her mind had not grasped yet.

Liz wanted to warn the guard, but there was no way to do that. Her Ďotherí self was in full control, bringing both hands to the cold hilt of the sword.

"Oh, gods... donít do this," she pleaded internally to her waking form.

Callistoís voice filled Lizís head. "Aw, come on. Donít you want to have some fun? Consider this a warm-up to the real deal... an appetizer if you will."

Lysia drew her sword, her pulse booming in her ears. "State your purpose." She demanded officially.

Liz raised her brow and pondered. "My purpose?" She lowered her eyes, sensed the guardís defenses wavering just the smallest bit. That was all it took. In a lightening move, she brought a foot even with Lysiaís hands, easily knocking the sword from her grip. The metal had hardly bounced against the wall before Lizís blade was poised at the womanís throat. She stood eye to eye with the young warrior and answered her own question.

"My purpose is to go through you into this chamber." She looked into the eyes of the alarmed woman and uttered a mocking appraisal. "You are a pathetic excuse for an Amazon guard." There was coldness in her voice as the tip of the sword began to draw blood. Lysia braced for her death.

"Then you should really pick on someone more on your level." Kaiís voice drew Lizís attention and the sword from Lysiaís neck.

Like a wild animal saving a kill for later, Liz cold-cocked Lysia, dropping her to the floor. In a sarcastic tone, she spoke to the unconscious woman.

"Now, donít go anywhere... Iíll get to you in a minute." Liz stepped over Lysia and faced Kai. "You know, you were definitely on my list, but since youíre here, I suppose I can accommodate you now."

Kaiís senses were in full awareness. Her sword was drawn and she was already plotting possible moves and close quarter tactics. She stepped toward Liz and tried to put her guard off with conversation.

"Whatís the matter? Couldnít sleep and you figured youíd commit suicide?" Her weapon moved from side to side, her eyes never leaving her opponentís. She continued her verbal assault, looking for an opening. "Why go to all this trouble? Thereís just gonna be a mess to clean up and it will make me late for breakfast."

Liz inched forward. A lust... a blood lust was burning inside her... she actually wanted to kill this woman... just for fun. She returned Kaiís banter. "I suppose youíll be canceling our training session? Vectra isnít going to like that but I donít think thereís too much she likes anyway."

Kai was balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring. "Oh, I think itís just you she doesnít like."

Lizís eyes narrowed and the words spilled from her lips like bile. "Well, thatís too bad, isnít it? Iíll tell her you warned me when I have her on the end of my sword."

"Vectra wonít have to worry with you... bitch!"

Kai raised her sword above her head and made the first strike. The force of her blow was formidable, yet Liz was able to easily deflect the arc. Kaiís blade ricocheted off the gleaming weapon, sparks flying. The vibration of the blow ran through the metal and into the Amazonís arm. She had never felt anything quite like this. Undaunted, she brought the sharp edge through the air at a side angle, hoping to catch Liz off balance. This tactic had worked on the training ground just a few scant hours before. Liz had her sword in place almost before Kai. As the warriorís steel made ineffective contact, Liz wagged a finger in Kaiís face, taunting her.

"Oh, please... now repeat after me... see one... that would be that business on the training ground...." Liz pushed Kaiís sword off hers. "...do one... I suppose this qualifies as your attempt at instruction..." Liz brought her sword to an offensive position, her eyes literally dancing with anticipation. "...now, its time for me to teach one..." She swiftly started the edge toward the warrior, concentrating on her target. Kai prepared to defend on her right. Liz let the blade glance off the womanís weapon and used momentum to pivot on the heel of her foot, bringing the sharp edge 180 degrees to Kaiís unprotected left side. The warrior could not react in time to stop the blow. When she realized she had been out maneuvered, she dove hard to her right, but Lizís sword sliced across Kaiís upper arm, warm blood anointing the pristine surface of the weapon.

The sight of the sanguine fluid running the edge of the blade mesmerized Liz. It almost looked alive. The minute distraction was enough for Kai to regain her feet and make a lunge. Liz caught the movement out the corner of her eye, but not before Kai pierced the top of Lizís thigh. Had she had a better angle the strike would have been incapacitating, severing the artery in Lizís groin. As it was, it served to slow the demented stranger... but it did not stop her. She seemed impervious to pain, and her fighting skills were superior. Kai didnít know how she had acquired them, only that she had. Her main objective, at the moment, was to remain alive long enough for help to arrive... and to keep Liz from exiting this area. It was obvious she was looking for Gabrielle and Xena. She knew Xena could take care of herself but as an Amazon, she had sworn to protect her queen at all costs, even with her life. She was fully committed to that oath. Liz would not succeed, and Kai would die if it meant stopping her.

Callisto was practically wetting her pants with unbridled verve. This was much more than she had hoped for. Lizís demise was assured along with a few Amazons and maybe even Gabrielle. Oh, that would be so sweet. It was all she could do not to materialize and join in the fray. This was so delicious; she just wanted to kiss Liz on the lips.

"Hmmm... maybe later," she mused, remembering that little charade in Lizís bed. "But, thatís if you survive," she added in a rather bored manner. She moved for a closer view of the ensuing fight. Kai ripped a strip of cloth from her tunic and hastily applied a tourniquet around her upper arm. She back peddled, putting some distance between she and Liz. The bleeding had slowed, but she was still losing red cells at quick rate. She knew in a matter of half a candlemark that sheíd be too weak to continue the fight. She prayed to Artemis for help.

Liz took a deep breath and allowed her a moment to regroup. Her cold blue eyes locked on Kaiís. She almost hated to end this so soon but there were others she needed to attend to. Slowly, Liz walked toward the Amazon.

"I could just wait until youíre too weak from blood loss to continue. But thatís too time consuming, and I suppose youíd prefer to go down fighting... uh... I believe thatís an Amazon thing. You know, perhaps under different circumstances, we could have been friends." Liz turned her head trying to adjust her neck and continued, "I think we are very much alike, but unfortunately, you are in the way of something I must do."

She was nearly within striking distance, and Kai could feel coldness in the passageway. It was like Liz was death walking toward her. There was something very evil in that body. This was not the same woman sheíd fought on the training ground... this was something else. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. It mattered not what this was, it only mattered that she stop her. Kai shifted her sword to her left hand. It was difficult to hold steady due to the gash on her arm, but she needed her right hand free. She wasnít ready to die just yet. What she desired was opportunity and a slight diversion.

"I can assure you we are nothing alike. And it will be my pleasure to show you just how not alike we are." Kaiís hand struggled to maintain her weaponís readiness. Slowly, her right hand lowered to her side... just a bit further. She kept talking.

"I donít know who you are, but I will not allow you out of this hall alive." Kaiís voice was controlled.

Liz sighed, shrugged her broad shoulders, and moved to finish the Amazon. She was through playing. "Suit yourself. Iím afraid you really have no choice in this matter. Now, itís time to die like a good Amazon." She raised her sword and prepared to end Kaiís life. The sound of the disc slicing through the air caught Liz off guard. She hesitated, distracted by the resonance.

The chakram deflected off an adjacent stone surface and flew toward the uplifted blade, making contact. The force of the impact sent the sword sailing out of Lizís hand to the floor. A look of irritation crossed her face. She turned around to see Xena snatching the disc out of the air.

"I suppose this isnít an invitation only party? Mind if I play, too?" Xena unsheathed her sword and stepped toward Liz.

This was the distraction Kai needed. She reached for the dagger in her belt.

Xena saw her movement and realized what was about to happen. She yelled at the Amazon.

"KAI...DONíT!"

Her words and Kaiís action took place simultaneously. The Amazon deftly removed the dagger and in a practiced, smooth movement sent it on its way toward Liz. Its path was true and Liz stood between the blade and Xena. The warrior would not be able to intercept the dagger before it struck home. All she could do was watch. Xenaís concern was premature.

Liz sensed the incoming projectile and in an inhuman move caught the dagger inches from her heart. She sneered at the object and turned to throw it at Xena. She readied her hand but an invisible force was preventing her from unleashing the blade. A small voice inside was countering her waking actions. "Noooo... you are not going to do this." The voice struggled to be heard, and a battle of wills was taking place.

Callisto had not understood Lizís true character. Even with all the manipulation, she still had some control. It was tiresome for the goddess, and she turned her persuasion up a notch. She sent Samís tortured cries once more into Lizís mind. It was enough to loosen her grip on Callistoís evil spawn. The waking Liz decided to retreat. She put the dagger in her waistband and her shoulder to the nearest door. The room was empty, and she made straight for the latticed window, diving headfirst through the wooden slats.

Xena bolted toward the open door hoping to catch her. All she saw were the soles of her feet as she went out the window.

"LIZ!! STOP!!" Xena made it to the window, but Liz was no longer in sight. "Damn it!" She cursed and pounded her fist on the edge of the window frame.

"We have to find her, Xena." Kai was leaning against the doorframe holding her arm. She was pale and obviously in pain. Xena turned from the shattered opening and moved to assist the young warrior.

"The only place youíre going is to Sarasí hut. This gash needs stitching. I can take care of Liz." Xena carefully checked Kaiís arm and got her to sit on the floor. "What the Hades happened here?"

Kai peered at the wound on her arm proudly. She would wear this scar as a testament to her bravery and resolve. She attempted to reconstruct the sequence of events for Xena.

"I couldnít sleep and was on my way to stand watch with my friend Mysiaa. I was taking a shortcut through here. Liz had Lysia at sword point...." She gasped at the mention of the young Amazon. "...gods..Lysia.." Both she and Xena looked toward the unconscious form on the floor. Kai made an effort to move, but Xena stopped her.

"Donít move, Iíll see to her." Xena went to the downed woman. She was sporting a nasty bruise on her face. There was a small puncture on her neck, but it wasnít deep. Kaiís intervention had saved Lysiaís life. Xena gingerly supported the young guardís head as she tried to rouse her. She looked at the youthful face and felt a hot anger boiling within her. How could Liz almost take this innocent life?

"Lysia... can you hear me? Come on... open your eyes." Xenaís voice coaxed the woman back to the waking realm. She was startled to find herself being tended to by the Warrior Princess. She looked around frantically, wanting to warn Xena about the mad woman in the hall.

"Xena! Thereís...thereís...this woman... dark... angry woman... evil..." Her thoughts were scattered but her assessment was dead on. She tried to sit up fearful the woman was still near.

"Shhh...itís okay, Lysia, sheís gone. Tell me what happened." Xena helped Lysia to a sitting position against the wall. She smoothed the matted hair away from her face. "Take your time," she said calmly but internally she needed the facts quickly.

Lysia swallowed hard. "I was standing watch over the Queenís quarters. I saw this woman coming down the hall with her sword drawn. I...I...reacted too slowly, Xena."

She looked down in shame and continued, "She said she was going to go through me to get inside. She thought you and Queen Gabrielle were here. I was sure she was going to kill me... and she would have except Kai drew her attention. Then she hit me, and I donít remember any more." The mention of Kaiís name sent a jolt of dread through her. "Kai? Is she...?" The word struck in her throat.

"Iím fine... just a little banged up." Kaiís voice and form moved toward Lysia. She offered praise to the young warrior. "You did just fine, Lysia... just fine." She knelt next to the woman, taking Xenaís place. Kai looked at the older warrior and expressed her concerns and fears.

"Xena, I donít know how, but Liz isnít who she appears to be. She has fighting skills that would rival even yours. If you hadnít shown up when you did, Lysia and I would have died. She has to be stopped."

Xena stood and scanned the hallway. "I agree... on all counts." She was trying to find a reason for all this. "How... and why is this happening?" She spotted the answer to both questions on the floor. She picked up the gleaming sword. Holding it, she eyed the markings and uttered her judgement through clinched teeth, "Ares and Callisto. Just as I suspected." She turned back to Lysia. "Did this woman say anything else to indicate what she wanted?"

"No, but I had the very distinct feeling she was very focused and would not be denied. There was something very detached in her eyes. They almost looked dead they were so cold." The memory of being that close to death sent a shiver over Lysia.

An icy finger traced a path over Xena. She knew where Liz was headed, and the knot in her gut twisted. She needed Kaiís help.

"Listen, I need for you to get Vectra and have her meet me at the stable. Are you up to this?"

Kai didnít even think about her answer. "Yes." She had also guessed Lizís next stop and her pulse quickened. "Hurry, Xena."

Xena gave Kai a worried look and bolted toward the exit. The only word on her lips was that of her love.

"Gabrielle..."


The activity in ICU was rising. Rita Spenser was the first to clear the double doors. She normally was in control, but she was practically running to Lizís cubical. Joanne was already coordinating the impending event. Every monitor that could be attached to Liz was beeping... humming... or chirping. All was indicating the same thing. This patient was in big trouble and about to spiral into the abyss. Ruth watched the frenzy. She wanted to tell these people their efforts would not succeed but she opted to allow them the Ďbusyí work they seemed so determined to do. Rita went straight to the healer.

"This is it, isnít it?" A simple question in the face of such complex decisions being made around her.

Ruth was very calm in her response. "Yes, it is." She was this island of serenity in the maelstrom of motion in the room.

Rita couldnít just stand by and watch Liz die. It was so inconsistent with her training and experience. "What can I do?"

Ruthís answer was actually very reasonable. "Let her finish this, Rita. We have no choice. You wonít be able to interfere with Lizís decision on the other side. You can only accept the connection on this side."

Rita stared at Ruth and then at the scene around her. The staff was in full ready mode. All the necessary support personnel were in the room... respiratory techs.... blood chem techs... the IV cutdown team... even the basic components to do an open heart massage. All the technology was ready... and none of it would be any good. Rita finally realized this. For the first time since all this began she felt helpless.

Joanneís voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Weíre ready, Dr.Spenser." She felt confident in all the machines, graphs and fluids hooked to Liz. "Donít worry, we wonít lose her." Smugly, she turned to direct traffic in the room. It was one of the staff nurses that brought the futility of their efforts to light.

"My God! Look at this!" She was in the process of pulling the top sheet off Lizís left thigh. It was soaked in blood. Joanne looked at the deep puncture wound in Lizís thigh. Where it came from she couldnít have imagined. None of this made any sense to her... and she so desperately needed to. All of this was beginning to take on a very eerie quality. She did the best she could to assess this latest development in a sane rational way.

"Christ!" She ran her hands through her hair in frustration and threw an accusing look at Ruth. "Someone get a stitch in this thing." She waited for a nanosecond for her request to be acted upon. It wasnít soon enough. "Now!"

Rita moved to the bedside. Her gaze was that of a friend, not the physician. Ruth joined her placing her soft hand over Ritaís. One healer spoke to another.

"You know, of course, I canít prohibit the efforts to save her. The staff will do all they can. Liz doesnít have a DNR order on her chart... they are bound legally to go all out. And as her physician of record, I am bound by my oath to participate."

Ruth nodded. "Yes, I know." She looked around the area. "Have Randi and Roger been notified?"

"Yes, they should be here very soon." Ritaís emotions were just below her calm surface. This was unlike any experience sheíd ever had and was probably the most significant.

"I think Liz knows that and sheís waiting for her family to be here." Ruthís reply was gentle and loving. "We are her family."


Chapters 9 - Conclusion