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NEW DIMENSIONS - Cont'd


CHAPTER TEN

Liz was awake before the alarm went off. In fact, she had been awake most of the night. Sleep just wasnít in the picture right now. Her gut was twisted in a knot and her heart was hurting. She was afraid...afraid the trip to Gabrielleís time would occur and afraid it wouldnít. She had been crying all night keeping the girls awake. The idea she may not come back was weighing heavy on her. What would she do if coming home wasnít an option? What about her babies...her home...her friends? What about Roger, poor Roger? He would fold like a house of cards. Was it right to place such a burden on him? All these questions had been rattling around in her brain all night. More than once she wanted to cancel the whole thing. But then she would wrap her fingers around the crystal and think of Gabrielle. She would just not think about it any longer and engage the autopilot. Otherwise, she would never get on that plane. Beeeeep...beeep...beeeep!! The alarm broke the silence. It was time. She threw the covers off and got up.

There wasnít a lot to take care of before Roger arrived. She was taking one carry on bag, her passport and some cash...nothing else. She poured a cup of coffee, grabbed the portable and sat in her chair. The sun was just sneaking over the horizon. She dialed Ruthís number. The seer answered on the second ring.

"Good morning, Liz. You about ready to leave?"

Liz wasnít the least bit surprised she knew it was she, let alone that she was leaving. "Yes, Ruth...or should I say Moria? "

"Whatever you like. What is it you need to know, dear?"

"Why didnít you tell me about your Ďancestorí the other night? You knew Iíd seen her. Does withholding information run in the family as well?"

Ruth was unmoved by Lizís obvious irritation. "Sometimes itís necessary. Now what else can I answer for you?"

"The other night you werenít sure if I would be able to come home. Do you still feel this way?"

Ruth knew Liz was scared and sometimes the truth is hard to hear. "Liz, I canít see that event. It doesnít mean it wonít happen, I just canít see it. Have faith in the purity of what youíre doing. The rest will take care of itself. You will have a very powerful ally there. Trust her."

Somehow this wasnít making her feel any better. She could see there were no further insights to be gained. "Iíll do my best, Ruth."

"I know you will, traveler, I know you will. Godspeed, Liz." The line went silent. Liz put the receiver down just as a knock announced Roger. He let himself in.

"Well, honey, are you ready? "

"Yeah, letís go."

Liz stood and surveyed her surroundings one more time. She picked up the bag and headed for the door. Brie and RG hopped on the kitchen counter and let out a plaintive Ďyeoowwí as the door closed. All their hearts were breaking.

They were out of earshot when the phone rang. On the third ring, the machine picked up. "Hi, itís me, and I canít take your call right now. Leave me a message and Iíll call yaí back." beeeep...

"Liz, itís Sam. Look, honey, I donít know whatís going on there, but Iím not going to sit here and wait on you to have a moment of clarity. Iím flying in tomorrow, and weíll talk. I love you."


Liz insisted that Roger drop her curbside. She couldnít take a long good-bye scene. This was hard enough already. He embraced her and was beginning to sob.

"Oh, God, I told myself I wouldnít be a hysterical queen, but I canít help it." Trying to regain some composure he threatened his friend. "Honey, if you arenít back in a week, Iím totally redoing your place...with your money...using the most expensive decorator in the city."

Liz couldnít help but smile. "Well, that does it. Iím definitely coming back. I hate chintz prints. So donít you dare." They embraced one last time and Liz watched Roger disappear into the line of traffic. "Good-bye, my friend." She entered the terminal and headed for the transportation concourse.

She passed through security with no problem. Liz couldnít remember the last time she went anywhere with just one bag. The idea of going to Greece with just a carry on was ludicrous, but afterall, she probably wasnít going to need much.

She conversed with herself as she strolled to the gate. "Fine, I finally get the art of traveling perfected, and it will be wasted. Jeez, this canít be right. I mean whatís the point in traveling with style if no one is going to see it?" She halted this discourse as she neared her destination. She saw Randi at the check-in counter and joined her.

"I see you decided to join me after all. I thought the sheer dollar value of this little impulse might dissuade you. But apparently you have more money than I first estimated." The attendant was busy stamping Randiís boarding pass and asking for a photo ID.

"Oh, you know me, got the first dollar I ever earned. So I had to cash in a CD and raid my savings, but what the hell. If I donít come back, the jokeís on all my creditors." Liz handed her ticket to the attendant, and received her boarding pass, stamped for verification. The two women walked down the ramp to the waiting 767. They were flying first class, a new experience for Liz. As she settled into the wide leather seat, the attendant took her beverage order. It was too early to have anything with a kick, so she just asked for coffee. It would be a long day, so there was plenty of time for a cocktail.

The plane backed away from the gate at precisely ten. At least this was a good sign. Randi was going over some papers in her lap as the bird left the ground. Liz was staring out the window, watching her world slowly disappear. She wasnít exactly sure how all this would fall together. ĎJust go with ití, she thought... thatís what Gabrielle would say. She remembered Ruthís advice about the purity of the act and mumbled into her trayback. "Itís got to be ok...it just has to."

Randi looked at her. "Did you say something, Liz? Iím sorry, I was going over the data from the site. Fascinating stuff. You wanna look at it? "

Liz did need to know where the center of the village was located. It would most likely be the site of the inn. "Sure, hand it over." Randi passed the graphs of the site to Liz and proceeded to explain the grid.

"Ok, now the red outlines the whole site, or as best as can be determined. The blue signifies individual buildings that have been identified. The yellow marks position of various artifacts. You can see some areas are densely populated. This may indicate local gathering places such as the livery, shops and...."

Liz broke in,"The village inn? "

"Why, yes, possibly." She pointed to a rather conspicuous group of yellow dots. "This area here has a large concentration of pottery shards. Itís very likely that this would be the local tavern. There is evidence that it was a two-story structure. The only one in the village, by the way."

"Yes, that would be right. There were rooms in an upstairs area. This has to be it." The energy in her gut was beginning to grow. "How long is this trip going to take?"

Randi started doing the math. "Letís see...four hours or so to JKF, then a two hour layover. The flight on Olympic leaves at four pm EST. Non-stop to Athens...oh about ten hours. That will put us there around eight am local time... tomorrow. An hour to pass customs and a three hour trip by land rover to the site. Iíd say youíre looking at nearly twenty hours or less. You in a hurry, kiddo?"

"You could say that time isnít exactly on my side." Liz gazed at her friend. She knew it was time to spill it. The attendant brought the coffee and took her order for a light breakfast. This was going to be one helluva day. "Randi?"

"Hmmm...?"

"I need to tell you everything thatís been happening. We may have just enough time. Iím going to need your help when we get there to finish this thing."

"Well, Iíve been waiting for this Ďstory of storiesí. Believe me, if itís half as interesting as what I already know, then it must be a barn-burner."

Randi stirred her Starbuckís and nestled in for the flight. Liz took a deep breath and began the story...from the very beginning. Randi didnít say two words through the telling of the tale. In fact, her jawed dropped open several times. She was nearing a stopping point as they approached New York.

"Thatís the most amazing thing Iíve ever heard." Randi reached over and lifted the crystal from its resting place. "And Gabrielle actually gave you this?"

"Yep, big as day. And I gave her that coral piece. Thatís when the trouble started."

"So, let me get this straight. Because you two exchanged Ďlovely parting giftsí, a rip in the space time continuum has occurred. And you intend to just zip back there and seal it? Feel free to stop me at any time. "

"No, youíre doing fine. But it wasnít the exchanging of gifts that precipitated the tear, it was leaving with them. Everything would have been ok otherwise."

Randi couldnít help but let out a laugh. "Excuse me, but just exactly what part of this would have been ok? The time traveling part...or the meeting Aphrodite part...or maybe the street brawl part. Iím a little confused, here. Do you have any idea how crazed this sounds? "

"Oh, believe me, I do...I mean I really do. But honey, yaí gonna have to trust me on this one. And remember, I promise not to say ĎI told you soí after all this is over."

"Girl, if this goes down like youíve described, you can say ĎI told you soí till the cows come home. Hell, Iíll even say it with you. Just one question...how are you going to get home?"

"Well, thatís the real interesting part, Randi. I havenít a clue. Iím not real sure Iíll be able to come home. In fact, Iíve set my affairs up to assume I wonít." Liz let this salvo sink in. It took a minute for the expression to change on Randiís face.

"Wait a minute, what do you mean you donít know? You can get back, canít you? Surely you have a plan. Oh, Liz, donít do this to me, you hear. Iím not going to just let you disappear into a temporal distortion. I wonít allow it! "

The absurdity of that last part brought a smile to Lizís face. "Randi, you canít stop me. Youíre not my momma, you know."

"Yeah, I know. I just happen to be someone who loves you very much. There has to be a way back, Liz. We can figure this out. We have some time. "

It was interesting to watch the doctor go into her analyzing mode. She was very good at picking at a puzzle until it was solved. Maybe she could find a way. It was worth a shot. "Ok, now tell me exactly how this transfer will work." She was in full glory now. Liz started giving her the specifics on quantum singularities...as she understood it. "Basically, Gabrielle is on one side and Iím on the other. We get close enough and itís like opposite ends of a magnet. I get sucked through."

"And then what?"

"Oooh... I donít know. Iím assuming Iíll be in Daedalius or somewhere nearby. I guess Iíll have to find her and Amoria. Iím hoping the healer has a plan to seal the tear."

Randi was shaking her head. "You know, this doesnít sound very well thought out. All this Ďassuming and hoping and guessingí. This has all the earmarks of a major disaster. "

"Sweetie, itís not like booking a Club Med Vacation. Thereís some risk involved."

"But are you willing to risk your life on this, Liz? Is this ĎGabrielleí that important to you?"

"Yes, Randi, she is."

The conversation would have to wait. The 767 was on final to JFK. Randi had already started theorizing an escape plan for Liz.


Randi spent the layover making phones calls to colleagues in the science department. She just didnít know enough about physics to fully understand the mechanics involved. It was quite a little trick to ask questions without actually telling them anything. In the two hours she had a crash course in theoretical physics. This wasnít going to be easy, but if Liz could get there then she could come home. The answer was waiting to be uncovered.

At four PM the Olympic flight departed JFK. Next stop, Athens and possibly the greatest adventure the two of them had ever participated in. Liz had never been on a flight as long as this one. She started getting antsy before they were half-way across the Atlantic. She started reading every magazine she could get her hands on . The thought of bringing something to wile away the time hadnít occurred to her. Maybe Randi was right, this wasnít too well thought out. Doubting the course of action wasnít the answer. She tried to focus on the mission...yes, this was a mission. ĎHmmmí, she thought, ĎWhere was Tom Cruise when you needed him?í

Randi had set up her laptop and was connected to a fax / data outlet. The woman constantly amazed her. She had been born in an age when television was an infant, but grasped technology by the throat at any opportunity. The computer age was just another tool for her. Liz couldnít help looking over her shoulder.

"What are you doing?" The screen was filled with mathematical equations...all of it looking like Greek to Liz.

Randi didnít look up and kept manipulating the data. "Iím trying to find a way for you to come home from this soiree. Iíve got my buddies in the math department running theoretical sequences on the mainframe. And then they are uplinking the results to me." She was mesmerized by the datastream. Distractedly she mumbled,"Fascinating."

Liz shook her head and found an empty seat away from Ďfascinatingí Randi. She plopped down next to a window and asked the flight attendant for a cocktail. Downing the ouzo, she conversed with herself. "You know, this was easier when Aphrodite was driving. Whereís a nosy goddess when you need one? Hades, sheís probably off with Tom. What a mess this is turning out to be. Iím supposed to happily in love with Sam...planning a family...picking out lawn and garden equipment."

She stopped just long enough to request another shot. "And where am I? Oh, about to step into oblivion probably never to be seen again." The ouzo was about to claim its first victim. After the fifth shot, she became quite vocal. "Thassí me...the liíl ole time traveler. Ooops...pardon me...but could you book me a flight to another dimen...shun. Aíround trip? Noooo...one way, pleeese. Luggage...nope..jist this carrythingeebaggie..whatever..." The flight attendant had alerted Randi of the activity behind her. She got up and wandered to the rear of first class. Liz peered at her with blinking eyes.

"Randeeee! Where yaí been? You going to Greeece too?" Liz tried to stand to embrace her friend, but reeled into the seat instead. "All right...who stole my legs...I know youíre in here. Iím aíwarniní you...you have to the count of...er...one to give emí back." She looked at Randi for help. "Tell Ďem Randi...oooh...I donít feel too good."

The attendant brought a blanket a couple of pillows. She handed them to Randi and shook her head. She began to tend her friend. "Liz, honey, youíve been under a lot of stress lately."

Liz clumsily agreed, "Yesss...stwress...wots and wots of stwress...ooh...you waskiwee wabbit"

Randi removed the center armrest and coaxed Liz into a lying position. She placed the pillows under her head, removed her shoes and covered her with the blanket. Before she passed out, Liz looked at her friend, "I love you, Randi." She closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Randi bent over and kissed her on the cheek, "I love you, too. And youíre going to have a helluva headache tomorrow." She found her seat and continued her work.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Liz was dreaming. The Amazons were attacking and her back was against the wall. They were one angry bunch of women, armed with staffs, swords and arrows. Liz had a bottle of ouzo for a weapon. Not a good match, to say the least. Guess she could get them into a drinking match. Naw...they looked like they would kick her butt doing that too. She couldnít decide why they were so upset. She was coming to help Gabrielle as fast as she could. Didnít they know that? As the first arrow zinged past her head, she guessed not. The leader let loose her staff at Lizís head...and connected. She was in the throes of warding off repeated blows when her eyes opened. It took a moment to realize where she was. She raised herself into a sitting position. "Ow! My head!" Could it be the Amazon had really nailed her? Her stomach turned over to announce the consequences of her ouzo dinner. Now she remembered and barely made the toilet in time. This wasnít a good place to be worshipping the chrome god. There wasnít enough room to bend over. Seeing as how there wasnít anything in her stomach to toss, the first round went quickly. She splashed water on her face and tried to dry it with the postage stamp towels. She complained out loud, "Youíd think a $1500 plane ticket would come with decent towels." She opened the door to find the next user waiting. Sheepishly, she found Randi and slid in next to her. The doctor was sound asleep. She placed her throbbing head on Randiís shoulder and tried to negotiate a truce for her condition. She recited the mantra. "I-promise-never-to-do-this-again-for-as-long-as-I-live."

Randi shifted and opened her eyes. The presence of Liz resting on her shoulder was amusing. She gently nudged her companion awake. Slowly, Liz went into an upright position.

"How are you feeling, sweetie? " There was a wry smile on her lips. She knew exactly how Liz was feeling.

Liz was trying to get her tongue to cooperate with her speech center. "I feel like hell. What was that stuff anyway?"

Randi chuckled, "That, my dear, was ouzo. Youíre supposed to sip it, not down it like shots of tequila. I thought you knew that."

"Well, I do now. God, Iíve got such a headache." She flagged the nearest attendant and ordered aspirin and black coffee. She looked at her watch. It was two hours before they landed. Maybe she would be able to remove the Amazonís staff from the center of her forehead before then.

Randi disappeared into the toilet to freshen up. Her laptop was open to a journal of sorts. Liz wasnít exactly snooping but it was open. The doctor was meticulous in keeping notes. At the bottom was a single notation. ĎThe mathematical probability of manipulating a stable corridor is ten to the power of minus 3.í Liz didnít need a math degree to understand the implications of that number. Her chances were right there on the screen. She wasnít coming home. Her attention was directed out the window as Randi made her way down the aisle.

Randi looked at the laptop and realized Liz had probably seen the file. This wasnít the time to discuss the odds. She closed the Mac and prepared for breakfast.

"Liz, I know you donít feel like it, but you should try to eat something before we land. We will be going directly to the site, and I can assure you thereís not a 7-11 on the way."

"Iíll give it a shot...oops...please not a shot." At least her sense of humor was alive. She gingerly gave some dry toast a test ride in her stomach. She was able to consume most of her breakfast without incident. Even her head was feeling better. With breakfast under her belt, she stared out the window. The plane would be approaching from the south, over the blue-green Mediterranean.

"This part of the world is beautiful. I wish I were seeing it under different circumstances." She tried to be upbeat and hopeful. "Maybe some other time."

Randi put her hand on Lizís. "Tell you what, Iíll give you a personal tour when this fiasco is over. Deal?"

"Deal." Liz squeezed her hand.

The plane touched down a little after eight am. The deplaning and trip through customs went smoothly. Randi and Liz exited the terminal and were greeted by Darius Kristos, the site director. He had come personally to escort the renowned archaeologist. Redcaps were busy loading Randiís luggage and equipment.

"Dr.James, nice to finally meet you. I hope your trip was pleasant." He was eyeing Liz. "And who is this? I thought your assistant was male."

"He took ill suddenly. I was lucky to find a replacement for him on such short notice. Darius, this is Liz...Liz, Darius Kristos. Heís the big honcho on this project." Her unspoken message was ĎDonít piss him offí.

Liz got her drift. She took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Nice to meet you, Darius. Yes, I was very fortunate to be available for this trip. This is all very exciting." She hooked her arm through his and began walking to the range rover. "It must be a huge responsibility to head up a project this size. The logistics just boggle my líil old mind. Tell me how you found the site." Darius stood a little taller and began spilling his guts. Randi just shook her head. Sometimes Liz amazed her...the woman could schmooze with the best of them.

They settled in the transport, Randi sat in the back. Darius and Liz sat up front. He talked non-stop for the first hour. At a brief stop for petrol, Liz commandeered the back seat, giving Randi a chance to go over some real data with him. She watched the countryside glide past her. The site was in central Peloponnese, slightly west of the city of Argos. The find was one of significance since most of the archaeological sites were in the south. Its discovery was one of serendipity. A space shuttle mission had been mapping the area for mineral deposits and an unusual subterranean formation appeared. Its investigation was turned over the Greek government. The rest, as they say, is history. That was five years ago, and the site was just now being fully uncovered. Archaeology was a very slow tedious endeavor. Not good if you were into instant gratification. Liz closed her eyes, and thought about Gabrielle. ĎHold on a bit longer, Iím almost there.í She closed her palm around the crystal. It felt slightly warm.

The range rover pulled into the base camp around noon. Just under the twenty hours Randi had calculated. She was finally here. Now the real journey would begin. Just how was still unclear. She needed to confer with Randi...without Darius. The accommodations were spartan, but functional. The huts were one step above tents. At least she wouldnít be sleeping on the ground. Actually, she wouldnít be sleeping there at all, if everything went as planned. She threw her bag on the bed and retrieved the contents. She would like to take a hot bath before donning the attire. Randi stuck her head in the door.

"Ok, hereís the deal. Weíre in luck. The rest of the site personnel wonít be here for a week. Darius has to go back to Athens tonight and will return with the group at the end of the week. Heís leaving us and a small staff to tend the site until then. Itís perfect. Do you think it will give you enough time?"

Exhausted, Liz sat on the bed. "Randi, itís not going to take a week for me to make the jump. It will happen rather quickly, if itís going to happen at all. So, Iíd say, a week is long enough."

"You know thatís not what Iím talking about. Iím not giving up on bringing you back...so you donít, ok?"

"Girl, I saw your laptop file. I know the odds, so letís be realistic here. Iím probably not coming back. We have to face the facts, ok?"

Randi was visibly irritated. "Well not with that attitude. I refuse to believe thereís no answer, and I intend on finding it. So there! Donít go setting up house in that time, cuz you ainít stayin.í "

It was useless to argue with her. And Liz didnít want to waste their remaining time talking about a moot point. "Ok, you look for a way here and Iíll seek one on the other side. Oh, donít let Roger redecorate my condo, regardless. Now, where can I take a bath? "


Liz settled into the tub and took a deep breath. Her mind was still, for the first time in weeks, and her energy focused. The crystal had a faint glow to it now. She knew the time was near. In the quietness of the moment, she asked the protectors of Gabrielle to watch over her just a bit longer. And she asked her god to watch over her friends and help them through the time ahead. She asked nothing for herself. She was ready.

Darius had left and darkness descended on the site. The sky was eerie. Fingers of lightning danced across the sky. Randi didnít remember there being a forecast of bad weather. If she had thought about what was about to happen, it might have made sense.

In a solemn ritual, she dried her body and donned her clothes, as if it were armor. She wished she had a weapon of sorts, but all she had was the whip. She decided to take it. What had Roger said about using it? Oh, yeah, ĎItís all In the wrist.í That wasnít fair, queens were all wrist. Now if she had a gas powered edger, well that would be a sure fired crowd pleaser. The whip would have to do. Maybe she wouldnít be put in a position of using it. She stood before the makeshift mirror and viewed the sight. Satisfied she could pass relatively unnoticed on the other side, she picked up the caftan and went in search of Randi. She entered her friendís hut.

"Randi, I think Iím ready. What do you think?"

Her friend looked up at the sight before her. "Hmmm...very fetching, I think. I donít think anyone is going to ask you to the prom though."

"Believe me, after what Iíve already seen, thatís just fine with me." She shifted the subject. "Can we access the site without being bothered?"

"I donít think that will be a problem. Iím sorta in charge, remember. The staff has turned in for the night. The place is ours. Iíve looked over the grid and I think your best bet is this spot here." She was pointing to the tavern site. It certainly was the location of the most intense energy exchange. This had to work. Excitement replaced the dread she had been feeling. "Letís do it." They exited the hut and made their way to the dig. It was about three hundred yards from the camp and out of line of sight. There was a full moon, so using lanterns could be kept to a minimum. The sky periodically lit up with electricity. It was all very odd. The closer they came, the brighter the crystal glowed. Liz spoke to her friend. "Randi, look itís--glowing. This is going to work." They stopped just short of the entrance to the site.

Randi was looking at the grid, trying to get her bearings. "Ok, the tavern locale is about fifty yards along this path. Itís marked with a bright blue tag with the identifier of T-140 on it. Do you have any idea whatís going to happen?"

Liz shook her head. "Not a clue, but I think it will be fast." She walked over to her friend and embraced her tightly. "Remember, keep Roger away from my condo." She kissed Randi and turned to walk toward the tavern. The doctor followed, but not too close. No sense in two people getting sucked through. Besides, she thought she had a plan to retrieve Liz. To do that, she had to stay behind.

Liz approached the tavern. The crystal now had a definite vibration emanating from it. The air seemed charged around her. The sky danced with activity. There was a distortion forming near the center of the area. This was it. She turned to look at Randi. It was as if a hazy wall was around her. She couldnít distinguish anything outside it. That included the look of sheer terror on Randiís face. She took a breath and stepped toward the rip. She had only a fleeting second to realize the fabric of her existence had disappeared. She lost consciousness thinking, ĎShit, this hurts!í

Randi wasnít prepared for what she had just witnessed. One second Liz was there and then she wasnít. "Oh, my, God, it worked." There was too much to do for hysterics. She sprinted back to the camp to work on her plan. She had to call Roger immediately. Overhead, the sky was ripped with wrath of God lightning. She needed to get inside.


Xena had been sleeping next to Gabrielle since they arrived. The bard had stirred but never regained consciousness. Amoria and Hippocrates had watched her very carefully. A hand gently shook the warriorís shoulder. It was Amoria.

"Itís time, Xena. Sheís here."

Startled, Xena jumped up. "Where?"

"Sheís nearby, you must go get her. Thereís not much time for either of them."

A gigantic flash of charged electrons suddenly illuminated the room.

Xena was already gathering her sword and charkam. "Where, old woman, where do I look?" Her impatience was showing.

"North of the village, on the road here. She is in danger. Remember, Xena, she has to do this."

"Iíve got that, all right. Iíll find her and bring her here. Iím not totally inept."

She walked over to Gabrielle. Xena brushed the hair from her face. "Just a bit longer, my sleeping beauty. Iíll be right back. Stay with me, Gabrielle, please." She placed a warm kiss to her sleeping lips before turning to leave.

Xena stopped at the door and spoke to Amoria. "This had better work, seer. I can assure you if anything happens to Gabrielle, I will personally make that woman pay." She left and mounted the waiting Argo without further word. "Yah..." She engaged the steed into a full gallop before leaving the edge of the village.

Amoria watched her ride out of sight. She spoke softly. "If this doesnít work, we all will pay, Xena."

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

A low frequency vibration shattered the quietness of the early evening. The distortion appeared in the middle of the road. From its center, a body was unceremoniously ejected. Liz was still unconscious, lying in plain view. The sight of a lone traveler, in obvious distress, was all the trio needed. They had been in the brush relieving themselves, and had missed the real show.

Grackus peered at the form in the road. "Hey, where did that come from? He wasnít there a few minutes ago." Cautiously, he checked for any others lurking about. It could be a trap. Satisfied the traveler was alone, he motioned for his comrades. "Lookie what we have here, boys, easy pickinsí. And from the dress on that one, Iíd say wealthy pickinsí. Letís have a closer look." He started toward Liz. His buddies, however, werenít too sure.

"Grackus, maybe we should be careful. He might not be alone...you know...bandits." Kurris was hesitant about approaching the lifeless body.

The larger man stopped and spoke. "Kurris, you idiot, we are bandits. Now you and Centius get your butts over here and help me before he comes around. With any luck, I wonít have to slit his throat." The trio made their way to Liz. She was lying face down, and from all physical indications, could have been a small-framed male. Grackus put a boot under her side and rolled her over. He looked at her face and tried to remember where they had met before. She looked very familiar. Kurris was the first to state the obvious.

"Itís a girl, Grackus."

Centius threw a open palm slap across his shoulder. "No kidding, genius. What was your first clue?" Kurris fended off the punch and shoved Centius in the chest. "Hey, knock it off! Iím warning you, Centius."

Grackus walked over to the sparring men and gave each a swat on the head. "Both of you cut it out! You can do that later. Right now we have a little extra entertainment for our dinar."

Liz was hearing voices, faintly at first, then more clear. There was an argument of sorts going on near her. She opened her eyes and realized she was lying on the ground. ĎThis is not goodí, she thought. She had not materialized in Daedalius. She hoped it was nearby. This was, however, not the most pressing issue. Slowly, she pushed herself to a sitting position. She was looking at the back of a brutish man. He was verbally abusing two other men.

"Now you two tie up our guest and donít give me any more lip. You got that?" Kurris was staring past Grackus and looking into Lizís blue eyes. His inattention wasnít lost on Grackus. "Kurris! Are you listening to me? You are such a moron." He started toward Kurris to give him a shot, but Centius grabbed his arm and pointed in Lizís direction. He turned and faced the traveler.

"Well...well...look whoís up. Have a nice nap?"

These men seemed familiar to her, but maybe they all looked alike in this time. The trio spread out in a defensive manner. As Kurris took his place, the pronounced limp in his stride jogged her memory. It couldnít be...but it was. This was three of the same group she and Gabrielle had encountered and thrashed. The word Ďpaybackí popped into her head. She was hoping they wouldnít remember especially Kurris. She had definitely ruined his knee and foot.

Internally, she went over her options. She checked for the whip. It was nowhere to be found on her person. She had gotten separated from it during the transfer. It could be anywhere. Besides, it would be of little use against these three. She thought about running but she didnít think she could stand let alone outrun the men. Her last option was to just go with the flow and offer little resistance. The key was to survive whatever they had in mind. She would deal with the psychology of it later. Grackus was peering intently at her now. A flicker of recognition lit his face. It was about to get ugly.

His lip curled and a sneer settled on his face. "Whereís your little friend, bitch?"

Liz fought for control. This was not the time for a snappy comeback. "What little friend?"

Grackus caught her side with the toe of his boot. She doubled over barely suppressing a scream of pain. "You know, the blonde with the staff."

Liz was on all fours trying to catch her breath when the second kick turned her on her back.

Grackus continued the interrogation. "You remember now, bitch? Youíre not so brave without your sidekick, are you? "

Liz realized they were going to beat the crap out of her, so she let it fly. What the hell, go out in style. Struggling to stand, she replied, "You must have me confused for another bitch. Iím sure Iíd remember that foul stench. Oh, and I was the sidekick, not the blonde."

Kurris was slow, but the light finally went on. He remembered the smart talking, dark-haired woman who broke his foot and screwed up his knee. It was definitely payback time. He pushed Grackus out of the way and faced Liz. Drawing back, he landed a full blow to the solar plexus, doubling her over. "That...is for breaking my foot. And this ...is for my knee." He threw a right cross, catching Lizís nose and lip, snapping her head back. A merciful blackness folded around her. Her last conscious thought was, ĎIím sorry, Gabrielle.í


Xena pushed Argo along the road. What had Amoria meant by Ďshe was in danger?í How could she be in danger, she just got here. The sky was dancing with lightning. Argo was not a happy steed. They rounded a curve in the road and spied something off to the side. She pulled the war-horse to a stop and dismounted. There caught in the brush was a piece of clothing, a green robe of some sort. The fabric was quite unlike anything Xena had ever felt. Looking at Argo, she theorized. "Well, girl, looks like she made it. But why would she leave this here? " The warrior scanned the area for any other clues. The handle of the whip was barely visible under a bush. She retrieved the leather strap and gave it a test ride. She expertly split the air with a crisp...craaack! "Hmmmm...not bad." A few more deft throws separated the leaves on the bush from their branches. "Passable, a little heavy, but good quality leather. Now, where is she Argo? This doesnít feel right." She put the robe and whip in her saddlebag. The steed nodded in agreement and raked the ground with her front hoof. Taking the reins, Xena walked the road in front of her. It didnít take long for her to come upon the signs of a struggle in the dirt.

She eyed the tracks and reconstructed the possible chain of events. There were prints belonging to three grown men and one of a smaller person. There had been a struggle. From the tracks the smaller individual came out on the short end, she had been surrounded. A small pool of blood indicated perhaps a broken nose or split lip. There wasnít enough to signal a sword wound. "At least she was alive when they dragged her off, girl." The tracks would be easy to follow. She mounted Argo and trailed the group. It was getting darker and the celestial activity was picking up.

"Címon girlie, wake up." Grackus threw a cup of water in Lizís face. She blinked her eyes open to find his disgusting features not a foot from her. Her arms were suspended over her head, wrists tied so tight, the feeling had left her hands. She was sick to her stomach and her head was killing her. Her feet were barely able to touch the ground. She was sure her ribs were fractured by the difficulty in breathing. Figuring they were going to kill her anyway, she spat in his face. "Go to hell, you knuckle-dragging, cousin-marrying, piece of genetic slag."

Grackus just laughed and backhanded her. The blow widened the split on her lip and produced a stream of warm, bright blood. "Thatís right, the more fire the better. It wouldnít be any fun if you didnít fight. Ainít that right, boys?"

Liz felt like pushing the toad further. She spit the red cells out of her mouth in his general direction. "Hey, Godzilla, didnít there used to be four of you guys? Whereís the missing link?"

He wheeled around and smiled. "Oh, you mean Thaddius? Seems you cracked his skull and well...he just wasnít the same after that. So I put him out of his misery...and ours..right?" He was laughing along with Kurris and Centius. She realized Grackus had killed his comrade because of the injuries Liz had inflicted on him. This wasnít funny anymore. It may be an alternate dimension, but it had been deadly real to Thaddius. She wanted to throw up. Grackus grabbing her face in his meaty hand disturbed her private discomfort.

"But enough reminiscing about the good old days. Letís talk about the present, shall we? I want you to know exactly what weíre going to do to you. Iíd hate for you to miss anything. First, the boys and I are going to take our pleasure." He was rubbing the bulge in his pants to make his point clear. " Itís been a long time since we had such a captive audience. And when weíre through, Iím turning you over to Kurris. I think he has a rather personal score to settle. And after that...well...I think Iíll kill you. So what do you think of my little plan?"

A throaty voice spoke behind them. "I think this is a very bad plan...especially for you, Grackus." Liz turned her head. As if on cue, a huge flash of lightning outlined the most impressive woman sheíd ever seen. She had never been so relieved in her life, but didnít want to convey that to the warrior. "What took you so long?"

A flash of irritation crossed Xenaís face. "I was busy collecting your things. Youíre a messy traveler." She had the whip in one hand and her chakram in the other. As Grackus charged, she let the disk fly. Its initial trajectory severed the rope suspending Liz, dropping her to the ground. Its return path caught Centius in the back of the head, rendering him useless. It finally flew into the hand of the warrior. The pain in Lizís side was intense, but not immobilizing. She quickly loosened the loop on her wrists. She stood and looked for something to fight with.

Kurris was nearest her, but all his attention was focused on Xena. He started toward the warrior and Liz stuck her foot out, successfully tripping him. Xena let loose the familiar war cry. Liz understood how the sound of it could send a chill up your spine. It had a very primeval feel to it. At the same time she vaulted over the enraged Grackus in a perfect forward somersault. Somewhere in mid-flight, she tossed Liz the whip. "Know how to use this?" Liz caught it, handle first. "No, but Iíll improvise."

Kurris had regained his footing and unsheathed his sword. He turned toward Liz. There was a murderous look in his eye. He limped forward intent on running her through. Liz cocked her wrist, thinking Ďjust be a queení, and let fly the business end of the strap. At the right moment, she snapped it back. It found its target, the face of Kurris. At first, it appeared nothing had happened. Then a bright red line burst forth on his face as the flesh peeled away. She couldnít have done a better job with a modern scalpel. Kurris dropped to one knee, holding his bleeding face. Liz took full advantage of his position. She kicked his face as hard as she could, sending him on his back, unconscious. She hoped Xena had control of Grackus. She wasnít in any condition to swing or kick another thing. It was a stupid thought.

Xena was toying with Grackus. He was lunging at her and she was sidestepping easily. There was a look of pure enjoyment in her eyes. She obviously loved this crap. She finally tired of her inept opponent and retired him with a well-timed blow to the head. She hadnít broken a sweat. That left the two women to eye one another. Liz was a mess, her lip split and swollen, her nose probably broken as well as her ribs. Xena posed a rather commanding presence. She was magnificent. Liz could see how Gabrielle could be attracted to her. The warrior was quite awe-inspiring.

Without an introduction, Xena started in on her. "You couldnít steer clear of trouble until I got here? You do know whatís at stake, donít you? This isnít some game...." She hesitated like she was trying to spit out something distasteful "...Liz. This is Gabrielleís life."

What thought Liz might have had about thanking Xena evaporated. She stared the warrior dead in the eye. "Excuse me, but do I look like Iíve been having a good time?" She was applying pressure to her bleeding nose and lip. "Besides, I didnít know you were coming. Jeez, whatever...we donít have time for this. Whereís Gabrielle? "

Xena had already turned toward the road and Argo. "Sheís with Amoria and Hippocrates in Daedalius. We have to hurry. Did you bring the key?"

Liz was becoming short-tempered. Pain had a way of doing that to her. "Key? You mean the crystal? Oh, gosh, let me see...gee...must have left it in my other pants. Of course I have it with me! " She did her best to catch up with the long-legged warrior. It was hard, as her breathing was becoming very labored. Xena was already astride the war-horse when Liz cleared the brush. Looking at the mare, she understood why Gabrielle preferred to walk. Argo was a good fifteen hands at the withers and was very broad. A spectacular animal but very high off the ground. If it werenít for the urgency, she would have walked. Xena put a hand out to pull Liz aboard behind her. She nearly passed out from the effort, but maintained her silence. She kept the mission in the forefront of her mind... that and nothing else. Xena had two words for her. "Hang on!"

Liz was doing her best to fall into rhythm with Argo, but every stride was sheer agony for her. Even holding Xena tightly wasnít easing her discomfort. Finally the pain won. "Xena, please slow down some. I canít take much more pounding." At first, Xena ignored her and just spurred Argo harder. Liz decided sheíd had enough. She raised her voice in the warriorís ear. "Thatís it! Stop the horse, Iím getting off!"

Argo only slowed slightly. Xena spoke to her over her shoulder. "You are not getting off. I wonít allow you to jeopardize Gabrielleís life any further. Now, shut up, before I shut you up!" The sky erupted in pyrotechnics.

Liz simply turned loose of Xena and fell backward, Argoís rear hooves barely missing her head. At least she was off the mareís back. It took Xena a few more strides before she realized she had lost her passenger. She turned the steed to retrieve Liz. Her rage was at the surface. Amoriaís warning be damned. She dismounted before Argo fully stopped and came face to face with Liz. She was seething. Grabbing Liz by the shoulders, she made a point with pressure. "What do you think youíre doing? You know time is the issue here. Now get on Argo...before I..."

Mentally, Liz tossed in the towel. She jerked free of the warriorís grasp. "Before you do what? Kill me? Please...go ahead...put me out of my misery!" Liz stood facing Xena, arms out-stretched. "Whatís your problem. Xena? Why do you really think I came here...to try and take Gabrielle from you? In case you havenít noticed, this isnít exactly on my way to anywhere. I had to cross half of my known world, seriously deplete my dinars andinflict emotional pain on those who love me. And you wanna know the best part? I canít even go home. Nope, this is a one way trip for me. So if you think this is all about hitting the pallets, youíre even denser than I imagined."

Xenaís rage subsided a bit. "If all that is true, why would you sacrifice everything for Gabrielle?"

Liz was very direct. "God, youíre big but very slow, Xena. I donít expect you to understand this, but I had to. I owe her my life." Liz reached under her shirt and withdrew the glowing crystal. She took it over her head and tossed it to Xena. The warrior caught it in mid-flight. "Here, this is all you need. Itís the only reason Iím here anyway. Take it. Amoria will know what to do. You donít need me for this. I hurt too bad to get back on that horse. And Iím not going to. Oh, and by the way, Iím not afraid of you. So you can save all the seething and glaring. It just doesnít work on me. In short, screw you and the horse you rode in on. Sorry Argo. "

Xena looked at the crystal and then at Liz. The visitor was in obvious discomfort. She started toward her. "Youíre right about one thing. We donít have time for this." Without further warning she rapped Liz on the head, dropping her to the ground. Xena picked her up and placed her on Argo. As she clucked the mare forward, she spoke to her limp companion. "Sorry, but I do need you."

Within the hour, they were in Daedalius. The storm was getting fiercer. Xena met a disapproving Amoria as she carried Liz into the hut.

"Donít ask, itís a long story. Where do you want her?"

"Put her over here on the pallet with Gabrielle. Do you have the key? "

Xena produced the glowing crystal and placed it in Amoriaís hand. She went to Gabrielleís side and waited. "Now what?"

Amoria had positioned the two women so their hands were touching. She removed the coral from Gabrielleís neck. It was also pulsing. She wound both pieces around their hands and stepped back. At first, nothing seemed to change. Then the stones got brighter and the glow began to completely envelope the two women. There was an eerieness about the light. It was a luminescent blue and had a life of its own. Gabrielle and Liz could no longer be seen. Xena tried to move forward, but Hippocrates held her back. The light was at a blinding white level now and even Xena had to turn away. It had split itself into two thin vertical shafts... one directly above each woman. The vibrational hum rattled the entire structure, anything not secured fell to the floor. Xena thought the hut would collapse. She shielded her eyes to peer at the center of the room. Between the two shafts there appeared to be a corridor. At first inspection, it was reaching into infinity. There was no discernible end. Almost imperceptibly, the twin spires began to converge. Xena could see an intense yellow beam at the end of the corridor. It was coming this way, a little like watching sand fill the bottom of a hole. The closer the shafts got, the more narrow the corridor, the brighter and nearer the beam. It was consuming the corridor, sealing it. Liz had been right, she couldnít go home. The shafts touched, formed one entity and began collapsing in on itself. It was reduced to a single point of energy, growing smaller. In one final burst, it literally vanished.

Everyone stood motionless. The only sound was that of gentle rain falling on the roof. Xena moved to Gabrielleís side. She looked in the bardís face for a sign of life. "Gabrielle, can you hear me? Please, wake up. "

The bard stirred, moving her head slightly.

Xena encouraged her. "Thatís it Gabrielle, come back. Come back to me."

Gabrielleís hand reached up to touch Xenaís face. Her eyes opened slightly. She was weak, but conscious. "Xena... are you here?"

"Oh, yes, Iím here. Just relax everything is going to fine now...just fine." She bent over her and kissed her lips... uncontrolled tears were in her eyes. "Youíre going to be just fine."

Gabrielle held Xena close for a minute. "I love you, Xena, always." She fell into a light sleep.

Xena had a look of panic on her face. She motioned for Hippocrates to look at her.

He checked her vital signs. They were good, the color was returning to her cheeks, the fever abating. "Itís ok, Xena, sheís just sleeping now. Itís over. I think her friend needs help more." He was directing his attention to Liz. She was in bad shape. The beating had taken a toll. He and Amoria worked over her. Xena sat on the opposite side of the pallet, holding Gabrielleís hand, watching the effort being made.

"Will she be all right?"

Amoria cut a look at her. "She will pull through, no thanks to you, Xena. If it werenít for this womanís courage, Gabrielle would be dead right now. Think about it, warrior." She instructed Hippocratesí aide to help her move Liz to a separate pallet. The three of them worked on her for many hours. Xena maintained her station next to Gabrielle. It was very late before the activity ceased. They had wrapped her chest for the broken ribs and cleaned the laceration on her lip. Hippocrates did the best he could for her nose. It would heal ok. At various places in the hut, sleeping exhausted bodies reclined. It had been a Hades of a day.

Liz opened her eyes. She was staring at a thatched straw ceiling. She heard the gentle pelt of rain. She knew where she was. She felt like hell, and remembered the reason. Slowly, she rolled over on her side and pushed herself to a sitting position. Across the room she saw Gabrielle. Xena was sleeping next to her. She had to see for herself that she was all right. She slid off the pallet, her feet finding the floor. ĎNot to badí, she thought, ĎI can do this.í She took a tentative step, a little shaky, but ok. She used the various pieces of furniture for support. Quietly, she stood over Gabrielle. She was breathing normally and looked beautiful, just the way she remembered. Xena opened her eyes to see Liz standing. It was Liz who spoke. "Is she going to be ok?"

Xena got off the pallet and went around to where Liz was standing. She was just in time to catch her. Putting an arm around her waist, she simply picked her up. "Sheís going to be fine. Sheís just sleeping. You are the one that needs to rest. Now donít make me tell you twice...or..."

Liz asked, "Or youíll whack me over the head?"

Xena smiled, " Yep, exactly." She carried her back to the pallet and gently deposited her. "We can talk in the morning."

Liz was already slipping into sleep. "Yes, in the morning."


Randi knew something major had shifted. The electrical activity had intensified to biblical proportions and then nothing. She could practically tell when the rip had been sealed. She was left with this feeling of finality in the pit of her stomach. Liz was gone and trapped in another dimension. She had placed a call to Roger. He wasnít home, so she had left an urgent message. She couldnít stand waiting. She picked up the phone and dialed Lizís number. Maybe he was there. Sure enough, he picked up on the second ring.

"Liz, is that you, honey?" He sounded so lost.

"No, Roger, itís Randi."

Fearing the worst, he sat down. Brie was in his lap begging for attention. She missed her momma. He was near hysteria. "Oh, God, sheís gone, isnít she?"

Randi didnít need an irrational queen on the phone with her right now. "Roger, listen to me. There is a way to bring her home, but I need your help and Ruthís" She could hear someone in the background talking. "Honey, whoís there with you?"

"Itís Sam. She was worried about Liz, so she flew in today. She is just beside herself. What can we do? You name it. "

"Ok, this is good. Sam can help. In fact, more is better. Iíll need Ruthís number. Weíre going to have to coordinate a rescue attempt across time and space, but I need to talk to her first. Just stay near a phone, or let her know where you can be reached. This will need split second timing, but I think it will work. Iíll call you in a day or so. Oh, and the last thing Liz told me was for you to keep your hands off her condo. I think she meant it, sweetie. Ok, now donít go falling apart on me. Promise?"

"Iíll do my best, Randi." He put the cordless on the counter and fell into Samís arms, crying like a baby.

She had written Ruthís number down and prepared to make the call. This was going to be the trick of the century. But she had very little to lose. The worst that would happen is it wouldnít work. She had to try. She dialed the number. Ruth answered on the first ring.

"Hello, Randi, I know."

Randi liked a straightforward approach. Never mind how totally weird it was. Results were all that mattered. "You know what I have in mind?"

"Yes, I do. I believe we can make this work. Give me your number there and Iíll be in touch. Iíll get Roger and Sam over here when itís time. Good-bye, Randi."

"Good-bye, Ruth." She hung the phone up. This had to work...it just had to.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

It was early when Gabrielle awoke. Xena was wrapped around her, sleeping soundly. She had this sensation that she had missed something. It took a moment to realize where she was. How did she get to Amoriaís? She didnít remember anything. In fact, the last memory she had was pulling up to Hippocratesí compound. After that, everything was blank.

She shifted to her side to face Xena, placing her hand on the warriorís face. She traced the outline of the strong features with her finger. She was lightly running her thumb over Xenaís lips when they formed a slight pucker and kissed the bardís digit. Xenaís eyes opened to find Gabrielle staring at her. It was so good to see that love again. Gabrielle pulled Xena closer and started kissing her. There was a hunger and insistence in her advance. Her hand cupped Xenaís breast and her own body began to shake with desire. It was all Xena could do to stop her.

"Gabrielle, weíre...not...." Her words were being smothered by the bardís mouth. "...not...alone.."

Xenaís revelation did little to slow Gabrielle. "I know...now shut up and kiss me." The warrior didnít need a formal invitation to taste those soft lips. She obediently obliged her lover. Their passion was about to get very publicly out of hand. Neither cared.

The sound of pots rattling across the room momentarily halted the activity. Amoria was busy getting breakfast started. The aroma of nutbread was already filling the hut. Gabrielleís other mistress, her appetite, was also awake. She literally hadnít eaten for days and was about to make up for that lost time. Xena smiled and knew she would have to wait to sate her appetite. She playfully pinched Gabrielleís breast and rolled off the pallet. Gabrielle sat up and looked around the room. Hippocrates was entering the door of the hut with more wood for the fire. He beamed when he saw Gabrielle in an upright, conscious position. He deposited the wood and made his way to the bardís side. Time for a check on her recovery.

"Gabrielle, itís good to have you back with us. How are you feeling?"

"Well, Iím hungry for one thing and a little confused for another. I donít remember anything after arriving at your compound. And my body is sore, especially my jaw."

Xena peered at the bard remembering the incident. She would have some explaining to do, but not right now. Hippocrates just let that comment slide.

She continued the barrage. "Hmm... what happened? How did I get here? What are you doing here? I have a hundred questions."

Yep, she was back to normal... so much for peace and quiet. Where to start, now that was the real question. Starting with the most relevant event and working backward, he began filling in the gaps.

"You have quite a list there. So, Iíll give you the condensed version over breakfast. But Iíve got to check on my other patient right now. Just take it easy getting up. Youíve been on your back for a couple of days." He turned to head over to the pallet holding Liz.

Gabrielle was puzzled. "What other patient?"

He looked at her and realized she couldnít know about the events of last night. Rather matter of factly he said, "Why, your friend, Liz , of course. She came back to help you, Gabrielle."

The bard looked across the room for confirmation. "Xena? Is it true? "

"Yes, she bridged some sort of time corridor and saved you. She said something about Ďowingí you. The key was the necklaces you both had."

Gabrielle felt for the coral piece. It was gone. She interrupted Xenaís explanation. "Xena...where is my necklace?"

"Oh, Iím afraid it was vaporized last night...they both were. But, Iím getting to that part, so just relax, will yaí?"

She interrupted again. "Vaporized? What do you mean Ďvaporized?í What happened here, anyway?"

Xena was wishing for another bout of bardly unconsciousness. Anything to shut her up long enough to finish this tale. She reached over and clamped her palm over the bardís still moving mouth. "Gabrielle! Be quiet for just a few minutes. Nod if you understand me."

Gabrielle moved her head in a up and down motion, eyes wide.

"Ok, Iím going to remove my hand. And Iím warning you, not a word until Iím through. Got it?" She waited for another silent nod, removed her hand and then continued. " Like I was saying, the necklaces were the key. Once she was here and they were brought together, the corridor sealed itself. The opening or tear or whatever...was causing the drain on your life-force. With the opening closed the drain ceased and its effects on you reversed. Unfortunately, she didnít enter our time in the right place. Amoria sent me to retrieve her but Grackus and his buddies found her first. You remember him, donít you?"

Gabrielle did remember that road slime. She just nodded, fearing the warriorís wrath at a spoken word.

"By the time I found her, they had beaten her pretty bad. Seems they remembered that interaction you two had a few months back. So, I interrupted their little party and brought her here. Amoria and Hippocrates worked on her after the Ďmain event.í Sheíll be ok, but it will take some time. Ok, you can talk now."

The idea that Liz had been injured because of her didnít sit well with Gabrielle. "Where is she?" Xena stepped out of her line of sight. Across the room Hippocrates was bent over his patient. She was still asleep. Gabrielle swung her legs off the pallet and tried to stand. She was weak and her head was spinning. She fell back on the bed.

"Ooh...guess Iím a little unsteady. Xena, please help up. I want to see her."

The warrior supported Gabrielleís waist as the bard held on. Together they approached the pallet where Liz lay. The physician finished his exam and moved aside. Gabrielle supported herself on the edge of the pallet, looking at Liz. Her lip was swollen and she had a grade-A black eye. Gabrielle took a chair next to the sleeping form. She looked at Xena. "Iím just going to sit here for a bit. Itís ok, Xena, really."

The warrior nodded and lightly kissed her on the top of the head. "I know. I think Iíll go check on Argo. We had a Hades of a storm last night. I want to be sure sheís all right. Iíll be back in a while. Take care of her." She turned and walked out of the hut. She needed some time alone, too. She had acted like a total ass and wasnít pleased with herself. Self-recrimination was a new emotion for her. It would take some getting used to.

Gabrielle took Lizís hand in her own. There were fresh rope burns on her wrists. She sat, stroking her arm and talking softly to her.

"Oh, Liz, Iím so sorry. You didnít deserve this kind of treatment. I canít believe you did this for me. I tried to warn you about coming here, but apparently you are as stubborn as that warrior of mine. You know, that just between the two of us, you and Xena make quite a little tag team. What am I going to do with both of you in the same time? It could get pretty messy. I donít know if youíve noticed, but sheís a little jealous. Iím sure itís just a phase, sheíll get over it...I hope."

Without opening her eyes, Liz responded. "Oh, Iíve noticed, believe me. Xenaís not one for hiding that particular emotion. "

Gabrielleís face lit up. "Liz! Youíre awake. How do you feel?"

She coaxed her good eye open. Seeing Gabrielle up and moving and, oh yes, talking was worth all the discomfort. "How do I feel? Hmm...I feel like someone rode me hard and hung me up wet." For the first time she noticed the purple bruise on the bardís chin. "Hey, you donít look so hot yourself. You taken a gander at your face lately? Boy, someone laid a good one on you. I didnít think you were that much into fighting."

Gabrielle felt her face and Liz was right, someone had decked her. When and where was beyond her right now. "Well, I donít remember anyone hitting me, but then thereís a lot thatís happened without my knowledge lately. Iíll have to ask Xena about it." Her stomach announced its presence. "Uhmm...are you as hungry as I am?"

Liz did have an appetite. "Come to think of it, I could eat, believe it or not. Help me to sit up, will yaí?" It was an effort because her ribs were very sore, but the two of them managed. It was quite a sight, the unsteady helping the bruised and battered. Amoria and Hippocrates just watched the comedy. Finally, he offered assistance. "You girls want some help?"

They continued figuring the logistics. Gabrielle politely refused. "No...no I think weíve got it under control." They were cavorting like two children. Finally, Liz was sitting in a somewhat comfy position. "There, that should do you for a bit. Iíll get us some breakfast. " Gabrielle stood a little too fast and once again plopped back into the chair. This time Hippocrates insisted. "You two just sit still. Iíll bring something over to you." Knowing the bardís penchant for food, he piled the plate high.

Gabrielle started with a big slice of nutbread. It was her favorite. Liz found chewing to be a little difficult, but was managing. For the time being conversation ceased as they inhaled all before them.

Hippocrates turned to Amoria to comment. "I hope you cooked enough, those two will eat you out of hut and home. Weíd better put some away for Xena before itís gone." They both chuckled. "I think Iíll go find the warrior. Keep an eye on them." He left the hut, unnoticed by the two eating machines.

Hippocrates walked to the livery where he found Xena stoically brushing Argo. He stood in the doorway watching her stroke the same area over and over.

"You know, sheíd probably like it better if you spread the strokes out."

"Oh, yeah, guess youíre right. Sorry girl, I was lost in thought." She focused her attention to a different place on Argoís hide.

Walking closer, Hippocrates pried. " Thinking about what Xena? Surely youíre not still worried about Liz and Gabrielle...and ...you know?"

A faint smile came to her lips. "No, not about that...something else." She paused slightly, gathering her thoughts. "Last night...when Liz and I were on the way here, she said something about not being able to return to her time. I didnít fully understand it until that light show in the hut." She stopped brushing Argo and faced him. "Hippocrates, I saw that corridor she was talking about seal itself. Thereís no way for her to leave. Sheís stuck here."

He was waiting for the rest of it. "And...whatís your point?"

"The point is...what are we going to do with her? She canít just tag along with Gabrielle and me. And she canít just roam about by herself. Itís not safe. Grackus will be looking for her. This is a royal mess." She was making decisions without authority...one of Xenaís Ďmany talents.í

Hippocrates thoughtfully rubbed his chin. "If you want my opinion, this isnít your decision to make, Xena. Liz isnít a child. She knew the risk involved in coming here and took it anyway. She weighted the options and traded her existence for Gabrielleís life. Iíd say that counts for something. This is something the three of you need to discuss." He looked at the warrior, half expecting a rebuttal, but there was none. He had made his point.

"Now, I suggest we get back to Amoriaís. Gabrielle is up and sheís feeding. Oh, and Liz is keeping up with her. Weíll be lucky if thereís anything left at all."

"By the gods, why are we standing here? Címon, Iíll race yaí " She dropped the brush and sped by the elderly healer. He casually strolled out of the barn. "No substitute for youthful exuberance, I always say."


Chapters 14 - 17