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Didn’t think I’d ever get to this part, did ya? Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me on this.
With the small exception of Delta, I don’t own ‘em, I’m just borrowing. No violence in this part.
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Xena knew they were being watched.
It was an Amazon scouting party, about six warriors, who’d been with them for less than half an hour. They were just watching right now, showing no signs of hostility, which was fine with Xena. She was mildly surprised they hadn’t been stopped already.
Xena glanced over at Gabrielle and Autolycus, riding double on the chestnut. If they were aware of the company, they gave no sign of it.
She wondered how long it would be before the warriors decided to show themselves.
Xena tossed her hair back over her shoulder, catching the eyes of both her friends as she did so. Gabrielle rolled her head in a slow circle, apparently stretching a stiff neck, then gave the tiniest jerk of her chin, gesturing towards their side of the trail. Autolycus barely shifted his gaze past Xena, who winked at them in affirmation. They knew.
"Let’s take a break." Xena announced suddenly, halting Argo and sliding down off her back. Gabrielle and Autolycus took their cues and dismounted as well.
"Do what we do." Gabrielle muttered to the thief.
Xena stretched, loosening up, and turned to face the woods. In one fluid movement she brought her arms out of their stretch and up over her head, hands clasped firmly together. "You can come out now, ladies." she called into the trees.
Gabrielle already had her own arms raised in the peace salute, and the instant the first Amazon dropped to the ground directly in front of them, Autolycus followed suit. In the blink of an eye they were surrounded by half a dozen masked archers.
"Stand down, Amazons." a deep voice commanded from outside the circle. "Meet your queen."
The warriors backed off, and a seventh woman walked towards the group. She pushed her mask back on her head and grinned.
"Queen Gabrielle." she acknowledged with a small, respectful bow. The other Amazons each sank down one knee.
Gabrielle dropped her arms. "Solari, I really wish you wouldn’t do that." she scolded lightly. She looked around at the others kneeling before her. ‘You can all get up now."
"And how would it look if we didn’t show our queen her due respect?" Solari argued, but her dark eyes were twinkling. "You are the savior of our tribe, the chosen daughter of Artemis, the —"
"Will you please shut up and come over here and give me a hug?" Gabrielle cut her off. Laughing, Solari did just that.
"I know you hate it, but it would be improper for us to forgo all the formalities. Besides," she said in a low voice, "these girls are young. They need to learn how to conduct themselves in the presence of their leader."
Gabrielle got her point. "In that case I guess you can do the regal thing."
"It would be greatly appreciated." Only then did Solari address Gabrielle’s companions. "Xena. It’s been a long time." Her tone was neutral, but not unfriendly.
"Yes, it has." Xena replied, just as carefully.
That was as much of a greeting as Solari offered, turning her attention to Autolycus. She gave him a look that was equal parts suspicion and amusement. "If it isn’t the locksmith."
Autolycus beamed. "I meant to send flowers, but it was best we went our separate ways, Solari. There was no future for us."
Solari rolled her eyes. "Does he do this routine with every woman he passes?"
"Oh yeah." Gabrielle assured her. "All of them."
"Does it usually work?" Solari asked incredulously.
"Usually." Autolycus informed her flirtatiously. "In fact it’s working right now."
"How do you figure?" Solari demanded.
"You haven’t broken my nose yet."
Solari stared at him for a minute, then the fierce Amazon actually chuckled. "You are such an irritating son of a bitch. I can’t believe someone hasn’t killed you by now."
"I think that was a complement." Xena said, nudging him.
"Oh, it was." Solari affirmed. She made a gesture to the group of Amazons then, and they all pushed back their masks. "Now for introductions. Queen Gabrielle, these are my students: Hadrian, Alexis, Sybil, Delta, Tereset, and Hesper."
Each of the girls bowed in turn, and Xena smothered a smile. They all looked wonderingly at Gabrielle. Their prodigal ruler was barely older than they were.
"Amazons, I present your queen and her companions. Meet Xena of Amphipolis and Autolycus, King of Thieves."
There was a general dropping of jaws, followed by an immediate attempt to cover the displayed surprise, which was no doubt considered disrespectful.
A queen, a princess, and a king. What a court we must make, Gabrielle thought.
"It’s wonderful to meet all of you." Gabrielle said to the girls, attempting to put them at ease. Despite their disciplined steadiness, Gabrielle sensed a current of insecurity from the young warriors. She wondered if they were the same around Ephiny, or if her novelty was the cause of their jitters.
Gabrielle felt the weight of a stare, and met the bold, startlingly green gaze of one of the Amazons. She was by far the most petite of the girls; probably a handspan shorter than Gabrielle herself. Something about her struck Gabrielle as being too delicate for an Amazon. Of course, some people thought the same of Gabrielle. This girl alone didn’t seem awed by the introduction to the queen.
Gabrielle smiled at her, and the girl instantly looked away.
"We’d better get back to the village now." Solari said. "Ephiny will be thrilled to see you." This last was directed at Gabrielle alone, a fact that was not lost on the bard or her companions.
"Yes." Gabrielle went on, slicing smoothly through the tension. "I need to talk to Ephiny right away."
"Of course." Solari gave a final signal to the group and the Amazons fell into formation, flanking Gabrielle’s party. Solari put a hand on Gabrielle’s shoulder and walked her up to the front of the group, then fell back just a bit, standing just behind and to the left of the bard. Gabrielle threw a questioning glance over her shoulder at Xena and nodded, indicating her empty right side. Xena gave the tiniest shake of her head. She wasn’t concerned with the interpretation of her rank. This procession was for Gabrielle, and Xena was quite content to let her friend be the center of attention. Besides which she’d created quite enough hard feelings in this place for one lifetime.
Autolycus summed up her feelings however, when he leaned close and commented, "Are you and I honored guests or dangerous prisoners?"
"Quite the escort, isn’t it?" Then, louder, "Solari, our horses?"
"Sybil and Tereset, bring their animals." Solari commanded.
The girls broke out of formation to go back for the horses. The first girl, Tereset, had no problem with the chestnut, but Sybil found Argo to be more of a challenge. She reached for the mare’s bridle only to have the horse snatch her head away and sidestep uncooperatively. Surprised, Sybil frowned and started to try again, but Xena stopped her.
"It’s okay. I’ll get her myself." she said, walking over and taking the reins. "Argo’s not big on strangers." Xena explained. "Autolycus can handle his own horse, too."
Tereset looked questioningly at Solari, who nodded, then handed the chestnut’s reins over to Autolycus.
"Any particular reason for that?" Autolycus asked her as they fell back into step. "I wouldn’t have minded ditching this guy for a little while."
"I didn’t want them to get the idea they were waiting on us. It wouldn’t go over big."
"Not with them, maybe," Autolycus muttered under his breath. Xena elbowed him, and he shut up.
Ephiny looked up from the map she’d been studying when Solari entered her hut. The dark haired woman was beaming.
"The last time I saw you smiling like that your girls had just creamed the young centaurs from Tyldus’ school in an archery contest." Ephiny observed. "What now, they kicked their butts in swordplay, too?"
Without saying a word, Solari stepped aside, and Gabrielle came in. Ephiny almost knocked her bench over as she jumped up.
"Where in Hades did you come from?" she laughed as they embraced. "I was just thinking this morning about trying to track you down for the autumn festival."
"I’m here with Xena — and Autolycus." Gabrielle said. Ephiny sombered noticeably, but Gabrielle went right on. "As happy as I am to see you, Eph, I’m afraid this isn’t a social call."
"Obviously," Ephiny said flatly, "or they wouldn’t be here."
Gabrielle frowned. "That’s not fair."
"But it’s true. Neither of them would come here willingly if something wasn’t wrong."
Gabrielle couldn’t argue that. "There’s no pleasant way to put this. It’s Velaska, Eph. We’re afraid she’s out."
Ephiny’s eyes widened. "Why would you think that?"
Gabrielle sighed. "It’s a long story. It started out as... well, never mind what it started out as. There’s been a lot happening the last few days that’s just been cause for concern."
"I don’t know, Gabrielle. If Velaska had gotten out — and that’s a big if — don’t you think we’d know about it here before anyone else?"
"That would make sense, but I want to be sure." Gabrielle said firmly. "If we’re wrong, the worst is that we come out of this looking like paranoid idiots."
"Better wrong and paranoid than right and dead, is that it?’
"Something like that."
Ephiny sighed. "I’m listening."
Gabrielle grimaced. "Um, you may want to sit down for this..."
Xena and Autolycus stood in a small comfortably furnished hut. Hadrian stood facing them, looking perturbed.
"I had no say in this." the Amazon was saying with forced patience. "Solari told me to get the two of you settled and then Queen Gabrielle, well, amended the instructions."
"Gabrielle was joking." Xena said, practically oozing patience herself. "Tell you what. Autolycus can have this hut all to himself, and I’ll just hole up with Gabrielle, alright?"
Hadrian shook her head. "That’s not possible, Xena. Gabrielle will be Ephiny’s guest in the queen’s hut, where she belongs. Besides, I can’t disobey a direct order from my queen. Surely you understand that." Satisfied that the matter had been settled, Hadrian headed for the door, adding, "I’m sure you’ll be quite comfortable. If you need anything you have only to ask."
Xena stared after her speechlessly, realizing she’d just lost a battle of some kind, but not sure how.
"Why would Gabrielle do this?" she asked aloud.
Autolycus shrugged. "Don’t ask me. She’s your partner."
Hadrian was on her way to report back to Solari when someone called her name. Gabrielle jogged over to her.
"Xena and Autolycus have been shown to their quarters, Queen Gabrielle." she reported.
"Close quarters, right?" Gabrielle asked expectantly.
"Oh yes." Hadrian assured her conspiratorially. "Very close."
Gabrielle grinned. "Good job, Hadrian, thank you."
The girl gave her a quick bow and a huge smile, then went on her way. Gabrielle chuckled softly, pleased with herself.
I do love a challenge. Oooooh, Xena’s gonna be mad at me!
At that moment Gabrielle once again felt the tingle of eyes on the back of her neck. She spotted the same green-eyed girl who’d watched her in the procession earlier.
Gabrielle wondered briefly if her underwear was showing or something. She resisted the urge to check and instead made her way over to the girl.
"Hello," Gabrielle said in a friendly tone. The girl took her time in responding.
"Hello." she finally said haltingly. She looked almost ready to bolt.
"You don’t have to be nervous around me, you know." Gabrielle told her.
For a split second the girl looked puzzled, then she offered a sheepish smile that didn’t quite touch her eyes.
"Begging your pardon, Queen Gabrielle. You’re just...different than I expected."
"I can imagine." Gabrielle studied the girl intently, and after a moment those jade eyes broke away from hers. ‘Your name’s Delta, right?"
"Aye," the girl affirmed. Up close, Gabrielle realized she was even younger than she’d originally thought, probably no more than seventeen. Hair even darker than Xena’s framed a heart-shaped face. She was sturdy-looking, but not muscular.
She looks less like an Amazon than I do! Gabrielle marveled.
"I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I have chores, Queen Gabrielle." Delta excused herself almost curtly.
"Of course you do. I’m sorry to have interrupted you." Gabrielle said, smiling understandingly.
Delta gave a half-hearted effort at a bow and then scurried off. Gabrielle watched her go, her smile fading.
"Takes all kinds, I guess," she thought out loud.
"Wanna flip for it?"
Xena gave Autolycus a sly smile from her place on the bed, and he quickly rethought the comment.
"You’re really eager to be bruised, aren’t you?"
He glared at her. "Why do you always get the bed?"
"Because I can kick your —"
"How are we doing, guys?" Gabrielle asked as she breezed in, a sunny smile on her face. "I asked Hadrian to make sure you were comfortable."
"It’s a little crowded in here, Gabrielle." Xena said crossly, sitting up on the edge of the bed.
"Is it?" Gabrielle said, looking around. "I’m sorry. They weren’t exactly expecting company, though. I’m sure we could come up with a different arrangement tomorrow...or sometime..." she trailed off nonchalantly, not quite meeting Xena’s eyes.
"The only problem I have," Autolycus interjected, "is that I’m going to be sleeping on the floor courtesy of Miss Muscles here."
"On threat of death." Xena agreed. "How did it go with Ephiny?"
"She’s skeptical. She thinks if Velaska was free they would have seen some sign of her by now."
"Not necessarily." Xena disagreed. "Though subtlety was never Velaska’s trademark."
"You can say that again." Autolycus muttered, rubbing his neck.
"Ephiny agrees we should check it out, though." Gabrielle continued. "She’s assembling two scouting parties. One’s going to the gorge to see if anything’s out of place, and the other is going to the centaur village to find out if they’ve noticed anything wrong. They’re leaving as soon as they’re in order."
Xena nodded. "Good." She eyed Gabrielle carefully. "How did Ephiny take the explanation for our suspicions?"
"She’s practical, but she’s also a follower of Artemis. She doesn’t disregard dreams as pure imagination, if that’s what you mean."
"That was part of it."
"Oh." Gabrielle frowned. "I didn’t tell her it was your idea."
"Smart of you." Xena said approvingly. "She might not have taken it as well otherwise."
"Ephiny wouldn’t risk her people out of spite for you, Xena." Gabrielle said hotly. ‘And despite what you think she doesn’t hate you."
"Yeah, we’re great friends. I bet she was thrilled to Tartarus to see me riding into town." Xena said sarcastically, turning away.
Gabrielle’s throat ached. "Stop it, Xena."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about."
"Bull. Just stop this. I don’t want you to do this particular song and dance again. Ephiny’s forgiven you. I’ve forgiven you. Forgive yourself and let it go."
Xena wouldn’t look at her. Gabrielle stared at her friend’s back, practically burning holes in her, then finally shook her head helplessly. "I have to go. They’re having some big celebration for me tonight. More tradition. I wish I could decline. It’s completely up to you two if you come or not, but I’d kind of like you to be there." She looked almost pleadingly at Autolycus, who had retreated to the other side of the hut and tried to make himself inconspicuous. He squared his shoulders and gave her a suave smile.
"Go get dolled up, Princess. You can’t greet your adoring public covered in road dust."
Gabrielle smiled back, sadly, and left the hut.
As soon as she was gone, the thief fairly exploded.
"Clarify it for me, Xena. Are you here to thwart a massacre or to alienate everyone who crosses your path?"
Xena turned on him. "Don’t start with me, Autolycus."
Almost instantly his usual cool replaced, or at least covered, the anger. "I wouldn’t dream of it." he said tonelessly. "Will you be joining the festivities tonight, or staying in solitary confinement?"
Xena narrowed her eyes, but didn’t rise to it. "I’ll be there. Someone needs to keep an eye on things tonight."
"Are you at least going to ry to have a good time?" Autolycus demanded.
"I have to say one thing for the Amazons," Autolycus said in admiration. ‘They sure know how to throw a party."
Xena silently agreed, even though she herself wasn’t the partying type.
It was just past sundown, and in the few hours they’d been in the village it had been transformed. The central square was a whirl of color and light and sound. Ceremonial musicians filled the night with the pounding of drums and the wailing song of pipes and flutes. Torches blazed gold against the darkening sky. There were barrels and buckets of water in place around the square, ready in case the torches ignited the dry ground. The crowning glory was the public platform. It had been adorned with banners of green, gold, and purple. The colors of the queen. A wooden throne, also decked in these colors, sat in the center of the platform. Draped on the back of it was a small tapestry bearing a heraldic crest: a war shield, the crescent moon symbol of Artemis, and a soaring falcon. Only if one looked very close would they see that the falcon clutched a writing quill in one talon. Gabrielle’s crest.
Xena couldn’t appreciate the festivities. In her mind’s eye she saw this same platform shrouded not in the vibrant colors appointed her best friend, but in the gory crimson of another queen’s rule. She had watched friends die here; whether it was real or not didn’t make it any less horrific.
Autolycus nudged her. "Would you relax, for Zeus’ sake?" You don’t always have to be ready to charge into battle, you know."
"Idle is for the moment, Autolycus. Dead is forever." she replied without looking at him. Her eyes were elsewhere, sweeping the shadows beyond the glow of the torchlight. Let everyone else party if they liked. Tonight she was on guard.
"Profound, my dear, but dull." He paused to take a drink of wine. Xena’s own cup was untouched. "You might at least try to look like you’re enjoying yourself. It wouldn’t hurt things to acknowledge their hospitality."
"What’s the point? They don’t want me know here. I know it, and they know I know it. This is for Gabrielle."
"They’re not thrilled about me either, but I’m not going to let it get to me." Autolycus pointed out.
"You don’t let anything get to you." Xena shot.
"You’re no fun." the thief complained.
"So go find someone who is. I’m not paying you to be my escort for the night. I have a very serious reason for being here, in case you’ve forgotten."
"I’ll be your escort for free." he said lecherously. Xena gave him a withering look, and he gave up temporarily. "Do you really expect her to jump out from behind a tree and kill everyone?"
"I don’t know what I expect." she said quietly. If she was going to say more, she didn’t get the chance.
The musicians’ tune changed, becoming something more of a fanfare, and Gabrielle walked to the front of the square, ascending to the platform. She was flanked by Ephiny and Solari, who walked her to the throne and took up posts on either side of it when she was seated.
"Is that our sweet little Gabrielle?" Autolycus marveled. Xena just stared in proud amazement at her best friend.
Gabrielle had been transformed. If she had any doubts about her ability to rule here, no one would ever know it to look at her now. She sat tall on her throne, viewing the throng of people before her with perfect poise and calm. Her everyday garb had been replaced with the clothing of an Amazon warrior. Someone had plaited her dark gold hair into a perfect mass of tiny, tight dreadlocks, held back from her face by a dark browband. The turquoise necklace was once again around her throat, and her queen’s mask was pushed back on her head. Yet despite the overall martial tone to her appearance, the only true armor Gabrielle wore was a pair of gauntlets. She was also unarmed. Even Ephiny and Solari both wore their swords. That made Xena smile a little. Even as an Amazon, Gabrielle loathed battle and everything that went with it.
The Amazons stood up collectively, and Xena did the same, giving Autolycus a quick tug when he was slow getting to his feet.
"We have received a blessing from Artemis today." Ephiny spoke in a loud, clear voice. "Our queen has come home. Tonight, we make her welcome."
A cheer rose up from the warriors, then died down as Gabrielle stood.
"Your hospitality is greatly appreciated." she said. "I wish I was here under more pleasant circumstances, but unfortunately I’ve because of the threat of attack by an enemy of the Amazons." She took a deep breath. "There is reason to believe Velaska may have escaped from the lava pit."
A collective murmur of surprise passed through Gabrielle’s audience. Surprise, and more than a little fear. Gabrielle waited for the noise to settle.
"Nothing has been determined, yet." she concluded calmly. "Warriors have already been sent to investigate the possibility. They will be back by midday tomorrow with their reports. If our suspicions are correct, we’ll decide how best to deal with Velaska."
"The best way to deal with the witch is to kill her!" one Amazon shouted out. There were cries of agreement from several places. The bard held her hand up for order.
"It’s not that simple." she reminded them. "Velaska is a goddess. We can’t fight her the way we would a mortal enemy."
"Then we’ll call on Artemis to aid us!" another voice offered up.
Gabrielle flinched internally. Experience had taught her not to rely too heavily on the gods. They helped, but only when it so suited them. But she could hardly point that out to these women.
"We will naturally pray to the goddess for our help." Gabrielle agreed. "But even then, she may leave us to fight this fight on our own. She surely has faith in the strength of her warriors, as we her warriors have faith in her."
No one argued this. "That was well said." Solari muttered so only Gabrielle could hear.
"I want all of you to be prepared for the possibility of a battle." Gabrielle went on. "I hope that tomorrow we’ll find out that are our fears are unfounded. If not..."
Gabrielle looked out over the Amazons. Her Amazons, to lead and protect. No matter what.
"If not, then I promise you, I will see Velaska defeated."
It was spoken so simply, yet with total conviction. Gabrielle’s word of honor.
Xena wondered if these people realized just how much that was worth. Or how much it might cost. Sitting there in the midst of a tribe of cheering Amazon warriors, Xena had never wanted to be wrong so much in her life.
Velaska watched the lights and activity of the celebration from her perch just within the edge of the woods. She’d been there about fifteen minutes, and she was already bored out of her wits. Thankfully she had her own type of entertainment planned.
She turned her attention back to the book in her hands. This little discovery of Delta’s was proving to be fascinating reading. She opened it up to the page she’d been studying, unhindered by the lack of light. As she fingered one leathery page, she grinned to herself, recalling Delta’s reaction when Velaska had told her the binding was flesh.
"How do you know?" she’d asked.
"I just have a nose for these things." Velaska had responded, then chuckled, enjoying some private joke. Now Velaska read one passage carefully, her eyes widening with interest.
"Well, well, well." She said to herself. "There’s hope for me yet."
Xena drummed her fingers on the table, watching the crowd mill about around her. Gabrielle was moving through the mob, speaking with her subjects. The atmosphere had relaxed somewhat, but ever since the mention of Velaska’s name, things were noticeably less festive. Nothing like the threat of a psycho with supernatural powers dropping by to spoil a party.
The sound of deep, flirtatious laughter turned Xena’s head, and she saw Autolycus standing with Solari, looking like he was having the time of his life. What blew Xena away was that Solari actually seemed to be flirting right back! Autolycus caught her looking his way and gave her a dimpled grin and a little wave. Xena gave him a disgusted look and turned away.
"What are you looking so grumpy about?" Gabrielle asked, disengaging from the crowd and sitting down.
"I’m not grumpy." Xena informed her. She heard Autolycus laugh again and set her jaw, rolling her eyes. Gabrielle looked past her to where the thief and the Amazon stood. She shook her head in disbelief.
"Only Autolycus could get away with making passes at hardened Amazon warriors." Gabrielle marveled.
"Only Autolycus would be obnoxious enough to try it." Xena replied.
Gabrielle regarded the black-haired woman intently, then smiled.
"Why, Xena, I believe your pretty blue eyes are turning green!" Gabrielle laughed.
"Jealousy doesn’t become you, you know."
Xena stared at Gabrielle, her jaw actually dropping a little. "I am not jealous!"
"This is me you’re talking to, Xena." Gabrielle said, folding her arms on the table. "You’re ready to leave teeth marks in the table."
"You are delusional, Gabrielle."
"If he kissed Solari’s hand right now, what would you do? Honestly?"
"I’d think he was being his usual overbearing self and I’d wait for Solari to knock him out." Xena crossed her arms over her chest.
Gabrielle chuckled. "If you say so."
"Wipe that grin off your face, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle obediently screwed her face into a serious expression.
"That was a cute move with the hut, too." Xena went on.
"I explained that to you already." Gabrielle said patiently. "There’s not a lot of room here."
"Yeah, whatever, Cupid. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot."
"I just have one question." Gabrielle asked seriously.
"Are you really going to make him sleep on the floor?"
Xena gave her a look that could have sliced diamonds. "Don’t you have some queening to do?"
It was well past midnight when Gabrielle ended the homecoming and everyone settled in for the night.
Xena and Autolycus got ready for bed on opposite sides of the hut, their backs turned to each other.
"For someone who feared for his life coming here, you were certainly having a fine old time out there tonight."
"No point in wasting a good party, I always say."
"I’m shocked you’re still in one piece."
"Give credit where credit is due, Xena. Besides, I think some of these ladies have been living a celibate lifestyle far too long."
"That’s one of the reasons I’m shocked you’re still in one piece."
Autolycus laughed, and risked a peek over his shoulder. Xena was still facing away from him. She’d shed her armor and leathers, and stood brushing out her black hair clad only in her shift. The thief suppressed a groan and tore his eyes away. "You and Ephiny seemed to be getting along just fine."
I could say the same thing about you and Solari, Xena thought, but kept her mouth shut. "Yeah, we talked. No more than was necessary, though."
"It’s something, at least." Autolycus reasoned.
"I suppose. We don’t really have much choice but to get along right now." Xena stepped sideways so she was in front of a small mirror on the wall, giving her hair a few last thorough strokes. Her gaze moved from her own reflection to Autolycus’. She arched one dark eyebrow appreciatively, pursing her lips against a wicked smile.
"Are you decent?" Autolycus asked.
"Are you dressed?" he added, a little more mischief in his voice.
"Very funny." she said. He turned around and she hit him in the face with a pillow. "Go to sleep." she ordered, climbing into bed.
"Okay. If you need me, I’ll be down here. On the floor."
"Yeah, and don’t forget it."
Velaska was still bent over the book when Delta found her.
"So what did you think of the good little queen?" Velaska asked without looking up.
Delta hesitated, taken back by the question. "I — she’s...young. She’s not what I thought she’d be."
Velaska lifted pale, almost luminous eyes from the page, riveting Delta to the spot with a glare. "She’s a filthy, conniving little whelp. Don’t forget it."
Delta shook her head slowly, unable to look away from those blue-white eyes. "N-no," she stammered.
"Don’t let her charm make you betray your allegiance, Delta. That would make me very, very unhappy."
The woods, the world, were fading into nothingness around her. There was only the terrible light of those eyes, tugging at her like the tide. Drowning her.
"I understand." Delta croaked.
Just like that, she was released. Delta flopped down to sit on the ground, drawing a long breath. When she looked up at Velaska again, the eyes that met her own were crystalline blue and completely normal.
"What did you do?" Delta asked the woman, awed and terrified.
Velaska smiled and reached down to help Delta up. "I’ve been studying." she said simply. "Now you be a good girl and go on home. It’s going to be a big day tomorrow."
"But I need to tell you —"
"About the scouts?" Velaska finished. "Don’t give it a thought, Delta. You’ll find these things have a way of working out."
Continues in Part 6
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