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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
SPECIFIC STORY DISCLAIMER:
The story itself is about two women who are madly in love, and there will be some scenes depicting that love. There will, however, be NO explicit sex in this story! I figure you all would rather use your imagination for that stuff.
By the way, this is my first attempt at fan fiction, so please let me know what you think by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org Constructive criticism only! All other kinds will make me cry...
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THE DARKLING - PART ONE
By Lynne Knowlton
The sweat rolled into her eyes, stinging, burning. She tried to shake her head, but the chains around her neck prevented any real movement. She settled for rapidly blinking her eyes until the stinging lessened somewhat. Her arms were pulled up above her head and tied to either side of the vertical rack to which she was bound. Her feet barely touched the ground and her legs screamed with the pain of keeping herself from strangling to death. She could free herself if she could only gain some leverage, but that wasn't about to happen anytime soon. Not unless she got very, very lucky. She cursed under her breath at the predicament she had gotten herself into. How could she have been so damned careless?? Now her stupidity would not only cost her life, but the lives of others. It already had cost the lives of others.
Poteidaia. She would never forget that place as long as she lived. The word itself made tears well up in her eyes. The word brought so many images of screaming, dying people.
She had gotten word of an impending raid on the village. Her main focus was to fight and to rid the world of 'her', but she went where she was needed. It seemed as though she was needed everywhere these days. No matter. She was given the message, and she gathered her men to thwart the attempt on the village.
Quietly they stalked through the forest until they came upon a clearing near a small river. She saw that the raiders had the villagers in a group and were separating them into two groups. From those two groups of men and women, they would cull the aged and the weak. The rest they would sell into slavery.
She signaled her men with small hand gestures, and they began to circle around the clearing. Once they were all in place, they waited until the raiders gathered together in one bunch. They were quite confident, and that was evident by their relaxed posture. On a count of three, she and her men burst into the clearing, swords flashing. They cut their way through the raiders until none but the leader was standing. She held her sword to his neck and sneered.
"You're with Draco."
"I was with Draco, bitch!" he spat. "Now I'm with..."
She whirled around to see none other than her greatest enemy. Her eyes widened with shock as she realized that she had been led into a carefully orchestrated trap.
"Surprised to see me?", the tall, broad-shouldered woman laughed as one eyebrow rose, accenting the question. She sat astride her golden mare and looked down upon the group of huddled villagers...and their would-be rescuers.
Her mind whirled and she spun around, looking for a way out. By the Gods, when she found the bastard who betrayed her, she would send him straight to Tartarus...minus his head.
The woman seemed to know what she was thinking. "You're so predictable. I knew you would come to the aid of the...helpless villagers...". One side of her mouth lifted in a half-smile as she looked at the soldiers behind her. "Take them!"
The soldiers brutally crushed her small fighting force, leaving her standing. They then rushed forward to attack the villagers. Suddenly, a young woman with strawberry blonde hair and green eyes thrust herself in front of the huddled group of women. "Take me! Leave the others!"
She cursed to herself and turned to protect the young woman from the 'her' wrath. "Sssst! Quiet!" She made a chopping motion with her hand.
"Oh it's much too late for that." The woman on the horse dismounted and strode toward the young girl. She drew her sword and held it to the girl's midsection. "Pray to whatever Gods you worship. Unless, of course, you wish to bow down to me."
The girl straightened her shoulders and looked the tall woman in the eye. "Ok. I can see that you're a take-charge kind of girl. But, do you really need to raid this village to prove that? I dont think so. As a matter of fact..."
And those were the last words that beautiful, young girl ever uttered. The tall, black-clad woman ran her though without so much as a second glance. The light faded from green eyes as the girl crumpled to the ground, blood gushing from the horrible wound in her gut.
"Kill them all.", the woman ordered. "Except for that one."
Two soldiers gripped either arm as a third beat her senseless. As she lay there in her own blood and vomit, she heard the dying screams of the village. At that moment, she realized two things. She had been betrayed by someone within her inner circle. And she would make whatever sacrifice necessary to destroy The Destroyer
She couldn't bear to think of all the innocents that would suffer horribly as a result of her error. She strained against the chains wrapping themselves around her neck and wrists. She willed them to release her! She screamed in anger and frustration, not noticing the flesh around her wrists and throat being shredded by the cold metal. The physical pain she felt paled in comparison to the pain her soul would carry if she couldn't find a way out of this place.
"Ohhhhh, now, now, now." A syrupy sweet voice came from the shadows outside the cell. "You'll tire yourself out, and we can't have that, can we? Especially since I'm not finished with you yet."
The prisoner spat and snarled at the voice. She lunged toward the cell door, choking as the chain around her neck tightened unmercifully. Her ragged breathing echoed in the darkness and her eyes raged at the evil presence outside the cell.
The cell door opened with the screeching sound of metal on metal. A tall, dark figure clad in black leathers strode into the room. She would have been beautiful if cruelty and hatred hadn't marred her face. Her eyes narrowed as she took in the sight of the chained woman before her. "They call you the Deliverer. A misnomer if you ask me." One corner of her mouth quirked up in a sly smile as her fist connected with the prisoner's face with incredible force. The prisoner's head snapped back, striking the wooden rack with a sickening thud. Blood exploded from her crushed nose, spilling down her filthy tunic and running into her throat.
"Gods", she thought. "Give me the strength to endure, the strength to survive, the strength to lead the people to freedom." She opened her eyes and tried to focus on her torturer. "They call you the Soulless One. A perfectly accurate name, but I just prefer to use Bitch. It's simple and to the point. Soulless One is a bit too pretentious, don't you think?" She coughed and spat a mouthful of blood onto her tormentor. "Yep...if you ask me, Bitch suits you perfectly."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Now look what you've done. You do realize that you'll pay for that, don't you?" She grabbed a handful of the prisoner's hair and cruelly twisted it in her fingers. "You....WILL...pay!". She emphasized each word by jerking the prisoner's head toward her, knowing full well that the chain was cutting off the air to her lungs. "And you'll soon find out just how much of a bitch I can be." As the prisoner lost consciousness, the tall woman released the prisoner and stalked out of the cell.
Gasping and choking, the prisoner felt consciousness slowly return. Her crushed nose ached with a vengeance, but at least the flow of blood had nearly stopped. Less painful was the knot she received on the back of her head when it connected with the rack. A wry smile formed on her battered face as she thought, "Mother always did say I had a hard head." She closed her eyes and tried to rest.
"I'm telling you, Mek, this is a bad idea.", a male voice whispered from outside the cell. "You know she'll kill us if she finds out. She made it clear that this prisoner was extremely dangerous and to leave her be!"
A deep, gravelly voice responded. "Well, she won't find out then, will she? Unless you tell her, of course. Besides, just how tough can the bitch be? She doesn't even have anyone guarding her! She's aaaaall alone in this part of the dungeon. She'd probably welcome our ... company."
With that, two burly guards entered the cell. "See, Claudius? The cell isn't even locked!" The larger of the two turned to his shorter companion and snickered. "Come on. Help me get 'er down. We can't have fun if she's trussed up like a Solstice pheasant, now can we?"
The prisoner eyed the two guards and realized that they would be her only way out. She decided to play along. "Come on boys, get me down and I'll show you just how ... grateful ... I can be."
Mek smiled, showing a mouth full of rotted teeth. "Ohhhhhh yeah! Gimme a hand, Claudius!" As he approached the prisoner, he removed his belt and helm. The man reached up and released the lock that held the chain around her neck.
"Gods, that feels good!", she exclaimed. She slowly turned her head left to right, trying to get the kinks out. "Don't forget my hands, boys. You'll really love what I can do with my hands.", she said with a half smile.
As Mek began to unshackle the prisoner's wrists, Claudius removed his sweat- stained tunic. "Might as well join in the fun.", he thought as he tossed his dirty clothing into a nearby corner. "No telling when the next time I'll get this for free!". As soon as Claudius finished his thought, he heard Mek scream. He whirled around to see his friend on the floor in front of the enraged woman. She dealt Mek a viscous kick to the head, rendering him unconscious, and turned to face the trembling Claudius. He backed away, hands outstretched.
"Please.. I didn't mean nothin'. I...I wouldn't 've hurt ya. Honest!"
The prisoner's eyes narrowed as she advanced. "Pig. You were going to rape me, and you don't think that would have been hurting me?" She asked in an icy, calm voice. "Tell you what. I'll let you live if you cooperate with me." She raised her hand; two fingers extended close to the right side of his neck. She grabbed a fistful of greasy hair in her other hand and bent his head toward his left shoulder.
"Anything!", he gasped "Just please don't kill me!"
"Where is she?"
"Where is who?", the trembling man asked.
She drew her hand back as if to strike, when Claudius cried out. "I...I don't know where she is! Probably...probably up in her chambers with that witch woman!"
She frowned as she absorbed this new information. "Witch woman? What in Tartarus are you talking about? "
"I don't know her name! I only know that she used to be an Amazon, but they exiled her because of her dark ways! They say she feeds on the blood of babes and that she is the true power behind...". His words were choked off as the prisoner jabbed her fingers into the nerve bundles on either side of his neck. She released her hold on his hair and let him drop to the floor like a stone.
"I've cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You've got about 30 seconds, so use it wisely. Now...where can I find them?"
Claudius lay immobile on the floor and choked out his answer. "Up the spiral staircase to the right of the main hall."
The prisoner repeated the jabs to Claudius' neck, releasing him. She dragged the gasping man over to his unconscious friend and tied them together with the chains that were used to bind her. She removed Mek's sword from its scabbard and struck Claudius with the flat of the blade. Once she was certain that both men were unconscious, she exited the cell.
She slowly moved down the dank hallway and to the stairs leading up into the main courtyard. She deeply regretted having been relieved of her boots, as she squished through the filthy muck that coated the floor. As she reached the door, she peered through the small, barred window. She saw only two guards and neither of them appeared to be particularly vigilant in their sentry duty. They were both slumped against the left wall of the courtyard, sleeping. She looked up and saw that there were no guards patrolling the walls of the Keep. She slowly and carefully opened the door. "I can't believe there are no locks!" she thought. "But then, again, there aren't any prisoners either. I suspect it's because she slaughters those who oppose her, rather than keep them here. Hmm.. probably her way of saving a few dinars." She took one last look at the dungeon that had been her home for the past two days and bid good riddance.
She eased her way out the door and hugged the wall as she reassessed her surroundings. The entrance to the Keep was directly in front of her and the gate leading out to the wilderness was on the right. The stable entrance was along the same wall the guards were leaning on. She could either inch her way around the courtyard, taking to the shadows; or make a mad dash straight across. "Mad dash it is!" she thought. "Mother always did say I never had much patience."
Despite her weakened and battered condition, she moved surprisingly well. "Not bad for being hung by my neck for 2 days." she thought with a smile. A few steps before reaching her destination, she jumped and twisted in the air, landing just to the side of the thick, wooden doors. She leaned against the wall and checked the guards. They hadn't budged an inch. "This is just too easy. Something is definitely going on here." Her uneasiness led her to check out her other options. "Hmmm... ok, the front door would probably be waaay too obvious. Let's see about some other way in."
She turned to her left and bolted toward the exit. She launched herself up and over the top of the gate, landing neatly on the other side. Whipping her head side to side, she instantly ascertained that there was no one in the immediate vicinity. "What in Tartarus is going on here?". She was truly worried about what was taking place inside the Keep. What was so important that even the Bitch would send away her troops? She obviously felt that she was well guarded, even without her army. "I wonder if it's that so-called 'Witch Woman' who's been guarding her back these days?" Regardless of the reason, she needed to find her and rid the world of her. If the Witch Woman were a part of this, she would kill her too. Then, perhaps, her people could live in some semblance of peace.
It took several minutes, but she was finally able to find a way inside the Keep. As she carefully maneuvered through the kitchen, she realized she hadn't eaten in quite a while. She grabbed a chunk of bread and stuffed it into her mouth. "I hate to eat and run, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do!", she thought with a slight smile. The torchlight in the narrow hallway cast long shadows on the stone floor as she quietly made her way to the center of the Keep. The main hall took her by surprise and she nearly walked right out into the open. The physical and mental exhaustion was taking its toll on her. "Come on!" she chided herself. "Focus!"
She shook her head and peered around the doorjamb and observed the main hall. The spiral staircase was directly in front of her, and she was again forced to make a decision. "Inch or dash, inch or dash...hmm..." She made her choice and raced across the hall, jumping up the first few steps. The stairway was narrow and unlit. She had to focus all of her senses on what, or who, could be waiting just around the corner. She waited for at least five minutes. Nothing. She took a deep breath, readied her sword, and started up the stairs.
Once she reached the top, she again stopped to focus her senses. She could hear muted voices coming from the room at the end of the hall. She couldn't assume that it was the Bitch. She could assume, however, that it was someone who certainly needed killing. "After I question them first, of course.", she smiled to herself.
She held her sword in front of her, ready to strike at the slightest provocation. She squinted her eyes, trying to see better in the darkness, when the acrid smell of burning herbs assaulted her nostrils. "Poor nose.", she thought. "First you get smashed, and now you have to put up with this stench." She smiled to herself.
She crept down the hallway until she was just outside the door of what she assumed were her chambers. "Now, why is it that all mystics feel the need to burn herbs? I just don't get it. I've gotta ask Damara about that sometime."
"What is it?" A familiar voice sounded from the other side. "It's her!". Her heart felt as though it would beat right out of her chest.
A second, harsher voice responded. "The best way to explain is to say that there is a rift between similar worlds. For some reason the natural barrier between theirs and ours has been weakened. I have exploited that weakness to create a window. From the window, I create the door. The door will allow you, or I, or anyone to cross over and back again. I thought that perhaps you would find it an...interesting...challenge. "
"That must be the Witch Woman the guard was talking about.", she leaned closer to the door to better hear the conversation taking place on the other side.
"Brilliant! No wonder you advised me to send my army south. It wouldn't do for anyone, including General Aeneas to know about this. However did you find it?"
"I have my ways, my Queen. Let me show you what else I've found. I'm certain you'll be pleased."
After several minutes, a deep, throaty laugh echoed through the hallway. "Ohhhh yes. I am very well pleased. You were right, Alti. This alliance between us has been most...gratifying." Another pause. "There! Create the door just outside that village! I must cross over to see how easily I can fit into their simple little lives. After that, I will determine how best to conquer this new world...this...otherworld."
"Perhaps you should wait, my Queen. Why not observe for a few days, and then go through with your army? You could easily conquer them with no danger to yourself. You're not even prepared! You've got no provisions, no clothing, no..." the voice was cut off in mid-sentence.
The woman outside the chambers heard a gurgling sound. She assumed one of the two women was being choked. She didn't need to guess which it was.
"Because it wouldn't be nearly as much fun, that's why! " A cry of pain and a crash sounded through the door. "And if you value your rotten carcass, you had better remember who's in charge of this little twosome."
"Very well." The Witch Woman gasped. "I'll open the door for you if you wish. How long?"
"Oh, I think seven days should be sufficient. Mark my words, old woman. If you have any intention of leaving me in that otherworld, just remember that Ares still owes me a favor or two. I will find a way back. You will reopen the doorway in seven days."
Rift? Otherworld? What in Tartarus is she talking about? Regardless, it sounds as though she plans to slaughter more innocent people and I can't allow that! The prisoner crashed through the door, sword at the ready.
The two women inside whirled around, startled by the sudden intrusion. "Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in. Fortunately for you, I've got business to attend to." The tall woman was standing in the center of the room, next to what appeared to be a tear in the very fabric of reality. The tear was rippling and writhing, showing a barely discernable picture of a clearing just outside a small village. One eyebrow rose as she gave the prisoner a half smile. "Too bad I can't kill you the way I'd like, but I simply don't have the time." She sighed. "Oh well...I can't win 'em all." With that, she pulled a dagger from her belt and threw it at the battered, barefoot woman standing in the doorway. She then turned, and jumped through the rift.
She was staring so hard at the rift that she barely had time to avoid the dagger thrown directly at her throat. She managed to avoid the killing blow, but the dagger grazed the side of her neck, drawing blood. She jumped up and forward with a somersault and a twist, landing directly behind Alti. She grabbed the woman by the hair and held the sword to her neck. "Well, I guess I'll just have to follow her, now won't I?" she pressed the cold steel hard against the witch woman's pale skin.
"Open the door.", she whispered. "Open the door, or I'll slit your throat where you stand."
Alti trembled; knowing the woman behind her would follow through on the threat. She was trapped. If she didn't open the rift, she would die. If she did open the rift, there was a good chance she would die anyway, once the Queen discovered the prisoner had followed. She decided to take that risk. Slowly, the rift grew in size until it was large enough for someone to cross over.
The prisoner watched the forming doorway with fascination. The village where the Bitch crossed over slowly appeared. "By the gods! Who would have thought such a thing was possible?" She shook her head and pushed Alit roughly to the floor.
She launched herself headfirst into the rift, but didn't see the scene shift until it was too late. She entered the rift and was consumed by the icy blackness of...nothing.
CONTINUED IN PART TWO
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