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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.
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By J. A. Bard
ROAD SHOW II
Reds bedroll was near Ericas, so when the woman was awakened Erica had only to lean over and tap Red to get her up. Erica was careful not to startle her, for her staff was within easy reach and she knew her Queen was very good at using it, whether she remembered herself as the Amazon Queen or not.
Brona was quietly waiting for them in the common room. Her partner was noticeably absent. Aleka and Alala materialized out of the shadows as Erica and Red moved toward Brona who was chewing on some bread.
"Weve found Agnes and Lily. Lily is sleeping and Agnes, hopefully, is resting." Aleka informed the women.
"Great! Athenas shield, but that really is great to hear!" Erica and Brona looked happy with the news as they patted each other on the back.
"Iaia?" Aleka called softly to the Bard who looked like she was partially awake.
"Ya?" She greeted brightly. She tried to appear wide-awake and rested but her body was protesting this early wake-up call and the good news about Agnes and Lily didnt give her any more energy.
"Have you mentioned to anyone that youve been having nightmares?"
She could feel her face flush. She had meant to mention it to Eleanor, but didn't want to add to everyone's worry so she had not mentioned it to her yet. Besides, the nightmares didnt disturb her this night. She shook her head. She didnt want to remember this evenings dream either. And how did Aleka know about the nightmares? Did Erica tell her?
"Ahh. No." She replied hesitantly.
"I wish you had." Aleka said quietly.
Erica looked from one to the other. "I sleep next to her and I havent heard her have any nightmares." Actually, Aleka had warned her that Red usually talked in her sleep. As an Amazon warrior, Erica prided herself with being a light sleeper. Her fears that her other personality may be influencing her Amazon warrior abilities resurfaced.
"No. You would not hear anyone cry out from these types of dreams. The dark one works its evil where one cant cry out for help. It's what is happening to everyone in the village except here in the inn." Aleka explained to the three Amazons.
Aleka took a deep breath before going onto the next part, feeling the tension that Red was radiating. When she finished Alala filled in what she knew about the dark cloaks.
Aleka looked closely at Gabrielle seeing a stranger staring back at her and knowing she was not the Gabrielle she knew. Carefully she explained to her what part she was taking in the dark ones bid for resurgence into the upper world watching the colors around her head that indicated how she was emotionally feeling about it.
"I...I dont think I can do this." She whispered frightened. It was one thing to go into danger in the physical sense with a strong warrior type at your elbow, but to have ones dreams taken over. Thinking of the nightmares she had since meeting up with the dark cloaks with the exception of this night, made her frightened. The thought of facing the one-eyed man was scary. And then theres Morpheus. For some reason she felt --apprehensive. To go knowingly into another part of his realm --but, Aleka said it wasn't in his realm. She took a deep breath as she tried to stop the shiver that her cold insides was experiencing. Yet, there was a part of her that wanted to take back her dream-time. She smiled inwardly at this part that was like a warrior determined and loyal to to what? A sudden realization that she may have put the others in danger by not mentioning her dreams had her looking at her hands that were entwined around her staff. She tightened her hold so the knuckles turned white.
Aleka touched her arm. "If it were possible to prevent putting you in any danger, I..."
"I endangered everyone." Red whispered in a stricken voice. Aleka realized it wasnt Gabrielle that was speaking.
"NO!" Aleka told her forcibly. "We are all in this together. We pull together." Aleka squeezed her arm and continued in a lower voice. "Guilt and feeling as if you are alone is how the dark one robs you of the will to fight. If you take this feeling with you in the dream-time you will become its tool!" Aleka gently pulled Reds body so that it was standing facing her only inches away. "It will try to make you feel that everything is your fault." Leaning closer she nearly whispered in Reds ear as if imparting a secret. "You can create your own reality in dream-time. You know how to do it."
Red held her breath as she let the feel of Alekas breath on her ear sink down into her. It started a pleasant humming in her body. If felt somehow familiar.
Worried Erica touched Gabrielles arm. "Red, if you cant do it well find another way. You have seen more darkness than most of us. There is nothing to feel ashamed about."
Reds eyes opened abruptly as the energy from Aleka changed with Ericas touch. Aleka stepped back releasing her. Red looked at Erica and patted her hand that was resting on her arm. She wondered if she would feel that way if she saw the eye that kept looking for her, the eye she had a morbid fear of it.
"No. Ill go. So, what happens?" She asked quietly getting a better grip on her fear and the pounding of her heart. She didnt want to think of what was causing her heart to beat so rapidly. Whether it was from Alekas touch or the facing of the one eyed priest that she knew she would have to face eventually.
"In two or three candlemarks past the moon's zenith you will fall into a dream like state. They will try to pursue you in your dreamscape. We will take your body and find a safe place where we can began to weave our own patterns and attack them there where they think it is safe." Aleka explained.
"They dont know it, but they just showed us how to defeat them. In their dreams!" Aleka told her hoping it would give her courage. "The priestesses have been moving over to the temple since Agnes told us what they were planning. We didnt want to bring any attention to the men who are keeping watch over the inn so weve had to do it between their bladder breaks." She joked trying to bring a smile to the frightened face turned up toward hers. The emerald green eyes sparkled from the torchlight and Aleka held her gaze for a moment longer.
"The Amazons will keep watch to make sure that they dont suspect some of us are missing." She added to break the spell. Her voice was a bit hoarse.
"Theyll know just by the body count." Red told her softly finding it difficult to not get lost in the dark centers that were surrounded by strangely familiar blue rings. Sighing she refocused firmly on what she needed to do. The eyes she was caught up in seemed to give her courage. So, she was the sacrifice the dark cloaks were talking about. She was a far cry from a virgin. She shuddered at the memory of another sacrifice she had been part of, closing her eyes and breaking the spell from the blues she had lost herself in. Who was she in this life that something that frightening had happened to? She could see an image in her minds eye of her leaning over the railing of a ship tossing the contents of her stomach into the pitching seas with the arms of the dark haired warrior supporting her. Britiannia.
Aleka rested a hand on her shoulder willing strength and love through the touch, watching concerned as the colors around Reds head changed.
"They wont get a body count. Were going to have them chasing themselves most of the time." Aleka remarked lightly, trying to bring a smile to Reds face. "Erica, you know the plan we had at that small town outside of Itchatia, thats the same plan." She told the worried Amazon.
Erica nodded. "Why didnt anyone wake me." She mumbled.
"You needed to sleep." Aleka told her smiling. "This is going to be a long shift."
"So, what now?" Red nervously asked.
"Go out on patrol with Erica. When we see you start to fall well grab you and take you to the temple to hide you until you wake."
"What will happen to me?"
"When you dream now, what do you see?" Aleka had taken the smaller trembling hands in her larger warm ones covering them with her strength.
Red took a deep breath feeling comfort from Alekas gesture. The cold feeling that gripped her insides began to warm and her hands stopped shaking. She recounted the dreams and the environment she felt surrounded by while in her dream.
"You said there was fire on the other side of the cave you were hiding in?"
"Ya." Gabrielle couldn't stop the shake that went through her. "Theres all sorts of cries and screams coming from there. I think thats where the one-eyed man lives."
She paused to let the trepidation pass. "Its a volcano but theres no road to get to it." She frowned for a moment. There was a road but it was far away from her.
"Hmm." Alekas thoughts were on the description of the one-eyed man. The priest Xena had killed and left for Ares had only one eye. She had left him and the idol that was wrapped in the priests robe under the tree, just as she had been instructed. Ares said he would take care of the rest. Her distrust of Ares to do something right flared up. He not only forgot to remove the idol but the one-eyed priest whom was now Gabrielle's tormentor. Ares doesn't like Gabrielle, she pointed out to herself. Aleka could feel parts of herself loosening and her sight blurred as Xena's wrath at Ares struggled to free itself from Aleka's consciousness. Stop!
A hand on her arm belonging to Eleanor brought her back. "Center yourself, Named." She told the tall woman calmly.
After a few moments when her sight cleared she smiled at Eleanor gratefully. "I thought you were going over to the temple."
"I came back to tell you we are ready." She turned to Gabrielle and touched her cheek. "We will be with you, just call us."
"Let me escort you back." Alala offered Eleanor. "I'll join you on the trail." She told Aleka.
Aleka nodded. She tried to keep her mind on the overall mission rather than of whom they were using for bait.
Red moved a step forward at a time listening and feeling the nightlife around her. The need to relieve her bladder increased. Silently she carried on a chastising conversation with the determined organ. Looking around she headed for the dark outline of a bush. Nervously she giggled to herself that even in the darkest part of the night she still wanted the modesty of a bush to cover her personal attentions. Finished she covered the area with debris with her foot and looked around. In the darkness only the bare outlines of the trees against the canopy of stars were clear. Looking back closer to the ground Red let her eyes readjust to the different shades of black around her.
The air was different. She lifted her chin up and felt the breeze lift her bright red hair off her shoulders. There werent any animals about. She closed her eyes for a moment and was about to whisper a prayer to Artemis but instead remembered she had a covenant with Gaia. Why Artemis as a first choice? She felt the pin prick of the dart and instinctively bit down on the leaf Eleanor had given her. They may have her dreams but they werent going to knock her out like they had done when the dark cloaks first took her!
Aleka and Alala watched as Gabrielle sank to her knees then fall to the leaf covered ground. Dark figures quickly surrounded her. A torch was lit and it revealed a slim figure with short white hair. She gestured and the dark cloaks formed a circle around Gabrielle lying down with their feet out and their heads in the circle.
How convenient for them that she collapsed in an area they could set up their ritual, snickered Aleka.
The white haired leader stepped into the circle and jammed the torch shaft into the ground next to Gabrielles unconscious body. Without checking to see what condition Gabrielle was in, white hair pulled out a small sparkling form and put it above Gabrielles head. She took a position at Gabrielles feet and sat down with her legs crossed at her ankles. Shutting her eyes she began a chant.
Aleka moved to Alalas side. "I can see the energy shes weaving. Shes going to close the circle. You grab the body and Ill cover you."
Alala nodded. "Yes. I see it to."
The two were dressed in dark clothing to lessen the chances of being spotted. Alala made a gesture before jumping into the circle and had picked up the unconscious Bard and was out of the circle and into the surrounding trees before a yell was made. The spell in the circle was completed and those within would stay until dawn. That was what Acheta had assured them and a part of Aleka knew this was so.
The dark cloaks that were to protect their comrades came running toward the circle then scattered looking for the body that seemed to have disappeared. Aleka smirked as she led them to the first trap the Amazons had set for them. Erica was waiting with the anticipation of settling a score and the other Amazons hoped they would get their chance.
Aleka tried to keep her mind on overseeing the Amazons in their defense of the village and preventing some of the villagers that showed up to set the inn on fire too busy to complete their task, without hurting them. It wasnt until she could see Selene on her way out that she left Lilys side to check up on what was going on in the Temple. Eos was preparing for the dawn.
The gray she wolf had been restless and paced impatiently next to Aleka as she waited in the shadows watching the villagers and dark cloaks try unsuccessfully to torch the inn. When Aleka started off at a run to the temple the gray shadow was running beside her occasionally lifting her nose to the air. As she neared the temple her gut was doing its familiar twisting when Gabrielle was in danger. A part of her was relieved that there was still an intimate connection with Gabrielle and another was worried at what the feeling hinted at. Dont you get tired of always being on the edge? Xena didnt respond. It was the same question that she would ask herself, sometimes too many times in one day. But she always came up with the same answer... No. Well, sometimes. But I like the challenge and its not as bad as it use to be. And...You have Gabrielle to fill in the void. She is more than that. Yes. I feel that. Its frightening to have someone mean that much and to live from day to day with your lives always in danger. It would be that way even if we lived in a village. There are bandits, raiders and a crazy neighbor to worry about. Yes, but it is so frightening to be so open to ...hurt I was thinking of the loss. Xena thought about the death of Iaia that Aleka had watched from another place. She realized that after her death she had wandered after Iaia out of remorse and out of fear for her safety. Aleka had seen Iaias future when she sat close to her on the log.
Xena almost halted in her tracks. Aleka had seen Iaias future! Why didnt she see the groups? She knew she couldnt see the groups for Iaias future was so vivid before her that she would have remembered seeing the groups! Aleka remained silent to Xenas curiosity.
Even as Iaia felt the drug from the dart rush through her veins she also felt the counter effect as the burning pain became a dull throb throughout her body. It was so quick. Before her was the familiar cave she had come to know during her captivity by Malucu.
The heat from the volcano on her back reminded her what she had to face. She turned to face the fire that was burning on the mountain. The cries and sometimes screams sent shivers of fear down her back. Looking down at her hands she found herself looking at long thin fingers covered in rings. Iaias hands. Looking back up at the smoking and firey mountain peak she remembered her promise to Gaia.
There were souls that belonged to Gaia imprisoned in a fortress beneath the volcano. It had once been hers and a usurper had seized it. This power that had encircled her flames beneath the mountain had tried through the ages to take possession of the flame with human sacrifices but had not succeeded. Now it was back and again trying to possess this eternal flame using the light of one of Gaias own followers, her. Iaia could feel the furry build up in her at the thought that she was being used against Gaia whom she had sworn fealty to, to atone for her naivete in the deaths of innocent lives that were dedicated to her. She felt a hand on her shoulder and she started. Turning she looked into the yellow eyes of a stranger.
"You must not let your anger be used against you. Remember the end does not justify the means!"
The figure was gone and Iaia was alone again. She was use to being alone.
Standing closer to the edge of the cliff she could see a path that was at the bottom of the cliff that wound its way toward the volcano. She could see no way to get down to the bottom without doing damage to herself. Too bad she couldnt fly. That thought almost had her giggling. Hmm. Now what would the raven-haired blue eyed warrior do? She thought amusedly.
The force from the impact knocked her off her feet and sent her tumbling down the steep embankment that she had been standing on. She had thought it to be a cliff! She didnt know for how long she fell and rolled but between the bruising from the outcroppings and the tumbling end over end, she was a dizzy and battered mess that came to a rumpled heap at the bottom of the dry riverbed. She lay still trying to let her scattered wits and breath get back to some semblance of normal. As her breathing calmed she took an internal inventory. Surprisingly no broken ribs, just tender.
Moving her awareness to outside of her she looked carefully around realizing there was deadness all about her. Rising she heard no sound. Experimentally she picked up a stone and tossed it against the side of the wall. She watched as a small dirt slide started down the side but there was no sound from the movement. Iaia put her hands to her ears and thumbed them. Nothing. It was very strange to have been experiencing the waking world with senses that were acute to her surroundings and now she heard and felt nothing outside of herself.
Well, that push was an obvious hint to get a move on.
The sides of the dried riverbed rose too high around her for her to be able to climb out. In fact there was no where to get a foot or hand hold to climb out. Looking up and down the riverbed under a pale light she could see no evidence of whom or what had knocked her into her present situation. Resigned she headed toward the volcano.
Debris from a long ago flood started to make her passage tedious, as she had to climb over old farm equipment or the bones of animals she didnt care to recognize. At one point she came to a set of ribs that were larger than her forming an arch over debris that looked better going over than through. She gingerly placed her feet over what appeared to be large spinal column of some long ago creature that even her warrior friend would hesitate to confront.
Time, she reminded herself. As she increased her speed she made a mental note to look for something to use as a staff. Not long after the thought she looked up to see an owl sitting on the branch of a dead tree that had been caught up in a flood. Below the owl were broken branches of varying lengths scattered about the tree that laid on its side, partially buried under the hard packed dirt. Without connecting thoughts to action she quickly found a branch that would make an ideal staff for her size. As she continued she idly twirled it receiving comfort from the familiar habit. Her rings however were cutting into her fingers. Stopping her twirls she leaned the staff against her shoulder and started to pull off the rings. She put them in a small purse that was in her waistband and resumed her walk.
The heat increased and the darkened sky caused everything to be in shadows. Rounding another winding curve of the river embankment she faced the opening of what was once an underground outlet for the rivers water. Iaia paused as her heart started to beat frantically. In the gray light from the overcast she could see the black opening in the side of the volcano and knew this was where she had enter.
After taking a moment to steady her heart she stepped into the opening and found her own body acted as a soft light in the dark tunnel. She chuckled to herself and thought of the usefulness of this ability. Well, I cant get lost in the dark and that dark haired friend would always know where I was. She frowned. So would everyone else. She wouldnt be able to do anything unseen in the dark. This definitely has its disadvantage.
The soft radiance from her being bounced off the smooth walls revealing scenes taken from peoples lives. Iaia paused to study some of the now faded scenes.
Iaia raised her head suddenly. He knows Im here! For a moment she let the panic creep up her limbs numbing them with her fear.
Iaia closed her eyes knowing whose thought that was. Eleanor was watching over her.
All right, get a grip. I can do this. She encouraged herself.
She felt his pull and this time she didnt fight the attraction. She passed innumerable darkened passageways that fed into the tunnel she was in. It didnt take too long for her to get confused with where she was going. It was a dark labyrinth. She was getting close for the nefarious energy that she associated with the presence of the one eyed man was getting more intense.
Because the soft glow her body provided did not let her see too far ahead of her the end of the tunnel seemed to come upon her suddenly. A great glowing cavern opened before her emitting a heavy blanket of heat. For a moment she stood just inside the entrance and let her body adjust to it.
The lip of the fire pit was only ten strides from the entrance, which she tentatively stepped up to look around her. With mixed feelings of awe and fear she studied the fire from the restless volcano that was bubbling and spiting up globs of the molten liquid in the pit below her. Her memory flashed on another experience she had of dangling over another molten river with her friends firm grip pulling her back up from a sure death. She closed her eyes when another memory quickly over lapped of her falling down into a fire pit. The heat from that flame burned her deeply. Quickly she opened her eyes and stepped back from the edge. Those arent Iaias memories. She thought to herself with conviction. This Gabrielle doesnt lead a quiet life.
Looking around her for some sort of clue as to what she could do she noticed along the walls that circled the vast underground cavern were what appeared to be sculptured statues of people. One side had only children.
The figure of an old man dressed in priestly garb materialized abruptly beside her. She felt no fear. Here at last she could face her one eyed tormentor. Seeing him wasnt as bad as she thought it would be. Iaia stood still while the man circled her puzzled at her lack of fear and his inability to seize her. He used his impressive looking staff with a large sparkling jewel at its top to tap the air that surrounded Iaia like a protective invisible bubble.
As if she knew what she was doing, Iaia raised her own staff and pointed first to each direction of the compass then below her then above. In her mind she sang a song to Gaia. She held her staff out turning in a slow circle mentally hearing the musical chants that she was unfamiliar with. When she had completed the circle she rammed the bottom of the staff into the ground. The ground below her quivered but she felt no danger from the priest whose increased frenzy was not missed by her. Turning to face him she heard a great rumbling as the figures that dressed the walls around them started to crumble with a roaring effect. The protection that was around her disappeared leaving her off balance as she felt the energy around her change as a cloud of dust from the collapsing wall figures descended upon them.
The fury of the priest knocked her to one knee and as the dust cleared enough for her to see, Iaia instinctively pulled her staff into a defensive position. The priest raised his staff in triumph to bring it across her unprotected skull but Gabrielles skills at staff work kicked in and she let the blow's force slide off her own staff. The priest pulled back surprised but did not stop his attack. Iaia was back on her feet. Both warily stalked each other in a tight small circle with the priest trying to find a weak spot in her defense. She needed to get out of the cavern for the trembling ground below her warned her that it was not a safe place to be.
Iaia did a sweep with her staff and then gave an extra whack that Gabrielle would not have done, sending the falling body on an extra roll. She whipped the staff back and knocked the old mans staff out of his hands, hooking it around hers then tossing it into the molten fire below. Her feet were knocked from under her and she felt her own staff loosen from her hands as her attention became focused on preventing herself from falling too close to the edge. A tight grip on her ankle prevented her from going anywhere until she kicked the hand loose.
Iaia rolled free and nearly stopped in her struggle to escape as she beheld the skeleton of a man in a tattered robe whose bony fingers reached out to grab her. His robe hung like a giant sack. The old man had become a childs nightmare of death.
Iaia grabbed a handful of the robe and pulled, intending to pull him and her into a roll so she could toss him over her shoulder, however the skeleton had strength and she could not budge him coming away with torn fabric in her hands. Iaia was pulled toward the skeleton so that her eyes were level with the eyes of the skull. They were reflections of the fire from the molten liquid below them.
Don't look in the eyes! A voice in her ear quickly warned her. Iaia felt herself being picked up and lifted over the head of the skeleton, taking away the attraction of the eyes. Iaia kicked the bony head with her heel and was rewarded with seeing the skull bump and roll over the rim and into the pit below them. With one hand she reached for a wrist that was holding her off the ground as the two made unsteady progress toward the edge. She had a feeling the skeleton was going to jump in with both of them. She wrenched the wrist, which broke and her body slumped and slid to that side when the support was gone. Rolling free and pulling on the wrist that still held her tight she twisted and pushed the bag of bones aside. On her feet quickly she ran back toward where she had thought she had entered the cavern but lost her sense of direction all too quickly once in the labyrinth.
Frantic as the ground was trembling more she paused a moment mumbling a silent prayer to Gaia. Sound came from her mouth! That meant most of the spell was gone! Loudly she started a chant, the one she had heard Aleka say when opening the portals. A small glimmer in the darkness a head of her gave her guidance in which direction to take, or so her faith assured her.
Sounds started to become more noticeable as what was a soft rushing noise increased to a loud pounding, which vibrated in the walls and the ground. The ground rocked beneath her feet sending her to her knees. Both her knees and palms felt scraped as she skidded into the side of a moving wall. Iaia used the side of the unstable wall to regain her feet. She was only able to see a few steps ahead of her and was suddenly looking at a pile of freshly toppled rocks and dirt creating an impassable wall. The dust from the movement in the tunnel was beginning to become too thick for her to breathe without putting her long sleeved cloak over her nose and mouth.
Turning around she looked for another way out but there was no silvery light showing another way. Iaia again tried to vocalize the chant she had been using but the dust was too thick to take a breath. Another strong shake sent more rocks falling into the tunnel before her and Iaia found herself backing up quickly to avoid the falling debris.
Another sharp shake and she was tossed against the side of the wall. As she slid down the wall she wondered how she could be knocked unconscious when this was a dream. Aleka had told her she could control the dream since it was hers. Well, then, she wished her friend who could do just about everything would come and help her.
Aleka found the entrance to the back of the temple guarded by Grace who gave her the directions to the room the others were in. On Alekas way to the temple the knot in her stomach was twisting painfully. As she ran down the tunnel toward the seers room, she was feeling her connection with Gabrielle strengthen as if her life was in danger, or was it because Xenas personality was asserting itself because of her worry?
The room where the priestesses where sitting in was emanating a power so strong it was tangible. She pushed open the door and rushed in looking around frantically for any signs of trouble. Agnes, who was still a little weak from her own ordeal, was sitting outside of the circle. She rose stiffly and made her way to Aleka.
"We cant get her back." She told Aleka softly, least she disturb the concentration of the others.
"We dont know. She defeated the one-eyed priest. We witnessed that. But something is preventing her from returning. We had her until suddenly it was like a key turned and we no longer could feel her."
"Cant one of you go after her?"
"No. We have no ties that we can trace her with."
Aleka looked at Agnes. "What do I have to do?"
She placed her hand on Alekas arm. "Its very dangerous for you to go."
Agnes nodded. "Named, step into the circle. I will open a door for you. Think of her and a sound that you feel best describes her."
Aleka nodded. The reminder to stay focused as the Named was appreciated. She was familiar with opening circles of power, both as Aleka and Xena. She took a slow deep breath and thought about Iaia and Gabrielle and the person that she had been seeing for the last few days. A wonderful warm sound came to her and Aleka hoped it was not from wistful thinking from both her personalities but rather what Red vibrated to. Aleka hummed it low to see if it felt right. As soon as the energy that surrounded the women abated for a brief moment she stepped into the circle and keeping her eyes opened felt as if she were walking inside the funnel of a whirlwind. She lay next to Gabrielles inert body in the center of the circle placing her hand over the smaller one feeling the love fill her heart as she continued humming the sound for her friend.
The silver wolf, Alekas dream body, had only taken two steps through the tunnel when she felt the sudden shift of the earth beneath her paws. She nearly tripped over something that was glowing in the dust filled space. With her nose she prodded the unconscious form. The entire tunnel moved as if it were to collapse soon. The dust was so thick Aleka didnt dare take any deep breaths. She grabbed a part of the dusty fabric on the unconscious form ignoring the dirt in her mouth. Mentally she pictured Agnes and thought of a sound that would represent her. The growl in her furry throat startled her as she closed her yellow eyes to protect them from the dirt that was thick in the air. Again the tunnel appeared and the gray wolf dragged Iaias still form back through. They both fell to the ground on the other side.
Aleka woke to find a cool cloth over her forehead. She sat up quickly looking around her. Red was sitting up resting with a cold cloth across her eyes. Occasionally she would cough as if her lungs were still filled with dust.
"Shes weak but shes doing okay." Agnes told her as she took the cloth from Alekas fingers. "We need to get back. Lily sent a message that the townsfolk have all waken up as the sun came up."
"Good. Hows everyone else?" Aleka asked softly, letting her eyes rest on the tired priestess.
"Erica had said the dark cloaks that were in the circle had roused themselves as if they had bad hang-overs. Two of the Amazons followed them as far as the main road. The white haired woman was leading them back toward the fire pit letting her displeasure be heard.
"Is there any danger?" Aleka asked hoarsely. She coughed to clear her throat.
"We dont know yet. Well probably know tonight. For now, most of us need to get some sleep."
Aleka nodded. Eleanor gave her a hand as she rose. The rest of the women on queue also rose and started to move out the door. Eleanor returned to Gabrielle and helped her to her feet. She looked pale but her eyes were bright and they flashed Aleka a look that made her feel better. She followed Agnes back out of the temple.
Alala was sitting inside the back passage way keeping a careful eye out around the entrance.
"See anyone?" Alaka asked.
"Yea. A group of dark cloaks looking pretty sickly." She smiled.
"They passed by?"
"The pit can be reached by a shorter route by cutting across the silver groves over there." Grace pointed out. "Corita had warned us to be careful for that reason."
"Weve been lucky so far." Alala told them.
"We should be. I think Acheta has been protecting us with some minor spells. Well have to thank her." Eleanor told her as she moved to the door to also peer out.
"How are you doing, Iaia?" Eleanor asked placing a hand on the young woman she was assisting.
"I can use a bath and lots of undisturbed sleep. That is, sleep without dreams." Iaia mumbled tiredly.
"How many baths do you think they can get going at one time?" A wistful Eleanor asked.
"They have a large communal tub in the building behind the inn." Alala volunteered. The others brightened at the prospect of not having to wait.
Acheta must have known that the tub was going to be in great demand for she had it warmed and lots of buckets available for the women to do a quick wash before jumping into the larger tub with the Amazons that were already lounging around. As more bodies proceeded to climb in the women who were in the longest reluctantly gave their places up, but willingly helped scoop out the warmer water to make room for the hot buckets of water that were delivered.
Aleka was too tired to wait and did a quick body wash from a bucket feeling as if her skin was coated with dust, then fell onto a pallet that Lily had pushed her toward. This time she dreamed more peaceful dreams, though she didnt remember them when she woke four candle marks later.
Iaia felt as if she was coated with the dust she had been breathing in her dream body and wanted to soak for a long time. Eleanor had to finally drag her out of the tub as the water was cooling and she was falling asleep.
Erica was already sound asleep on her pallet and the women who were not on duty were all in various stages of sleep.
After four candlemarks Aleka rose and relieved two of the Amazons. Alala and Lily had also awakened and they also took over posts for the exhausted guards that were struggling with their double duties.
Aleka visited the barn and checked on the horses stopping to spend some time brushing Argo. She enjoyed the mares happy noises at her as she tickled her nose or scratched behind her ear. She had picked up an apple at the inn and though it was a bit dried looking she knew Argo would like that better than not having one. She finally took her leave and headed out toward the path behind the Temple to watch for unwanted visitors.
For the next two candle marks she moved around in the trees looking for any sign of movement around her area. The only visitor was Lily who moved from limb to limb, tree to tree at a good pace and with practiced ease. Aleka smiled for the Amazon Ambassador was picking up the skills she left behind when she became an Ambassador. A smirk on Alekas lips appeared. I hope she doesnt use them on Lesbos. I know a lot of women that would be very upset that their private meetings in the woods were being watched.
Lily stopped on a limb that was near Alekas, smiling in the dim light as the winter sun was dipping behind the surrounding mountains.
"Coming in for something to eat?"
Aleka nodded and took one last look around. She could already hear the sound of feet running across branches as another Amazon was taking her place.
"Well bring everyone in tonight. I would rather we stay closer around the village." Aleka told Lily. Lily nodded and made a quick sign to Brona who was relieving Aleka.
Aleka nodded at Kynthia, Bronas partner who was not as comfortable in trees as her Amazon partner and was gripping the trunk as she looked around.
Completing another cautious look about them, Aleka dropped softly to the ground with Lily close behind her. In winter, daylight didnt last long so the energy level of the women would be high this evening. That was good because they would busy, she suspected.
"You think we should expect trouble?"
"Yea." She was quiet for a moment as the warrior side of her appraised their situation. "We have a few options. We can wait out tonight or make a visit of our own." She glanced at the Amazon next to her. "Im sure somebody is upset by last nights turn about."
Lily nodded letting a big grin cover her face at the idea of doing something besides sitting around. The longer she was out on the road the more she relished the change of life. The idea of going back to her previous privileged life with a lot of responsibilities that covered mind games and few physical, made her tired just thinking of it.
The pair walked into an inn that was full of excited women and children. The noise was deafening. Erica who was keeping an eye out for the two women, motioned to them when she spotted them.
"Whats going on?" Aleka hollered above the din while looking around to gauge the atmosphere. The women were excited about something. The children were merely picking up on their mothers excitement.
Aleka spotted Iaia in the middle of the loud group listening and asking questions. Her eyes didn't lift to meet hers, which in the past, as Gabrielle, they had always had that connection.
Must be losing my touch, she thought ruefully and not without some trepidation.
"It seems they woke up this morning feeling like theyve been in a bad dream for a long time and now they are free. Acheta said she had weaved a spell around all the women and children to protect them from the dark one when she learned about the agreement the Reeve had made with the dark cloaks. At the time, she didnt know about dream time being a trap but her spell protected them from being taken completely as the men folk. But it didnt protect them from going into a deep sleep." Loris explained as they settled at a back table.
"Thats why they wanted your friend." Corita gestured at Iaia who was slowly making her way out of the crowd. "She was going to be the light to guide these women and children toward the dark ones side."
"But why her?" Lily asked exasperated.
Aleka remembered the soft glow of light she had nearly tripped over in Iaias dreamscape. It was Iaias form she had pulled back into their circle not Gabrielles. Aleka was conscious of the increase of her heartbeat as she watched Iaia stop to listen to a small child. Xena was aware that Aleka was fighting with her feelings for Iaia. She didnt have a husband to worry about now and coupled with Xenas closeness to the Bard in this life, it was going to be difficult for both of them to stay focused on their responsibility to the group.
Corita looked at her hands for a moment as she gathered her thoughts. "I have been a priestess for a long time and have been to many lands."
Her voice brought Alekas attention back to a greater problem.
"What I have learned is that there are people whose kindness of heart is so evident that they would be beacons of light even in the dark landscapes in the dream realms. What land these people are from or what goddess or god they follow doesn't make any difference." She looked up at Lily then deeply into Alekas eyes.
"There are different regions in the dream time." She began to explain in detail, "Eros guides seers in this dark underground of dreams and will guide those that know how to call for his help into a place where visions and dreams can give meaning to a problem the petitioner is facing in the waking life. As a priestess I have taken the role of the guide in many instances and have heard of a realm that few return from. It is believed that Thanatos has taken many dreamers into a realm this Dark One has taken residence and ownership of. Normally it is Hypnos that oversees the dreamer in Morphuse's realm. I am sure it is in an area that the Greek gods are not familiar with for Athena has not heard of any problems concerned with our mortal sleep." She paused to gauge her listeners processing of the knowledge she was imparting.
"There is another region, an older realm of Gaia's where priestesses and shamans would go that were not strong enough to pass various trials of their crafts. It was called the Realm of Desolation. This may be where the Dark One is. Acheta knows about it. There is a city of stone that had at one time been a learning center where the questor would go into a sleep to learn. I think this place is very near the Realm of Desolation, which was how many got lost and did not return. Not even today's gods are permitted to enter the library without invitation and not without a fair amount of courage. The spell that was cast would only allow those that were ready to bear the information they stood to receive on a visit to that dreamscape. I only know of a few who have entered the sacred library and not go mad with what they had waken from, if they had awakened."
"What happens if they dont wake up?" Gabrielle asked in a small voice.
"Their body withers away." Corita turned to her. She smiled at the tired face that was regarding her wondering how much more the small woman was going to have to give of herself.
"Why havent the gods done something about it?" Erica asked.
"Why? The power that protects it is older then they. Athena and Artemis will every now and then meet near the city and lay wreaths of flowers in memory of the one time they were permitted into the city. Neither wants to revisit."
"How do you know this?" The young red head asked in awe.
"All of Athena's priestesses have a special connection with their mentor. Mine has been in the historical fashion. I was at one time hoping to be granted the blessing of being able to visit. But, that is another story."
Lily cleared her throat and didnt dare look at Aleka. This was something to think about. It certainly was a lot more complicated than what she had known only one season ago.
Agnes and Eleanor approached the women with a pot of food. The innkeeper followed with a trencher of mugs and ale.
Aleka watched Iaia covertly as she busied herself with a loaf of bread and passing the pot of stew to the next person. Iaias face was a study in concentration as she mechanically ate and offered no conversation. With her hyped up hearing Aleka wondered how much of the conversation she had heard. She was going to have to ask more about the stone city. Something clicked when Corita talked about it and she wasnt sure why it was important. Iaia also showed more than idle curiosity. But then, Gabrielle had a passion for visiting libraries. But her experience with Gabrielle told her that something was bothering her about the stone city.
As they settled down others started to trickle over to their table. The women and children left as it was getting darker. Aleka tapped Lily on the shoulder and reminded her of pulling the women in. Lily nodded and gave one of the Amazons the sign. She left her plate and hurried out the door.
"Trouble?" Agnes asked as she watched Lily and Aleka.
"Why do you ask?" Aleka raised an eyebrow curious how much the young woman was aware of.
"I can feel something in the air. The others are also feeling something when they were out on patrol and just walking around the village." She answered smiling at their leader and teacher, knowing that the question was asked to test her alertness.
Aleka nodded and finished what was in her mouth. Thoughtfully she placed her hands on the tables edge as if to center herself. "Clorita gave you an idea about the realms in the dreamscape that arent visited by the gods of today for one reason or another. These realms are grouped under the name chthonie. Chthonie came into being when Zeus and Chronos forced their way into power and Gaia was moved out of her sole rulership. Ga-chtonia became the sacred underworld of the shamans for their initiation journeys. Hypnos knows of only the entrance to chthonie but not the way through the labyrinth of passages that lead to the various realms of this underworld. It is the world of the mystics and shamans that go beyond Hades, Zeus and Hypnos experiences. Chthonie is still under Gaias influence and protection. It is in one of these realms that this dark one is residing in and has been doing its business. The idol is its attempt at getting a better opening to the upper world, our waking world. Sort of a key to the door."
"Why cant we just visit the fire pit and be done with them all including the idol?" Erica asked exasperated.
The innkeeper was standing nearby with another pitcher of ale. "That place is not the best place to be visiting. Its too close to the gray city."
"Why, because theyve taken it over?" Erica asked.
"Ahh, no, lass. They would not be in the City. They would have taken residence in the caverns and tunnels near the pit. The city is made up of grand buildings carved in the gray soft stone. No one knows really who had done all that work, but there is a spell on the place. Those that challenge the spell and spend the night dont always come back in their right mind."
"Theres a gray city there?" Gabrielle asked excited that someone knew more about the city.
Everyone sat without taking a breath. It had to be the stone city Corita was hinting at.
"Aye. But you dont wanna go there." Acheta told Gabrielle firmly, as if reading her mind. She nodded toward Corita and Loris. "They know bout the place. Ask them. They call it the City of Stone. Some of the older folks call it the City of Dreams."
Iaia was silent as the pot of lamb stew was passed her way a second time which she mechanically took and refilled her plate. She remembered a dream she had before the haunting dreams of the one-eyed man. It was of a city made of gray stones that were in various sizes and shapes resembling cones. Carvings graced the outside and insides of the homes and various establishments the stone shelters served as. Even the stables for horses were elaborately carved from the stone. She had thought it was bazaar until now. She hadnt had any dreams of the one-eyed priest since she slept in the inn but dreams of the gray city had replaced the scarier ones. A strong urge to get up and leave the inn to visit the stone city was becoming more difficult to suppress. She had awakened several times from her dreams twitching to move but she had so far resisted it. Now that she knew this city actually existed and it was near by, she was worried if she would be able to resist the impulse to visit it.
She wanted to tell Eleanor earlier but everyone was too busy and she had forgotten about it as the day wore on. She had developed a close friendship with Eleanor and her friend Erica and found their conversations about the journey enlightening, to say nothing of the relief she felt that she wasnt alone with her strange feelings.
Aleka was studying the dark circles that appeared under Iaias eyes. They appeared darker when she held her head at certain angles. She should have gotten rest with the defeat of the old priest, yet she looked even more tired. Agnes and Lily were also studying her. Corita followed their eyes and frowned. The young woman was looking like the men in the beginning of their infatuation with the dark one.
She tiredly lifted her eyes to focus on the familiar blue eyes letting the image of the gray city fade.
"What have you been dreaming about since youve been here?"
She shook her head and tried to tell her about the urge to leave the inn but could not. Instead her eyes wandered to the door then guiltily back to her plate. Her thoughts werent clear and she guessed it was from fatigue.
Lily motioned for the others to leave. This fell under the healers job so Agnes by wordless agreement remained seated with Eleanor as the others rose to find something else to do.
"We need to make plans for the watch tonight." Aleka worried as she glanced back at the three women.
"Well, I say we make a visit to the caverns." Lily smiled grimly.
Aleka smiled at her eagerness for action. "I think that is a good idea, but not all of us. I dont want to leave the village undefended."
"Three of us could do the job just fine." Lily suggested.
"Right." Erica rubbed her hands. "Now youre talking. I hate this waiting around."
"You may not think so when you get hit with a dart that has something on we dont have an antidote for." Aleka chuckled.
"Who are the three?" Grace asked leaning forward on her elbows.
Aleka took a deep breath. She would have said herself but she remembered the warning that she was not to risk herself unless there was no other alternative. The Named was the focal point of their quest.
"Lily, pick another Amazon and one of the healers. Youll need someone with knowledge of poisons, just in case." Aleka smiled grimly, again looking over toward the three women.
By the look on Gabrielles face she was not having it easy.
"Aleka." Lily placed a hand on her arm.
"Hmm?" She turned back to Lily.
"Youre miles away. I said Brona and Eleanor will come along. I want to leave Erica with you and maybe Alala will want to come along."
Aleka nodded. "Im sure she will offer. She needs to remove the talisman and destroy it."
Aleka looked back towards the table and was about to walk over when Lily again placed a hand on her arm. Aleka looked down at Lilys seated figure. Aleka sighed and sat back down. She went over with the women what to look out for and what to stay away from. Alala who had been in deep conference with the innkeeper finally looked up and nodded toward Lilys signal.
"I understand youre going looking for their camp." Alala mentioned as she slid into the seat next to Lily.
The others nodded.
Alala smiled. "According to Acheta there are tunnels that the miners made that run beneath the mountain about a quarter of a candle mark from the firepit. Corita also mentioned them in an earlier conversation."
Corita nodded. "It helps to be a historian. During the fire gods time the majority of the town mined to make ends meet. Not a rich vein of anything but if the family was persistent and saved what little they dug at for a full season, they could take it to one of the main cities and get a good return to tide them over a hard winter for supplies."
Corita winked at them. "Its not something a small village will advertise for then they would have to expend a lot of gold to protect their town, to say nothing of it being battled over by different factions. In the Athens Temple there is a scroll that has the names of all her temples and information on the surrounding area. This town had three different names but the mining town was called The Gray Valley because of the gray cones and rock formations that surrounded the area from volcanic activity long ago."
"Who carved the village that you and Acheta keep talking about?" Iaia asked as she had rejoined them.
"The scrolls called them the Golden Ones. If the place wasnt surrounded with a protective spell to drive interlopers away you could probably look around and find the art work breathtaking." She looked wistful as she talked about it.
"What kind of a spell?" Iaia asked interested.
"Its older than the Greek gods." Acheta remarked as she joined them with a pitcher of cider for Gabrielle.
"Have you been there?" Grace asked.
"Yes. When I was a child and didnt take to the advice of my elders." She said this as one who wanted them to take her warning seriously.
"Well, what kind of spell?" Iaia persisted.
"Its a warding off spell. Anyone who has not been invited and stays goes crazy. If you can get that person out of there within a certain amount of time they might return back to normal, but some people disappear." Acheta told them solemnly.
"Do you know anyone who did? Disappear, I mean?" Iaia asked.
Acheta looked down at Iaia with a quiet intensity. Sighing, she finally sat on the edge of the bench next to Gabrielle.
"You want to know about the City." She told her mater of factly. "So, I will tell you. For many generations it was part of the initiation of a shaman to spend a night there. If you survived, you become a shaman, if not you become a crazy old woman. Both my grandmother and mother had survived it."
"They sat in the library?" Iaia asked softly?
"Yes. There is a mosaic design in one of the rooms where the initiate lays to enter the Realm of the Shadows."
Everyone waited to hear that she had also. "I could not bring myself to go there when it was time for my initiation. She sighed. "I made the mistake of visiting it when I was only a child and feared seeing again what I had seen then. So I became inn keeper instead."
"But you weave spells." Grace objected.
"They are spells a child could do."
Gari came into the inn interrupting the conversation. "A couple of the dark cloaks were skulking around the barn. What do you want to do with them?"
"Well have a chat with them." Aleka nodded. She turned to Lily.
"Whatever you ask them, the dark one will know." Corita warned.
"What do you mean?" Lily asked.
"In dream time they are the dark ones. It will know what its soldiers had done or said."
"All right. Bind them and make sure they dont go anywhere. Hades! Corita, didnt you say that in here the dark one cant reach the sleeper?"
"Then bring them in here and well ask them questions and keep them the night. We may as well see if there is truth to this."
"What if bringing them in here will give the dark one a foot in the door, so-to-speak." Iaia blurted out as she shuddered at the memory of the one-eyed priest.
"Well take care of that." Acheta nodded.
"Okay. Go get them," she told Gari. Aleka turned to Lily. "Lily, youll need to get going now."
"I can show you a tunnel from the miners days, if you like." Acheta offered. "Im the only one that uses it these days but it will let you out near the lake in the forest."
"Can they come in that way?" Aleka asked concerned.
"Not unless they know the password. Its the only spell I was able to learn to counter by the ancient ones."
"Where is the entrance?"
"Below this inn."
It occurred to Aleka that maybe it wasnt just Achetas childs spell that she put over the inn that was protecting the sleepers but the ancient ones spell over the entrance to one of their tunnels.
"Was this one of their cities?" Iaia asked.
"Yes. They had three, my grandmother said. The stone city has no soil to grow anything nor for livestock to feed. It was more of a leaning center and merchants city. This small town was where the farmers lived and the craftsman that needed the woods and clay pit near by for their work. The tunnel was a quick passage during the winter months to the falls and there are other passages that have caved in. Every seven seasons our winters are so harsh that the snow piles too high for much movement outside."
"The tunnel sounds like a good option. Are you all ready?" Aleka asked Lily and the others. The three women nodded.
They followed Acheta down into her cellar. The cellar looked like any other cellar used for storage until she revealed a stone cover that was covered with straw and empty bags. Aleka blinked her eyes to keep the image of the opening from wavering, as something seemed to pass across her sight. She followed the figure of the older women as she disappeared into darkness under the stone cover. Before her a sudden light flared giving off wavering glimpses of the smooth walls that had notches at regular spaces. Aleka guessed for torches to light the way. She looked at the ground, which was smooth and showed no dust. At regular intervals pillars were placed that had scenes of village life by tall and dark haired people carved into them. The pillars were made of gray stone. Aleka wondered how they had moved the large chunks of stone for the pillars down here. The sounds of footsteps behind her were muted, as sound did not carry well.
Acheta finally held her hand up and put a finger to her lips. Aleka and Lily stood behind her looking out from a crevice onto a waterfall that dropped into a stream that when it rained and during spring thaw would have been gorged with debris and water. It was dark outside and the moons reflection sparkled off the weak stream that was flowing gently over the cliff and falling to the streambed below without much noise.
Acheta had handed the torch back for one of them to hang in a bracket further away from the exit.
"This is not seen from outside so you must remember the landmarks when you step out. The village is off that way. The entrance to the mine tunnels is up that way. You will reach the stone arch first. You cant miss it. Its a dark shadow that looks like an arch that in the summer would curve over the rising moon. Go left for the mines. The village is beyond the arch and you dont want to get too close. On full moon nights the influence is stronger."
Lily nodded. "Lets go. She stepped out, turned and after carefully studying the area in what little light they had moved off into the direction of the gray city. After taking two steps out of the tunnel Alala turned to take a long last look in the faint light of the moon the landscape around the tunnel entrance. Those in the cave realized she could no longer see them even as she stared straight at them.
Impulsively Iaia put her hand out and watched with amusement when Alala jumped. "Very funny!" She hissed back then hurried to follow the others.
Those that remained in the cave giggled.
Acheta laughed and motioned to Aleka and the others. "This is how to seal the entrance should you need to." She showed them a lever that was a work of art. It was difficult to identify the design but it reminded Aleka of what she had seen in Britannia.
Aleka turned to Candra. "I want you to stay here and watch this entrance. If you should think there is any danger," She tapped the arrows on Candras back. "light one and shoot one in the air. That will indicate danger. If you need help coat it with witches bane. It gives off a distinctive color. Do you have some in your pack?"
Candra nodded. Who didnt? Its the most used herbs for a variety of aliments.
"Well have someone posted on the inns roof who will be watching for your signal and for any unwanted visitors." Aleka explained. "Grace you remain with her."
"Dont you usually have one Amazon and one priestess?" Iaia asked innocently. Aleka took a deep breath for she knew where this was going to lead. She was not feeling comfortable with the thought of leaving her here. Aleka shook her head mentally.
"Youre right, so?"
"Alala and Lily said Im an Amazon." The challenge was there. Aleka was not happy that Gari was out patrolling with Kynthia when if she had thought clearer...
"Youre right. But this is ..."
"Shell be okay." Grace patted Alekas arm. "Were all in this together, right?"
Aleka took a slow deep breath. They didnt understand that when things happened it was usually wherever Gabrielle was and she would rather...She stopped herself. Would Aleka act this way toward her members? Probably not. But Aleka never met Gabrielle, another part of her argued. I know her through your memories. It is her path.
"Alright." Aleka put a smile on her face. "Ill send some food down later so neither of you get too weak." She joked. "Remember to keep your voices down. It carries in the night."
Aleka turned and hurried back up the tunnel afraid she would change her mind for the wrong reasons.
The night watches checked in regularly. Gari and Kynthia spotted a group of dark cloaks getting ready for an attack in the woods and had managed to rally enough Amazons to frighten them off with their silent but deadly attacks. White hair was not with them to prod them forward or prop up their resolve. Fighting an unseen enemy in the dark over unfamiliar territory was not to their liking. Aleka suspected they would not have ran of if she was leading them. What was she up to?
Aleka paced worrying about the white haired woman. The innkeeper went back down to deliver a sweet loaf of bread from the previous day for the two women to munch on with hot tea to keep them alert.
It was close to daylight and Aleka felt exhausted. She had finally settled to sleep leaning against the wall in the common room.
Her eyes opened immediately when she heard noise from the cellar. Every fiber in her was telling her something was wrong. She was on her feet and down the stairway ready for anything. Lily was holding the torch and laughing about something to Eleanor. They looked up at Alekas face as she watched the four women enter. Alala looked exhausted. "Wheres Gabrielle and Candra?" She asked careful not to show her worry. They probably were left to guard the entrance but now that everyone was back they could go ahead and close the entrance.
"Where should they be?" Lily asked puzzled.
"They were guarding the entrance you just came from."
"There was no one there." Alala told her worriedly. The others looked at each other. They were already physically spent.
"Did you find anything that needs to be talked about now?" Aleka asked quickly.
"We found where they are living. We caused a bit of a problem in some of the caverns so they cant use them, like smoke and fumes of a revolting type. Not many of them were there so we didnt have much of a resistance. White hair was no where around and there was no talisman."
"Alala would you be able to sense the talisman if you got close enough?"
"Yes. It wasnt anywhere in those tunnels and never was taken in there."
"Ive got to go find out what happened to those two." Aleka grabbed the torch from Lilys hand.
"Were going with you." Lily and Alala told her together.
"Youre tired. Go rest."
"And youre not? Oh, no you dont. Eleanor do you have something to give us a boost of energy for a while longer?"
She ran up the stairs and was gone for a few moments returning with a hot kettle of water, a few cups and Erica.
"Iaia and Candra are missing?"
"Were going to look for them. Do you think you can hold down things here?" Aleka asked as she swished the cup of leaves around before downing them.
"Hmm. Its been real quiet since Gari and Kynthia scared the wits out of a few stragglers."
"Good. Lets go." Aleka didnt wait for the others. The innkeeper had gone down two candle marks ago with a loaf of bread and some tea. She didnt say anything was amiss. Aleka didnt pay attention to the muted footsteps that were hurriedly following her.
Aleka shinned the torch around the exit looking for anything that would give her a clue as to what happened. There were two cups tucked neatly in one of the empty sockets for a torch keeping the area clear. Aleka stepped out after looking closely at the surrounding area that was being bathed in the morning light. She turned to look around for landmarks then continued to look around for tracks. Alala and Lily looked around keeping guard as they let Aleka look for what she needed to find.
"Over here." She called softly to the other two. The gray wolf was lying next to an unconscious form of Candra.
Candra was draped over a stone with a note attached to her back. Lily picked up her quiver and arrows that were tossed a distance from her unconscious form.
"I bet its that white haired one. Blast she worked Candra over a bit." Lily was furious. They had walked right by here and missed her.
"Looks like she was just left here."
"How do you know?"
"Everything has the morning dew coating it and shes dry." Aleka could see the footprints that someone had not even tried to hide.
"You think she knows where the entrance is to the tunnel we were in?"
"No. She would have done something about it. Lily, take Candra back. Alala and I will go to the Gray Valley. She says thats where she has Gabrielle."
"Hades! Ill get some of..."
"NO! This may be a trick to pull most of us from the village and then their main force will ride in and burn down the village. Alala and I will be enough. Do what you need to keep the village safe. If you have to close off this entrance for safety, leave a sign on this tree. Well see it easily from over there and be able to keep to the trees until we know its safe."
Lily nodded. She lifted the young woman onto her shoulder and carried her back in the direction of the hidden entrance. They watched Lily and Candras forms disappear as if they had walked through an unseen doorway.
Aleka turned quickly and started the pace at a ground-eating lope in the direction that Acheta said the city was located. The gray wolf ran along side of her looking as if she enjoyed the chance to stretch her legs. Aleka angled off to the right following the gray wolfs silver form that pulled ahead of her. They were going to enter the city from the back instead of the place white hair would be expecting them. Alala gamely kept up.
Iaia and Candra kept each other entertained with games that were silent. They played the parchment-knife-rock game until the repressed giggles had each needing to relieve their bladders. Acheta had brought some bread and a pot of tea down. She looked tired so both young women shooed her back to bed.
Iaia put her emptied cup in one of the wall mounts for a torch. It was out of the way. She looked at Candra whose eyes were closed as her head leaned against the wall she was sitting up against.
"Ill be right back. Gotta call to nature." She told her companion in a soft voice. Candra nodded her head but didnt open her eyes.
Iaia peeked out of the entrance and studied the surroundings. It was still a candle mark away from sunrise and now even the moon wasnt showing any light. As she looked out she felt an intense need to go to the Gray City. Agnes had told her they would go after they had secured the talisman and knew the dark cloaks were no longer a threat. It appeased the need to visit for a while. But she could almost feel the place from where she was. Silently she made her way out of the tunnel to look for a convenient place to relieve her full bladder. The area was rocky and she had slipped against a rock and felt herself falling against the roots of a dead tree that leaned over the low river.
It was as good as place as any. Iaia took care of her business then again looked carefully around. She closed her eyes for a moment and they popped back open quickly. Closing her eyes she could see, as if it were right before her, the gray village. In her dreams she had been picturing one structure whose interior was a vast domed carved and painted ceiling. In the carved building were four domed ceilings with a carved stone beam separating each elaborately painted ceiling. The scenes were vaguely familiar and so was the building. Had she dreamed them before? One room had a mosaic floor with a design that made Iaia dizzy each time she tried to focus on it. She didn't think it was possible to feel dizzy in a dream. The walls were painted with stories of the dreamtime. It was the room the shamans went to pass their initiation. She had known that before Acheta had told them. But how did she know that? She was sure it wasn't something Iaia would know and certainly not something she had read. The trouble is, you dont know just what type of parchments Gabrielle reads, she reminded herself.
It seemed only moments later when Iaia opened her eyes again she was walking under the arch to the gray city. She was nowhere near the tunnel and Candra and she wasnt bothered about it at all.
The need to find the library became her priority. She knew exactly where it was located. The sun was high giving the gray city a silvery look. As she followed a mental map to the library she noted that there was no vegetation anywhere in the city. Not even a weed grew along the walkway. However, the carvings in the stone walkway that ran up the sides of the buildings were images of vegetation and wild life. The details in the carvings were realistic and life size. Iaia ran a hand up the carvings on the library building closing her eyes for a moment and bringing to life the image her roving hand traced.
Opening her eyes again she looked for another way into the library. The entrance was blocked. Unconcerned she walked across the way into another building and looked around to let her eyes get use to the diffused lighting that shined into the room. There was an underground passageway below the city, used during the winter months when the weather made out door walking between the buildings difficult.
Candra wasnt asleep. She was thinking about the song that Iaia had taught her. When Iaia didnt come back within a reasonable time Candra became worried. Her quiver and arrows were lying beside her but she didnt want to start anything just yet. She leaned out of the entrance and looked back memorizing what she needed to, to get back in. She moved from rock to rock listening for anything. Iaia was no where that she could see. She would have to get Aleka to look for signs and was headed back when an arm was around her neck and pulling her head back painfully. She was spun around and a few blows to her face stunned her. Candra was pitched head first into a rock bumping her head. She lost consciousness, murmuring Gabrielle's name.
"Well, what have I got here? Is this not a young maiden? A virgin possibly. Ready for sacrifice to Mekor." A womans voice growled.
A tall dark figure joined the young woman. "Theres tracks headed toward that village. Wonder what theyre doing out here?" The dark figure looked around uneasily.
"Mekors drawing her to the circle in the stone city." The White Haird told him with certainty. "Looks like we wont have to drag her out of that village after all. Well have the men set the village on fire while we take care of our business. Do you have the talisman?"
"Yea." He returned guardedly.
"Good. Let me see that bag of yours. What we need is a proper invitation for them to join us in the City." The white haired woman finished her note and gave the writing implements back to the man at her side.
"Well leave her near the waterfall. Theyve had scouts out that way. With this note theyll leave the village vulnerable, then the soldiers can go into the village and lay it to waste."
"What makes you think they will all come to rescue her?"
"Theyll come." White haired wondered how he could have become a leader for someone so dense on some matters. Of course theyll come. Gabrielle is the Amazons Queen. Those guards were either going to leave the acting troupe behind or bring them with them. Whatever the case, Mekor will know and has a very big surprise waiting for them. A smirk crossed her face as the thought that maybe Mekor didnt tell him everything.
Evana knew what was necessary to trap the light that Mekor wanted in its underworld. Since the one-eyed priest no longer came to her in dreams with directions she had been getting her directions from a strange looking creature that looked exactly like the talisman. Evana didnt think it was Mekor, just another servant in the dream world.
As they headed to the village she absently touched the pouch on her hip. It contained the herbs needed to put Gabrielle into a trance long enough for Mekor to claim her as its own. After that they would burn her body so the soul could not return.
Aleka and Alala entered the village from the east side, by-passing the gray archway that announced in another language to whoever passed under that unless they came for learning and in peace, they were not welcomed. Aleka merely followed the gray shadow of a bushy tail that always seemed far a head of them. The gray wolf had bounded ahead of them when they were within view of the city.
The moment each woman passed through the invisible barrier the change in the atmosphere was noticeable. Alala would have paused to adjust if Aleka hadn't pushed on.
"Where do you want to start?" Alala whispered.
Aleka paused at the corner of the first gray stone building her eyes traveling up the elaborately carved buildings wall. She didn't dare touch the walls at first but the intricate carvings that were detailed scenes from life in a forest were too tempting.
"Well," Aleka pulled herself from the fascination of running her fingertips over the patterns, "she was asking about the library so we will start there."
Alala nodded not as tempted as Aleka to touch the carvings.
There were three cone shaped buildings that commanded their attention and both guessed were part of the leaning center. By the expression on Aleka's face and the hairs that were rising on Alala's arms something was happening.
"I'll take the one over there. You take that one." Aleka motioned.
"Right." Alala nodded.
They split up with Aleka moving toward the building near the observatory. The gray wolf was sitting in front of one of the entrances. Aleka wanted to laugh for her head was leaning into the doorway while the rest of her remained outside.
What is so interesting, my friend? Aleka asked the wolf amused. The yellow eyes turned her way and blinked. Without explaining, the gray wolf stepped into the building.
Aleka looked at the building and identified it as the observatory. She couldnt resist running her fingers along the intricate pattern that was outside the doorway. Cautiously she stepped in trying to see where her guide had gone. Sounds changed once in the structure. She could hear a chanting coming from somewhere.
Alala kept her eye roving above her and around. Here she didnt feel the presence of Athena. She always felt a connection to her. The moment they walked across the invisible barrier the connection was cut. It made her very uneasy. The only thing she did feel was the talismans energy, though faint.
The gray stone structure she came to a stop in front of had the doorway blocked. However, there were unshuttered windows further up the side of the stone wall. She walked around the structure again knowing that the talisman was inside. She needed to get up to one of the windows.
Continued in Chapter 15