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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.

Any polite comments you would like the author to read send to Short and to the point would be nice. Venting at the author is not advisable since the Muses protect their own. 8-)


By J. A. Bard



Chapter 1-6 Chapter 7-14 Chapter 15-20 Chapter 21-23



Chapter 15

Acheta was beside herself when she heard Iaia had disappeared. She watched as the healer, Agnes, worked on the young woman whom the Amazon, Lily brought up though the old one’s tunnel. She wasn’t a shaman in any sense of the word, especially when compared to her grandmother or mother, but she knew where Iaia had gone. She felt it as soon as Lily came into the basement with the unconscious young woman. It was as if she could feel the fabric of the entrance part as Iaia entered. She shivered as her own experience as a child came back to her.

She watched Lily as she conferred with Erica. They had spotted dark cloaks moving to surround the village. She could feel the anger in the townsmen and was afraid something was going to happen in the village provoked by the dark one. She knew the end result would be that the town was going to be burned to the ground. Yet her worry returned to Iaia, the young woman she liked when she had told her a short story that may have meant nothing to the others, but had a lot of meaning to her. She felt she was intuitive and told the story for her benefit. If that was the case, then it was up to her to make sure the young woman survived the gray city’s nightmarish influence.

She felt Corita at her elbow. "Acheta, you mustn’t hold yourself responsible for Iaia’s disappearance." She guessed right.

"I don’t. I just think I should be able to do something to help." She turned to the priestess whom she had come to call a good friend. It was amazing how close she had become to the two women that were strangers a moon ago and how much they had gone through to combat the influence they couldn’t see. She had never trusted priestesses as they were usually more interested in the survival of their temple then those that paid tribute to the temple. But these two women proved to be different.

"The two who are headed there seem to be able to handle themselves. Alala is one of the goddesses own."

"In that village that will not make a difference." Acheta looked at Corita and recalled the sudden feeling of being cut off from her connection with everything that she had become accustomed to. It was as if all color was no longer recognized. Acheta shook her head to clear the memory. She didn’t want to go into why the little girl continued her journey further into the city. Stubbornness, foolishness or the biggest question of all was, was that her destiny? If that was true then she had to face the fact that then she was not meant to be a shaman and carry her heritage on. Something she was doing now but not daring to ponder the implication and ask more questions of her own worthiness. She paid homage and respect to whatever goddess the village set up as patron but she was afraid to open herself up into really believing in anything. How could anyone after what she had seen?

Corita shook her elbow gently to regain her attention. "What are you going to do, Acheta? And don’t give me that evasive 'nothing look.' I know you too well, old woman." She growled tenderly.

Acheta grinned and looked down at the old hands that had escaped the pain of old age, so far. "I need to go." She looked up and could see the concern in the faded blue eyes.

Corita nodded. She knew this was Acheta’s way of redeeming herself with her guilt at not being strong enough to return to the gray village for her official initiation rite. As much as Acheta insisted she did not have the knowledge or skill that it required to be a shaman, Corita could see otherwise. After a childhood of exposure to the ways of the shaman a lot of what Acheta considered normal abilities were indeed from that of her grandmother’s and mother’s influence.

"Do what you have to do. We’ll protect your village." Corita whispered.

Acheta looked about her. The Amazons and the young women that traveled with them were spreading out around the village. Martha and Domica, Acheta’s two helpers decided to take on the angry townsmen with Corita and Loris support. Martha was fired up enough to do it by herself, Acheta thought amused.

Lily’s job as an ambassador had her spending many long dinners listening to military braggings of invading others or of successfully withstanding the invasion of others. She had asked detailed questions on how it was done militarily both for her own interest as an Amazon warrior and the other reason was to prevent boredom. From those stories she had good examples on how to help the village defend itself from the unwanted visit from the dark cloaks. What made it easy was that there were very few seasoned soldiers on the dark cloaks side, which had her worried. Where were they? However, it didn’t prevent Lily’s adrenaline was racing from the challenge. Erica and her exchanged grins before they went to their posts. It reminded both of them of their younger days when the fire to win over a larger army was the challenge in being an Amazon warrior. Amazon warriors usually had to defeat armies larger than their own.

Acheta had a small pack on her back as she hurried as fast as her lungs would let her. She counted posts in the tunnel. She really didn’t need to for she knew exactly which post it was but she didn’t want herself to sabotage what she knew she had to do. She came to the seventh post and stopped. She put her torch into the socket near by and pressed both hands into a design that was made for longer fingers.

She stepped back as the wall that was seamless started to swing open silently. Sound did not pass easily in the tunnels. She picked the torch back up and resumed her journey. This tunnel led directly into the village.

Chapter 16

Iaia rested her hand on the stone carving admiring the texture and the design that made no cognitive sense to her. She looked above the doorframe to follow the design, as it had no break from one side to the other. Sighing she realized she was avoiding what she felt compelled to do. She needed to get to the library structure, though its doorway was blocked. She knew the observatory had an underground connection to it and to most of the other structures. She got tired of asking herself how she knew that because she wasn’t coming up with any answers.

Daylight poured from the ceiling where it looked like it was open to the elements. However, there was no dust or dirt from the long disuse. That added further to her uneasiness. For a moment she paused in the wide-open entrance hall. In the filtered light she could see the art that decorated the walls and posts were indicative of what this building represented. Stairs against one of the walls wound up to the ceiling, which opened up to the sky. This intrigued Iaia for if it was open, why was there no dirt or marks of weather? The air that was prickly since she walked into this city lessened as she became accustomed to the atmosphere. The stairs down to the tunnel below are somewhere around here, she thought. The inhabitants used them when the weather was bad outside. As she moved closer to the spiral staircase she heard voices outside the building. They were not recognizable. The younger voice sounded angry and impatient which sounded female, and the other sounded older and deeper. Definitely male.

Iaia hurried up the observatory staircase hopping to find some sort of concealment. The view on the platform she stepped onto was panoramic. She could now see why there was no dust in the room. Whatever covered the top of the building was made of what appeared to be glass. Iaia paused, captivated with the image of how someone could get glass to cover this opening which was big enough for three people to sit and look up. The sun was still rising and Iaia watched with fascination as the treetops looked like they were on fire. The distant mountaintops appeared to be so close she felt she could reach out and touch them. Looking up she felt she could touch the cloud that was above the glass cover.

The voices below her broke her preoccupation. They were sure to come up here. There was no where to hide except under the bench and they would see her! She scooted below the bench anyway, for lack of a better place to hide. As she rolled under the bench the floor suddenly disappeared and she felt herself dropping.

"Dagio, I don’t care what you feel about this place, so just shut up!" Evana shuddered. Right now she needed someone who showed no fear and just walked right in, instead this man who was suppose to be Merkor’s new leader was being wimpy. She was hoping that after capturing Gabrielle, she could be moved up to the leader position. She didn’t care about the politics. She cared about the power she would be able to wield.

"Give me that statue." She demanded.

"I’ll hold it." Dagio told her. His hooded eyes didn’t show his attraction to the young white haired girl. He was old enough to be her father and wise enough to know that she was not to be trusted. He had served the one-eyed priest, Juji, for most of his youth and moved up when a young warlord of Ares killed him. However, it was he who sneaked the body of the slain priest away from Ares’ temple as the god of war contemplated with the other gods on what to do with the body.

He had not been at the temple when Juji, the high priest of the Mekor, was killed for Largo wanted one of the priests up at the battlefront with him, so Dagio had gone. Dagio had felt the death of his mentor and left the battle quickly to look for him. He had not gone far when Mekor commanded him to take another path that led him into Ares domain to reclaim his slain priest’s body.

"All right. Then where are we suppose to set up for her arrival?" She asked sweetly.

Dagio smiled to himself, as he knew she was reassessing her position. Usually he did what she wanted, for it usually was in the direction Mekor would take. He moved the bag that was resting under his left arm behind his back as he turned to look at the stone buildings once more.

"We need the library. That’s where Mekor said she would go."

"Ah uh. Do you know which building that is?"

"There are three large buildings. That one has a doom so it’s not it. That one has a measuring rod, so that isn’t it. The one with the entrance blocked, that’s it." He told her in an emotionless voice. He watched her seemingly disinterested in her reaction.

"So, how do..."

Dagio didn’t bother to listen to her answer. He walked toward the observatory. It was closer and if these people were miners, they probably had tunnels leading from one structure to the other. From the tunnels they had been living in for the last fourteen moons, he gathered these people liked to design tunnels. He had been looking for some that connected to this city and to the village they were trying to take over but had not found any. He was sure they were there he just hadn’t figured out how they were being hidden and Mekor wasn’t any help. Dagio had his suspicions that Mekor wasn’t as powerful as he led his followers to believe.

Once Evana knew where he was headed she quickened her pace and beat him to the doorway. Without waiting she marched in. The white haired woman's body shook and was spun around then dropped unconsciously to the ground. Daigo heart was beating as he stared into the room that was dimly lit. He could see her hand twitch so he knew she was still alive. Pulling out a dagger he slowly extended it though the doorway. He met no resistance. Not trusting this test completely he slowly crossed over the threshold body part at a time. Looking around he kneeled beside Evana's form that was still twitching. He felt her pulse and knew she was still alive though her heart was beating rapidly. Not knowing any other way he slapped her across the face with his gloved hand. After the fourth slap Evana's gray eyes popped open and they were furious. Grimly he dropped her head back onto the hard surface, which brought obscenities to her mouth.

He resisted the impulse to punch her back out. He needed her to put the other girl under. The dark one wanted both in his underground realm. He wondered if Evana would figure it out before her body burned alongside their captive. It had turned out better than he thought it would. Mekor had them wait at the temple for the two women that appeared out of no where. They were to be bait for the capture of Gabrielle, the young red haired woman. Dagio rotated his head around slowly trying to get the tightness out of his neck and shoulders.

Dagio returned his gaze to the room he was in. It was unusually warm. He leaned against one of the pillars to rest for a moment. He sighed as his thoughts returned to the Amazon Queen. She had managed to release some of the older souls the dark one had been using for his source of strength. She also destroyed Juji, the old priest and his mentor. But once they had Gabrielle trapped in dreamtime, Mekor would be strong again. Evana was to keep Gabrielle occupied so she would not see until too late what was happening to her body. Evana would also keep her occupied so that she would not do anything else but be a beacon for other souls Mekor misled to his realm. Mekor had a way to keep Evana in line, or so it had said. Better it than he, he thought as he took another look at the unconscious form on the floor. Dagio left Evana on the floor and went looking for the underground stairway.

Reaching into the sack on his back for a torch he lit one and studied the characters on the wall. Maybe there was something that would indicate a stairway, he hopped. With the torchlight reflecting into the corners he was able to see what he was looking for. A round cover-stone was resting on what the pictures on top indicated a stairway down into tunnels.

"Looks like there's a whole city below." Evana observed. He had heard her rise slowly to her feet but had ignored her.

Dagio looked up at her. She wasn't stupid, which further made Dagio aware of why he liked her. She was just too ambitious and unpredictable for his health. "Hmm." He responded. He handed her the torch without asking how she was doing.

"Whatdaya giving this to me for?" She angrily demanded, yet she took it .

"So I can lift the cover-stone with both hands, unless of course you want to do it yourself."

His monotone voice drove Evana crazy. When she had first hooked up with this group she had thought he may be interesting to seduce, if need be, but now she wondered if there was anything that moved him to a greater speed then slow and that was not her taste.

She looked for somewhere to place the torch. Finding it she stuck it in a holder than moved to the other side of the stone and lent her own weight to lifting it. Between the two they managed to move it wide enough for Evana to squeeze through. This time however, Evana didn't volunteer to go down first. She stuck with moving the stone cover more until Dagio's form could also squeeze down. Dagio didn't bother to comment as he fetched the torch and started down the darkened stairway with her footsteps close behind his.

Both were not concerned whether Gabrielle was going to be in the library when they arrived or not for they knew that when the darkness came the Dark One already had her in its realm. They just needed to find the body and the Dark One assured them that she would be in the library. They just needed to get to the library, drug her so she could not wake and let the Dark One do the rest. However, Dagio knew that Evana was going to join her to make sure she stayed put until her body was consumed by fire. The Dark One didn't want to take any chances for them to lose her again. He had tasted her light and now craved it. The talisman on Dagio's back was heating up again. That meant they were going in the right direction. When Evana had placed the talisman near Gabrielle's head and started the chant, the Dark One was able to link her to the talisman. Now each time she went into the dreamworld, the underworld where the Dark One led her, her tie to the talisman grew stronger.

The Dark One had not told Dagio that as long as she was in the inn he could not reach her. The power around the Inn was older and more powerful then its. It was from an older age.

When they came to the main tunnel it branched off into three different directions. Dagio and Evana disagreed on which one to take. Their voices were muted underground as both screamed at each other with only a soft sound coming out from both. It further infuriated Evana as she was use to hearing her loud voice overwhelm those she argued with. Dagio never argued but found Evana the exception. He finally turned and with the talisman tucked under his arm striding down the tunnel he felt would take them to the library. His throat hurt from yelling with hardly a squeak coming out. His anger showed in his stride as he and the torch headed away from Evana's choice. He could feel the heat from the talisman increase, which confirmed to him he was going in the right direction. He didn't bother turning around to see if Evana was following.

He didn't hear her approach or suspect how far her temper would take her. He fell soundlessly in the tunnel. Evana calmly picked up the torch that almost went out and wrestled with the strap that held the talisman. Grunting from the exertion she finally got the precious sack loose. Without hesitation she ran back up the tunnel. When she came to the tunnel with the three directions she hesitated. Everything seemed to be turned around. Determined she picked her direction and hurried up the tunnel. Looking above her she hesitated. Did all the stairways look the same? This one not only looked the same but the capstone was pushed open. She would have not gone on if she didn't notice the top was pushed further back then what she remembered the observatory cap was. Cautiously she peered out raising the torch to see better. There were shelves all around her filled with something. Triumphantly she pulled herself up and glanced around looking for the room the Dark One had indicated was a power source. She found a smaller round room with marble tables scattered about and marble benches. It looked like a glorified sitting room to a library, she thought. She was sure there use to be cushions but now there was nothing, not even remnants of fabric. Evana laid the talisman on the center table and pulled out the candles and smaller talismans she was to use to keep anyone who tried to interfere out. Once she had the arrangements she stepped back and nodded contently. She heard Daigo behind her and whirled around.

"So, what do you think!" She challenged. "I told you this was the one!"

"You stupid fool!" His head was throbbing and now that he was in better light he realized he was seeing double. "This is not the library!"

"What do you call all those things in the shelves! Why do you think they have all these benches for?" She shouted back furiously. Angrily she pushed past him knowing he hadn't full recovered from her blow. She didn't care that he hung onto the bench she had knocked him into. "I'll go see about getting the body!"

Daigo cursed himself and almost the Dark One for choosing her as Gabrielle's keeper in the dark underworld. His head hurt and he realized time was running out. The marker at the stairway showed this room had something to do with measurements. This was not the power source the Dark One indicated he wanted this done in. He grabbed a few torches from the bag Evana had tossed to the side. He quickly removed the talisman and the smaller statues hopping he could get them to the correct place on time. He believed he wouldn't have to find Gabrielle for she would be there, at the library, unconscious, as sleep would over take her. He could feel warmth from the talisman but not the heat he had been feeling when he was going in the direction he felt the library was in.

As he made his way back to the library he had to rest often as his head was throbbing. He found the library cap opened which caused him to hesitate. Peering over the top he looked around then raised the torch to see if there was anything. His heart leaped into his throat as the torch picked up statues of people larger than life carved into the walls. Giggling nervously he continued to enter into the room. This was the library. He could feel the energy pulsating from the room to the side of the main entranceway. He stared into the room almost moved to hysteria. He clamped his free hand over his mouth realizing he may be in shock. Lying in the center of a mosaic floor pattern was Gabrielle, who else could it be? She was also unconscious. Slowly unbelieving he approached the body nearly tripping on the staff that was left outside of the mosaic's intricate pattern.

The Dark One had delivered, he thought deliriously. He just needed one more person, Evana. But she should be here real soon. On unsteady legs he started to lay out the talismans, starting with the minor, the ones that would keep out any one that tried to enter once the circle was closed. He held onto the more powerful talisman, for he would need to reopen the circle to dispose of the bodies.

This time he heard Evana arrive. She was furious and seeing his light started for it with words his father never had taught him. He had picked up Gabrielle's staff and was waiting for her around the corner.

Chapter 17

Gabrielle could feel herself fall into darkness without any sound coming out of her constricted throat. Her fall was abruptly halted as a net caught her and she was gently tossed back up from the spring then fell back into the net. She bounced for a few moments finally coming to a rest. She was in pitch-blackness and scared to death. The urge to move on was raising to such a level she found herself moving her limbs in a crawling motion looking for the edge of the net. She reached the edge and fell off the net as it tipped her down. She had the breath knocked out of her. Rolling onto her hands and knees she nearly twisted a wrist as she planted her hand on what felt like her staff.

Great, she thought, where's that dark haired woman now, when I need her? Probably searching the whole blasted city for me. She answered herself as she waited for her body to get back to breathing normally again. She hadn’t realized that she had set Aleka up in her mind as her rescuer. With her staff in hand she felt for a wall and started her walk. She could feel a directional pull guiding her to a destination. It wasn't the same as in her dream and she reminded herself, she didn't have the priestesses chanting to protect her. At the thought of a chant she started one to herself not really giving it any particular rhythm. It was more for comfort and not really what could be termed a hum.

She found the staircase by tripping over her staff when it caught on the bottom step. It had to be the library, she thought. She shook her head as she argued with herself as to how she knew that. She started another chant this time trying to make it more varied to stop herself from thinking. It was something she had heard when she was in Chin that the yellow robed figures hummed while in prayer.

Her head bumped into the cover to the stairs. As she felt around for anything that may open the cover she did find a comfortable place her fingertips to fit into. When both hands, about a shoulders length apart, found rests the cover slid back without a sound. She quickly dropped her hands as the cover began to slide back letting in light. Gabrielle peered over the lip and found tall statues surrounding the large room.

She spotted the blocked doorway and looked further around finding another doorway that opened into a room that was shadowed. As she crossed the threshold a glow from the floor begin first faintly then into a definite discernable pattern. She was standing outside of it. The glow lit up the room with a soft light. Without stepping into the pattern she walked around the room admiring the scenes on the wall which told of different visits to the dreamtime in the circle. When she had finished her round she turned back to the open floor space and took a step back. An old woman, which Iaia's memories named as the old blind woman outside of the path to the mountain shrine of Gaia was standing patiently waiting for her to finish studying the frescos.

"Do you remember me, young one?" She asked quietly.

Iaia only nodded.

"You had made a promise to Gaia that you would sacrifice yourself, if need be, to a cause for her sake."

Iaia nodded again letting the breath out she realized she had been holding.

"Do you still feel that way?"

Iaia nodded. A part of her felt elated that her offer had not been forgotten when it had been offered with all her heart.

"You have willingly risked yourself at the request of those you had felt responsible for in the past. Recompense has been made. Now, the life you had offered in Gaia's behalf, do you still feel bound to that offer?"

Iaia took a deep breath and let it out; trying to slow her heart beat down. "Yes, mother Gaia. I do." She whispered fervently.

The old woman smiled and the shape changed into that of a woman of undetermined age. She was neither beautiful nor ugly in features but the love that poured out of her made her more beautiful then anyone Iaia had ever met, and she had met a few of the goddesses whose facial beauty was breathtaking.

"I have called you here to ask if you are willing to go down into dream time and free those that have been trapped? Once freed from what binds them there, Eros and Hermes will guide them to wherever they should go from there."

"Yes, of course." She whispered hoarsely. "But, well, what can I do that others that are stronger than me can't? I mean..."

Iaia felt pressure on her lips as if a finger was placed over them to quiet her.

"You have been compared to what a light is to moths in the dark." The voice laughed gently. "I like to think of you as a beacon to my lost children that have been miss led by another."

"What do I have to do?" She asked trying to keep her fear under control. "Where was..."

Another pressure on her lips caused her to stop the thought she was about to finish.

"You are never alone for there is life all around you. All things in my world are sacred and alive, both above and below." She smiled. "You just need to know how to converse. Ask any shaman, my priestesses." She frowned a moment and sighed. "Shamans use to be respectable in that they had honor and a sense of justice for the community. Now..." She waved her hand. "They can be as honorable or deceitful as any other priestess for today's deities." She smiled at Iaia. "But, it's one of those learning experiences and -- I am merely here to help those that have honored me in the past to fulfill something they feel, you all feel, obligated to complete. You have all come together in this life, as is needed and therefore I have presented you all with your tasks. This is yours. To go down into the darkness of dream time and free those who have been trapped there by the one you call the dark one."

"Right." Iaia thought with a bit of confidence. She had done it just the other night and she was able to get back out there. Then she remembered all the help she had. "Right, I'm not alone." She muttered to herself.

Gaia pointed toward Iaia and she felt warmth in the space between her breasts. Looking down she found a medallion glowing for a moment then it dimmed and soon looked like any other metal with a stone in the center.

"Close your eyes now." The soft voice commanded her.

She did and that was all she remembered until she was aware that she wasn’t standing on a flat surface. She opened her eyes quickly. She was standing in waist high grass that in the gray light had no shades of color. She realized she was leaning on a staff. As she turned it around to look at what was carved on the top of the staff she nearly giggled but she thought better of it not knowing who may hear.

Lowering herself and staff so that she barely could see over the grasses she looked around her trying to figure out where she would need to go to find these lost souls of Gaia’s. She looked up hearing the keening sound of a hawk. It dipped and flew in circles reminding her of Alala’s friend. It rose again and headed in the direction of a cliff before her.

"Well, it must be the cliff then." She rose to her feet and started forward letting the staff part some of the grasses before her. She kept looking around her to be sure that she wasn’t going to have any unpleasant surprises.

Aleka stood in the room that was brighter than she would have thought the stone buildings would let in, until she lifted her eyes and saw the open sky above her. The clouds that were passing by seemed to be closer than what she remembered clouds normally were, unless in the mountains.

Where did the wolf go?

Aleka looked about the room for anything that was out of place. Taking a deep breath she realized she could smell Gabrielle’s scent and an unwashed body, decidedly male and a lighter smell of another unwashed person. She moved to the corner where it was darker than the others. A stone cap was moved back revealing stairs that went into the darkness below. Aleka could smell the unwashed bodies stronger here; however, she didn’t detect Gabrielle’s smell. Aleka moved away from the stairway and walked around the room. She found another set of stairs that led up to the next level of the observatory. Here she could smell Gabrielle’s scent. Aleka moved up the stairs quickly. At the top she stopped abruptly as the panoramic view that was before her filled her eyesight. She knew Gabrielle had to have admired this. She turned around slowly looking for a place that Gabrielle could have left the room. There was no other exit then by the way she had come. She walked closer to the stone bench and leaned down. It looked like someone had scraped something wooden under the bench. Getting on her hands and knees Aleka rearranged the pack on her back and slid under the bench. Extending her long arms Aleka’s hands found a ledge under the chair. Pushing herself further under the bench she leaned precariously over the ledge to hear or see something. Gabrielle had definitely gone this way. Aleka dropped a coin down and listened for it to hit the bottom. It didn’t drop very far. Aleka let herself drop and was surprised when she met with a net that bounced her up and down for a while. She was thinking of Gabrielle’s fear of heights as she quickly regained her balance. She found the edge of the net and let her body roll off landing on her feet in the pitch-dark room. From her pack she withdrew a torch and lit it. She examined the ground around her and found tracks of one person, small, with paw prints over them. The gray wolf. Aleka suppressed the grin that was threatening to cover her face.

Following the tracks and Gabrielle’s faint smell she moved quickly down the tunnel. Several openings she passed by noting the tracks that over lapped others. She tested each one for Gabrielle’s scent. She nearly stumbled over a discarded and unused torch. She picked it up and added it to her bag. She may need it for later. She came to the stairs to the library, for her torchlight showed the runes that identified it as the library. Cautiously she extinguished her torch then proceeded up the stairs. The lid was already pulled back. She could smell three different peoples body odor. She much preferred Gabrielle’s. Slowly she drew herself into the room, noting the tall statues that surrounded the entire room. She spotted the front entrance that was blocked with a large round rock. The room that caught her attention was off to the left. There was a torch lit in the room and the floor seemed to reflect the light back as if it glowed on its own. Aleka heard someone mumbling from the room. There were two figures on the floor and as Aleka drew near she could see it was the white haired woman and Gabrielle. A shadow came near the doorway then paced back. Aleka stealthily crept to the doorway, noting that there were small idols surrounding the outer circle of the mosaic that the two unconscious figures were laying in.

Aleka suddenly reached around the corner and pulled the body of the dark cloaked figure toward her and into the wall behind her. She then turned him around and let him go into another wall. She quickly was on him but he had moved slightly so that she didn’t get as firm a grip as she intended and both struggled as she tried to bring him down. He was a skilled hand to hand fighter and Aleka was getting worried that he was trying to prevent her from reaching the circle.

Alala’s figure suddenly dropped behind the tall dark figure and as he made a move to adjust to the added company, Aleka jabbed his neck then solar plexus. The man silently sank to his knees then fell on his face.

"There in the circle." Aleka motioned to the room.

Alala studied the circle and then the positioning of the amulets around the outer circle. "These are to keep out anyone. The amulet is outside of the circle. I can feel it. Perhaps he was going to use it to reopen the circle before it normally would open."

Aleka found the pack. She also found a liquid mixture sitting in the corner near the bag. She sniffed it then dipped a finger in it and touched it to her tongue. "Hades!"

"What is it?"

"Nightshade. It’s meant to keep her under!"

Alala looked closely at the two bodies. "He may have already given it to them." She used her booted foot to probe the sack. "The amulet is in here."

"I think Gabrielle’s companion was going to be a prisoner along with her. Look at that bruise on her head."

"We need to figure out how to get her out without injury." Aleka worried. She looked back at the unconscious figure of the black cloaked man.

Aleka suddenly jumped on him and delivered another blow to a point to keep him under. "I’ can’t be doing this all day. He’s a magician by the medallion around his neck and that tatoo on his arm."

"Give me the bottle. We'll give him some of his own medicine."

Aleka turned back to look at Gabrielle’s unconscious form. The familiar twist in her gut was starting up again. "We got to get her out of there."

"I don’t think we can. There’s an energy force that I’m not familiar with." Alala told her as she poured the rest of the mixture down the unconscious man's throat and massaged it to make sure it would go down.

"Is it from those little figures around the circle?"

"No. I think it’s from the circle, the mosaic pattern itself." Alala indicated with a sweep of her hand.

Both heard the sound of fabric rustling in the outer room.

Chapter 18

Iaia reached the foot of the cliff. There were no paths in the granite layers of rock that lead to the cliff wall. Iaia turned around suddenly hearing the sound of small rocks moving. Her eye caught an asp moving slowly across the rocks.

Her fear of snakes had her carefully stepping back keeping her staff between her and the snake. The snake suddenly stopped and rose up staring at her. Iaia froze. She wasn’t sure just how far one of those could jump but she didn’t want to find out.

"You fear me. Initiate, don’t you know a bite from me will take you into the higher realms of knowledge?" The snake spoke to her.

Iaia’s eyebrows rose to the top of her head. She gulped and shook her head frightened that it was going to offer her a trip to the higher realms.

"You want entrance into dream time." Iaia could almost swear it was laughing at her. "You don’t need my assistance in that." It hissed at her.

Iaia nodded in grateful agreement. The snake lowered itself back to the ground and continued on its journey. Her heart was still pounding as she watched it slither away.

"Okay, Iaia, now remember Gaia said everything was sacred and" – she let her breath out, "snakes are part of her temple. Oh, goddess. Thank you, thank you, thank you for not having me meet up with the python." If her heart was beating this rapidly over a small snake, how fast would it beat if she were to meet the Python? A thought she didn’t want to pursue.

Nervously she looked around then headed in the direction the snake had not gone in. The faint trail she was following became steep. Taking a quick glance up Iaia caught sight of a doe on a switchback above her. A small cascade of rocks was loosened from the dainty hooves as they scrambled further up the slope. Iaia watched her for a few moments wondering where she was going. Suddenly she disappeared. Hurriedly Iaia moved in the direction the doe had disappeared.

She found the opening and three steps where neatly carved leading into a dark opening in the cliff. As she entered the opening her body again gave off a soft glow that reflected off the sides of the cave’s wall. Iaia lifted a hand to touch the smooth walls.

How did they get these so smooth?

Heat from the medallion resting on the outside of her tunic was getting warmer as she traveled further into the tunnel. She couldn’t tell if she was going up or down or what direction. All she noticed was the soft glow she was radiating. Occasionally she would look at her hands not believing she could have light shine though her. She thought about the colors she had seen around Eleanor’s head when she had been in the cart recovering from the drugs that the dark cloaks had given her. She laughed remembering another time when she was on henbane and had seen a dark haired woman with piercing blue eyes shine with golden and purple colors around her. She had been beautiful!

Sighing Iaia started to hum to herself to give herself some company. Though sound was muffled in the tunnel she kept her voice down so as not to attract to her something she didn’t want to meet up with.

She spun around suddenly putting the staff up in a defensive motion and felt the impact of the blow travel from her elbows into her shoulders. She moved quickly to a counter move and found herself meeting up with a white haired young woman who was really angry about something.

"Hey!" Iaia puffed as she gave a shove at the next overhead blow the woman sent her way. "Where did you learn to fight?" The woman was just showering her with blows from her chobos, without any plan of action.

The woman only clinched her teeth and aimed a fist at Iaia’s unprotected jaw. Iaia leaned back and trapped her arm by tangling it up in the staff then slamming her body up against the wall. The woman collapsed sliding to the ground.

The first person I meet up with and she’s trying to bash my head in. Was this one of the souls Gaia wanted her to rescue? Maybe she knew where the others were. Iaia slid down the wall on the opposite side of the woman deciding to wait until she woke up. As she waited she started to hum again this time a chant she had heard somewhere. She listened to the sound how it vibrated on her inner ear and rumbled against her breastbone almost to the point of tickling her.

She paused when she noticed the woman started to stir. She squatted near her though out of reach incase she should decide to attack.

"How’s your head?" She asked conversationally.

The woman attempted to rise quickly but fell back down and cursed Iaia with profanity and phrases she didn’t realize could be mixed. It made for interesting images but impossibilities in the real life.

"Where you from?" She tried again.

It got another round of nonsensical body descriptions.

"I’m headed up this tunnel. You know where it leads?" Iaia asked politely.

"What do I look like some kind of guide, you daughter of centaur poop."

"Hmm. You know that’s anatomically incorrect? Just calling me centaur poop makes more sense."

"Whatdaareya some kind of frustrated critic?" She angrily touched her head where Iaia was sure a very large lump was forming.

"I’m headed up that way." Iaia patiently continued. "If you want to come along, fine."

White haired stared up at the brown haired woman that had given her a sound whack to her head. She didn’t know who she was or how she ended up here or where here was, but maybe traveling with this woman who glowed in the dark would show her where they were going. Maybe this person could be used instead of Gabrielle.

White haired used the wall to get to her feet. "Well, whatya waitin for?"

Iaia nodded. She continued down the dark tunnel, with the glow from her giving them light to see two strides before them.

"So, you been down here long?" Iaia asked hopping to hear a voice, not just her own.

"Whatdaya wanta know for?" The belligerent voice asked.

Iaia turned to face the woman. "Have you ever carried on a normal conversation with anyone?" She asked kindly.

"You don’t like my conversation then don’t ask for it." White haired returned more distinctly.

Iaia regarded her for a moment than smiled. "I think you just never had anyone that was interested in talking to you so you never learned to carry on a conversation." She turned around and resumed her walk. "Ya know, it’s not too late to learn. You may find it interesting."

"You do fine for both of us."

"I’ve heard that before." Iaia spoke softly, remembering there was someone who was waiting for her somewhere in the waking world.

"Have you ever heard the story about the young girl whose mother named her after Persephone?"

"No." There was a long pause. "Why would she want to name her daughter after a goddess?"

"Ya know, that’s what the villagers asked and because the mother wouldn’t say, the mother and daughter were banished from the village out of the fear she may bring the wrath of the goddess down on the village for being so bold. So, here is the mother and her infant daughter, tossed out on their own with ..." Iaia was smiling as she picked up her pace and drew the angry woman into a tale of abandonment and self redemption though faith.

Chapter 19

"Acheta!" Alala and Aleka both exclaimed as the older woman walked through the doorway both were hiding on each side of.

"You did it!" Alala was happy for the old woman whose fear had prevented her from following her matrilineal calling.

Acheta smiled tiredly. It wasn’t as bad as she had remembered it but night was still candle marks away. It was the dreams that were frightening. Dreams that even when you felt you were awake you still had them.

She nodded to the circle where the two unconscious women laid. "That circle is the old mandela of Gaia. It’s the dream time circle. Once it is sealed you mustn’t disturb the participants or they may not return."

"What about those talismans that are all around them?" Aleka asked concerned.

"Those are from the old days when the fire pit was honored with death only. They allow a person with the correct talisman on to enter into the circle."

"Would the talisman that is in that sack be it?" Aleka asked.

Alala emptied out the sack not touching it, for Acheta to see it.

"No. But that statue has a hold on your friend. That is what keeps her bound to this thing in her dreams."

"We need to take it to the pit and destroy it." Alala told them.

"You destroy it now, before you sever the tie, and you will take part of her with it."

"How do we sever the tie?" Aleka asked concerned.

Acheta thought for a moment. She shook her head. "There are a few ways. One is that she does it herself in her dream time. The other is that one of you enter into the dream time and do it for her. I would suggest, though, that you let her do it. This is her quest and unless you want to take it from her, you must let her try herself."

"How will we know when we should step in?" Aleka asked concerned.

Acheta looked at the tall woman towering above her. "You of all people should know."

Acheta indicated the floor where they should all sit and wait.

"Acheta, why is the white haired one there with her?" Alala asked quietly.

"Probably to trap her below. There is an ancient tale of siblings that fought for control over different realms that were once their parents. Sometimes the tale will say it was boys, sometimes girls. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that they were loathed to share and wanted to have it all with no rivals, including their own off-spring."

Aleka smirked, for it sounded like some gods she knew.

"The youngest told his two older brothers about finding additional realms to rule in dream time and a jewel that could give them the power over these realms and he was going to go and get it and show them. Well, he prepared his circle and left for a moment to get something he had forgotten. As he suspected the second brother was watching him and when he left he quickly went into the circle that was still open and closed. He then laid down, entering into dream time. Now the older brother was curious what the younger brother was so upset about and heard his story that the second brother had entered the circle and went to claim the treasure of dream time as his own. The younger brother, however said he had just the thing to reclaim it and showed his brother. The older brother, greedy and thinking it was nothing to over power his younger brother, knocked him down and grabbed the talisman his brother said would reopen the circle. Now, both brothers were in dream time. The younger brother reopend the circle and removed the bodies setting fire to them so they would have nothing to return to. In effect, they were trapped in dream time, and that left him with no rivals for his inheritance. Since the two brothers in dream time didn't get along, they kept fighting with each not allowing the other to move to any other realm."

"So, you think that this dark cloak was intending to burn both their bodies, keeping them in dream time?" Alala asked.

"I’m sure it’s intended with Iaia. I think the white haired one is to keep her to her task, which is to lead those the dark one has trapped to his side. There is another story of the souls that never made it back from dream time. Morpheus had complained but since Hades or Eros never found any trace of them, it was assumed they belonged to another. They even sent Hermes to try to find them."

"How did they finally figure it out?"

"Gaia checks up every now and then on her followers. She still has plenty of them. She overheard her grandchildren, Hades and Eros complaining that Morpheus wouldn’t stop talking about missing souls and it reminded her of the Dark One from a long time ago. Well, long time ago to us."

"How do you know so much of this?"

Acheta laughed. She spread out her hands. "My family has been the caretakers of this place for longer than the god of the fire pit existed." She sighed. "I had failed by not providing an heir and by not being able to pass the initiation."

She looked around more carefully this time then got up. Aleka and Alala watched her carefully. Aleka got up and followed her. "What’s the matter?"

"Some one has been cleaning this place."

"You mean it’s..."

Acheta looked at Alala with a raised eyebrow. "You don’t think this place has a shade that keeps house, do you?"

"No, of course not." Aleka however glanced around her. She had seen too much to discount any possibility.

Alala had the same idea as she too looked around. "Were those three from this place, by any chance?"

Acheta looked amused. She waved her hand towards the walls in the room where the two were laying. "It’s there on the walls for all those who enter to see it. To know is to be forewarned. Here in this library is where the dream time was used to visit wise souls in any realm they were in. The person’s body was safe as long as it remained within the circle. A trusted friend or mentor watched on the outside." Acheta raised her head. "When I was a little girl, I went into the circle by myself and had no one on the outside. I visited a realm I had no understanding of and came back frightened with no one to explain to me what I had witnessed."

"What about your mother or grandmother?" Alala asked.

"My grandmother had died two winters before that visit. My mother died while trying to find food for me the next winter. I was pretty much on my own. Some of the older villagers needed a young person to care for them so I didn’t have to worry about a roof over my head or food in my mouth. But they were not doing so well themselves. I learned a lot about survival from them. What they could not do to prepare for the tough winters, I could and they would tell me what they needed. I tried to pass this on to the new arrivals or the committee but they were too busy to listen to a little girl."

"What of your father?"

"He was a solider and died a solider. He didn’t visit much. Foot soldiers don’t get much time off for family life unless their family travels with them."

Aleka nodded. She knew exactly how it was. The women and children followed in the caravan behind the army. They were the last to arrive and the last to leave. But their value to the moral of the army was crucial and it gave soldiers that lost the guts to fight a chance to still stay with the group by watching over the caravan that had their food, camp equipment and families. In the beginning she had been harsh on those in her own army that lost the blood lust but she later realized that they were the best protectors of their supplies. To make up for their dislike of the killing in the villages they raided they fought harder when the supplies were attacked. Aleka shook her head as she brought her attention back to the present.

She looked over at the dark heap sitting in the other room. "I noticed he’s a sorcerer. Do you have a way to render him harmless?" She didn’t want to be too quick about getting rid of him for she may need him to help bring Gabrielle back. She didn’t want to burn any bridges.

"You can open up the circle with that talisman and put him in there." She suggested.

"Where would that put him?" Aleka asked suspiciously.

"In dream time."

"With those two?"

"I don’t’ think I want to add to Iaia’s problems." Aleka shook her head determinedly.

"How long is the drug suppose to last?"

"For a full movement of the sun."

Aleka was trying to remember something another shaman had told her about how to immobilize another. The trouble was, she like the shaman always killed anyone that was a threat to her. The alternative alluded her. This was not a good time to forget things like that. She returned to his body and started to see what he had on him. She started to remove things from him and placed them in a pile next to Acheta who studied them without touching.

"This is his power piece." She pointed to the ring on his hand. Aleka stopped what she was doing and looked at a ring again. It had an unusual design and the stone she didn’t recognize.

"I’ve never seen the design before." Alala pursed her lips. She had visited many libraries, as most of Athena’s priestesses were encouraged to do and she had not seen anything even close to it.

"The stone is from his dream time. The design is probably his own totem from there."

Aleka suddenly remembered what it was that she could do to keep him under without killing him. Picking up the ring she picked up the talisman to open the circle. Quickly she leaned over Gabrielle’s body and placed the ring in her palm the came back out.

She was hoping she was doing right.

Chapter 20

"So what do you think of the story." Iaia asked as she stopped for a rest.

"It’s a story." The woman returned shortly. "It’s a dumb story. Nothing like that happens in the real world."

"Sure it does. People can change, they just have to want to."

"I don’t see anyone changing just because they fell in love with a place."

"Well that place was magical in its beauty. Haven’t you ever been to a special place that – she paused as she pictured one place where it never ceased to move her beyond words. Near a stream-bed was a small waterfall. There was a magnificent view from one flat rock that overlooked one point along that river, with room for two. The view faced a break in the mountains that surrounded the area and where the moon could be seen, with it full face, raising into the night sky. The stars started to fill the entire night sky as the moon finished its ascent. By then there was no more room for any more stars without it becoming as bright as the daytime sky. No, there was nothing as beautiful as that sky from that rock. The best time to visit was fall. Everything seemed to be sharper at that time.

"No." The angry tone interrupted her memories.

Iaia turned to her. "Either you don’t travel much, or you don’t stop to –smell the roses." She quipped.

The white haired woman glared at Iaia. She turned and resumed her walk.

"So what’s your name?"

"I don’t have one."

"What would you like to be called?"

There was silence for a moment. "Gabrielle."

Iaia turned to look at the woman. That’s what Alala called her.

"Alright, Gabrielle. My names Iaia." Two can play this game, she thought smugly.

For some reason that seemed to make the white haired woman happy for she walked closer to Iaia as Iaia started another story. This was a comedy about two of the gods looking for one of their sandals whom the mischievous cupid had switched the left sandal to each pair. Without their sandals they couldn’t return to Mt. Olympus.

Toward the end of the story Iaia realized her voice was coming back as an echo. The end of the tunnel was sudden and it opened into a cavern that was larger than what she had ever seen. The energy that was moving around had the hairs on her arms standing up to say nothing about the hairs at the back of her neck.

This must be the place, Iaia thought. She looked around and carefully peered over the edge. She leaned back trying to get her heart back under control. There was a glow to the cavern walls where Iaia felt were things she didn’t want to know lived. The drop below them didn’t show a bottom. The glow seemed to go on with no bottom in sight. She didn’t want to look again to see if she was mistaken.

White hair leaned over and looked around. To Iaia she was hanging precariously over the edge and by the pulse point on her neck, it was for show, unless that’s how she got her kicks.

Iaia started to look for something that would give her a clue as to what she was suppose to do. They were on a lip that extended into this cavern. She couldn’t figure out where the glow was coming from. She touched the talisman around her neck and could feel its warmth.

"I’m going to sit here for a moment." Maybe if she just sat and waited, something would happen.

"There’s no where to go." The angry voice echoed off the walls and built up into a reverberating shout of loss of hope.

Iaia couldn’t bear it. "Have some faith." She mumbled holding her hands to ears.


"I said, have faith!"

"Do what?" The echo was still reverberating too loud for either to hear the other clearly.

"Have FAITH!" Iaia raised her voice. The word faith rumbled and started to pick up the echo through out the cavern. Iaia smiled as she held her hands to ears and thought of how fun it would be to shout words to send the unhealthy glow back where it came from.

Standing up she thought about what she wanted to shout. A chant. She started out slowly then as the echo returned she added move volume then lessened and continued to have fun with the pleasant noise that filled the chamber.

"Hades, woman!" Evana complained holding her ears but making no effort to stop her.

Iaia stopped for a moment to enjoy the echoes and looked over the walls where the glow was brightening. Her eyes brightened as she could feel the vibration all around her. She started another that had a different cadence and tone.

"RaaaaMaaaaOmmmmm." She begin again.

"Enough!" Evana had one hand covering one ear and with the other she struck Gabrielle in the center of her back with a chobo.

Iaia staggered to her knees trying not to fall too close to the edge. This was all too familiar. She rolled over pulling her staff up and attempting to sweep the white haired woman’s feet from under her as she had moved toward Iaia with the other chobo in a raised position.

The look in her eyes told Iaia she was in trouble. What set her off, she wondered?

They circled each other with neither making a move. Iaia started to hum to herself as she watched the other.

"Shut up!" White hair made two faints then on the third aimed for Iaia’s head. Iaia neatly caught the club aimed for her head and the counter move to her mid section then made two solid connections to white hair causing her to land on her back knocking the breath out of her.

Iaia turned back toward the edge of the and continued her chants, not really knowing why she was doing it except it was fun and sounded really neat to have the echos come back at her. She kept an eye on the white haired woman. Suddenly her eyes widened as she saw a dark cloaked figure materialize out of now where.

She stopped her chanting and got a tighter grip on her staff. She moved away from the edge of the lip they were on and circled the new figure that leaned down to look at white hair who slapped his hand away angrily.

Iaia tried to move toward the tunnel but the dark cloak moved quickly and blocked it. White hair got to her feet and started to slowly swing both chobos in menacing sweeps at Iaia.

Oh, Oh, she thought. She decided a chant was in order. She started another that would take less concentration. It didn’t echo as well as the other for she wasn’t close to the lip, but it did pick up.

"Shut her up!" The dark cloaked figure muttered not daring to move from blocking the exit.

"You shut her up, Daigo!" White hair muttered between clenched teeth as she made a half hearted swipe at Iaia.

Iaia didn’t fall for the move and stepped back then did a turn that gave her a close enough position to take a jab at Daigo. It was thin air, for he moved just enough to be missed. Iaia was quickly covering her back and knowingly blocked White Hairs swipe and then turned around and met her head on.

The air stirred around them and Aleka’s figure materialized. She reached out and tossed toward Iaia a ring then disappeared.

Iaia shifted her staff and picked up the ring. It was hot to the touch. The dark cloak screeched and left his place as he rushed her. When he knocked Iaia down she lost her grip on the ring which went flying toward white hair. She picked it up and juggled it in her hand.

"Evana, give it to ME!" Diago demanded in a deep voice.

"Why, Diago?" She kept an eye on Iaia but couldn’t resist goading the dark cloaked man as he slowly moved toward her.

Iaia watched fascinated.

"It’s just a ring." She kept an eye on him while laying the ring on the tip of one of the chobos. She studied the ring for a moment. "Hmm. And what does this mean...Ahhhh!"

Diago had her around the neck as he tried to seize the ring from her but it had fallen to the ground and Gabrielle used her staff to knock the ring away from him. Why was it so important to keep from him? And – who was he? He’s wearing a dark cloak which means he’s working for the Dark One, Iaia thought. Didn’t Alala say the fire was what would destroy the talisman? So wouldn’t it do something to the ring? No. When Hope fell into Dahak’s flame she was saved. So, if the fire is the Dark One's it wouldn’t destroy something that was its own. So how do you destroy something that is evil or part of the evil one?

Iaia had to dance out of the way quickly as Daigo and Evana dived for the ring that she had knocked to edge of the lip they were on. Should she wait to see who would win? What was her purpose here? Iaia looked at the walls around and noted that the dim lighting that felt bad was gone and a cleaner light was glowing from the walls.

Instead she resumed her chanting keeping her eyes on the two as they wrestled for the ring. She watched in amazement as the glow started to pulse with her chant. The light did become brighter and was lighting up the entire chamber.

Diago finally got the ring from Evana and was about to slip it on his finger when Iaia sent her staff end slamming down on his hand and the ring rolled over the rim. Diago screamed and clutched his chest as he looked over the ledge.

Furious he turned to Iaia and rushed at her. She was hopping if the ring went over he would sort of vanish, but then, not everything happens as one hopes. She stopped her chanting and tried to push him aside with a side step and staff but Diago had a firm grip on her wrist and whirled her around. Iaia did all she could to hold onto her staff. As she was spun around she could see Evana’s furious face whirl by her. She didn’t know which one she was more afraid of. Diago let her go to slam into the side of the wall which she did do and slid down the wall stunned but still gripping her staff.

Evana looked around her as the light continued to become brighter. "Diago, we have got to get out of here!"

Diago quickly moved to Iaia’s side and pulled on the staff from her stiff fingers. Weakly she resisted but he was able to pull it from her. Once in possession of it he brought it down towards her head. Iaia was able to roll partially out of the way taking the blow on her hip. She moved her feet in a scissors move and caught the staff as it was coming down on her again. Evana drew a short blade from her waist. "Get outa the way Diago!"

Iaia was thinking they had a strange relationship if one moment she’s attacking him and the next moment helping him.

Everything around Iaia started to move in rolls. She felt like she was on a ship. That did not sit well with her stomach. Evana tossed her knife aiming for Iaia’s heart. Diago didn’t wait for the results but headed for the exit as the ground beneath them moved too much to keep balance. Evana lost her footing after she threw the knife and scrambled to unsteady feet, stumbling as if drunk, toward the exit.

The knife caught on the tip of the amulet around Iaia’s her neck only piercing her skin. The force of the toss and shock of the knife flying her way knocked the breath out of her and while laying on her back she watched the ceiling above her that was brightened by the light that was shining from the walls, revealing an interesting design. It reminded her of the pattern on the mosiac floor.

Iaia closed her eyes and wished she were back in a world where the ground didn’t feel like an uneasy ship cresting then plunging down on one of Poseidon’s giant waves. She didn’t know how long she laid with her eyes shut tightly trying not to think of her stomach’s flip flops, when it dawned on her that the smell and shaking was no longer around her. Cautiously she opened her eyes and found herself staring at the ceiling of what she knew to be the library in the gray city.

She became aware of a voice calling her back.


She attempted to sit up quickly but two pairs of hands gently held her on her back. "Wait a moment." Alela and Acheta were on both sides of her with Aleka standing on the outside of the mosaic keeping an eye on white hair and the man in the dark cloak. Iaia caught the bright blue eyes flashing in the torch light, filled with worry.

"I’m alright." Iaia slowly rose, looking toward Evana’s body that was still not moving, then the other figure on the other side of her. She closed her eyes for a moment remembering her encounter with the dark cloaked figure. With the memory came an awareness of the throbbing in her hip where she had absorbed the blow from her staff. Opening her eyes she gazed at Aleka.

Iaia started to grin as the two women stood on each side of her and helped her out of the circle.

"So, what’s the grin for?" Aleka asked smiling.

"That ring you gave me livened up the party."

"Where are they?" Alala asked as she picked up the arms of the unconscious dark cloaked figure following Acheta’s hand directions.

"Daigo and Evana both took off down a tunnel. I stayed in the cavern."

Aleka helped her move the man into the circle. "What are you going to do?" Aleka asked.

"Redirect them." Acheta told them.

"You’re not going to let them stay in dream time are you?" Iaia asked doubtfully. She was worried what they would do if left there.

"No. I will let Eros or Hades find them." She smiled. "I will put bells around their ankles so that they cannot be missed."

Suddenly her smile faded. "It is dark. They come at this time."

"We aren’t going to leave you." Alala told her quickly.

Aleka nodded. "What do you want us to do?"

She took a deep breath and looked at the two bodies. "I will travel to dream time and see what more needs to be done."

"We will wait for you." Aleka nodded.

Acheta took her place in the center of the mosaic pattern with the two unconscious forms on either side of her. She lay between them and crossed her hands over her stomach. Iaia could see a small figure she held between her thumb. She shuddered when she realized it was a carving of an asp.

Aleka and Alala settled near the doorway keeping Iaia between them as they kept an eye on the circle and the doorway. The outside had grown dark and what light was filtering in from the outside was no more. Aleka and Alala had collected torches from what Daigo and Evana had brought and kept them nearby, but resisted lighting them. They didn’t want to change the atmosphere that Acheta needed to accomplish her own initiation into the dream time and the journey to make sure the two next to her either returned or were not up to further mischief.

Regardless of her recent trip to dream time and not really caring to return due to her previous experience, Iaia still fell asleep. She had wrestled with her lids that wanted to shut but she had nothing to keep her awake. The mixture Diago had given her was still influencing her. Alala and Aleka had shared some food with her but it wasn’t enough to keep her awake. Her head started to sag towards Aleka’s shoulder and finally settled comfortably as she sighed softly and let Morphesus take her. Aleka put a comforting arm around her and relished the arm that slid across her abdomen in the unconscious display of familiarity.

Aleka was quietly going over in her mind how far they had traveled and how far they still had to go and the time left. It was a challenge to her to be able to make their destination on time and at the same time take care of the side adventures. Wasn’t that what Xena’s life was all about? She chuckled at the thought of the side adventures.

Alala leaned forward and looked at her in the dark. Aleka’s sharp vision could see her shadowed head trying to see what she was laughing about.

"Just thinking." She whispered to Alala. She could imagine the red eyebrows rising in curiosity.

Iaia merely shifted her position and tried to get a more comfortable pillow out of her arm, tightening her arm around Aleka's stomach as if to prevent her from going anywhere. Aleka was about to explain when both women suddenly came alert. There was movement from the other room that caught their attention.

Aleka gently moved Iaia to rest against the hard wall, while getting up with Iaia’s staff in her hands. Alala was already standing facing the doorway.

Aleka didn’t want to leave Iaia unguarded and was thinking about waking her when a soft light appeared as if someone had lit a torch.

Continued in Chapter 21

Chapter 1-6 Chapter 7-14 Chapter 15-20 Chapter 21-23


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