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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
Lily motioned to the women on the outer parameter of the village to come in. They had beaten back the dark cloaks twice with less returning each time. The inexperienced soldiers lost the desire to attack the village once Lily and Erica had eliminated the two leaders before they had reached the village boundaries. It was a pathetic group compared to the first group that they had encountered when they had rescued Gabrielle. But it wasn't done with out a few minor injuries to some of the women, both from their encounters with the black cloaks and from inexperience in battles. A few fell from trees or fell over unfamiliar ground.
Minor, but embarrassing injuries, Lily smirked, as she took a mental inventory of the group. She had also sustained an injury but it was a warrior's injury, a knife wound. She was rather proud of it and grateful it only required a few stitches.
The priestesses that had befriended the women in the village through Acheta had teamed together and in effect brought the men out of their dream stupor with an herb drink made from the bark of the yohimbe tree that wouldnt let whoever drank the herb sleep.
"So where is everyone?" Lily looked around the inn as the warriors and their charges gathered. Corita and Martha had a large grin on their faces.
Loris snorted and started to laugh at Domicas red face. "Lets just say that this will be a very busy place in nine months for the midwife."
"Martha suggested we use an herb that is usually used for couples that have low sexual interest in each other."
"We gave it to the women when they came over and told them to mix it in their husbands and their food. No use one feeling armourous and not the other."
"Hades codpiece." Erica breathed. "This place is going to have to rededicate to another goddess."
"Hmm. Well, its about time the men start paying attention to who is keeping their homes together. When Acheta gets back were going to take back this town. If the uppity men dont like it, they can leave." Martha announced heatedly. "Ive had it with these last ten seasons. I want to live into old age with a smile on my face. Who wants to be a dour old woman?"
The others laughed and agreed.
Lily nodded to Agnes who joined her. "Just what did you give them?" She whispered to Agnes. Agnes smiled and tilted her head.
"Nothing that a priestess in Aphrodites Temple wouldnt to a woman who comes with a prayer that her husband turn his attentions back to her." Agnes batted her eye lashes holding her hands in front of her in a supplicants posture.
"Ohhh. An aphrodisiac."
"Oh, no! Not just any. This one has been blessed and passed through the heat of many an errant husband and wife, I might add."
"So, whatever it is, its been well tested." Erica grinned.
"Yep!" Eleanor laughed as she held up her finger to the air. "The bark of the Yohimbe tree with a good dose of honey and for those who like the stronger flavor a bit of damiana with thorn apple and honey. Hmmm. Good."
The women laughed.
"So, what are we going to do now? Its getting dark." Grace asked.
Lily nodded. She didnt like the group being separated. The longer they were separated the less strength they had as a group and more importantly, the Named was not amongst them. She could feel it and from what Agnes had told her, the others were also feeling it.
"Corita, do you think the village is any danger?"
"Not tonight!" She laughed.
"You want to join your friends." Loris told them matter of factly.
Corita motioned them over to a table and begin drawing them directions with a wet finger on the light wood surface.
"Down below in the tunnel Acheta told me there is a passage that leads into the village. Its the seventh pillar. I dont think your friends will leave Acheta alone during this night."
Lily nodded. "All right everyone, get your gear ready. We wont take the horses. Were going to need torches and food. Im sure the Queen shall be very hungry."
The others laughed relived that they would be rejoining their friends and the Named.
"Another thing." Corita told them before they dispersed to get ready. "You cannot enter the village with swords or bows. A staff or a small belt knife, I have heard that some have gotten by with that. But the obvious weapons, no."
Lily looked at Erica then at the others. They all nodded. They were going into the Gray Valley regardless of Achetas portents of dire consequences, therefore it was best not to press their welcome by bringing in objects that the guardians of the Valley found objectionable.
"We will leave our weapons and take only what is made of wood." Agnes nodded to Lily who was standing ready with the others. She nodded in agreement.
Loris and Corita gave them hugs before they started down into the cellar. "We'll watch over your horses and belongings. May the goddess guide you on your path and bless you with sight."
Twelve women silently moved down the long tunnel whose smooth sides showed scenes from a village life from long ago. They didn't study the work closely as Lily kept them moving at a fast pace and Erica who was at the end made sure no one lagged.
Lily remembered that Acheta talked of the library being where the shaman's accessed dream time. That would be their first stop. She read the symbols at each opening that branched off into another direction, looking for something that would look like a symbol for a library.
"Agnes." Lily called her over as she studied the third branch off the main tunnel.
"What does that look like to you?"
"Hmm. A torch, a branch and ...water?"
"I think this is the library. On one of those wall paintings they showed a picture of people sitting around reading or listening to someone where there was a torch, a tree and a small fountain. Whatdaya think?"
Lily led the way moving faster now, certain she was right. The cap to the stairwell was pushed back, which made her hesitate. She moved up into the room with her torch extinguished. She could hear the movement of the others as they also moved into the room.
The dark shadows were grayer around what Lily felt was a doorway and after getting over her first initial feeling of fright at the life like statues that surrounded the room she was able to feel the change in energy in the room. She felt Agnes tug at her elbow.
"Theyre in there!" She whispered in Lilys ear.
Cautiously Lily approached the doorway. She didnt know why it was quiet nor why they didnt have any torches lit. As she approached the room she could see the soft glow that was coming from the patterns on the floor. What caused her heart to pound was recognizing Achetas body between two strangers. Lily quickly stepped into the room.
Lily felt a very strong hand around her throat as she was lifted off her feet. Aleka quickly released her when she realized who she was.
The others came rushing into the dark bumping into each other.
"Dont step on the patterns!" Alala warned them trying not to laugh, mostly from relief.
Aleka and the others met in the main room of the library, lighting torches and finding convenient sockets for them. Agnes, Iaia and Alala stayed in the smaller room watching over Acheta. Iaia was still sleeping from the effects of the nightshade.
Lily had been wondering what explanation she was going to give to Aleka at why they all came, leaving the village unprotected.
"Im glad youre all here." Aleka told them quietly. It was a relief that they were for she was getting anxious that she was letting the others down by leaving them for a more personal mission. It was the second time she had done that.
Lily grinned in relief. "Welll, its nice to hear that you agree."
"Now what are we going to do?" Erica asked.
"Were watching over Acheta. Shes gone to see whats going on in dream time."
"Didnt she say anyone who comes here and spends the night is in some sort of danger?" Camila spoke everyones fear.
"Yeaa. Im thinking about that. From what I can see with these drawings on the walls, it has to do with dreaming. I think the key is in the wall paintings. With all of us here some can be put on watch and the others can go around checking the paintings out."
"Well, then, lets start reading them and see what we can come up with." Lily handed the others torches.
Berik and Kynthia, take the other room. Make sure you dont disturb the atmosphere of the room." Aleka nodded to them.
Brona and Erica you two with Catherine and Camila can take this room. Grace and Gari can take watch over the stairwell, with one of you reading the runes, but make sure the other is alert. Lily and Eleanor can take watch near the doorway, same thing. Though its blocked, I dont trust it."
The two nodded. Aleka went back into the inner room to see how things were going.
It didnt look good. Aleka stood in the doorway trying to get an idea on what was not right. Gabrielle was back in the center.
Agnes grabbed her arm to silence her.
"She felt there was something going wrong and went back in before we could stop her. I guess it was something she saw in her own sleep. It seems she doesnt need the talisman to open the portal. Shes wearing a necklace to open it when she wishes. We saw it flash when she stepped into the circle."
That twist in her gut again. A hiss from the other room brought her back to Lilys side. Sounds from the stairwell could be heard and the stone at the front of the library doorway was moving aside.
"Amazons!" Lily called softly.
Aleka turned to the two in the smaller room and motioned them back. She stood in the center of the room with Gabrielles staff waiting. She noticed the others only had staffs and some chobos. Why did they leave their metal weapons?
The doorway came clear and dark cloaked figures came pouring in swords raised above their heads. The moment they crossed the doorway a bright light flashed and they were tossed back into the darkened street. The burst of energy that exploded and sent them back outside sent the women on the inside back about two steps from the force. Meanwhile the stairwell had others trying to enter.
Aleka motioned for the others not to pursue the dark cloaks out onto the street. "Hold your positions!" It was tempting to take them out while they lay in the street stunned. Aleka assisted the two at the stairwell when it looked like they were being overwhelmed with bodies that were being pushed forward by those under the first two. They were unconscious and it didnt do any good to pound on them. Aleka pulled one of the unconscious dark cloaks out of the way and tossed the body toward the center of the room.
"Toss him out with his friends." She directed Lily. She grabbed the other and did the same. The bodies kept pushing up with the unconscious ones being used by those below to push forward without being attacked directly by the Amazon and her trainee. As they continued the motions of pulling the unconsicous bodies out of the way and tossing them toward the women in the center of the room, they in turn, tossed the bodies out onto the street. But soon the women had to start protecting the front entrance as some of those that had not been stunned attempted to reenter the building in a rush. Again they were tossed out by the bright light and pushing those on the inside back a few steps from the energy.
Aleka turned around toward Lily. "Whats going on?"
"Corita told us not to bring metal weapons in here. Looks like no one told them the same." Lily kept her voice low so that the attackers would not over hear.
Aleka nodded. The dark cloaks that were coming up through the stairwell had weapons so it must only be effecting those that came though the front door. She thought about the dagger she had in her waistband and thought about not testing the front entrance.
Both women were kept busy relieving a few of the Amazon's and their charges so that they could take a breather. The onslaught of the dark cloaks slowed down as the moon moved to its high point in the sky. By then less attacked the front doorway and instead tried to move up the stairway. It never seemed to occur to the dark cloaks to try without weapons, which Aleka could understand why; after all you don't run into battle without a weapon. Once the moon was at its high point the dark cloaks seemed to disappear.
The two that were unconscious in a corner seemed to be in a deep sleep.
"What do you think?" Eleanor asked breathlessly.
"I think we aren't going to be sleeping tonight." Lily looked around suspiciously.
Aleka nodded. "Take care of the wounded. And Lily, make sure you bind that cut on your arm." Aleka turned back into the room to see how the people in the circle were doing.
"Aleka. It's too early to know. Iaia looks fine though. Her pulse appears to be good, Acheta's was not for a while, which is why Iaia went in. It's okay now. The other two have had erratic heart beats, but they too are alright for now."
"How long is this suppose to last?" Aleka asked doubtfully.
"Whatever they are doing must be done by three candlemarks after the moon reaches its zenith.
"The dark one is strongest at that time. Corita was saying that was the time she noticed the most disturbed activity from the men would occur. It's usually when people are in the deepest part of their slumber. I don't think Acheta and Iaia will be able to fight their natural sleep rhythm and the dark one who will be at its peak." Agnes shook her head doubtfully.
"I hope you're wrong." Aleka murmured as she looked closely at the figures in the circle. She didn't think whatever had to be done would be finished by then. How could anyone undo what has been going on for more seasons than what they knew about in a one night visit. She was frightened that the two women would try to do just that. Both had something to prove.
Suddenly Aleka turned back into the other room. "How's it going?" She asked Lily who was moving around to each woman making sure they were awake or their injuries were being taken care of. Eleanor moved at her side with Grace standing guard with Brona over the stairwell.
Lily nodded. "We're all tired but we didn't have too many injuries."
"I need four women."
Lily looked at her intently. "Whatcha got planned?" She smiled.
Lily looked at her. "Chants? Oh, right! You want someone to help in the other room."
Aleka smiled. In another life, the Amazon would have thought her crazy for asking. Now, they were all comfortable with such doings, as if it were everyday. Which it has been lately, Aleka smirked to herself.
"Kynthia, Candra, Berik and Gari I can spare. For how long do you need them?"
"Chants usually vitalize so you may be getting some pretty refreshed sentries back. When one of them feels her voice is getting strained, we will need to replace her."
Agnes over heard her from the other room and had come over to join them. "It sounds like a good idea. We have some herbs to strengthen the voice and to sooth sore throats. I don't know why I didn't think of chants. We did it when Iaia first went over."
"You're tired for one." Aleka touched the young woman on the cheek. She was becoming attached to the women whose care she had been given. "I'll let you monitor what goes on in the room for one more candlemark. We need to set up your relief, which should be Eleanor or Grace, whichever one is rested. Let's get a rotation set up for the chanters. I don't want to leave the entrance and stairwell unguarded but I also don't want to exhaust everyone. Lily, get one person to stand in the center of the room to monitor both the doorway and stairwell activity. I don't want them to be easily seen from the entrance. For all we know the dark one will pass on some information about how to get in through the doorway while his army is visiting with it in their dream time."
"That means three in the main room, four chanting and one healer monitoring. The rest of you should be getting some rest." Lily directed Erica.
"We can have three resting in the front room and two in here." Erica nodded.
The four women moved quickly as they took their places at four points of the circle. Aleka thought for a moment at what she wanted to chant.
"All right. Listen to the cadence." Aleka closed her eyes and focused on what she felt was right. She trusted Aleka's early experiences in the cavern learning the chants and their meanings with her mentor.
The women sat down and started the chant, slowly swaying to the rhythm. The energy in the room did change noticeably and Aleka was sure the glow in the circle deepened but she was tired and couldn't be sure.
She leant her own voice letting her senses other than her eyes feel the energy in the room vibrate along her exposed skin, sending goose bumps along her arms and down her back. She continued to chant feeling the vibration in her sternum and tickling her throat. Her weariness left her but she was aware of it as she became immersed in the chant.
"Agnes, theres something wrong!" Iaia rose from her sitting position and moved for a better view of Acheta. She could see the pulse in her neck was beating faster. "Im going in after her." She said firmly.
Agnes had dozed off for a moment while the other two that were posted to guard the room and circle were watching the three in the circle. Iaia jumped up and before any of the women could prevent her she stepped into the center of the circle.
"Demeters cross! How did she do that!" Agnes asked breathlessly. She should not have been able to step across the invisible barrier. It wasnt invisible to Agnes, however, for she could feel it as a very real wall. Once inside of the circle Gabrielles image became overshadowed with a taller light brown haired woman, with sapphire green eyes. It was Iaia. Each finger was covered in rings and her hair was bound back with a scarf showing a scar on her neck. The figure separated from Gabrielles form as the bright red haired figure lay so that her body was beneath the other three's feet. It gave the impression that she was holding the other three up with her own body. As soon as Gabrielle shut her eyes the figure of Iaia looked at the women outside of the circle and disappeared."
Iaia found herself in a familiar grass field only this time the grass had a clear path leading toward the cliffs. It looked like more than two people had passed this way. In her hand she had the same staff she had thought she left on her last visit to this place. It still had the wolf's face set in a comical grin this time with blue stones set in its eyes. Without hesitation she hurried toward the cliffs. As she jogged along she remembered to remove the rings from her fingers and tuck them into her small pouch at her waist. Obviously Iaia liked rings.
At the foot of the cliff she met the same asp, or so it seemed.
"You are back." It told her bluntly.
"I am looking for the shaman. Did she go your way?"
Iaia hesitated. "I think she needs help. I would like to help her."
The asp studied her as it raised up higher weaving slightly. Iaia held onto her staff tightly for support for she could feel her legs go numb with fear.
"Where she went is for shamans."
"I heard those that seek inspiration from dream time go to the place for shamans. I am an artist for both the eyes and the ears."
"Yessss. There are many who are not shamans that seek this place."
"I also understand that those who failed as shamans remain."
"That is another place. It is a lonely place."
Iaia for some reason felt that was where she wanted to go. If she were Acheta that is where she would have gone and that would be the most likely place the dark one would seize first. Didnt Agnes say the dark one fed on despair of the soul?
"That is where I wish to go." Iaia told the asp firmly.
"That is a wise guess for your shaman." It lowered itself to the ground and led the way up the side of the cliff, which had a very thin path that moved up and down like a ribbon.
They stopped in front of a tiny hole that Iaia would have to squeeze to enter.
"You will need a guide so that you do not get lost. Do you wish for one?"
Iaia looked at the asp for a moment and wondered at the question. Was this some type of a trick question? Or was this where the asp would bite her?
"I would like one, but let me ask for your wisdom in this matter. For me to assist the shaman in her quest, what will I need?"
The asp rose up one more time and bit Iaia so quickly on the arm that she didnt have time to react.
"It is your quest also, young one. Let your maddess from my bite assist you in your search for the correct path through these tunnels. Here your light will not show you the way."
Iaia looked at her arm for the bite marks but could see none, yet the arm was sore. She bent down and cautiously peered into the dark hole. She could see absolutely nothing.
Iaia didnt fear darkness for she had spent so many nights alone in the darkness dreaming up paintings that reflected the sun and its effect on what it shinned upon as well as the colors that radiated from her human subjects. Gabrielle however, remembered the darkness as bringing her nightmares and was hesitant about entering the tunnel.
Taking a deep breath Iaia crawled in and was immediately engulfed by the darkness. The opening behind her disappeared. "Oh, Goddess." She thought as she used her free hand to find the side of the tunnel. The dirt crumbled under her fingertips not giving her much comfort. She reached above her to touch the ceiling and was relieved to find that only the entrance was low. She used the soft wall to stand feeling the numbness of her right arm start to ache. For a moment she rested gathering her thoughts and remembering that in dreamtime she created her own reality. The arm was not numb and did not hurt, she mumbled to herself. It was hard for her to believe that as the throb got worse. Sighing she moved forward using her staff to feel the ground before her.
Sound was magnified for the shuffling of her feet over the uneven floor was loud just as her staff tapped before her became a loud noise. The dirt that she could not see that was dislodged from her shoulder's contact with the sides of the wall was noisy as it hit the ground. Gradually what was black was giving way to shades of black and gray. Her arm was becoming weary as the staff was becoming heavy.
When did she become aware of the soft crying? Was it there all this time and she only now became aware of it?
Iaia stood still for a moment, letting her arm rest from the weight of the staff. The arm the asp had bit had become numb up to her shoulders and was moving down her right side. Turning toward the sound she listened carefully. Was it crying?
Iaia started her walk toward the sound using the staff to let her know what was before her. The sudden resistance that her staff met loosened it from her tired grasp. By then her entire right side was becoming numb and her leg was dragging as if partially asleep. Lowering herself awkwardly she felt around for the staff. Flexing her tired had she grasped it and rose to continue to explore the resistance she had met. Cautiously she walked around it. Suddenly the staff met no resistance on the ground and Iaia had to hold tight to not lose it. Iaia carefully approached the drop and listened.
"Acheta!" She called softly.
"Aiiiieeee. Who is there?" An unfamiliar voice called back to her.
"I am Iaia, from dream time. Who are you?" She called back in the same soft voice.
"I -- I dont know who I am." And the sound of crying came to her.
"Can you walk? Are you injured?" Iaia asked concerned.
The crying stopped and finally the voice admitted she could walk fine. "But I am lost and cant find my way back to the path."
"Well Im going to stick my staff over this drop. See if you can touch it."
After a few moments Iaia could feel something take hold of the staff. Soon she was face to face with a dark shape that had wound itself up her staff. Iaias terror paralyzed her. The scream in her throat could not come out as her neck muscles tightened.
"Woman. You fear me, but you should not. I too was a woman at one time. A magician had turned me into this form as punishment for not doing his bidding. When I tried to escape in this form, I fell into this pit."
Iaia tried to squash her paralyzing fear as she let the form untangle itself from her staff. Iaia had never seen the python in Gaias temple but this shadow was certainly big.
"Do you know how to get out of here?" The Python asked.
Iaia took a deep breath. "I came that way but as soon as I stepped in the tunnel the entrance disappeared."
"The medallion you wear would reopen it." The python told her.
Iaia touched it and could feel the heat it radiated. Looking down at it she realized that it had a dim glow to it.
"I cant leave now. I came to help a friend."
"You have a friend down here?" The python asked disbelieving.
"Yes. I think she came down here to free those that have been trapped by another."
"That is quite a task. Not even Morpheus has power down here."
"Why? I mean he has power?"
"Not down here. Do you know where you are?"
"In dream time where the shamans go when they have failed their initiation."
"Hmm. That is a very brief description. It is a state of being or nonbeing. It can be soothing or excruciating. Or, that is the way it use to be in Inanas time. Since this other power had moved in, it is always excruciating. It draws others into what use to be a sacred space and demands that we who have been here to keep the new souls here. Those that do not obey its commands are turned into other shapes that put fear into those that it brings here. There are many souls trapped here that should have not been brought here."
Iaia knew what Acheta was here for and also wanted to find a way to let the trapped souls go. "What other shapes are here?"
The python laughed. "Things that you could not even imagine in your waking life. Think of the scariest thing you had created in your dream time and that is what you will find. We that have been shaped changed were turned into what we feared the most."
"Shape change. Shamans are suppose to be able to shape change. Why cant you just change back?"
"Ahh. That is the question that we all have asked."
"Look, I got to get going. I need to help my friend. Do you know if she passed by here?"
"I have heard many pass by here. They usually fear my cries or tell me they will return with help to pull me out."
"Where would someone go from herebesides out."
"There is no out, that I have found, without a key, like on your neck. But to go further, is to move to your left. That way you will not fall into this pit."
"You have been kind to me. I will return with my friend and others and I will get us out."
The python laughed. "I thank you for not asking me to go along with you."
"You havent asked me for the medallion. Why?"
"Because it works only for the one who was bestowed it. The power that is here will want it for itself to get out."
"The dark one is trapped here too?"
"The dark one. You have a name for it. We do not name things that we do not wish to give power to. We are all trapped here. It is through work that we can pass though. It is this power that will not let us move forward for it gives us pain to dwell on and from this it draws its own joy. It cannot leave this place until it does not think of itself in this way. We need to be at peace with ourselves and see what was a failure as something other than that. But the power knows how to keep us here, weak in our own fears."
"You sound like you have it all together." Iaia told her.
"Yes. After being in the pit for so long without its nightmares. It may have forgotten me. But I am in this shape and cannot move to the next level."
"What has shape to do with anything? If it does, then you change yourself into another shape. In dream time, all things are possible." Iaia told her glibly. She couldnt remember where she had heard that from or even if she had before.
"Well, I need to find my friend. I hope you find yourself." Iaia picked up her staff and turned herself in the direction the python had indicated and continued on.
"What happened to you?" The large snake asked her as she stumbled on her numb leg.
Iaia turned back. "I got bit by an asp." She grinned.
"Hmm. Why don't you will it away?" The snake teased.
"I guess it's easier to preach then practice it." Iaia admitted.
"It will wear off. It is the venom that will give you sight in this underworld." The snake offerened. "Blessings of the goddess be with you." She hissed.
The snake was right for as she continued on she could feel more of her leg and her finger tips.
The tunnel floor dipped down suddenly into what Iaias staff told her were stairs. She held her breath and listened for any other sound around her. All she heard was the loud pounding of her heart. Her thoughts kept returning to what the python had said about other creatures wandering around here with the intention to scare.
Cautiously she extended her foot down to the first step. She moved her other foot down and was about to dip to the next step when an obnoxious odor descending around her like a dark cloud. Her stomach threatened to turn itself inside out as she leaned against the wall on her numb arm side. Not feeling her contact with the wall she used the hand with her staff to steady herself.
Getting her stomach settled wasnt going to be an option so she searched in the shadows for something that was responsible for the odor. She thought she saw something move to the left of her and she moved toward it. As she moved forward it moved away.
"Hey," Iaia tried not to gag. "Im not going to hurt you. Are you one of the old shamans?"
The figure paused. It was a long moment of silence. "Im looking for a friend." Iaia breathed shallowly before continuing. "She arrived a short time ago. Shes a shaman too. Have you seen her?"
"Time has no meaning here." Came the tiny answer.
"Have you seen anyone before me?"
"I have seen many before you." There was a pause. Iaia could see the shadow coming closer.
"The one you seek. She said she was here to open the way again." The shadow whispered. "Is that true?"
"Im sure she is going to try her best. But she may need help. That is why ---I have to find her." Iaia tried not to breathed too deeply.
The shadow shifted her position and Iaia realized why when a sudden gust of air blew from where the figure had been standing. Iaia was grateful she had shifted.
"She has gone to the lake." The figure turned and gestured toward shadows that appeared to be bushes.
"To the lake. Is it far from here? Is there a path?"
The tiny voice started to laugh. "This is dream time. The path is what you make it to be, or so it was before ---before it came." Her laugh turned bitter.
"It can still be. We usually make out our fears to be more than what they really are. And the more we think about it the bigger the fear seems to be. Sometimes facing it and accepting the fear as part of ourself, makes it less of a burden."
"You have not been down here long. Go and leave me of your talk. That is of no use here." The dark figure turned back into the shadows and disappeared.
"Okay. This is dream time." Iaia mumbled to herself. "My own experiences make up the fears I face. I just put a mask on it so I cant consciously recognize it. So, whatever I run across in here, is just...my own fears. So, get a grip and lets go walking on the wild side." She shivered as she felt the long shadowed leaves brush against her exposed neck. As she went further in her legs sometimes became entangled with the leaves or thy wrapped around the staff that she used to probe the area before her.
Some feeling was returning to her numb arm as she found out when she ran into a tree whose shadow she had missed while looking another way. She found herself picking herself up from the ground and searching in the shadows for her staff.
On her hands and knees she realized she could feel the ground below her as if it were a living thing. "Right. Dreams are not rational." She slowly picked up her staff and rose looking about her carefully, mumbling to herself more for courage than company.
Suddenly a gray muzzle moved out of the dark fern cover. Iaia held her breath as she felt a warmth fill her. Was it because it had the same comical expression on its face as that on her staff?
She sat back a moment regarding the yellow eyes that blinked once at her. "Well...I guess youre the first I've seen that doesn't want to bite me or scare the living flesh off me."
The yellow eyes blinked and Iaia could have sworn it was laughing at her.
"What I mean is, you're a sight for sore eyes. I can hardly think that anyone would conjure you up as a nightmare."
The wolf had moved out from behind the ferns and sat regarding her.
"Okay. Lake. Where -- ahhh." She heard a splash and the soft sounds of a voice to her right. "Well, that's where I gotta go." She told the wolf. Cautiously she started in that direction.
Iaia found Acheta sitting on a large rock near the water of the lake talking to a beast that would have had her petrified in fear if she hadn't already known that these were shamans who had been changed into frightful creatures from their own dreams.
Acheta turned to see what was behind her. For a moment she paused not recognizing her. Her eyes moved to the silver wolf that was at her side.
"Acheta. Remember me? Amazons, actresses, village..."
"Actually, I recognized the wolf. Alaka's friend. Are you...?"
"No. I'm Red or in Iaia's form."
"Ahhh. I am not surprised to see you here." Her eyes returned to the silver wolf. "And for that matter...nor your guardian."
Iaia was puzzled about referring to the wolf as Alaka's friend but she had other things on her mind of more importance and time did matter. "I thought you might need some help letting your people go."
"Ahh, yes. The shamans." She smiled. "It is kind of you to offer. I was wondering how I was going to get back." She nodded to the medallion around Iaia's neck.
Turning to the figure she had been talking to she nodded toward it. "This is Dadoucies. He was a shaman from a neighboring village of mine who had failed to come back." She smiled at the scary figure. "I was but a child then. I had thought to look for him in my own childish naiveté."
Iaia looked him over and nodded. "You sure had some frightening dreams." She remarked to the figure that appeared to shift its weight.
The creature lifted it's muzzle and howled, scarring the Tartarus out of Iaia. Iaia dropped her hand instinctively to the ruffled fur of the silver wolf whose low growl gave Iaia some form of comfort.
"Not so loud Dadoucies. It will alert it." Acheta soothed.
"Do you happen to have a plan?" Iaia asked hopefully.
"Yes. I plan on facing the jailer."
Iaia shuddered. "Listen," She took a deep breath. She was beginning to think she attracted people with over active warrior glands ."I think there may be another way. I mean I don't doubt your courage, but if this thing has been down here this long, what makes you think facing it is going to -- get rid of it?"
"Can you think of a better way? While I keep it busy, Dadoucies will lead the others through the passage to another realm."
"What other realm?"
"Dadoucies said he heard there was another near by."
"If it's nearby then what makes you think it doesn't have that one too?"
A tightness in her chest made her worried for everyone that was stuck down here. "What would her warrior friend do? Here they were with the odds against them and....hmmm. Her warrior friend would somehow even the odds. So how would they even the odds? Slight of hand? A trick here or there?
"Wait a minute here." Iaia shifted her feet and leaned against her staff. "This is still part of dream time, right?"
"Well, I heard that some people can change their dreams. Why can't we?"
"I ran into a Phyton back in the tunnel who said they had tried that when it first came into this dream realm. They believe it was a shaman who became trapped and rather than change and move on, it strove to take over." Acheta recounted.
Iaia nodded. "I met her."
"We need to go back and let her out before I do anything. Dadocines said there are others trapped in pits and other things, but it is what their fear created so it has been difficult to help. The new souls that are being trapped cannot help for they are frightened by what they see. There is a spell on those that stay past three candlemarks from the moon's zenith." Acheta explained.
"Don't tell me, let me guess. We all turn into the monster of our dreams."
"Great. Right now a nasty war lord doesn't sound so bad."
The gray wolf looked up at her and growled.
Iaia looked down and blinked not knowing why a small smile curved at the corners of her lips.
"It does not take the dream memory of you as an adult. It takes the monsters from our childhood. Those have more emotional energy to them and they are more difficult to rationalize away, for it taps into a child's irrational fear."
"How long do we have?"
Acheta pointed to a sundial that was near the lake. "Not long, so lets get a plan together."
"Well, you won't have to worry about the Python. I let her out of her pit."
Acheta nodded to her. "Good. You had a lot more courage than I."
"It helped not to be able to see her until she had her face next to mine." Iaia shuddered at the memory of her fear.
Agnes set the tone for the first round of chants. She wanted them to build their own energy outside of the circle. She then changed the rhythm and chanted for focus. She had the second idol in her hand when she changed it again to an ancient chant, OOOOOMMMMMMMAAAAAARRRAAAAAA. It sent chills up her arms and the vibration from the energy, she could see shimmering above everyone chanting. She opened the circle and let the energy they were generating funnel through her and into the circle. The energy was quickly absorbed by Iaia and Acheta's bodies but above the other two the energy simply sat above their bodies.
As each of the chanters felt their voices strain they gave Aleka a sign and she was replaced with another. Alala paced back and forth between the rooms waiting for something she felt would happen.
The energy from the other room pulsed into the larger room where the three guards alertly stood their posts.
"All right, is everyone ready?" It was amazing how much they were able to get done within a candlemark. Iaia, with Deds assistance and Achetas was able to convince those that they could touch to lend their energy to create an image that the dark shaman would be curious enough to investigate itself.
Iaia had decided it would not be wise to use her or Acheta as bait for the dark one would know who they were. So Iaia had thought of someone she thought she knew intimately and created an image of a dark haired warrior whose powerful image was enhanced with energy from the creatures that were entrapped by the dark shaman.
The five who were chosen to focus the energy of the dark warrior were grouped around the clearing that was set for trapping the dark shaman. Iaia raised her eyes from her sitting position and standing in the clearing was the raven haired warlord standing with power and sensuousness emanating from her form. She was standing with her arms resting at her sides and her sword sheathed on her back. There was a glow from her that gave her more color in this level then most anything else had.
The dark leaves parted and two people appeared with drawn swords. The white haired woman approached her with a sneer on her face and the tall man beside her moved toward her slower.
"Who are you to invade the land of Marduk!" Evana demanded.
The dark warlord merely looked at her then returned her gaze to the lake.
"Im talking to you!" Her short temper flared as she stabbed her sword toward the pensive form in front of her.
The warlord merely moved out of the way and shoved Evana into the bushes. Dagio studied her closely without making any move toward her.
"My master would like to know who you are."
The dark warrior let her gaze rest fully on the older man. Iaia could see him flinch and she knew fully well what the piercing blue eyes could do to a person on the wrong end of her appraisal.
Evana rose unsteadily to her feet and once again launched herself at the warriors back.
The dark haired warrior simply stepped aside and flicked the hurling form into Dagio, knocking them both down. A dark form immediately started to form near the two as they both staggered to their feet slowly.
The form appeared to be hideous, something Iaia would find nightmarish. The energy that emanated from it was strong and Iaia worried for a moment that their own creation would weaken. The others, however, were use to the dark shaman and kept the image of the warrior strong.
The dark haired warrior didnt flinch nor move away from the monster that advanced on her threateningly. Coldly she watched its approach until it was almost upon her. She stepped toward it and then walked around it studying it as if finding the monster amusing.
"Is this the best you can do?" The contralto voice was low and sensuous, radiating her amusement clearly.
Evana once more moved but this time she was careful to not to draw too much attention to her.
"You should tell your slave to stop with the games. Youll both lose." The dark warrior told the monster as she finished her circle then stopped in front of the figure.
Evana suddenly froze in her tracks and her face took on a contorted look as if she was being strangled. The dark shaman finally took on a shape that was of a young man looking almost like Ares himself.
"I have met you once." The shaman told the warrior as he studied her body with lust showing in his eyes.
He smiled then shrugged his shoulders. This was the first time he had been really challenged. He tested the image before him wondering why she wasnt a regular in this dream time for she had the flavor of a shaman.
"So, why have you not been visiting? Have other things on your mind?"
"Why are you wasting my time?" She asked bluntly.
"Wasting your time?" Suddenly it occurred to him that she was one of the souls that had been way-laid into his domain. This was a victory! He had been after the shinning soul and according to his servants she was somewhere around here but this one could hold her down here. Daigo, his faithful servant for many years had his misgivings about Evana and now he too felt this one would be better. He would have to trace back to her body and see that she was made a permanent soul here. What was her darkest fear?
The warrior laughed as if she could read his thoughts then disappeared.
"What the...? Daigo! Where did she go?"
A voice near his ear started to laugh. "Do you think you are the only one that knows the secrets of dream time?" The voice was seductive and after so long trapped in this level of dream time new thoughts trickled into his consciousness.
Iaia watched as the dark shaman and its two servants disappeared. Iaia started when she felt a presence next to her. The dark warrior stood beside her for a moment in silence.
"Is this what you really want?" She whispered to Iaia.
Iaia took a deep breath. Memories of Xena and Aleka over lapped and she had to struggle to keep her image of the dark warrior she thought she had conjured up separate from her memories.
"You have brought me into dream time."
Iaia held her breath. She was frightened for a moment. What happens if she gets them all trapped here? She didnt want to be the failure again of a mission that was not hers.
The dark warrior she had conjured up took her chin between her finger tips and raised her head so that she was eye to eye with the deep blues.
"I chose to come at your call. You are not taking something that has been freely given."
"The others feel the same way. We are all in this together." Her voice was strong and firm.
"I just dont want to be the cause of another failed pilgrimage." She told the figure in a wavering voice.
The warrior smiled. "Is that what this is?" She looked around her and at the other shamans that were coming out of the forest cover.
"You all have the power to undo what has been done here. It is the illusion you hold onto that you are failing that keeps you from seeing your power. And it is the anguish of your failure that feeds Marduk."
The warriors figure began to fade. "I need to be somewhere else. Call me when you need me." She touched Iaias face tenderly. "I loved you then too."
Iaia lowered her eyes and felt her heart pounding. She knew that then. She was just too caught up in her own problems to have taken anothers interest in her seriously. She remembered on the way back from her meeting with the guardian of the Gaias underground temple how she felt over whelmed with the knowledge that her husband had ordered the killing of all the women that were on a pilgrimage for Gaia. How could he have desecrated the name of Gaia? She had been sitting on a rock by herself, her self-imposed isolation from him and his retainers, idly drawing in the dirt. She heard the noise of her husband approaching. She realized she had been drawing the face of Aleka and quickly erased it with her foot.
He was angry that she was not talking or eating. She ignored him as he once again made blistering attempts to force her back to eating and talking. She had tuned him out and instead picked up on the sounds of bandits surrounding their camp site. She did nothing to warn him or the others. She felt they all deserved to die. Then she remembered that she was too young for the bandits to kill. She would be slave material. She had pulled the dagger from her surprised husbands waist band and looking him in the eye had told him that he was to kill her if anything should happen to them before they reached home.
Startled that his silent wife had finally talked to him he promised as the first scream reached their ears. His startled eyes went back to hers and he realized what was happening. Without hesitation he took her hand with the knife and turning it plunged it into her heart for a sure kill, then turned it upon himself.
Sighing she moved to the group that was forming near the lake. Briefly she looked around for the familiar form of the silver wolf. Where had it gone to?
All sorts of forms were taking shape at the lake. All frightening. She also saw the python coiled next to Acheta. She turned to face Iaia when she approached.
"We must return now." Acheta told her.
"We havent gotten rid of Marduk." She objected.
"It is not our job to do that. It is theirs. We have given them faith in themselves. The rest they must do themselves."Acheta took her hand. "When youre ready."
Without conscious thought, Iaia touched the medallion and thought of the library where she had left the others. She felt the cool air on her face change to the stale air in the library. She could feel the hard surface of the tiled floor and hear the sounds of a battle going on.
She was staring at the ceiling letting her senses stabilize when a hand on her arm brought her attention to the faded gray eyes of Acheta.
"We must all leave now. The third candle mark past the high moon is nearly upon us!" She pulled Iaia into a standing position and out of the mosaic pattern that was no longer glowing.
Agnes, Brona and Candra were hovering on the outside of the pattern sending worried looks into the adjoining room where the sounds of a battle were coming from.
"We must leave here." Acheta told Agnes as she pulled Iaia along. The three women looked tired. They formed a protective wedge from the others that were fighting.
Lily was quickly at their side. "We need to leave here." Acheta told her.
Lily nodded. She agreed whole heartedly. The energy in the room was sending shivers up her arms and legs and she didnt like it one bit.
"Amazons!" She shouted. It was enough to get everyones attention. Acheta led the way into another room with everyone following, including Aleka and Alala being the rearguard backing quickly away from the black cloaked warriors that were advancing on them slowly from the underground stairway and through the opened door way. Obviously they learned something from the earlier attack and didn't want to get hurt.
Acheta found another stairway that went below the building they were in but this was not intersected with branches to other tunnels. Aleka and Alala made sure the cover over this stairwell was secured before running after the others. They could hear pounding on the cover as if someone was trying to break it.
Where the women were led was to an opening that was not far from the temple. It opened into the grotto that was used as part of the temple's rituals in the open air. The moon reflected off old statues both of Demeter, Persephone and one they all recognized as Gaia that were interspersed in the earthen wall that surrounded the cave opening. Iaia was awed by how many different sizes of statues were pressed into the dirt.
"For each season a statue was implanted into the wall as a renewed invocation was given for blessings, remembrances and new pledges to the protectoress."
"Some of these look new." Lily touched one statue that looked like Gaia.
"Someone has been continuing the practice." Acheta nodded. "I havent been able to figure out who." She smiled as she let her gaze roam the wall. "It has given me hope each season that we had not been abandoned and that soon we would be rescued."
Aleka touched the statue that was standing in front of the tunnel they had exited. "Someone was here very recently." The flowers on the statue's head were fresh.
"Where would someone get flowers at this time of the season?" Brona asked as she looked around suspiciously.
"Dont know." Acheta smiled. "Its been that way every season. No matter if there is snow on the ground or the last of the flowers fading. There is always a fresh wreath of flowers on Gaias head and at her feet."
Aleka shifted her feet and looked around. She had her suspicions. She remembered Corita had said the goddesses had paid regular visits to the Gray City. Maybe they also stopped to pay homage to their grandmother, Gaia.
"Lets get back to the village. We need to see if everything is alright. Then we have got to move on." Aleka told them. She looked at Iaia quickly then back to the path that was barely showing in the moon's light.
The others nodded.
The women spent one more day in the village. They put on two performances of Sapphos works and much to Acheta and Marthas approval some of the men were not happy with it. The two women had not wasted time in telling the men what they thought of their management of the village and that in the future, those that had made such disastrous decisions for their village could no longer have a say in its running. They undid the laws that were passed against women and told the population that in one days time they were to have elections where everyone above the age of twelve could vote. It was unheard of for the men only allowed property owners to vote and those were always men.
"Are you sure, Acheta, that everyone will be okay for this election?" Lily asked as she surveyed the crowds that were collecting outside of the town meeting hall where the troupe had just put on their last performance.
"Oh yea! We have three women running for positions on the town counsel and only one man. There are five spots open." Acheta was laughing.
"What about the fifth spot?" Gabrielle asked.
"That goes to the priestess of the temple." Acheta turned to her friend Corita.
"Corita has agreed to remain while Loris will return to their other temple. They found the jewel they were looking for and from what I understand, they will ask for more priestess, so we shall be more prepared for outsiders that try to desecrate our system of justice."
"Corita is staying?" Eleanor smiled. "I dont suppose the pull of the library has anything to do with it?"
"Why arent you running for a seat on the counsel?" Agnes asked.
Acheta sighed. "I passed the initiation. I hadnt realized how important it was to me until I passed it. Time is not relevant in shaman's reality so I would like to continue with my studies. Martha is running for a counsel seat. I am giving her the inn. She has a daughter that was taken from her by the laws of the last counsel. She is reclaiming her and they will do this inn good."
"They took her child away?" Agnes asked unbelieving.
"She stood up to them and she was a widow. Those two qualities were considered unworthy of raising a child. But her daughter was placed within a good home. She had been visiting with her on a regular basis behind the counsels back so no permanent damage was done. The only one that will be upset is the old farmer she was promised to at her first menses in the other village. But we will take care of that. The man is very unsuitable. He has killed his last two wives with overwork and brutality. He deserves to live alone." Acheta snorted in disgust. "The men here shall learn respect for all things and especially their spouses and children. We intend on bringing back the old ways and to make sure the men stay on course we are thinking of linking our village with the kingdom near by. King Hesba has been looking for a vacation spot for his young wife for sometime and once mentioned he liked the meadow on Zurachs farm. It has a beautiful view of the waterfall on the hill. We will see if hes interested in a trade. Land for protection."
"What about Zurach?"
Acheta shrugged her shoulders. "He stole the land from Martha when her husband died saying as a women she could not hold land. Her husband died under questionable circumstances and that is one of the things that will also be reviewed. Things will be changing." She nodded assuredly. "The goddess is coming back." She sighed as she looked toward where the charred remains of the statue was still. "We shall also get Milikos to start on work for a new statue. His kids are quite skilled at woodcarving so maybe it wont take so long, especially since now his daughters can also participate."
Aleka and Alela appeared from the building laughing at something. Iaia caught the deep blue eyes that smiled her way.
"Looks like more than one set of business was taken care of." Agnes remarked.
"They settled with Corita on what to do with the statue." Lily nodded toward the pair.
"Is Alela going to continue on with us?" Agnes asked.
"Yea. She has business in Crometh." Lily informed them.
"Well, lets get some real sleep. Were going to be up early for our next adventure." Lily smirked.
"Okay. Its settled then. Well make it back to the cavern and use it to take us to the caverns near Haliacman river. No one feels like were cheating or anything?" Aleka smiled looking around.
"No way. Were already a week behind. I dont relish meeting up with bands of opportunist that will be waiting to waylay us all along that road there." Lily jabbed her finger at the road they had been following.
The others nodded.
"All right. Before dawn we leave." Aleka nodded Alalas way. She smiled when she thought that she was the only one that had not traveled through the portals yet.
Corita and Acheta wanted to go with them and see how it was done but there was too much going on in their village to leave.
"Perhaps on our return trip." Agnes had told them. "We have to get back, you know?"
The others had looked at each other. They hadnt thought about returning.
Morning brought rain clouds. This was winter they reminded themselves as they all struggled to get out of warm beds into the cold morning. The horses had been already attended to by Camila who was up earlier as Aleka, Lily and Alala who seemed to be too excited to sleep for long.
Acheta and Martha had gotten up early also, to make certain the women had provisions and a warm early morning meal to get them going. Hugs were given all around as Corita and Loris also joined the early affair.
"The goddess be with you all." Corita wished them as they gave a last round of hugs.
The travelers started off into the early morning damp mist that was promising more than light sprinkles by the smell of the air.
Their return trip to the cavern was uneventful as Alala and Lily scouted the parameter. It wasnt until they had reached the caverns entrance when Alalas feathered companions put in an appearance.
Continued in Road Show III