Disclaimer #1: The characters and back story of Xena: Warrior Princess are property of MCA/Universal. (Lucky devils! :) This story is copyright to the author. (Yeah, I have waaaay too much free time these days...:)
Disclaimer #2: Love/Sex warning. If you are among those who find alternative lifestyles offensive, (and gosh, that's sad...love is so rare these days...) look somewhere else for entertainment. (Please, there are so many wonderful stories being told out there...:) If you are underage, (don't worry, this too shall pass) or this type of material is illegal where you live, (moving might be good...) please respect the laws of your residence and read something less racy. This story shouldn't be worse than an "R" rated movie though.
Disclaimer #3: Violence. Oh, boy is there ever. This is the darkest story I've ever attempted. Be Warned. Extreme violence ahead. Some of it is fairly graphic, some of it isn't. Yeah, I know...seek therapy, Shay. :)
Disclaimer #4: Historical Accuracy. Kids, this story is in no way based on total historical fact. While some of the situations and names are a part of our history, I in no way intend for this piece of fiction to represent any accurate facts. In other words, I made it up to fit my plot line. My apologies to any historians in the Xenaverse.
Disclaimer #5: No Timex watches were orally assaulted in the writing of this fan fiction, however several Swatches complained of insect bites.
An age withered hand reached out and unrolled the old parchment scroll with shaky reverence. Cloudy eyes misted over as they began to read the words written in the clear, strong hand...
Chapter One: Days of Future Present
Tomorrow, gods will dance in the bones of death's confusion.
Burning with quiet love, I stood staring at a sea of faces that meant nothing to me. The golden soft hair that used to flow through my fingers now lay listlessly around your ashen face. This sorrowful snapshot in time is mine forever. A priestess chanted words, but I did not hear them. Instead, I heard your voice echoing hollowly in my mind. Words spoken only yesterday, or was it five years ago?
"Tasha my love, you will never be alone again. Not as long as you have me." But you see my sweet one, I no longer have you. Chronophage had ripped you from my arms and left me empty and alone. I could feel a part of my soul give up and die, just like you did.
The archers knocked their arrows, and Ariana shared a look of brief sorrow with her partner Christopher, then nodded. The archers released and soon, your beautiful, golden hair was ashes in the evening wind...
Water droplets fragmented the desk monitor's screen as Natasha Catherine Romanoff, Chronostream Guardian, made her latest entry into Tarot Incorporated's memory storage matrix. Her Gabrielle, the green-eyed laughing woman of love, had passed away a week ago and she wanted to record her last memories of her love before time took them away.
It was the policy of Tarot Inc., headquarters to the Guardians, to encourage its employees to record everything, for one might never know what one would find upon returning from the chronostreams. The chronostreams were the eddies of time that flowed through and around the universe, keeping all things moving forward to some unknown destiny. Scientists had discovered the existence of the 'streams many years before, but had been relatively unable to affect it any significant way. Then someone broke all the rules, and accomplished the impossible.
That someone was Dr. Erica Silverstein, physicist. On a sunlit salt flat, in the middle of Utah, Dr. Silverstein broke the speed of time. With her newfound knowledge, Dr. Silverstein also gained a great deal of responsibility. Knowing that she would not be the last to make this discovery, and also knowing that the rest of humanity was far too untrustworthy to share this new information with, she appealed to the only source she could imagine would hear her--Chronos. Her Grandmother's bedtime stories of long ago surfaced, whispering to her that only the God of Time Himself would understand the nature of her discovery and it's possible ramifications. Making a hardcopy of her data, Dr. Silverstein traveled to Athens, then to the foot of Mt. Olympus where she spent several weeks coming to terms with her own belief structure, then presented her findings in the restored Temple of the Olympiads. She was as astonished as any when her prayers were not only heard, but answered. Chronos responded to her summons, and once he had viewed her findings for himself, left with the promise that he would discuss the situation with his contemporaries.
Chronos approached several of the Higher Powers on Dr. Silverstein's behalf, but the only Immortals that would pay any attention to him were his sister, Artemis and the warrior-turned-goddess Callisto. He found it strange that the other gods scoffed at the idea that a mere mortal could break the boundaries of a science that would grant them the ability to time travel without having to take the risk of draining their own powers. Even the weakest of gods knew that something about the forces surrounding the energy of time caused a severe drain on any immortal who chose to meddle with the continua. Only Chronos was immune to it's weakening effects, and the gods had long ago set down rules about how involved Time's Master could allow himself to get with other immortal's time twisting tricks.
Accepting the help of Artemis and Callisto was a double edged sword. Artemis he knew he could trust implicitly, but Callisto was a wild card. He recognized the fact that Callisto was most likely aiding the research for her own benefit, but he figured, and his sister agreed with this, that the best way to keep track of the rogue goddess was to keep her as close to them as they could. His fears proved true when Callisto absconded with their prototype streamrider and datastrips filled with all of their collected information. Artemis, Dr. Silverstein and he did not let this set them back though, they just rebuilt and continued on.
Callisto soon absorbed the stolen information, struck out on her own and gathered the resources to start her own business. Naming her "acquisitions of antiquity" merchandising trade the "Cirran Resurrection Society" after the tiny village that had spawned her, Callisto soon had several of the richest families of the world as her sole patrons. Her goals appeared simple enough: rape history of it's precious artifacts and sell them off to the highest bidder. No one knew why the insane goddess wanted money, just that she was accumulating it in mass quantities.
To combat the Goddess of Obsession's ever growing time banditry, Chronos and Artemis took on human forms and assumed the identities of Christopher Watchman and Ariana Hunter. Together with Dr. Silverstein, they formed Tarot Incorporated. Hiring ex-military, ex-cops, computer specialists--anyone with a good background knowledge of history--they put together the first team of "Chrono Guardians." Called simply "guardians", their job was to enter the chronostreams and "fix" time, essentially giving it a shove back onto its original course.
By the time that the first group of Guardians was ready to begin to right Callisto's wrongs, Dr. Silverstein had created a way to map the parameters of history and its effect on the present. Armed with portable "streamscanners" the Guardians could now enter the chronostreams with a device capable of telling them when their mission had succeeded in righting history. Unfortunately (or fortunately if your business was prestidigitation), Dr. Silverstein's Cs-scanners were unable to penetrate the veil of the future. Chronos assured her that this was really a blessing, but that didn't stop the good Dr. from trying.
At some point, Callisto began extending her "time raids" to include the odd assassination and the relocation of people. She started offering "Chrono Holidays" vacations to any time, any part of history to the very, very rich. So again, Tarot Inc. hired more agents to combat Callisto's Cirran Resurrection Society and restore the chronostreams.
It was the year of 2090 and Natasha Romanoff was a recent graduate of Harvard University. She had finally finished her doctorate in Ancient Greek history and had begun to apply for professorial positions when Dr. Silverstein had approached her.
"Dr. Romanoff, thank you so much for seeing me. I know you must be a very busy young lady." Dr. Silverstein had smiled warmly while pumping the 18 year-olds arm enthusiastically.
"It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Dr. Silverstein." Tasha had replied, returning the smile. She was a little overwhelmed by the distinguished older scientist's presence.
"You must be wondering why I'm here."
"Yeah, I can tell that this isn't about attending the faculty tea. What gives Dr. Silverstein?"
"Oh, do call me Erica, please. Dr. Silverstein sounds so frumpy, and I refuse to admit to frumphood." Tasha had to bite her tongue to keep from chuckling.
"All right, if you'll call me Tasha. So, Erica, why are you here? I mean, I'm not a physicist, or a scientist at all really. Unless you need to know something about Pythagorus? Whom I couldn't tell you much about other than his place in Greek society."
"Oh no my dear, I'm not here seeking another boring scientist. I came to you because you are exactly what my company needs...a historian." The older woman's amber brown eyes twinkled with merriment over Tasha's confused expression.
"What do you need a historian for? Don't you work for some sort of entropy/chaos study group?" Erica laughed at that.
"Not exactly." she chuckled and then spent the next several hours explaining to Natasha about Tarot Incorporated and it's ongoing battle with the Cirran Resurrection Society.
"This is...interesting, Erica, but what the Hades has it got to do with me?" So Erica continued on and explained that they, Tarot Inc. needed people like her--people with a vast knowledge of history.
"As a matter of fact, with your knowledge being so specifically oriented, you are perfect for so many jobs that go undone because we just don't have the staff to cover them." Tasha leaned forward in her chair and placed her elbows on the table that separated her from the older woman.
"Let me see if I'm getting you here...your company wants to hire me as a history cop?"
"Yes! Exactly! We think that you would make a perfect Guardian."
"Why?" Dr. Silverstein tried to say that it was due to Tasha's doctorate alone, but Tasha had the feeling that there was something...more to it. Finally, Dr. Silverstein threw up her hands in exasperation.
"All right. All right, you win. Besides being eminently qualified educationally and psychologically, you are the only living member of your family. In other words, you have no real ties to the outside world." The mention of her orphan status caused a small shiver of pain to quake in Tasha's heart, but she pushed it aside for the moment, more interested in hearing the rest of Erica's fascinating explanation. She was fairly certain her leg was being yanked on, but she intended to give the Dr. the benefit of the doubt.
"And why is that so important?"
"Because what you will be doing, should you choose to become a Guardian, is changing history. Minutely yes, but still something that you do may alter the course of the world forever, or not at all. And due to that, it is very necessary to a Guardian psychologically that they not have to try and adapt to the new changes by having to relearn familial dynamics every time they come home from work." Erica's calmly delivered explanation finally touched a nerve deep inside of Tasha's logical mind and she realized that whatever was going on, it was certainly not a joke.
"Zeus' thunderbolts! You are SERIOUS! Aren't you? At first, I thought you were pulling my leg, but now...now I'm not so sure."
"Of course I'm serious. This is extremely serious. So, Natasha Catherine Romanoff, will you join us? I can't guarantee that you'll get rich or famous, but you will see exciting places and visit interesting times..." It had only taken Tasha fifteen minutes of silent contemplation before she caught Dr. Silverstein's amber gaze and nodded silently.
"Yes. I'll do it."
Six years later, one lifemate and more time trips than she could remember, Tasha sat in her Tarot Inc. office staring through blurred eyes at the rainbow refraction her tears made on the desk monitor. She had a choice to make now, and she knew it. She could either quit Tarot Inc. or continue to work as a Guardian, hoping that work would drive away the empty aching hole in her life that once held Gabrielle Elaine Brighton. Tasha's fingers typed out the send command and her memories were once again locked away in the Tarot storage matrix. Wiping her eyes, she continued to stare blankly at the hologram of Gabrielle, her sparkling, brilliant green eyes alive with the joy of the moment. It was a snap taken the day they had exchanged their Forever Vows and pledged each other their hearts.
Then the 'phage came and stole away her happiness. Chronophage, the AIDS of the twenty-first century; no sooner had modern medicine figured out a way to cure the deadly immune deficiency disease than did Mother Gaia inflict a new horror on the lives of her humans. No one knew exactly what caused the chronophage, but it was known that any Traveler who came into contact with a younger version of themselves three or more times contracted the DNA disintegrating disease. What was the most horrifying aspect of the 'phage was that it was contagious in it's final stages. Sores would form on the bodies of 'phage victims and emit airborne viral spores that would find a host in any non- affected person near the 'phage-ridden patient. The general public had no idea where the deadly spores that passed the dreaded disease around originated from, they just knew that their loved ones were dying at an alarming rate.
Her Gabrielle had been an excellent Guardian. With her knowledge of the recent past, she was the perfect insertion agent for catching criminals attempting to free their younger selves from incarceration. Twice, Gabrielle had had the unpleasant misfortune of running smack dab into her younger self. Once, while chasing down a hacker in the bowels of New York's undertunnels, she had run into herself on her first 'stream job. They had talked briefly and Gabrielle had been oh so careful not to reveal any future details to her rookie self. The second time, she had been chasing a notorious mass murderer through a maze of time that had her ending up one day before she started. That particular job had so unnerved Gabrielle that it had taken her almost two weeks before she felt competent enough to go back to work. Tasha remembered with poignant clarity holding her lover close while Gabrielle's small body shook with nightmare induced spasms.
Tasha was completely unaware of the circumstances surrounding the reasons for Gabrielle's contraction of the deadly chronophage. Part of her love's legacy to her was complete access to the memories she had painstakingly preserved in Tarot Inc.'s storage matrix. As Tasha began to read from Gabrielle's journal, she was stricken by the vision of her beloved slouched in the plump recliner in their den, fingers flying over the keys of their home computer. Her Gabrielle was always so conscientious about keeping track of all her memories, and she blessed the younger woman's perseverance now. There were thousands of entries, everything from a bittersweet description of a quickly shared cola before a 'stream jump, to a detailed report of their first night together. It was while scanning through these memories of the past two years that she had found the entry dealing with Gabrielle's third self-encounter.
The assignment had been a simple one. Gabrielle had been sent to the year 2073 to stop an anarchist from assassinating Angela Muniez, the current President of the North American Conglomeration. In 2073, Mrs. Muniez was a patient at the Brazelton Neo-natal Hospital, delivering her first born son. The anarchist's plan had been to impersonate a neo-natal doctor and inject the pregnant woman with an untraceable narcotic that would have slain both her and her child in child birth, making the deaths look like a tragic accident.
Fortunately, Gabrielle had stopped the idiot in time and had sent him back to 2097 to be tried and convicted for his crime. She had been on her way to the return point when a hysterical woman, in the throes of labor had grasped her arm and begged her for help. Gabrielle, in her guise as a delivery nurse, could hardly say no to the gravid woman's pleas. Leading the heaving woman to Labor and Delivery, they had gotten on an elevator when the woman let out a terrible shriek and collapsed. Stopping the elevator in mid-ascent, Gabrielle had done a quick examination of the woman and discovered that she was delivering. Poor Gabrielle, Tasha thought to herself, her beloved had barely enough medical knowledge to qualify for a nurse tech, much less as the RN she had passed herself off as. Yet true to Gabrielle's form, she hadn't backed down from the challenge, just slapped on a pair of sterile gloves and proceeded to deliver the child. Tasha smiled and scrubbed away fresh tears at the side notes that Gabrielle had jotted down about someday wanting to have children of her own.
It was when the woman's pain twisted face relaxed into a clearer semblance of humanity and softened in the tender lines of love that Gabrielle had realized the awful truth. The new mother that she was cradling on her lap, newborn child tucked tight to her breast, was her own Mother. The shock had been overwhelming. When the elevator had been activated by a nervous father on the Delivery floor, he got the surprise of his lifetime. The doors had opened to one very exhausted, but proud Momma Brighton and one hysterical L&D nurse. Dr.'s were summoned, Mrs. Brighton and her new daughter, Gabrielle were taken to a room and the elder Gabrielle snapped out of her shock just enough to make a hasty retreat back to 2095.
That had been two years ago. Gabrielle had kept the circumstances of her delay a secret from all but Dr. Silverstein and Chris Watcher, extracting from them their solemn promise that they would not reveal what had occurred. When the 'phage manifested nearly two years later, she had calmly taken the news, kissed the stunned Tasha passionately, walked out of the Medical office, and committed suicide. Tasha had been devastated.
The sudden death of her beloved plunged Tasha into a state of anger and guilt ridden depression. Under the misguided notion that she couldn't go on without Gabrielle by her side, she attempted to take her own life. Ariana had found her, drunk as a sailor, high on barbiturates and bawling her eyes out while watching holomovies of Gabrielle, chanting "I'm coming, my love." over and over. Rushing the dying Tasha to the hospital, staying by her side while the emotionally destroyed woman recovered, then preparing the beautiful funeral for Gabrielle, Ariana had done everything she could to prove to Tasha that there were still some things worth living for.
"Even though I'll never touch your beautiful face again, my love, I cannot abandon my duty to Ariana. But I will be with you again. I promise you that." Tasha whispered the heartfelt pledge to the hologram. The final entry in Gabrielle's matrix was a single sentence directed to Tasha: "I will always be with you, my love."
A knock at the door stole away the haze of memories that Tasha had immersed herself in. She sat up, scrubbed her face once more and snapped off the holoemitter.
"Come in." The door cycled open, revealing the age worn face of Dr. Silverstein. "Good afternoon, Erica. What can I do for you?" Even in her own ears, Tasha's voice sounded harsh, rough and choked with all the pain of the last few days.
"Hello Tasha, beautiful ceremony. I just came by to tell you how very sorry I am." The doctor seated herself in one of the office's chairs.
"Thank you. But Erica, you've never been one for social calls, so out with it. Why are you really here?" Dr. Silverstein chuckled wryly. Even at her worst, Tasha could still see right through Erica's facade.
"You're right of course. I should have known that I wouldn't be able fool you. Well, all right. I'm here to see if you're ready for a new assignment." Tasha sat back in her chair. An assignment... Was she ready? Slipping into the 'streams, the heart pounding glory of the chase...it could be all that she needed to take her mind away from the soul crushing pain that had rattled her heart's door every morning since learning of her beloved's death. It would also mean that she would spend many days away from the places where Gabrielle's scent...her essence still lingered. Was she ready to give that up? She toyed with the idea studying Dr. Silverstein's composed features with silent carelessness. Erica tried to hide just how important it was to her that Tasha take this assignment, but something must have broken past the perfectly schooled expression of nonchalance, because suddenly Tasha sat forward, locked her eyes with the Dr.'s and gripped the edge of the desk.
"I get the feeling that this is no ordinary assignment." she drawled softly.
Chapter Two: Chance of a Lifetime
Twisting and turning around in the moonlight, the spider's dance is one of glee, but who are we to judge?
"You couldn't be more right." said Dr. Silverstein after a long moment of silence. "As a matter of fact, you could say that this assignment is so far from the ordinary, that it's almost as unbelievable as you first thought time travel to be."
"Must be one hell of a blip on the mapper to warrant that kind of disclaimer, Erica. Shoot. What's the Queen of Obsession up to these days?"
"It's a long story. Would you care for a drink first?" Dr. Silverstein stood and pressed the door release and called for one of the multitude of office gophers to take an order.
"Just a cola please."
"Avery could you please bring Dr. Romanoff and I two colas?"
"Right away ma'am." The young man raced off and returned shortly with the sweat covered cans of caffinated beverage. Erica sat back down, lit up a cigarette and cracked her can.
"All right, I'm listening." Tasha said after the Dr. had taken a couple of long swigs.
"First of all, tell me what you know of Xena: Warrior Princess."
"I don't really know all that much. Um...It was a 2-D television show in the late 1990's, one of the first to portray strong women in lead character positions...very camp driven action and adventure. It ran until the year 2000 when it ended it's successful five year run with the typical "and they rode off into the sunset" ending. Oh yeah, I think they made two or three movies, but by then, the Religious Right had gotten a strong hold over the old American Government and they deemed the relationship between the show's leads to be "morally degrading" and called for the creators to halt any further production. By the time saner heads were in command and the Conglomeration was formed, the show's fanbase had all but disappeared. Not to mention that the show's stars were well into advanced age." Tasha recited the facts dryly, as though she were reading from a textbook.
"That's one story. What if I told you that there really was a Xena?"
"In Ancient Greek history? I've never heard of one." Tasha scoffed.
"That, my dear, is where we come in. You see, yesterday, if I'd asked you that question, you'd have given me an entirely different answer."
"Someone messed with time?"
"You could say that."
"That someone wouldn't have been the Cirran Resurrection Society, would it?"
"Got it in one. You see my dear Xena was very, very real. Take a look at this." Dr. Silverstein handed Tasha a data strip. Tasha took the thin sheet of encrypted information and slipped it into the stripreader on her console. As fast as her eyes could blink, data began to download across her screen. Her surgically enhanced vision absorbed the information, the shape and history of the warrior princess taking hold in her mind. Xena, it seemed, had been a petty warlord that had battled her way to absolute dominance over Greece sometime before the birth of Christ, wreaking havoc and generally being a royal pain in the Grecian arse. Then something had happened, and she had had an abrupt change of heart. She gave up her power, disbanded her army and began to travel the known world, acting as a sort of vigilante against others of her former profession. She was also the mother of Solon of Athens, one of the first people to ever define the rights of human beings. Only, Tasha couldn't remember any Solon of Athens. In fact, the first person she could ever think of as historically coming forward and speaking out against slavery was Abraham Lincoln. This was indeed getting interesting.
"Ok, I see your point. What's my job?" she was definitely interested now.
"What has happened, as best as we can ascertain, is that an agent of the CRS, possibly the head of the corporation herself, has gone back in time and murdered the warrior princess before she could do certain things."
"I see. Then my job would be to go back and make sure that the warrior princess doesn't die?"
"I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately, in Xena's case, things are never simple. You see, the person who murdered her was extremely effective about it. They destroyed the body." Tasha's brow furrowed. Destruction of a body was a pretty sure sign that someone wanted the dead person in question to stay dead. Even if she was to go back and save the warrior princess, at the exact moment in time that her body was destroyed, she would vanish anyway. Paradox, yuck. She hated paradoxes.
"Okaaaay. So, someone wants the warrior princess gone for good. Other than the loss of an excellent statesman, I can't really see why that would make such a significant blip in the chronostreams."
"It's not so much the loss of the warrior princess that is the cause. It's the loss of those lives she touched, however briefly, after her redemption. Millions of people who owe their very existence to the warrior princess haven't been born because she wasn't there to save their ancestors." Dr. Silverstein explained.
"I follow you. What am I supposed to do then? Find a replacement?" She said it as a joke, but the look on Erica's face told her that she had answered her own question. "Oh, gods, who in their right mind would take the place of someone from over 3000 years ago? I mean, this would be a lifelong situation, right?" Dr. Silverstein took a final drag of her cigarette, then stubbed it out on the desk's ashtray.
"We were hoping that you would, Dr. Romanoff."
"Excuse me?" Tasha asked incredulously. "You want ME to do it? I know that I'm the only Greek Scholar with the background to understand this, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to leave this century behind for good."
"Tasha, listen, we didn't ask you to do this because of your educational history, and we know that we are asking you to sacrifice everything for the sake of one woman..." Erica began to explain.
"Then why did you choose me?"
"You have a right to know this...Tasha, you are the only living descendant of the original Xena of Amphipolis."
What emotion should she be feeling right now? Tasha wondered as she lay on the immaculate steel table in the Tarot lab. Her wrists, ankles, chest and head were strapped down to the metal platform, a precaution they had told her, and she was beginning to understand the reasons why people went mad. Above her, a modern Damoclean sword was poised, ready to steal away not her life, but her consciousness. Sticky gooey glue pads were adhered to various bald patches on her skull, and the electronic whine of the myriad scanners filled her ears until she was certain that a raging case of tinitus would be more welcome. The chemical stink of sterilization cleansers burned away her nose hairs and Tasha's stomach began to crawl up her esophagus.
"Tell me again that I'm doing the right thing." She whispered hoarsely as Ariana, Christopher and Dr. Silverstein prepared the neural-mnemonic feed. The surgery she was about to undergo would secrete the genetic memories of Xena of Amphipolis in the hypothalamus of Tasha's brain, memories which would be accessed and brought to the cerebral cortex just after making the jump into the 'streams. Tasha had no idea where Ariana and Christopher had gotten the memories of the now non-existent warrior woman, and she was pretty certain she didn't want to ask either. She was still trying to convince herself that she wasn't about to make the biggest mistake of her life.
At first, she had said no, but then she had gone home once more to her empty apartment, seen all the mementos she and Gabrielle had gathered over their years together, and couldn't take it anymore. She had nothing here in the twenty first century. Better to give up her life for the sake of a few million people than to go on without the love that had been her strength. Contacting Erica and Ariana at 4:00 A.M. in the morning, she had groggily announced, "I'll go." and that was that.
"Of course you are, Tasha. Don't be silly. Now, just relax. All you will feel is a pinch." Dr. Silverstein maneuvered the cortex penetrating syringe to the laser defined coordinates above the bridge of Tasha's nose. The young historian flinched a bit when she felt the burn of the anesthetic race up her arm, but soon that feeling faded away, as did her awareness of her surroundings.
Tasha felt herself slipping along the chronostreams, the ripping, tweaking, twisting, gut-pulling sensations trickling down her spine. A voice echoed from somewhere far behind her, "Relax Tasha, and watch." She nodded her assent and more words found her ears. "Tasha, it is imperative that you succeed in your mission. See now the reasons why." Tasha's eyes opened, and the vision of a beautiful valley opened before her. Viewing from the vertigo charged position of height, she could see the little town that bustled with harvest activity. A laughing, tow headed child raced down a sod strewn path, carrying a basket of fresh vegetables. The vision twisted, the village becoming a burnt out hulk filled with mutilated and desiccated corpses. Tasha's internal eyes slid shut and the scene vanished. 'What the...?'
"Just watch...and remember..."
When her mind's vision was restored, she was in the middle of a bloody battle, men were laying in shredded heaps around her and the ground was thick with blood and gore. She could distantly hear the sounds of men and women dying, and the staccato charges of gunfire strafed overhead. 'Where am I?' She questioned her internal guide.
"You are viewing what has been/will be. This is France, circa 1918. You see that soldier there," a young man was edged in a faint white glow, "he is slated to be a great writer, one of the very best, but because the warrior princess ceased to be, a young man whose village was saved so long ago, did not marry a woman, who did not produce a child...and on down the line, until the child that was born that would save this man and nurse him back to health was not born. Now this man, this dying young man, has no reason to live, or to write."
'And if that person were to be?' Tasha had to ask.
"Then this man will provide the inspiration for countless other authors and people and inspire some of the greatest love of the twentieth century."
'Ok.' And her eyes closed.
Again, she floated in the timeless haze. Flashes and bits of images peppered her mind. People to be born, to die, to live and love that would and would not happen. Through it all, a child, then a woman of amber golden hair kept appearing, first as a youth in a village, then as a bard, orating in a great amphitheater in an evening shadowed city. Those images changed to that of the young woman in chains, man upon man thrusting himself upon her, and her words dying in her heart. Child upon child was born of her loins, then, her seventh child was thrusting itself free, stillborn. A brief vision of a midwife's face, cracked with sorrow as she wrapped the dead babe in gray cloth and then, drawing the birthing sheet up over the death stilled and time scarred face of the mother. A face Tasha knew, even in her drug induced slumber. Her Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle!" She sat up, breaking the fabric of the straps that held her in place. "No..." Her shoulders slumped forward as she gave in to the grief that rode her soul. Warm hands held her, warm hands brushed away her tears.
"Shh now. I know it's hard." Erica's voice was choked with weariness. She continued to stroke the sweat soaked hair out of Tasha's face. "Now those memories will recede into the darkness of your mind where they will be the kernel of your struggle. Sleep now, young one. Sleep, and let Morpheus carry away your pain." Tasha's drug fogged brain took the suggestion and acted on it.
Once Ariana and Dr. Silverstein were certain that Tasha had succumbed to the anesthetic, they began the arduous process of implanting cybernetic muscle and bone enhancers as well as increasing the outputs of her adrenal and pituitary glands. The cybernetic modifications complete, they released a series of self replicating surgical nano-computers into Tasha's bloodstream.
The muscle and bone lace would grant Tasha's body amazing athletic abilities and the nanites would make certain that 98% of all mortal injuries she sustained were repairable. These additions, combined with Tasha's intellect, vast knowledge of many fighting styles and previous cybernetic enhancements would make for a lethal combination indeed. She would be the warrior of many skills.
She woke in her own bed, groggy and hungry. Running her hands through her hair, she tumbled out of bed, grabbed her robe and shuffled out to her kitchen. The cupboards revealed nothing appetizing and her icebox was appallingly bare, but she made do with a glass of synth-cola and a piece of honey smothered bread. The caffeine in the cola hit her system and soon she was awake enough to drag herself into the sonic shower, then dress for work.
The whiff-whiff of the fabric of her one piece jumper echoed loudly down the halls of Tarot Inc. as she strode with a purpose to the 'Stream chamber. Erica was waiting for her by the door of the streamrider, Ariana was inside the bullet shaped vessel making some minor adjustments to the interior and Christopher was seated behind a bank of rapidly blinking machinery and computers.
"Good morning, Dr. Romanoff." said Ian, the affable security guard that stood just inside the chamber entrance. He scanned her ident badge and nodded her through. "Everything is green. Go right in. They're expecting you." Other techie types were milling about, running through the checklists that they carried like bibles. "For the lack of a nail, the battle was lost" was a favorite expression among Tarot Inc.'s technical staff and they prided themselves on their ability to cover every angle with a cool professionalism that would make most folks cringe. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was checked and re-checked a thousand times before a Guardian was sent out into the 'streams. No one wanted any accidents, and even though they did occur, the incidents were few and far between. Tasha smiled at everyone and walked over to Dr. Silverstein.
"Are we ready?" she asked, noting that the streamrider was one of the newer, neuronet equipped models.
"Just about, Ariana wanted to make sure there were no "unofficial" passengers."
"Good idea. If this Callisto is as loony as you paint her to be, she might just turn herself into a fly and take a trip down memory lane."
"This would not be a good thing, Tasha." Erica smiled at her protege, pleased that the young woman was in control of her emotions enough to joke. At that moment, Ariana poked her head out of the streamrider's guts and gave the "thumbs up" on it. Smiling at the elder scientist, Tasha winked.
"You know, you never did tell me what happened to this timeline's Xena." Tasha said airily while leaning against the 'streamrider's rear panel. Ariana made a tsking noise and Erica chuckled.
"We were wondering if you'd ask. Our informants tell us that Callisto snuck into the warrior's tent just after a battle and ran her through the back." Erica finally said.
"Oh how pleasant. When was this?" Tasha's eyebrows rose in query.
"A year after she met Caesar. About two years after Cortese's attack on Amphipolis I would guess." answered Ariana as she wiped her hands on the rag hanging from the back pocket of her jumpsuit.
"Oh, goody. If memory serves, this means I have about ten years of blood, guts and gore to live through now. Gods, the things I do for you people."
"Tasha, you have no idea of just how much we really appreciate this. If it's within my power, ask me and I shall do what I can to do it." said Ariana softly as she rounded the nose of the time car.
"Then wish me luck. I think I might need it. Oh, go ahead and check out my will, I'm pretty sure that this is a one way trip." She smiled shyly, hoping her nervousness wouldn't show.
"We will miss you, Natasha." Ariana said softly, hugging the historian close. Erica and the rest of the crew echoed their leader's sentiments and then Tasha climbed into the time travel vehicle and slipped on the wire net that would link her brain to the car's central computer. "Good luck, Guardian Romanoff. May the gods be with you."
"Let's do this." The hatch hissed shut and the lights around her faded. Tasha closed her eyes and slid her hands into the arm grips. She heard the protective restraint's click shut and felt the familiar sting of the needle injecting the twighlight sleep drug into her veins. She had one last chance to consider what she was about to do.
'I am about to take the place of someone who makes Jack the Ripper look tame, and then I have to try to turn myself into Mother Teresa. I wonder which one I will be? I wonder if I fuck up too badly if Ariana will just send someone to kill this new me off? I wonder if I will make it out of this alive? I won...' Her thoughts were cut off by the laser brightness of the neural interface piercing through her conscious mind and imprinting the knowledge she would need to become Xena: Warrior Princess in her brain. A series of thoughts, feelings and images that rushed through her mind so fast she barely had time to realize that something was happening exploded in her, then she knew nothing else.
Chapter Three: Resurrection
Forever is a god that no one really believes in, but everyone wishes were true.
Xena woke up with a start. She was laying stark naked in a field of wheat, the morning sun dappling her body with its summer warm kisses. Sitting up, she ran her hands over her battle-scarred body, discovering to her dismay that she had three new barely healed wounds. She had no idea where she had obtained the scars, but she was satisfied to note that while she might be as bare as the day she was born, she was alive.
"Guess that means I won. Now, where in Hades is my stuff? And what the Tartarus did I do with my army?" she grumbled. Searching the immediate area produced an unlocked trunk. When opened, she found her armor, weapons and a few dinars in loose change. Shrugging into the familiar body hugging leathers and arming herself with practiced ease, she looked around, attempting to place her whereabouts. Not recognizing the land around her, she whistled shrilly, and was pleased to hear the answering whicker of a horse. Cantering through the field of barely ripened grain was a beautiful gray stallion. He nearly bowled her over in his enthusiasm to be scratched and petted, whuffing her hair with warm, hay flavored puffs. Xena laughed at her mount's obvious pleasure in seeing her.
"Hey, hey, all right take it easy there boy. Yes, yes I'm glad to see you too." She rubbed and patted the horse till he calmed down enough to allow her to swing up onto his back. "Well, Phantos, lets go see where we are. Yah!" Phantos took off with a whiney, kicking up the dust behind him.
They traveled for three candlemarks before coming to a small, quiet hamlet. A sign posted outside of the village proclaimed it as "Tierne."
"Lovely little place...just ripe for the plucking." Xena licked her lips in anticipation of a good fight. "Looks like I could use a little cash anyways." She directed her steed to the tavern situated in the middle of the town's square. Tying Phantos to the convenient post, she swaggered into the bar, sizing up the clientele for potential soldiers and/or trouble. Most of the room's inhabitants were farmers, just enjoying a refreshing drink before heading home to their families, but there were a few of the hard bitten men that she liked to have in her forces. Tossing a dinar at the barkeeper, she smiled widely at the room and casually said, "Ale, and make it fast. I've a thirst that needs quenchin'." A gap toothed, scraggily bearded warrior stood up.
"'Eh dere lashie, Oh'd be 'appy to quench yer thirsht for ye." The room's occupants snickered quietly. Xena's eyebrow shot up.
"Really?" she drawled, letting her eyes take in the unkempt man's features. "What makes you think you could keep up with me, old man?"
"Heh heh. Lashie, I be Meklos da brave. I keeled me many an enemy in my day. I may be old, but I ain't dead. I kin still shastishfy yer needs." He grabbed his crotch suggestively and leered. The quiet chuckling grew to a few taunts and some laughter. The barkeeper, noting the dangerous glint in the warrior woman's aquamarine eyes, ducked behind his counter and began to pray to Dionysus that his precious bar wouldn't get too torn up.
"Well Meklos the brave, I'm Xena. And I don't have any needs that YOU could satisfy." Xena grinned inwardly at the gasp of fear that washed over the building's occupants. Meklos dropped into his chair and his face grew as white as marble.
"Xe...Xena? But I...I...I thought you were d...d...dead." he stammered out. Instantly she was across the room, slamming two fingers into his neck and yanking his head back painfully.
"I've just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You have thirty seconds left to your miserable existence. Don't waste them, tell me why you thought I was dead."
"The...your commander...Miken I think, came through here...*koff*...he drank a toast to your...*koff*...memory..." Meklos' voice started to fade and blood began to trickle from his nose. Xena made a noise of impatience and released the helpless drunk. Wrinkling her nose at the sudden foul stench of urine, she gagged out another question.
"When was this?" He took a couple of ragged breaths before answering.
"About a week ago." Xena thought fast. A week ago...she remembered crawling into her tent after letting the battle induced lust that overwhelmed her be sated by one of her better looking soldiers. Drunk, exhausted, and burned out from fighting off those who would threaten the safety of her homeland, Xena had slipped into a deep sleep. Xena rubbed her eyes. Gods, had she been drunk for a week? That would certainly explain waking up mother naked in a field of grain, but not why everyone thought I was dead...unless...well, I suppose I could have wandered off in a drunken haze or something.
"Did Miken mention why he thought I was dead?" she asked the drunk.
"He just said that someone had murdered you in your sleep, Princess. Please don't hurt me." He was on his knees, begging. Murdered!? In my sleep? Gods! She then had faint memory tickle the edges of her mind of waking in the middle of the night, calling for a female bed slave, ravishing the frightened woman, and then staggering off into the night. She had shortly found herself at a shrine to Ares and being a dutiful worshipper of her God, she had prostrated herself before the altar, offering her body to the master of war. He had appeared, pleased to see her and they had spent a timeless eternity sharing war stories. The dead woman must have been the bed slave, she realized and Miken too stupid, or maybe, too eager for command to check beyond the blood stains. Well, she would deal with her former lieutenant in her own time. At the moment, she was beginning to get a headache from all the dizzying thoughts racing through her still foggy brain.
"You can live---for now. Hades has no need of any more worthless drunks." Returning to the bar, she reached over the counter, grabbed the frightened man who was still cowering near the floor and growled, "Where's my ale!?"
"Coming right up!" He blubbered, scuttling off to get her drink. Further pondering of her rumored death worsened the budding headache, something that did not please the warrior princess. To cease the incessant pounding of her skull, she proceeded to get very drunk.
It was around moonrise when the warrior staggered off to find an alley to crash in. Running into a woman who was hurrying home in the darkness, Xena cursed in six different languages before she took a good look at the woman who was struggling to right herself. Xena's alcohol mushed brain was stunned. The woman was extremely attractive and her subservient position on the ground made her even more appealing to the warlord. Grabbing the woman by her flailing arm, she hauled her to her feet.
"Sorry 'bout that." said the warrior with drunken slowness.
"Oh no, it was all my fault. I should have watched where I was going. Oh! You look very tired. Do you have a place to sleep? Oh, of course you do, you're Xena the warrior princess..." The woman rambled along at breakneck pace.
"Nooooo." Xena drew out the word. "I don't. I was just going to sleep in the woods tonight. You offering something better?" she leered. The woman blushed, but nodded slightly.
"Y...Yes. I have an extra cot I can offer you." Xena leaned in to the woman. Letting her gaze bore into the woman's beautiful face for a moment, then tightening her grip on the woman's wrist.
"Just an extra cot?" She husked, allowing her natural sexuality to taint her question. The woman blushed a deep scarlet that the moon's light easily picked out.
"Uh...I...that is...well...I...ah...if you want more, then who am I to tell you any different? I'm just Adara, no one special." Adara was starting to sweat even though the night was cool.
"Well, Adara-no-one-special, do you know what I'd like?" Xena continued to pour erotic overtones into her conversation.
"N...no. N...not really."
"What I'd like, Adara is to take you, right here, right now and fuck your brains out." Matching actions to words, Xena captured the beautiful girl's mouth with hers and ransacked her body with her hands. Adara stood stiffly at first, but as the warlord's hands continued to caress her body, her own sexuality came boiling to the surface and she began to return Xena's passion with a fire of her own creation. Xena responded to the girl's need by shoving her roughly against a wall, pushing her skirt up and sliding two fingers into the now damp thatch of hair between her legs. Adara cried out softly at the intrusion, then thrust downward as the fingers began to plunge in and out rapidly.
"Ooh. Gods..." She whispered raggedly. "Feels...so...good." she breathed.
"Yes, you do feel good, Adara. You are such a sweet fuck." Xena growled into the young woman's ear and bit down on the rapidly beating artery.
"Unh!" Adara managed to gasp. The fingers inside her quickened their pace, then withdrew, leaving her poised on the edge of...something. "No! Don't..." she cried out.
"You want me, Adara? Take me home and I promise you, I will make you feel things...I will make you cum," Adara's eyes were glazing over at each word and she was nodding, "I will make you cum so hard that you will never look at anyone again without thinking of me." Speechless, Adara took the warrior's offered hand and led Xena to her home.
Xena kept her word. She fucked Adara all night and most of the next day, and when the warlord's passion finally ran dry, she kept her other promise. She made certain that the girl would never forget her. Just as the very exhausted peasant was drifting off to sleep, Xena drew her dagger and cut off two of the girl's fingers. Adara screamed and sat up in shocked pain, then fell to the bed with a whimper at the feral look on the warrior's face.
"Why?" she sobbed. Xena waved the severed digits under the girl's nose.
"These fingers pleased me. I think I shall have to keep them so that no one else will know their talents." She laughed wildly at the look of utter terror on Adara's cherubic face. Running her bloody dagger across the girl's jaw, she grinned wickedly and delighted in the spirals the girl's crimson essence was painting on the creamy skin. Leaning down, she kissed Adara passionately and then whispered, "Keep the door open for me, gorgeous. You were a great fuck."
Xena left Tierne the next day, heading for Therma. She made good time, covering the distance in only five days. At Therma, she found Darphus, a second rate warrior who had served in her army when she battled the centaurs. Darphus was, needless to say, surprised to see her.
"Xena!" He yelled out across the tavern as she'd wandered in. "I thought you were dead!"
"Darphus." she replied, grasping his arm and smiling widely. "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated."
"I can see that! So, are you back for good? I mean," he leered at her, "are we back in business? Cuz I know where most of the men are..." Xena smiled at the homely man's toothless grin.
"Excellent. I'm thirsty, are you thirsty? Good. Darphus, you just earned yourself a promotion. Let's celebrate with a drink."
"And so I began my ten year reign of terror. I swept over Greece with a vengeance born of desperation and anger. Ares came to me for a time and in his arms I learned some of the crueler acts of humanity. After Ares, I met Caesar and from him I learned the lesson of betrayal. Vowing never to let my emotions control me again, I went east, away from the land that had born me and away from the home that no longer wanted me. On the great plains of the Russ, I met Borias, a wild, passionate warrior whose presence sang in my blood, driving me into his arms like a wild animal in heat. From Borias, I learned how to drive terror into the hearts of your enemy, and how to use that terror to your greatest advantage. It was Borias who introduced me to the sage whose teachings I would not know the true value of until almost too late.
Lao Ma. The Chin woman who was as soft as water and as hard as the raging flood. She offered me her love and her wisdom, but I was unable to accept either. Her words branded my soul and her powers healed my shattered legs, the legacy of my time with Caesar, but even then, after she had risked so much to reach me, I spurned her teachings to follow the easier path of the ruthless killer. I could have walked away from Ares then, but I was too weak. I betrayed Lao Ma's teachings when I slaughtered Ming Tzu and threw away her love when I threatened to do the same to her child, Ming T'ien.
She banished both Borias and I from the land of Chin, vowing that if we were to ever set foot on her side of the Great Wall, our lives would be forfeit. I didn't care. Borias was now wholly mine, and I set out to make my mark on the world.
We returned to Greece, gathered an army and I began to use the lessons I had learned to spread my name across the land like wildfire. We crossed pathes with the Centaurs and I gave birth to my son, Solon. Borias was killed in the midst of trying to settle peacefully with the Centaurs and I lost my stomach for battle with them. Giving my son to Kaleipus partly to pledge my non-agression and partly to protect my boy from those who would use him against me, I rode away from that portion of my life. I continued to be the scourge of Greece though, and soon, everywhere I went, people knew my name. Xena: Warrior Princess.
The battle of Corinth led me to Cirra where I cold-bloodedly destroyed every single shingle and timber of the tiny hamlet. It is only now that I realize why my fury was so great that I turned a thriving village into a burnt out ruin, but then I only knew the crimson haze of the kill. I still remember a young girl child turning to look at me, face smudged by soot and sorrow, crying out, "Why?" I had no answer for her then, so I rode away, never to look back."
---Excerpt taken from Echoes of War:
Lessons of a Warrior Princess,
by Gabrielle of Poteidaia
Chapter Four: The Struggle Within
What is the reward? he asked. There is no real reward other than that which we give ourselves.
On the surface, no trace of Natasha Catherine Romanoff remained. Only the Warrior Princess shined through to the outside world. And what a warrior she was. Ares exulted in her slaughter, personally overseeing every single battlefield she graced. He drank in the smell of the death and carnage she left behind. Standing in the middle of a field strewn with the gore of 10,000 men, he picked up a bloodied sword, ran his fingers through the muck encrusting the blade and thought, "I like this Xena better than the original. Definitely a keeper. Must remind myself to thank 'Temis and Chrono sometime.'
At night, in her deepest dreams however, Tasha was aware. Aware and sickened by the horrors her body committed by day. She raged, and fumed and cried and swore that the next day, somehow, someway she would throw her body onto an enemy's blade, yet each day she awoke and she was Her again. No control. No awareness until sleep came. Then the atrocities got worse. Crucifixions that made the Romans look tame. Wholesale slaughter of villages just for the pleasure of seeing the earth run red. Rapine, pillage...all the things that make a warlord fearsome. Xena WAS fear and death. When she came to town, not even the mice could escape. She killed anything she could touch. The only moral she had was simple. No women. No children. After the horror of Cirra, even Xena could not bear to watch a child die. The crimes drove the logical, warm hearted Tasha deeper and deeper into her own psyche until even she could not find herself in her dreams, and the nights became Xena's to own as well.
One day, Xena decided that striking fear into the hearts of most of Greece wasn't enough. She wanted the world. In order to accomplish this though, she realized that she would have to rid herself of any obstacles. One giant obstacle being Hercules. The Son of Zeus would not sit idly by while she had her fun with the citizenry of Greece and the world. She knew that she had to kill him. The question was how? Pondering that idea, she set about gathering the largest army she'd ever led. Cutthroats, thieves, assassins, cheap dinar store crooks with nothing to lose and everything to gain by serving her. She massed her forces in Elysia, her fortress in Arcadia and set about making every single one of them completely loyal to her, either by using her body, her mind, or her sword arm. By the time she was ready to implement her carefully formed plan, they all worshipped the ground she walked on. She was the Warrior Princess and they were her loyal subjects.
The first part of her plan was to turn Hercules' best friend, Iolaus, against him. Accomplishing that was simplicity itself. Masquerading as a woman seeking aid against a warlord named Patrakus, she convinced Iolaus to follow her. Using her disarming ways to charm the man was so easy, it was pathetic. The second part of her plan was to send her lieutenant, Theodorus, after Hercules. She knew that the fool would fail, but his attack would bring Hercules to her and undermine Iolaus' faith in his friend. True to form, Herc and Iolaus fought, and exchanged harsh words. She had succeeded in driving a wedge between the friends. Hercules left with his tail between his legs.
She had known that Estrogon would fold under Hercules' superior fighting prowess, and slitting the idiot's throat with her chakram had been pure pleasure. Racing away on Phantos' back, she continued to carry out her plans to bring the Son of Zeus to his demise. Faking injury had been too easy. Iolaus was properly solicitous and outraged at his former friend's "attack" and was now ready to do her dirty work for her. Xena enjoyed a small smile of victory.
At night, in the dark recesses of her mind, Tasha raged. She knew that all this had to happen, but the constant influx of atrocity after atrocity was beginning to wear her down. She feared that the evil of Xena's madness was taking over and that she would never be able to instigate the redemption she knew must happen.
Xena's plans fell through though. The friendship between Iolaus and Hercules proved to be too much for her sexual control. She ran off in defeat, but vowed she would get revenge. It took some time, but she managed to gather more men to support her. Only Darphus remained of the men she went against Hercules with. For his loyalty, she promoted him to her second in command. Little did she know how much this promotion would cost her.
Moving from Arcadia, to the Parthean Provinces, Xena exulted in the power that she felt when village after village fell to her sword. Friction began to built between her and Darphus over her iron clad resolution to spare women and children, ending with the two of them, along with Darphus' second standing on a hillside and arguing over the treatment of the village below them. Xena stoutly held to the belief that she was not a barbarian and would not hear Darphus' plans to attack that night. Darphus sneered his distaste of her plans, but followed her lead for the moment. The next day, they carried out her plans, attacking the village.
When Xena looked up to see Darphus pulling his blood soaked blade from the body of a woman, cold fury clenched her soul. Tasha, still struggling to find some way to reach the warrior princess' heart, seized upon this act as a lifeline and began to whisper to Xena's mind that _she_ was not the monster she thought she was. That _she_ could be better. Xena shook her head to clear her mind of the unsettling thoughts and gave Darphus a look that clearly said, "We'll talk later."
After the battle, in her command pavilion, she and Darphus exchanged heated words. She left the tent convinced that he would loyally follow her orders. The trip to the northern villages didn't take much time, but it was enough for rebellion to forment in her ranks. Arriving at the burnt out shell of the western village, Xena once again felt the cold, sick fury at Darphus' treason. She confronted him and was about to wipe the taunting sneer off of his face with her bare fists when she heard the baby's wail. That wail brought Tasha almost fully into control of her body and she raced to find the source. Discovering one live child among the carnage was enough to break the cycle of self hatred inside of Xena's mind and allow some of the ideas that Tasha had been sowing to take hold. Securing the child against Darphus, Xena raced back to their campsite to think. She had to deal with Darphus. She had to regain the loyalty of her men. Leaving the babe in the care of the amusing merchant, Slowmoningus or something like that, she went to confront Darphus.
Holding her blade to the idiot's throat did nothing to banish his leering grin and when her men stepped forward taking his side, she knew that she had lost the battle. Resigned to her fate, she made her peace with the gods and allowed herself to be dragged off to face the gauntlet.
As the men lined up and Darphus' second removed her armor and weapons, she felt her anger and frustration coalesce into a grim resolve to _make it_ through this challenge, just so she would have the Elysian pleasure of flaying her traitorous lieutenant alive. The blows came, knocking her to the ground, each of her men taking their turn at getting a piece of her. Every strike hardened her will until, from somewhere within she found the strength to fight back, until she saw the deep gouge in the dirt that signaled the end of her trial. Collapsing in a heap, she let the triumphant chuckles of Darphus' men wash over her. Then, rising as if reborn, she turned to gaze at each man, his death written in her eyes. She allowed a smirk of satisfaction to show when the men refused to carry out Darphus' order to finish her. She had won the war.
Healing from her wounds gave her time to think, to plan her revenge. The news that Hercules was in the area gave her the means to get that revenge, and possibly return the men's loyalty to her.
Fighting Hercules while still recovering from the gauntlet induced injuries was not perhaps the smartest thing she had done in her life, but her pride refused to let her give up. Lying on her back, sun glaring in her eyes as the Son of Zeus held his blade to her throat forced her to realize that maybe she had been wrong. She gave up. Closing her eyes to her fate, she was astonished to notice that she wasn't yet dead. When he released her, and told her that there were other ways to live, Tasha knew that she had a foothold on Xena's thoughts now. The real trick would be to get Xena to work in concert with her. She fled into the hills, uncertainty gripping her heart.
She found a cave in the hillside and collapsed. Her thoughts were a jumble, waging an internal battle that she found she didn't have the strength to control. Xena slipped into a deep slumber.
Tasha awoke inside the cave, her body stiff and sore from sleeping on the hard ground. Stretching out her body --her body-- for the first time in ten years, she took a mental inventory of the decade of damage her physical form had sustained.
"Not too bad, warrior princess. All in all I'd say you've treated me well. Though I must say that your taste in bed partners has been...interesting." Indeed, the warrior princess had slept with anything with two legs to get whatever she wanted. Battle lust had driven her to rut with unwashed soldiers, tavern wenches so pox ridden she was surprised that they weren't living in leper colonies and two-dinar whores not worth a drachma. Her muscles were toned to their absolute hardest and her weapons mastery was incredible as Tasha let her body's automatic training take over. She sniffed loudly and wrinkled her nose. "Damn, Princess, take a bath why don't you? Now, let's see if we can't push you in the right direction." All of Tasha's thoughts of the future had been purged by the time spent as a silent prisoner in her own body. She no longer remembered the love she had lost, she only knew that she had a job to do.
Seating herself back on the cold stone floor of the cave, she drifted into a meditative trance. Joining her mind with the mind of the warrior princess, she showed Xena that her future did not have to be as a blood thirsty killer in Ares' service. That she could be a force for good, like Hercules. She played up on the woman's childhood dreams of being a hero. She replayed the memories of how good the warrior princess had felt when she had first driven off Cortese's men, how Lyceus had been so proud of her. She used the teachings of Lao Ma, the Chin wise woman to illustrate how others could see the force for good that the warrior could become, how the title of "Warrior Princess" could be one on honor, and not fear.
Xena awoke, confused and shaken by her dreams. She was leaning against the cavern wall, the barest hint of her younger brother Lyceus' grin teasing the edges of her mind. Struggling to overcome the feelings of remorse for her crimes, she let the rage at Darphus consume her. She didn't know what she would do with her future, but she knew that _right now_ she _had_ to kill the man that had destroyed her concept of life.
Chapter Five: A Common Goal
Tough times demand a silly walk through the garden with your shoes on backwards and your hair in pigtails.
As Darphus' lifeless body slid to the ground in front of her, Xena realized that it was over. Her revenge was complete. Darphus and her traitorous men were gone and she was now free to go and start a new army, but somehow that idea didn't seem so appealing. Hercules looked at her and smiled warmly. That gift of friendship felt so _good_. His clear blue eyes caught hers and she swallowed. A giddy feeling rose within her, something she hadn't felt since she was a young girl, shyly grinning at Maphias as he laced flowers in her braids.
Returning Spiros' child was the least she could do to begin to repair the damage she had wrought, and a task she did with an open heart. She walked off into the night to clear her nose of the stench of death and heard Hercules come up behind her. Staring up at the moon, she heard the big man clear his throat.
"So, what are you going to do now, Xena?" She had mentioned something about traveling with him earlier, but she wasn't certain he would be able to stand her presence.
"Well, I ah, meant what I said about going with you, if you'll have me?" she turned shyly. "That is, if you can forgive me for trying to kill you." Hercules smiled again.
"Oh, I think we can work on that." he clasped her arm in his. "Welcome to the team, Xena. It's good to have you." Something within Xena rejoiced.
"It's good to be here."
The road to Ilysia was a rough one. With Iolaus' hatred burning into her back and Salmoneus' self doubt riding counterpoint to her own, Xena focused on the one thing that would keep her from going insane -- the destruction of the undead Darphus. Falling for Hercules was definitely not part of her plans, but Tasha couldn't deny the warrior within her, now as much a part of her as she was a part of the warrior, any measure of comfort and guidance toward redemption she could find. Defeating Darphus and the Graegus seemed pathetically easy compared to driving off her own internal demons. The fact that Ares wasn't about to give up his hold on the warrior princess without a fight only added fuel to her resolve to change.
In the darkness of many moon shadowed nights, Tasha worked feverishly to provide encouragement and a solid foundation of a belief that what Xena was doing was right. It was an uphill battle. Tasha had to fight her own revulsion of Xena's crimes and Xena's self hatred and doubt. The best she could come up with was to remind Xena again and again of the childhood dreams that she had shared with Lyceus about being the greatest hero that Greece had ever known.
The battle done, Salmoneus once again the affable fool she had grown quite fond of, and Iolaus learning not to hate her, she took her leave of the man who had given her so much. She had meant it when she had told him that he had unchained her heart, her heart and so much more. Tasha was more than grateful for Hercules' belief that Xena could be the best person she wanted to be. She wanted to stay with him a while longer, but the part of her that was Xena, and still in the greatest amount of control, believed that she would be better off going on alone.
Chapter Six: Interlude
Where have all the flowers gone? The doggie ate them.
Callisto sat in her black leather chair watching her chronovid with a malicious gleam in her eyes. The woman's spritish features twisted malevolently as she held an ancient dagger balanced on her fingertip, its blade rust stained with the years. Oh how she had relished the feel of her sword sliding into the warrior princess' back. She remembered sneaking into Xena's tent while the warrior was asleep after burning down some pissant little village and watching the woman sleep off the evening's carousing with some scar faced warrior. "This is too easy." she had murmured aloud and stabbed her sword straight through the warrior's back. She recalled the brittle crunches as her blade twisted through the bone and sinew and licked her lips in a delicious remembrance of the taste of Xena's blood. Now that was such a delicacy. Her lips curled ferally. Callisto knew that the satisfying spurt of the crimson life fluid across her eyes would never fully erase the image of her mother and sister, huddled in their flame scarred home, but it sure went a long way towards making her feel better. Death came quickly to Xena, and Callisto was almost sad that it was over, but, no matter. Now, her mother and sister would live. And somewhere, another Callisto could grow to be the woman she should have been.
Then the view on the vidscreen changed, morphed. Instead of watching her alternate self go through the mundanities of life, she saw the warrior princess, alive and whole, fighting Darphus' minions in Ilysia. The spinning dagger dropped to the floor with a hollow thump.
"NO!" she shouted and vaulted out of her chair. She raced for her personal 'streamrider to fix the meddling of Tarot Inc. once and for all. Her brain devised schemes to destroy every single living and dead ancestor of the warrior princess, erasing Xena from the face of history forever. When she arrived though, she wasn't alone. Standing in front of her time travel vehicle was Ariana Hunter, Christopher Watchman and Erica Silverstein.
"Oh, isn't this cozy?" she snarled. "It's always nice to have a going away party. Come to watch me shove my sword into your precious warrior princess' back again? Sorry, wish I could stay and chat, but I have things to do, eras to go, and thousands to slay. Now get out of my way."
"Callisto, you can't kill every one of Xena's relatives." Erica tried to reason with the insane goddess.
"Oh really?" she appeared to consider the physicist's words. Tapping her fingers on her cheek, she cocked her head to one side, then grinned wildly. "You think you can stop me? Not." The three mortals stepped away from the 'streamrider, revealing it's completely dismantled state.
Anger suffused the malignant goddess' core and she reached down by her side and withdrew her plasma pistol. Squeezing off two shots toward Ariana and Christopher, she was surprised, yet pleased to see Erica throw herself into the path of the energy bullets. Two crimson spattered holes appeared in the physicist's back, and she crumpled to the ground. Both mortal gods dropped to their knees beside the dying woman.
"Why did you do that, Erica? They wouldn't have harmed us." Chris asked sadly.
"Because I love you both more than I love my life." came the blood choked reply. Immortal tears joined and pooled on the death stilled face of the woman who had discovered time travel. The two gods shared a look, then stood as one and transformed to their Olympic personas.
"We've had just about enough of you, Callisto. By order of the Tribunal of the Gods, your powers are hereby removed." Chronos and Artemis lunged for the crazed murderess, each grasping an immortal arm. A muffled pop was heard and Callisto slumped into their arms. "For your crimes against man and god, you are sentenced to spend eternity reliving the pain of every one of your victims." Chronos touched the now mortal Callisto's brow, and she cried out in revulsion. Suddenly, she was overcome with so many sensations, so many cuts and strikes and blows of pain that she collapsed.
"Nooooo..." she whimpered.
"Yes." replied Artemis calmly. "When you can learn to forgive yourself for your crimes, you will find peace."
"No!" she repeated, pain maddened. Her hand shot down to the suicide bomb on her belt. Triggering the explosive device, she sat back, laughing hysterically. "I win!" A flash of intense white heat suffused her and she blacked out.
When Callisto opened her eyes, she was lying in the middle of a field of bodies. As she watched, each body rose and took on the features of one of her victims. She scrabbled to get up and run, but something held her back. When she looked down, she saw the blood covered hands of the children she had slain for the pleasure of the kill grasping at her legs, pulling her down to them, whispering their pain and hurts to her.
"Go away...get away from me...NO!" she screamed and screamed and screamed...
Chapter Seven: Redemption
Release. Freedom. Peace. Good things do come...you just have to recognize them when they get here.
Redemption wasn't as easy to find as Xena had hoped. Everywhere she went, people spat on her for who she was. She tried again and again, yet still all she managed to do was cause more fear than good. Rescuing a child here, saving a village there, but the commoners just looked at her with fear in their eyes and mistrust in their hearts. She was on the road to Amphipolis when she came across the ruins of a once thriving village. A small boy stood in among the blackened timbers of his home, begging for food. He told a tale of the warrior princess come to take away his home and family. At first, she had brushed him off, not able to give one more piece of herself away, but as she listened to his tale, her own self hatred rose inside of her and she tossed him the last of her food. She made the decision right then and there that she was not worthy of life any longer.
She found a glade outside of another village, Poteidaia she thought, and buried her weapons. As she prepared to mount Argo, her replacement for the faithful Phantos who had fallen under a barrage of arrows barely a month earlier, she heard sounds of a struggle not far off. Hiding in some convenient bushes, she watched as a procession of villagers was led down the path by warriors wearing the armor of slavers. When she heard the voice of one of the women offering herself in place of everyone else, she couldn't just stand there. Especially since that voice sounded so damned familiar...if she could just place it. She stayed hidden in the bushes, waiting for the chance to make her appearance.
The leader of the slavers grabbed the girl and made to strike her with a whip. That was her moment. Stepping out in only her white undershift, Xena attacked the slaver. The battle was short and sweet. She had never felt so alive as when she was kicking, punching, and head butting the heck out of everything in sight. Calling out her wild battle cry she raced around the clearing, delivering her own brand of justice to each and every one of the slavers. There was a moment of lull in the fighting and she looked up to see the woman she had saved from a painful beating. Red gold hair surrounding a soft, cherubic face. Xena/Tasha stopped and stared. It was a face Tasha would know anywhere, in any time. That face broke the seals she had placed on her memories and allowed all the love and pain and emotion of the days of future gone by to flood into her mind and she knew that somehow, some way, the gods had rewarded her. It was Gabrielle. Not Her Gabrielle, true, but Gabrielle all the same. And she would do anything in her power to keep her safe. The warrior in her told her to worry about all that another time, there was a battle to fight. Tasha agreed reluctantly just as she was knocked to the ground.
Xena defeated the slavers of course, in the process learning that they were men of Draco, her old lieutenant. Well, she would have to do something about him, but first, she would get Gabrielle and her family home safely. True to form, the villages looked at her presence as a mixed blessing and asked her to leave as soon as she could. She agreed with them, having no intention of remaining so close to the woman who wore the face of her lost love.
Gabrielle was Gabrielle though, in any incarnation. She followed the warrior princess, not really sure why, other than through some misguided notion that the woman could help her become the bard she wanted to be and take her away from her dull existence in Poteidaia. Xena tried very hard to push the girl away, force her to see the warrior as nothing but a cold hearted killing machine, but there were times when acting like an uncaring bitch was just impossible.
Once, while helping out a family whose farm had been torched by bandits, the warrior discovered a tiny rag doll, it's dress singed by flames. Instead of tossing the charred toy into the trash heap, Xena had spent most of one night scrubbing the doll clean and painstakingly creating a new outfit for it. The look of wonder on the little girl's face had been worth all the punctured fingertips and yawns. Her parents had profusely thanked the warrior, their voices trembling with gratitude and respect, not fear.
Another time, after they'd met the Amazons and Gabrielle had taken to practicing with the staff, the young bard had accidentally walloped herself in the face, breaking her own nose. Rather than brushing off the girl's pain and giving her a harsh, "Just deal with it, Gabrielle." Xena had gone out of their way to find a cold stream, soak some rags made from one of her few remaining chemise's and kept the bard's face from swelling and re-set the bone so perfectly that anyone who didn't know of the accident would never notice the slight bump denoting the break.
The first time Xena ran into Salmoneus after joining up with Gabrielle wasn't nearly as pleasant a memory as it could have been. The conniving merchant had gotten himself quite comfortably ensconced as a local lordling over a village that boasted of artesian wells. Calling himself "Lord Seltzer" and hiding out from and enraged warlord named Talmadeus, Salmoneus had sent one of his citizens out to find Xena to come and pull his tail out of the fire. It should have been an easy job, Talmadeus was a second rate warrior at best and in any normal circumstances, Xena would have been able to defeat him in her sleep with both hands tied behind her back. But these were not normal circumstances. During the very first battle with Talmadeus' men at "Lord Seltzer's" factory, she had been hit by a crossbow quarrel coated with talmec poison (a substance rather like the curari that Tasha knew of from her time). The drug took affect almost immediately, clouding her vision and causing her reflexes to dull.
With each bit of energy the warrior expended in the defense of Salmoneus and his people, she could feel the talmec burn through her bloodstream, until at a critical moment, while facing Talmadeus himself, the poison took away the use of her legs. It was Gabrielle's well timed throw of her staff that saved Xena, and for that she would be eternally grateful. Convincing Gabrielle to impersonate her wasn't easy, but she played on the bard's sense of justice as well as complimenting her acting skills until the younger woman acquiesced and donned her armor.
Although the bard looked almost comical in her armor, Xena did not laugh. Seeing Gabrielle in the accoutrements of war hurt more than the knowledge that she was likely not going to make it. When she defeated the two men that Talmadeus sent to kill her and the poison took it's final effects on her body, she slipped off into the darkness cursing herself for exposing Gabrielle to the evil of her world.
As soon as the warrior quit fighting her own body, Tasha felt the nanites in her bloodstream begin the painstaking work of cleaning out the deadly toxin. Knowing that she would most assuredly wake up did nothing to quiet the fears inside of her as she felt the bard kneel beside her shrouded body, lovingly caress her hair, then place a soft kiss on her cheek. She could feel the bard's tears drip down her face and into the hollow of her neck. Tasha had never known her heart could twist itself into so many Gordian knots at the simple expression of loss that the bard granted her. She desperately did not want to be another one of those whom the bard had loved then lost. She would fight to come back and walk again by the bard's side for as long as Gabrielle cared to have her. When the nanites finished their job, none too soon by Tasha's standards, Xena was up and ready for action, defeating Talmadeus with an ease born of her warrior bred confidence, but she was a little shaken by the talmec coated dart incident and silently vowed to discover its source.
Callisto. The little girl whose home Xena had so callously destroyed those many years ago and the woman-turned-goddess responsible for Tasha's being in the past. Tasha had to submerge her own memories and knowledge of the future from Xena's thoughts in order to allow the natural course of events to take place, but oh, how Tasha wished that she could just bury the warrior's chakram in the bitch's throat. The Xena side of her never knew that Callisto would become a goddess, not until the actual event occurred, and by then, Tasha had dedicated herself to her new life.
Throughout their first year together, Tasha spent many nights sitting by their shared fire, staring at the face of her lost love. It took more self control than she had ever dreamed possible to possess to not reach out and touch the young bard. Her Gabrielle was different...it was evident in the innocence and open-heartedness of this Gabrielle, but she knew that she could love this Gabrielle just as deeply, if not more so.
She didn't know when her musings turned to feelings, or when her feelings turned to love, but Thessaly was certainly an eye opener for both the warrior princess and the temporally displaced historian. Simply put, Gabrielle died. The warrior princess of another time would never have known how to bring the bard back, but in the throes of grief, Tasha threw the rest of her caution to the wind and, using the twentieth century method of CPR, resuscitated Gabrielle. Hearing the gasping intake of breath was the sweetest sound either half of the warrior princess had ever heard.
Xena remembered a campfire that the two had shared shortly after the almost tragedy at Thessaly. Gabrielle, still recovering from her wounds, was sitting close to the fire, committing to her scrolls the recent events of the Thessalian/Mitoan war. Xena was calmly sharpening her blade when the bard looked up and asked, "Xena, what's the difference between a hero and a coward?" The warrior shook her head. The bard never did ask the easy ones. Well, hmm, she thought silently, musing. She thought of Salmoneus, and of all the things he had done in the name of his own cowardice, and of how, when push came to shove, the man who called her "proud warrioress" would do whatever it took to get the job done. She thought of Hercules, and his quiet strength, and how he used his strength to heal and help, not hurt and maim. She though of Iolaus, ready to give up his friendship to aid her against the faked warlord Patrakus. She even thought of Joxer, the naive young warrior wannabe who had all the heart of a hero, without the skills. Lastly, she thought of herself, the "villain" of most of Greece's population's recent past.
"Gabrielle, I guess a hero is someone...who is too afraid to be a coward." The young bard had looked at her then, with her shining green eyes, and smiled sweetly.
"That means you must be a hero, Xena." Xena had laughed self-depreciatingly at that.
"No Gabrielle, I'm not a hero. I'm just a villain who couldn't live with her actions any more. Now go to sleep."
It was the knowledge that both she and Xena were falling in love with Gabrielle that gave Tasha the strength to push herself into a deeper merge with the warrior. She struggled and eventually, began to forgive herself for some of the crimes committed in the name of historical continuity. It was hard, but Gabrielle herself was an unwitting partner in her fight, because try as she might, the warrior just couldn't keep one simple farm girl from Poteidaia from worming her way passed the iron shell of their heart and taking up residence in the mushy interior...
That was three years ago. We had faced so much together, Gabrielle and me. Warlords that caused petty wars, kings that misunderstood prophecies, her death and resurrection, my own death and resurrection, her marriage...oh did that ever still hurt...the recent challenge of the Furies. I thanked whatever higher power that looked over me for giving me the chance to taste ambrosia, for certainly without the aid of the magical food, Ares would have won. I looked up from the journal I had been scribbling in for almost eight candlemarks and stretched. Gabrielle was still sleeping peacefully on the warm bed Mother had provided for us after our triumphant return to Amphipolis.
We had shared so much that there was no separating us, no matter what the future would bring. Sure, we had had our differences...even going so far as to separate a few times, but something always brought us back together. The parts of me that were separated as Tasha and Xena had joined together as a whole entity, mostly through the healing hand of my Gabrielle...
"Xena?" the bard muttered sleepily from the bed, "what are you doing up?"
"Just a little writing, Gabrielle. Go back to bed."
"Ok, just be sure you get some sleep, warrior princess. You're such a bitch when you don't."
"Gabrielle, I don't know whether to be offended or laugh. Oh, and don't forget you still owe me those dumplings."
"Laugh. Your smile is much prettier than your frown. And I won't forget. Cyrene and I are planning to do a little cooking together later." I turned around and let a look of fond amusement cross my face.
"And just when did you start noticing my smile, Gabrielle?" The bard blushed a deep crimson.
"I've always noticed your smile, Xena. It's as much a part of you as your chakram. Just about as deadly too."
"Yeah, well my smile never knocked anyone out." Gabrielle blushed even redder.
"Ah, actually Xena, it has."
"Really?" That got a raised eyebrow. "Just who would be the victim of the said oral assault?" Gabrielle looked at me as if I were truly dense.
"Me, silly. Every single time you smile at me, I melt. I go gaga. I can't think to speak." With each sentence, she had risen from the bed and moved closer to where I was sitting until she was within arm's reach. I looked up at my bard, my love, My Gabrielle and schooled myself to be good. I had to remember that this Gabrielle was not the future Gabrielle. That Gabrielle was long dead and gone, or not yet to be, however you chose to look at it. This Gabrielle was forever beyond my reach. I forced myself to envision Gabrielle on her wedding day, eyes sparkling for Perdicas, not for me. In my mind, I snapped off the long ago held holoemitter and filled my current memories with this Gabrielle's lifestyle. She was not Her, she was Gabrielle of Poteidaia, not Gabrielle Brighton, wife of Tasha Romanoff.
"What are you saying Gabrielle?" I finally managed to croak out. I desperately wanted to know, had to hear in my own ears that she didn't want me. Gabrielle reached her hands out and cupped my face. I almost died right then and there. Dear gods, how I needed that touch. I would wake up every morning and go to sleep every night needing that touch.
"What I'm saying, warrior princess, is that I'm so deeply in love with you that I can no longer be silent." Then she kissed me. Oh gods, these were the lips that I knew so intimately, and yet they were the freshest, softest, sweetest lips that I had ever kissed. She wanted me, her, Gabrielle of Poteidaia, wanted me! Happy warrior-historian. Yup. Happy. Joyful, spastic, enthralled, aroused...gods...it was the same and it was different and it was perfect. In that one, blinding moment, Tasha joined forever with the memories of Xena and became totally and wholly the Warrior Princess. I was Xena now, Tasha was just a memory from some far distant future. Gabrielle pulled away for just an instant and whispered into my ear, "I love you forever." And I knew that no matter where life took me, that I would love Gabrielle, My Gabrielle, for all the days of my life and all the days of tomorrows passed.
There are no real endings, only passages to new stories.
Gabrielle closed the book, knowing the rest of the story herself. It didn't bother her that her love was and was not who she'd always believed her to be, because she knew that no matter what time their souls were in, they would always love one and other. All the feelings that she had kept bottled up while reading the story her beloved warrior had written so long ago rushed to the surface, choking her with their intensity.
"I meant it, my love, when I said I'd love you forever." she fingered the embossing on the cover of the journal, a perfect reproduction of both sides of Xena's chakram and sighed longingly. Gabrielle felt the stiffness in her joints and the aching in her bones from sitting for so long. Soon, she knew, she would join her raven haired warrior woman on the other side, but that didn't bother her either. They would live, and love again, in tomorrows passed.
The Bard's Corner