Kai and Liz exited Sarass hut. Liz was sporting bruises to her body and Kai insult to her ego. Neither was happy. Liz wanted to be left alone but Vectra had decreed Kais duty. The latter was the determining factor. The young Amazon would do what she must to adhere to Vectras request. She began a terse dialogue with Liz as they walked across the compound.
"Lets get something straight. I dont like you. For whatever reason, Vectra has selected me for your training. We can do this the hard way or not. But as long as youre in this village, you will abide by its laws and chain of command." She paused and looked Liz square in the eye. "Of course, should you decide to leave... well, whos going to stop you?"
Liz adjusted her neck in an effort to loosen a tightening knot. "Oh, Im sure youd like for me to leave, and Ill be more than happy to do just that as soon as...." The remainder of her thought vanished.
"As soon as what?" One of Kais strengths was her ability to read between the lines. She perceived Lizs unfinished statement as a vague threat. Silently, she filed this bit of information away.
Liz tried her best to grasp what was just in her mind, but it was gone. She had an unsettling feeling within her... one she couldnt quite get a handle on. The fact this had slipped from her lips angered her. Now Kai had the advantage... a position Liz was not at all comfortable with. She attempted damage control. "As soon as I have the necessary skills to leave. What did you think I meant?"
The Amazon shrugged her shoulders. "Im not into guessing games. I deal with whats in front of me what I can see, smell, feel or hear. Why is it you operate in such a devious fashion?"
"I do not," Liz answered coolly trying to mask her anger.
Kai continued, "Of course you do. Youre doing it right now. Youre angry at my ability to see through you, yet you refuse to react honestly." She looked at Liz with her liquid brown eyes. "That is why I dont like you too many hidden agendas. If this is how all of your kind interact, well, I feel sorry for you."
"What do you mean by my kind?" Liz was clearly irritated.
"You know from wherever it is you come from." Kai shook her head. She was bored with the conversation. "It doesnt matter. You are here right now, and my advice to you is to pay attention to your surroundings." The woman shifted the focus of the discussion, causing Liz to concentrate to keep up. Following Kai was like tracking an elusive animal through thick brush an animal that didnt want to be tracked. She peered into the darkening sky. "Were in for good storm. I suggest you take some time to consider the seriousness of training with me. I was restrained today tomorrow wont be so easy." Kai turned and walked off, leaving Liz at a loss for words save mumbling to herself.
"This sucks. First Im dumped here again " She gestured with her hand to no one in particular, indicating here being the space in front of her. "Then Im forcibly enrolled in the Amazon School of I-Can-Kick-Your-Ass." Liz ran her hands through her thick, dark hair, wanting to have clarity, but knowing there was none. The dream of the night before stayed just outside her conscious grasp. It nagged at her like a pair of ill fitting underwear. She clinched her fists in frustration trying to remember the image. "Gods!!! What is it!? What am I missing?"
A slight breeze blew through the compound, catching Liz on the back of her neck. Although it was quite warm, a shiver went down her spine and queasiness settled in the pit of her stomach. For a moment, she thought she was going to throw up. It passed almost as soon as her body reacted. She swallowed the fear rising in her throat. As the rain began to pelt down, Liz hurried off the compound floor toward her quarters dismissing her paranoia.
"I must be coming down with something." She mused.
From a nearby spot, Callisto looked on, chuckling to herself. "Oh, you have no idea what youre about to come down with."
Gabrielle hurried up the path, wanting to be out of the mounting storm. Xena was well in front of her, leading Argo to the stable. The bard wasnt through with her discussion, even though Xena apparently was. This, unfortunately for Xena, had never stopped Gabrielle in the past, and it wouldnt today.
"Xena, were not finished. You cant just walk away from this," she called.
Gabrielle quickened her step as a streak of electricity sliced the air. Almost immediately, a clap of thunder reverberated. Gabrielle didnt care for thunderstorms very much any more. She had a visceral reaction to them since that business in the Temple of Dahak. It was just too familiar and had had a lasting negative effect on her. She tried to calm her racing heart but her irrational fear was taking over. Gabrielle was suffering a type of post traumatic stress from that whole Illusia thing. She was almost running now as the storm was nearly on top of the village. "Xena!" Her cry was laced with fear this time. The combination of the slope of the path and the driving rain was making Gabrielles journey difficult.
The warrior was already at the stable. The almost constant roar of the storm masked Gabrielles cries. Only Argo heard her and although she and Gabrielle werent best friends, she instinctively reacted to the bards distress by nickering and stamping the stable floor.
"What is it, girl?" Xenas attention was drawn to the mare. The next thought through her head was Gabrielle. Xenas sphere of influence was very small and she liked it that way. It was much simpler to keep track of Gabrielle and Argo in that order. She patted Argos rear, sending her into the enclosure and headed for the stable exit to find Gabrielle. The bard ran head long into Xena at the door; she was soaked and trembling.
"Gabrielle, whats the matter?" Xena knew what the bard was frightened of, but didnt want to verbalize her fear, wary that it would further upset the fair-haired woman. She wrapped her arms around her instead, walking back into the dry warmth of the stable.
Protectively, Xena held Gabrielles head next to her chest and pulsing heart. "Its okay.. its just a storm, a natural storm. It will pass soon." The recent events had changed even the significance of a passing shower. Although Xena was quite sure theyd weathered the worst, sometimes she couldnt help flinching at a sound a smell. It was irritating to be at the mercy of ones dreams. Most of the time, she shrugged the feelings off and never told Gabrielle. This time she would try to ally the fears of her lover. She led them to the comfort of some disheveled hay bales.
"Here, Gabrielle, sit down. Ill get a blanket from the saddlebag, youre soaking wet."
As she moved to retrieve the dry blanket, Gabrielle pulled at her arm.
"No, Xena, just sit here with me. I dont want you to move. Just hold me for a while."
The warrior protested, wanting to prevent the bard from suffering the ill effects of a drenching. "Gabrielle Im just going right over here to get a blanket."
"Xena, please! Just do this for me this once. I dont need a blanket." She insisted and in a softer tone, she whispered, "I need you."
Xena aborted her attempt to move and focused her eyes on the woman next to her. For a moment she searched Gabrielles face for the individual she used to be, knowing that person was gone. So much was new and different. Their eyes met and Xena looked for things yet to be discovered. Gabrielle was no longer an innocent and the warrior was no longer jaded. They had come so far from different directions. How much further would they travel?
"Gabrielle, I just dont want you to get chilled." The warriors voice was low and soft.
"Then hold me Xena... close." Gabrielles voice was calm and steady.
It was a simple request but it had taken nearly three years to be able to say out loud. They had dreamt their longing those many nights under the stars, restlessly tossing under the influence of unrequited want. So many times the words were on each others lips but failed to be uttered. There was always tomorrow, they thought. That was before that horrible day in the Temple of Dahak. Their lives had been forever changed that day their futures forever altered their destiny firmly entwined. This was a new chapter in their lives together and it still felt uncomfortable. Gabrielle had become more assertive not relying on Xena for every decision. Even though the warrior had wanted Gabrielle to have more control over her life, actually seeing her do it was disquieting. In the recesses of Xenas mind, she wondered if someday Gabrielle might not need her at all. She pulled the bard closer as the stormed raged outside. For the moment, she would be Gabrielles shelter. The confrontation concerning Liz could wait.
The skys anger tore relentlessly over the village. Liz didnt feel the need to hurry. She welcomed the storms ire dared it to harm her prayed for a random arc from the sky to obliterate her. She casually strolled toward her hut taking an inordinate amount of time. At one point, she stopped, outstretched her arms toward the sky and silently pleaded with the heavens to end her pain. Lizs behavior looked very strange to those who watched from the dry safety of their dwellings. It was impossible to discern the tears on her face from the rain. It all looked the same felt the same. Gods, she wanted to feel different feel whole and alive again. She wanted to be loved again held again kissed again. What had she done that had been so terrible to deny her? Had she not totally loved Sam with all her heart? Wasnt that enough? Liz wasnt very good at waiting and even the promise of Artemis didnt ease her discomfort. She looked into the blinding rain and screamed at the top of her lungs. "I cant do this! It hurts too much I hurt too much! Please I cant wait."
Her voice and pleas to an invisible force were drowned by the storm. She had simply come to the end of her rope and wished to have a branch to swing from. The contract made with the dark gods waited for all her walls to disintegrate. Liz was very near that breaking point just a little further.
"Cant wait? Well, thats something I can help you with." Hissed the voice.
Callisto had decided to push her over the edge. She was tired of waiting for Ares and his infuriating need to dramatize this whole affair. She had been patient beyond all restraint at least by her standards and was ready to put the game in high gear. Since the god of war was conveniently absent, Callisto had full access to Liz. She would wait until the woman was sleeping to unleash her version of Xena Jeopardy. Callisto was like a child waiting for a new toy; her excitement was barely contained. Liz hardly noticed the additional fireworks in the sky. All she wanted was to be alone in her quarters, away from everyone. She finally left the compound floor and sought the dryness of inside.
Calli was waiting for her, excitedly pacing and unseen by Liz. Her expectation had the molecules in Lizs quarters dancing creating a distinctive charge in the air. What was happening outside on a very large scale was also happening in the confines of the room a microstorm with Callisto as its creator. The goddess hopped in a chair and crouched like a crazed animal. Absently, she twisted a ringlet of her golden hair around her finger in a rather obsessive manner, her eyes following Liz as she stripped the wet clothes from her body.
Callisto silently appraised the form before her. Umm not as impressive as Xena, and certainly not as formidable but nice. Aw too bad. She sighed, Oh, well, someone has to lose Xena, Gabrielle or you it doesnt matter youre all the same. She fixed her gaze on Liz, practically willing her to lie down and go to sleep. Liz pulled the blankets over her nude body and was pulled down into an uneasy dreamscape.
Callisto waited. When she was certain Morpheus had captured Liz, she slithered from the chair. She stood at the edge of the pallet, closed her eyes and entered the dream realm with Liz. She came to her in a body and form she knew so well and intimately. The dream reflected Lizs surroundings. It was like seeing multiple images in a mirror held up to itself nearly impossible to see that which was the original. The lithe blonde slipped between the covers and began running her hand over velvet smooth, warm skin.
The physical sensation of being touched startled Liz. She knew it was all in her mind and as such, she remained still, wanting to hold the feeling for as long as possible. Her skin tingled with a reaction she had been so long without it felt so real. A faint brush of soft lips on her earlobe and a whisper galvanized her core.
"Liz, its me, Sam. Open your eyes honey. Ive missed you." She punctuated her plea by lightly tracing her fingers across Lizs abdomen. The effect was immediate drawing a deep intake of breath from Liz and a low moan of desire. The voice purred more insistently, " Gods, Ive thought about touching you again and again. Come to me."
Liz reached for the hand so knew so well, her fingers closing around the reality of flesh. She dared not open her eyes for fear the vision would dissolve; she allowed the hand to pull her on top of the warmth now nestled beneath. Every fiber of her being was screaming from want need. Every inch of exposed skin felt on fire her mind and body enjoining in a truce. She would accept this experience because she wanted it so badly. Familiar hands moved across her back, once again finding sensitive spots only known to two people. Liz felt the sweet movement of her lover under her, pressing, gently moving up to meet her. The words sent a wave down her spine to the very wet center of her. In a very low, raspy voice, the form verbalized what Liz could already sense.
"I can feel you on me moving into me."
Gentle hands pressed on her back accentuating the description... hands that knew her so well... knew her desire and passion... hands that would exploit her abject sorrow and separation. Liz was lost in this reality and had no wish to be rescued.
A cry from her soul passed her dry lips. "Sam... Im here... never to leave you again. I am yours... please take all of me." Liz fell forward into the voice wanting so desperately to be one again. She could smell the scent of Sams hair... her lips gently seeking her mouth. The familiar texture of Sams skin danced on her aching tongue as she moved across her features. A wash of memory held Liz aloft... the softness of Sams eyelids... the exquisiteness of her cheek... lips moved to the bridge of her nose and then to the outer edge of her mouth.
A hand trailed up Lizs back to the mangle of hair that Sam had loved. Fingers held on guiding Lizs lips to those of her love.
"Kiss me." Liz felt the words escape Sams lips and flow effortlessly to her own. They fell into a deep... abiding... passionate kiss. It was a kiss of remembrance... of two souls forever bound... a kiss of such longing there were no words to describe the depth. It was more than passion... it was an unparalleled connection.
A deep, spreading peal of thunder rode the sky. The rain continued to lash against the roof, providing a rhythm a cadence for the dance of the lovers. Liz clung to Sam, devouring her mouth. She could kiss her forever and not get enough. She felt her lovers excitement and need against her... so heated... so wet. Liz desired to quench the thirst of her lover. She would give her anything and everything. Gently, she rolled to her back, cradling Sam against her and opened her eyes.
Sams features came into focus and Lizs eyes filled with tears. Her heart was trying to reconcile the impossibility of what her eyes were seeing. Sam pushed herself up to straddle Lizs legs, resting the firmness of her ass against taut thighs. In an excruciatingly slow movement, Sam began tracing her fingers over Lizs shoulders, feeling every detail of the developed flesh. Every pore on Lizs body was damp with sweat... it was beginning to pool beneath her. She totally mesmerized by what was happening on top of her. She could feel the incredible wetness of Sam literally flowing over her own. Seductively and almost involuntarily they began moving together... rocking... Lizs hardness sliding across Sams soft, slick, aching core. It was a balance... a sharing... a mutual consent... ebbing and flowing... equal parts of the whole. They simply belonged together.
The purity of the love they felt for one another was so evident in their eyes... they could see into each others soul. Liz reached up for Sam, her palms resting on her lovers arms as they lingered on her body. Slowly, she slid her hands along the soft skin of Sams forearms to take her hands in her own. One by one their fingers entwined as their hearts found one another again. Together they were complete... halves of the same soul. This connection almost overwhelmed Callisto she could sense the powerful attraction the two had. It was becoming hard to maintain control of the situation. Although the form of Sam was an apparition, Lizs love had breathed life into its soulless heart she was real.
"I love you." Liz was so close to collapsing into her lover. She felt drawn into her and wanted to go, never to be seen again. Sam peered into her eyes.
"Come with me." She whispered. "Come to me, Liz."
A wave of ecstasy welled from a very deep place. "Yes, my love... my life."
Liz kept her gaze locked on Sams eyes... her eyes... something about her eyes. The thought was swept away as she lost control and came with her lover. All thought ceased and only a nameless connection held them together. The tears flowed down Lizs face, her ache more acute than ever. Closing her eyes, she held Sam on top of her, sensing every nuance of her body. It was in this place of complete vulnerability that Callisto released the trigger.
"Please help me, Liz. Take me from this place back to you. Do what they want, and Ill be yours forever." The plea spilled from Sams lips.
Liz wanted to open her eyes, but couldnt. A deep sleep was overtaking her. She grasped tighter the dissolving form that was Sam. The last words she heard before lapsing were those of her anguished lover.
"Gods...please dont leave me here... please."
Liz could hold the semblance of consciousness no longer. She slipped into a dreamless state. Callisto disengaged herself from the dream void still in the guise of Sam. She fully materialized in the room and for a brief moment was caught in the beauty of the interaction... she almost felt something. She walked to the water basin that sat on a table, peering at the transformed image on the surface. Her fingers moved over a face that was free from pain and hatred. A snarl crossed her lips. She ran both hands through Sams light hair, grabbing on either side of her head. Callisto pulled with all her might, literally ripping the facade away, revealing her true self. Casually, she discarded the ruse like old clothing. She regarded her face in the basin. It was familiar. It was sadly cold and empty. It was home.
She looked at Liz sleeping and left one last gift for her. At the foot of the pallet a sword appeared. It was ethereal... a weapon of perfection, forged by Hephestus and taken from Ares personal collection.
She stood, arms crossed, fingers thoughtfully tapping her lips. "Hmm... what else?" A look of glee crossed her face. She pointed her finger at the unconscious woman. A pulsating ribbon of energy contacted Liz and spread to fully envelop her. Callisto had a very satisfied look on her face.
"There. Now you can fight any Amazon in this place, including Xena, and cause some serious damage." In faux shock, she apologized. "Sorry... I know you wanted to learn the old fashioned way, but I simply dont have time for that crap. For now, sleep. When you wake up you will have this intense desire to find and destroy the one thing that keeps you from Sam." She paused for the coup dgrace letting her words settle on Liz. "Xena and Gabrielle."
Callisto prepared to leave. She walked to the pallet, bent over and kissed Liz on the cheek. "Ill save you a seat in Tartarus." The goddess vanished leaving the room filled with her signature odor.
Ruth had been keeping a vigil next to Liz since shed arrived. She was dozing lightly in a chair near the bed. The faint smell of sulfur woke her, her pulse racing. She moved to the bedside and looked at Lizs face. Tears had streaked her cheeks. Ruth took her friends hand, squeezing it lightly.
"Everything all right in here?" Joanne had seen the psychic suddenly wake from her sleep and move to attend her patient.
Ruth never took her eyes from Liz. In a very calm voice, she spoke to the nurse. "Would you please call Dr.Spenser, Dr.James and Mr.Bennington? Tell them its starting and they should come as soon as possible."
"Whats starting?" Joanne still didnt know why this woman was ordering her staff around. She half expected to see live animal sacrifices and chanting.
Ruth turned toward Joanne. She had a no nonsense look in her eye. "Joanne, just do it and dont ask questions. You are wasting precious time."
Something in Ruths tone cut through the nurses defenses. She nodded and went to make the call knowing this was out of her control.
Liz struggled in her sleep. She hurt inside with a deep pain. Her waking was like climbing from a pit of quicksand. There was no solid ground to stand on yet she willed herself from the suffocating confines of her sleep. The storm had passed and now only a steady rain was falling. Dawn had not yet broken and wouldnt for several hours. The entire village was still asleep save for the sentries. Liz opened her eyes and stared at the thatched ceiling. She could hear the rhythm of the rain outside. She was completely drained from her experience and tried to remember in exact detail all that had happened. Liz brought her hand to her chest and tried to soothe her breaking heart. The tears in her eyes flowed unrestrained. There simply was no answer.
Unseen by Liz, Callisto watched with rapt attention, waiting for the woman to spring into action. She fidgeted in anticipation, pacing the room. "Come on I dont have all day." Her words fell silent on the mortals ears.
Callistos frustration level was about to peak. "Gods do I have to do everything myself?" She realized Liz was focusing on the memory of Sam and that was getting in the way. She summoned one last effort to manipulate Liz using that focus against her. A look of maniacal joy spread over her face. "Here, dear, lets see how this works." She summoned the most horrific image and sent it into Lizs consciousness. Sam was being torn apart piece by piece. She screamed in agony for Liz to help her "Please Liz, do what they ask change the one thing you can kill Xena and Gabrielle hurry please "
That was the final push Callisto was hoping for. Liz caved in on herself, fully submitting to the suggestion of the goddess. A wave of something evil filled her, pushing the good that resided out of the way. She was consumed with one thought one desire one goal. Purposefully, Liz rose from the pallet. She quickly donned her clothes and picked up the gleaming sword. The hilt felt comfortable familiar in her hands. It was an extension of her body. Whatever her mind willed, the blade would commit. And the most horrible deed was about to be committed. Liz moved from the room and steadily walked toward the Queens chamber. Nothing would stop her from being with Sam again nothing. Callisto skipped behind her, totally elated.
"Oh Xenaaa . here comes trouble real trouble "
Kai hadnt slept well at all with the raging storm creating havoc. She rose from her pallet and decided to walk off some of her restlessness. There was much on her mind with the arrival of another stranger. And there were issues within that needed closure. Losing her control on the training ground the previous day was not a good sign. She had allowed her ego to put her at risk. She would take this time to do some thinking while the village slept. Vectra would be expecting an explanation from her. She needed to have one. She dressed and prepared to leave her room. She would head for the perimeter sentry and her friend, Mysiaa. She could keep her company for the final few candlemarks of her duty and talk out this mess. They had been friends for many years and often each others counsel. She couldnt think of a better woman in which to confide. Out of habit, Kai slipped a dagger behind her back in the belt and opted for her sword instead of the bow. If she were going to stand watch, shed need armaments. Her path would take her past the Queens chamber.
Xena and Gabrielle had stayed in the stable during the storm. Xena hadnt wanted to drag the bard back out into the weather, and Gabrielle didnt want to leave the protection of the building and Xenas arms. They had fallen asleep on the hay Gabrielle into a deep restful sleep and Xena into a light fitful state of being. Her senses were acutely tuned, and the storms ferocity had heightened her awareness. Xena had tried not to alarm her lover but she felt a familiar gnawing in her gut that always signaled unpleasantries on the horizon. She hoped it would at least wait until daylight. The bard shifted in her arms slightly, and Xena drew her closer, kissing the top of her head and brushing an errant strand of light hair from her sleeping face.
"I so love you, Gabrielle," she whispered. "Dont ever leave me."
Gabrielle took a very deep breath and mumbled in her sleep, " never leave you, Xena never."
Xena sighed and tried to fight off the feeling in the pit of her stomach. Something wasnt right. She tried to sense Ares, but he wasnt there. And she always knew when he was. She was the only mortal who could do that. No, this had Callistos signature all over it and that usually meant something sick and very twisted. The warrior was torn between reacting to her instinct and staying with Gabrielle. She wondered why the two things were frequently opposed. She rationalized that Gabrielle would be safe in the stable while she satisfied her need to know. Very slowly she eased from around the sleeping bard, finally extricating herself. Xena pulled the blanket shed tried to give Gabrielle earlier from Argos saddlebag and carefully covered her lover. She kissed her cheek before grabbing her sword and chakram.
"Ill be right back," she whispered in the bards ear. Quietly, she exited the stable and headed toward the compound. She had an overwhelming sense she should go to the Queens quarters. A steady rain was still falling.
Callisto was beside herself. She just loved mayhem, and when it centered on Xena well, that was just the best. She fully expected the warrior to kill Liz, even with her heightened skills and a superb weapon. The truth was no one was a real match for Xena except for the evil goddess. This little bit of slice and dice would reopen a tear between Xena and Gabrielle. It might even be enough to get them to give life to that which was still unspoken. Calli could only hope. She half wanted to give Liz a shove to hurry her along. If she needed to, Callisto would materialize to help annihilate either Liz or Xena. It didnt matter which one. She was an equal opportunity head case.
Liz felt she was watching from outside herself. It was her body moving, but it wasnt her will making it so. She was being carried along with this physical form, nestled inside separated from whatever was in control. It was a very weird experience. She envisioned a fetus in its mothers womb part of the whole with little control and a small voice. Strangely, the warmth connecting mother and fetus was missing. She felt a stranger in her own body. All she could do was watch.
The Queens quarters always had a guard stationed at the door. It was a great honor to stand watch. There wasnt an Amazon in the village who would have declined the post. Many times the duty was held by experienced warriors, but tonight a young face stood proudly at the door. It would be her first true test as a warrior... one not expected within the walls of the village. Lysia watched as the woman approached. Her gait was steady and deliberate and she carried an unsheathed sword. The young guard peered curiously at the nearing form. Her mind weighed conflicting information and tried to decide if this woman posed a threat. Her inexperience and hesitation would place her in great peril. She had forgotten the most basic tenet preached by Vectra... "Believe nothing that you read and only half of what you see and hear." Lysia tentatively reached for the hilt of her sword, her body reacting to what her mind had not grasped yet.
Liz wanted to warn the guard, but there was no way to do that. Her other self was in full control, bringing both hands to the cold hilt of the sword.
"Oh, gods dont do this," she pleaded internally to her waking form.
Callistos voice filled Lizs head. "Aw, come on. Dont you want to have some fun? Consider this a warm-up to the real deal... an appetizer if you will."
Lysia drew her sword, her pulse booming in her ears. "State your purpose." She demanded officially.
Liz raised her brow and pondered. "My purpose?" She lowered her eyes, sensed the guards defenses wavering just the smallest bit. That was all it took. In a lightening move, she brought a foot even with Lysias hands, easily knocking the sword from her grip. The metal had hardly bounced against the wall before Lizs blade was poised at the womans throat. She stood eye to eye with the young warrior and answered her own question.
"My purpose is to go through you into this chamber." She looked into the eyes of the alarmed woman and uttered a mocking appraisal. "You are a pathetic excuse for an Amazon guard." There was coldness in her voice as the tip of the sword began to draw blood. Lysia braced for her death.
"Then you should really pick on someone more on your level." Kais voice drew Lizs attention and the sword from Lysias neck.
Like a wild animal saving a kill for later, Liz cold-cocked Lysia, dropping her to the floor. In a sarcastic tone, she spoke to the unconscious woman.
"Now, dont go anywhere... Ill get to you in a minute." Liz stepped over Lysia and faced Kai. "You know, you were definitely on my list, but since youre here, I suppose I can accommodate you now."
Kais senses were in full awareness. Her sword was drawn and she was already plotting possible moves and close quarter tactics. She stepped toward Liz and tried to put her guard off with conversation.
"Whats the matter? Couldnt sleep and you figured youd commit suicide?" Her weapon moved from side to side, her eyes never leaving her opponents. She continued her verbal assault, looking for an opening. "Why go to all this trouble? Theres just gonna be a mess to clean up and it will make me late for breakfast."
Liz inched forward. A lust... a blood lust was burning inside her... she actually wanted to kill this woman... just for fun. She returned Kais banter. "I suppose youll be canceling our training session? Vectra isnt going to like that but I dont think theres too much she likes anyway."
Kai was balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to spring. "Oh, I think its just you she doesnt like."
Lizs eyes narrowed and the words spilled from her lips like bile. "Well, thats too bad, isnt it? Ill tell her you warned me when I have her on the end of my sword."
"Vectra wont have to worry with you bitch!"
Kai raised her sword above her head and made the first strike. The force of her blow was formidable, yet Liz was able to easily deflect the arc. Kais blade ricocheted off the gleaming weapon, sparks flying. The vibration of the blow ran through the metal and into the Amazons arm. She had never felt anything quite like this. Undaunted, she brought the sharp edge through the air at a side angle, hoping to catch Liz off balance. This tactic had worked on the training ground just a few scant hours before. Liz had her sword in place almost before Kai. As the warriors steel made ineffective contact, Liz wagged a finger in Kais face, taunting her.
"Oh, please now repeat after me see one that would be that business on the training ground ." Liz pushed Kais sword off hers. "...do one I suppose this qualifies as your attempt at instruction " Liz brought her sword to an offensive position, her eyes literally dancing with anticipation. " now, its time for me to teach one " She swiftly started the edge toward the warrior, concentrating on her target. Kai prepared to defend on her right. Liz let the blade glance off the womans weapon and used momentum to pivot on the heel of her foot, bringing the sharp edge 180 degrees to Kais unprotected left side. The warrior could not react in time to stop the blow. When she realized she had been out maneuvered, she dove hard to her right, but Lizs sword sliced across Kais upper arm, warm blood anointing the pristine surface of the weapon.
The sight of the sanguine fluid running the edge of the blade mesmerized Liz. It almost looked alive. The minute distraction was enough for Kai to regain her feet and make a lunge. Liz caught the movement out the corner of her eye, but not before Kai pierced the top of Lizs thigh. Had she had a better angle the strike would have been incapacitating, severing the artery in Lizs groin. As it was, it served to slow the demented stranger but it did not stop her. She seemed impervious to pain, and her fighting skills were superior. Kai didnt know how she had acquired them, only that she had. Her main objective, at the moment, was to remain alive long enough for help to arrive and to keep Liz from exiting this area. It was obvious she was looking for Gabrielle and Xena. She knew Xena could take care of herself but as an Amazon, she had sworn to protect her queen at all costs, even with her life. She was fully committed to that oath. Liz would not succeed, and Kai would die if it meant stopping her.
Callisto was practically wetting her pants with unbridled verve. This was much more than she had hoped for. Lizs demise was assured along with a few Amazons and maybe even Gabrielle. Oh, that would be so sweet. It was all she could do not to materialize and join in the fray. This was so delicious; she just wanted to kiss Liz on the lips.
"Hmmm maybe later," she mused, remembering that little charade in Lizs bed. "But, thats if you survive," she added in a rather bored manner. She moved for a closer view of the ensuing fight. Kai ripped a strip of cloth from her tunic and hastily applied a tourniquet around her upper arm. She back peddled, putting some distance between she and Liz. The bleeding had slowed, but she was still losing red cells at quick rate. She knew in a matter of half a candlemark that shed be too weak to continue the fight. She prayed to Artemis for help.
Liz took a deep breath and allowed her a moment to regroup. Her cold blue eyes locked on Kais. She almost hated to end this so soon but there were others she needed to attend to. Slowly, Liz walked toward the Amazon.
"I could just wait until youre too weak from blood loss to continue. But thats too time consuming, and I suppose youd prefer to go down fighting uh I believe thats an Amazon thing. You know, perhaps under different circumstances, we could have been friends." Liz turned her head trying to adjust her neck and continued, "I think we are very much alike, but unfortunately, you are in the way of something I must do."
She was nearly within striking distance, and Kai could feel coldness in the passageway. It was like Liz was death walking toward her. There was something very evil in that body. This was not the same woman shed fought on the training ground this was something else. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. It mattered not what this was, it only mattered that she stop her. Kai shifted her sword to her left hand. It was difficult to hold steady due to the gash on her arm, but she needed her right hand free. She wasnt ready to die just yet. What she desired was opportunity and a slight diversion.
"I can assure you we are nothing alike. And it will be my pleasure to show you just how not alike we are." Kais hand struggled to maintain her weapons readiness. Slowly, her right hand lowered to her side just a bit further. She kept talking.
"I dont know who you are, but I will not allow you out of this hall alive." Kais voice was controlled.
Liz sighed, shrugged her broad shoulders, and moved to finish the Amazon. She was through playing. "Suit yourself. Im afraid you really have no choice in this matter. Now, its time to die like a good Amazon." She raised her sword and prepared to end Kais life. The sound of the disc slicing through the air caught Liz off guard. She hesitated, distracted by the resonance.
The chakram deflected off an adjacent stone surface and flew toward the uplifted blade, making contact. The force of the impact sent the sword sailing out of Lizs hand to the floor. A look of irritation crossed her face. She turned around to see Xena snatching the disc out of the air.
"I suppose this isnt an invitation only party? Mind if I play, too?" Xena unsheathed her sword and stepped toward Liz.
This was the distraction Kai needed. She reached for the dagger in her belt.
Xena saw her movement and realized what was about to happen. She yelled at the Amazon.
Her words and Kais action took place simultaneously. The Amazon deftly removed the dagger and in a practiced, smooth movement sent it on its way toward Liz. Its path was true and Liz stood between the blade and Xena. The warrior would not be able to intercept the dagger before it struck home. All she could do was watch. Xenas concern was premature.
Liz sensed the incoming projectile and in an inhuman move caught the dagger inches from her heart. She sneered at the object and turned to throw it at Xena. She readied her hand but an invisible force was preventing her from unleashing the blade. A small voice inside was countering her waking actions. "Noooo you are not going to do this." The voice struggled to be heard, and a battle of wills was taking place.
Callisto had not understood Lizs true character. Even with all the manipulation, she still had some control. It was tiresome for the goddess, and she turned her persuasion up a notch. She sent Sams tortured cries once more into Lizs mind. It was enough to loosen her grip on Callistos evil spawn. The waking Liz decided to retreat. She put the dagger in her waistband and her shoulder to the nearest door. The room was empty, and she made straight for the latticed window, diving headfirst through the wooden slats.
Xena bolted toward the open door hoping to catch her. All she saw were the soles of her feet as she went out the window.
"LIZ!! STOP!!" Xena made it to the window, but Liz was no longer in sight. "Damn it!" She cursed and pounded her fist on the edge of the window frame.
"We have to find her, Xena." Kai was leaning against the doorframe holding her arm. She was pale and obviously in pain. Xena turned from the shattered opening and moved to assist the young warrior.
"The only place youre going is to Saras hut. This gash needs stitching. I can take care of Liz." Xena carefully checked Kais arm and got her to sit on the floor. "What the Hades happened here?"
Kai peered at the wound on her arm proudly. She would wear this scar as a testament to her bravery and resolve. She attempted to reconstruct the sequence of events for Xena.
"I couldnt sleep and was on my way to stand watch with my friend Mysiaa. I was taking a shortcut through here. Liz had Lysia at sword point ." She gasped at the mention of the young Amazon. " gods..Lysia.." Both she and Xena looked toward the unconscious form on the floor. Kai made an effort to move, but Xena stopped her.
"Dont move, Ill see to her." Xena went to the downed woman. She was sporting a nasty bruise on her face. There was a small puncture on her neck, but it wasnt deep. Kais intervention had saved Lysias life. Xena gingerly supported the young guards head as she tried to rouse her. She looked at the youthful face and felt a hot anger boiling within her. How could Liz almost take this innocent life?
"Lysia can you hear me? Come on open your eyes." Xenas voice coaxed the woman back to the waking realm. She was startled to find herself being tended to by the Warrior Princess. She looked around frantically, wanting to warn Xena about the mad woman in the hall.
"Xena! Theres theres this woman dark angry woman evil " Her thoughts were scattered but her assessment was dead on. She tried to sit up fearful the woman was still near.
"Shhh its okay, Lysia, shes gone. Tell me what happened." Xena helped Lysia to a sitting position against the wall. She smoothed the matted hair away from her face. "Take your time," she said calmly but internally she needed the facts quickly.
Lysia swallowed hard. "I was standing watch over the Queens quarters. I saw this woman coming down the hall with her sword drawn. I I reacted too slowly, Xena."
She looked down in shame and continued, "She said she was going to go through me to get inside. She thought you and Queen Gabrielle were here. I was sure she was going to kill me and she would have except Kai drew her attention. Then she hit me, and I dont remember any more." The mention of Kais name sent a jolt of dread through her. "Kai? Is she ?" The word struck in her throat.
"Im fine just a little banged up." Kais voice and form moved toward Lysia. She offered praise to the young warrior. "You did just fine, Lysia just fine." She knelt next to the woman, taking Xenas place. Kai looked at the older warrior and expressed her concerns and fears.
"Xena, I dont know how, but Liz isnt who she appears to be. She has fighting skills that would rival even yours. If you hadnt shown up when you did, Lysia and I would have died. She has to be stopped."
Xena stood and scanned the hallway. "I agree on all counts." She was trying to find a reason for all this. "How and why is this happening?" She spotted the answer to both questions on the floor. She picked up the gleaming sword. Holding it, she eyed the markings and uttered her judgement through clinched teeth, "Ares and Callisto. Just as I suspected." She turned back to Lysia. "Did this woman say anything else to indicate what she wanted?"
"No, but I had the very distinct feeling she was very focused and would not be denied. There was something very detached in her eyes. They almost looked dead they were so cold." The memory of being that close to death sent a shiver over Lysia.
An icy finger traced a path over Xena. She knew where Liz was headed, and the knot in her gut twisted. She needed Kais help.
"Listen, I need for you to get Vectra and have her meet me at the stable. Are you up to this?"
Kai didnt even think about her answer. "Yes." She had also guessed Lizs next stop and her pulse quickened. "Hurry, Xena."
Xena gave Kai a worried look and bolted toward the exit. The only word on her lips was that of her love.
The activity in ICU was rising. Rita Spenser was the first to clear the double doors. She normally was in control, but she was practically running to Lizs cubical. Joanne was already coordinating the impending event. Every monitor that could be attached to Liz was beeping... humming... or chirping. All was indicating the same thing. This patient was in big trouble and about to spiral into the abyss. Ruth watched the frenzy. She wanted to tell these people their efforts would not succeed but she opted to allow them the busy work they seemed so determined to do. Rita went straight to the healer.
"This is it, isnt it?" A simple question in the face of such complex decisions being made around her.
Ruth was very calm in her response. "Yes, it is." She was this island of serenity in the maelstrom of motion in the room.
Rita couldnt just stand by and watch Liz die. It was so inconsistent with her training and experience. "What can I do?"
Ruths answer was actually very reasonable. "Let her finish this, Rita. We have no choice. You wont be able to interfere with Lizs decision on the other side. You can only accept the connection on this side."
Rita stared at Ruth and then at the scene around her. The staff was in full ready mode. All the necessary support personnel were in the room respiratory techs . blood chem techs the IV cutdown team even the basic components to do an open heart massage. All the technology was ready and none of it would be any good. Rita finally realized this. For the first time since all this began she felt helpless.
Joannes voice brought her out of her thoughts. "Were ready, Dr.Spenser." She felt confident in all the machines, graphs and fluids hooked to Liz. "Dont worry, we wont lose her." Smugly, she turned to direct traffic in the room. It was one of the staff nurses that brought the futility of their efforts to light.
"My God! Look at this!" She was in the process of pulling the top sheet off Lizs left thigh. It was soaked in blood. Joanne looked at the deep puncture wound in Lizs thigh. Where it came from she couldnt have imagined. None of this made any sense to her and she so desperately needed to. All of this was beginning to take on a very eerie quality. She did the best she could to assess this latest development in a sane rational way.
"Christ!" She ran her hands through her hair in frustration and threw an accusing look at Ruth. "Someone get a stitch in this thing." She waited for a nanosecond for her request to be acted upon. It wasnt soon enough. "Now!"
Rita moved to the bedside. Her gaze was that of a friend, not the physician. Ruth joined her placing her soft hand over Ritas. One healer spoke to another.
"You know, of course, I cant prohibit the efforts to save her. The staff will do all they can. Liz doesnt have a DNR order on her chart they are bound legally to go all out. And as her physician of record, I am bound by my oath to participate."
Ruth nodded. "Yes, I know." She looked around the area. "Have Randi and Roger been notified?"
"Yes, they should be here very soon." Ritas emotions were just below her calm surface. This was unlike any experience shed ever had and was probably the most significant.
"I think Liz knows that and shes waiting for her family to be here." Ruths reply was gentle and loving. "We are her family."
Liz braced for impact on the wet ground beneath the window. She twisted her body so her right side would take the brunt of the force. Her right hand and shoulder touched first. She tucked her trailing body in a ball and rolled finally coming up on her feet. The discomfort in her left thigh caused her to wince and look down at her blood stained jeans. There was a very neat slice in the denim compliments of Kais sword. Her main concern, however, was getting out of sight. She knew Xena would be right behind her. The warrior was relentless. Even Callisto wanted her to hurry.
"Come on move it! Shell be on you before you realize it."
Liz looked over her shoulder toward the opening shed just come through. It was still dark and the rain continued falling. This is good, she thought. The rain will at least cover my tracks. She dove for the shelter of a low hanging branch. And just in time. From the cover of the thick leaves, she could see Xenas form in the window. Liz held her breath, keeping very still. She dared not move as long as Xenas sharp eyes peered into the night. Lizs imprisoned personality tried to take advantage of this aberrations stillness. There had to be a way to break free. She had an advantage of sorts a complete memory. This other was operating on Callistos agenda, which was narrow and quite singular.
"This is wrong let it go." Liz pleaded with herself to release the folly of having Sam again in this life. "You are being used by Callisto and Ares." The rationale had no effect. She could feel herself moving again. Her body began limping from one bit of cover to another. Liz fully understood where they were going and what was going to happen. If she could have severed her own leg to prevent this, she would have. Steadily, the two halves moved toward the stable and Gabrielle. They would arrive before Xena could even leave the Queens hut.
Xena made her way out of the building with Kai on her heels. Lysia was also in force, feeling she had a score to settle. Having just experienced Lizs expertise, Kai decided to head directly for the stable to be with Xena. She figured two against one would be just about right. She ordered Lysia to alert Vectra. Her reasoning was two-fold. It would give the young Amazon a feeling of importance and would keep her out of harms way. She simply was too inexperienced to go up against this foe. They parted company on the compound yard.
Liz was breathing hard as she approached the stable. The pain in her leg was making walking difficult. She cursed Kai for this indiscretion. "Damn you!" She tried to focus on her task. The words of Callisto swirled in her head reiterating the rules. "Change the one thing that took Sam from you."
"Yes, the one thing," she muttered. Liz reached for the dagger, grasping it expertly. She inched the stable door open. It creaked as the hinge moved. When there was just enough space, she slid inside. Gabrielle was stirring under the blanket. How she could have slept through the storm was beyond imagination. The bards predictable habits would serve Liz well. She stepped forward and stood over the peaceful form of Gabrielle. A slight shift in her resolve caused a hesitation. She looked almost lost. The bard rolled on her back and opened her eyes. She was confused. Where was Xena? What was Liz doing here? Why did she look so strange?
"Liz? Are you all right? Whats wrong?" Gabrielles questions seemed too complicated to even answer. Liz stared at her seriously trying to remember why she was there.
Callisto was far too busy congratulating herself to recognize the importance of this small anomaly. She closed her eyes and waited for the sounds of Gabrielles life being sliced from her. She waited nothing but silence. She opened one of her eyes, like a child peeking at a hidden prize and looked at Lizs immobile form. "Now what!?"
Her tone was condescending. She was close to just killing both of them. The result would be the same Xenas pain and torment. She materialized next to Liz to drive her point home in person. Liz hardly looked surprised to see the goddess. In fact, she didnt even flinch when Callisto popped up next to her. It was like she was expecting her. Argo, however, paced nervously in her stall, stamping the ground. And Gabrielles heart pounded.
"Callisto!" The word hung in her throat.
"Yeah yeah be right with you." Calli disinterestedly cast a glance at Gabrielle. She took a deep breath, pursed her full lips and draped a thin arm over her human creations shoulder, guiding her away from Gabrielle for a little private chat.
"Ok, what part of this do you not understand? Is it the actual killing part or the part where if you dont, that little friend of yours gets torn to pieces? Its quite simple we had a deal. Now either do it or Ill do both of you. What are you waiting for?"
Liz blinked and stared at her tormentor. "I dont know. This doesnt feel right." Callistos grip on Lizs mind was being pried away by that small voice inside. The blonde psycho careened over the edge of the pit. She took Liz by the shoulders and lifted her off the ground. She was positively seething with anger.
"Doesnt feel right!?" She screamed. "This isnt about feeling anything. This is about feeling nothing a nothing that comes from losing everything you care about. That is what were doing this for." As the words spat from her lips, Callisto hurled Liz across the room. Only the stable walls stopped her flight. The impact shattered the twisted control the goddess had perpetrated leaving Liz nearly unconscious and physically ill. She felt completely defiled from the inside out. Mustering control of her fear, Gabrielle moved to help her friend, but Callisto was having none of it. She sent Gabrielle to the opposite side of the stable with a flick of her wrist, leaving her in a heap against the wall.
"No, no," she chided. "Not until I say so. Sweet Hera I hate mushy reunions!" Callistos rage was about to erupt full force. Only the sound of a very angry god behind her stopped the total conflagration of the stable.
Ares was beside himself. "What do you think youre doing, huh? In the span of a few hours you have completely ruined my little surprise for Xena." He walked toward Callisto. "You just couldnt wait, could you? What is it with this instant gratification thing you have?"
Callisto sneered at the god of war. "As a male, Id think youd have first hand knowledge about that. That is what you do when youre alone, isnt it?"
Ares rolled his eyes in a bored manner. He was done with this. "Well, this mess is all yours, Callisto. I can tell you Xena is right outside so I hope youve got a plan, because Im leaving it with you." He turned to make an exit but paused. He had a parting warning for the goddess. "Dont ever get in my way again it wouldnt be healthy for you."
As he vanished, Callisto spoke prophetic words. "Nor for you." She turned her attention to Liz and Gabrielle. "Ok, time for plan B."
Xena had felt the presence of Ares, but now he was gone. That meant Callisto was probably in charge now. Somehow, she preferred dealing with Ares. At least he was predictable. With Callisto, she never knew what form her dementia would take. That made her especially dangerous and difficult to defend against. Her only thought was for Gabrielles safety. If Liz was under Callistos control, she was as good a dead. Xena would try to keep her injury from becoming fatal, but if it became a choice between Liz and Gabrielle, there was no decision Gabrielle and Argo in that order. Xenas mind and emotions were very clear on her course of action. Kai and Xena neared the stable.
"I want you to take the rear. Dont enter the stable until I say so. Is that clear?" Xena spoke quietly to the young warrior. "Have Vectra join you be ready."
Kai nodded silently and moved toward the rear of the building. Xena inched forward
drawing her sword, her senses acute. The stable door was slightly open. She flattened her
body against the rough wood and strained to hear any noise from inside. It was deathly
quiet. Deftly, she moved the door just enough to admit her frame. Her eyes darted to the
place where Gabrielle had been sleeping. The blanket was thrown to one side, and the bard
was nowhere in sight. She stepped inside a little further, sword ready, and moving. Xena
viewed every possible nook and space as she proceeded. Across the stable she could see Kai
waiting just through a crack in the rear door. By now, Vectra would also be there. She
knew Gabrielle was in here somewhere as was Liz and probably Callisto. She didnt
have to wait very long to find out.
"Why, hello, Xena." Callistos voice rang from above. "Imagine seeing you here."
Xenas head snapped toward the upper loft. Callisto was standing just above her in an area where hay was stored.
"Where are they, Callisto?"
The goddess looked hurt. "What no Hello there, Callisto? Where are your manners, Xena?"
"I guess I dont have any where youre concerned. Now where is Gabrielle?" Xenas patience was wearing thin.
Callisto checked her nails and picked strands of hay from her tunic. "Oh, Id say shes hanging around somewhere."
Gabrielles cry came from the far end of the stable, in the loft. She was standing at the edge, her hands tied behind her back and a very sturdy rope was secure around her neck. From what Xena could tell there was about six feet of slack and the end was looped over a heavy beam above the bards head. Gabrielle looked genuinely scared. She was struggling to move away from the edge, sending loose hay fluttering to the stable floor like golden strands of snow. "Xena you know I dont like heights! Get me down!" Involuntarily she inched forward.
The warrior raised a brow at Callisto and made a judgement. "You must be losing your touch, Callisto. You know I can save her." Xena removed her chakram from her belt and tensed to throw the disc at the rope.
Callisto sat on the edge of the platform, crossed her legs and leaned back on both hands. "Well, Im sure you could save Gabrielle but what about the other?" She jerked her head toward the opposite end of the stable. Xena saw Liz with the same fate around her neck. Callisto continued, "Now before you get any ideas about flinging that chakram all over the place, take a closer look under your dimensional friend."
Xenas eyes trailed to the stable floor. Callisto had arranged a mass of stakes and sharp instruments beneath Liz. She clarified the obvious.
"So, you see, even if youre successful in severing the rope, shell just be impaled. No win for you Xena. Even you cant be in two places at once. Youre good, but not that good. Besides, that little bitch wouldnt do what I wanted so Im extra pissed at her."
Liz called from the loft. "Forget me, Xena! Save Gabrielle. Dont let Callisto win fuck her!"
Callisto had a look of sadness on her face. "Well, I will miss that but it cant be helped." She jumped to her feet, brushing the hay from her legs. "All right no more talking. Time to dance," She pointed a finger to either bound woman, causing them to move against their will closer to the empty space in front of them just a few more inches.
Xena steeled herself for action. She was certain she could save Gabrielle, but Callisto had virtually guaranteed that Liz would not survive. It was a very slim chance, but she knew what had to be done. She watched as both women neared the drop, perspiration beading on her forehead.
"Say, bye-bye." Callisto made a sharp movement with her fingers pushing Gabrielle and Liz from the loft.
"KAI NOW!!" Xena yelled to the hidden Amazon as she concentrated on Gabrielles falling form. The chakram sailed from her hand on an intercept course with the tightening rope. Kai and Vectra sprang from the rear of the stable. Kai took aim with her sword and Vectra kneeled, drawing her bow. Both released projectiles a split second apart Kais sword on a path for the rope and Vectras arrow toward Liz. Xena had already started moving toward Gabrielle to break her fall. The chakram neatly severed the rope, zinged off a support beam and took flight toward Callisto.
The goddess watched as the drama unfolded at blinding speed. She fully expected Xena to save Gabrielle but allowing Liz to die would place a wedge between them. This was perfect. There was no way to save the other woman or at least she couldnt imagine a way. She was amazed at what was happening at the other end of the enclosure.
Liz saw the two points coming her way. She had an inkling as to Xenas plan but called out none the less. "Nooooo!!!!"
Kais sword struck home, cutting the rope neatly. Liz was now falling directly into the waiting pit of death below her. She closed her eyes and waited for the inevitable. Vectras arrow found its mark. It pierced Liz in the shoulder and the sheer velocity of the shaft went through her flesh, the head coming out the back. The pain was unbelievable but what was really unbelievable was the fact the arrow deeply imbedded in a supporting post suspending Liz above the pit, impaled, but not dead. She dangled like a sock on Solstice Eve waiting to be filled.
Xena was in the process of freeing Gabrielle from her bonds, keeping a nervous eye on Callisto. She peered at Liz knowing she was in tremendous pain, but alive. The goddess was livid again. How dare Xena spoil her prom. She waited for the chakram to come near and snatched it out of the air. She pondered what to do so many choices.
Liz was about to make the decision for her. She mustered all the resolve she could through the blinding pain and yelled at Callisto. "Hey! Bitch! Foiled again by the Warrior Princess, huh? Why dont you just pack it in and get lost?"
Callisto glared at Liz. "Youre not saved yet." She looked down at the warrior.
"Oh, Xena looking for this?" The gleam in her eye was unmistakable; she was about to even the match.
"Callisto, dont! Its me you want, not some irksome brunette from another dimension. Come on, here I am. Lets finish it." Xena was standing and inching her way to the center of the stable her eyes never leaving Callistos. She was hoping the demented figure would ignore Liz long enough for her to close the distance. Xena couldnt believe her ears as Liz further taunted the goddess.
"Whats the matter? Chicken? I bet you dont have enough talent to finish this."
"Liz! Shut up!" Xena had a bad feeling about this.
Gabrielle had found her feet and was moving toward the end of the stable. Her heart was racing, and fear for Lizs life was mounting. "What are you doing!? Please, stop."
Liz threw an icy look toward Callisto. Her words sent a shock through all those on the floor of the stable. Through clinched teeth, she spat, "Do it I dare you." A slight smile formed on her lips as the words reached Callistos ears.
"No problem." Callisto let the disc fly. All Xena and Gabrielle could do was watch as it sailed toward the far end of the stable and the woman pinned to the post. Almost in slow motion, Liz watched the chakram fly at her. It struck one surface before angling on its final trajectory. She didnt even feel it sever the arrows shaft from the post. She held her breath in morbid anticipation. It seemed like forever before she struck the first stake, its point piercing her chest and lung, but missing the heart and aorta. The second ripped through her abdomen and a third grazed her muscular thigh. She came to rest in a mangled heap. Callisto was laughing hysterically.
"I win, Xena. Just like always. I told you that you couldnt save them both." A puzzled look crossed her twisted face as she chided the warrior. "Why wont you listen to me? You never listen to me."
Callisto somersaulted from the loft over to the pit. Miraculously, Liz was still alive just barely. She half smiled at the goddess and reached up with her free hand. She was trying to say something. Curiously, Callisto knelt beside the dying woman crystal blue eyes focused on the goddess.
"Pay up I win." The words were a supreme effort for Liz.
A rather confused expression formed on Callistos face. "No no that wasnt the deal. You didnt kill Xena or Gabrielle," she said in almost childlike tone.
Liz grabbed Callisto by the arm. She still had an amazing amount of strength.
"I changed the one thing the main thing. I was the one thing. If she had never met me, she would be alive. Now, pay up." Liz struggled to maintain her hold her lips were dark with the blood from her punctured lung.
Callisto jerked her arm away from the woman and stood up. "Thats not fair. You didnt play by the rules. The deals off no can do."
Gabrielle reached the far end of the stable, shoving Callisto out of the way. "Get away from her!" The bard was frantic. She knew there wasnt any way to help Liz and she cried out in anguish. "Why did you do this!? Xena could have saved you, Liz." Tears were on Gabrielles face as she tried to comfort her friend. She looked to Xena for some kind of miracle. "Xena, do something."
The warrior just shook her head. There was nothing anyone could do. Even Kai and Vectra were stunned.
A hand on her arm drew the bards attention. Liz was nearly gone, but was trying to speak. Gabrielle tried to get the mortally wounded woman to save her strength.
"Shhh dont speak were going to get you out of here." Gabrielle lovingly brushed the matted strands of dark hair from Lizs pale face, her voice choking back her greatest fear. Liz pulled at Gabrielle, drawing her close. In a faint whisper, she spoke her final words.
"Its ok, Gabrielle everythings going to be ok now remember... seize the day " Her eyes remained open, but the fire that was Liz drained out of them. Her grip melted away and she was gone.
A silence filled the stable, save for Callistos barely suppressed giggling. Gabrielle slumped on the floor as close as she could get to Liz, her hand still caressing the quickly cooling skin of her friend.
Xena grabbed Callisto, pushing her against the nearest post. She was inches from her face. "WHAT DEAL!?"
Easily, Callisto disengaged herself. "Oh, nothing really. Ares had this stupid plan about coming between you and bright eyes over there again and we well um asked Liz if she would help."
Gabrielle was seething. "Liz would never help the two of you. What did you do to her?"
"Gabrielle is right, Callisto. Liz had too much character to willingly submit." Xena moved near the goddess again. "What did you and Ares promise her?"
Callisto was exasperated with the way things had transpired. She looked at the pathetic form of Liz and sighed in a detached way. "Well, not that it matters now, but we offered to bring that girlfriend of hers back, if she would change the one thing that separated them. It took a lot of exertion to get her to finally uh work with me on this." Callisto threw her head back in a sarcastic laugh. "As usual, Ares plan had a hole the size of his ego. She was clever... almost as clever as you, Xena. That bitch foiled my plan at the very last moment tricking me into killing her."
"You mean you prayed on Lizs emotional distress." Xena wanted to cut Callistos black heart from her chest.
"Yeah whatever." Callisto thought for a minute, nervously biting the tip of her finger. "But all my not be lost. I just might be able to salvage this fiasco after all." Her face broke out in a deranged smile as she began to pace. "This is perfect!" She turned to Xena and Gabrielle, explaining her twisted thinking. For all appearances, she looked like someone planning a party. "You see... it doesnt matter if her girlfriend comes back, theyll still be separated... only now, Liz is dead how delicious. And somehow, this is still all your fault, Xena."
"What do you mean?"
"Gods, youre slow. Dont you see if Liz had never met the two of you, then she and that lover of hers would be alive. And sadly, I wouldnt be enjoying this close moment with my very dear friends." Callisto turned in a small circle, hugging herself, preparing to leave. One last time, she surveyed the carnage before her. "Well, I hate to kill and run, but Im bored with all this. Youll forgive me, Xena dear, if I dont hang around for clean-up duty. Well do this again soon."
Xenas eyes glowed with hatred. "I promise you, if its the last thing I do, I will kill you."
"Ah promises promises." Callisto blew Xena a kiss and simply vanished.
Gabrielles voice served to quell the rage churning inside the warrior. "Xena, we need to " She could hardly find the words, " you know." There was such gentleness in Gabrielles voice, a soothing balm for all the wounded souls in attendance.
"Yes, I know. Lets get her out of there."
Xena, Kai and Vectra moved toward Gabrielle. The four of them gently removed the woman from her prison. When she was freed, Gabrielle looked for something to cover her. She picked up the blanket that she had lain under just a few short hours before. Absently, the bard smoothed the cover, tucking it snugly around Liz.
Kai had a question on her lips. "She did all this to bring back her lover?" She was still puzzled.
Xena stared off into the distance, seeing the real reason. "Liz did the only thing she could. She knew her life was forfeit by agreeing to Ares and Callistos terms. Rather than engage me in a fight, which Callisto knew she would lose, she intentionally pushed Callisto into killing her. It was Lizs way of being released and making the bitch complete the bargain."
"But if Callisto makes good her promise, Liz and her lover will never be together. She did all this for nothing." Kais reasoning was sound.
"Anything done out of love is never wasted." The voice behind them was even and knowing. Artemis had quietly appeared. Even Xena looked surprised and bowed her head in respect. Kai and Vectra went to their knees. The younger Amazon had never actually seen the goddess. She was in shock.
Gabrielle was the only one who spoke. "Artemis, can you help?" Her question was direct.
The goddess of the moon walked to the covered body. Her soft brown eyes peered lovingly at the form on the ground. "I can do nothing for her in this life, Gabrielle, she has passed over."
"Can you stop Callistos plan then?" The bard needed something to go right.
"I will deal with Callisto be sure." Her tone was calm and unhurried.
Gabrielle looked at the ground, her brow furrowed. "Artemis, what shall we do?"
"I will take care of her, Gabrielle."
The goddess stood over the body, her radiance spreading like a melting candle warm and soft. The sheer brilliance made watching difficult. When the light faded only the rumpled blanket was left. Artemis had taken Liz with her.
Xena wrapped her arms around her lover. "Come on, lets get out of here." She started moving Gabrielle out of the stable.
The bard thought about the conversation shed had with Liz on the road that day. She drew Xena close to her. "Have I told you how much I love you?"
Xena responded quietly, "Many times, Gabrielle."
Gabrielle held her tighter as they walked from the stable. "Well, I just wanted to tell you again." She paused at the stable door and turned to look inside one more time. "Where will Artemis take Liz, Xena?"
The warrior held her bard even closer. "She will take her home, Gabrielle."
Two figures raced across the hospital atrium floor. It was obvious something dire was occurring. Had the elevator doors not already been open, the two would have hit the stairs, bounding the three flights to ICU.
"God, what if we lose her, Randi?" Rogers voice was cracking.
"Were not going to lose her I refuse to lose her to something I cant understand." Fear had a hook in Randis well-ordered mind, its insidious nature wearing away her calm.
The elevator rose toward the third floor. Randi and Roger exited and went right past Ms.Jarmon into ICU proper not even making a pretense of stopping. The assembled number of staff in Lizs space was a testament to the seriousness of the event. There wasnt enough room for them to enter, and they had to stand just outside the enclosure. Randi could see Lizs face. She focused on that face, blocking out the invasive nature of the medicine being practiced on her friend. She and Roger held on to each other as Ruth joined them in the bright corridor. She had a very calm, serene look on her face. At first, Roger thought this meant everything was okay, but the look in Ruths eyes told a much different story. It was a look of resignation and acceptance.
He put a hand to his quivering mouth. "Oh, God "
"Its going to be all right, Roger. Liz really does know what shes doing." Ruths voice was steady and reassuring. "We have to trust her no matter what happens."
Lizs three best friends stood together as the final push started in the cubical. Rita was in complete control of all the action.
A variation on the heart monitor signaled the beginning. Joanne had her team ready.
"Ok, people, here we go." The truth was, Joanne didnt know what was going to happen. Given the recent events concerning this patient, she half expected Liz to sit up and her head to start spinning around. She got the next best thing. Lizs heart rate shot through the roof as did her blood pressure. A dark red stain began coloring the hospital white sheet at her neck.
Doug was about to intubate Liz to maintain her airway during a code when he noticed the spreading discoloration.
"Shit!" His exclamation said it all.
Rita pulled the sheet from Lizs shoulder, her eyes staring at a very deep puncture just medial to the joint and beneath the clavicle. She quickly ran her gloved hand to the back of her shoulder. Her skilled finger felt a similar hole. The color of the blood indicated it was venous, not arterial. Whatever had made the puncture missed the major blood supply.
"Damn good shot," she muttered.
"What!?" Joanne wasnt sure she wanted to know.
"Nevermind. Give me some 4 bys, now!" Ritas bloody hand was waiting for the sterile squares to cover the anterior and posterior wounds. She continued leading the charge. "Get her tubed, Dougie, right now!"
The respiratory therapist slipped the laryngoscope skillfully into Lizs mouth. He directed the lighted tip just past the base of the tongue, clearly seeing the trachea and esophagus. The inverted V of the vocal cords was visible. He hesitated a second. Knowing Liz hadnt been given a paralyzing agent to relax the cords, he would have to wait for her to take a breath, then proceed.
Gingerly and quickly, he guided the endotube down the mainstem bronchus to the bifurcation of left and right passageways. Lizs involuntary protest was minor. Doug connected the ambue bag to the open end of the tube and sent air into her lungs. He listened with his stethoscope to insure both lungs were inflating and all the lobes were involved. Satisfied, her nodded to Rita and removed the bag, allowing Liz to breathe unassisted.
For a moment she lay quiet in the bed. The room was charged with suppressed energy waiting. Doug watched Liz breathe on her own, taking in a slow steady stream of air. He thought to himself how peaceful she looked. He noticed a slight tenseness in her body almost like she was holding her breath. Then all hell broke loose.
"Sonofabitch!" Doug was watching the red fluid spew from the open end of the tube. He quickly inserted a suction catheter and began siphoning the blood out of the lung. "What the hell is going on!?" He quickly listened for breath sounds through his scope. "Ive got a collapsed lung here! Damn! Ive got a punctured lung! How in the hell "
At the same time, the hole appeared just below Lizs right breast. It was obvious, Dougs problem and this were two parts of the same puzzle.
"Pressures falling." Joannes voice was laced with a fear shed not experienced. This clearly was not normal. "Were losing her."
Rita watched Doug trying to clear Lizs airway and was mesmerized by the gaping hole in her chest. She could hear the lungs attempt to inflate, but with the hole, there wasnt sufficient pressure. She quickly covered the wound with her hand to give Doug the backpressure he needed. She knew in her heart they should just stop, but she was on autopilot.
"Stay with her, Doug." Ritas eyes betrayed the words coming out of her mouth. She amended her request. "As long as you can."
The opening wound in her abdomen spelled the end. It was clear to Rita this was beyond her healing power and knowledge. Joanne hadnt gotten it yet. She watched the hole open and actually thought they could do something to stop this process.
"Get a surgical pack open! Gown and gloves for Dr.Spenser." She was in the process of clearing a table for the sterile instruments.
Rita pulled her soiled gloves off and tossed them in the biohazard bucket. It was a symbolic gesture.
"Enough." Ritas word was simple.
Joanne didnt understand. "What? Enough what?"
"Enough of this. We have to let her go, Joanne."
"We havent even started, doctor!" The nurse was quite correct, but Rita was more correct.
"Joanne, this is beyond us. Liz is mortally wounded. She is dying. Let her die with some dignity." Rita motioned for the extraordinary efforts to cease. She knew shed be up before the credentials committee over this, but it felt right to stop.
"But you cant just stop " Joanne protested.
"I can and we are. I take full responsibility." Rita looked at Doug. "Dougie, extubate her, ok?"
The therapist did as he was told, deflating the cuff around the tube and sliding it from Liz's airway. She actually looked relieved to him. But surely this was just a projection of his own relief.
"Now, everyone out. Only her family in here." Rita watched as the team reluctantly filed out of the cubical. Joanne went straight for the phone, presumably to call the Director of Nursing and the Hospital Administrator. Rita couldnt be bothered with politics at the moment. She motioned for Randi and Roger to come in. Ruth followed closely. Rita pulled a blanket over Lizs nude and insulted body. Only her face was visible to those around her. She was taking very shallow, difficult breaths. An audible gurgle was heard on every effort.
Roger stood on one side of the bed and Randi, the other. Words couldnt have possibly expressed all they were feeling. It was enough to be with her at the very end loving her. Liz took a very deep, painful gasp of air and opened her eyes. Randi would remember how clear and sparkling they were how alive. Roger would see the unconditional love in her face.
Liz coarsely whispered," .its going to be ok .." Her gaze fixed on her friends, and she quietly slipped away.
The shock was numbing. They had lost her. After all theyd been through she was gone. Rita slumped in a chair, put her head in her hands and wept. Roger looked at Ruth. His painful question said it all.
"How is this ok?" His denial had started. "You said she knew what she was doing. She cant leave " His voice trailed off as he returned his eyes to his friend. "Were not done yet."
It was some time before the four of them left Liz to the care of the staff. Rita escorted them to a private room to collect their thoughts or to just break down. This was truly the worst day of all their lives, and it reflected in their faces all except Ruth. It was as if she knew something the rest of them didnt. Or perhaps it was because she saw life from a much different perspective. It hardly mattered.
The entire ICU staff was shaken. They had never seen an event like this. Coming up with a cause of death even posed a problem. Joanne was trying to complete the mound of paperwork associated with a patient expiration. She had made the call for James, from the hospitals morgue. He would transport Liz downstairs. The rest of the staff had methodically disconnected Liz from all the monitoring equipment and IVs. They had washed the gross blood from her body and placed a clean, crisp sheet over her. Finally, all was ready. The orderly and two of the nurses moved Lizs body to the waiting gurney and securely tucked the sheet in on all sides. As she was rolled to the waiting elevator in ICU, a silence fell over the unit. Not one word was uttered until the elevator doors closed. Their lives would not be the same.
The ride to the morgue was unhurried. James had worked in that place for nearly thirty years. He had a respect for the dead that was in many ways comforting. He allowed his charges final dignity. He believed everyone deserved to be treated with love on this last journey. The elevator opened to a brightly-lit room. He pushed the stretcher toward a set of stainless steel double doors. The only sound was the incessant wobble of one of the wheels but even that had a rhythm. On the other side was row after row of refrigerated storage slots. He picked up the chart and extra paperwork and walked toward the medical examiners office. There were forms he had to fill out before finally giving Liz a resting-place. He sat at the desk to complete his task.
The faint glow around the gurney went unnoticed. The form of Artemis was invisible to all mortals here. She stood next to the body, her vibration joining with the lifeless figure.
"Come with me, Liz. The gods have interfered with your life too many times. Time to go home."
"What you ask is not possible, Artemis. I cannot interfere in human affairs." Zeus was giving his best imitation of an unyielding king of the gods. Had he been dealing with Athena or Aphrodite, his task would have been simpler. But Artemis was different. She had a special place in Zeuss heart. It was often his undoing where her demands were concerned. This time, however, what she asked was very well outside his godly authority. This was mostly due to his persistent habit of staying clear of controversy. He hated having to explain his decisions to Hera. The woman just plain irritated him.
Artemis was very focused on her task. She would not be denied and stated her case.
"Im not asking for interference, Im asking for righting of a horrible wrong. The gods have done nothing but interfere in this mortals life starting with Aphrodite and that stupid game the two of you played. You are as much at fault here as anyone, and as king of the gods, you have power to do anything you chose."
One normally didnt threaten Zeus, and even Artemis was treading shaky ground. He was uncomfortable with his daughters accusation. He was equally nervous with taking any decisive stand on this issue. Rising from his seat, he approached her and rebutted with a weak defense.
"How was I to know things would get so out of hand?" He waved a hand dismissively. "No, this is out of my hands," he persisted. "And as I recall, youve had more than your share of manipulating this womans life."
Artemis took Zeuss comment in stride. "Youre wrong, of course. I never manipulated the outcome of any of the womans decisions. I was there simply as a guide, but this time I fully intend to be an active participant. Unless you havent noticed, the gods and goddesses of Olympus are about to have a huge problem with Callisto."
Zeus sighed, "Callisto is an irritation, not a real threat against the true immortal gods."
Calmly, Artemis interjected. "Then the fact she was working with Ares doesnt bother you in the slightest?"
"Ares?" Zeus had a look of genuine surprise on his face. "What did Ares have to do with this?" The mention of his petulant offspring always meant trouble. "With the exception of Xena, he could care less about mortals."
Artemis moved ever so slightly around the room while filling her father in on the latest. "This is true, however, he has no qualms in using anyone or anything to satisfy his obsession with the Warrior Princess. And hes been actively trying to destroy my chosen, Gabrielle, for a long time. This was just one more failed attempt to do just that only this time there was an unnecessary death. He and Callisto conspired to have this mortal kill Xena and Gabrielle. He executed the plan through manipulation of the first magnitude. It was only the womans inherent character that fought Callisto off at the last moment."
Artemis let this information fully seat before continuing. In spite of his seeming shallowness, Zeus did have some moral guides he followed.
It was usually his daughter that reminded him from time to time. "We the Olympian gods need to set this right again. Ares and Callisto must not be allowed to alter the physical universe with their pettiness."
Zeus pondered Artemiss words. "All right, I concede the meddling influence of my son. Ill have a word with him but I dont see it changing anything for the mortal." He understood what Artemis wanted, and could easily grant her desire. "No, Artemis, I cannot do what you ask. Think of the repercussions. To do so would set a dangerous precedent. Id be reviving mortals left and right."
The goddesss patience was wearing thin. "Im not asking for a blanket reanimation. This case is special unique." She had one last point to drive home. "Well, perhaps the fact that Callisto is about to defile Elyssia to complete her twisted agenda will convince you to reconsider."
"What do you mean?" Even Zeus was protective of the ethereal resting-place of heros.
"I mean, Callisto is planning to remove this mortals partner to further torment the living. You talk about setting a dangerous precedent Id say this would qualify."
"She cant do that!" Zeus was indignant.
"Really? And who is going to stop her? You? Hades?" She paused, "Zeus, allow me to do this, not only for Liz and her partner, but also for all the gods. Theres simply been enough suffering."
Zeus weighed the consequences. The fact Ares had even considered joining forces with that aberration, masquerading as a goddess, really wasnt sitting well. Artemis was correct. Callisto had to be dealt with.
"Very well, Artemis. You may have your request. Make sure it counts. I wont allow this again." He paused to add. "Oh, and I dont want to know exactly how you do it. The less I know, the better off I am. "
"Thank you." Her words were sincere. "Now, if youll excuse me. I have an appointment in Elyssia to keep."
Her arrival and stay in Elyssia had been difficult. It was a hard process to let go of her beloved Liz. Artemis had provided a peek into their future lives, but still, she had been so abruptly torn from life, full acceptance was slow in coming. Sam sat on a large stone at the edge of a silver pool. She had been distressed this day the voice of Liz had suddenly gone quiet. Sam didnt know what to make of the event. She even looked expectantly at the new arrivals, wondering if Liz would be among them. Could it be she had simply stopped thinking about her? Sam couldnt even consider this possibility it was too painful.
"Aw she stopped talking to ya, didnt she?" The voice couldnt help stating the obvious.
Sam turned her head toward the sound. "Who are you? Do you know Liz?"
"Lets just say she and I were business partners but we kinda broke it off, sharply." Callisto could barely suppress chuckling at her own private little joke.
"Were? Has something happened to her?" Sams pulse quickened. This blonde woman made her nervous, and she couldnt see Liz associating with her for any reason. "What do you want?"
"My, arent you just a little question machine. And what do I want? Why, nothing dearie. In fact, Im here to give you something."
Sam eyed her suspiciously. "What could you possibly have to give me that I dont already have here?"
"Hmm good question." Callisto was drawing the game out. "Well, how about your mortal life back again? Think thats worth the price of admission?"
The thought of living again and having Liz was almost too much to hope for. "Are you a goddess?"
"Why, yes. Now you havent answered my question. Do you or dont you I dont have all eternity to wait for your decision."
"What do I have to do?" Sams longing for her lover was so strong.
Callisto smiled. She knew she had her now. Just one more thing and she would have her plan fulfilled. "All you have to do is want it and follow me out of Elyssia." The goddess knew she couldnt force Sam. She would have to leave of her own accord.
"Yes, I want it." Sam was halfway to the worst decision in either life. She started walking toward the grinning woman and the boundary of Elyssia.
Callisto was babbling to distract Sam as they neared the portal. "Now, I have to tell you, a few things have changed since you last saw that lover of yours. Shes taken a liking to body piercings." A nervous snicker slipped from her lips. They were almost there just a few more steps.
"Thats far enough, Callisto." The authority in the voice stopped Calli and Sam in their tracks.
The goddess sneered. "Artemis how nice to see you. My friend and I were just leaving."
Unfazed, Artemis shot back, "Oh youre leaving all right." Before Callisto could retort, Artemis sent an energy wave knocking the woman literally into the next realm. She knew it was a temporary solution but it would work for now.
"Come back when you have some real power. Gods... I hate dealing with amateurs." Artemis was ready to help Sam now. She held out her hand to the lithe woman.
"Come, Sam its time for you to go home, too."
Sam reached for the softness of the goddesss hand. She felt completely safe and although she didnt know where they were going, she trusted the goddess of the moon.
The womans voice floated into the adjoining room. "If youre not out here in five minutes, Im leaving without you." There was a slight pause. The tone of her voice took on the most stern quality she could muster. "I mean it! Were late already."
The dark-haired woman in the other room was on all fours peering under the four poster bed. She spoke to her companion from the floor level. "Alright already. Im looking for my other shoe." The golden furred kitten wasnt making this task any easier. She kept swatting the womans hand with every sweep under the bed.
"Brie! Stop it! I dont have time for this." She cast a glance past the little animal toward the outer room. "Momma is upset enough." In frustration, she sat back on the floor, wearing one shoe, sighing heavily. "Gods.. where is my freaking shoe?"
Her musing was interrupted by the timekeepers call. "Two minutes!"
"Christ! The two minute warning. Ill never make it without timeouts." She looked at the kitten for help. "Brie.. go fetch my other shoe!" The youngster stared at the human arched her back lazily and sashayed out of the room.
"Hey, it was just a suggestion." Liz mumbled. "Next time Im getting a dog."
"Well make sure the doghouse is big enough for both of you." The sound of the womans silken voice drew Lizs attention from the great shoe search. She peered under the bed to see a pair of feet in the doorway.
"Times up, missy. I dont care if you wear one sneaker and one boot, get your form out here right now! Besides, youre the one whos anal about being late."
Liz watched the feet turn smartly and walk into the outer room. "All right Im coming!" She reached up to use the bed as a support, pulling her frame off the floor. She would have to opt for another pair of shoes and quickly there was the familiar jingle of keys wafting through the condo. Liz practically stepped out of the one shoe she was wearing on her way to the closet. She grabbed the first pair she came to. She was standing in the doorway of the closet slipping her feet into the loafers when a curious thing happened. It was just a fleeting wave that washed over her. The closest thing she could relate to was a feeling of deja vu.
At that moment, she looked at the bedside stand. There was a framed picture of her lover and she. The two women were standing on a dock overlooking a beautiful, blue ocean. It had been a spectacular day and both had champagne glasses raised in a joyous fashion. Liz walked to the bed, sat on the edge and took the photo in her hands. It was as if she were seeing Sam for the very first time. Something pulled at her very soul and a unrestrained tear worked its way down her tanned cheek.
She replaced the frame carefully, and reached to open one of the drawers in the stand. In the very back recesses of the drawer, she pulled a small, white box from its hiding place. Quietly, she removed the top and stared at the two objects resting on a soft, white square of cotton. She was looking at two rings of a unique design. Both bands had finely crafted etching. Just as Xenas chakram sported two different designs on its surface, the rings mirrored those patterns two parts of the whole. Liz had them custom made after that fateful trip to Key West. She had known, even then, Sam would be a profound part of her life. They were fated to be together very much like Xena and Gabrielle. She had wanted to wait until the right time to ask Sam for a life commitment. She had even discussed the possibility with Randi. Funny, but now seemed like the right time.
"I am leaving without you."
Sams voice brought Liz out of her waking daydream. She placed the rings in her pocket and moved from the bedroom toward the spacious living area. Sam had her coat across her arm and was nearly out the door. Brie and RG were perched on the back of the leather sofa, tails swishing, eyes fixed on the humans, whom they considered such silly creatures.
Liz blurted her words out. "Sam wait please."
Her beautiful partner raised a very practiced brow and paused at the door. In a quiet tone, she let Liz know she wasnt amused.
"If we wait any longer, the first part of tonights symphony program will be over. Im sure Randi and Roger already wonder where we are. Now are we going or not? As it is, we will have to park on the street blocks away from the Arts Center."
Liz walked toward her lover, her smile producing familiar crinkles at the corners of her blue eyes. Sam had seen that look many times before. It usually meant missing dinner or anything else planned for that evening. She wasnt going to give in easily.
"Oh, no you dont. We have tickets were going. Your best friends are probably pacing even as we speak. We dont have time for whatever is on that little one track mind of yours."
Liz ignored Sams very well put argument. She was face to face with her lover now looking slightly up into her jade green eyes. She deftly retrieved the house keys from Sams fingers, tossing them on the breakfast bar. The noise and movement of the keys sliding along the marble surface gave Brie incentive to hop off the sofa and onto one of the bar stools. She comtemplated attacking the metallic prey thought better of it and raced into the bedroom. RG was saving her energy. She preferred the entertainment before her. Sam reached behind Lizs back in an attempt to snag her keys.
"Liz honey, please later, okay?" Sams plea was falling on deaf ears. Liz already was removing Sams coat from her arm. She tossed it on the counter as well. Without speaking, she took Sams hand and led her to the sofa. With her free hand, she gently caressed Sams face and spoke.
"Sam theres something I want to ask you. I dont know why, but I feel I have to do this right now." She felt for the gold bands in her pocket. As she pulled them into the open, she made a very prophetic statement. "Besides, I dont think missing one symphony performance will kill either of us do you?"
The lights in the atrium began blinking on and off, indicating the performance was about to start. Roger had made another pass out front hoping to see Liz and Sam. He was almost fuming when he came up to Randi.
"God shes driving me crazy! Woman never used to be late for anything, but now Jesus H Christ shes never on time! I could just kill her for this."
Randi finished the last sip of her wine, tossed the plastic cup and took Roger by the arm. "Roger dont even say that in jest. Im sure they have a very good reason for missing this "
Roger opened his mouth to go on again about the godliness of punctuality.
Randi stopped the continuing tirade. "Dont just drop it. Lets enjoy the concert and well call them at intermission. Besides, I think I have an idea why they arent here." She leaned close to him and whispered in his ear.
Rogers eyes went wide and a look of mock hurt crossed his face. "What!? Theyre doing what!?" He rolled his eyes as he escorted Randi up the balcony stairs. "Why is it the queen is the last to know?"
Randi had a mischievous smile on her face. "Oh, I dont know. I think its a lesbian thing. Lord knows we cant decorate its a form of compensation deal with it."
Artemis was invisible to Liz and Sam. Things had finally been put right. It had been a long, arduous journey spanning dimensions and time. It wasnt the best solution, but a solution none the less. Her enjoyment of the moment was cut short by a familiar presence.
"I dont think Daddy is going to be pleased with you doing this." The voice took form next to Artemis.
Unfazed, Artemis responded. "Oh, and since when do you care what Zeus thinks? Besides, this will keep him from proposing any more absurd bets with you at least where this mortal is concerned. Id say you owe me, Aphrodite."
The goddess of love shrugged her luscious shoulders and moved toward the women on the sofa. Brie and RG followed her movement with great curiosity, moving to the front of the leather sofa for a better view.
"Well, they do look happy, and I have to say they make a handsome couple but " Aphrodite thought for a moment. "I think I could tweak their romance with a little spell " She raised her hand to dispense some of her special magic. Artemis aborted her action by grabbing her wrist.
"Oh, no they dont need any help. Especially your kind of help." Artemis gazed at Liz and Sam. They were engaged in a very deep, passionate kiss. "I think they can do this all on their own. No more meddling I mean it."
Aphrodite sighed, "Gods, Sis, youre just no fun."
Artemis cast a hard look at her bothersome sibling.
"All right whatever. Well, in that case, Im outta here later "
Aphrodites form sparkled for a moment and then vanished. Brie swatted at the dissipating shower. It didnt seem to matter whether she could actually catch any of it or not. Artemis smiled at the feline. She rather liked this animals energy and would miss the little creature. The goddess invoked a timely blessing on the two mortals before leaving.
"May your love always find one another."
And so it is and so it shall be.
I could stay awake just to hear you breathing
Watch you smile while you are sleeping
While youre far away and dreaming
I could spend my life in this sweet surrender
I could stay in this moment forever
Every moment with you is a moment I treasure
"I Dont Want To Miss A Thing"
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