Copyright Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle are property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. Louis and Lestat belong to Anne Rice and whomever owns her. I'm merely borrowing them for some odd experiments.
General Disclaimers: This is the first story of a new experiment I'm considering called "The Immortal Scrolls." Each story is a self-contained endeavor (no nasty cliffhangers) that rely on the premise of Katrina's two stories "Bite Me" and "The Fonder Heart." Note: the stories contained in "The Immortal Scrolls" take place before the events of both "The Fonder Heart" and my own story "When the Night Closes In." All you really need to know is that Xena and Gabrielle are the immortal daughters of Ares and Bacchus respectively.
Sex/Violence Disclaimers: There are sexual acts between two consenting adult women contained herein. There's also a fair bit of blood, because Xena's in a pretty foul mood. And Lestat is not exactly a pacifist, you know what I mean?
Thanks: Thanks to everybody who took the time to drop me a note encouraging me to tell this part of the story. Thanks again to Katrina for the space and the inspiration, and if you haven't read "Bite Me" and "The Fonder Heart"-- the springboards for this particular piece of fiction-- then I highly recommend them.
Questions, comments and other things are always welcome at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Immortal Scrolls: Story I
By: SL Bowers
New York, 1998
As I set pen to paper to write this tale, I can't help but recall the innumerable other times I have done so. Words-- in many ways-- have been my life's blood more than the fluid that beats through my veins. And I have told more tales than my immortal's memory can recall. But there are still more stories that have never been heard by ears other than my own, scenes that have never been set other than in my mind's eye.
The exploits of the Warrior and the Bard, the Queen and the Soldier, and even the passionate Sapphic Lovers have been told, retold, and transmuted into legend. Somewhere down the line, the people that we were-- Xena and Gabrielle-- seem to have fallen by the wayside. It's not hard to realize why. We possessed so many incarnations because, to put it bluntly, we were immortal-- daughters of Olympians, of Ares and Bacchus-- and thus could not live out our natural span in the temporal realm and then quietly pass over. Instead, we were forced to continually reinvent ourselves before an unsuspecting mortal audience, living different lives a thousand times over.
And until now, those stories have never been told.
These tales hold no dissemblance of our abilities, no coy avoidance of the love that Xena and I shared. Still share, if the truth be known. I have to believe we were truly made for each other, so well do our strengths and weaknesses complement each other's. I have spent over two millennia concealing what I am and whom I love.
These are our tales more than the Xena Scrolls ever were. These are our Immortal Tales.
New Orleans, 1790
More than anyone I have ever known, Xena is a true adventurer. Wanderlust runs through her veins with each pulse of her heart. And sometimes I wonder if Cortese had not attacked Amphipolis, how long it would have been before Xena struck out on her own anyway. A tavernkeeper's life was not meant for her.
But Cortese did come, Amphipolis was raped, and Xena became what she was.
And I thank Ares every day for those events.
Because without them, I never would have found Xena, never would have walked beside this woman who was my soulmate from the first moment I saw her, never would have been able to accept what I was and to revel in the shared eternity that stretched before us.
And so, it was because of my mate's thirst for travel that I found myself in this newly-birthed "American" city, teeming with swarthy men and unscrupulous profiteers and lush with beautiful women and graceful architecture. Everything about the "New World" fascinated my dark warrior-- I think mostly because she saw herself in this place called "America." It was raw and fierce, consumed with desire and ambition-- just like my lover. Two millennia of living had not gentled the passion out of Xena, and her eyes still sparked with that hunger for new experiences.
New Orleans was a compromise of sorts for us. She wanted to come to the New World, while I wanted to stay in Paris, and perhaps cease our wanderings for good. I had willingly followed the warrior throughout most of our lives together, but there had been times I had longed for peace, for comfort, for a place besides the restless heart of a warrior to call my home. And I willingly confess, there were times that I left her, tried to make my way without my dark soul. I had sought another life, had married, had even borne children-- a fact I cannot regret, despite the anguish it brought Xena.
But that is a tale for another time.
Suffice it to say, I invariably returned to her, to the home that was undeniably the place where I most belonged. And she always welcomed me back. But it was never easy.
The last few years we had been living in Paris, where we owned a salon-- one of many properties we had scattered across the Contenient, absentee landlords being one of our most useful disguises. This was my favorite place, one that was filled with warmth and laughter and people whom we learned to hold dear. Of late, however, I had sensed a growing restlessness in Xena that was the unmistakable calling card of her returning demons. She became a dark, brooding presence at the salon, until finally, she began to absent the place altogether. When she would eventually return, it was more often than not disheveled and blood spattered. I heard murmurs from the staff of a "Dark Knight" that was haunting tenebrous alleys and terrorizing those who would prey on the helpless. It was a ghost, a wraith, a wronged spirit they said. I knew better. At night, upon returning from her prowling, she clung tightly to me; as if seeking to memorize the feel of our bodies locked together in passion.
Finally I could no longer bear to see the shadows that overcast the vibrant sky that was my lover's eyes. "Let's go," I told her one day. "Whatever has taken your soul, Xena-- it's take mine too. I need you back. No matter the cost."
And so, we came to New Orleans.
There is a conspiracy of rumors about what is variously called the "Netherworld" or the "Dark Circles"-- but what I think of as the Twilight Realm-- that is designed to protect those who dwell in these regions. The denizens of this realm are creatures whose only similarity to Xena and myself is their immortality. And that state is far more precarious for them than they are willing to accept. I pity most of them, for their immortality comes most often at a terrible cost; they are banished from the light or are subjected to a horrible transmogrification that renders them insensate to their humanity. Mortals call them vampires, werewolves or-- for lack of better understanding-- simply demons.
As we stepped off the ship that delivered us to the crown jewel of the Mississippi, I could feel their presence here. The Twilight's Children who slunk in the adumbral corners of every city seemed to hover closer in this misty port. Perhaps it was the genealogy of the city itself-- for New Orleans was the half-breed spawn of French and Spanish ancestors. Each occupying country had not only scattered its human progeny across the landscape, but also left the indelible mark of its customs and manners upon the city. But somehow, New Orleans managed to rise above its mongrel heritage and incorporate Creole elegance and Latin traditionalism along with a healthy does of Jamaican mysticism from those who had become unwilling residents of the Isle d'Orleans. There was a sense of having seen it all-- despite the city's relative youth-- that seemed to saturate the air. Anything is possible... or permissible... the city seemed to croon in my ear. I shivered and glanced over at Xena, who was alertly studying her new surroundings.
Oh, my lover was going to adore this place, I could tell already. She stood there absorbing the atmosphere around her, an imperiously forbidding presence that directed the ebb and flow of traffic around us without moving a single muscle. No one dreamed of shoving my dark warrior out of the way, and most stepped cautiously around us with a whispered, "Excuse me." And they had reason to be afraid-- the daughter of Ares stepped aside for no one if she were not so inclined-- her demeanor and her garb communicated that unmistakable fact. She was dressed in black from onyx hair to shiny boots, except for the colorfully-patterened silk vest I had convinced her to don this morning.
Xena and the era's fashion were locked in a war in which neither would surrender. I knew she still longed for her old traveling leathers-- to tell the truth, I missed my Amazon garb more times than not-- and as women's clothing became more and more restrictive, she turned more and more to masculine attire. The scandalous irony was that the clothing simply emphasized the very same femininity that society dictated could only be expressed in limited ways.
Indeed Xena was the subject of much muted appreciation by our fellow disembarking passengers. The close-fitting trousers and mid-calf leather boots did not conceal the sleekly powerful muscles in her long legs, and the rich blue dyes in her silk vest brought out the highlights of her normally pale eyes. Arousal's familiar claws sank deep into my loins, and it was all I could do not to drag my lover into the darkest alley I could find, tear the clothing from her lean body, and devour her skin.
I shuddered at the force of the desire that rocked through my body. Our strong passion was a given between us, and in our darker hours we had evidenced our need with marks and bruises. Xena still had a thin sliver of a scar across her torso from an encounter that makes me shamefaced to this day. I could feel the omniscient presence of the Twilight's Children all around me. And for one of my lineage that made the call of the blood stronger. The first time I had felt the call was when I drank of my sire and sank my teeth into Xena's neck to the sound of her moaning cries. I had never known genuine desire until that moment, and I had climaxed at the barest touch of my fangs upon her bronze skin.
Blue eyes scorched my skin, and I turned to her. "You feel it too?" I murmured softly as my fangs lengthened behind the guard of my mouth. Clamping down on the want that threatened to run rampant at the feel of so many heartbeats-- and one in particular-- nearby, I stroked my tongue over the sharp points; a minute gesture that didn't escape my keen-eyed mate.
She nodded in answer to my question, then posed one of her own with a curling smirk. "Hungry, my dear?" Her voice was a low rumble that I could feel without hearing. I glanced again into the azure flame and was helpless against the sudden strength of the song in my blood. It came upon me with such a vengeance-- a powerful need that I hadn't felt in a long, long time. She felt it too, must have seen the ochre creep into my eyes. "We need to get out of here before this happens," Xena said thickly, her voice hoarse with her own struggle.
She gestured to a row of hansoms just off the main street corner and allowed the porter to help me into the carriage before pulling herself aboard. With a clipped tone, she directed the driver to the floor of rooms we had arranged through some acquaintances before we left Paris. We knew better than to touch one another at this moment-- because once that happened, we would not stop until our consummation was complete.
The Olympians called us the Daughters of the Blood, for that was the secret of our immortality. Our blood-- the hunger in mine, the fire in Xena's-- legacies of our god-sires that pulsed through our veins with each heartbeat. I no longer needed to feed with regularity to assuage the song of the blood-- age had done that-- just as Xena no longer needed to see her sword slicked with the life-force of others to quench the fire in her veins. But the urges were still there, simmering beneath the centuries of control that we had placed upon them.
And sometimes, just sometimes, they threatened to rage out of control.
That was when Xena and I turned to one another, turned on one another, for the satisfaction of our most primal urges-- because only in each other's arms could we reveal and revel in all that we were. Her strength would not break me, nor would my bite turn her. And underlying everything was the millennia of trust that formed the foundation of all that we were to each other.
But this night... I could feel something was different the moment I touched her...
The fire sparked through her eyes and jolted down my body with crashing force. I wanted her strength to submit to my will, to feel her writhing helplessly underneath me. I grasped her shirtwaist at the collar and-- with a flick of my wrist-- rent it open from neck to waist, sending studs flying about the room and leaving the silk hanging in tatters from her shoulders. I ran trembling hands down my lover's bronzed skin, feeling the rapid pulse just beneath the surface. My eyes were fixed on the tiny scar above her right breast-- the mark that branded her as my own-- and I bent to brush my tongue over the sensitized skin there.
I was stopped by brutally powerful hands gripping my hair and pulling me back to gaze into the snapping flame of her irises. She held me at arms' length and then relentlessly forced me to my knees. I moaned in arousal and shock as I realized what Xena wanted me to do.
My fangs were fully extended, and-- had I even wanted to-- there was no way I could stop the song in my blood. This was something I had never done. The blood's fire and sexual release were unalterably entwined for Xena-- she frequently used the one to fan the other or to soothe both aches. But for me-- lovemaking with Xena was something that came after the feeding, during the long spiral down from the hunger, when our senses were heightened and our bodies flush with the exchange. And although climax was a part of all my journeys into Xena's veins, I had never taken her body as I fed on her blood.
I stripped the rest of the clothing from her form-- how, I don't remember-- and shoved her against the heavy wooden door which was thankfully locked and barred from outsiders. I could smell her need-- the wild mix of leather, musk, and blood that was the unmistakable essence of my lover-- and it only drove my own cravings higher. I dipped my head to savor the wetness that slicked the dark curls there and was rewarded with a low growl from above.
My eyes traveled the length of Xena's tense body. Every muscle was coiled and knotted, a thin film of perspiration breaking over her skin. She bucked her hips softly against me in supplication. My heart cried out in love and joy for this creature who was my soul's twin, and reflexively, I took her hands from my hair and tangled the long fingers with my own. She threw one powerfully muscled thigh around my shoulder for balance and leveled an eerily intense stare at me.
"Do it, Gabrielle," she hissed.
That did it, the last vestiges of restraint were wrenched from my tortured body, and my fangs unerringly found the delicate vein at the juncture of Xena's leg and torso-- just as my hands freed themselves to sink into the overflowing heat of my lover's center. "Oh gods..." her voice and my mind cried simultaneously.
She was so wet and so open that my hand slid readily past the point where I would normally hold back; and the hoarse, guttural noises that tore from her throat urged me on. Each forceful pulse of her heart thrust her blood's fire into my body, and I returned it in kind with the answering strokes of my hand.
The pounding of our hearts dictated the rhythm of our passions, and we rocked timelessly against each other, lost in the deliverance to our primordial instincts. Finally the bloodsong's stranglehold lessened, returning me from the ochre in time to hear Xena's jagged cry as she climaxed with wracking violence.
The sweet honey of release painted my hands with her satisfaction as her muscles continued to pulse wildly against the pressure. Slowly she slid down the length of the door, and I slipped my hands from her center, catching her broad shoulders and laying her across my lap.
I was at once drained and filled from our coupling and didn't want to imagine what Xena was feeling at the moment. Her eyelids shuttered the blue from my gaze, and I slowly smoothed the damp tendrils of hair from her forehead. The beat of her heart was steady and strong-- if a little more elevated than normal-- and I could feel the tiny tremors of her body while the aftershocks of her climax rippled through her. A last shuddering breath brought her eyes back to me as she smiled softly and said, "Thank you."
At that moment-- I thought we were okay. I thought we were safe.
We played tourist during those first days and nights. The mist lifted the morning after our arrival, and the sun lent an auric splendor to the graceful buildings and the ships that sailed to and from the harbor. Our hosts-- Recia and Marchand-- proved to be charming companions, not only squiring us about the city, but also introducing us to a small group of people whose company they thought we might enjoy. I even sensed an ebbing of the edgy tension that had filled my lover's body these long months, and her smile-- never frequent even in the best of times-- made itself known a little more often, much to my delight.
Recia and I struck up an easy friendship almost immediately, for she was a laughing, carefree slip of a woman with a quick wit and a sharp tongue. She provided me with an uncanny insight into the citizens of New Orleans and their long, convoluted fascination with mysticism. She had no way of knowing that Xena and I were part of what she called the Dark Circles-- the lore was simply as much a part of the daily gossip as were the comings and goings from Madame Renaud's bordello.
Recia's innocent conversation explained why I felt the Children so strongly here. I have found that where there is belief in the possibility of a Twilight Realm-- no matter whether it is called that or not-- very often Children will be found there in larger than usual numbers. I don't know if one causes the other or if the two just feed off each other in a mutual exchange. Whatever the case, the Spanish moss and Gallic cemeteries created an air of otherworldly decadence. Walking the streets, it was easy to believe in what mortals called the Undead.
As yet, I had not seen one of the Children-- but one chilly night, after we had been in the city a fortnight, when the mist finally returned-- Xena left our bed as I slept. In my slumber, I didn't register her absence until my senses warned me of her return. I opened tired eyes to see her slipping in just ahead of Helios' rays. She soundlessly landed on the balcony outside our bedroom, and I watched her profile as she contemplated the deserted streets below.
I left the snug confines of our bed and, wrapping one of her long cloaks around my bare shoulders, joined her. Immediately I noticed a purpling bruise that ran the length of her jawline and several tears in her clothing. The scent of foreign blood filled my nostrils, along with something else that I couldn't quite place.
"They're here," she said tonelessly.
"We knew that," I replied, more than a little disconcerted at my lover's prowling. If she was going to return to old behaviors, why had we left our home in Paris? I shivered in the morning air, and Xena instinctively drew me closer to her own warmth. I gestured to the angry welt marring her features, more than a little angry myself. "Did you go out looking for them?"
"No. They came looking for me," she snapped in reply. "I overheard Marchand talking with the stable master about some mysterious deaths that sounded a lot like the work of Akasha's brood. Bodies drained of blood and stuff like that. The constables weren't really concerned because the victims were just whores. So I..."
"You went to check it out and they jumped you," I finished.
"More or less," she agreed. Shifting her weight against me. That there was something concealed behind the pale blue was plain in the tense way she held herself apart even as she sheltered me.
"What aren't you telling me?" I prompted.
Xena looked at me for the longest time before finally speaking. "They're arrogant, Gabrielle. They have a certain amount of... power... here that I've never seen before." She paused thoughtfully before continuing. "Even after they watched me rip out one of their throats, they still tried to take me."
"Obviously they didn't succeed." I said this more to reassure myself than anything. Xena was here in my arms, she was whole-- if somewhat bruised. I deliberately ignored the unfamiliar scent wafting from her skin and the faraway look in her eyes.
"Not for lack of trying." Her abrupt response to my forgotten statement startled me into recognizing that my lover was bleeding and quite possibly in pain. Just because we were the daughters of gods didn't mean we didn't bleed when cut, and broken bones hurt just as much as they did for any mortal. Ours just healed more quickly.
"Why don't we go inside where it's warmer, and you can get into some clean clothes?"
Xena merely nodded in reply and followed me through the wide doors. I was more than a little surprised at her uncomplaining compliance, but quickly saw the reason why when she removed her shirt. Her entire left side and her stomach were a seething mass of black bruises and welts. Even though I knew that because of her lineage, the wounds would most likely be healed by the morrow, nonetheless I gasped at the sight, unable to control my shock. She grimaced when she saw the look in my face.
"Oh Xe..." I whispered helplessly. "Why?"
She sat down gingerly on the bed, letting out a weary sigh. "I think they were trying to rupture my organs so I'd start bleeding internally." She made a move as if to remove her boots, but stopped abruptly with a groan.
"Let me," I hastened to pull her boots off, trying not to jar her too much.
"And I think they just liked to see the pain in my face as they hit me." Her eyes hardened in recollection of events I didn't want to hear about-- but couldn't bear not to. "Apparently, most mortals die too fast for their tastes."
"Xena-- don't tell me that you just stood there and let them do this to you?" I worked the second boot off and sat back on my heels.
"Well... I didn't have a whole lot of choice. I had to keep them all preoccupied to let the whore get away," she replied bluntly.
"Whore?" I shook my head. This was always what happened when I let Xena tell the story in her own way. Bits and pieces flung out at me like some kind of patchwork quilt of circumstance that I had to sort into some kind of coherency. "The beginning, Xena. Start from the beginning."
She smiled at the patient tone in my voice. Her lack of narrative grace was a long-standing joke in our life together. You'd think a couple of hundred years with a bard would improve this particular 'skill,' wouldn't you? she had teased on more than one occasion. "Sorry. But first could you hand me some of that liniment in our bag?"
I could and did-- even easing her down on the bed and beginning to apply the paste to her aching muscles myself. "Now talk," I ordered.
"Okay... I went to a hostelry that Marchand said the whores frequented to talk to some of the dead women's friends. I wanted to see if there was some sort of connection other than the way they died. I ended up talking to one woman in particular-- Mira-- then later, when we were in her room, several of the Children came through the door, quiet as you please. Turns out they had followed us from the hostelry back to Madame Renaud's, thinking they had two marks. When I quickly corrected their mistake, they decided they wanted to play. The distraction enabled Mira to get away, and then I finished them off. That's it-- beginning, middle, end."
It was indeed a beginning, middle, and end, but it didn't answer all my questions-- which I started to ask, but stopped short when I saw that Xena's eyes had already drifted shut.
For the last remaining hours before Helios fully conquered the horizon, I became the guardian of my lover's slumber-- wondering what new darkness awaited us in this city that my brethren seemed to find so hospitable.
When at last I heard the downstairs stirrings of our hosts, I went in search of something for breakfast, leaving Xena soundly asleep in our bed. Or at least I thought I had, for upon my return less than a half an hour later, I discovered that she had dressed and slipped away through the balcony once more. Realizing that she had been merely feigning sleep until an opportune moment, I began both alarmed and furious that she had chosen to elude me rather than tell me what was going on. I was her lover, by the gods, not her jailer.
Enraged, I stormed over to our belongings and swiftly sorted through them. Sometimes if I knew what Xena had taken with her, I could discern her intentions. Even though we were no longer itinerant wanderers, we had never gotten out of the habit of carrying a "travel bag" that never left our sides. Usually the most it housed was our store of various medical supplies, some discreet weapons-- including Xena's whip-- and some money.
The only thing missing from the bag was a long length of bandage that Xena must have used to bind up her ribs. They must be hurting her more than she let on... I thought to myself. She left the weapons and the whip where they were. Of course, had she taken them, she'd be a whole lot easier to find, I mused, a smile coming unbidden to my face. A six-foot, raven-haired woman carrying a whip would be hard to miss, even in a city as insouciant as New Orleans.
I was no more a fan of the current women's fashion that Xena, but unlike my mate, I had managed to a tenuous peace of sorts by eschewing the more restrictive corsets and hoops that were all the rage. I did, however, love the colors and the billowing cloth that swirled around my ankles when I walked. "Okay, Xena," I murmured to myself, the anger flooding through me once more. "You want to play hide and seek-- fine. Ready or not, here I come." Unfortunately, I couldn't make the same dramatic arrivals and departures that my warrior did. So I chose a more routine exit and set off in search of my lover's trail.
I briefly entertained the notion of going to Madame Renaud's, but quickly dismissed the thought. My arrival would undoubtedly draw a lot of attention-- and if I were truly honest, my only reason for going there would be to see this whore called Mira. Some irrational part of my brain was maddened by the idea of my lover in the woman's room, whatever her reason for being there.
Oddly enough, over the millennia, Xena had proven herself to be the more faithful partner in our union. My warrior was an extraordinarily sensual person, and asking her to go through eternity without ever touching anyone but me would have been a foolish request. But those handful of lovers that she had taken had never come close to touching her heart-- a place she kept reserved for me alone. I knew this and took shameless advantage of the fact, counting on it to anchor me when my own infidelities cast me far afield and caused me to question what I knew was the unbreakable bond between us.
So I turned my steps away from the bordello and slowly made my way to the less congested portions of the city. Our rooms were in the heart of the French Quarter, yet I quickly found myself in a quieter section, dominated by majestic houses that line the streets with their elegance, rising up out of the mist that still enveloped us.
My awareness of the Children loomed larger here. I could feel them even as the Sleep bound them until Helios surrendered the day. Had Xena come here to destroy them at their most vulnerable? That wasn't like her-- if only because she enjoyed the sport of matching wits and strengths. But she had said they were more powerful here and arrogant. I could sense that power, if only in the numbers hovering around me. Their somnolent presence warmed my blood, as it had during my entire visit. Xena and I had made fierce love each night, and during not a few of the days as well, but there had been no repeat of the urge that had claimed us upon our arrival. The faint whisper of the bloodsong teased at my senses now, the rage I felt at Xena's desertion fueling it. I wanted my warrior near, but the only heartbeat I felt was that of a youth trimming the hedges of the city dwellers' homes.
His beautiful caramel skin was so smooth and unmarred that I doubted he had seen his eighteenth summer. His curly hair was almost as dark as my lover's own, and he had soft brown eyes that regarded me pleasantly. My eyes traveled down the length of his slender neck, registering the slight jump in his pulse at my examination. I watched him work a moment longer, until the slight protrusion of my fangs abruptly jarred me away from my preternatural senses and back to consciousness. I hastily sketched a wave at the boy and then disappeared to safe ground-- for both myself and the mortal.
I wandered for the rest of the day, having given up hope of picking up Xena's trail. She obviously didn't want me wherever it was she had gone, and I could only hope that the disquietude that had overcome my mate would soon be eased by her roaming. I had thought to wear myself out with my ambling, come back to our rooms, and fall into an exhausted sleep until Xena returned. Alas, that wasn't to be-- for the more I walked, the edgier I became. I knew that twilight's falling only added to my tensions, for this was the time when the light and dark realms most thoroughly mixed. When the Children with their cold eyes and pale skin could walk unnoticed among mortals with their warm hearts and blood.
I could feel the Children's first stirrings, their drowsy stretching; and the quickening in their blood was echoed in my own. Although I knew our rooms would most likely be empty, I still couldn't stop my disappointment at finding this to be the truth. My eye was caught by a creamy envelope bearing my lover's bold, slanting hand rested on our pillows . "Be here at 8:00pm" it read. A couple by the name of Beque were giving a ball in honor of their daughter's debut this evening, and apparently, Xena wanted us there.
Several hundred years with the warrior had taught me that when Xena said "Be here at 8:00pm" she meant the hour exactly-- not a moment before or after. So I arrived promptly at the stroke of the hour to find the ball already well-underway. Formal balls were not something we often filled our evenings with, and I reveled in the opportunity to watch New Orleans society at play.
The ballroom was of a traditional design, with high arched ceilings and raised entrances at either end which descended three graceful steps to the floor proper. A thousand prisms reflected the chandeliers' lights, and discreet braziers along the walls illuminated the buffets. Dozens of beautifully-colored gowns swirled around the floor on the severely tailored arms of their escorts, and scattered thoroughout the crowd I could see the satiny white gowns of the debutantes. Sprays of flowers decorated every corner of the room, and each gentleman had a bud tucked into his lapel, very often matching the color of his lady's gown.
As I watched the mortals at play, I soon realized that I was the subject of an immortal watcher's gaze myself. A deeply carnal warmth flooded through my veins, not unlike what I felt when Xena was nearby-- but different in that it lacked the subtle sensuality that was her mark. This sensation had a brutal edge to it, invasive almost. In spite of the heat in my loins, I shivered.
"And I thought I was going to be alone in my play this evening." A low rumble entered my thoughts, seeping from my brain's cortex. The voice was not spoken, but I heard it plainly as though it were. Tuning my senses, I closed my eyes and concentrated. When I opened them, a man-- too beautiful to be mortal-- stood before me.
He was tall, with broad shoulders and a narrow, almost girlishly slim waist. The lines of his face were sharp with a focal point of blue eyes so pale they were almost colorless. His whole being seemed to be carved of some alabaster marble, crowned by long, flowing white-blond locks that curled softly around his shoulders.
He smiled at me, the tiny points of his fangs glistening at me. This was the arrogance that Xena had talked about, and briefly I wondered if he had been the one to damage her so. I narrowed my eyes to feel his essence and immediately recoiled. The bloodsong ran strong in this one-- strong and cruel. No mercy tempered his feeding.
And then his cold hand was clasping mine as he brought it to his lips. "I am Lestat," he said, dusting a kiss across my knuckles.
Before I could respond a new, more familiarly erotic warmth sank into my veins. Xena... I thought in relief, turning to gaze across the length of the ballroom where she entered.
My lover was the essence of blood and flame in a crimson gown that I had never seen before. It bared the smooth skin of her shoulders, clung tightly to her full breasts, and opened into a wide sweeping arc around her legs. Her hair was loose and free, falling wildly down her back. Unlike all the other women present, the only jewels she wore were those of her eyes, glittering darkly out over the crowd. The muted murmur that ran through the assembly was the mortals' uncomprhending reaction to the firesong of her blood. It keened to me, flaying my senses, stroking the simmering hunger at the back of my throat.
I saw her take in the Child beside me with an elegantly curved brow, but when I turned back to Lestat, he was gone. A flicker of my glance told me he was already at the other end of the ballroom, bowing his shining head before my dark beauty. Xena's minute nod at me communicated everything I needed to know. I had been a lure to bring this Child out.
The orchestra struck up a graceful tune, and Lestat and Xena were soon waltzing together in exquisite accord. I don't think New Orleans had ever seen a more dazzling sight-- I know I would have been hard-pressed to name one myself. They were at once inverses and twins-- he fair where she was dark, both consumed with the same roiling energy. I wondered if he knew what she was-- most often the Children didn't. Undoubtedly he was thinking of her as a meal or perhaps something more. The Children could sense me most often through our distant kinship, but Xena was a different animal altogether-- baffling and enraging them when she refused to fall to their power.
I watched them the whole night, although Xena never cast another look my way. I know she was protecting our connection, not wanting to give away with our bodies what our minds could conceal. Even though Lestat had been able to enter my thoughts, I doubted he could read them. that particular trick only worked when the mind of the invaded was weaker. And though the Child was strong, his span was nothing when compared to mine. At last I slipped away, too aware of the growing hunger that contemplating my lover was inspiring.
My path homeward was meandering. To tell the truth, I half-hoped to encounter a Child or two, thinking that perhaps the confrontation would cool my hunger. But the dark streets were deserted, and I arrived home without mishap.
Waiting for me there, framed by the French doors, was my beautiful warrior.
She obviously had not come through the front entrance. Marchand, who was downstairs playing solitare, would have said something because he knew I was worried about her lengthy absence. So that meant the balcony once more. Xena was as resplendant in her finery now as she had been hours ago when she joined the ball. She hadn't taken the time to change, so I guessed she had only lately arrived.
"It took you long enough," she muttered as I closed the door.
"I took a walk," I replied curtly, flinging my wrap down on the bed. "I wasn't expecting you."
"You know, you can't just go sliding down the trellis whenever you don't want to tell me something. I won't tolerate it." The inferno behind her eyes flickered dangerously, and I realized belatedly I was treading a fine line.
"What would you have me tell you, Gabrielle?" she asked calmly. Her voice was a growling rasp that twisted the hunger in my belly into taut desire. "Hmm?" she prompted. "I can feel how this place is affecting you," she murmured sensually. "I never known your bloodsong to be so... urgent." A predatory gleam in her eyes refleted back the ochre I knew was creeping into mine. She was well-aware that my anger was fueling the hunger behind my eyes. Still she continued her explanation as she warily circled me. "If I had taken you with me last night or this morning, they would have felt you coming. I would have learned nothing. And they would have retreated until we left the city."
"So why didn't you just tell me?" I asked, letting my skirts fall discarded to the ground. My lover's eyes ravenously consumed each newly-revealed portion of my skin as I began to strip for her. Two things were happening between us now. I was still incensed and wanted her to pay for her desertion, but now I needed something else as well. I had watched her with Lestat all night, and more than anything, I needed to reassert my claim on her and remind us both of our bond.
"Would you have let me go alone?" She rumbled, less than an armslength now separating us. "Or would you have followed me?"
The natural end of the question "Like you always do?" went unspoken but understood. Just as we each knew the answer was unequivocally "Yes..."
"I have a plan," she continued. "And it does include you. They're organized, and Lestat is their ringleader. Tomorrow night we're going to... dissuade... him from continuing his exploits with the Children."
"And if that doesn't work?"
She shrugged. "I'd rather not, but if we have to, we'll destroy him as well." The warrior was fully in control of my mate now; I could see it sparking in the pale blue of her eyes.
Xena's body fairly radiated with the firesong in her blood, and I was well-aware of the tenuous nature of her restraint these past months. In less than a full moon's cycle, something had happened to us both in this city filled with the Twilight's Children that had brought us to the boundries of our control. Remembering my encounter with the youth this afternoon, I wanted to know if Xena had been similarly tempted. "Did you bed the whore?" I demanded.
If the non sequitur surprised Xena, she didn't show it. "Yes," she answered unhesitatingly.
The sharp crack of my palm striking Xena's face echoed in the ensuing deadly silence. She didn't flinch from the strength of the blow, and I watched with hypnotic fascination as a thin trickle of blood snaked from the corner of her mouth. Slowly she wiped the crimson stain from her jaw with two long fingers and offered them to me. "Is this what you want?" she asked quietly.
The smell of her blood made me dizzy, and I moaned softly as she slipped them inside my mouth and rubbed the liquid against my tongue.
"What is it about this place that affects us so?" she wondered aloud, echoing my thoughts. "The smells, the sounds... When we first got here I thought I was going to go mad..."
I released her fingers, stripped of their elixir, and slid them along the burning length of my skin. Her strong hands easily tore away the flimsy undergarments until she could survey my uninterrupted flesh. Then she slowly stepped away, and-- her eyes never leaving mine-- peeled the clothing from her own body.
Approaching me once more, she brushed the back of her hand along my painfully aroused nipples. "Please," I groaned. "Don't torment me, Xena. Not now."
Her touch strengthened along the curves of my breasts, wordlessly granting my plea. She held my head in a grip that I doubted Hercules himself could have broken, forcing my mouth to submit to her ravishing as I stole the last traces of blood from the corner of her lips.
Laying my length out on the bed for her pleasure, she fell upon my body with the reckless hunger of one who has been denied sustenance for far too long. She reveled in my wetness, in my pleasing voice, in my convulsing muscles, then she claimed my release for her own with her mouth, her hands, her endlessly searching tongue.
I returned the pleasure to her, nestling deep between her legs and probing her desire with my mouth, filing my senses with her smell her taste her sounds. I teased her briefly before falling into the liquid of her arousal and renlentlessly wrenching one climax after another from her burning center.
With my head on her breast, Xena slipped her arms around me and sighed softly in contentment. Her hips still bucked gently around my waist in the pleasant tremors that came after release. "Forgiven?" she whispered.
"The whore means nothing, Xena," I replied. "And I well know the restless call in your blood. I don't blame you for your lineage." I took a deep breath and brought my eyes to reach hers. Just as the ochre filled my eyes during the hunger; after release, Xena's eyes were rich with a bruised violet shade instread of their usual azure hue. The color spoke of the deep satiation of her arousal and the peace that flooded her body. "What I have a harder time forgiving is your continual attempts to hide what you are from me."
Looking as if she had just been poleaxed, her eyes narrowed and the abrupt tenseness of her body surrounded me. "What do you mean?"
"The first night we were here-- what happened between us-- You were ashamed of wanting that, weren't you?"
The deep burn across Xena's dark features told me I was right.
"Why, Xena?" I was genuinely confused. "We've shown each other everything we have, everything we are. Do you honestly think I could be shocked or repulsed by any expression of your desire for me?"
"I was shocked, Gabrielle," she confessed quietly. "I... I didn't understand why or what I wanted, except that I felt that my heart was going to explode if I didn't feel you, all of you taking me. You make love to me in so many different ways... And I love every single one of them. I don't know if it was because of the city, the Children or what... but I realized that night... you keep a part of yourself separate from our lovemaking-- and its the part of yourself that the hunger owns."
I opened my mouth to object, but even as I did so, I realized that my lover was right. Xena wasn't the one still trying to hide what she was. My warrior had come to me in so many incarnations-- taking me in love, in tenderness, in passion, in rage, in bloodlust. I, on the other hand, had been unable to take her in the most elemental form of my being-- because I was, at root, still ashamed of what I was.
"That night," she continued. "It became unbearable-- this need to be consumed by all of you. I couldn't stand for one more second to be separated from that part of what you are. I wanted you-- all of you-- so badly," She glanced away, unable to hold my eyes. "I still do..." she breathed, almost too low for me to hear.
Hearing the unspoken supplication in her words, the hunger squeezed me vice-like in its embrace, roaring in my ears and threatening to overwhelm my consciousness. Seeing the ochre suddenly flood in my irises, she whispered thickly, "Yes..." and took my mouth in her own. Beyond any doubt I knew that this was something we both wanted ...craved... with every fiber of our beings, and I succumbed to the song in my blood.
The intensity ebbed and flowed throughout the long night, but the pleasure never ceased. She surrendered herself to me again and again, offering up the translucent scar on her breast to my mouth and guiding my hand to seek the rhythm between her legs. At last we clung together in the spiraling release of the hunger until our bodies shuddered in exhaustion. Our hearts kept perfect time together in the delicious aftermath of deliverance, and together-- for the first time in our existence-- we knew true peace.
Uncharacteristically, Xena slept in well past dawn, leaving me the enjoyable task of rousing her. Something I had only done a handful of times in all the centuries we'd spent together.
"Come on, sleepyhead," I prodded my unmoving lover. "Gods, Xena-- when you sleep in, you really sleep in."
"Wha--?" Xena slowly uncoiled her long limbs and stretched thoroughly as I enjoyed the display of supple power in her relaxed body. She blinked sleepily at me, taking a moment to focus. "How late is it?" Then she grinned wolfishly at me. "You really wore me out."
"I have many skills," I shot back at her smugly, more than a little pleased with my efforts.
"Hey!" she half-heartedly tossed a pillow at me, which I ducked by hurling myself on top of her. "That's my line," she complained.
"I'm a bard. We creatively borrow."
"Creatively borrow this, you mouthy bard--" She captured my mouth with her own and my body with her skillful hands, effectively rendering me inarticulate except for the occasional moan and breathy cry of Oh Xena...
We spent the morning as a pair of reckless lovers, indulging all our immortal senses and exploring each other's bodies with complete abandon. The sun was high overhead when we were finally sated, sprawled lazily across each other in a sensual heap. At some point in the morning, Xena had ventured downstairs to bring back some bread, cheese and water; but since then we had not left the warmth of our embrace.
"When are you going to tell me about what happened between you and Lestat?" I asked her at last. "Ooh, you found some grapes. Yum..." I exclaimed, popping some into my mouth. "Not to mention some details about this plan you've cooked up?"
"You saw what happened between Lestat and me," my warrior replied lazily, snagging a handful of fruit just before I did. "Open up," she ordered, teasing my lips with the cool skin of a grape.
I obeyed, sucking the grape and the tips of her fingers into my mouth. "Thanks," I grinned. "I saw you and Lestat dancing. Period. And I figured out that you wanted me there to bring him out, but I don't really understand that. By now, you sense these guys almost as well as I do."
"Almost wouldn't be good enough in this case, love." A warm surge washed through my body at the casual return of the endearment to my lover's lips. "Besides, I wanted to see his reaction to you. And to us," she added.
"Let me guess. He could feel our connection."
"Yup," she answered succinctly. "And it drove him crazy. He knows you're powerful, but he can't figure out why. He still thinks you're one of the Children. And that you're going to turn me."
"So what's the plan? And what doesn't this have to do with the murders?"
"Lestat is basically a bored, bored child. And that makes him dangerous. He's organized a bunch of the Children for his amusement-- the ones responsible for the whores' deaths. He didn't tell them what to do, just basically sat back and watched the show. As for the plan-- it's simple. We go in there, get rid of as many as we can and tell Lestat to knock it off before the same thing happens to him."
"That's the second time you've said that. You don't want to destroy him?" I was a little surprised. Xena had little, if any patience for those she called my "bastard cousins," simply because most of them were too blinded by their assumed omnipotence for their own good.
A quirky grin glanced across my lover's dark features. "What can I say? He moves something in my. Granted he's cruel, merciless, has no respect for mortal life, and a really sick sense of humor, but..."
"He reminds you of Ares," I stated flatly.
Xena considered this for a moment before nodding slowly. "Maybe he does. Maybe he touches that same part that Ares did." She looked at me in the silence, no doubt seeing the fear that flickered in my soul. "Shh... it's okay. I don't regret entombing Ares-- the ascension of the One God snapped something in him. He would have destroyed everything if we hadn't stopped him." She shrugged softly, meeting my eyes. "But... he was my sire, Gabrielle. He lives inside me still."
I tangled my fingers in her hair and kissed her gently in reply. "I know," I whispered. "I love that part of you."
A brow curved skyward. "You do?"
"It was the first thing I saw, Xena. That day when you rescued me from the slavers. The fire that raged in your blood called to the song in mine. And I knew." I smiled at my love.
"We were fated. As clearly as if I had seen Clotho's threads myself."
"You certainly fought hard enough for it not to happen," she teased. "I thought I was going to die of wanting you."
"At the time I thought--"
"I know, I know," she soothed. "It's all in the past now anyway. We're together, and nothing is going to separate us ever again. Do you understand?"
I looked into the violet blue of her eyes and realized with a start that the color had not changed back to its usual pale gleam. I knew then that something had irrevocably settled between us. "Do you mean it?" I asked needlessly.
"Absolutely, love." She cradled me in her long arms, securing me in an embrace that I fervently hoped would last an eternity. "We'll finish up with Lestat and then go back home. For good," she added with a tender kiss. "In the meantime..."
"We've got a few hours to kill before sundown. Any suggestions for what we should do until then?" A seductive smirk curved across her beautiful features.
"I can think of a few things," I murmured, capturing her lips in mine once more.
Nightfall found Xena clothed in another pair of black breeches and a spectacularly white shirt. "I don't want him to miss me," she muttered when she saw my raised brows. Underneath her long cape, the shirt glowed eerily in the diffused light from the street lamps. I was similarly dressed, only in rust and green, and strolled easily beside her.
The night clung damply around our shoulders, and a light smattering of rain dusted our
hair as we made our way back to the cemetery on the outskirts of the city's heart. I could
feel the Children prowling along the edges of my consciousness. They were awake and unfed,
having not yet left on their evening's hunt. "Do you think this is the best time to
be doing this, Xena?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, snapping the iron latch on the cemetery's gate cleanly off.
"Well... I mean it might be best to wait until closer to sunrise... Or at least until after they've had dinner."
"Gabrielle--" A sardonically arched brow pointed in my direction. "They can't kill you."
"I know that. But they might be a little more... open... to suggestion." We were in the cemetery proper now, our progress marked by a dozen pairs of unseen eyes. Their hunger called out to me, traversing the faint lines of our kinship and sending an uneasy ripple down my spine. "Xena, I don't like this," I muttered. "There's something not right."
"What do you mean?"
Any reply I might have made was drowned out by the screeching cry of a dozen Children descending upon us, fangs bared.
"Oh," Xena muttered. "I see." Years of fighting together led us to turn so that we stood back-to-back at the center of this unholy circle.
One of their number launched himself at Xena, who caught him in mid-air, snapping his neck and flinging him to the ground. He wasn't dead, but at least he was most certainly incapacitated for the rest of the battle. We could always come back and finish the job properly.
The circle hung back for a moment, then lunged towards us as a group. With a fierce battle cry, Xena grabbed me and launched us skyward. Instinctively I tucked and rolled with her until we were clear of the circle. "HERE!!!" she shouted, ducking behind a wide gravestone and reappearing with a sack full of sharpened staves.
"This is what you were doing yesterday afternoon?" I asked incredulously, stiff-arming an on-coming Child and redirecting her into the side of a mausoleum with a loud thwack!
"Gabrielle-- do you really want to argue about this right now? Ugh--" she grunted, shoving a stave deep into the heart of one of her attackers. Her beautiful white shirt was sprayed with the Child's blood, creating a surreal design across her chest.
We worked in tandem-- centuries of experience rendering the Children almost laughably ineffectual against us. My warrior was a terrifyingly majestic force to behold, tearing through their number with a horrifying joy. The Children were, as always, loathe to attack me, for they could sense our kinship as well as my strength. So I hung back, protecting Xena's blind side and taking out those who tried to ambush her.
When the last Child had been destroyed, the sound of a single pair of hands clapping in a mocking salute traveled through the fog. Finally, Lestat's elegant form stood revealed before us.
"Very impressive, Xena," he crooned, pale eyes dancing. "You are a true killer. I can't remember the last time I've seen such a beautiful sight."
"Well, file it away for future reference, Lestat," Xena growled, the flame of her blood clearly visible in her eyes. "Because your little band's adventures stop here. No more."
"Or what?" He seemed amused by the order.
In reply, Xena picked up the mangled body of one of the Children and tossed it at his feet. "Or this becomes you."
He threw his head back and laughed at what he considered her audacity, and I could only shake my head in disbelief at his arrogance. His laughing visage abruptly twisted itself into an enraged snarl. "I don't think so, my dear," he hissed before hurling himself towards her.
He was faster than any Child I had ever seen, and it was only because of Xena's own immortal gifts that she was able to catch him, less than an inch from her throat.
Xena and Lestat circled-- two predatory beasts taking each other's measure-- then they crashed together with inhuman force, causing the ground underneath our feet to shake. They held one another in a death grip, until suddenly, Xena let go and allowed Lestat's momentum to carry her over his head. She handed hard against a cypress tree, momentarily stunned.
Instantly Lestat launched himself at her again, but this time, instead of catching the Child, Xena simply flipped out of the way, sending Lestat reeling into the tree's hard wood. A huge gash opened on Lestat's head, closing as quickly as it opening, but sending rivers of blood pouring down his pale ivory countenance.
"That had to hurt," I taunted, distracting him long enough for Xena to regain her feet.
He narrowed his eyes and focused his attention on me, but before he could grab me, I danced out of his way. Then Xena was in front of him, smacking him sharply with a roundhouse kick that sent him to the ground once more. Lestat found himself staring into the maddened eyes of the warrior. Her forearm was across his throat, a wooden stave at his heart.
"I can do one of two things right now," she rasped. "Plan A: I drive this stake through your heart and end your miserable existence. Or Plan B: I let you live. Right now I'm leaning towards Plan A. You have 30 seconds to change my mind."
I waited for the usual pleas that inevitably followed Xena's ultimatums, but nothing was forthcoming. After the cacophony of their battle, the ensuing silence was unnerving. Just when I thought Lestat was going to his end silently, the Child spoke. "If you had wanted to destroy me, Xena, you already would have."
They stared into each other's eyes for a long moment before she leaned back, the stave still hovering near his heart. "You're right," she agreed. "I don't know why, but I don't want to kill you. You're smarter than those animals--" She gestured to the many corpses that littered the ground around us. "But I can't let you do this again."
"So it's Plan A then?" he asked with an almost jaunty air.
"There is another solution," I spoke at last.
He flicked a glance from Xena to me and asked. "Which is?"
"Give us your word you won't do this again. That you won't turn anyone else. Using mortals to amuse yourself is no way to spend eternity," I replied.
"I suppose you'd have a few suggestions on how I do that?" he sneered.
I gazed at him calmly, suddenly realizing how intensely lonely this Child was. He had lived a long time to be sure, longer than most I had met. But still his span was but a fraction of my own. "I have walked this earth far longer than you, Lestat. And I have no doubt that I'll still be walking it long after you've offered your body up to the sun in despair." I shook my head sadly. "You need to learn to temper your rage with mercy, Lestat. Or you'll drive yourself mad."
The Child held my gaze for a moment longer, then his muscles relaxed in defeat. Slowly Xena stepped away from his prone body and returned to my side. "Are you all right?" I murmured, noting the various gashes that I could see on her skin.
"I'm fine, love," she smiled. Turning to Lestat as I wrapped my arm around Xena waist, she contemplated this one who so strongly reminded her of her sire. "Do we have your word?" she asked in the same skeptical tone she had used in dealing with Ares. Knowing his promises were worthless, but asking for them anyway.
"Mercy, eh?" He cocked a brow at us, no doubt absorbing the strength of our bond.
"It worked for me," Xena smiled wryly.
"Maybe I'll give it a shot," he hedged.
Realizing this was as close to a promise as we were going to get, I nodded. "You do that." I glanced up at the sky. "It getting late."
"It is indeed," Lestat agreed, rising and dusting himself daintily off. "And I still have my rounds to make."
"Lestat--" Xena growled.
"I know, Killer, I know. Mercy." With a final mocking bow, Lestat receded into the mist, leaving us alone in the gloomy darkness.
New York, 1998
Of course, Lestat didn't keep his word. You all know that. For in the next year he created Louis, and then Claudia after him. Lestat's exploits-- well, most of them-- belong to the world now. When I read Louis' memoir, Interview with the Vampire, I knew that Lestat would not long be able to remain silent. And, soon enough, his version of what they came to call The Vampire Chronicles was unleashed on the world soon after.
I have to laugh though, at the audacity of these Children who posture as true immortals. So many of them have burned to ashes now, when the Olympians still exist-- albeit silently, but thriving nonetheless.
Xena and I returned to Paris-- to a true home, our wandering put to rest at last. We were granted a century of peace before Callisto shattered our lives. It took almost another century for us to find one another again.
But these are all tales for another time, for other scrolls. Suffice it to say that Xena and I lived happily ever after.
At least we did then...
Return to The Bard's Corner