Disclaimer: Xena et al aren't mine. Wish they were. But I've been doing this for a long time, so if TPTB haven't sued me yet, I don't think they're gonna. I'm just havin fun.
Warning: no sex, no real violence, just lots of thinking and some plot devices for future stories. Hope you enjoy
comments as always, can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org
(part II of What If?)
by Katelin B.
Ephiny sat silent and watchful over the quiet and bloody field. The battle had raged most of the night before General Xena had forced the Slayer back yet again. Not a few of their numbers had been burned by the oil catapults, or impaled on dryad bone tipped spears. Joxer had never left a battle without robbing the bacchae of their illusion of safety.
Nearly a hundred of Ephiny's kin had fallen to the Slayer's warriors this time, nothing left of them but scorch marks in the earth. Her only comfort, and their kind's only consolation, was the knowledge that nearly that number would join their ranks before sunrise. And so she watched. For those warriors that had fallen to the bite of the bacchae in battle, knowing they would rise again, before the sun could begin to burn away the night.
Ephiny hissed softly at the pain in her arm, looking down to the crude bandage that surrounded it. Bacchae healed quickly from any wound made by sword, the gift they all received from their Sire, Bacchus. But the wounds caused by a dryad bone took much longer. Still faster than a mortal's flesh would heal, but not by much.
Most of the her kin had already headed back for their homes, deep in the catacombs at the base of the mountain, not wanting to face the dawn it came. Unlike their Sire, the newer generations of bacchae could survive the burning glare of the sun. They simply chose not to. Even though they would not burn, the light hurt their eyes, and caused great pain.
"How's the arm?" a soft voice sounded behind Ephiny, making her turn quickly.
"I'll survive," she replied, nodding her head respectfully to the dark general. Though she may not agree with Xena's single-minded determination, but if they were forced to go into battle at the order of their Sire, the Destroyer of Nations was the only one she would want leading them.
"The sun will be rising soon," Xena commented idly, perching on a rock beside the blonde, "There are many others, uninjured, who could wait for them." Xena looked over at her curiously. "Why did you offer to stay?"
Ephiny shrugged silently, and then glanced over at the field again, watching as the first fallen began to stir sluggishly. "I needed the time alone to think," she said after a long moment. She hoped her expression gave away none of the turmoil she was feeling.
"She loves you, Ephiny," Xena said softly, her deep blue eyes looking far off across the field, "It's okay to love her back, you know."
Ephiny looked over sharply at the General keeping her company. "What if the Sire finds out?" she hissed, not bothering to deny the truth in Xena's words.
The dark woman's eyes flashed. "The Sire wants his children to be happy, Ephiny," she spoke softly, "If you have found love with your slave, then he will be pleased."
Ephiny sighed softly, wanting desperately to believe her. Xena could see the hesitation in her eyes and placed a soft hand on her shoulder. "When I approached Him with Gabrielle," she explained quietly, her voice still full of wonder at the memory, "I was so afraid He would take her from me. I was shaking with fear for the first time in my life."
Ephiny blinked at her in shock, unable to picture the mighty General Xena being afraid of anything. "What did He say?" she asked almost desperately, needing to know.
"He laughed at first," Xena said, "And then He smiled. He told me that if my meal made me happy, then I could keep her as long as I wished." Xena paused for a moment, watching the newly awakened bacchae in the field begin feeding on the blood of the dead to strength them. Finding it distasteful, Xena looked back to Ephiny intently, reaching up to stroke her cheek comfortingly. "You are His favored, Ephiny. He will give you anything you desire. She makes you happy. Claim her as your own."
Ephiny smiled softly and leaned her face into Xena caress. "Thank you, Xena," she whispered, "I will go to the Sire the moment we return."
"Good. But for now," Xena sighed in exhaustion, "We must show the newest members of our family the way home."
Xena and Ephiny both rose, and strode down the hill, approaching the field that just given birth to their new kin. Neither of them looked forward to herding the newest generation back to the catacombs, but at least it gave strength to their forces, and replaced most, if not all, of the losses suffered in each battle.
Dawn had broken when Ephiny finally made it to the throne room. She hadn't wanted to be so long, but handling the new children was always time consuming. Thankfully, one of the younger bacchae had offered to take the message to their Sire that Ephiny was hoping to gain audience with him before the night was over, and returned mere moments later, with word that Bacchus had granted her request.
Now she stood by the large oak doors, opening them quietly but not stepping inside. Normally she would, but the Sire had another with him, finishing up something very unpleasant before seeing to her.
"But, Sire.." Autolocus was simpering, his entire body quaking in fear before their God and Master.
"I will hear no excuses!" Bacchus bellowed, his booming voice echoing through the great cavern that was the throne room. His large red, taloned hand lashed out and snapped tight around the thief's throat, hefting him right off his feet. "Do you presume to think that I wouldn't know EVERYTHING that happens, within MY domain?"
Autolocus could only squeak and squirm in Bacchus's grasp.
"There are some slaves that I trust more than My own disobedient children," the Sire snarled angrily, "And My general's slave is one."
Ephiny stood frozen in terror, wondering what had happened in her absence, keenly remembering that General Xena had left Gabrielle with her precious Solari when the departed for battle.
Autolocus rasped and choked, trying to breathe in the Sire's tight grip. "She... *koff*... the girl is only... a slave."
"WRONG!" Bacchus thundered, giving the thief a violent shake, and then tossing him against the wall. The room was filled with the sickening echo of bones cracking as Autolocus slumped to the ground, panting. "She was a gift to one of My favored! And you disobeyed My command that she be touched by no other!"
Ephiny watched quietly as the injured bacchae struggled to his feet, hissing softly in homicidal joy at his pain.
Bacchus spotted her then, his attention not so keenly fixed on the betrayer of His word any longer. "Come in My child," he spoke softly, motioning her forward, "I am just finishing up here."
Ephiny stepped in quickly and bowed her head in respect to her Sire. Bacchus smiled softly, as much as his multiple fangs would allow, and turned back to Autolocus, his expression hardening again.
"You know the penalty of betrayal Autolocus," he growled dangerously, waving his arm toward the great oak doors, "Go. You are banished from this place, and from My protection. The others have been alerted of your disobedience, and will kill you at sundown if you remain. Leave here before then. And never return."
"Sire, please!!" Autolocus begged softly, his golden eyes wide with shock and fear, "The sun!"
"GO!!" Bacchus snarled, half rising from his chair, "The sun will not kill you. Go, Autolocus, before I change My mind and kill you Myself."
Ephiny watches Autolocus stagger painfully toward the door, and hissed softly, baring her fangs at his final words to her. "This isn't over, dear sister." He then wisely left, before their Sire could respond.
"Ephiny," Bacchus called softly, motioning her closer, "I am pleased that you survived the battle."
"Thank You, Sire" Ephiny responded gratefully, moving up to His side and kneeling down., "I am sorrowed that You had to learn of this from Gabrielle, but I thought perhaps in time Autolocus would accept that he could not have Solari for his own."
"Your loyalty to your kin pleases Me, as always, favored one," Bacchus smiled, his attitude becoming much softer with her than it was with any, save Xena, "But little Gabrielle has a fierce sense of justice, and came right to me, once she had learned of what had transpired, demanding punishment on him."
Ephiny went wide eyed at Bacchus's words that a slave, even Xena's, had demanded anything of Him. The Sire saw her expression and chuckled softly. "She has fire, I agree," He grinned, "But it is well placed, and she is loyal."
Ephiny felt a sardonic smile cross her face, and let it come. "Yes, my Lord, she certainly does."
"Very different from your Solari, though," He commented, settling back and lifting his goblet, "Though she as well is fiercely loyal, she is also very timid."
"Yes, my Lord," Ephiny nodded again, wondering where the Sire was headed with His thoughts.
"I see everything, favored one," Bacchus told her, looking into his goblet before taking a heavy pull on the thick, dark blood wine it held, "I know what you have come to ask of Me."
Ephiny's eyes went wide again, but she stayed silent through His words, her heart slamming against her ribs. "Sire," she began, once he had fallen quiet, but never got a chance to finish.
"Say nothing Ephiny," He shook his head at her, setting the goblet back down on it's pedistal, "I will not have you beg." Ephiny dropped her head again, closing her eyes. "Do you truly love her?" He asked after a long moment.
"Yes, my Lord," she nodded, raising her eyes up once again to meet His, "I love her with all that I am."
Bacchus paused for a long moment, thinking it over, His expression giving nothing away. "Then she is yours, My favored," the Sire finally said, smiling, "The word will be spread that this has been blessed by Me. And none will oppose it."
Ephiny beamed up at Him. "Thank You, my Lord," she stammered, reaching up to hug Him impulsively.
Bacchus laughed and gently pushed her back. "Go, child," he chuckled, shooing her back, "She worries for your safety. Let her see that you are back from battle."
Ephiny didn't have to be told twice, she bowed her head deeply and smiled. "Yes, my Lord, at once." She hurried down the steps from the Sire's throne, and toward the oak door. Just before the threshold, she turned back and called. "Sire?"
Bacchus opened His eyes from the reclined position He had taken in His throne. "Yes, favored?"
Ephiny smiled brightly. "Thank You. For everything."
Bacchus smiled back at her briefly, and then huffed. "Begone child. I must rest now. Close that door!" His had shooed her away yet again with His parting growl, and smirked when the oak doors slammed shut with a click. When her echoing footsteps had disappeared down the hall, as fast she she could move them, Bacchus smiled. "You're welcome, Ephiny," He whispered to the empty room, and closed His eyes once more.
Gabrielle watched in silent awe as the last ink mark drew across the bottom of the parchment, then glanced down to her side where her quill lay, clean, and untouched. She gulped audibly and looked back at the parchment, reading the entire story over again, not one word of it written by her hand.
"Oh, boy," she mumbled, still shocked at having opened the new parchment and seen fresh ink staining the fibers by an unseen force. The young bard knew it could have been a God, but honestly didn't think so. She had felt taken by whim when writing the first story, and now, for this to happen right before her eyes. "I have to tell Xena," she thought out loud. Xena would know what to do. She always did.
"Tell me what?" a voice came from the tree line, just before Xena emerged, hefting two larch trout from the stream she had disappeared to.
Gabrielle had managed to put the scroll back in her bag just as Xena spoke, and turned back to the fire, unsure of what had come over her.
"Umm, oh!" Gabrielle pointed, "We're almost out of lemon grass."
Xena held up her hand and smiled, showing Gabrielle the fist full of green shoots poking out between her fingers.
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled, taking the fish and the grass. She turned to the fire to begin preparing dinner.
"So what new story are you writing?" Xena asked as she sat down and pulled out her sword for sharpening.
"Oh, just a story," Gabrielle answered, hoping she sounded idle, "It's a surprise." Boy was it ever.
Xena smiled a little and shrugged, content to wait. She turned her attention back to her sword as Gabrielle went about cooking their dinner, letting the quiet sounds of night in the forest soothe her. She had learned to appreciated the calm moments, because she never knew when the moment would be shattered by bandits, or a battle, or some other problem that needed their attention.
She had no idea how right she was...
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