Brie and RG nuzzling her neck gently awakened Liz. It took a few minutes to become fully cognizant. She yawned and stretched. Her eyes opened to find two pairs of cats eyes staring at her. It was cute, but a little startling first thing in the morning.
"You guys have got to stop doing that to your poor momma." She gave each a scratch and bounded out of bed. Having a game plan had greatly elevated her energy. Even her tummy felt better with the daylight. There was a lot to see to before meeting Randi at five. She had to have her ducks in a row before meeting her friend. Randi would be a major player in this next step. She counted on her curiosity to overshadow the complete improbability of the reality. Fortunately for Liz, Dr. Randi James was a very curious woman. She knew this would be just too good to pass up. Confident of success, Liz put coffee on and hit the shower.
The wheel of chaos had been set in motion in two dimensions. Nothing could stop the inevitable not even the gods. The die was cast FATE was in control.
Liz spent most of the day gathering ammo for her meeting with Randi. She knew, of course, finding anything that she didnt already know about the Mycenaean Period would be next to impossible. Her doctoral dissertation was titled, "The Archaeological Significance and Juxtaposition of Historical vs. Mythical Sites In Mycenaean Greece." Just recalling the title made Liz want to take a nap. This whole thing was right up Randis alley. So much, it was eerie. Dr.James was exactly the person to talk to. She also had a huge interest in feminist theory in anthropology. It couldnt get any better if Liz had planned it. Hell, Randi would probably want to tag along. If anyone could find Daedalius, it would be the doctor.
The rest of the day was spent with phone calls to her lawyer and to Roger.
"Honey, you want me to bring what to the house? Are you serious? Sweetie, its the middle of summer leather isnt the dress of choice well, unless youre going to Chaps."
Doing her best imitation of AbFabs Edina, She said, "Rah-jaaa, sweetie...darling, just be a dear man and bring me the bleepin clothes. Kiss-kiss bubye."
"Fine I suppose you want the entire outfit, then, including the whip ?"
Giving it some thought, Liz replied, "Oh, what the hell, bring all of it. Ill decide what to take later. Ill see you around nine then. I gotta go. Later, babe."
She hung the phone up and prepared to leave. The University was across town and traffic would be a bitch at this hour. Let the games begin.
She entered the University grounds and found a visitors space near the Archaeology building. Randis office was on the second floor. She took the stairs, two at a time, until she was at the second floor landing. A turn to the right and down the hall put her at the double-door entrance. The bronze plaque read Randi S. James, Ph.D., Director Archaeological and Anthropology Studies. She let herself in the outer office. Randis secretary had left for the day.
"Randi, you here?"
A voice called from the Directors inner sanctum. "In here, Liz. And close the door would you?"
Liz entered the office, closing the door behind her. Randi was sitting at her mahogany desk, going over some papers, her glasses resting on the bridge of her nose. She looked over the top of the frames at Liz. There was a very disapproving look about her. She started before Liz had settled in the chair.
"Are you trying to completely ruin my career on purpose, or is it just a sideline with you?"
Liz was lost. "What are you talking about?"
Randi held up a sliver of green stone. "Im talking about this. Do you have any idea of the position youve put me in?"
Liz had had it with all the cryptic inferences. "Randi, just tell me what has your underwear in a wad. Cut to the chase, already. "
Randi stood and rounded the corner of the desk. She was standing over Liz like a very disappointed parent. "Liz, where did you get this stone? And dont give me that crap about a friend giving it to you."
Liz pushed the chair back slightly to give her some maneuvering room. "Well, I hate to disagree with you, but a friend did give it to me. Now what is all this about?"
Randi had backed off and was sitting on the edge of the desk. "Well, my dear, it seems your friend is dealing in stolen antiquities."
Liz was slack-jawed. "You mean its authentic? How old?"
"Oh, its authentic, all right, in the neighborhood of 3000 years old. Right smack in the middle of the Mycenaean Civilization. But wait, theres more. I submitted this piece for carbon-dating with some stones from a current dig. You wanna know what I was told? " She was pausing for effect. Randi loved theatrics. She should have been an actress. Liz knew it was a rhetorical question, and waited. "Not only was it dated from the same period as the others, it is from the same site. The only reason I have it in my possession now is Howard owed me a favor. I told him I was conducting a separate study on this one piece. He didnt believe me, of course, but didnt try to stop me. Now I want to know exactly where you got this. "
Liz had a chill run across her body. Ignoring Randis probing, she posed a question of her own. She would have stood, but her knees were shaking.
"Randi, what do you know about Daedalius?"
The doctor stared at Liz with her hazel eyes. "You mean the inventor,
Now Liz was confused. "No, the village of Daedalius. How do you spell the inventors name?"
Randi spelled it out for her. "D-a-e-d-a-l-u-s. What do you mean the village of Daedalius? Spelled l-i-u-?"
"Im not sure, I didnt see a sign. I could be wrong."
It was Randis turn to sit down. "When were you in Greece? I thought you went to Key West for vacation. Liz, whats going on? You are trying to sabotage my career, arent you? How do you know about the dig in Greece?"
"Honestly, I dont know anything about the dig, but I need for you to tell me about it." Liz pleaded with Randi using those blue eyes. "Please, its really important."
Randi could see arguing with her friend would be pointless. Besides, her curiosity had been aroused. She began.
"You know the story of Daedalus, dont you?" She didnt wait for a response. "Seems he fled Athens to Crete after murdering his apprentice-nephew. Although a genius, his personal life was filled with tragedy. While in Crete, he constructed a mechanical cow to satisfy the unnatural lust of Queen Pasiphae. Now this really pissed King Minos, and he imprisoned Daedalus and his son, Icarus, in a maze. But the good king hadnt counted on the inventors ingenuity. He fashioned mechanical wings out of feathers and wax for himself and his son. Well, you know the rest of the story. Icarus ignored his fathers warning and soared too close to the sun. The wax melted and he fell to his death in the Aegean. You with me so far?"
Liz nodded, "Uh-huh."
"So, after that disaster, Daedalus landed in Sicily, where he was protected by King Cocalus. Minos eventually showed up and was slain by Cocalus. Daedalus remained in Silicy, but he became so revered in Greece, that the Athenians commemorated him with a DEME a city ward named Daidalidai, which means the descendants of Daedalus. Apparently, there were a number of cities named after him. The site thats being excavated was discovered about five years ago. There is historical evidence that it is Daidalidai. It may also be the Daedalius youre talking about. It would be too much of a coincidence otherwise."
Randi let this sink in before adding, "Oh, Loozee, you got some splainin to do."
Liz let loose a hearty laugh. "Oh, you dont know the half of it. Randi, I have to get to that site. Where is it?"
Randi waved both her hands as if to ward off an evil. "Oh, no no dont ask this of me. Ive waited two years to get invited to this dig. You positively absolutely cannot go. I forbid it! Besides, Im leaving in two days. Youd have to have a valid visa, reservations, and God knows what else. Its not possible."
Liz was not going to be denied. "Randi, I am going. If I have to stalk you in the Athens Airport and follow you to the site, I will. It would be easier if you took me as a student assistant. That way I can tell you a story on the way that will blow your pantyhose off. Cmon, you know youre dying to hear all this. I need your help, please." The last sentence was sincere and honest.
Randi had always found her friend headstrong and at times exasperating. She knew that Liz would indeed go to Greece, with or without her. She preferred to keep an eye on her. There might be a fabulous discovery in store. Randi gave in.
"Ok, heres the deal. Im on United flight 1143 into JFK and then Olympic 3425 to Athens. The flight leaves at nine am. Call my travel agent to see if you can arrange to be on the same flight, that would make it easier. Oh, and I hope you have a lot of money. This isnt going to be cheap." She was waiting for Liz to withdraw but it never happened.
"No problem, Ill be there." Liz stood for the first time since entering the room. Her legs were surprisingly steady. She looked at her longtime friend with eyes of love. She was going to miss Randi. "Thanks, Randi. Ill see you at the airport." She gave her a prolonged embrace and light kiss on the lips.
As she left the room, Randi remembered she still had the sliver of stone. She moved toward the door, but stopped. She would keep this little souvenir.
As Liz drove home, she was thinking of the unfolding adventure. It was all falling into place. She would see Roger later and give him instructions. He wasnt going to like it, but she had no alternative. In two days she would be on her way to Gabrielle. This was all that mattered and she could feel the sands of time running out. It would be close. She said a silent prayer to Gabrielles protector, Artemis, that she would be in time.
Liz entered the condo and proceeded to finalize her things to do. She wouldnt be taking much with her. She smiled and thought how Roger would react to this uncharacteristic twist. He was always giving her such a hard time about over-packing. A wave of sadness washed over her. She made her way over to her favorite chair, and looked out at the early evening. Brie hopped into her lap and began purring.
Liz looked at her small charge and lovingly stroked her soft coat. "You are the sweetest baby. Im really going to miss you, but dont worry, Uncle Roger will take good care of you." On cue, RG jumped on the back of the chair and made her way down Lizs shoulder into her lap also. The raven beauty knew something was going to be different. Liz turned her attention to RG. "You know, dont you girl? You have to take care of Brie and keep Roger in line. It will be ok. "
All three sat in silence, exchanging love on a very cellular level. Liz always thought humans were at their best when communicating with animals. There were tears in her eyes. The act of leaving her babies would be the hardest. A knock on the door interrupted the agonizing thought. It was Roger.
Gently, she pried kitties from her lap, and apologized for disturbing them. She opened the door to let Roger in. He had several shopping bags filled with clothes.
"My, God, its hot today. Just the idea of wearing any of this stuff makes me want to die. Honey, I need a cold drink. " He made his way to the fridge. In his hand was one of those funeral home cardboard fans. He was busy stirring the air about his face.
"Jeez, where did you find that? I feel like I should be sitting in a sweltering prayer meeting belting out Amens. And in case you havent noticed, I have the air on. You may stop emoting at your leisure."
"Oh, just relax, you know how I love accessorizing. I found it in with some of the clothes you wanted. I cant imagine why I packed it away. It just screams doesnt it?" He was posed against the counter giving her the swooning southern belle affectation.
"Yeah, it screams all right. Just what, Im not sure. I thought you were thirsty?"
Liz brushed past the diva and retrieved the last bottle of champagne from the fridge.
"Sorry, but its this or tap water." She searched for some glasses and handed Roger one.
"Not much of a choice. When are you going to get some groceries in this house? " Roger inspected the glass for signs of a previous inhabitant. Declaring it relatively clean, he poured the bubbly and made his way to the sofa. Brie and RG eyed him critically, and jumped off the chair. Brie did that little sideways-come-get-me-dance in front of RG as they disappeared into the bedroom.
Liz sauntered over to the sitting area, glass in hand. "Ok, lets see what we have here." She began pulling items from the bag. There were several pairs of leather pants, a pair of chaps, leather vest, harness, several wrist gauntlets and oh, yes, the whip. There was also a dark green caftan. "This will do nicely." She made a selection and headed for the bedroom. "Ill be right back. Try not to rearrange the furniture while Im gone."
She threw the clothes across the bed and went to the closet. Roger was conversing from the livingroom.
"Sweetheart, I dont mean to pry, but what in hell do you need with my clothes? In case you havent noticed, we arent exactly the same size. They wont be very flattering, you know."
Lizs head was buried deep in the recesses of the closet. She yelled a reply, "I know, Im not looking for a perfect fit. In fact, the more unassuming, the better." She spied the object of her quest. "There you are, my pretty." She hauled the boots from their resting place. "Now, I need a shirt. Not a tee, I think, but something functional that wont look too out of place. She took a plain white gauze shirt from the hanger. "Yes this will be perfect."
She proceeded to don the outfit. The pants were long, but not too bad. She could tuck the cuffs into her boots. She stuffed the shirt into the waistband and tightened the breeches with a leather belt. Now, should she wear the vest? "Hmmm", she mused aloud. It might get in the way but then again it would conceal her womanhood. On this trip she needed to be careful about her identity the more neutral looking, the better. The caftan would offer even more cover what about the whip? "Ill take it with me and make a decision later."
"Well, are you going to keep me in suspense forever? It couldnt take that long to get dressed. I mean, you arent a real queen, just an honorary one. Cmon, parade that outfit for me, girl." The sounds of La Bouche filled the condo. That was her cue.
Liz strutted into the room, stylin n profilin. She made a complete turn through the living area before whipping the caftan off. Slinging it over her shoulder, she did one of those exaggerated-model-on-the-catwalk-hip-dislocating walks. Finally collapsing in a fit of laughter on the sofa. Roger was howling and whistling. The cats were hiding under the bed.
The music and hysteria subsided together. Liz took a long drink and stood in front of Roger. Turning slowly, she asked his opinion. "Well, what do you think? Does it make me look androgynous enough?"
Roger raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so thats the look you were going for here. In that case, Id say we have a winnah. Now tell me, why you would wear this out in public?"
Liz flopped into the chair, kicking the boots off, and curled her feet under her butt. "Roger, I have to be almost invisible when I enter Gabrielles time. I need to blend with the local color."
"And this is what everyone is wearing? My gawd, youre going to a land before queens. How perfectly dull. Well, if you take the whip at least youll have a decent prop." He sat for a minute and turned a serious eye her way. "This is really going to happen, isnt it? I mean, youre leaving."
Liz felt a lump in her throat. "Yes, day after tomorrow. Im going with Randi to Greece. They are excavating a site that is probably Daedalius. I have to...you know that."
"Are you coming home when its done?" A mist clouded his eyes.
Liz felt a tear roll down her cheek. "I dont know. And for that reason I need for you to take care of things here. You know...the condo...the girls. I wouldnt trust anyone else with them. Promise me youll do that. Ive made arrangements with my lawyer to transfer a durable power of attorney to you for as long as I am gone. You will have authority to attend my affairs. You up to it? "
Roger was not comfortable with this conversation. "Oh, God, Liz, I dont know. You sound like youre not coming back. Its scaring me." Dealing with stressful situations was not Rogers strong suit. He knew she was depending on him and he tried to be sturdy. "Ok, Ill do it on one condition."
"All right, what is it?"
"You have to promise me youll come back. Even if you think otherwise, just say youll come back."
Liz wasnt good at serious talk either. She tried to lighten the mood. "Roger, I promise, if there is anyway possible, I will come back. Besides, Im only taking the clothes on my back. And you know how I love to change underwear."
Relieved the tone had shifted, Roger cracked a smile. "Thats right, I forgot that you have stock in Jockey. Of course, youll be back. Now, you want me to show you how to operate that whip?"
"Why, Roger, youve been keeping secrets from me again." Liz said with a gleam in her eye.
"I have many talents, madam. The whip is easy now the harness is a different story." He winked.
Liz closed her eyes and made a cross with her two index fingers. " Please, dont enlighten me. This is way too much information."
The friends laughed...kidded hugged and cried the evening away. Roger left with a promise to ferry Liz to the airport on the appointed day. She locked up, took a long hot bath and crawled into bed. She was asleep before her head hit the pillow. Brie and RG appeared on the bed and curled up close to their mom. This was one of the last times they would do this.
Gabrielle was in that dark place again. She could hear pieces of a conversation. She thought it was Xena, but it was so muffled, it was hard to tell. She wanted to understand the words, but they made no sense. It was so hard to stay awake. She just wanted to sleep. Images of her life kept going by. Her mother watching her leave Potidaea with Xena, the look on Lilas face, her face morphing into that of Perdicus and then Callisto. She was in the Amazon village with Xena in the Queens hut. Xena was making love to her, touching, kissing, stroking the sound of the camps drums outside the hut keeping time with their intensity. She felt the wave of desire and culmination of that desire wash over her. She was one with Xena one heart one soul one body. Xena was her destiny, she had always known this. But there was another life force pulling at her...an uncompleted expression...a phantom.
She was in the cold again. The floor falling away from her. She clung for dear life by her bare fingertips.
"Please, someone help me! XENA!! HELP M !!"
She saw her warrior staring down at her, but offering no help.
"I cant help you, Gabrielle. This is your doing."
"Oh, sure you can, Xena, just take my hand."
Gabrielle reached up to find Liz looking at her. "Liz, please take my hand. Dont let me die like this!"
Liz stood frozen before her. This seemed slightly different.
"Gabrielle, listen to me. We are linked by a rip time, you must go to Daedalius, to Amoria. I have to come to your time to seal this thing. Do you understand?"
Gabrielle could hold on no longer. She fell into eternal darkness, screaming.
Gabrielle opened her eyes. The room was dark, but not totally. There were oil lamps glowing faintly along the wall. She was on a narrow bed of some sort. She raised her head slightly and was rewarded by a sharp pain between her eyes. She went to place her hand to her face but couldnt move it. Her left wrist was tied to the bed as well as both of her ankles. She turned to her right and saw the top of Xenas head. She was cradling Gabrielles arm and holding her hand. She slid her arm from under Xenas face and stroked her hair.
Quietly she spoke, "Xena? Where am I?"
The warrior lifted her head and looked into her loves eyes. She was overcome with pure emotion.
"Oh, Gods, Gabrielle. Youre awake. I was so worried about you."
Xena embraced the bard, tears flowing unrestricted down her cheeks onto Gabrielles. The bard held on to Xena with her free hand. Xena kissed her full on the mouth. Gabrielle noticed soreness on her chin and lip but hungrily returned the passion. She so loved Xena. The warrior freed her left wrist and Gabrielle pulled Xena into her breasts. They held this embrace for awhile. Xena pulled back to unloosen the binds on her ankles.
Gabrielle needed to tell Xena about the dream. She felt awful.
"Xena, we have to go to Daedalius...now."
Xena looked at her and shook her head. "Youre not going anywhere, let alone Daedalius. You need to rest. You look awful."
Gabrielle knew if she looked half as bad as she felt she was indeed a sorry sight. But she also knew they had to get to Daedalius. It was literally a matter of life or death hers. As bad as she felt, she had to make Xena understand the importance of this. She pushed herself up on her elbows. It was a monumental effort. Xena was not pleased.
"Gabrielle, lie down, please. Youve been through a traumatic event. Youve got to rest." She placed her hands on the bards shoulders to discourage further movement. Gabrielle took Xenas hand in her own and looked directly into her soul.
"Xena, listen to me. I cant explain it, but I dont have much time. My only hope is in Daedalius. If you love me, take me there, to Amoria." It was all she had the strength to get out. She lapsed into unconsciousness and slumped in the arms of Xena.
"Gabrielle!! Oh, honey, please, no. What do you mean you dont have much time?" Xena yelled to an attendant outside the room. "Someone get Hippocrates in here, now!!"
Hippocrates entered the room to find Xena holding Gabrielle in her arms.
"Xena, what happened? Did she regain consciousness?"
Without looking at the physician, Xena spoke, "Yes, but just for a moment. She said something about needing to get to Daedalius. She said she didnt have much time. I dont know what she meant."
Xena continued to hold the bard close to her. She was scared not only for Gabrielle but for herself. The thought of losing her was almost more than her heart could take. Gabrielle was part of her, the most honorable part. Without her, the darkness would surely occupy that space again.
"Hippocrates, I dont know what to do. She is too frail to make that trip but she was very insistent. I dont think moving her is a good idea." Xena was looking to Hippocrates to confirm her preference for Gabrielle.
Hippocrates bent over Gabrielle and examined her face and general condition. She was getting worse. He faced the warrior. "Xena, I need to be very honest with you. Gabrielles condition is deteriorating, theres nothing more I can do for her here. I believe taking her to Daedalius and Amoria is her only hope." He paused to let the words form reason. "I think you should take her as soon as possible. I will have a transportation litter prepared." The words werent even out of his mouth before the activity started around Xena and Gabrielle.
A covered cart was pulled to the side entrance. Xena and Hippocrates loaded Gabrielle into the back. Satisfied she was secure and comfortable, Xena took the bards face in her hands, lightly kissing her lips. "Hang on, Gabrielle. Dont you even think about leaving me, you hear?" Xena knew this was serious when Hippocrates entered the cart to ride with his patient. This was very serious and all the more reason to hurry. She mounted Argo and led the cart, holding her life, away from the compound. They would be in Daedalius late the next day. Xena would have preferred to take Gabrielle to Widgie. She had tremendous faith in the Oracles abilities. This Amoria wasnt nearly as talented, but Gabrielle had been so insistent. She prayed it was the right decision.
The small entourage stopped only when it became too dark to safely travel. Xena tended Argo and then spent the night next to Gabrielle. She held her close and whispered words of love and encouragement in her ear.
"I promise you well take some time off when all this is done. I know how you love to shop. Maybe well go to Athens and you can ransack the market. Youd like that, wouldnt you, my love? All those merchants just waiting to be outdone by your haggling skills. But maybe well just find a secluded valley with a cool clear lake and spend time alone. Well swim and fish during the day and Ill make love to you all night. Oh, Gods, how I love you, Gabrielle. You are whats best in my life. I dont want to live without you. You have to be all right you just have to." Most of what Xena felt was communicated non-verbally through her caressing of Gabrielle. She would have given her life for the slightest indication that the bard understood. The warrior drifted into a fitful sleep, holding Gabrielle.
Hippocrates woke Xena early in the morning. It was time to get underway. Gabrielle was pale and washed-out looking, her body bathed in a continuous sweat. The arrival in Daedalius couldnt be quick enough for Xena. Her heart was pounding in sync with Argos hoofbeats. Toward twilight the caravan entered the village. Upon seeing the warrior princess astride Argo, they cleared a wide path. She still was remembered as a fierce warlord, old habits die hard. As Xena passed, mothers pulled their children behind them. This act of sheer fear wasnt lost on the warrior. Their prejudices, however, didnt concern Xena. The welfare of Gabrielle was the only issue. The whole village could burn in Hades for all she cared. Amoria was waiting outside her door as the cart pulled up. She had been expecting them.
She spoke before the wheels stopped rolling. "Bring the girl inside." The healer turned and faded inside. Hippocrates, his aide and Xena gently moved Gabrielle to the interior of the hut. Amoria motioned for them to place the bard on a pallet near the fire. She positioned herself between Xena and the ailing Gabrielle. Without looking up, she spoke to the warrior.
"Take your leave, warrior. I need to examine the girl." No further words came from her lips. She began her ministrations over Gabrielle. Xena was tired and worried sick. The womans curt actions were pushing her near the edge. She moved forward to protest. Hippocrates placed a hand on her arm and gave her one of those please dont looks.
"Cmon, Xena, let Amoria do what she does best. Gabrielle is in good hands here. You need to take care of Argo and we all could use some decent food. Shell come get us when its time." Xena knew he was right and reluctantly left the room.
She walked Argo to the livery and arranged for a stall and feed. She had no idea how long they would be there. She paid for several days housing and then made her way to the inn. She found Hippocrates sitting at a table in the back. It was the same one she and Gabrielle had occupied a few months back. How she wished shed never seen this place or agreed to help Aphrodite. Her life was falling apart and she was unable to really do anything about it. She cared little for Amoria and had less faith in her abilities. Why did Gabrielle want to come here? Hippocrates talking interrupted her musings.
"Xena, sit down, please. Youre making everyone nervous."
She looked around the inn, and sure enough, it was filled with patrons about to soil their collective undergarments. She was tense and that emotion had been broadcast to the entire room. They interpreted her demeanor as one of aggression and it produced the appropriate pucker factor. Xena ignored their stares and sat. You could feel the group of men sigh with relief. Slowly, the inn went back to business as usual. The innkeeper delivered two mugs of port to the table and made a hasty retreat. When Xena was in a bad mood, it wasnt a good day for anyone.
Hippocrates took a long drink before talking to his tablemate. "You know, Amoria is very capable in these matters. You need to just let her work."
Xena didnt like much of anything about this. "Oh, shes capable all right." Her voice was dripping with sarcasm. "I didnt tell you about her part in all this, did I?" She took a swig of her port and continued before he could respond. "She practically put Gabrielle and Liz in bed together. She knew about the bet between Aphrodite and Zeus but didnt tell them. She could have prevented that part of it. Hades, I dont know who I distrust the most, Oracles or the gods." She took another long drink and motioned for the innkeeper to bring another.
Hippocrates could see where this was headed. He was just too tired to deal with a raging warrior. "What are you really angry about, Xena? The fact that Gabrielle slept with Liz or that you gave Aphrodite permission to manipulate them?"
Xenas eyes flashed at the physician. "I didnt know Aphrodite was going to manipulate them! She promised not to. I believed her, Hippocrates. And now look where we are Gabrielle is fighting for her life because of that that woman. Gods, I wish I could get my hands on her!"
Hippocrates tried to remain calm. "Well, with all due respect, Xena, you know how Aphrodite is. Trusting her should have been your last option. But this is a moot point it happened its done. We need to concentrate on the matter at hand. There is a reason Gabrielle wanted to come here and it wasnt to personally punish you. Try thinking from somewhere besides between your legs for once."
He was taking a very big chance talking to the warrior like this. It would either realign her thinking or Xena would realign his face. He waited for the decision.
Xena finished her first mug and started in on the second. She almost drained it before speaking. "Ok, Ill give you concession on this point. Im not happy about all of this but my first concern is Gabrielle. I will do whatever I have to for her to be healed."
Xena was about to find out what her limits were concerning this situation. One of the street urchins came over to the table. The child was filthy and obviously malnourished. He spoke so quietly, Xena had to strain to hear his words.
"Amoria says for you to come now." He turned to leave but Xena caught his thin arm. "Here, for your trouble little one." She pressed some coins in his small hand. She waved for the innkeeper to bring food to the table. "You, boy, sit and eat. We will eat later. I wont take no for an answer." The child was starving and greedily complied. Xena couldnt believe the village would allow children to go hungry. Just another reason to be done with this place. She and Hippocrates made their way to Amorias hut.
They entered the space and found Amoria sitting by Gabrielle. The bard was resting on an elevated pallet near the open hearth. She was breathing in a slow regular pattern...not as labored. Her color wasnt good. She almost looked like she was fading away. Xena went to her side and held her hand. The distress on Xenas face was evident. She looked at the healer. "Whats wrong with her, Amoria?" It was a direct, honest question. She was hoping for a like answer. She wasnt prepared for Amorias reply.
"Shes dying." Amoria may as well have stabbed Xena in the heart. Xena took the healer by the shoulders and got in her face. There was a controlled rage in her voice. She spoke through clenched teeth.
"You listen to me, healer. I didnt come all this way for you to tell me shes dying. She is not dying, you hear me. Gabrielle wanted to come here for a reason. And it wasnt to die. Now, Ill ask you again whats wrong with her ?" Xena released Amoria and waited.
The seer was unfazed by Xenas body language. "Come and sit, Xena. I have much to tell you." She turned from the warrior and settled into a chair near the fire. Xena reluctantly followed and took a seat opposite her. It was exactly where Liz had sat months earlier. Hippocrates settled near Gabrielle, holding the bards hand.
Amoria looked Xena in the eyes and began. "Xena, Gabrielles life-force is being drained. There is a disturbance in the stars and she is being pulled in too many directions. She cannot resolve this conflict so she has opted to stop fighting. There is one chance for her survival. The traveler is coming to heal this tear in her. You will have to find her and bring her here. She brings the key with her, but she must make the connection with Gabrielle. Do you understand what I am asking of you?"
Xena thought, Yeah, that means I cant throttle her until Gabrielle has the key.
Amoria shook her head, "It means you cant harm her in any way, warrior. You will have to put aside your ego if you want Gabrielle to live. Now, I ask you again. Can you do this?"
Cold blue eyes pierced Amorias. She was shaken that the healer had read her thoughts. "Yes, I can do this. How do I find her? When will she be here?"
"Soon, Xena, she will be here soon. I will know. For now, go be with your friend. She needs your love and assurance. Though she cannot speak, she can hear you. Talk to her. I will let you know when its time."
Amoria rose from her seat. She motioned for Hippocrates to join her outside. Xena and Gabrielle were alone. The warrior spoke to her love.
"Well, my love, here we are. Your time traveling girl is on her way. Shes bringing the key whatever that is and youll be well again. I miss you, honey I miss hearing your voice I miss yours lips on me and your hands exploring my body. You have some serious catching up to do. " Xena was trying to sound positive but the idea of Liz actually showing up was hard to believe. She had very mixed emotions about this. Her need to thrash the bitch was tempered by Amorias warning. It was rather like being caught as a child doing something naughty. She didnt like it then and she sure as Hades didnt care for it now. She decided to play it by ear. With any luck, Liz would incite her and give reason for an altercation. She felt better knowing there may be a chance for Gabrielle. It was almost time.
Liz was awake before the alarm went off. In fact, she had been awake most of the night. Sleep just wasnt in the picture right now. Her gut was twisted in a knot and her heart was hurting. She was afraid afraid the trip to Gabrielles time would occur and afraid it wouldnt. She had been crying all night keeping the girls awake. The idea she may not come back was weighing heavy on her. What would she do if coming home wasnt an option? What about her babies her home her friends? What about Roger, poor Roger? He would fold like a house of cards. Was it right to place such a burden on him? All these questions had been rattling around in her brain all night. More than once she wanted to cancel the whole thing. But then she would wrap her fingers around the crystal and think of Gabrielle. She would just not think about it any longer and engage the autopilot. Otherwise, she would never get on that plane. Beeeeep beeep beeeep!! The alarm broke the silence. It was time. She threw the covers off and got up.
There wasnt a lot to take care of before Roger arrived. She was taking one carry on bag, her passport and some cash nothing else. She poured a cup of coffee, grabbed the portable and sat in her chair. The sun was just sneaking over the horizon. She dialed Ruths number. The seer answered on the second ring.
"Good morning, Liz. You about ready to leave?"
Liz wasnt the least bit surprised she knew it was she, let alone that she was leaving. "Yes, Ruth or should I say Moria? "
"Whatever you like. What is it you need to know, dear?"
"Why didnt you tell me about your ancestor the other night? You knew Id seen her. Does withholding information run in the family as well?"
Ruth was unmoved by Lizs obvious irritation. "Sometimes its necessary. Now what else can I answer for you?"
"The other night you werent sure if I would be able to come home. Do you still feel this way?"
Ruth knew Liz was scared and sometimes the truth is hard to hear. "Liz, I cant see that event. It doesnt mean it wont happen, I just cant see it. Have faith in the purity of what youre doing. The rest will take care of itself. You will have a very powerful ally there. Trust her."
Somehow this wasnt making her feel any better. She could see there were no further insights to be gained. "Ill do my best, Ruth."
"I know you will, traveler, I know you will. Godspeed, Liz." The line went silent. Liz put the receiver down just as a knock announced Roger. He let himself in.
"Well, honey, are you ready? "
"Yeah, lets go."
Liz stood and surveyed her surroundings one more time. She picked up the bag and headed for the door. Brie and RG hopped on the kitchen counter and let out a plaintive yeooww as the door closed. All their hearts were breaking.
They were out of earshot when the phone rang. On the third ring, the machine picked up. "Hi, its me, and I cant take your call right now. Leave me a message and Ill call ya back." beeeep...
"Liz, its Sam. Look, honey, I dont know whats going on there, but Im not going to sit here and wait on you to have a moment of clarity. Im flying in tomorrow, and well talk. I love you."
Liz insisted that Roger drop her curbside. She couldnt take a long good-bye scene. This was hard enough already. He embraced her and was beginning to sob.
"Oh, God, I told myself I wouldnt be a hysterical queen, but I cant help it." Trying to regain some composure he threatened his friend. "Honey, if you arent back in a week, Im totally redoing your place with your money using the most expensive decorator in the city."
Liz couldnt help but smile. "Well, that does it. Im definitely coming back. I hate chintz prints. So dont you dare." They embraced one last time and Liz watched Roger disappear into the line of traffic. "Good-bye, my friend." She entered the terminal and headed for the transportation concourse.
She passed through security with no problem. Liz couldnt remember the last time she went anywhere with just one bag. The idea of going to Greece with just a carry on was ludicrous, but afterall, she probably wasnt going to need much.
She conversed with herself as she strolled to the gate. "Fine, I finally get the art of traveling perfected, and it will be wasted. Jeez, this cant be right. I mean whats the point in traveling with style if no one is going to see it?" She halted this discourse as she neared her destination. She saw Randi at the check-in counter and joined her.
"I see you decided to join me after all. I thought the sheer dollar value of this little impulse might dissuade you. But apparently you have more money than I first estimated." The attendant was busy stamping Randis boarding pass and asking for a photo ID.
"Oh, you know me, got the first dollar I ever earned. So I had to cash in a CD and raid my savings, but what the hell. If I dont come back, the jokes on all my creditors." Liz handed her ticket to the attendant, and received her boarding pass, stamped for verification. The two women walked down the ramp to the waiting 767. They were flying first class, a new experience for Liz. As she settled into the wide leather seat, the attendant took her beverage order. It was too early to have anything with a kick, so she just asked for coffee. It would be a long day, so there was plenty of time for a cocktail.
The plane backed away from the gate at precisely ten. At least this was a good sign. Randi was going over some papers in her lap as the bird left the ground. Liz was staring out the window, watching her world slowly disappear. She wasnt exactly sure how all this would fall together. Just go with it, she thought thats what Gabrielle would say. She remembered Ruths advice about the purity of the act and mumbled into her trayback. "Its got to be ok it just has to."
Randi looked at her. "Did you say something, Liz? Im sorry, I was going over the data from the site. Fascinating stuff. You wanna look at it? "
Liz did need to know where the center of the village was located. It would most likely be the site of the inn. "Sure, hand it over." Randi passed the graphs of the site to Liz and proceeded to explain the grid.
"Ok, now the red outlines the whole site, or as best as can be determined. The blue signifies individual buildings that have been identified. The yellow marks position of various artifacts. You can see some areas are densely populated. This may indicate local gathering places such as the livery, shops and...."
Liz broke in,"The village inn? "
"Why, yes, possibly." She pointed to a rather conspicuous group of yellow dots. "This area here has a large concentration of pottery shards. Its very likely that this would be the local tavern. There is evidence that it was a two-story structure. The only one in the village, by the way."
"Yes, that would be right. There were rooms in an upstairs area. This has to be it." The energy in her gut was beginning to grow. "How long is this trip going to take?"
Randi started doing the math. "Lets see...four hours or so to JKF, then a two hour layover. The flight on Olympic leaves at four pm EST. Non-stop to Athens oh about ten hours. That will put us there around eight am local time... tomorrow. An hour to pass customs and a three hour trip by land rover to the site. Id say youre looking at nearly twenty hours or less. You in a hurry, kiddo?"
"You could say that time isnt exactly on my side." Liz gazed at her friend. She knew it was time to spill it. The attendant brought the coffee and took her order for a light breakfast. This was going to be one helluva day. "Randi?"
"I need to tell you everything thats been happening. We may have just enough time. Im going to need your help when we get there to finish this thing."
"Well, Ive been waiting for this story of stories. Believe me, if its half as interesting as what I already know, then it must be a barn-burner."
Randi stirred her Starbucks and nestled in for the flight. Liz took a deep breath and began the story from the very beginning. Randi didnt say two words through the telling of the tale. In fact, her jawed dropped open several times. She was nearing a stopping point as they approached New York.
"Thats the most amazing thing Ive ever heard." Randi reached over and lifted the crystal from its resting place. "And Gabrielle actually gave you this?"
"Yep, big as day. And I gave her that coral piece. Thats when the trouble started."
"So, let me get this straight. Because you two exchanged lovely parting gifts, a rip in the space time continuum has occurred. And you intend to just zip back there and seal it? Feel free to stop me at any time. "
"No, youre doing fine. But it wasnt the exchanging of gifts that precipitated the tear, it was leaving with them. Everything would have been ok otherwise."
Randi couldnt help but let out a laugh. "Excuse me, but just exactly what part of this would have been ok? The time traveling part or the meeting Aphrodite part or maybe the street brawl part. Im a little confused, here. Do you have any idea how crazed this sounds? "
"Oh, believe me, I do...I mean I really do. But honey, ya gonna have to trust me on this one. And remember, I promise not to say I told you so after all this is over."
"Girl, if this goes down like youve described, you can say I told you so till the cows come home. Hell, Ill even say it with you. Just one question how are you going to get home?"
"Well, thats the real interesting part, Randi. I havent a clue. Im not real sure Ill be able to come home. In fact, Ive set my affairs up to assume I wont." Liz let this salvo sink in. It took a minute for the expression to change on Randis face.
"Wait a minute, what do you mean you dont know? You can get back, cant
you? Surely you have a plan. Oh, Liz, dont do this to me, you hear. Im not going to just let you disappear into a temporal distortion. I wont allow it! "
The absurdity of that last part brought a smile to Lizs face. "Randi, you cant stop me. Youre not my momma, you know."
"Yeah, I know. I just happen to be someone who loves you very much. There has to be a way back, Liz. We can figure this out. We have some time. "
It was interesting to watch the doctor go into her analyzing mode. She was very good at picking at a puzzle until it was solved. Maybe she could find a way. It was worth a shot. "Ok, now tell me exactly how this transfer will work." She was in full glory now. Liz started giving her the specifics on quantum singularities as she understood it. "Basically, Gabrielle is on one side and Im on the other. We get close enough and its like opposite ends of a magnet. I get sucked through."
"And then what?"
"Oooh I dont know. Im assuming Ill be in Daedalius or somewhere nearby. I guess Ill have to find her and Amoria. Im hoping the healer has a plan to seal the tear."
Randi was shaking her head. "You know, this doesnt sound very well thought out. All this assuming and hoping and guessing. This has all the earmarks of a major disaster. "
"Sweetie, its not like booking a Club Med Vacation. Theres some risk involved."
"But are you willing to risk your life on this, Liz? Is this Gabrielle that important to you?"
"Yes, Randi, she is."
The conversation would have to wait. The 767 was on final to JFK. Randi had already started theorizing an escape plan for Liz.
Randi spent the layover making phones calls to colleagues in the science department. She just didnt know enough about physics to fully understand the mechanics involved. It was quite a little trick to ask questions without actually telling them anything. In the two hours she had a crash course in theoretical physics. This wasnt going to be easy, but if Liz could get there then she could come home. The answer was waiting to be uncovered.
At four PM the Olympic flight departed JFK. Next stop, Athens and possibly the greatest adventure the two of them had ever participated in. Liz had never been on a flight as long as this one. She started getting antsy before they were half-way across the Atlantic. She started reading every magazine she could get her hands on . The thought of bringing something to wile away the time hadnt occurred to her. Maybe Randi was right, this wasnt too well thought out. Doubting the course of action wasnt the answer. She tried to focus on the mission...yes, this was a mission. Hmmm, she thought, Where was Tom Cruise when you needed him?
Randi had set up her laptop and was connected to a fax / data outlet. The woman constantly amazed her. She had been born in an age when television was an infant, but grasped technology by the throat at any opportunity. The computer age was just another tool for her. Liz couldnt help looking over her shoulder.
"What are you doing?" The screen was filled with mathematical equations all of it looking like Greek to Liz.
Randi didnt look up and kept manipulating the data. "Im trying to find a way for you to come home from this soiree. Ive got my buddies in the math department running theoretical sequences on the mainframe. And then they are uplinking the results to me." She was mesmerized by the datastream. Distractedly she mumbled,"Fascinating."
Liz shook her head and found an empty seat away from fascinating Randi. She plopped down next to a window and asked the flight attendant for a cocktail. Downing the ouzo, she conversed with herself. "You know, this was easier when Aphrodite was driving. Wheres a nosy goddess when you need one? Hades, shes probably off with Tom. What a mess this is turning out to be. Im supposed to happily in love with Sam planning a family picking out lawn and garden equipment."
She stopped just long enough to request another shot. "And where am I? Oh, about to step into oblivion probably never to be seen again." The ouzo was about to claim its first victim. After the fifth shot, she became quite vocal. "Thass me the lil ole time traveler. Ooops pardon me...but could you book me a flight to another dimen...shun. Around trip? Noooo one way, pleeese. Luggage nope..jist this carrythingeebaggie..whatever..." The flight attendant had alerted Randi of the activity behind her. She got up and wandered to the rear of first class. Liz peered at her with blinking eyes.
"Randeeee! Where ya been? You going to Greeece too?" Liz tried to stand to embrace her friend, but reeled into the seat instead. "All right who stole my legs I know youre in here. Im awarnin you...you have to the count of...er one to give em back." She looked at Randi for help. "Tell em Randi...oooh I dont feel too good."
The attendant brought a blanket a couple of pillows. She handed them to Randi and shook her head. She began to tend her friend. "Liz, honey, youve been under a lot of stress lately."
Liz clumsily agreed, "Yesss...stwress wots and wots of stwress ooh...you waskiwee wabbit"
Randi removed the center armrest and coaxed Liz into a lying position. She placed the pillows under her head, removed her shoes and covered her with the blanket. Before she passed out, Liz looked at her friend, "I love you, Randi." She closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. Randi bent over and kissed her on the cheek, "I love you, too. And youre going to have a helluva headache tomorrow." She found her seat and continued her work.
Liz was dreaming. The Amazons were attacking and her back was against the wall. They were one angry bunch of women, armed with staffs, swords and arrows. Liz had a bottle of ouzo for a weapon. Not a good match, to say the least. Guess she could get them into a drinking match. Naw they looked like they would kick her butt doing that too. She couldnt decide why they were so upset. She was coming to help Gabrielle as fast as she could. Didnt they know that? As the first arrow zinged past her head, she guessed not. The leader let loose her staff at Lizs head...and connected. She was in the throes of warding off repeated blows when her eyes opened. It took a moment to realize where she was. She raised herself into a sitting position. "Ow! My head!" Could it be the Amazon had really nailed her? Her stomach turned over to announce the consequences of her ouzo dinner. Now she remembered and barely made the toilet in time. This wasnt a good place to be worshipping the chrome god. There wasnt enough room to bend over. Seeing as how there wasnt anything in her stomach to toss, the first round went quickly. She splashed water on her face and tried to dry it with the postage stamp towels. She complained out loud, "Youd think a $1500 plane ticket would come with decent towels." She opened the door to find the next user waiting. Sheepishly, she found Randi and slid in next to her. The doctor was sound asleep. She placed her throbbing head on Randis shoulder and tried to negotiate a truce for her condition. She recited the mantra. "I-promise-never-to-do-this-again-for-as-long-as-I-live."
Randi shifted and opened her eyes. The presence of Liz resting on her shoulder was amusing. She gently nudged her companion awake. Slowly, Liz went into an upright position.
"How are you feeling, sweetie? " There was a wry smile on her lips. She knew exactly how Liz was feeling.
Liz was trying to get her tongue to cooperate with her speech center. "I feel like hell. What was that stuff anyway?"
Randi chuckled, "That, my dear, was ouzo. Youre supposed to sip it, not down it like shots of tequila. I thought you knew that."
"Well, I do now. God, Ive got such a headache." She flagged the nearest attendant and ordered aspirin and black coffee. She looked at her watch. It was two hours before they landed. Maybe she would be able to remove the Amazons staff from the center of her forehead before then.
Randi disappeared into the toilet to freshen up. Her laptop was open to a journal of sorts. Liz wasnt exactly snooping but it was open. The doctor was meticulous in keeping notes. At the bottom was a single notation. The mathematical probability of manipulating a stable corridor is ten to the power of minus 3. Liz didnt need a math degree to understand the implications of that number. Her chances were right there on the screen. She wasnt coming home. Her attention was directed out the window as Randi made her way down the aisle.
Randi looked at the laptop and realized Liz had probably seen the file. This wasnt the time to discuss the odds. She closed the Mac and prepared for breakfast.
"Liz, I know you dont feel like it, but you should try to eat something before we land. We will be going directly to the site, and I can assure you theres not a 7-11 on the way."
"Ill give it a shot oops please not a shot." At least her sense of humor was alive. She gingerly gave some dry toast a test ride in her stomach. She was able to consume most of her breakfast without incident. Even her head was feeling better. With breakfast under her belt, she stared out the window. The plane would be approaching from the south, over the blue-green Mediterranean.
"This part of the world is beautiful. I wish I were seeing it under different circumstances." She tried to be upbeat and hopeful. "Maybe some other time."
Randi put her hand on Lizs. "Tell you what, Ill give you a personal tour when this fiasco is over. Deal?"
"Deal." Liz squeezed her hand.
The plane touched down a little after eight am. The deplaning and trip through customs went smoothly. Randi and Liz exited the terminal and were greeted by Darius Kristos, the site director. He had come personally to escort the renowned archaeologist. Redcaps were busy loading Randis luggage and equipment.
"Dr.James, nice to finally meet you. I hope your trip was pleasant." He was eyeing Liz. "And who is this? I thought your assistant was male."
"He took ill suddenly. I was lucky to find a replacement for him on such short notice. Darius, this is Liz...Liz, Darius Kristos. Hes the big honcho on this project." Her unspoken message was Dont piss him off.
Liz got her drift. She took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Nice to meet you, Darius. Yes, I was very fortunate to be available for this trip. This is all very exciting." She hooked her arm through his and began walking to the range rover. "It must be a huge responsibility to head up a project this size. The logistics just boggle my lil old mind. Tell me how you found the site." Darius stood a little taller and began spilling his guts. Randi just shook her head. Sometimes Liz amazed her the woman could schmooze with the best of them.
They settled in the transport, Randi sat in the back. Darius and Liz sat up front. He talked non-stop for the first hour. At a brief stop for petrol, Liz commandeered the back seat, giving Randi a chance to go over some real data with him. She watched the countryside glide past her. The site was in central Peloponnese, slightly west of the city of Argos. The find was one of significance since most of the archaeological sites were in the south. Its discovery was one of serendipity. A space shuttle mission had been mapping the area for mineral deposits and an unusual subterranean formation appeared. Its investigation was turned over the Greek government. The rest, as they say, is history. That was five years ago, and the site was just now being fully uncovered. Archaeology was a very slow tedious endeavor. Not good if you were into instant gratification. Liz closed her eyes, and thought about Gabrielle. Hold on a bit longer, Im almost there. She closed her palm around the crystal. It felt slightly warm.
The range rover pulled into the base camp around noon. Just under the twenty hours Randi had calculated. She was finally here. Now the real journey would begin. Just how was still unclear. She needed to confer with Randi without Darius. The accommodations were spartan, but functional. The huts were one step above tents. At least she wouldnt be sleeping on the ground. Actually, she wouldnt be sleeping there at all, if everything went as planned. She threw her bag on the bed and retrieved the contents. She would like to take a hot bath before donning the attire. Randi stuck her head in the door.
"Ok, heres the deal. Were in luck. The rest of the site personnel wont be here for a week. Darius has to go back to Athens tonight and will return with the group at the end of the week. Hes leaving us and a small staff to tend the site until then. Its perfect. Do you think it will give you enough time?"
Exhausted, Liz sat on the bed. "Randi, its not going to take a week for me to make the jump. It will happen rather quickly, if its going to happen at all. So, Id say, a week is long enough."
"You know thats not what Im talking about. Im not giving up on bringing you back so you dont, ok?"
"Girl, I saw your laptop file. I know the odds, so lets be realistic here. Im probably not coming back. We have to face the facts, ok?"
Randi was visibly irritated. "Well not with that attitude. I refuse to believe theres no answer, and I intend on finding it. So there! Dont go setting up house in that time, cuz you aint stayin. "
It was useless to argue with her. And Liz didnt want to waste their remaining time talking about a moot point. "Ok, you look for a way here and Ill seek one on the other side. Oh, dont let Roger redecorate my condo, regardless. Now, where can I take a bath? "
Liz settled into the tub and took a deep breath. Her mind was still, for the first time in weeks, and her energy focused. The crystal had a faint glow to it now. She knew the time was near. In the quietness of the moment, she asked the protectors of Gabrielle to watch over her just a bit longer. And she asked her god to watch over her friends and help them through the time ahead. She asked nothing for herself. She was ready.
Darius had left and darkness descended on the site. The sky was eerie. Fingers of lightning danced across the sky. Randi didnt remember there being a forecast of bad weather. If she had thought about what was about to happen, it might have made sense.
In a solemn ritual, she dried her body and donned her clothes, as if it were armor. She wished she had a weapon of sorts, but all she had was the whip. She decided to take it. What had Roger said about using it? Oh, yeah, Its all In the wrist. That wasnt fair, queens were all wrist. Now if she had a gas powered edger, well that would be a sure fired crowd pleaser. The whip would have to do. Maybe she wouldnt be put in a position of using it. She stood before the makeshift mirror and viewed the sight. Satisfied she could pass relatively unnoticed on the other side, she picked up the caftan and went in search of Randi. She entered her friends hut.
"Randi, I think Im ready. What do you think?"
Her friend looked up at the sight before her. "Hmmm very fetching, I think. I dont think anyone is going to ask you to the prom though."
"Believe me, after what Ive already seen, thats just fine with me." She shifted the subject. "Can we access the site without being bothered?"
"I dont think that will be a problem. Im sorta in charge, remember. The staff has turned in for the night. The place is ours. Ive looked over the grid and I think your best bet is this spot here." She was pointing to the tavern site. It certainly was the location of the most intense energy exchange. This had to work. Excitement replaced the dread she had been feeling. "Lets do it." They exited the hut and made their way to the dig. It was about three hundred yards from the camp and out of line of sight. There was a full moon, so using lanterns could be kept to a minimum. The sky periodically lit up with electricity. It was all very odd. The closer they came, the brighter the crystal glowed. Liz spoke to her friend. "Randi, look its--glowing. This is going to work." They stopped just short of the entrance to the site.
Randi was looking at the grid, trying to get her bearings. "Ok, the tavern locale is about fifty yards along this path. Its marked with a bright blue tag with the identifier of T-140 on it. Do you have any idea whats going to happen?"
Liz shook her head. "Not a clue, but I think it will be fast." She walked over to her friend and embraced her tightly. "Remember, keep Roger away from my condo." She kissed Randi and turned to walk toward the tavern. The doctor followed, but not too close. No sense in two people getting sucked through. Besides, she thought she had a plan to retrieve Liz. To do that, she had to stay behind.
Liz approached the tavern. The crystal now had a definite vibration emanating from it. The air seemed charged around her. The sky danced with activity. There was a distortion forming near the center of the area. This was it. She turned to look at Randi. It was as if a hazy wall was around her. She couldnt distinguish anything outside it. That included the look of sheer terror on Randis face. She took a breath and stepped toward the rip. She had only a fleeting second to realize the fabric of her existence had disappeared. She lost consciousness thinking, Shit, this hurts!
Randi wasnt prepared for what she had just witnessed. One second Liz was there and then she wasnt. "Oh, my, God, it worked." There was too much to do for hysterics. She sprinted back to the camp to work on her plan. She had to call Roger immediately. Overhead, the sky was ripped with wrath of God lightning. She needed to get inside.
Xena had been sleeping next to Gabrielle since they arrived. The bard had stirred but never regained consciousness. Amoria and Hippocrates had watched her very carefully. A hand gently shook the warriors shoulder. It was Amoria.
"Its time, Xena. Shes here."
Startled, Xena jumped up. "Where?"
"Shes nearby, you must go get her. Theres not much time for either of them."
A gigantic flash of charged electrons suddenly illuminated the room.
Xena was already gathering her sword and charkam. "Where, old woman, where do I look?" Her impatience was showing.
"North of the village, on the road here. She is in danger. Remember, Xena, she has to do this."
"Ive got that, all right. Ill find her and bring her here. Im not totally inept."
She walked over to Gabrielle. Xena brushed the hair from her face. "Just a bit longer, my sleeping beauty. Ill be right back. Stay with me, Gabrielle, please." She placed a warm kiss to her sleeping lips before turning to leave.
Xena stopped at the door and spoke to Amoria. "This had better work, seer. I can assure you if anything happens to Gabrielle, I will personally make that woman pay." She left and mounted the waiting Argo without further word. "Yah..." She engaged the steed into a full gallop before leaving the edge of the village.
Amoria watched her ride out of sight. She spoke softly. "If this doesnt work, we all will pay, Xena."
A low frequency vibration shattered the quietness of the early evening. The distortion appeared in the middle of the road. From its center, a body was unceremoniously ejected. Liz was still unconscious, lying in plain view. The sight of a lone traveler, in obvious distress, was all the trio needed. They had been in the brush relieving themselves, and had missed the real show.
Grackus peered at the form in the road. "Hey, where did that come from? He wasnt there a few minutes ago." Cautiously, he checked for any others lurking about. It could be a trap. Satisfied the traveler was alone, he motioned for his comrades. "Lookie what we have here, boys, easy pickins. And from the dress on that one, Id say wealthy pickins. Lets have a closer look." He started toward Liz. His buddies, however, werent too sure.
"Grackus, maybe we should be careful. He might not be alone...you know bandits." Kurris was hesitant about approaching the lifeless body.
The larger man stopped and spoke. "Kurris, you idiot, we are bandits. Now you and Centius get your butts over here and help me before he comes around. With any luck, I wont have to slit his throat." The trio made their way to Liz. She was lying face down, and from all physical indications, could have been a small-framed male. Grackus put a boot under her side and rolled her over. He looked at her face and tried to remember where they had met before. She looked very familiar. Kurris was the first to state the obvious.
"Its a girl, Grackus."
Centius threw a open palm slap across his shoulder. "No kidding, genius. What was your first clue?" Kurris fended off the punch and shoved Centius in the chest. "Hey, knock it off! Im warning you, Centius."
Grackus walked over to the sparring men and gave each a swat on the head. "Both of you cut it out! You can do that later. Right now we have a little extra entertainment for our dinar."
Liz was hearing voices, faintly at first, then more clear. There was an argument of sorts going on near her. She opened her eyes and realized she was lying on the ground. This is not good, she thought. She had not materialized in Daedalius. She hoped it was nearby. This was, however, not the most pressing issue. Slowly, she pushed herself to a sitting position. She was looking at the back of a brutish man. He was verbally abusing two other men.
"Now you two tie up our guest and dont give me any more lip. You got that?" Kurris was staring past Grackus and looking into Lizs blue eyes. His inattention wasnt lost on Grackus. "Kurris! Are you listening to me? You are such a moron." He started toward Kurris to give him a shot, but Centius grabbed his arm and pointed in Lizs direction. He turned and faced the traveler.
"Well well look whos up. Have a nice nap? "
These men seemed familiar to her, but maybe they all looked alike in this time. The trio spread out in a defensive manner. As Kurris took his place, the pronounced limp in his stride jogged her memory. It couldnt be...but it was. This was three of the same group she and Gabrielle had encountered and thrashed. The word payback popped into her head. She was hoping they wouldnt remember especially Kurris. She had definitely ruined his knee and foot.
Internally, she went over her options. She checked for the whip. It was nowhere to be found on her person. She had gotten separated from it during the transfer. It could be anywhere. Besides, it would be of little use against these three. She thought about running but she didnt think she could stand let alone outrun the men. Her last option was to just go with the flow and offer little resistance. The key was to survive whatever they had in mind. She would deal with the psychology of it later. Grackus was peering intently at her now. A flicker of recognition lit his face. It was about to get ugly.
His lip curled and a sneer settled on his face. "Wheres your little friend, bitch?"
Liz fought for control. This was not the time for a snappy comeback. "What little friend?"
Grackus caught her side with the toe of his boot. She doubled over barely suppressing a scream of pain. "You know, the blonde with the staff."
Liz was on all fours trying to catch her breath when the second kick turned her on her back.
Grackus continued the interrogation. "You remember now, bitch? Youre not so brave without your sidekick, are you? "
Liz realized they were going to beat the crap out of her, so she let it fly. What the hell, go out in style. Struggling to stand, she replied, "You must have me confused for another bitch. Im sure Id remember that foul stench. Oh, and I was the sidekick, not the blonde."
Kurris was slow, but the light finally went on. He remembered the smart talking, dark-haired woman who broke his foot and screwed up his knee. It was definitely payback time. He pushed Grackus out of the way and faced Liz. Drawing back, he landed a full blow to the solar plexus, doubling her over. "That is for breaking my foot. And this is for my knee." He threw a right cross, catching Lizs nose and lip, snapping her head back. A merciful blackness folded around her. Her last conscious thought was, Im sorry, Gabrielle.
Xena pushed Argo along the road. What had Amoria meant by she was in danger? How could she be in danger, she just got here. The sky was dancing with lightning. Argo was not a happy steed. They rounded a curve in the road and spied something off to the side. She pulled the war-horse to a stop and dismounted. There caught in the brush was a piece of clothing, a green robe of some sort. The fabric was quite unlike anything Xena had ever felt. Looking at Argo, she theorized. "Well, girl, looks like she made it. But why would she leave this here? " The warrior scanned the area for any other clues. The handle of the whip was barely visible under a bush. She retrieved the leather strap and gave it a test ride. She expertly split the air with a crisp...craaack! "Hmmmm not bad." A few more deft throws separated the leaves on the bush from their branches. "Passable, a little heavy, but good quality leather. Now, where is she Argo? This doesnt feel right." She put the robe and whip in her saddlebag. The steed nodded in agreement and raked the ground with her front hoof. Taking the reins, Xena walked the road in front of her. It didnt take long for her to come upon the signs of a struggle in the dirt.
She eyed the tracks and reconstructed the possible chain of events. There were prints belonging to three grown men and one of a smaller person. There had been a struggle. From the tracks the smaller individual came out on the short end, she had been surrounded. A small pool of blood indicated perhaps a broken nose or split lip. There wasnt enough to signal a sword wound. "At least she was alive when they dragged her off, girl." The tracks would be easy to follow. She mounted Argo and trailed the group. It was getting darker and the celestial activity was picking up.
"Cmon girlie, wake up." Grackus threw a cup of water in Lizs face. She blinked her eyes open to find his disgusting features not a foot from her. Her arms were suspended over her head, wrists tied so tight, the feeling had left her hands. She was sick to her stomach and her head was killing her. Her feet were barely able to touch the ground. She was sure her ribs were fractured by the difficulty in breathing. Figuring they were going to kill her anyway, she spat in his face. "Go to hell, you knuckle-dragging, cousin-marrying, piece of genetic slag."
Grackus just laughed and backhanded her. The blow widened the split on her lip and produced a stream of warm, bright blood. "Thats right, the more fire the better. It wouldnt be any fun if you didnt fight. Aint that right, boys?"
Liz felt like pushing the toad further. She spit the red cells out of her mouth in his general direction. "Hey, Godzilla, didnt there used to be four of you guys? Wheres the missing link?"
He wheeled around and smiled. "Oh, you mean Thaddius? Seems you cracked his skull and well he just wasnt the same after that. So I put him out of his misery and ours..right?" He was laughing along with Kurris and Centius. She realized Grackus had killed his comrade because of the injuries Liz had inflicted on him. This wasnt funny anymore. It may be an alternate dimension, but it had been deadly real to Thaddius. She wanted to throw up. Grackus grabbing her face in his meaty hand disturbed her private discomfort.
"But enough reminiscing about the good old days. Lets talk about the present, shall we? I want you to know exactly what were going to do to you. Id hate for you to miss anything. First, the boys and I are going to take our pleasure." He was rubbing the bulge in his pants to make his point clear. " Its been a long time since we had such a captive audience. And when were through, Im turning you over to Kurris. I think he has a rather personal score to settle. And after that well I think Ill kill you. So what do you think of my little plan?"
A throaty voice spoke behind them. "I think this is a very bad plan especially for you, Grackus." Liz turned her head. As if on cue, a huge flash of lightning outlined the most impressive woman shed ever seen. She had never been so relieved in her life, but didnt want to convey that to the warrior. "What took you so long?"
A flash of irritation crossed Xenas face. "I was busy collecting your things. Youre a messy traveler." She had the whip in one hand and her chakram in the other. As Grackus charged, she let the disk fly. Its initial trajectory severed the rope suspending Liz, dropping her to the ground. Its return path caught Centius in the back of the head, rendering him useless. It finally flew into the hand of the warrior. The pain in Lizs side was intense, but not immobilizing. She quickly loosened the loop on her wrists. She stood and looked for something to fight with.
Kurris was nearest her, but all his attention was focused on Xena. He started toward the warrior and Liz stuck her foot out, successfully tripping him. Xena let loose the familiar war cry. Liz understood how the sound of it could send a chill up your spine. It had a very primeval feel to it. At the same time she vaulted over the enraged Grackus in a perfect forward somersault. Somewhere in mid-flight, she tossed Liz the whip. "Know how to use this?" Liz caught it, handle first. "No, but Ill improvise."
Kurris had regained his footing and unsheathed his sword. He turned toward Liz. There was a murderous look in his eye. He limped forward intent on running her through. Liz cocked her wrist, thinking just be a queen, and let fly the business end of the strap. At the right moment, she snapped it back. It found its target, the face of Kurris. At first, it appeared nothing had happened. Then a bright red line burst forth on his face as the flesh peeled away. She couldnt have done a better job with a modern scalpel. Kurris dropped to one knee, holding his bleeding face. Liz took full advantage of his position. She kicked his face as hard as she could, sending him on his back, unconscious. She hoped Xena had control of Grackus. She wasnt in any condition to swing or kick another thing. It was a stupid thought.
Xena was toying with Grackus. He was lunging at her and she was sidestepping easily. There was a look of pure enjoyment in her eyes. She obviously loved this crap. She finally tired of her inept opponent and retired him with a well-timed blow to the head. She hadnt broken a sweat. That left the two women to eye one another. Liz was a mess, her lip split and swollen, her nose probably broken as well as her ribs. Xena posed a rather commanding presence. She was magnificent. Liz could see how Gabrielle could be attracted to her. The warrior was quite awe-inspiring.
Without an introduction, Xena started in on her. "You couldnt steer clear of trouble until I got here? You do know whats at stake, dont you? This isnt some game...." She hesitated like she was trying to spit out something distasteful "...Liz. This is Gabrielles life."
What thought Liz might have had about thanking Xena evaporated. She stared the warrior dead in the eye. "Excuse me, but do I look like Ive been having a good time?" She was applying pressure to her bleeding nose and lip. "Besides, I didnt know you were coming. Jeez, whatever we dont have time for this. Wheres Gabrielle? "
Xena had already turned toward the road and Argo. "Shes with Amoria and Hippocrates in Daedalius. We have to hurry. Did you bring the key?"
Liz was becoming short-tempered. Pain had a way of doing that to her. "Key? You mean the crystal? Oh, gosh, let me see...gee...must have left it in my other pants. Of course I have it with me! " She did her best to catch up with the long-legged warrior. It was hard, as her breathing was becoming very labored. Xena was already astride the war-horse when Liz cleared the brush. Looking at the mare, she understood why Gabrielle preferred to walk. Argo was a good fifteen hands at the withers and was very broad. A spectacular animal but very high off the ground. If it werent for the urgency, she would have walked. Xena put a hand out to pull Liz aboard behind her. She nearly passed out from the effort, but maintained her silence. She kept the mission in the forefront of her mind that and nothing else. Xena had two words for her. "Hang on!"
Liz was doing her best to fall into rhythm with Argo, but every stride was sheer agony for her. Even holding Xena tightly wasnt easing her discomfort. Finally the pain won. "Xena, please slow down some. I cant take much more pounding." At first, Xena ignored her and just spurred Argo harder. Liz decided shed had enough. She raised her voice in the warriors ear. "Thats it! Stop the horse, Im getting off!"
Argo only slowed slightly. Xena spoke to her over her shoulder. "You are not getting off. I wont allow you to jeopardize Gabrielles life any further. Now, shut up, before I shut you up!" The sky erupted in pyrotechnics.
Liz simply turned loose of Xena and fell backward, Argos rear hooves barely missing her head. At least she was off the mares back. It took Xena a few more strides before she realized she had lost her passenger. She turned the steed to retrieve Liz. Her rage was at the surface. Amorias warning be damned. She dismounted before Argo fully stopped and came face to face with Liz. She was seething. Grabbing Liz by the shoulders, she made a point with pressure. "What do you think youre doing? You know time is the issue here. Now get on Argo before I..."
Mentally, Liz tossed in the towel. She jerked free of the warriors grasp. "Before you do what? Kill me? Please go ahead...put me out of my misery!" Liz stood facing Xena, arms out-stretched. "Whats your problem. Xena? Why do you really think I came here...to try and take Gabrielle from you? In case you havent noticed, this isnt exactly on my way to anywhere. I had to cross half of my known world, seriously deplete my dinars andinflict emotional pain on those who love me. And you wanna know the best part? I cant even go home. Nope, this is a one way trip for me. So if you think this is all about hitting the pallets, youre even denser than I imagined."
Xenas rage subsided a bit. "If all that is true, why would you sacrifice everything for Gabrielle?"
Liz was very direct. "God, youre big but very slow, Xena. I dont expect you to understand this, but I had to. I owe her my life." Liz reached under her shirt and withdrew the glowing crystal. She took it over her head and tossed it to Xena. The warrior caught it in mid-flight. "Here, this is all you need. Its the only reason Im here anyway. Take it. Amoria will know what to do. You dont need me for this. I hurt too bad to get back on that horse. And Im not going to. Oh, and by the way, Im not afraid of you. So you can save all the seething and glaring. It just doesnt work on me. In short, screw you and the horse you rode in on. Sorry Argo. "
Xena looked at the crystal and then at Liz. The visitor was in obvious discomfort. She started toward her. "Youre right about one thing. We dont have time for this." Without further warning she rapped Liz on the head, dropping her to the ground. Xena picked her up and placed her on Argo. As she clucked the mare forward, she spoke to her limp companion. "Sorry, but I do need you."
Within the hour, they were in Daedalius. The storm was getting fiercer. Xena met a disapproving Amoria as she carried Liz into the hut.
"Dont ask, its a long story. Where do you want her?"
"Put her over here on the pallet with Gabrielle. Do you have the key? "
Continued - Part 3
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