DISCLAIMERS: Please see "Step 1" for specific disclaimers.

COMMENTS: Feedback is always welcomed. "DJWP" <poorldl@earthlink.net>





The door burst open and Chemeclees lifted his head at the sound. He expected the guards to be dragging Gabrielle into the laboratory.

Instead, he watched the bard calmly walk in, followed quickly by two guards who had obviously been running to keep up with her.

"Chemeclees!" Gabrielle smiled and breathed a sigh of relief, "Thank the gods, you’re all right."

"Get in there, you!" One of the guards barked as he rushed in behind the bard.

"I’m already in." Gabrielle huffed, rolling her eyes. Then lost her smile as her green eyes took in the young apprentice. He was standing against the cold stone wall, wrists level with his head and chained in place by rusty, iron manacles.

"He didn’t hurt you, did he?" Gabrielle asked, concerned for the boy’s welfare.

Chemeclees shook his head, "Not yet. No one’s been in here......’til now."

Gabrielle nodded in relief, "Good!" Then she turned to face the guards.

"You know, your king has a strange way of treating his subjects. Do you have any idea at all what’s been going on in this laboratory?"

"Shut up and get against that wall." The other guard ordered.

"Aren’t you the least bit curious what’s been going on here?" The bard pressed on as both guards pulled her against the wall and began to fasten her wrists. Gabrielle looked along the wall and noticed there were more than two sets of manacles adorning the stone.

"Just how many people have you brought in here, anyway?"

The guards ignored her, but one began to look at the other sets of manacles that lined the wall warily.

"Did you ever come back in to escort them out? Anyone ever leave here to go to jail?" Gabrielle continued.

"Once you brought ‘em in, has anyone ever left? Or did they just disappear?"

The guards finished their work and stepped back.

"Haven’t you ever wondered what happened to all the people you dragged in here and chained to this wall at your king’s orders?" Gabrielle stared at both men, daring them to think.

One guard looked at the other with apprehension. The taller of the two just shrugged.

"No wonder you never found a trace of the missing villagers." Gabrielle snorted, "the last place you would look would be the palace, right? The last person you’d suspect would be the king! Right?"

"What are you saying?" The more skeptical of the two guards asked.

"I’m saying that your king is mixed up with that old alchemist Paracelsus, and together they’ve been conducting experiments...... using the good people of this city.......your friends.....your neighbors.....as ingredients in those experiments."

The guards looked at each other.

"AND YOU’VE BEEN HELPING THEM!" Gabrielle finally yelled, hoping they would see the light.

"You’re crazy." The taller guard laughed. The shorter guard eyed the bard skeptically.

"Come on, let’s get back to our post." The taller man pulled the other by the shoulder and together they left the laboratory. Not before the smaller of the two guards took one last look back at the bard, obviously thinking about what she had been saying.

"It’s true. Please, talk to your captain. We have proof." Gabrielle implored.

The smaller man nodded and closed the door, leaving the bard feeling a whole lot better about things than she had all morning.

Gabrielle looked at Chemeclees and smiled.

The boy smiled back.

"Good going, Gabrielle."

"Don’t worry, Chemeclees. Xena and Naderus are rallying the villagers together at this very moment. They’re probably on their way here right now."

Chemeclees nodded and smiled weakly.

"I just hope they get here before the king does."

Gabrielle shrugged. "What can he do to us?"

Chemeclees motioned around the laboratory with nervous eyes, bringing to Gabrielle’s attention the myriad of flasks, chemicals and strange, bubbling fluids that filled the room with an irritating odor.

"Plenty." The boy gulped.

The bard’s eyes fell upon the extremely large and ominous black, iron cauldron sitting on the fire of the hearth, slowly simmering it’s vile green contents.

"Let’s not even think about that." was Gabrielle’s response, "Xena will get us out of this. I know it."

Chemeclees’s thoughts drifted to Paracelsus’s creation, the homunculus that was now Xena and what he had read in the alchemist’s notes. He looked over at the bard and resisted the urge to tell the storyteller that her friend now held the power to, not only get them out of this, but she could probably destroy them all.



Continued in Step 16


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