Full Circle: The Tale of Si’ian and Maiandria

Book One: WINTER

By: Susanne M. Beck (SwordnQuill)

Disclaimers: The characters in this novel are of my own creation but will most definitely bear a strong resemblance to the wonderful characters created for us by RenPics and the beautiful actresses who brought them to life for us. The story itself is owned and copyrighted by yours truly (that being moi) and may not be shared without my express permission, and so forth, and such like that there stuff.

Subtext Disclaimer: Yup, there’s that too. This piece deals with the love and physical expression of that love, between two adult females. There are some graphic scenes located within this piece, but I have tried to make them as tasteful as possible so as to not offend anyone’s sensibilities. Let me know if I’ve succeeded.

Genre Disclaimer: I’m taking a bit of a turn here from my usual "present day" ubers to give you one that is in the past. Way in the past. Way way in the . . .well, you get the picture. I like to think of this as a "pre" Uber. Detailing, after a fashion, the lives of Xena and Gabrielle before they were Xena and Gabrielle. Heck, sounded like a fun thing to do at the time. J

Important Pronunciation Disclaimer: The name of one of the lead characters, as noted in the title of this here piece, is Si’ian. The correct pronunciation—for reasons which will become evident as this novel progresses-- is "sigh-ann", better known as "Cyane".

Serialization Disclaimer: Like Topsy, this story just growed. It’s hit over 300 pages and they’ve just started. For this reason, I’ve decided to break it up into four books, named for the seasons that they travel in. All four books will be direct sequels of one another, continuing the journeys of these women until they reach their ultimate destination. This first book, Spring, is complete, down to the last punctuation mark. I will be posting it, as I always do, in parts, one part a night until it’s done.

Feeback: As always is more than welcomed. You can reach me at Swordnquil@aol.com  with any comments, questions, concerns and/or criticisms.


Part 9

Maiandria laughed as she shook the snow from the inside of her jerkin. Malika flashed her a wicked grin, then ducked as Maia’s return salvo just missed its mark.

"Hey!" Asimi shouted, wiping the snow from her face and flicking it at Mali’s broad back. "Watch were you’re aiming those things, will ya?"

"Sorry!" Maia shouted, though her expression was anything but. She’d been the butt of good natured pranks all day long, and she was happy to finally be giving as good as she got.

Tilting her head back, she looked up into the pale blue sky, and spread her arms wide as if to embrace the sun. It was a beautiful day, and all felt right with her world. She had woken up shortly after Si’ian had left, and went willingly with Asimi to help the camp prepare for the upcoming blizzard.

Somehow, she’d wound up repairing holes in the skins covering the huts, together with Asimi, Malika, and a large group of women of all backgrounds and skill levels.

The mood of the camp was quite jovial, and everyone, it seemed, wanted to touch, smile, or speak to her. She felt an incredible sense of connection with all the women, and it lightened her heart immeasurably to see them working so closely and well with one another.

No arguments or anger marred the perfection of the day or the work they were doing, and Maia’s happy smile was as broad as the horizon.

"C’mon, little dreamer," Mali’s warm voice intoned. "The day’s moving along, and we’ve got at least a dozen more huts to fix."

"Watch who you’re calling ‘little’," Maia replied with a mock scowl.

Mali grinned. "Well, the only one around here right now smaller than you is Asimi, but she’s got a big ball of snow in her hands, and I just cleaned out my furs."

"I can rectify that," Maia returned, smirking.

"I’m sure you can. Question is, do you really want to?"

"Keep calling me ‘little’ and you’ll find out."

Laughing, Mali slid her arm across Maia’s shoulders and steered them both in the direction of the next hut.

Maia took only two steps when a monstrous bolt of pain seared through her abdomen. Groaning, she bent at the waist as her arms came up of their own accord and crossed over her belly.

"Maia? Maia what’s wrong?" Mali asked.

"I don’t know," Maia gasped. "I . . . ."

The pain hit again, this time in her spine. Its blinding intensity drove the strength from her legs and the breath from her lungs. Wheezing, she fell bonelessly to her back on the snow-packed ground, frightened eyes wide and staring at the sky above her.

Mali dropped to her knees and grabbed her friend’s shoulder, shaking it. "Maia?! What is it? What’s happening?"

Her mouth frozen in a horrid grimace of agony, Maia couldn’t answer. Her lungs were paralyzed; her whole body frozen. Her eyes rolled back in her head as a white-hot spike lanced through her, searing everything it touched. Her fingers hooked, of their own volition, into vulture’s claws tearing mindlessly at her clothing and the flesh beneath.

Feeling a terror she’d never before experienced, Mali looked up at one of the concerned faces suddenly gathered around her. "You! Get Yanit! Run!!"

Startled out of her gaping stare, the young woman did as she was told. Another body filled the void where she’d been standing a heartbeat before.

"What’s going on?" Asimi asked, coming to her knees beside Mali and staring down at Maia.

"I don’t know," the Hun bit off, as close to panic as she’d ever been in her life. "I don’t know. Maia, please, talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong. Please."

Mali’s voice was far away, her words indistinct, but Maia clung to them as to a lifeline, struggling with everything in her to stay conscious against the incredible onslaught of agony searing through her in unceasing waves.

Shield! her mind screamed in desperation, instinctively knowing that what was happening was not originating within her, but rather from somewhere—someone—else. Shield!

She tried, using Malika’s voice to center her thoughts.

The pain lessened slightly, and with that lessening, a realization came. A realization which brought with it agony redoubled, trebled, at its simple, devastating truth.

"Si’ian!" she gasped, her voice weaker even than a gentle breath of air.

"What?" Mali asked, leaning closer. "What did you say, Mali?"


"Si’ian? Maia, she isn’t here. She’s . . . ." Realization then came for the Hun chief as well, and she shot to her feet, her face drained of all color. "By the goddess, no," she moaned.

"What?!" Asimi demanded, also rising. "What’s going on?"

"Si’ian," Mali half sobbed. "Get Qian Xi. Now!"

"Qian Xi? Why?" The small Egyptian grabbed Mali’s arm, shaking it. "Why Qian Xi, Mali? What’s going on!"

"It’s Si’ian!" Mali snarled, shaking off the hand that held her. "Get Qian Xi, damn you!!"

Shaken, and still not understanding, Asimi turned in the direction of Qian Xi’s hut, only to be stopped by a slight Asian woman who nearly bowled her over.

"Please," the young woman gasped, her breathing heavy. "Please, help me. Something is wrong with Qian Xi. She needs help. Please."

Asimi whirled back to Mali, who’d dropped back down to her knees and was cradling Maia gently against her body. "In the name of the goddess, what is going on here?!?" she thundered, face red with anger and confusion.

"Something has happened to my sister."

The crowd parted as if by the intent of invisible hands, and Qian Xi walked through the empty space. Her face pale as death, she seemed to have aged ten full harvests in one day. Her hands, normally steady as the earth, trembled, and her shoulders were slumped as if carrying a burden far heavier than the mountain upon which they were standing.

Coming slowly to her knees, she reached out and laid a hand directly over Maia’s heart. "Find her, Maiandria" she whispered, deliberately drawing some of the pain from her companion and into her already overflowing store. "Please. Find her and bring her home."

The sudden feeling of relief was, paradoxically, almost as painful as the agony had been. Maia struggled to keep focused, unknowingly pulling strength from the spirits of the two women touching her as she did so.

Sensing Maia’s need to move, Mali stood and helped her friend to her feet, keeping a steadying hand at the smaller woman’s elbow until she was sure she could stand under her own power. At Maia’s nod, Mali’s hand dropped away, and she took a small step back, sharp eyes assessing the young woman’s every movement.

Though somewhat dampened, the pain was still there. This time, Maia welcomed it, for as long as there was pain, there was life. And as long as there was life, there was hope.

And hope was all she had.

Determination blazed from her eyes as she reached out and grasped Qian Xi’s chilled hand. "I’ll find her. And I’ll bring her home. I promise."

It was a promise she intended to keep.

Qian Xi nodded, and drew strength from Maiandria’s touch, some color making its way back to her cheeks. "Thank you," she whispered.

The crowd parted again, this time to admit Yanit and one of the Huns who had manned the trail. "There’s been an avalanche," the warrior announced, breathless from her hard run. "It buried Si’ian. We need help to find her."

Before the young woman had even finished her sentence, Maia was off and running in the direction of the trail. The crowd of onlookers surged forward to follow, but were stopped by Malika’s raised hand. "Yanit, help Qian Xi into the hospice. Asimi, find my warriors and collect two dozen of them. Have them bring digging tools and ropes. Tell them of the avalanche. They’ll know what to do from there." Taking a step away from the pressing crowd, she turned to face them fully. "The rest of you, stay here. The best way you can help us is to send your strength to the searchers, and to Si’ian."

Several women grumbled their displeasure, but were quickly silenced by a sharp look from the Hun chief.

"Alright then. Let’s get to it."


Mali finally caught up with Maia only a few feet from the trail’s beginning. Much to her surprise, the mountainside was literally teaming with able bodies, most of them Czigany men and women who were wearing rather odd contraptions on their feet and seemingly gliding over the deep snow rather than sinking into it. It became quickly obvious that avalanches were nothing new to them. They had fanned out in orderly search parties and were patiently, but quickly, searching through the snow for any sign of the fallen warrior.

Mali managed to clamp a hand down on Maia’s shoulder just as the smaller woman was preparing to jump down onto what little remained of the trail. "Hold on," she said, panting slightly from her run. "In some places, this snow is higher than your head."

"I don’t care," Maia replied, not bothering to look anywhere save straight ahead. "She’s down there, Mali. And I’m going to bring her back."

"I know, Maia, but look out in front of you. That’s an entire mountain of snow you’re looking at. She could be anywhere. You can’t just go running in there blind."

Maia shook her head once, sharply. "I know exactly where she is. I can feel her. Inside me. Now let me go, Mali, or I’ll drag you down with me."

Mali felt a tap on her own shoulder, and turned her head to see a smiling, heavily bearded man with two sets of strange footwear in his hands. Bowing slightly, he offered them to her, and she released her grip on Maia to take them. "Thank you…Maia, wait!"

Nimble fingers managed to snag the back of Maia’s cloak just before she once again tried to jump into the fray. The look Malika received for her efforts might well have felled a woman of lesser fortitude.

"Just another heartbeat, Maia. Look, we’ve got these. . .things . . .to put on our feet. We can walk on the snow like Czigany instead of sinking into it. We’ll get to Si’ian a lot faster if you just take a second to at least put them on."

Shaking herself away from the Hun’s grip, Maia grabbed the proffered footwear and quickly slipped her soft boots beneath the worn leather straps. She rose back to her feet, then almost toppled over the cliff as the unfamiliar footwear changed her center of balance.

The trader who’d given them the snowshoes hurried forward and bowed slightly to Maia. "Like this, Miss, see?" With that, he stepped down from the cliff and landed very lightly in the snow. Taking slow, exaggerated shuffle-steps, he taught Maia how to walk without stumbling or stepping out of the shoes.

"Thank you," Maia said, grateful for the lessons. A heartbeat later, she was gone, too fast for Mali to even think of stopping her.

Mali understood, however, for the same urgency gripped her. Nodding her thanks to the helpful trader, she quickly followed after her friend, her mind sending up a litany of prayers to Gaia for Si’ian’s swift recovery from her mountain tomb.

Maia’s thoughts were focused on one thing, and one thing only. And as the searchers watched her determined march toward a specific point off to her left and very near the bottom of the mountain, they ended their own searches and began to move in her direction, somehow knowing that she would lead them to where they needed to be.

She could feel Si’ian’s life force within her, leading her onward as if a cord tethered the two of them so tightly together that they could never be broken apart.

The worn strap on her snowshoe came free and, tucking herself into a ball, she tumbled the short distance to the bottom. Regaining her equilibrium, she came to her knees and frantically began to dig at the soft snow much as a dog would dig to uncover a bone it had buried.

So intent was she that she didn’t notice when the others joined her in her desperate quest. Her hands became quickly numb, but she didn’t notice that either. She just kept digging like as if possessed, desperate for some small sign of the woman she loved.

The others didn’t try to interfere. Instead, they formed a wide circle around her and began to dig as well, with hands and flat wooden spades they’d brought with them for this purpose. Many hands made for quick work, and it wasn’t long before a wide, fairly deep circle had been dug into the snow.

Unfortunately, there was still no sign of the fallen warrior.

Maia began to doubt herself; began to doubt the feeling in her soul that told her Si’ian was near. Perhaps it was merely her desperation talking, her need to believe that Si’ian was still alive. She knew that grief could play powerful tricks on the mind and body.

Fear ran through her. Fear that she was wrong, and that people were taking up valuable time on a mistaken feeling. Perhaps Si’ian was lying somewhere else, her life slowly leaking into the snow while they looked for her here. Dying. Alone.

A strong hand, red and icy from the snow, came down on her shoulder. "She’s here," Mali’s voice, firm with conviction, floated into her ear. "I know it. We’ll find her."

Sniffing back tears threatening to fall, Maia nodded and continued digging until she felt her progress impeded by . . .something. Her hands were too numb to tell the difference between rock, wood or flesh, but something was there.

Her heart raced. "I’ve found something," she murmured, trying to brush the snow away from whatever she’d encountered.

"Wait," Mali interrupted, grabbing a spade from one of her warriors and jumping into the hole. "Let me."

Turning the spade to the side, she used the dull wooden edge to carefully smooth the snow from the place where Maia’s hand had been. The crowd gasped as the gentle prodding revealed a tuft of snow-packed, frozen fur. Mali grunted. "Alright," she said, looking up into the concerned faces, "you and you, get down here with me. We’re going to gently dig the snow out from around her without moving her. Gently, you understand?"

The two warriors nodded and jumped down into the hole, followed quickly by Maia, who silenced Mali’s protest with a look.

It seemed an eternity before Si’ian’s body was finally revealed. The warrior had come to rest on her left side; her body in a fetal position, legs tucked up, head bowed. The snow around her was stained red with her blood, and several times her rescuers had to stop and collect themselves before they could go on.

"Alright," Malika announced, her voice trembling slightly, "we’re going to turn her onto her back. Maia, you get her head, make sure it turns with the rest of her body. You two, get her legs. Don’t straighten them. We don’t know what her injuries are yet, so be very careful. I’ll take her trunk. On the count of three. Ready?"

Three white faces nodded back at her, and she slowly counted off as hands gently reached under Si’ian’s frozen body. On the third count, they gently rolled the warrior to her back.

Maia clenched her teeth and swallowed back the bile that came into her throat. Her eyes felt suddenly hot, stinging with fresh tears, but she refused to let them fall. She needed to be strong, now more than ever.

Others, lacking her strength, gasped and looked away, hands covering their mouths.

Si’ian’s left side had borne the brunt of her injuries. The tight, soaked leather of her leggings bulged in several places along her leg. Her foot was rotated at an impossible angle relative to the rest of the limb. A white shaft of splintered bone poked through the material high above her knee.

Blood painted her jerkin from her breastbone down to her waist, and her chest had an odd caved-in look that bespoke several crushed ribs, or worse. Her hand was mangled almost beyond recognition, and her arm, like her leg, was badly fractured, the skin macerated and bleeding heavily.

Only her face seemed spared, though there were two heavily bleeding cuts, one at her hairline and the other just below her left eye. Beneath the thick mass of her hair, Maia could feel no deformities, but as her hands were by now totally useless, she couldn’t be sure.

Looking up, she met Malika’s eyes steadily. She could see that her friend was struggling just to hold herself together. "We need to get her to Qian Xi and the Sheas," she said, voice as firm as she could manage. Inside, she was screaming with anger and horror. With a ruthlessness she hadn’t believed herself capable of, she shoved the feelings down deep within her and concentrated solely on the task at hand.

Saving Si’ian’s life.

After a moment, Mali nodded, then gestured to two of her warriors, who’d appeared carrying a crude, but strong, litter between them. Displacing two of the diggers, the warriors jumped into the trench and laid the litter down beside the grievously injured woman. Without words, the warriors gently lifted Si’ian and placed her into the litter, then stripped off their own furs and lay them on top of the warrior to warm her.

At Maia’s nod, they stood and carefully lifted her over the lip of the deep trench and onto a hastily dug trail. Maia followed quickly, and came along the right side of the litter. Though her hands were blocks of useless ice, she reached beneath the furs for any contact with the Si’ian. Closing her eyes, she willed her last ounce of strength into the woman clinging to life by the most slender of cords.

Standing to the left of the litter, Malika did the same, and together the two women wove a web of their own strength over the failing life of their beloved friend.

The group moved forward as swiftly as they could. By twos and threes, the searchers joined them, forming a guard of honor for their fallen leader.

It was the most solemn procession any of them could ever remember seeing.


The hospice was overwarm and brightly lit, and the litter-bearers entered it on a run. Yanit was there to take charge and directed them to the center of the room, where a large wooden table, covered with soft furs, stood waiting.

The warriors laid the litter on the floor, gently lifted the unconscious form of Si’ian up onto the table, then quickly stepped away, awaiting their next command.

"I want everyone but Maiandria, Malika and Asimi to leave now," Yanit ordered, her face drawn and tense. "Have two women guard the entrance. No one is to pass through unless they are in urgent need of us. No one. Is that understood?"

The warriors nodded, then quickly left.

"Where’s Qian Xi?" Mali asked, dark eyes searching the hospice for some sign of Si’ian’s sister.

"Preparing herself. I need you to step back out of the way so that I can examine her. Maiandria, remain where you are if you can. Si’ian will have need of you."

Both women nodded, accepting the Shea’s control of the situation. Mali quietly stepped around the table and removed Maia’s soaked furs, bearing them away toward a spot near the fire circle so they would dry quickly in the event they were needed, and then returning to her side.

Yanit and her compatriots stepped up to the table and began to quickly, but carefully, strip Si’ian of her clothing. Most of it needed to be cut away in strips and peeled gently away from the macerated flesh beneath. This was done efficiently and without comment or hesitation.

Soon, the warrior’s body lay bare beneath the intense scrutiny of the four Sheas. Maia could feel Malika trembling behind her, not violently to be sure, but she could feel it nonetheless. Tears rolled silently down her own face, and though she wanted more than anything to close her eyes against the vision of her beloved’s shattered body, she forced herself to stare, unblinking, as each new, horrible, injury was uncovered.

"Merciful Isis," Asimi moaned as the Sheas removed Si’ian’s jerkin, revealing a chest which appeared completely crushed. "How does she even continue to breathe?"

"If you can contribute no more than that, Asimi," Yanit said, glaring at the young Egyptian warrior, "leave now. There is no place for you here."

Chastened, Asimi swallowed hard, nodded an apology, and remained where she was standing.

"Good. Now I suggest all of you lower your shields as much as is possible for you to do so and send whatever strength you have to this woman. She will need it, now more than ever."

Gritting her teeth against the agony of her slowly warming hands, Maia bravely met Yanit’s intense, dark eyes. "Can I touch her?" she whispered.

"Yes. Anywhere she is not injured."

Taking in a deep breath, Maia reached out and laid slightly trembling fingers on Si’ian’s cold, waxen cheek, stroking tenderly. "Si’ian," she whispered, "I’m here. Can you feel me? I’m here. We’re all here. We all love you, and we want you to come back to us. Please. Please fight to come back." She swallowed back the hot tears scalding her throat. "You’re not alone, my love. We’re all here with you."

Finally closing her eyes, she lowered her shields, intent on giving her very soul to Si’ian. Their spirits touched. Love and warmth spread over them, before it was quickly snatched away by a force far darker and far stronger than Maia had ever experienced. She shivered. It was cold. So very cold.

Si’ian! she cried out in her mind, frantically searching for her beloved’s kindred touch, needing to feel the warming energy again to keep from freezing and shattering into a million shards of emptiness. Si’ian! Where are you?

The voice of her thoughts seemed to echo, as if cast into an empty, bottomless chasm.

A void opened before her, deep black and foreboding. Though her heart sped in terrified reaction, she felt herself drawn inexorably toward it as it grew larger, slowly spreading itself across the whole of her mind.

In the very center, she saw the brilliant light of Si’ian’s spirit, growing more dim as it too was drawn within. She could see, could feel, that spirit’s fierce struggle against its sudden bonds, but it was weakening, slowly becoming one with the infinite blackness surrounding it.

"No," she breathed.

Her body tensed, then became rigid as the stone cavern surrounding her.

Yanit looked up from her examination. Her eyes widened in fear. "Gaia, no!" she shouted. "No! Qian Xi, come quickly! Mali, pull Maia away! Quickly! Move! Quickly!!"

"What’s happening?" Mali asked, moving swiftly forward and wrapping her long arms around Maia’s still chest. "She’s not breathing! Yanit!"

"The bonding," Yanit growled through clenched teeth. "Si’ian is dying. Maiandria is joining her. Qian Xi!!"

The young empath entered the room running, her white silk robe trailing behind her. Her face was as white as that robe, but her eyes bore a fire none could stand before. The Sheas stepped quickly away and Qian Xi took their place at the table, her very presence looming as large as the hospice itself.

"In Gaia’s name," she rumbled in a voice which was, and was not, her own, "you will not leave me, Si’ian. I forbid it." Eyes blazing down on the still form before her, she reached out with both hands and laid them on her sister’s ruined chest. Blood seeped through her fingers as the warrior’s powerful heart fluttered weakly and prepared to stop. "Turn away, Si’ian. Turn away from the void and return to me. Maiandria is with you. You must guide her back. Quickly, before it is too late."

The other women watched in awe as Qian Xi lowered her shields and unleashed the infinite, unstoppable power of her gift. Pulled into the web of the young woman’s making, they felt their souls drawn into hers, tools in the war she was waging against death.

"Come back to me," Qian Xi thundered. "Come back to me now, Si’ian. Now!" With a silent scream, her head drew back, the tendons in her neck standing out in bold relief. Her body was scorched by the icy flame of death. It’s hold was strong and it was fighting her at every turn, unwilling to be denied its victims.

Si’ian was lost within the void. Qian Xi could feel her sister’s struggle to obey her commands, but her body was too weak and her spirit began to flag, tired beyond all imagining.

"Maiandria," Qian Xi intoned, "find my sister and guide her away. She needs your help, and your strength. Help her. Guide her home."

Si’ian’s powerful heart fluttered, then paused. The women moaned as they felt her spirit retreat.

"No," Qian Xi whispered.

With the last of her strength, she removed one hand from Si’ian’s chest and reached out to touch Maiandria, fingers sinking deep into the lifeless flesh beneath them.

Immense power swept through Maia’s weakening soul and gave her the strength she needed to escape the darkness surrounding her. She could feel herself being pulled back, into the light blazing behind her; light that was the joined spirits of her sisters reaching out to her, beckoning her home.

Not today, she growled to the energy seeking to bear Si’ian away. Not ever, do you hear me? You can’t have her. She’s mine.

Steeling herself, she snatched the other half of her soul from death’s questing arms and then collapsed as she was yanked back into the warmth and love waiting for both of them.

"It is done," Qian Xi breathed, a radiant smile wreathing her face. Her eyes rolled back, then, as her body finally gave in to the strain placed upon it, becoming almost formless as it folded in upon itself and fell to the ground, completely spent.

Freed from the implacable weight of Qian Xi’s powerful touch, Maia gasped, her first breath in unnumbered heartbeats, then collapsed, unconscious, into Mali’s arms.

Malika blinked, awakened from the thrall, and stared without comprehension at the body she was suddenly bearing. Stunned eyes looked up to lock with Yanit’s. "Did we . . . ?"

"She lives," the Shea replied, an awed, triumphant smile on her face. "Her heart beats strongly, and I can feel her spirit once more within her."

"And what of Qian Xi? And Maia?"

"Both are merely resting. With time, and sleep, they will recover."

"What just happened?" Asimi mumbled, shaking herself from her trance.

"You spit in the face of the Demon," Yanit cackled. "Listen closely. I’m quite sure you can hear the underworld shaking from the force of his howls." Her expression sobered. "Malika, there are two places prepared on the other side of the fire ring. Place Maiandria in one of them. Asimi, help Fakhri with Qian Xi."

Nodding, Mali easily lifted Maia into her strong arms and carried her to the other side of the fire, where a thick bed of furs waited. Placing her gently in the nest, she covered the younger woman with a fur coverlet, then, smiling, brushed the stray hairs from Maiandria’s fair brow. "Thank you," she whispered, dark eyes shining with unshed tears.

Standing quickly to recover her composure, she walked over to where Asimi was rooted, staring down at Qian Xi, a strange look on her face. Following the direction of her friend’s gaze, Mali froze, stunned. Qian Xi looked to be sleeping peacefully, a serene smile on her young, unlined features. Her hair, however, which just moments before had been as black as coal, was now threaded through with veins of purest white. "When did this happen?"

"I dunno," Asimi replied. "I found her like this."


The Shea turned, and looked down at Qian Xi. "She fought death and won. She will bear the marks of that battle forever."

"Will she . . .will she ever fully recover her gifts?"

Yanit pursed her lips. "I suspect only she knows for sure."

"Is there anything we can do to help her?"

"Place her in the furs beside Maiandria. Her cure is rest."

After a long moment, the Hun nodded. "Alright."

Gently pushing Asimi aside, Mali squatted down and gathered Qian Xi close. Her friend felt impossibly light in her arms, as if the absence of her power caused her body to become an empty husk. Her brow furrowed in concern, but she did as she was bade, and easily carried the young woman over to the furs prepared for her.

Laying her down, Mali stared into the peaceful, beautiful face for a long moment, long fingers trailing restlessly in the empath’s thick silvered hair. "Rest well, my friend." Leaning close, she pressed a tender kiss against one warm cheek. "I love you," she whispered into a delicate ear before standing and moving quickly away, forbidding her tears to fall.

Coming to stand beside Yanit, Mali looked down in awe. Si’ian’s torso appeared perfectly whole. The only sign it had even been injured was the coating of blood covering her breasts and belly. "Qian Xi did that?" she asked, beyond amazed.

"Yes," Yanit returned, accepting a wet cloth from Fakhri. "The spiritual healing effected a physical one as well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the wounds she still bears. Without Qian Xi’s help, we might fix parts of her arm and leg, but I’m afraid that her hand and shin are beyond my abilities to heal alone."

"Can Cori or any of the other apprentices help?"

"No. They are yet new to their skills. The healing of simple cuts is the best they can offer at this time."

"So . . .what then?" Mali countered with a touch of heat to her words. "Just wait and see if Qian Xi wakes up the same woman she was before? How can you even ask that of her after all she’s given already? You’re a Shea! You’re supposed to heal!"

Eyes flashing, Yanit drew herself up to her full height. "Yes, I am a Shea. A healer. One of the most powerful in this world and trained by Chi’ah herself. But even I cannot mend bones shattered to dust, nor do I have the ability to see inside of a body. Gaia has not seen fit to grant me these gifts. Like everyone born by her grace, I must simply do the best I can with the gifts I have been granted. And this I will do. As will my sisters."

Mollified, the Hun nodded, placing her hand on the table next to Si’ian’s mangled leg. "What can we do?"

Yanit tilted her chin in the direction of the entrance. "Your sisters will wish to know what is happening here. It’s best that you give them some news and send them off to other tasks. There is still a camp that needs to be run, and right now, you are the one responsible for running it."

"Jebem," Mali swore softly in her native tongue. "I’d forgotten about that." She gestured toward her friend. "C’mon, Asimi. Let’s go see what’s going on out there."


Pain rolling through her body in tumultuous waves awakened Maia from her healing sleep and, groaning, she rolled from her belly onto her back. Staring up at the hospice ceiling, she tried to battle back the pain to something approaching bearable, but she was simply too drained, and relief danced away from her grasp like a puckish wraith.

She felt dazed, confused, and unsure why she was hurting so badly. A warm hand touched her shoulder, causing her to stiffen, then relax as the kind face of Cori came into view. "This will help the pain," the young apprentice said, bringing a steaming cup forward. "Can you sit up?"

Maia nodded, and with Cori’s help, managed to come to a sitting position. A wave of dizziness washed over her, and she clung to her friend’s arm, waiting for it to pass. When it did, her thoughts became clearer, and the memories of what had happened earlier stood out in her mind. "Si’ian!" she cried out, struggling to stand.

"No, no, just wait a minute," Cori countered, using her body to prevent Maia from standing. "Si’ian’s alright. She’s resting comfortably and Yanit’s keeping a close eye on her."

"But, I need . . . ."

"You don’t need anything but to drink these herbs down, my friend. I can feel your pain from here and you’re not going to be any help to anyone if you just ignore it. So just drink this, and I’ll help you up, alright?"

In lieu of an answer, Maia grabbed the cup from Cori’s hand, tossed back the bitter tea, then shrugged off her friend’s firm hold and rose to her feet, swaying slightly.

"Or you can just ignore me and do it yourself," the young apprentice sighed, then levered herself up to her own feet and watched as Maia strode quickly away.

Yanit looked up from her place in a chair next to Si’ian’s bed just in time to place a steadying arm around Maia’s waist, as the younger woman all but collapsed against the fur-covered table. "You need rest," Yanit scolded, gruff words gentled by the tone of her voice.

"I need this," Maia countered, shaking off the Shea’s steadying grip and tilting her head to take in Si’ian’s still form. Her companion’s face was cleansed of its bloody mask, and the two cuts which had marred its beauty had been perfectly healed so that not even the faintest hint of the injuries remained.

Slightly trembling fingers reached out and brushed against a warm, silken cheek, then danced up to smooth across an arched, raven brow. "How is she?"

"Resting, as you should be."

Green eyes narrowed, but the irritation Maia felt didn’t extend to her gentle touch. "Answer my question, Yanit."

"I believe I did. The cure for you both is the same. Neither will heal without it."

"My healing can wait." Steeling herself, Maia gripped the edge of the fur coverlet draped over Si’ian’s body and pulled slowly downward. Her cheeks colored slightly as the warrior’s firm, perfect breasts were revealed, but the blush vanished as the coverlet withdrew enough to show unmarred flesh where a grievous injury had resided just a short time before.

"How?" she asked, not looking away from the smooth, unblemished skin stretched taught over muscle and bone.

"Qian Xi. And I would gather the rest of you as well. Pulling her away from death healed the mortal injury."

Maia looked up then, her gaze sharp, intent. "And Qian Xi? How is she?"

"Resting. Again, as . . . ."

" . . .I should be, yes, I know. And I will. Just not now."

Returning her attention to Si’ian, Maia pulled the cover down to the warrior’s waist, then uttered a soft gasp. Si’ian’s arm, now straight and whole, sported a hand discolored and swollen to almost three times its intended size. Fingers, once long, strong and beautifully tapered, were horribly misshapen and seemed almost flat despite the massive swelling. Something gleaming caught the corner of her eye, and when she focused her gaze, her belly fluttered with sudden nausea.

Leaches, fat, wet and black, feasted on the bruised and swollen flesh, their bodies engorged on the blood they extracted. As she watched, repulsed, one of the leeches exploded, spraying the area with tiny dots of blood.

Swallowing hard, she turned away for a long moment, trying to push the scene from her conscious memories. A warm hand covered her own, and when she looked back, it was into dark eyes soft with understanding.

"Is that . . . ." She swallowed again. ". . .all that can be done?"

"At this time, yes," Yanit replied, sorrow tingeing her voice. "When the swelling reduces, I might see other options, but until then . . . ." She sighed, the burden heavy upon her soul. "The damage was too severe to put right. I’m sorry."

"No, don’t be sorry. You’ve done far more than I could ever have hoped. I owe you a huge debt, Yanit."

"You owe me nothing," the Shea snapped, eyes blazing. "She saved my life and all I have to give her in return is a broken body." White fisted hands pulled the coverlet away and drew it down, exposing the rest of the Si’ian’s body to the warm air of the hospice.

Like her hand, the warrior’s left leg below the knee was grotesquely swollen, discolored, and misshapen. Her foot, better off than the rest of her leg, had been forced into correct alignment by means of a wooden splint held in place by strips of undyed cloth. "If she ever walks again, it will be by Gaia’s own mercy and certainly not because of anything I’ve managed to do."

Maia’s retort died unuttered as a scuffle of sudden movement and the echoing noise of loud voices penetrated the hospice’s quiet interior. Yanit and Maia turned toward the entrance, unconsciously shielding Si’ian’s naked body from view, as a young woman, dressed in colorful robes, strode through. She was followed by several more similarly clad women, who were, in turn, followed by two red-faced guards commanding them to halt.

Catching sight of Yanit and Maiandria, the woman headed toward the two, then stopped scant feet away. Her face was flushed scarlet, and though Maia couldn’t understand one word the woman screamed, she guessed the coloring to be that of rage rather than embarrassment. Both

women stared at her, brows knit together, as she ranted at them in an incomprehensible language and held up an arm encircled by a narrow, bloody bandage.

When the woman finally ground to a halt, Yanit turned to look at Maia. "I gather we are supposed to assume this woman has come here in search of a healer?" she asked in a tone dry as the Egyptian desert.

Despite the gravity of the situation, Maia found herself hiding a smile behind the back of her hand.

"Of course I am, you fool!" the woman shouted in Common Tongue, turning to Maiandria as well. "Please tell me that you are what passes for a healer in this rat infested excuse for a hospice. Your companion has the wit of a dung pile and half its charm."

Her lips curled in a sneer, Yanit took one step forward, hands raised. "It seems your luck is as sour as the look on your face, stranger. I am the healer here."

"Then heal me, barbarian," Pavithra demanded, holding up her arm once again, "before I have you publicly flogged." Dark eyes narrowed when the Shea did nothing save stare at her. "Well? What are you waiting for?"

"I am simply examining the wound on your face which spews out vile poison every time it is opened. The healing of it may well be beyond even my abilities."

The Priestess spun at the sound of snorts of laughter behind her. A sound which was cut off as sharply as a blade by the glare she gave her audience. Spinning back to the unrepentant Shea, she opened her mouth once again, then closed it just as quickly when Mali and Asimi barreled into the hospice, each grabbing her by an arm.

"Finally found you, Priestess," Mali snarled, voice as cold as winter’s bitter wind.

"Unhand me, savage!"

"Not likely, you cursed whelp."

"What’s going on, Mali?" Maia asked, stepping forward to stand next to Yanit.

"This bitch caused the avalanche," Malika growled, shaking the Pavithra’s arm like a wolf with a hare. "Her screaming woke up the gods and caused the entire mountain to tumble down."

"I did no such thing!" the Priestess protested, struggling desperately—if fruitlessly—to escape the iron bands around her upper arms. "If your barbarian chieftain had done as I ordered, none of this would have happened. It was her own impertinence which caused the wrath of the goddess, and my own injury as well!!"

Anything further she might have said was cut off as two powerful hands entwined themselves in her sari. She felt herself yanked up on her toes, staring into blazing green eyes. "Do you have any idea what you’ve done?" Maia growled in a voice a full octave below her normal tones.

Breaking away from the rage-filled gaze, Pavithra chanced a look off to her right, and found herself with an unimpeded view of Si’ian laying on the table. A triumphant smile curved her lips, and when she looked back at Maiandria, her eyes were bright with malicious glee. "I prayed to my goddess that she might take vengeance against the savage who mistreated me. It seems as if my prayers were answered."

One hand left the sari. Maia clenched it into a fist, and drew it back slowly, carefully. "You belly-crawling, slime eating daughter of a—"

"Maiandria." Yanit’s voice was calm, yet unable to be ignored. "Your anger is distressing Si’ian."

Her fist still cocked, Maia turned her face to see her partner moaning softly, her head whipping back and forth against the fur pillowed beneath it.

Pavithra gathered her breath as she found herself suddenly let loose of Maiandria’s strong hold. The triumphant smile once again graced her face as she watched her erstwhile tormenter rush over to the barbarian’s side and attempt to calm the thrashing savage with impotent gestures. "See? The goddess protects me even now. You could never harm me."

"Maybe not," Mali growled, softly, "but I can."

The last thing the Priestess saw was a large fist swiftly enter her field of vision. There was a brief, sharp pain in the region of her chin, and then she felt nothing at all.

To Be Continued - Part 10


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