The Chalice of Blood Part Two
By S Singer
After a slight pause, as she wondered how the woman knew who she was, Xena helped her to sit against a block of stone then drew a bucket of water from the well. Bringing the dipper to the womans lips, Xena asked, "Where are the rest of the people?"
After a long drink, the injured woman lifted her head and starred into Xenas clear blue eyes. Xena noticed that the womans eyes were hazel, not green or blue, but both at the same time with little flecks of amber. "The rest of the people went to the caves. I should go and tell them it is safe to come out now. They must begin to restore the temple and deal with the dead ."
As they were talking the rest of Xenas party had come into the clearing. Xena heard them and called out to Gabrielle. "Over here! Come quickly!"
Running up to the woman Palaemon and Gabrielle were ready to help in any way they could. Gabrielle brought the pouch with the healing supplies and began to assess the womans injuries. On the other hand, the two astrologers, were moving slowly, trying to make sense of the chaos that they were seeing. Just a few short weeks ago this had been their home, safe and secure. Their hearts were trying to find familiar landmarks to orient themselves to this strange place.
Approaching the wounded woman, Placidus exclaimed, "Silvia! What happened?"
Turning to her friend, she said quietly, "They came, as He said they would. Had you been here there would have been nothing any of you could have done to change the outcome. Better that you are here now to do the important work. Send Tellius to the caves to get the people."
Nodding his head, he did as she suggested. Kneeling to help Gabrielle, he asked Silvia, "Do we know where it is? Can we find it? Does Xena still have to go?"
"Yes, we will talk about this later. For now please help Xena to organize what must be done." Having given Xena the authority and the responsibility for the work ahead, she finally began to feel the pain from her wound and slowly she passed out.
With the help of the people who returned from the caves, Xena and Palaemon began to return the village to some sort of order. After many hours of hard strenuous work, they all eventually returned to the main square where some of the women had prepared a meal for the whole village.
"How is she doing?" Xena asked Gabrielle when she entered the tent, which had been set up as an infirmary. "How is Silvia?"
Silvia looked up to see Xena standing in the entrance. She smiled. "I am much better, thank you."
"Why were you outside when all of the others were in the caves?" Xena asked her.
"I was fighting with the other warriors and I was cut here, across my ribs and knocked out fairly early. They must have thought I was dead. When I woke up I was trying to get a drink. Then you walked up. Thats all I know."
"Do you remember if they said anything when they attacked? Did they ask any questions?" Xena asked. She didnt want to tell anyone just yet, but she had recognized the uniforms of the attackers. They were all wearing the same gray dragon she saw on the army that passed them a month before.
"Yes. They demanded the Chalice. We wouldnt have given it to them even if we had had it. They seemed to believe us but they attacked anyway."
"They were leaving a message, probably for me." Xena said quietly. "They know you sent for me. They have been watching us on and off since Palaemon, Placidus and Tellius met up with us.
Gabrielle looked startled. "You mean you have known this all this time and never said anything to us? Why?"
"There was no reason to kill them. They would have been replaced. I was watching them to see what they wanted. I dont think getting rid of them would have affected what happened here." Xena sighed, "And I dont think they are done now. I think you and I need to talk Gabrielle."
"We all need to talk, and soon!" Silvia said. "Tomorrow morning first thing."
"I know what you are going to say Xena, and I dont want to hear it!" Gabrielle stated as soon as they were alone. They had walked away from the village, into the woods. "I am going with you especially now that I have seen what kind of enemy you are facing. I wont let you go on without me to guard your back."
"Gabrielle, I thought you would feel that way. I need help to overcome this particular enemy but I dont think it is going to be the kind of battle that your skill with the staff will help. I have to ask you to do something for me."
Gabrielle stopped. She was stunned. Never before had Xena given in so easily. She suspected that there was a catch. "Sure, Xena, whatever. You know that. You are my best friend and I love you. Whatever you need me to do I will try."
Xena smiled and her blue eyes looked deeply into the green, searching for any hesitation. Gabrielles gaze was steady and the look in her eyes melted any resistance Xena might have felt.
"Let me talk to the council tomorrow and then we can make plans. Thank you for being my friend,Gabrielle." And so much more Xena thought to herself.
That night Xena found a place for them to camp in the woods and after Gabrielle had made a fire, Xena sat down to sharpen her sword. She was trying not to think about all that she had done that day. She couldnt remember a harder task than
"It was a long day today, a lot of work. Did you recognize any of the people from you know before? Gabrielle asked.
Looking up from what she was doing, Xena thought for a moment and then said quietly, "Yes I did, and most of them were in that group that we built the pyres for."
"Oh,." Gabrielle said sadly, words escaping her for the moment. "At least Sergius and Helena are safe."
Then she looked at Xena and saw such pain in her eyes. "They are safe, arent they?"
"Sergius was in the front line. He went down early. Helena was supposed to go to the cave with the others but she saw him fall and tried to fight her way to him. She was found nearby."
Gabrielle stood and walked over to Xena. Sitting next to her on the log she took the forgotten sword from Xenas hands and laid it down. Then Gabrielle put her arms around her suddenly numb friend and hugged her. "Xena, from what I remember Helena saying about her belief in karma and reincarnation, they will find peace and return again to complete the work here. For now lets just remember them as we saw them last. Ill never forget that sparring match you and Sergius had."
Clang! Clang! Gabrielle sat up reaching for her staff and found Helena watching her with a smile. "Sergis challenged Xena to a sparring match for old times sake. Everything is safe."
Gabrielle dressed quickly and ran to watch. They had just begun and they were still circling each other, stretching, flexing, trying to develop a rhythm. First one and then the other, back and forth, tried to find a weakness in the other. The blades moved smoothly, striking quickly, moving faster and faster until the swords were only a blur. They were so evenly matched.
Gabrielles stomach was in her throat. If one of them slipped or lost this rhythm they could get very hurt, or worse.
Each time Xena jumped over Sergis he was ready. And when he tried the same thing she countered. The match went on and on, each waiting for the other to tire, until they were both covered in sweat. Still they lunged, countered, and parried, back and forth.
They moved around a large area, missing trees and rocks as if they had eyes in the back of their heads. Occasionally drawing blood but not more than a scratch, each one had a determined look on their face, which began to slowly turn into a smile as they knew it couldn't go on forever. One of them must give ground, and each knew it wouldnt be him (or her).
Gabrielle watched as the muscles of each warrior rippled and stretched. Sergis had his shirt off and Xena was in her leathers, not even using her armor. Their legs moved with such balance and strength. Like dancers they continued, each one pushing the other to new heights of skill.
Just when Gabrielle felt as if she would burst with the excitement, Xena moved into Sergis' defenses and touched him on the chest with her blade. "Well done!" Sergis yelled. "The student surpasses the teacher!"
But Xena was remembering a different fight. The one that was the reason all of this was happening. And it was her fault. If only she hadnt
Xena listened outside the tent, as the thieves plotted and planned how they were going to steal the Chalice. She listened to their plans and made plans of her own. When they became silent from too much wine, she went into the tent and found them all passed out around the table. She looked at the maps, and taking a few choice supplies from her "friends," she left the camp and traveled toward the City of the Sun.
The next day from her vantage point, she saw them enter the city and proceed toward the temple in the center. She followed closely and in her disguise no one noticed her presence. When they reached the building they all dismounted, and after respectfully removing their shoes and weapons at the door requested an audience with the High Priest. Xena waited in the outer chamber, pretending to worship as one of the city dwellers.
Xena waited seemingly forever, getting more and more anxious. The adrenaline coursing through her veins as she went over her plan step by step, again and again.
Suddenly there they were. Racing out of inner chamber Omar-Khan was carrying something, and one of the others was dragging a man, a priest, by the neck as he held a blade to his throat. "Let us go or he dies!" the second thief shouted. The temple guards, who were coming at a run, stopped suddenly. Xena quickly ran up behind the man with the knife, and jerking his arm behind his back, she took the knife and called to the guards. "He is safe now, Arrest these men!"
The whole room erupted with activity. The thieves turned, suddenly armed with hidden blades, to the guards who were closing in quickly. At the end of the short battle the thieves were captured and the priest was found to be unharmed, but no one could find the Chalice.
Outside Xena was riding as fast as her horse would go. Out of the city toward a camp she had set up the night before. Hidden amongst huge boulders, it was only approachable through one pass and easily defended. But she didnt plan to be there long, just long enough to find out what the attraction of this Chalice was .
Early the next morning, Xena was out hunting for something to help feed the people of the village when Palaemon approached her cautiously. "I want to go with you, Xena. I want to fight these animals that attacked this village and killed so many people. I have become friends with Placidus and Tellius, and to see this kind of destruction of their home sickens and enrages me!"
"It is supposed to my friend. But the message is for me. I know these people and I know the ones who have done this damage. I have told no one, but I suspect the council knows too."
Stunned Palaemon just looked at her, seeing in the blue eyes a determination to avenge the people that had fought so bravely. He saw in her eyes a friend that he would gladly give his life for.
"Then I want to go with you! I know you will need help and I want to be there for you."
"We will see. First I must talk with the council. Then I will make my plans. I will consider what you have said my friend."
She left him standing there and it wasnt until moments later he realized that she had called him "friend." With a smile he returned to the village to help them begin their morning labors.
After a breakfast of rabbit and venison caught by the quiet woman who so many of them had heard stories about, the villagers again began the hard work of cleaning and rebuilding. Many of them were in mourning and seemed to move just a little more slowly than normal. But the tasks were listed and completed and their lives began to gain a pattern again.
Silvia found Xena and Gabrielle eating their breakfast and asked them to follow her to the meeting with the council. As Xena walked toward the temple with her friend she noticed again that it was the one building left standing. Not out of reverence she was sure, more like a reminder to her of where it had all begun so long ago.
As they entered the temple Gabrielle was surprised to see it was empty. There was an altar at one end of a big open room. There were beautiful decorative carvings all around, but nothing else. "Are we early, Silvia? Where are the others?" she asked.
"The meeting is not here, Gabrielle, but in the council chambers." Xena looked down and smiled encouragingly and urged her over toward a doorway partly hidden in the wall decorations. Opening the door, Silvia led them down a wide, well-lit stairway that led in a gentle spiral for what seemed like a long way.
When they reached the bottom Gabrielle was quiet as she turned all the way around enjoying the beauty of the large chamber. The light seemed to come from the very walls and the carvings were like nothing she had ever seen before: delicate symbols and large carved pictures with bright colors and wall hangings of such delicate needlework that it looked almost like paint. Still there was no one there. With a questioning look in her eyes she gazed up at Xena.
"Just a little further, Gabrielle," said Silvia. This room is a museum of sorts, this art was done a long time ago by a man you have never heard of. His name is spoken only in the company of the very discriminating." With a small secret smile she moved a lever hidden in the carving and a section of the wall began to pivot inward.
Again they were in a wide, well-lit walkway. This time it was going straight through the mountain. The walls here seemed to glow and Gabrielle didnt see any other source of light. There were no candles, no torches, and no smoke to indicate that there were any hidden away. Though before she could ask Xena about this, she noticed that Xena seemed to be slowing down. She seemed almost to be dragging her feet, hesitating to move forward as if she dreaded what was coming.
Xena was indeed dreading what was coming. The last time she had been in these chambers she had been with her Teacher. She was reporting on her progress with her disciplines and physical recovery. The very next morning she had abandoned all that they had offered her and become the antithesis of their teachings. She had become a killing machine partly due to the same disciplines. Now here she was once again entering the council chamber, only as a different person. What were they going to say to her? What did they know of her life between then and now? Of course they knew everything. They read your heart. It was all there. How could she enter that room, with those people as she was now?
As she walked Xena looked down at the bard and wondered, Should I have warned her about these people? These people are different, Gabrielle, different, and yet the same as you and me and all of us. What could I have said? They are more evolved? They are more refined? They are more compassionate? They are more loving, and they know everything about you and me and everything we have ever said or done or thought? What could she say? With a slight shrug of her shoulders she decided not to say anything. Let them explain.
Just then Gabrielle noticed other people coming down the hall. And she also noticed doorways opening on both sides of the hallway. As they walked she realized that there was a whole community down here and none of them were dressed like the people she had seen above. These people were finer, more refined. This was the only way she could describe them to herself.
As Gabrielle was forming a question to ask her warrior, they stopped at a doorway. It had double doors with large deep-colored jewels embedded in the wood. Silvia opened these and stood to one side, motioning them to enter.
Xena held back, so Gabrielle was the first to enter the chamber. What she saw was not what she had been expecting. But what had she been expecting? She didnt know. But not this.
Inside, the chamber was not large, or ornate or elaborate as in a palace, but there was plenty of room for the people there. The decorations were simple compared to the room at the bottom of the stairs. The walls were a pale green, and the atmosphere was was so peaceful, so calm that Gabrielle felt safe and totally at peace. She smiled and noticed that there were several people in long white robes standing around a table. Twelve men and women, each looked different and yet there was a similarity. Their noses were long and straight and their eyes were startling, they seemed to look into the very depths of your soul. Gabrielle looked at Xena who was looking at each of them and nodding stiffly. Silvia reached for Gabrielles arm, but Xena moved between them and guided Gabrielle to a seat herself.
The woman who appeared to be the leader, if there was one, noticed this possessive move of Xenas and smiled. "Come in ladies, join us."
"I would introduce each of us but our names are not important. We are here to ask you a few questions and then perhaps ask a favor. If at any time you have any questions of your own, please, you are welcome to ask."
"What does this have to do with the Chalice?" Xena asked.
"Well , first blood, Warrior?" A man on the end of the table asked with a soft, playful look in his eyes.
"I only want to get on with it," Xena replied with a frown.
"Wait! What is this Chalice I have been "not" hearing about?" Gabrielle asked.
This brought a laugh from several of the robed council members. "Perhaps I shouldnt have invited questions so soon," the first woman said. "But this is a good place to start. What is this Chalice indeed! Xena could you explain to your friend about what you know of the Chalice?"
Xena looked thoughtful for a few moments as if weighing what to say to the bard. As if trying to remember something from long ago she began her explanation. "It is an old, old Chalice. Supposedly from before Atlantis. It was used in initiation ceremonies. The candidate would hold the Chalice and the wine would be poured in. If the candidates heart was pure and they were truly ready for the initiation they would drain the cup and on the bottom see an inscription." Here Xena paused. Looking into her eyes, Gabrielle saw something almost like fear, deep and strong, but only for a minute. Later she wondered if she had seen it at all.
"What did the inscription say?" asked Gabrielle, "Was it words or a symbol, or what?"
"I think that can wait for another time." Interrupted the woman who seemed to be in charge. "How much do you care for your friend Xena, Gabrielle? Enough to risk your life ? Enough to risk hers?"
Startled, Gabrielle said, "Yes! Yes, of course! We have been in many situations where we each have offered ourselves for the other and I would not hesitate. But, why? Do you think that it will come to that?"
"It begins like that Gabrielle. From this moment on, if you two decide to go after the Chalice your lives are on the line. There is no turning back, and the danger is not only physical. The end result could be madness or emotional overload. This battle will be fought on many levels and I want to be sure you are forewarned." The woman looked directly into Gabrielles eyes and continued, "The quest will include a very long journey and many things will happen that you will not be able to explain. You must undergo some very difficult training before you leave and if you cant complete the training, the mission very well may not even get started."
Another woman continued, "Xena needs you there, Gabrielle, but you must be strong and competent. Can you commit to all of this?"
Xena had been following this closely, watching Gabrielle and holding her hand under the table, trying to reassure her and give her strength. Gabrielle turned to the warrior and after a deep breath she nodded her head yes. Whatever Xena had to go through she would be there for her.
"Yes. I will do whatever it takes. If Xena agrees to do this I will be there with her."
Turning to Xena, the tall woman asked the most important question, "So, Xena, do you agree to go after the Chalice and return it to its rightful place?"
"Before I agree to this I want some information." Xena said. "Where is it, and who has it?"
"Fair enough, Xena," one of the men said. "It is in India, in fact not to far from where you last saw it. And the man who has it is the one who almost killed you the last time, Sherhan-Khan."
At his words Gabrielle looked up at Xena in surprise. Xena had closed her eyes as if seeing this man again in her mind.
For just a moment she was back in the White Mountains, looking into the eyes of a man about to kill her, a man whom she had been running from for days, and who had been ahead of her at every step. Now here he was, his eyes smiling with victory, almost licking his lips in anticipation.
She took a long, deep breath, and as she let the air out of her lungs, she looked at each of the men and women around the table. She looked at each ones eyes. When she had seen them all she nodded her head, and turning to Gabrielle she said, "This will be harder than I thought. I have faced this man before. He has extraordinary powers. It will be very difficult. Are you sure you want to go through this with me?"
"More than ever. I will not let you go into something like this without me to back you up."
"You two will not be alone," the first woman said. "We are sending someone to help you, Xena. Where you were able to overcome last time because of your fearlessness and audacity, this time you will have help of equal power and that should make your job much easier. Meet Teyah, one of our initiates."
Teyah stood up and stepped forward. She was tall, as tall as Xena. She had red hair and hazel eyes. Her eyes were just like Silvias, blue and green at the same time. "This is Silvias sister," the first woman said. "She has proven herself to be qualified for this quest and she will be the only one to handle the Chalice!" With a gentle smile, she went on, "I know you dont usually ask for help so we have provided it first. Don't let her looks distract you, Xena, she has the power. I know you touched that power recently in Chin and you felt the flow of energy. She can control that for you. She can help you to use it or she can use it directly."
"Then what do you need Xena for?" Gabrielle demanded, "I saw what Xena did in Chin and with that kind of power you dont need a sword." She had indeed seen what Xena had done in Chin. Without any weapons and without touching anyone she had killed the executioner with his own tools and beaten back the royal guard, while she totally destroyed the palace. All of this she had done with some kind of energy some sort of balls of fire that she had formed with her hands. Gabrielle had never seen anything like it and when she had asked Xena later if she could still do it, Xena had said that it had taken a purity that she couldnt reach anymore.
Responding to the question, a council member said, "Teyah has been trained in only defensive skills. We need someone a little more aggressive for this quest, and Xena has had prior experience with the dangers of the Chalice. There is no one alive today that is as perfectly suited for this mission, and that is why we need Xena."
"Then why include Gabrielle?" Xena asked quietly. She already knew but she wanted Gabrielle to hear it from someone else.
"Because the same qualities that make you perfect, also make you a danger to our goals. We need Gabrielle to go with you to be sure that you return the Chalice to us." The leader said, looking directly at Xena, "She will also be an anchor for you when you are faced with using skills, that place you all in a danger from other levels. She is probably the most important part of our plan. If she can master some new skills here before you go, I think you will find her help invaluable."
"And what are these skills you keep alluding to?" asked Xena with a warning in her voice.
"Concentration and focus! These are a must!" said one of the, until now, silent members of the council. "I know you have been working on learning meditation, Gabrielle, but now it is serious and you WILL learn quickly!"
Gabrielle was startled, first by the vehemence with which he spoke, and second by the fact that he knew about her meditation lessons. "How did you know ?"
"That is not important, what we have to establish here and now, is the necessity of you mastering these few skills so that you can be of aid to your warrior friend. There is one person among us who can, without a doubt, teach you what you need to know. Ariana, please, will you undertake the training of our bard here?"
Ariana, a short woman, rose, and coming around the table she gently held Gabrielles hand for a few moments. Looking into her eyes, Gabrielle was pulled into the depths of a calm, clear, pool. She felt safe and joyful, relaxed and at ease.
"Yes. Yes, I think I can work with her. She has a depth of heart seldom seen in one from the outside. Perhaps this quest is not the only reason the Lords of Karma have brought her to us."
With that, Ariana pulled Gabrielle to her feet and left the room with her. Xena stood and started to follow.
Once again the first woman seemed to take command. "No, Xena, we are not quite done with you. Teyah, please come and stand with Xena. Now is as good a time as any to see if you two can really work together."
Teyah walked around the table and stood beside Xena. She placed her hand on Xenas arm and instantly Xena felt a surge of energy go through her whole body. With a surprised look she turned to Teyah and asked her, "Wont this amplify the negative as well as the positive aspects of my personality? Will you risk sharing this power with someone like me?"
Teyah smiled, "Xena, if we didnt truly know your heart, you wouldnt be here. It is as safe to share this power with you as with my own sister. I know you perhaps better than you know yourself, if you would ask such a question. You must know that we do not play at games here. We have studied you and your friend, your actions, thoughts and deeds for as long as we could before we made our decision. But if you have any strong doubts, perhaps we should talk."
Relaxing some under the strength of her reply, Xena said, "We will talk, but later. If you are sure that this is wise, that is all I need to know for now." Teyah released her and with a nod to the council respectfully motioned for Xena to follow her out of the chamber.
When they left the Council Chamber, Ariana took Gabrielle to a large passageway. In one of the walls was a niche, about 20 feet across and 3 feet deep. The woman placed Gabrielle at one end with her back to the wall facing the other end of the niche, and said, "Please walk to the other end and return."
"Okay," said Gabrielle, and she walked over to the end, turning back to see the woman smiling gently. "Now repeat the process please," the woman said firmly.
Gabrielle turned and walked back to the other side and came back with a puzzled look on her face. Seeing the robed woman smile again she wondered what she had accomplished.
"Now repeat this until I come for you, and try to keep your mind calm. And Gabrielle, no stories!" And the woman walked away, leaving a very surprised bard.
"Wha ." Okay, thought Gabrielle I can do this. This must be some kind of a test, of how dumb is the bard or something. Well, this is supposed to be all about discipline, so maybe this is to prove I can follow orders. As she walked back and forth she quickly got bored. Where is she? Did she forget about me?
As time passed, she began to become frustrated and tired. Her legs were used to walking but she knew that a great deal of fatigue is mental not physical and her mind was trying to stay calm. She began to think of stories, which she tried to stop, remembering Arianas words. She began to think of what she had learned of astrology. She began to get really upset.
About the millionth time she turned on her heel to retrace her steps she noticed the pattern of the wall hanging in front of her. It was so simple she hadnt even seen it until now. Turning, she saw that it had a twin on the other wall. The coincidence of the two being the same intrigued her. She began to study the design. This focus of her mind on something seemed to give her new energy. As she studied the symbols she started to see the contrast of the colors, the texture of the material and the design of the symbols themselves.
Her mind seemed to take on a life of its own. She was no longer aware of the fatigue that earlier had so distracted her. She was no longer feeling the rush of anger, frustration, and fear that had so overwhelmed just moments before. With her mind focused on the symbols, she seemed to be totally calm.
Ariana returned and studied the bard for a few moments, before clearing her throat to attract her attention. Gabrielle was walking with a spring in her step and a relaxed smile on her face. The bard had passed the first test.
"Come with me, Gabrielle. There is someone I want you to meet." Ariana led her down the passage toward a door.
Going through the door Gabrielle noticed flowers and a mist in the air. "How do you raise flowers down here where there is no sunlight?" she asked. As she said it she noticed that the walls seemed to glow like the rest of the walls she had seen, but here there was also a warmth.
"I dont know all of the details, ask our gardener, Sebrum. He will explain as he shows you what you are to do here. I will come for you later."
Sebrum was not a large man, but he had a kind face and large, strong hands. He was gently removing a plant from a pot as they approached and Gabrielle could hear him talking to the plant, "Dont worry little plant you will be happier in your new home. No more crunched toes, or rough walls for you." He placed the little plant in a larger pot and tenderly, but firmly added more soil and some water.
"Sebrum, here is Gabrielle. She is to work here with you for the rest of the day. I will return as we discussed." And she left.
Looking up at the girl, he smiled, but she could tell most of his attention was on the plant. When he was finished, he again looked up and turned his full attention on her. She liked him instantly. His face was full of smiling wrinkles and his eyes were full of joy.
"Lets go out to the roses, Gabrielle. They need trimming and you are just the one for the job."
Walking down rows and rows of plants, they finally came to, what looked to Gabrielle, like a sea of flowering bushes. Each one was in full bloom, she saw all the colors of the rainbow, and the smell was intoxicating.
Placing a very clever cutting tool in her hand, Sebrum showed her how to correctly trim a rose bush. "Start on the left and do that row before you come back here and then begin on the next row. And Gabrielle talk to them. " And he left her to her work.
She moved to the first bush, and as she reached for the branch to clip it a thorn stuck her. "Ouch!" she said, to no one in particular. "So! You are going to fight back!" She moved closer and took the branch more carefully, looking closely for the thorns. She got scratched and stuck many times more and she was getting frustrated and sore when she remembered Sebrum telling her to talk to them. As she started talking to them softly she seemed to look more closely and she began to feel more of an affinity for the plants themselves. She talked to them and asked them to let her trim them so that they would be stronger and healthier.
As she moved from bush to bush she focussed her total attention on the thorns and was not aware of anything going on around her. Finally she looked up and saw a group of children watching her. "See? No blood! I made peace with them." The children smiled and moved closer to look at her hands. Ariana appeared and smiling at the children, she asked the bard, "Are you hungry? You havent eaten for most of the day and it is almost time for supper."
Suddenly her stomach gurgled and she realized that indeed she had been so involved in what she was doing in the hallway and then with the flowers that she had totally forgotten to think of food. With no sun to remind her of the time she had lost track. If it was focus she was supposed to be learning she thought she had proven herself fairly adept indeed.
"Boy, if you knew my appetite, you would realize how unusual it is for me to forget about eating. If Xena knew about this she would sure have a good laugh," Gabrielle chuckled.
"She does know about this, and she is waiting for you in the dining hall expecting me to bring her a waif, fainting from starvation. Come on, you have earned a good meal. You have done very well."
Ariana showed Gabrielle the way to the dining hall, and as they approached, the smells were a definite incentive for Gabrielle to hurry.
At the end of the Council meeting Teyah had led Xena to a large room used for physical workouts. There were all sorts of weapons and armor around the walls. Teyah took a staff and motioned for Xena to choose one too.
"I have been trained in the use of the staff to defend myself, but I want you to know the exact limits of my abilities. In the battles to come I dont want any doubts on your part about my strengths and weaknesses." With that she motioned for Xena to come at her.
Xena made a threatening motion and Teyah was in position to block it instantly. After a few more feints Xena began to see her pattern of engagement. Xena tried to find a weakness in her defenses but, try as she might, she was wasting her time. Finally she saw a movement that might be exploited. She was just about to clobber Teyah in the head when her staff seemed to meet a wall of force. It stopped the staff where it was, not letting it get within six inches of her head. "Oh yes, I forgot to mention that, Xena. I always construct a shield, etherically to protect me in case I should slip up." Teyah laughed at the look on Xenas face.
"I see where that might come in handy, but its not very sporting, is it?" Xena replied. "Does it work with a sword or an arrow as well?"
"A sword that I know is coming, yes. But an arrow is usually too fast. I dont have time to visualize and it takes too much energy to keep it up all the time so I have to trust that I can catch those. Still it is a skill that could save my life. Lets go topside and I will show you some more things that may prove helpful on our journey."
As they walked back up the hallways toward the exit to the surface Xena began to remember when she had been in other caves, many years before, where it had seemed there was no way out.
After seeing to her horse and lighting a small fire, which would vent through the rocks above, she sat on her blankets and studied the Chalice she held in her hands. Did they get the right one? This isnt so much. It looks pretty plain to me.
It was gold and silver with very little decoration on it. The base was wide and there were little carvings in the stem some sort of design. On the bowl of the Chalice there was a pattern of symbols or maybe something written in a strange language of symbols. And in the bottom of the inside was something . Xena started to put some water in the Chalice to magnify whatever was on the bottom and quickly dropped it as the water began to turn red, and thick, like blood!
Xena scooted away from it and just stared at it. What was this thing? Was it magical? Was it dangerous? Leaving it there on the ground she decided to move her blankets to the other side of the cave. Leaning her back against the wall of the cave she settled down for a long night. It had been a long day and she needed to try to get some sleep before leaving at first light to find someone who would pay her for the strange Chalice. She sat there and tried to remember everything she had overheard about the Chalice outside the thieves tent the night before.
When she awoke the next morning, the sun hadnt even begun to rise. She looked at the Chalice and saw that it was no longer on its side but was sitting upright, as if someone had straightened it during the night.
She quickly broke camp and just before she left she covered the Chalice in the cloth it had been wrapped in before. She didnt even want to touch it so she pushed it down deep in her pack and set out to find someone to buy her treasure.
"Xena, we will have a long journey ahead of us soon. We need to focus. The past cant control us, or we wont be able to face the tasks ahead," Teyah said quietly, as she held open the door to the temple.
Xena looked quickly at her and saw compassion in her eyes. Realizing that traveling with an Initiate was going to more of a chore than she had anticipated, she sighed and nodded her head. "Lets get on with it then, shall we."
Outside they quickly crossed the square and disappeared into the forest. As the cool shadows covered them, Xena began to "feel" her surroundings. Outside she could always sort of expand her awareness and sense the animals and birds in the area, and the danger. The woods were peaceful and cool and being finally above ground and in fresh air was a relief to the warrior. The caves were well lighted, and there was plenty of fresh, cool, air, but just the idea of being underground got to her somehow.
"You go that way and I will go around to the river. Try to find me." Teyah said as she disappeared into the shadows before Xena could answer.
"Swell! Now we will play hide-and-see," She muttered under her breath as she leaned against the tree. Waiting a sporting period of time, she went to the place where she had last seen Teyah. She followed her steps for a few yards and then stopped abruptly. The tracks just stopped. They disappeared, just like the woman had a few moments ago. Now where could she have gone? she wondered.
Xena searched the whole area for any sign of the other woman and after a while, gave up and went to the river.
Teyah was sitting on the bank dangling her feet in the water. She was leaning back with her head thrown back, as if she was worshiping the sun. She wore a rust colored tunic, which went well with her red hair, and a metal belt of some sort of brass or golden metal at her waist. On the belt was a small knife, and a pouch for carrying a flint or other essentials. Sitting there on the bank, her long legs reaching out to the water, Xena thought there was something familiar about her. Something that was nudging at the back of her mind, something that she was not sure she wanted to remember.
"About time, Warrior Princess. Im getting a sunburn. I dont have the complexion for this sunbathing thing for so long. What kept you?"
"The fact that your tracks dont exist could have something to do with it," Xena said trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice. "I didnt know apporting was one of your skills." Xena knew it was possible to make objects move from one place to another using the mind, but to move a whole person? That was a revelation she had not even imagined, although, come to think of it she had heard a story
"Ahh, I have many skills, and they are all at your service. This quest may take us a long time and we will be together, very closely together, most of the time. Lets try to be friends. I promise not to bend the rules and to play fair." Teyah was enjoying the frustration she could sense from the tall dark woman. She knew Xena was not used to having someone around her, with similar skills, but she also knew that Xena was there to protect her life, and she wanted them to trust each other. Teyah realized that perhaps her choice of the challenge was not quite suited to the occasion.
"Okay, Xena I wont play anymore games at all. I just thought that a demonstration would save some time. Perhaps I was wrong."
"Just what other skills do you have? Just tell me about them, alright? We dont have much more time before it starts to get dark and Gabrielle is probably waiting for me now." Thinking about Gabrielle, Xena smiled, and looking a Teyah, she decided that whatever the woman could do she would just have to get used to it. It could come in very handy, and she knew she would need all the help she could get. If this trip was anything like the last time she had met Sherhan-Khan, she would need Teyah and all of the tricks she could conjure just to get them out of there alive.
In the dining room Xena sat in the back watching for the bard. Ariana had told her some things about the day Gabrielle had been through, and Xena was ready to commiserate with her. The poor thing had even forgotten about lunch! The warrior couldnt imagine what could have been so fascinating that it would make Gabrielle forget about food. The room was pleasant, large, with murals of the seasons on the walls. The tables were long and at this time of the day, pretty crowded. The people were eating quietly, talking calmly about the events of the day.
Teyah came over with some food on a tray and asked Xena if she was interested. The darker woman studied the red head for a few moments and then said no, she would wait for her friend. Just then the blond bard came into the room with Ariana and Xena left Teyah to welcome her, and help her get some dinner. Teyah smiled and decided she needed to talk to the council once more before they left on their journey.
"Xena! What have you been up to all day?" the younger woman asked when she saw her best friend approaching. "I have been very busy, pacing and pruning." She laughed out laud and then realized that this was not the usual boisterous, dining hall she was used to. There seemed to be a peaceful more decorous atmosphere. Most of the people around her who had heard her musical, joyful exuberance were smiling with her however and with a blush she followed the tall woman over to the table with the food. "This is much quieter than the Amazon dinning hall and so much cleaner than any tavern we have been to. I could get used to this, I hope the food is good." Just then she saw a platter of nutbread, of all things, and she thought she had gone to Elysia.
"Teyah and I have been getting acquainted. She has some useful talents and skills, I think she may fit in after all. We went outside and she demonstrated something that I want to learn. But how about you, tell me about how you are learning concentration and focus."
"You dont want to hear, I cant even make it sound interesting, except these great symbols I saw on the walls. They were sort of symbols, or maybe letters from some sort of language that uses symbols or something. Anyway I am tired. I wonder if we will get to sleep at our campsite tonight or maybe they have other plans."
Xena wasnt listening after the remark about the symbols. Her mind had flashed back to the Chalice and how she had thought the same thing about the marks on it.
She started heading South, deeper into the mountains. She had been studying the maps whenever she could without anyone seeing her and she knew the general direction that she wanted to go. She also knew that she wouldnt survive the trip without a guide.
There was a large village just a day away hopefully on this road, carrying the Chalice so close to her she had difficulty concentrating. She set a pace that the horse could maintain for leagues and her mind began to go back to the cave. To the Chalice and the water blood. As her focus began to waver from the present toward the past she began to feel a dulling of her senses. She began to feel as if there was some sort of interference. Almost, as if someone was trying to communicate with her. But it was so faint that she didnt recognize it at first, just a gentle something.
She began to remember the symbols, or letters, or whatever. She wondered what they meant. They were so simple and yet seemed to say so much. To signify such power. She had heard of an ancient language, so ancient that it almost predated humanity. It was called Sensar and it was all symbols. Each symbol meant volumes and it took so long to learn to interpret the symbols that often they said it took lifetimes. Xena didnt believe any of this but you heard things around the campfire at night. Maybe those symbols on the Chalice were like that. The Chalice was old, very old. Maybe old enough.
"Xena, Gabrielle, my name is Teresa. I was asked to show you where you can sleep tonight. I hope you both enjoyed the meal." Teresa was young and plump. She had a very pleasant face with a big smile. "Perhaps you would like some more time together before we go to your rooms?"
"Rooms?" Xena asked with a dark look in her eye.
"Look, Xena and I have been traveling together for three years now and we are used to staying together." Gabrielle said quickly. "I usually have to help her get her armor off, and," leaning conspiratorially close to Teresa she added, "I have nightmares, and Xena is the only one that can help me get through the night." This was partly true, so Gabrielle didnt feel as if she was lying, she just didnt mention that the Warrior Princess had worse nightmares and she had to be there to help her wake gently and safely from them.
"Well, I just assumed that you would want your own rooms but Im sure we could find a room with two beds." Teresa left to make other arrangements.
"Well I guess that answers that question. Wonder if Argo is comfy. I bet you made sure she was today, didnt you?" Gabrielle seemed to feel left out, from the early morning meeting until dinner it was as if she had been on another planet or something. She had totally lost contact with the most important things in life.
"Shes fine, I did check on her twice today. Palaemon and the villagers are making great progress on rebuilding the village. Did Ariana say anything about your own progress?" Xena asked the bard, wondering how long they would have to stay here before they could get on with this quest.
"She said I did very well, but she didnt give me any idea about how much longer it would take. I know you want to get on the road, and I will try to do the best I can. I just have a lot of trouble focussing my mind, Im always trying to figure everything out and work it into a story somehow." Gabrielle giggled thinking of a story with the gardener and the roses and talking to the plants .
"Tell me about what you and Teyah did today. What is she like? Is she capable of fighting with you?"
Xena wondered how to answer that. Teyah and she always seemed to be fighting, but she knew that wasnt what her friend meant. "Well, she cant fight really, she has been trained only in defense, sort of like you, but her defense is impenetrable. I tried everything and never laid a finger on her." Keeping the extra special defenses Teyah had exhibited to herself.
"Do you like her Xena?"
"So far I dont think so, but our lives will depend on us getting along so I will make a point of it!"
"What do you mean our lives will depend on it? Tell me about what we are getting into."
Just then Teresa returned "I think we have everything arranged to your
satisfaction. Please come with me and I will show you the way."
The next morning Xena had just finished dressing when there was a knock on the door. "I am here to take Gabrielle to Ariana. She is ready to begin with the days exercises."
"Well, you will just have to wait a few minuets. I will tell her." Xena smiled and looked over at the bard snoring away.
"Gabrielle, you have to get up. Ariana has your day starting early." Xena nudged her friend gently, then with more force and then almost pushed her out of the bed.
"Arrrrg! Snuff aready!" Gabrielle mumbled. "I want to on record that I dont think it is possible to concentrate or focus this early in the morning It is morning, isnt it, Xena?" Noticing that there were no windows she had to assume that it was indeed morning. Well, they had slept in enough caves in the past, and it did seem to be light. She would have to ask somebody how they do that with the light.
"I will be busy with Teyah, probably outside if you need me." Xena said. "Ariana must be a very dedicated teacher or else she knows how much of a challenge you are." Xena smiled at the look on the bards face, "Hey! I tried and got nowhere. Ariana has worked with kids and adults alike, she has a much better chance. I know you will do it Gabrielle."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence Princess! I am determined to do my part on this quest, and if this is what it takes I will do it!" Gabrielle smiled as she walked out the door and joined her escort, disappearing down another hallway.
Xena went to get something to eat, and then found the exercise and training room she and Teyah had visited the day before. As she walked in she saw an old friend, Sergiuss brother, Demitri. She saw he was working with a student and she leaned against a wall to watch. It brought back so many memories of her time in the village learning skills with the sword and other weapons. Sergius had always been her instructor and Demitri had worked with the younger students.
Seeing him work now, she could tell that he had learned well from his brother. Just then he noticed her, with a smile he dismissed his student and walked over to her. "I heard you worked out with Teyah yesterday," he said walking toward her with his arm extended for a friendly shake.
"Sort of, I worked hard, but never got close enough to touch her. Did you train her?"
"Most of it, but she brings a lot of it with her from a past full of danger and intrigue."
Xena took a step toward him and looked directly into his eyes. "I am sorry for what happened outside." Thinking about his brother and Helena. "Both of them were very special people. How long had they been back? I just saw them a few months ago."
He held her gaze, "They knew it was coming. Maybe even before they saw you. They took the Teacher North and hurried back to help. We have known for some time that the Gray Dragon was coming."
"Nobody has been talking to me, just some cryptic stories about this quest and no information about what is really going on. Can you tell me anything that might help?"
"The council will tell you all you need to know before you go. I can tell you that the Chalice has been missing for some time but it wasnt until they knew who had it that they decided to call you in. Sherhan-Kahn is in the big leagues. But you bested him once and they have every confidence that you can do it again." He picked up a sword and motioned to her to draw her own. "How about a little exercise to begin the day?"
"Sure, I bet you could use some challenging exercise." She smiled pleasantly as she began to circle around him. "I hope your students dont get too disillusioned when they see you bested by me."
They began easily, feeling each other out. Demitri had never sparred with her, but he had watched her enough in the past to respect her abilities, and that had been more than ten years ago, she had done nothing but improve since then. He had been improving too over the years, and since Sergius had been important in the foundation of each fighters technique the basic patterns were similar for both. Soon they began moving more aggressively, looking for weaknesses to exploit. Xena lunged to Demitris left side and using the momentum, quickly rolled past him. As she came up behind him he was ready and blocked her sword following it closely with a foot to the shoulder. He regretted the move immediately, not because he was afraid he had hurt the Warrior Princess, but because instantly she had a feral grin that turned his blood cold. He knew he was outclassed and it was only a matter of time.
Xena played with him for a few more minutes, enjoying the challenge of someone who knew how to fight with a sword. This was so much more fun than the usual louts she faced that used a sword like a poker and never required any skill on her part. This man knew what he was doing and was almost a challenge. Not nearly as good as his brother had been, but a worthy student nonetheless.
As the two were beginning their final moves and Xena was moving faster and faster, Teyah came into the room. She saw immediately what was happening and leaned against the wall, just as Xena had done earlier, to watch. She smiled at the panic beginning to show on Demitris face. He had been her teacher with the staff, and she respected his abilities but this woman was showing him how it was done and he was trying hard to keep up with her.
Deciding that the poor man had been humiliated enough, Xena finished it with a move so fast Demitri didnt even see it coming. She parried his sword and immediately reversed her momentum to let him fall toward her pushing him from behind. He lost his balance and as he rolled away she was in front of him so he rolled right into her sword. Of course she didnt hurt him but the match was over and Demitri was panting. Xena helped him up and not even breathing hard walked him over to the water barrel, near where Teyah was waiting.
"Well done Warrior, if I had any doubts before, I have every confidence the you are indeed as good as the legends, and you will be able to protect me no matter what happens." Teyah congratulated Xena and with a motherly pat on Demitris arm she said, "If you had to let her win just because she is a guest, you could have at least made her work for it."
Grinning, Demitri spoke as he tried to regain his breath, "I have never seen anything like that. My brother boasted of sparring with you Xena, but even he admitted that you bested him the last time. Maybe I wasnt so smart to challenge you like that."
"No, no, it was fun. I would like you to show me that move you used to counter my downward thrust to the right. I hadnt seen that before." And having taken the focus off of his loss she had him demonstrating his move for her.
A young man came into the room and quickly went to Teyah, whispering in her ear he left. "Xena, we are called to the council chamber. Something has come up. We must go immediately."
Thanking Demitri for the morning fun they left. Each of the women had her own thoughts as they traveled together quickly down the passages toward the meeting.
Gabrielle had followed the young boy for what seemed like leagues. He had given her some cheese and bread as she emerged from her room but that wasnt going to be enough to get her to lunch.
As she walked she remembered that she had been too tired the night before to follow up on her question to Xena about what they were facing. When the girl, Teresa, had taken them to their room she had been nearly asleep on her feet. The room had been a surprise. The walls of course had been lit, but the furniture was not like any she had seen so far in the caves. It was beautiful. Made with dark, rich woods, and covered in the finest cloths. The beds were both large and the mattresses were deep and soft, covered with fine linen. Never had she seen such luxury even in the palaces that they sometimes visited.
As soon as her head had hit the pillow she had been out, and this morning she had had no opportunity to question her friend. What was this Chalice about? Why did they all speak so mysteriously about the Chalice, and what would have to be done to recover it? She hoped that she would get a chance soon to ask Xena these questions and more, right now she had to learn everything she could to be able to help when the time came.
Ariana was busy with some children when Gabrielle was shown into the room. Realizing that this woman usually worked with children didnt do anything to help Gabrielle self esteem. If they can do it, I can do it! was her thought as Ariana approached her.
"Come with me, Gabrielle." Ariana said, and they went back down the halls, twisting and turning Gabrielle was soon lost. Wondering if she would ever get the hang of the layout she realized that without a guide she could be lost here for weeks. Just as she started to try to remember landmarks they came upon another niche much like the one she had spent so much time in the day before. "Today I would like you to think of the word fearlessness. Try to think of everything you know about it. What it means, when you use it, and so on. As you walk back and forth, touch each wall, and think of fearlessness. I will be back for you soon." And she left. Gabrielle just stared after her. Once again she had not gotten to ask any questions, or say anything at all really. So here she was, in a niche, somewhere in the mountain alone. Again. "Well, what had she said to do? Fearlessness? Okay, I will do this, but next time I get to ask why!
So she started to pace back and forth. This time she noticed that there were no wall hangings with symbols. She missed them. As she walked she began to remember how they had looked. Oops, she was supposed to be thinking about fearlessness. As she repeated fearlessness, fearlessness, fearlessness over and over in her mind trying to think of what it meant she realized that it meant Xena. She began to think of all of the times that Xena had been fearless, against monsters and thieves, raiders and slavers, assassins and murderers. After remembering many of their adventures she began to ask herself what made Xena fearless? Was it her confidence in her abilities? Was she just foolish? No, it had to be something more. Perhaps she was fearless because she didnt think about fear. What was fear? Could you just not think about fear in a dangerous situation? All of these thoughts and more were going around in her head as she walked back and forth, back and forth.
Soon she began to ask herself if she had ever been fearless. Had she been less fearful recently than when she had first met Xena? Was she developing fearlessness? What was she afraid of?
She worked with the ideas going around and around in her head, walking back and forth, until a new thought occurred to her. Perhaps fearlessness wasnt confidence, or foolishness, or lack of fear, but an energy all its own. A tangible thing that you could draw on. An energy separate from fear, like a strength or a skill that you could call on to help get you through a dangerous situation.
About that time she began to visualize the symbols on the walls from the day before. She began to associate them with the word fearlessness. As she thought about them more and more they became real to her. It was almost as if her recalling them had materialized them on the walls before her. As she walked back and forth touching the walls at each end before she turned and returned to the other side she was startled to feel, briefly, as if the hanging was indeed there. Startled but not wanting to break her rhythm she tried harder to see the symbols. When she reached out at the other end she reached out to touch the wall and she definitely felt something.
Ariana had been watching from the shadows for some time and as the hangings began to become clearer and clearer she smiled. As Gabrielle touched the wall hanging for the second time Ariana stepped out and briskly said, "That is long enough Gabrielle, we will move on now"
Gabrielle was startled and the hangings were gone instantly. She didnt know whether to try to tell Ariana what had happened. How could she explain it? She wasnt so sure she believed it herself.
As she tried to arrange her thoughts so that she could ask Ariana about the hangings another young boy approached Ariana, whispered in her ear, and then left. "We have to go to the council chamber Gabrielle, it is urgent!" They hurried down the halls, Ariana wondering what the council wanted and hoping she would have more time to work with Gabrielle, and Gabrielle still trying to make sense of what had happened.
When Gabrielle entered the council chamber she saw Xena and Teyah entering from the other side. Ariana left her and disappeared through the door behind the table. Xena and Teyah moved to stand next to Gabrielle and they all faced the table. Sitting behind the table where again twelve figures but this time Gabrielle was surprised to see seven of them were wearing robes of deep colors, the others were in white. Each of the colored robes was different. In the center was a crimson robe with gold decorations. Then there were blue, green yellow, violet, and orange. Each one was decorated with symbols and mantles. Each one had a hood so that their faces were anonymous. It was very impressive and the three of them stood very straight, Gabrielle showing both awe and respect.
The figure in red spoke first, "You have been summoned here to be given your final instructions before you set out on your quest. We have discovered some new information that makes your immediate departure necessary. We would like to give you all of the details we can to help you complete you task quickly and safely."
The green robbed one stood up and walking around the table towards the trio said, "The Chalice is sometimes called the Chalice of Blood, however the true name is the Chalice of Amrita. Amrita is a Sanskrit word, which means "vessel of immortality." The origin of the Chalice is Egyptian, and its antiquity goes back some twelve thousand years. It was used through out the ages at ceremonies of initiation, and it was used only at the highest levels, then only by a Buddha. This Chalice has for the most part," looking significantly towards Xena, "been kept by high level initiates in the temple of KaraShar, and has traveled very little beyond the continent known from here as the Far East. Few people in the West even know it exists. Most of those travel Eastward to study and serve in the hopes of someday, some lifetime, being part of the ceremony of the Chalice."
The figure in yellow stood and said, "Many months ago the Chalice was again removed from its place of honor. We are not sure how it was done. The Chalice was kept in a shielded room with three initiates in attendance at all times. It just seemed to disappear. We are all familiar with apportation and dematerialization, and these things were foreseen and measures were taken to prevent them." Gabrielle was looking a bit puzzled. "It is possible that someone, we know now it was Sheran-Kahn, found a way to overcome the measures taken, but no one can determine how."
"We ask you to return the Chalice to its resting place. Xena is not to touch it. Teyah will work with both of you and you will come up with a plan."
The red one spoke again, "I will not go into the consequences of a failure on your parts. I will not even recognize the possibility. This is not a threat, as the consequences will not directly effect the two of you. But know that it is important to the entire Human race that you are successful."
"Do you have any questions?
Xena took a step forward. Gabrielle turned to watch her and was amazed at the way she looked. She seemed to be tense, her muscles in her face were tight, her shoulders were back and her whole attitude was one of restrained energy. "How is the Gray Dragon involved? How do we approach the home of Sheran-Kahn, and will we get any help from the Geshar-Kahn?"
"Ahhhh, well, Xena, so many questions," said the figure in orange with a smile. "I am glad you brought up the Gray Dragon. She is working for Sheran-Khan. Tell your friend who she is, Xena. Tell her how you two met."
Xena turned to face Gabrielle, she didnt look her in the eye but looked down at her hands. "I met her when I was leaving Chin. She found me in a cave. I was in pretty bad shape. She helped me heal and I noticed that she worked much as Lao Ma had so I asked her where she had learned her skills. She said that she had been in Ming Tiens harem with Lao Ma and had studied with the same teacher. However as she had learned more of the teachings that had so inspired Lao Ma, the other one, the one we call now the Grey Dragon, turned toward the darker studies. She escaped the harem and found a different teacher. She had already mastered the art of concentration." At this she did look up at Gabrielles face and there was a brief smile. "She learned how to use the energy of the physical and etheric planes to destroy. She used them to manipulate and rule. However no matter how good anyone gets, there is always someone better. Sheran-Khan was always just a little better. That is how she found me. I had just had an interview, with him."
"Yes and as a result of that, um interview, the Chalice was returned to us by the Gray Dragon and that is the end of that story," finished the man in orange.
"Now we begin again. You asked about help from the Geshar-Khan. Yes, he has agreed to help, but only if it is absolutely necessary. Teyah will be in contact with him. Only call on him if you cannot progress otherwise."
"As for how you will approach the Sheran-Khan, well you were so inventive the last time I am sure you will find a way Xena. You are, in fact, the only one here who knows where he is. He is very shielded and we have no way to physically determine his location without sending many men to search, but we dont have to, you can find him for us."
The figure in red stood and came around the table to take Gabrielles hands, "Do you have any questions my dear?" Without releasing Gabrielles hands, she turned back to the table and called, "Ariana, has she progressed far enough for Teyah to complete the necessary training?"
Ariana, who had reentered the room at some time and had been sitting at the table in a white robe, stood and said, "Yes, she has made very good progress. Teyah will be able to continue, and by the time it is needed, Gabrielle will be capable of completing her duties."
"Good! Now Gabrielle is there anything you need to ask Us?"
There had been so much information thrown at her so quickly, she had so many questions, she tried to find one that would make sense. "Yes, earlier you said something about appor tation? What is that and also de mater ializa something."
With a smile, the red robe moved back toward the table. "Apportation, is simply the calling of a material object through the ethers to a different place, sort of disassembling it in one place and reassembling it in another. Dematerialization is very similar, but with that you totally destroy the object. You take its very atoms and disperse them."
"Well, all of the particles."
Gabrielle sighed, she knew there were lots more but she had to think about it for a while and go over what had been said first. "I guess not," she said.
The blue robbed figure smiled kindly and said, "We know there is a lot for you to assimilate Gabrielle. You are going to be traveling with two people who will be able to answer most of your questions so smooth that furrow of frustration from your brow and go in peace. We wish you safe travel and success for your quest."
Recognizing a dismissal the three women left the room.
As they walked down the hall toward their rooms to gather their things Gabrielle placed her hand on Xenas arm, causing her to pause. "Xena, Im still not sure what it is we are going to do, but I will be there for you. You looked so tense in there, can you tell me anything else about the Gray Dragon?"
Turning back and continuing down the hall Xena said, "Not now Gabrielle. Later I will tell you everything, but now I have to think about the trip ahead."
Teyah, hearing this exchange, stopped and taking Gabrielles hand she smiled and answered, "Xena has much to assimilate herself little friend. She has just learned she will face not only her worst nightmare, but also someone who almost meant the destruction of her very soul."
Looking worried, Gabrielle ran to catch up with her friend and had she looked back she would have been very surprised to see Teyah just disappear.
Later that afternoon they all gathered at the exit to the caves. Opening the hidden doorway Teyah motioned for them to proceed. Gabrielle, then Xena went through with their things and then the door closed. "Where is she?" Gabrielle asked.
"Oh, she will turn up." Xena answered her, and turned to look closely at the bard. "This is going to be a very dangerous mission Gabrielle, I need you with us but if you want to stay behind I think we could still be successful. I would be devastated if anything happened to you, you know that, right?"
Gabrielle smiled up at her best friend and nodded her head, "I know Xena, but this thing has me so intrigued that I wouldnt miss it for the world."
"This isnt a game. Like Teyah said, we are possibly talking about our souls here. The battle wont be so much swords and staffs, although I am sure they wont get dusty, This is going to be mental and so much more, as well a journey of many months, over land and sea." She finished looking closely at her friends expression change to a slight green tinge.
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle let it out with a sigh, "Well, if thats what it takes, Im in!
Xena pulled her friend into a hug and gently stroked her hair. "Well, then we had better get on with it then." But she didnt move to leave. Gabrielle put her arms around Xenas waist and placed her head against the warriors neck. Neither of them seemed in a hurry to go. "This may be the wildest adventure ever Xena, but we will get through it and return to Greece. I know it. I have every confidence in you."
"We will be traveling with two other people, at least for a while. Palaemon has asked to come along and I think we can use him, at least until we get to the coast." Xena pulled back to look again into the green eyes of the bard.
"So off we go again, this time to face a wizard or something and a Gray Dragon and the wilds of the biggest mountains in the known world. So what else is new?" Gabrielle reached for her pack and her staff. Xena, lifting her things, led the way up the spiral staircase.
Continued in Part Three
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