Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lao Ma, Alti, Borias, and everyone else who sounds familiar belong to Pac Ren and Universal Studios. I am not making money off of this story.
Genre Disclaimer: Ok. Bear with me, please, because this is kinda tough to explain. Sometime last year, I read a story on the internet that moved me so much, I was inspired to write a sort of companion piece to it. That story was "Lost Soul Walking" by DJWP. In her words, "This is NOT UberXena fiction. It just starts out like it is." The same can be said for this piece. While not directly related to "Lost Soul Walking", "Desert Storm" can be considered a sort of prequel to it. It is a story, if you will, about the lifetime before the one depicted in that fabulous, outstanding story. (Can you tell I loved it?) In addition, this is somewhat of an ambitious piece of fiction, in that I am attempting (dont know if Ive succeeded, but Ive attempted) to take the entire X:WP universe and modernize it. We start, in updated terms, with my version of Xenas betrayal by Caesar (seen in "Destiny"), and continue up through the X:WP episode known as "Remember Nothing". The plot will be very recognizable to you. Its meant to be that way.
Special note: Because of this, Gabrielle does not appear, except in offhand mention, in a great deal of the first half of this story. Do not look for her, because you wont find her. After all, she was not a part of evil Xenas life. If she were, things might have turned out differently, but because this is based on the premise of "Lost Soul Walking" it cannot happen differently. Gabrielle will, however, make her presence known, and that quite strongly, in the second half of the story. If you can hang on till then, I believe that you will not be disappointed.
Sexuality and Violence Disclaimers: Were dealing with an updated dark Xena through much of the first half, and an updated redeemed Xena through the second. Theres gonna be violence. There are gonna be naughty words. There are also descriptions of sexual activity in this work. There are allusions to heterosexual sex, but nothing graphic. There are some graphic (though I hope tasteful) scenes of sexual expression between women as well. That is how I see the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and that is how I will continue to write it.
And, finally, thanks: To, as always, the incomparable Mike. A better beta and a better friend one could never hope for. Thank you also, as always, to Mary D, who rescued this story from the refuse heap and begged me to keep going on it. If you hate it, blame her. <w> Grateful and heartfelt appreciation goes out to DJWP, for continuing to write stories that grab me somewhere above the liver and giving her kind permission to mention her story in these disclaimers. If you havent read her stories, please, do yourself a favor and do so. Finally, this story is dedicated to a group of people without whom I would most probably be living on the streets. Elizabeth, Rachel, Sulli, and the rest of the "Get Sue to Atlanta" crew, this ones for you!
Feedback: As always is gratefully appreciated. If you wrote to me regarding "Redemption" during the month of September to early October and I havent responded, please allow me the honor of apologizing in public. It was then that I was at my lowest point and making ready to move to my new home. Your words of praise and encouragement for my writing kept me firmly out of the pit of depression I was falling into and I shall be forever grateful to each and every one of you who took the time out to feed this bard. And for those of you patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for Redemptions sequel, fear not, for with the conclusion of this piece, that piece will be started. Any and all who wish to may write me atSwordnQuil@aol.com . Ill continue to do my best to answer each and every email. An exploding mailbox is a good thing to have. Thanks again!
by: SwordnQuill (Susanne Beck)
21 January 1992 Rodriguez Compound Medellin, Colombia
What the winter holidays lacked gaiety, they more than made up for in brutality. Back from Indonesia, Geraldo walked in on a Kael that seemed but one step away from utter madness. This time, alcohol had become her drug of choice, and empty bottles littered the house. The staff had long since abandoned the crazed woman, too frightened to set foot in the huge house without Geraldo there to act as somewhat of a buffer.
Following the trail of discarded clothes and empty bottles, Geraldo had walked up to the master bedroom, where his senses were almost overwhelmed with the scent of alcohol and stale sweat. Kael sat before the fireplace, guzzling yet another bottle of liquor, rocking back and forth as she did so.
She had been totally unkempt, this shadow of his lover, her hair greasy and matted, her clothes stained and wrinkled, as if shed slept in them for many nights running.
Dead drunk she might have been, but Geraldo had to perform an almost balletic move to evade the bottle thrown at his head with deadly accuracy. "Leave me the fuck alone," she had snarled.
Jetlagged from the trip and heart-sore from the vision before him, Geraldo did what he did best, these days. He capitulated. Again.
Kael stood in the middle of her roomand it was her room now, Geraldo having taken up residence in another of the bedrooms after his return from his Indonesia triphalf drunk, yet clean, staring down at an empty liquor bottle sitting somewhere near the middle of the teak cocktail table near the fireplace.
Rubbing her hands together, she took in a deep breath and let it out, then rolled her head around, cracking the vertebrae and relieving some of the stress in her neck. "Cmon, Kael," she whispered, her breathed words unheard above the crackle and hiss of the fire as it burned, "you can do this. Youre an empty vessel, remember? An empty vessel."
Clearing her drunken thoughts was a process doomed from the start, but Kael was nothing if not mule-stubborn. She tried to fill her mind with the image of the kiss she and Lao Ma had shared in that long ago time, but Iannas face and form seemed to always interfere, despite Kaels best efforts to erase the dark witch from her thoughts.
She opened her eyes, but the damned bottle refused to budge from its spot on the table.
She tried harder.
But it was useless.
Her face screwing up in a predators snarl, she lashed out with her foot, sending the glass bottle to shatter against the stone of the fireplace, the shards glittering like misplaced diamonds as they landed on the hearthrug.
"God damned mother-fucking son of a goddamn bitch!" The table was the next to fall, splintered into kindling by a well placed kick.
More bottles flew, smashing against the floor and walls, testifying to Kaels rage with musical tinkles of shattering glass. "Lao Ma! How could you leave me?!? How could you do this to me?"
The mattress and bedding werent spared their own share of their owners anger, nor were the works of priceless, and not so priceless, art that adorned the walls of the large room.
Spitting obscenities and saliva in equal measures, Kael became a whirlwind of destruction, using her fists, head and feet to punch plate-sized holes through the rooms drywall. Plaster dust settled over the floor and destroyed furniture in drifts like a cocaine addicts greatest fantasy come to life in white powder.
From his place in the study a floor below, Geraldo heard the tantrum from its inception. As they had become more and more frequent in the passing weeks, he ignored the noises from above as best he could until the sounds of breaking walls caused him to jump up from his chair and bolt from the room, his feet pounding into the thick carpeting as he navigated the stairs, four at a time.
What he saw, this scene from a poorly-made horror flick, wasnt human. Kaels clear blue eyes were dead as a corpses, lacking even the spark of rage that her body held as its very own.
Swallowing back his fright, he launched himself into the fray, sending up a quick prayer to the Blessed Virgin as he did so.
Kael heard him enter and stopped her deconstruction of the walls. She turned, her long fingers hooked into eagles talons and flexing . . .flexing . . .waiting to sink into his flesh and feast on it in an orgy of blood and death. Her face was a grinning deaths head mask, full lips pulled back from gleaming teeth in a wordless snarl, gums glistening and pink against the whiteness of her canines. "Cmere, little puppy," she taunted, seeming not even to recognize him. "Lets play."
"Stop this, Kael. Now."
Cocking her head to the side, Kael allowed her lips to curl into an exaggerated pout. "Whats the matter, Geraldo? Dont wanna play with me anymore? You used to love to play with me. Remember?" Her hands relaxed, then came up, caressing her own breasts, pulling at her nipples and jutting out her hips in wanton seduction.
"Enough! Damn it, Kael, thats enough!"
"Cant get it up anymore, little man? Pity."
"Stop it! You need help, Kael. And youre going to get it. Starting now. Ive been much too lax with you, but that ends here. Ill give you a choice. You can come with me willingly, or Ill drag you to a hospital myself."
Kael sneered, dropping her hands from her breasts. "I dont like either of your choices, Geraldo. Pick another," she purred, beginning to stalk him. "One well both enjoy."
Geraldo retreated with each step Kael advanced, until his back his hit a desiccated wall. "No. I wont fall into your trap anymore. I love you and Im going to do right by you. You need help and Im going to make sure you get it, willingly or not."
"A eunuch cant grow back his balls, my dear. You lost yours the day I met ya."
Seeing his chance, he lunged at her. Kael twisted away at the last second, retreating back toward the center of the room, grinning wildly. "Ohhhh, so you do wanna play. I like this game."
Geraldo made another attempt, but Kael dodged his advance, giggling in a high-pitched, almost girlish voice.
"Come and get me, little man."
In an attempt filled with desperation, Geraldo managed to snare one of Kaels thick wrists, a stroke of blind luck allowing him to twist it up behind her back, disabling her temporarily. Kael shrieked like a trapped cat, hissing and twisting as she tried to buck him away.
"Listen to me, Kael," he said soothingly, his lips brushing against the softness of her ear, "you dont have to live like this. Whatevers going on can be fixed. Let me help you. I love you. Let me help you."
Trapped within his strong grasp, Kael allowed her body to relax slightly, lulling him, making him believe she was actually listening to his pathetic drivel. When she felt his hold loosen minutely, she quickly reached out toward the remains of the couch, snagging one of the few unbroken whiskey bottles and shattering it on the chairs arm, holding the jagged remainder by the neck.
Before Geraldo could even think to react, she brought the bottle to her side, slicing the arm that held her.
Hissing in pain, Geraldo drew away, clasping the bleeding wound, his eyes shooting daggers at the now-free woman. "You dont want to do this, Kael. Give me the bottle."
"Like hell I will," she replied, slashing at the air just inches from his face. His hands flew up to protect the delicate skin as he backed away quickly. "You just made a very big mistake, Geraldo. A very big mistake."
Fear curling deep in the pit of his belly, Geraldo fought to keep his breathing under control as his wide eyes followed Kaels every movement. Her twisting, slashing form was hypnotic as a cobras and he prepared himself for her deadly strike. "Put the bottle down, Kael," he tried again. "Lets talk about this."
"The time for talkings over, little man. Its been over for quite awhile now. Nows the time for action."
With blinding speed, the cobra struck.
Geraldo screamed as he felt the jagged glass plow a furrow into his cheek, narrowly missing his eye and continuing down until his jaw shunted the weapon away from his face. Blood sheeted from the gaping wound, covering both man and woman as Geraldos hands instinctively went up to clamp down on the tear in his face.
Kael grinned in satisfaction, but managed to quell the almost overwhelming impulse she had to stick the shattered bottle into his unprotected middle and twist until she could feel his spine stop her forward momentum.
Most of her wanted to just finish the job, but the tiny part that still held the last tattered shreds of her sanity was the stronger of the two, and so Kael pulled away, turning and stalking from the room, the remains of the bottle still clamped in one blood-slick hand.
She strode down the stairs and into the kitchen, leaving a trail of gore to mark her passage through the house. The maid, only recently talked into resuming her dutiesalbeit with a significant financial incentive thrown in to sweeten the pottook one look at the blood-covered, armed and half crazy Mistress of the house, screamed, and promptly fainted onto the cool terracotta tiles of the kitchen floor.
Her blue eyes wild, Kael laughed at the sight and threw her makeshift weapon down on the floor, the remaining glass shattering and providing a grizzly halo to the downed woman as it sparkled across the tiles around her fallen head.
Walking out of the front door, she cut left and stalked over to the huge garage housing their myriad of vehicles slipping quietly inside its cool, darkened confines. Closing the door behind her, she leaned against one wall for a moment, allowing her heart-rate to slow as she inhaled a mixture of motor oil and car wax. The scents helped soothe her. A little.
Sighing, she pushed away from the wall, somewhat irked by the blood that was slowly drying to a sticky crust on her bare arms. Walking over to one of the recessed cabinets, she quickly tapped in the security code, opened the door and pulled out a set of keys.
Then she padded over to the sleek, shiny little speed demon with an engine bigger than the interior, and slipped inside the leathered comfort, cranking up the engine in a satisfying howl of horses and filling the garage with the stink of smoking tires as she backed out of the open garage.
Shoving the car into gear, she executed a precise one-hundred-eighty-degree turn and headed toward the barred gate of the compound, baring her teeth at the frightened looks the heavily armed guards were throwing her way.
Trying to hold his face together, Geraldo ran out into the yard, followed closely behind by the now recovered and screaming housekeeper who was waving a blood-stained towel in her hand and running as quickly as her thick legs could carry her.
"Open the gates!" the drug lord screamed at his guards, well knowing that Kael would simply ram them down if given half a chance. "Then someone follow her! Dont let lose her or Ill have your heads! Do you understand me?!?"
Something, either the sight of their gore-covered boss screaming obscenities at them, or the sight of a shiny black demon-car bearing down on them, made the guards decisions for them and one ran to open the gate while the other jumped into the Range Rover parked by the guard-shack just outside the fence.
Kael shot out through the ever widening gap in the fence, more than a bit disappointed that she didnt get the chance to ram the damn gate down, even more so with the fact that in her hurry shed managed to miss the little pissant who was cranking the damn thing open while looking at her through white eyes half the size of dinner plates.
She jarred the wheel sharply to the left and the car took the turn on two wheels, shooting onto the street and missing a broadside collision with an oncoming bread truck by the width of a hair. The bread truck then did what Kael wished she could have done, taking out both gate and guard in one fell swoop of screeching brakes, squealing metal, and screaming human. The Range Rover finished the job, plowing headlong into the bread truck and smashing the guard flat against the gate post.
The screams mercifully stopped.
Cackling in triumph, Kael downshifted and sped out toward the milling city, a gore-coated specter whose sanity, what there was of it, cowered in a corner of her dark and empty soul.
Forty five minutes later, she found herself on the very outskirts of Medellin, driving along a twisting road shed never been on before, having no idea how shed gotten there, and gripping the twisted remains of a blood-sodden business card tightly in one hand.
Too puzzled over her apparent blackout to be frightened, she pulled off to the side of the empty road and looked down at the card again, trying to decipher the fine script through the coating of damp blood obscuring it.
Ianna Velasquez de la Cruz
The address was a bit harder to read, but by placing it within the map she carried inside her head, Kael figured she was pretty close to the seers home, even though she honestly couldnt remember having made the conscious decision to drive out that way.
"Alright, witch," she whispered. "Time to find out whats going on here."
She eased the car back onto the street, the sound of her tires crunching over gravel the only thing that could be heard this far out into the country. A short while later, a white, adobe-style house loomed over the cresting hill, sitting on land that was almost entirely barren; a definite rarity for an area where jungle was a fact of life. A smaller building, also white, sat off to one side, its doors and windows tightly shuttered against the strong sunlight. Unlike the house, which seemed, from the road at least, more open and airy, the lone outbuilding had a vaguely menacing air around it, as if, by its closed-tight look, it promised dark secrets hidden within.
As Kael drove closer, she noted that there wasnt a number on, or near, the house, but since there werent any other habitable buildings anywhere else along the road for as far as the eye could see, the dwelling must have been the right one.
Pulling up into the semi-circular driveway, she turned off the ignition and sat in the car for a moment, listening to the tick of the slowly cooling engine and thinking. On her wild drive to nowhere, her anger leaked out of her slowly, leaving her empty once more. She was well aware how deep of a pit of depression she was in.
She was empty.
Completely and without purpose.
Emptier even than when she had first set foot in Colombia, the only reason for her existence being to live until the next fix could end the screaming pain of her shattered legs.
She didnt even have that pain to spark her anymore.
Instead, she felt . . .numb.
Anger and hatred seemed the only things capable of filling her enough to erase the swaddled-cotton feelings she experienced each and every day since Lao Mas death. Utter rage was the only thing that got her out of the bed in the mornings.
She knew she was falling. Knew it in the marrow of her bones. So she tried. Oh yes, she tried. Tried again to be that vessel for purity that Lao Ma had so wished for her. Tried to picture in her mind that one perfect moment when anything seemed possible.
And failed. Miserably.
Well, if darkness was what it took to get her living again, she could handle that. Relish it, even. It seemed all she was destined for anyway.
Why not have fun with it?
And she had the feeling that this seer could be very fun, indeed.
Feeling a little better about life in general, Kael pushed open the door and slipped her long frame out of the cramped car, raising to her full height gracefully, stretching out her muscles as she did so, and frowning, once again, at the caked blood liberally coating her flesh. "Motherfucker bleeds like the stuck pig he is," she muttered, scratching flakes of blood off her arm.
The closing of her car door seemed deliberately timed to coincide with the opening of another. Dressed in dark jeans and a bright green shirt, her hair hanging loose and blowing in the slight breeze, a smile firmly affixed to her beautiful face, Ianna seemed the very picture of peace and clean living.
That and a good, healthy dose of primal, blatant sensuality thrown in for good measure.
"Welcome," Ianna purred, leaning against the doorjamb in an exact imitation of Kaels casually seductive pose when they had first met. "I knew wed see one another again."
"Yeah. Youre a real fortune teller, alright."
Iannas smile broadened. "It pays the bills. Wont you come inside?"
Instead of answering, Kael brushed past the standing figure and walked down the dimly lit hallway toward what she sensed was a large open room, lured on by the sight of candlelight as it flickered off one wall in the near distance.
The hallway opened out and Kael stepped into the room, then stopped, stunned at the sight before her.
The room was filled with candles. Seemingly hundreds of them littered every flat surface within, their flames dancing merrily and casting eerie shadows on walls and objects stuffed into the largish space. Taking up most of the remaining space were garishly dressed and painted life-sized plaster representations of what Kael, a Catholic girl back when religion actually meant something to heras in when she was five and her parents, both long dead, forced her into a Church kicking and screamingrecognized to be saints. She looked, over her shoulder, at Ianna, who had followed her into the room. A perfectly arched eyebrow raised over one impossibly blue eye in question.
"As I said, it pays the bills," Ianna said unapologetically. "The locals like a bang for their buck and I, of course, am happy to provide it for them. I am, after all, a Santeria priestess." Her smile was mocking.
The connection clicked home. "Santeria. Saints."
Ianna grinned. "Beauty and brains. An intoxicating package."
"Yeah. Whatever." Kael looked around. "You really believe in all this mumbo-jumbo? I took you more for a woman of . . .substance."
The other woman laughed, somehow a harsh and grating sound, like two sandstone blocks rubbing against one another. "The spirit world has more substance than you could ever imagine. This is just my parlor. My pretty trappings, if you will. There are other, much more glorious things to be seen here. For those with the courage to look." Her glance was a challenging one.
Kael snorted. "Like your friends in the Villa family?"
"Ahh, you heard about them, did you?"
"One of my proudest achievements."
"If you consider that an achievement, I dont think Id like to see any of your failures."
Ianna tilted her head coyly. "Thats just because you dont know the whole story. It was a wonderful success."
"Ya dont say."
"Oh, but I do. I most definitely do. You see, if they had only listened to me, did what I told them to do, theyd have been alive right now."
"I was under the impression that listening to you was what got them murdered in their beds."
Ianna laughed again. "Who do you think set that up in the first place?"
Kael bit back a smirk, cocking her eyebrow at the other woman.
"Id be happy to share the whole tale with you, but first, why dont why dont we slip you into something a little more . . .comfortable."
The raven eyebrow rose higher.
"Fetching as the blood-stained look is on you, my dear, I dont want to have to spend the rest of the day washing it out of the furniture. Were about the same size. Im sure I have something to compliment that marvelous body of yours."
A half hour later, Kael was stepping out of the shower and feeling, physically at least, totally clean for the first time in what seemed to be months. Her long, lean body dripping, she reached out for a towel, only to open her eyes to find it dangling from one of Iannas fingers, a devious, totally wanton smile playing on the other womans full lips. "Looking for something?" she purred.
Shooting Ianna a withering glance, Kael snatched the towel and began drying herself off, putting a subtle play of eroticism in the act just for fun. As she put one leg up on the commode to begin drying the long, tanned expanse of skin, she saw the other woman, eyes glued to the sight, unconsciously lick her lips. Kael smirked and took her time, giving her audience a view she wouldnt soon forget.
"If I ever had an ounce of doubt in my mind as to why that little bastard who calls himself a drug lord rolls belly up for you like a horse-whipped puppy, youve erased it quite nicely," Ianna said, her normally husky voice even more burred as she struggled against the urges Kael engendered in her body.
After having dried off every square centimeter of flesh on her body, Kael straightened to her full height and simply stared at Ianna, a half grin teasing at the corners of her mouth. "Are you just gonna stand there staring at me all day, or are clothes an option?"
"Decisions, decisions," Ianna returned, grinning wickedly. "Though I suppose clothing would make our little chat a bit less . . .distracting."
"Then just give me the damn things and lets get on with this already."
Ianna laughed, but handed over the clothing and left the room, not bothering to close the door behind her.
Ten minutes later, as Kael walked into the living area clad in Iannas tight maroon tanktopsans braand faded denim jeans, her hair still wet from the shower and clinging lovingly to her broad, tanned shoulders, Ianna realized she was wrong.
Clothed or not, the woman was distracting as hell.
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