AN: This is focused on several things, one being religion. I don't want to offend anyone but it will be one of the focuses in this story. Lots of demon themed stuff as well as canon Xena as well. This is not slander against the Roman Catholic Church (as it is my own religion) but a fantasy story and even Xena incorporates religion into the show later on. This is quite a different journey and even a different time period but it's Xena...I think any era goes, right?
I have my own characters in here as well as canon characters. Follow along and you'll do just fine.
Nature, nurture, heaven and home
Sum of all, and by them, driven
To conquer every mountain shown
But I've never crossed the river
Braved the forests, braved the stone
Braved the icy winds and fire
Braved and beat them on my own
Yet I'm helpless by the river
Angel, angel, what have I done?
I've faced the quakes, the wind, the fire
I've conquered country, crown, and throne
Why can't I cross this river?
Rome 1450 AD
The burning of flesh can wake up anybody on a gloomy morning. The agonizing screams of a young maiden filled the square where people gathered to watch the doom of this maiden's death. Bound and shackled to a crucifix, her feet tied, bruised limbs and tattered clothing. Hundreds of Romans gathered around watching the maiden slowly burn on the crucifix for a crime that she committed against the Holy Roman Empire. Whispers circled around but the maiden's banshee-like scream drowned them all out.
"Please! Have mercy!" The maiden cried out as she began to smell of her own flesh burning. Tears streamed down her cheeks as black smoke clouded her vision. She no longer saw eyes gawking at her but the bright heavens staring down at her. Coughing she closed her eyes as her lungs began to fill with black smoke.
The crowd was silent. Ever so silent. The maiden was no older than twenty and yet here she was being showcased to the world for her punishment. Was it really worth it?
The bishop looked on from afar as he watched the maiden's flesh continue to burn. She had passed out by now and her head lolled, her body became limp. He sighed no longer wishing to look at the monstrosity any longer. He snapped his fingers and the accommodating priests followed him back to his caravan that awaits him. The bishop only wished to stay as long as the girl took her last breath. He didn't need to see any more of it. this wasn't a practice that he thoroughly enjoyed as it was rather boring and dull, but when it needed to be done he was there as ordered by the higher powers.
"I will give word to the archbishop that the task at hand is complete. It will serve as a warning to those who all oppose the Holy Roman Empire," he whispered with malice to the priests accompanying him. Once he left in the caravan back to the church the crowd began to disperse. Many stayed behind and put out the roaring fire that slowly began to die. The maiden's flesh was burnt to a crisp and she was no longer the gorgeous blonde that she once was. She was just a corpse now, destined for Hellfire.
In the alleyway nearby a hooded lurker watched the entire barbaric practice of burning the poor girl. The lurker rubbed his chin unsure what to make of this. It had been the third burning this month. That was far too many in his opinion. Most people that burned at the stake were those who practiced witchcraft and those who practice witchcraft defied the church. This had to be more than just witchcraft, unless there were witch hunters? There is such a thing in fairytale books perhaps, the lurker told himself.
Swiftly, the lurker hurried down the alleyway, his dark cloak swishing behind. He made sure his appearance was to be unknown as he was also wanted by the church, but he made sure he was never caught. The church may be powerful but the people inside...not so bright, he snickered at his own thoughts.
After a few more turns in the labyrinth of alleyways in this god-forsaken city he made it to the outskirts where someone was eagerly waiting for him. His cohort was standing next to a black horse and he pulled out a piece of paper from his cloak pocket. The mysterious rider looked to the lurker and stuffed the letter in the pocket of her cloak. The lurker saw a subtle smile appear under that dark hood. He felt that he did some good service. The lurker never asked questions of whom he met and nor did he need to as long as the message got to the right person it didn't matter.
The problem was...exchanging information often got messengers killed even when they are most stealthy and most careful. He was like a sub-messenger –relaying messages to other messengers so they could be delivered to their rightful owner or place. He didn't know the details but he knew the long ride to the source was a deadly one. The messenger might end up like that poor maiden or worse. He didn't want to think about that now. He needed to get out of this city and go back to his abode, hidden in a forest not too far from Rome.
In the dead of the night the messenger rode far from Rome, as far as she could. She needed to give this important note to her commander. She wasn't going to stop even if her horse gave out in the end. This was far too vital for any mistakes. As she continued to ride she heard a whistling sound come from behind her. Turning her head it was too late. An arrow struck her in the shoulder blade and she groaned in agonizing pain.
Soon, another arrow pierced her barely above her hip bone and she lost control, falling off her horse, tumbling down on the cold grassy planes. Moaning she snapped the arrow in her side off and persevered to get up and try to make a run for it. when she almost made it up a large black boot stomped on her hand and she screamed, feeling the small bones cracking and hissing beneath her flesh.
The invader ripped the hood off the rider and exposed her wild red curly hair. She gasped as her eyes traveled upward at the masked man. He grabbed her by her hair lifting her up off the ground. She yelped and grimaced at her attacker. He had a menacing smile and instantly she felt shivers travel up her spine.
"Who do you work for, lassie?" the gruff sounding man asked. Her response was a large glob of saliva in his face. He frowned and threw her on the ground. "Playing hard to get are ye?" he chuckled and walked over to his large steed to retrieve his enormous blade.
Looking back her eyes widened in fear once she saw the blade. It must have been the same size as she was. Crawling on her knees she scurried across the grassy planes tugging at her wounded side, she winced as the stinging pain worsened. As she desperately crawled on the cold soil she felt the cloak tighten on her neck and she choked. He stepped on her cloak and she coughed as she tried to undo the clasp about her neck.
"I know of you people...you call yourselves the angels or some horseshit like that..." he snickered. "Seeking peace where it need not be! Passing notes like school children to your leader!" he raised the blade high in the sky with a beaming smile. "Not today, lassie!" he swung the blade down into her spine and a loud bellowing scream filled the silent night sky.
With her last breath her arm extended and became limp. Her bloody fingers slowly opened and the letter in her hand was tucked in her palm. Still hopeful.
Early the next morning the lurker was rudely awakened by someone stabbing him with an end of a broomstick. He grumbled and opened an eye, shying away from the bright sunlight beaming into his small shack. "What the hell..." he mumbled, rubbing his eyes he saw his elderly neighbor, Agatha, glaring at him.
"you got a lady visitor," Agatha chided with her arms folded, not very happy that there were visitors coming to her home. She had stayed hidden away from the Romans for quite some time and she didn't want unexpected people coming by. She walked around his room and picked up a few empty wine bottles and a pair of pants that looked like they hadn't been washed in weeks. She cringed and threw the pants over her shoulder. "This place is a pigsty! Didn't your mother teach you how to clean, boy?"
He chuckled, "my mother died when I was ten. Sorry for the inconvenience..." he rolled his eyes and rolled out of bed, completely nude. Agatha's eyes bulged out and she gasped, turning away slightly embarrassed. "Come on, Aggie, nothin' you ain't seen before!" he smiled. He slipped on a pair of pants that were laying casually on a chair near his bed and put on the tunic he wore the night before. "So who's this lady friend?"
Agatha cringed as she continued to look at his mess of a room. "How should I know? You know how much I love visitors..." she sarcastically added. "She said she had an important message for you."
He peered out the sheer curtain in the small window and saw a hooded woman waiting for him patiently. "Fuck..." he whispered.
"Language!" she interjected. He smiled and kissed her on the cheek as hard as he could and grabbed his cloak. She shook her head and wiped her cheek. That man is going to kill me one of these days, she thought.
Stepping outside he slipped his cloak on over his head to conceal his identity. He rarely had people come to his home let alone know where he lived. He cleared his throat getting the young woman's attention. She turned and he only saw her bright pink lips part beneath the dark hood. "You know, I don't really make house calls," he teased.
The woman stepped forward and concealed her face furthermore. "Forgive me...I found out where you lived by a friend of a friend. It was urgent..." she said in a hushed tone. He came closer to her and she shied her hooded face away. "The letter you gave to that messenger yesterday...she was..found dead," she admitted solemnly.
He sighed, "it happens. I'm sorry for your loss but I really can't do anything..."
She dug in her breast and pulled out the bloodied letter and extended her arm. "The letter...I don't know where to take it...I found her..."
The lurker saw the bloody letter in the woman's hands and he backed away shaking his head. "What makes you think I know where to take it? That's not how this works...I give you ladies the information and you leave then I go on about my merry little way," he scolded.
By her lack of response he wasn't sure what to make of this woman. She seemed confused or she was dumb, one or the other. He was growing frustrated and turned to go back to his bed for the rest of the day until he was needed again. The hooded woman spoke up finally. "Wait!"
He turned and she slipped the letter in her pocket. "I think you are mistaking me for someone else...I read the letter..." her head lowered. "I am not one of those angel girls who sends messages to distant lands..."
Now he was the confused one. Here he had a cloaked woman in front of his home asking him about this letter and she too was clueless. "Then who the hell are you?" he folded his arms, tempted to go grab his short sword inside his home.
"I can't say," she shied away. "It is forbidden to be who I am in Rome."
The lurker snickered, "well I am not a Roman, lady." He saw she turned her face away once more. "But I suppose you already knew that since you somehow found me...which I'd like to find out how exactly you did that..." he mumbled. This conversation had gone on far too long and he was rudely awoken by this woman he had no connection with. He had a lot of sleeping and drinking to catch up on and so far, she had ruined his morning routine of drunkenness. "Well it's been lovely talking to you but I have duties to take care of...so if you don't mind," he bowed slightly with a smug grin.
The woman watched him walk towards his home once more. "Who are you?" she called out.
He paused and closed his eyes, feeling a headache coming on and it definitely wasn't from the alcohol he had last night. "I could ask you the same thing."
"You work with the resistance against the church. People call you the lurker but who are you...really?" she continued on with the questions and saw that he was becoming more irritated by the minute.
The lurker turned around to face the cloaked woman. "That's none of your business who I am," his tone darkened. He went back into his shack and disrobed. "God, that woman!" he rubbed his face out of frustration. He peeked out the window and saw the woman was still there, though she was slowly backing away. Agatha was cleaning his room and he pulled on his hair. "Now, what the hell are you doing! I just got those boots last week!" he grabbed the brown boots and hugged them to his chest.
"It's a mess in here!" she reprimanded. He shooed her away and she gasped as he was pushing her out of his room. He slammed the door and sighed throwing the boots down on the ground. He plopped down on his bed and lolled his head to the side. The mirror had shown his true self, his ugly self.
He touched his face gently with his fingertips. His once perfect face had been burned by a scorching crucifix some time ago when he defied the church. Able to escape he hid from the church and the archdioceses for many years now. The job that he had now was important only because he believed that there was evil within, a dark looming evil entity that would show itself and soon. He could feel it as every day passed by. Lately with all the burnings he had to relay many messages to these angel women. He didn't know if they called themselves that or if someone named them that.
They were obviously a very clandestine group because nobody else really knew about them. Deep down he wanted to know more about them but it was probably best if he didn't know the people he did business with. It often got them killed. He sighed as he laid in bed. He always wondered what would happen if he had shown his face in public. Would everyone have forgotten who he was? Or would he be reminded of what a heathen he was depicted to be?
A few days later loud bells were sounded off in the square in the center of Rome. The lurker hid next to a deserted fruit vendor's stand and saw a sea of people gathering around the square. The boy in the bell tower was definitely working his butt off this morning, the lurker chuckled to himself. A few moments of loud chattering and shuffling around he saw a group of men riding in on white horses with gold masks on. There was also a woman riding on a horse behind them. She looked to be important. Truth to be told, he never kept up with the latest kings and queens of various lands outside the papal states. There were far too many according to him and they always made things more complicated for Rome. They were either with the church or they weren't and when they weren't there were a lot of consequences.
"Another pompous queen, of course, because we all need more of those," he snickered and saw a few people turn around after he made his snide comment. He frowned and pulled away into another corner. He decided to climb up a shopkeeper's inn and sit on the stone column to oversee the crowd.
The woman was quite tall, dark wavy hair with a fair complexion, although not too fair, not like the Celts. She wore a black velvet dress with an empire waist style and puffy sleeves accentuating her broad square shoulders. The lurker saw the woman dismount her horse and the sea of people made a pathway for her. She simply smiled and picked up her large petticoat dress as she climbed the stairs inside of St. Peter's Basilica. He frowned as he saw the doors close and in that instant she was gone.
Too bad he still didn't have connections within the church so he could know all of their devious secrets and plans, but alas, he was exiled from the church. He didn't want to be associated with them and their dastardly ways.
Inside the Basilica the awaited guest was ushered inside to meet with the archbishop as planned. She had been waiting for this meeting for weeks now. She understood that the man was very busy but he couldn't possibly be more busy than the pope, she thought.
There he was, the elderly archbishop sitting on a rather extravagant throne waiting for her to arrive. He looked so decrepit that he could keel over at any time. She was not one with the church completely, but tolerated it and it's organized religion. She came up to the archbishop and knelt down showing her respect. He pat her shoulder and she smiled up at him as she stood up taking a few generous steps back. Two men brought out a chair for her and she sat down spreading her dress out. The circumference of the gown was quite elaborate and stretched at least two feet around the chair.
"Thank you for coming Queen Xayida of Macedonia," the archbishop smiled at her and she curtly bowed her head.
"I didn't think this meeting would ever come," she politely said while batting her long lashes. Her ice blue eyes pierced through the archbishop. He really admired her. She had always been so cooperative compared to other nation states outside of the papal states. Not to mention, she was really lovely to look at. Her beauty was too be admired. Her perfect cheekbones and sharp jaw line gave her the look of a true regal queen.
He coughed and drank some water quenching his dry throat. "Milady..." he began in a soft tone. "We both know why I have called you to this meeting, right?" she nodded her head. "As you know...the Turks are continuing to invade our land and yours as well."
"Yes, it is becoming quite a problem these days," she creased her brows, feeling her body tense up just thinking about it. She didn't want to lose her small empire to the Turks.
He bobbed his head and thought for a few moments before answering. "The Turks plan to invade Greece soon. I am not on good terms with Greece at the moment. In fact, I care little about Greece's future as long as it's a future of the church's," he grinned deviously. Xayida knew where this conversation was headed and knew it would be a disaster. Her blood was already beginning to boil. "Now...we both know Greece has a very large empire and also has an abundance of gunpowder."
Xayida frowned, "yes I am aware," she firmly replied. "If you are suggesting that Greece will give up its gunpowder treasury then you are mistaken, archbishop," she said as politely as she could.
The archbishop understood that. Greece would not give away their never-ending supply of gunpowder to Rome. He wagged his finger grabbing Xayida's attention. "I am not merely suggesting it, but I am enforcing it...your sister is the queen of Greece. You are the only one who might be able to persuade her –"
Xayida began laughing and then saw the serious expression upon his face. Her laughter slowly died off and she covered her mouth delicately. "I am not on good terms with my sister right now Your Grace..." she lowered her eyes.
He narrowed his eyes, "then I suggest you get on good terms with her and soon," he smiled tightly then got up to leave. She stood up and knelt down before she made her exit.
She stormed through the hall picking up her dress her loud clacking of her heels filled the Basilica's marble flooring; echoing off the walls. The doors were opened for her and she stormed out to see the sea of people still standing there waiting for her to come out. She curtly smiled at them all and hurried to her horse. Mounting her white steed she turned to Raul, her advisor, "When we arrive in Venice I want a letter sent out to my sister at once!"
Raul nodded and bowed his head at his queen. "Yes your majesty, it will be done."
"She thinks that she is god's infallible saint. She is a harpy in the devil's cave," Xayida mumbled to herself. Raul's eyes widened at the malicious words that came from his queen's mouth. He always knew that the queen had a sour relationship with her sister, but he never knew her hatred for her went so deep.
The lurker watched from afar as Queen Xayida departed from the square. He wondered what happened in there. She looked miffed and quite upset, but what royal isn't? they were always in such awful moods. He only presumed that it was because of the large amount of stress they were under all the time. He disappeared into the dark alleyway to go back to his shack. He liked to keep up with the times and occasionally dropped in to see who came to visit even if it was of no importance to him.
As he rounded a corner he bumped into a cloaked figure. He looked to the lower half of the figure's face and saw it was the same who came to see him a few days ago. He rolled his eyes and groaned. "You again? What do you want? I told you I can't help you..."
She followed him as they walked down the dark alleyway hidden from the public. "Did you see the Macedonian Queen?" she anxiously said.
The lurker nodded, "oh so that's where she's from?" he scoffed. "Don't hear too much from the Macedonians," he smugly grinned.
"I heard she was going to Venice for a meeting with the head cardinal in that state," she began. The lurker looked disinterested. "I also heard she was going to write to her sister by orders of the archbishop just after she left the square," she added, hoping that'd get his attention.
He turned to face his annoying shadow of a woman. "Do you really think that I care about queen sisters and their petty quarrels?" he shook his head. "It's always, 'my husband slept with my sister' or 'she bore the child of my lover now she must die!'" he mocked and began to laugh.
The hooded woman went in front of him blocking his path. He frowned and folded his arms trying to get past her. "You don't know the Queen's sister do you?" she said quietly.
"No I don't nor do I care...so if you could just mo –"
She put her hands on his shoulders firmly, "she has been the center of chaos for over ten years. If the queen is to speak to her again...this will only create war and more chaos!" she almost yelled and remembered that she was supposed to be under cover.
The lurker gently pushed the woman aside and continued walking into the forest where his shack was. She continued to follow him and he didn't seem to mind except she was annoying the hell out of him now.
"She has been dormant for years now! I fear that this will cause destruction in Rome as well as surrounding empires!" she called out barely keeping up with the lurker. He continued to ignore her and she huffed, running to him. They had finally arrived a few blocks from his shack and she stopped him. She ripped the hood off her head and the lurker looked at the woman with large eyes under his hood.
She was quite a beautiful young woman with auburn wild wavy hair and fair skin with doe brown eyes. "I come from the land of the queen's sister. My leader told me to come to Rome so I could find you...it's why I've been following you.."
The lurker didn't know what to say for once. His sarcastic aura had suddenly disappeared. "Well I...your leader? So you don't follow this queen's sister?" she shook her head vigorously. "Who is your leader?"
She lowered her eyes, "I am not allowed to say. She is also a queen..."
He set his hands on his hips. "Jesus, how many queens are there in this land?" he scoffed. "Which land is it that you're from, woman?"
"Greece," she answered rather proudly. He sighed and kept walking towards his home. She followed him and threw her hood back over head once more to conceal her identity.
Inside his shack he offered her a seat on a chair with many clothes on it. she took the hood off and brushed her finger on the chair. Feeling a bit disgusted she sat down gingerly, careful not to touch anything. The lurker took off his cloak with his back facing the woman. "So," he began to pour some wine for himself and his guest. "Your queen sent you here to find me...and suddenly this Macedonian Queen comes along and now it's a big deal, correct?" he turned around and his full face was revealed. He handed her the goblet of wine and her eyes grew in shock to see his half burned face. "Yes, I know, horrifying isn't it?" he joked.
"No, no. I think it gives you character," she smiled warmly as she sniffed the wine.
"Clever words," he sat on his bed and relaxed a bit. He hadn't shown his face to anyone except his annoying neighbor which wasn't around right now, thank god. "Who is this terrible queen that you're so worried about?"
The woman eyed him cautiously. "The Queen of Greece. You've never heard of her?"
"I've been a little out of the loop, woman," he grinned and sipped his wine.
She sighed and tapped the goblet with her fingers, a bit anxious all of a sudden. "Her name is Xena. She's the elder sister of Xayida, the Queen of Macedonia."
"Xena," he thought of the name. it sounded familiar but he couldn't put a face to the name. "She's the big bad queen, right?"
She nodded her head.
"But you don't follow her, have I got that right?" he raised a brow. She nodded once more. "So there's a another queen in Greece..." again she nodded. "And who is that?"
This time she shook her head and set the wine on a table nearby. "I'm not allowed to say. I'm here on a mission that is all."
"And what mission is that?" he asked out of curiosity.
"To overthrow Xena."
A young slave boy shook as he looked around him and there were several smashed apples on the ground. So far she had not missed a single apple throughout this little game she has been playing for a couple of hours.
"I haven't got all day, boy," she called out from a distance away. The slave boy sighed and picked up a fresh apple from the basket next to his feet. He set it atop of his head and closed his eyes, hoping that she would continue to hit the target and not blow his head off.
She settled the matchlock's butt stock against her shoulder and focused on the apple on the boy's head. Closing one eye her finger grazed the trigger, breathing in slowly and –
She pulled the trigger and missed the apple on top of the boy's head and nearly shot his foot. The boy yelped and fell to the ground in fear. She groaned, "for the love of Zeus!" she turned to her interruption and saw it was a messenger. "What is so important that you had to interrupt my game?" she frowned as her ice blue eyes widened, scaring the messenger.
He stuttered and dropped to his knees begging forgiveness. She smirked and looked to the frightened boy. "That's enough for today Demetrio," she waved him off. She turned her attention back to the shaking messenger. "Get up," she demanded.
He did as told and stood up rummaging through his bag filled with various letters he had to deliver. He pulled out the one appropriate for her and extended his hand making sure not to get too close. "For you, your majesty," he bowed his head.
She sighed and handed the matchlock to her hand maiden to grab the letter. She saw the seal and it was obviously from the papal states. She smirked and ripped open the letter reading over it carefully. A few silent moments passed and she began to laugh. The messenger looked up and saw her laughing uncontrollably. He didn't understand her odd behavior, but in truth, nobody did. He smiled hesitantly at her as she continued to laugh.
Her laughter died down and she let out an overdramatic sigh. "My sister wants to meet with me. Imagine that?" her eyes widened as did her eerie smile, staring at the messenger. "I haven't heard from her in ten years and suddenly she wants to see me," she crumbled the letter and threw it at the messenger.
She pointed at the low man and her eyes darkened. "You can tell her highness to go to Tartarus!" she yelled and the man's eyes grew in fear of the queen.
He bowed his head as the queen brushed past him. "Yes your majesty, God's speed," he said.
She rolled her eyes and waved her hand, "yes, yes. You and your god's speed." She dismissively said, retreating back to her castle.
As she entered her home she unrolled her flowing sleeves of her white button down tunic. It was seen as odd for women to wear pants but she defied all logic of that. She too had extravagant expensive dresses but when she was playing a game or something of the sort she wore pants and a simple tunic. Walking down the hall she saw Cacin, a visitor that she was expecting today. The letter she received from her sister was definitely unexpected.
"Cacin, my friend," she stretched her arms out and he grinned at her, anxious to even get close to her. She squeezed his hands then wrapped her arm around the lanky fellow. She forced him to walk with her down the long dark hall in her castle. "I hope you bring good news for me or else..."
"You will...impale me?" he smiled.
She laughed heartily, "you Turks and your jokes. I haven't impaled someone in years, Cacin," she said nonchalantly.
"What about that lad from Bulgaria? Didn't you kill him last month?" he frowned.
She nodded her head, "oh yes...that was different," she sighed. "Anyway, what news do you have for me today?" she smiled warmly. They stopped inside a spacious room with many couches and lounges. She gestured for him to sit and she sat down comfortably. He joined her but remained very cautious of her. Yes, she was his friend, but she was still a bit scary and he left the Ottoman Empire. Now he served no one as long as he had many connections.
"Queen Xayida came to Bulgaria last week before she went to Rome," he began and saw her eyes darken, almost as if they turned two shades darker. "She's trying to get Bulgaria to follow the Holy Roman Empire."
She traced her fingertips on her thigh as she listened intently. "Of course she is," she tartly said with a tight smile. "Funny that you mention her, she sent me a letter. She said she wants to meet with me," she snickered.
Cacin smiled, "that's most intriguing."
"It makes more sense now. She wants to be rid of me just like she did ten years ago," she laughed. "And she's trying to get those clergymen to do the dirty work for her!" she smiled biting her fingernail unconsciously. "She could never do anything for herself," she snuffed.
Cacin could only laugh at her words that spoke so ill of her sister. "Well, the church is a very powerful entity on its own, Xena."
She could agree to that. "But the church is not Greece, it is not me," she grinned wily.
He wagged his finger at Xena. "See that's what I've always liked about you. So confident and your beauty," he touched his heart, "only adds to how wonderful you are," he winked.
Xena rolled her eyes, "such flattery, Cacin," she extended her hand and he gladly kissed it. She winked at him and retracted her hand. "I should throw a party for my sister..." she tapped her chin with a devious smile.
"What a splendid idea," he added.
"Yes...yes it is," her grin widened.