Disclaimer: See Chapter 1
Blue Eyes, White Horse, and a Chakram
"You are a fool," the fire cursed as Alti was forced back from the sheer force of the heat. "You've tipped your hand, given away your one clear advantage."
"A calculated move, and worth it, I've learned so much more," Alti challenged. "The girl, the child… she is more valuable than I thought. The power she holds is beyond. And she is innocent; all the better."
The fire pulled back, almost as if it was thinking. "Perhaps this is good. You are obsessed with that Xena, maybe this will give you a bigger picture. The children are important as well."
"I'm not interested in Xena, only the power that she represents," Alti argued, turning away from the fire. "The child though, she is more than what she seems. Her power is rivaled only by a god."
"God, she is the one?"
Turning back around, Alti nodded. "She's the one that traveled back from Earth with Xena. I don't know how they did it, but they split her in two. Her dark side yet lives in her dreams. The innocence, it's so sweet I can taste it. She will be mine."
The fire crackled with evil laugher. "You are eager my child, that pleases me, but beware there is more at work here then my old nemesis is capable of. We must find out more of this godling of yours."
"Of course I do, and I have plans. I know where they are now. They are hiding behind a Hawkbrother shield though; it will not be easy to break. I was only able to reach them before because the boy left the door wide open."
"He is young and inexperienced. You can use that…"
"I know, but he's also unpredictable. They will be on guard now. Xena will see to that."
"You must stay a step ahead of them. They can't stay hidden forever."
"No, and when Xena will continue her quest for the boy, when she and her other children leave, I will be ready."
The fire once again rose up, but this time the flame didn't burn, but was more a warm blanket of approval. "We will be ready," it reassured her.
Xena twirled the dagger between her fingers before tossing it into the air. It stuck to the ceiling along with dozens of other hash marks that had been added over the past three days. Letting out a quick war whoop, she then sprung, running up the wall and doing a backflip before she retrieved her dagger on the way down.
"Really, Xena, can't you find anything else to do, then to bounce off the walls – literally," Gabrielle scolded from the doorway.
Xena turned and sighed. "Easy for you to say, you can actually leave this room. I still say it's worth the risk."
Gabrielle shook her head as she entered, placing the tray with their lunch on a small table. "We talked about this, you know that. Until we can figure out how to get that other out we can't risk you leaving the shield. The mages and Quinn have been working on it almost non-stop."
"I know," Xena almost pouted, as she took a seat on the edge of the bed. She'd moved it along with the other furniture, stacking them and pushing them against one wall to give her more space to flip and move. "But seriously, I can't be in here anymore. I'm going to go crazy."
Gabrielle frowned as she sat next to Xena, patting her knee and sending a reassuring wave through her. "Just hang on a couple of more days, ok?"
"Can I at least have my chakram back?"
"Xena, we talked about that too. One thing to be carving up the ceiling, another to be scaring the bond-birds by giving all the trees you can see from the window trims."
"Well, well…. I'm bored," Xena protested, flopping back on the bed. "Never been so bored in all my life. My armor is so shiny it looks brand new, my leathers are so perfect, I swear I'm going to have to break them in again, and my sword is so sharp it practically cut through my scabbard."
"Xena, don't be so dramatic."
"So says the bard," Xena mumbled.
"I brought some fruit filled tarts for dessert," Gabrielle tried.
"Yeah, by the time I get out of here my leathers probably won't even fit anymore," Xena muttered again, sitting back up as Gabrielle pulled the tray with lunch closer. "Is that that spiced meat?"
"Yeah," Gabrielle grinned. "Bribed the cook for an extra helping."
Xena smiled, but her attention was suddenly brought to the door jam, as Quinn gently knocked. "Hope I'm not disturbing anything," she started.
"Just lunch," Gabrielle returned as Xena took a large bite of the spiced meat, which she'd just stuffed into a bread pocket. "Any news?"
"Actually yes," Quinn smiled pulling a chair from the corner and dragging it across so that she could join her fellow Heralds. "We think we may have come up with a solution. We'll have to test it though."
"Let's do it," Xena replied immediately.
"Wait, it's not that easy," Quinn put her hand up, stopping Xena from standing. "It'll take time to tune."
"What are you proposing?" Gabrielle interjected.
"Well one of the younger mages came up with an idea. We put the shield on this room, and have been keeping Xena under that shield, but what if that shield was mobile?"
"I like it," Xena said. "How will that work?"
"That's the problem," Quinn shook her head. "We have the idea, but the unique properties of the shield are causing problems. We'd have to anchor it, like we can do with the room, that's difficult to do with a live person."
"Then don't anchor it to me," Xena shrugged. "Anchor it to something else, maybe my armor? My sword?"
"We thought of that. It would mean that you can never take off the armor, or be away from the sword. We thought maybe a dagger or something smaller might work, but again, that means you'd have to have it on you, in very close proximity at all times."
"What about some sort of jewelry?" Gabrielle suggested. "The black-mages are using stones for a similar purpose. Plus from what I've learned, you can tune a stone to an individual and use it to boost and store power."
"We have also thought of that," Quinn agreed. "And on the surface, that does seem ideal, but we can't seem to settle on the right type of stone. The more powerful ones are too brittle, and the lesser stones would have to be much larger, and therefore make it impossible to use as jewelry."
"What about a stone that's already tuned to me? One that has already been altered to work against this other magic?" Xena suggested.
"That would be perfect, but where would we get such a stone?" Quinn asked.
"From my chakram."
"Can we do that?" Gabrielle asked. "I doubt we can just pry a stone off the chakram. I've seen it do some amazing things, and never so much has a stone even been scratched."
"It's a magical weapon, I'm sure that magic could loosen a stone," Quinn agreed. "Worse comes to worse we could still try to use the chakram, as a whole. The shield would be an enhancement of sorts. We'd have to look at, may I take it?"
"Go ahead," Xena nodded. "The quicker the better."
"We might need your help, though. We know very little about it."
"You know about as much as I do," Xena reasoned. "My queen here is the bard, she knows my story, and she read the book she found in Haven too."
"But you didn't," Gabrielle returned. "I only know what you told me. Why don't you read it? Maybe something in the story will mean something else to you. Besides, you have nothing but time, right?" Gabrielle grinned.
Xena rolled her eyes. "I didn't even know that you brought it."
"Thought it might come in handy," Gabrielle explained. "It's one of the few clues to the old magic that we've had. I almost forgot it was in my packs."
"Fine," Xena relented. "I'll read, you dig up my chakram from where ever you hid it. After dessert though," Xena smiled as she reached across Gabrielle and grabbed one light pastries.
"Who'd ever thought you're weakness would be sweets," Gabrielle teased.
Xena raised a dark eyebrow, smirking openly at Gabrielle. "G'wan, get me the book," she grinned grabbing a second pastry.
"What are they doing?" Solan mumbled to himself as he watched Quinn and a handful of other Hawkbrother mages carefully examine Xena's chakram through his scurrying bowl. His vision was blurred though. He could only see what Callie was watching, and it looked like they weren't including the little girl in their exploration. "Looks like they are trying to pry off the stones. Why would they do that?" he further mused.
"Probably trying to tap into the power," Uthro's deep voice answered over his shoulder.
Jumping at the sudden sound, Solan spun around. "Where have you been? It's been days!" he accused. "I have so much to ask."
"I know, I've been watching you and doing my own research."
"What do you mean, research, don't you know everything?"
Uthro chuckled. "Far from it. Every answered question creates ten that are not."
"Tell me about it," Solan mumbled. "But what about the chakram? Why would Mother let them play with it? She rarely lets it out of her sight."
"Well there are two possibilities. Either she doesn't know they are doing it, or she gave them permission to do so. Knowing what I know about your mother, I'd say it's the latter. But it is a quandary, even if their task is quite impossible."
"You mean the stones won't come off."
"For them, no," Uthro explained. "For me, you, and probably Xena, they might."
Uthro shrugged. "I never tried to dismantle such a weapon."
"You're not being much help," Solan mumbled.
"On the contrary," Uthro argued, raising an eyebrow. "This is a good time for another lesson."
Solan groaned, "Seriously?"
Uthro smirked. "Am I ever not? Come, young Solan. I have something to show you."
Solan groaned again, but dutifully followed his master out of the workshop and down the hall and through the invisible-barrier stone-wall that separated it from the larger lab. Solan continued to follow him to the far end of the lab where Uthro kept more of his complicated scrolls. When Solan had first been introduced to the lab, Uthro had explained that some of these scrolls were unfinished, experiments, and other things that had so far been forbidden, but as Uthro picked up a pile before handing them to him, he realized that restriction was no longer in effect.
"What are we looking for?" Solan couldn't help asking as Urtho helped himself to another pile.
"I'm not entirely sure, perhaps something on the greater chakram though. There should be a scroll on that somewhere."
"Greater chakram?" Solan asked as he opened the first scroll. Griffin anatomy, interesting, but not what he was looking for. With a sigh, he put it aside and picked up another. "What do you mean by that?"
"Ah, the chakram you mother wields is only a piece of a greater weapon," Uthro explained nonchalantly as he got lost in a pile of scrolls.
Rylie shifted, she was trying to keep Callie from getting underfoot. She'd tried to convince her to go play, but the little girl seemed fascinated in what the mages were doing to Xena's chakram. She would have just left Callie to her musing, but Gabrielle had made it rather clear; where the little girl went, Rylie was to follow. She hadn't said as much, but Gabrielle might have just as well chained her to Callie. It was her punishment for not watching her the night she'd gone missing, which of course been the catalyst for the chain reaction with Alti.
"Come on, Callie. This is boring. Let's go to the waterfall, or maybe find some of the other kids."
Callie looked up at her older sister, her brown eyes suddenly serious. "This is important, can't you see that?"
Rylie groaned. "We're not mages, Callie. There is nothing we can do to help."
"Why do you think they can't get the stones off?"
"I don't know, I told you I'm not a mage. They are probably sealed magically."
Callie chewed her lip for a moment. "Ok."
"Ok?" Rylie asked.
"Yeah, I ready to go play now."
Rylie looked up mumbling under her breath before looking down at Callie once again. "Come on, little sis. Let's go see what trouble we can find."
Callie smiled and took Rylie's hand. Waving to Quinn they left the ekele and headed out into the sunshine. Since crossing into the vale, they've enjoyed the warm weather, almost forgetting about the cold wind, snow, sleet, and rain that they'd been trudging through over the last few moons. It was an easy life here, a tropical paradise of sorts which led to endless hours of enjoyment in the warm sunshine.
Callie and Rylie turned down a trail, heading to an open recreational area that many of the young people frequented when Rylie suddenly stopped short. Feeling the hairs on her back of her neck tingle she suddenly got a flash as her gift kicked in.
It was hot, too hot, and as she turned she realized she was seeing a forge. There was a short lizard like creature bent over the hot coals, pounding away on some sort of creation. Rylie took a step forward; she was cautious but also curious to see what the creature was creating. Now that she got a better look, she saw he was wearing a heavy apron and pounding a short flat piece of metal that he'd recently doubled over.
He was a blacksmith, and perhaps the strangest thing she'd ever seen. Suddenly feeling a ripple as a body physically ran through her ghost like presence, she startled, as the creature turned to scold a small child.
"I'm sorry I'm late," the child explained as Rylie again moved to get a better look. He had sandy-colored hair that was long in the back, but cropped shorter on top. His colorful but comfortable clothing and the adornment of his hair -with simple beads and feathers- identified him as young Hawkbrother. There was something else, however, that set the child apart. It was his eyes. They were bluer then the sky and striking similar to another set of eyes that she was too familiar with.
Suddenly the vision blurred, and Rylie was ripped back to reality. She stumbled for a moment as her head spun and she felt the familiar dull pounding of a headache set in.
"Rylie, are you alright?" Callie called.
"Yeah," Rylie tried to shake off, moving to the side of the trail and taking a seat on a low boulder. "I think we need to go back to the ekele though, I just had a vision, and I have no idea what it means."
"What did you see?" Callie asked.
"A giant lizard, but it talked."
"A Hertasi," Callie confirmed.
"Probably," Rylie nodded, remembering some of the other children talking about them. She's never seen one, always assumed they were a myth, but the Hawkbrother children were convincing. She knew they lived in the vale with the Hawkbrothers, worked alongside them, and helped with the day to day running of the individual households. They were servants of a sort, but seemed to want to be that way. The other children said that's just the way it was.
Rylie hadn't given it much thought until now. She'd seen a lot of things since she'd started her travels, and had come to expect the unexpected. A talking lizard was new, but then again Griffins talked, and so did her Companion and the Firecats. Who knows what other intelligent creatures they'd come across.
Finally feeling her head clear enough to walk, Rylie took Callie's hand and did an about face back to the ekele and the rest of their family.
"This is interesting," the Hawkbrother adept named Firefeather commented to the assembled group. After Rylie had explained her initial vision to Xena and Gabrielle, they'd called a meeting of a handful of mages, elders, and friends that they'd made since entering the vale. "I only know of one such Hertasi which meets this description. He is named Nestor, and he is not the average Hertasi," Firefeather continued.
"What do you mean by that?" Gabrielle asked.
"Most Hertasi are shy. They are rarely seen but by the people that they serve. There have been a few though, that are bolder. They become scouts, or some have magics and join the mage ranks. Nestor is one of these. He is bigger than most and stronger than any other Hertasi I've met. He's found a way to use this to his advantage, and serves his community in a unique way."
"By becoming a blacksmith?" Xena interjected.
"Hertasi are extremely well versed in the arts. I've seen some of the things that he's created. His work is unrivaled," Arrowheart added.
"Well, where is he?" Rylie asked. "I have the feeling he knows something or can do something that we need. In my vision he was making something."
"He does not live here, but in another vale."
"Then we have to go there," Rylie pressed. "I need to meet him."
"Hold it, young one. He is not close, it would take a fortnight at least, possibly longer in the winter," Arrowheart continued.
"Even on Companion back?" Gabrielle asked. "If this Hertasi can help us, it might be worth it."
"There are ways to shorten the travel," Winterspring, another of the elder mages explained. "We could always gate them there."
"Or him here," Quinn added. "I'd like to help."
"That might be preferable and welcomed," Firefeather nodded in Quinn's direction. "Xena still cannot leave this room. It would be better if he could come here."
"I would prefer that, yes," Xena agreed. "There is no telling what Alti might be capable of, and I don't want to take the risk of any of my family being unprotected."
"Agreed," Winterspring spoke up once more. "I will arrange it. In the mean time we will continue to work on the portable shield for Xena."
"Sounds like a plan," Xena nodded as the rest of the group agreed.
"There was one other thing," Rylie said, bringing their attention to her again. "There was a boy. He was maybe eight or nine summers old. He had blond hair and bright blue eyes. I think we need to see him as well. He's an apprentice or something to the Hertasi."
Winterspring nodded. "It will be done."
Once all the visitors and Quinn filed out, Rylie looked up, finding herself being studied by a pair of green and a pair of blue eyes. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to add this to our quest."
"It's ok, Rylie," Gabrielle nodded as she moved and put her hand on the teen's shoulder. "You wouldn't have had the vision if it didn't mean something."
"It's better that you told us," Xena agreed. "It has to be important. We'll figure it out. You did the right thing, Rylie."
"I just wish I knew more," Rylie frowned. "It seems so random. I mean I guess I can understand this Nestor guy, maybe he can make something we need, but they boy was important too."
"He's like Solan," Callie suddenly spoke up.
"What do you mean? How do you know that?" Gabrielle asked turning to acknowledge the little girl who had been silent throughout the meeting.
Callie shrugged. "Blond hair and blue eyes, just like Solan."
"You mean he looks like Solan?" Xena clarified, looking to Rylie for confirmation.
"A little I guess," Rylie wrinkled her nose. "Maybe when he was younger."
"You said he was a Hawkbrother, right, Rylie?"
"Well I assumed so. He was wearing clothes like them and had his hair done up like them."
"But you're sure he had blue eyes?" Gabrielle pressed.
"Yeah, clear as a bell, just like Mom's," Rylie agreed.
"You girls have spent quite a bit a time with the children here in vale, how many of them have blue eyes?" Gabrielle asked.
Callie and Rylie exchanged a looked. "None," Rylie answered for both of them. "They're born with brown and then the vale changes them with magic. All the adults have blue eyes and the bleached hair, but the kids, it takes time for the magic to bleach them too."
"So this boy, either he's from a different people, or he's an early mage," Xena reasoned.
"They'd apprentice a mage to a blacksmith?" Gabrielle asked. "That doesn't make sense."
"No it doesn't," Xena nodded. "Ah, well, I guess we'll find out soon enough."
"Yes, hopefully. Ok, enough. Girls go find something to do, and Xena you still have that reading to finish."
Xena rolled her eyes. She tired reading the chakram book earlier, but it was drier than a desert in the middle of summer. So far the only thing she'd discovered was it was an incredibly dull way to spend an afternoon. "We have any of those pastries left?" she asked hopefully as Gabrielle and the girls both made their way to the door.
Gabrielle stopped. "The six you had earlier wasn't enough?" she smirked.
"Please?" Xena tried.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I'll see what I can do. In the meantime, read."
Xena sighed, picking up the book next to her and opening it. "Well go on, how I'm supposed to read with all these interruptions?"
"Warriors," she mumbled to herself, roll her eyes, before she headed back out to the main room of the ekele.