DISCLAIMERS: I don't own any of the characters in this story that honor belongs to Rob Tapert and Renaissance Pictures. I'm not making any money from this.
Sex and Violence: Yes, there will be blood and sex. It's a Conqueror tale what do you expect? The sex will be Female/Female, so if that's not your thing don't read or skip those parts.
Language: Yeah, there are a few bad words.
Timeline: Slight change of pace here. This story begins two years after a Friend in Need and then moves into Conqueror territory. But it should be noted that Greece is slightly different, Potidea is a shipping port instead of a farming town, Gabrielle doesn't get sea sick, Ephiny is the Amazon Queen ect. Oh, and the Conqueror is also a vampire. That should be cool, right?
Author's Note: This is the first half. I hope to have the next half up soon and at the rate this is flowing out of me that shouldn't be a problem. But encouragement always helps. And please no flames.
A Deal with the Fates
With the rising of the morning sun a lone rider crested the hill overlooking the Temple of the Fates, reigning in her horse long enough to admire the shifting colours of the sky. To any worldly person it was obvious that the woman was a warrior not only by the scar that bisected her eyebrow and ran down her cheek below the now dead eye, but also by her bearing. The very air around her seemed to radiate adventure, power, and a great deal of sorrow associated with losing what matters most to you. But it was her weapons which identified the woman warrior, the chakram at her side and katana strapped to her back branded her as Gabrielle, the Battling Bard of Potidea, the partner of Xena, and the reluctant new Warrior Princess.
It had been two years since Xena's death but to Gabrielle the pain was as fresh as ever. Since that day on the ship when she left Japa Xena's spirit had ceased to visit her making the bard doubt that she had ever seen her soulmate. She had resigned herself to believing that the sight of Xena on the ship had merely been a hallucination brought on by grief. It was this grief which pushed the Battling Bard to go to Egypt and from there to Macedonia, doing her best to keep busy. Because when everything was still, the bard felt the crushing weight of losing her soulmate on her chest, suffocating her.
She continued her lover's work, honoring the Warrior Princess' memory, although it had crossed her mind to not just honor Xena's memory but to also bring her back. Searching high and low Gabrielle had been unsuccessful in her quest to resurrect the Warrior Princess; filled with frustration she had traveled to Macedonia and summoned Ares. Ares had been less than accommodating, blaming Gabrielle for Xena's death he had attempted to kill the bard and use her life force to bring back his chosen in the form of her former Warlord self. The resulting battle had end with the splitting of the chakram, Ares being locked in a tomb, and the bard losing her left eye.
Now, here she was a few days ride from Amphipolis where she had placed Xena's ashes in her family tomb, ready to properly honor her lover in front of the Fates before continuing with her simple existence. Directing her horse she gave it a little nudge with her boots and rode down the hill to the temple.
The temple was just like she remembered it with only a few extra cracks in the stone walls and the grass had become over grown but otherwise the difference was minimal. For a moment she was sure she would see Xena appear with her classic crooked grin on her face ready to tell her about seeing Lyceus alive and well in the vision the Fates had provided. All she could do was shake her head at the memory.
'Xena is dead,' she thought angrily at herself, 'Stop acting like a child, Gabrielle, and focus on the present. Thinking about her like that won't bring her back.'
Continuing to chastise herself the Battling Bard climbed the fractured, stone steps and entered the temple. Inside the signs of disuse were far more apparent, cobwebs covered the few candles which remained as well as the altar, food scraps and ripped cloth littered the floor, and the air was stale. Gabrielle thought that the temple was a perfect metaphor for her, seemingly unchanged on the outside but wrecked and devoid of love on the inside.
Carefully, she used a bit of flint to light three candles one for her past with Xena, one for the ever present memory of Xena, and one lastly for the future with Xena that had been stolen from her. Tears streamed down her face as her emerald eye gazed longingly at the last flickering yellow-orange flame. Suddenly the door to the temple slammed shut, Gabrielle spun around only to find nothing. Facing front the bard found herself confront by three women standing before her lit candles, one was a young girl, the next a vibrant woman, and the last a wise crone.
"The Fates," whispered Gabrielle.
"Hello, Gabrielle," said the child dressed in white robes.
"Bard of," continued the woman dressed in deep red.
"Potidea," finished the crone in dark grey.
The warrior scowled, "That's a name that no longer applies to me."
"It is your true name, Gabrielle," the child countered.
"No, the bard of Potidea died long ago Clotho, you of all the fates should know that."
The younger fate shrank away from the warrior's harsh words.
"And you Lachesis, you would know exactly when my heart died and I stopped being a bard, after all as the fate of the present you would have been watching," continued the Battling Bard turning angrily to the woman.
And finally she turned her fiery gaze on the crone, "As for you Atropos, you were the one that killed that part of me when you cut my soulmate's life thread."
Of the three women Atropos was the only one who did not flinch, she simply stared at Gabrielle with her withered face, taking the bard's measure. Slowly, the eldest fate stepped away from her sisters, crossing to stand before the short warrior.
"It was her decision, my child, you know that," whispered the fate.
Gabrielle felt her heart wrench at the words, she knew the crone was correct. Xena had had the chance to come back to her soulmate and had chosen to stay dead. That decision continued to haunt the bard.
'Didn't she love me enough to want to be with me? Wasn't I enough?' wondered Gabrielle once again as she lowered her gaze to the floor. Her eyes filled with tears.
Atropos' fingers lifted the bard's chin, "What would you give for a second chance, Gabrielle, bard of Potidea?"
The bard's eyes widened, "Anything. But how and why?"
The crone ran a finger along Gabrielle's scar, "When you burned the loom my sisters and I thought it would destroy us, but we were wrong. You saved not only us but the world as well, little bard. Destroying the loom reset the world and returned us to our proper place. For that we are indebted to you, so in return we are willing to turn back time. Rewrite the events of your life and Xena's so that you two will be together forever. Imagine it Gabrielle, Xena alive, your friends alive, and your sight back."
"Forever?" whispered Gabrielle.
"Yes," replied all three fates.
The Battling Bard seemed to consider this for a moment, then stepped away from Atropos, "What's the catch? Xena told me when you rewrote the world for her that if she wanted to stay in her new world she couldn't draw blood. Is that my condition as well?"
"No, Gabrielle, the payment for this new world is far simpler," said Lachesis.
"What is it?"
"Your memories," said Clotho bluntly.
"My memories? But how will I know Xena? I don't understand," said the blonde warrior defensively.
"The new life we have weaved for you is far different from the one you currently live, if you retain your memories it could destroy the delicate balance of the tapestry. But, we swear by the River Styx that you and Xena will live together for far longer than you did in this life. However, without your memories you will not be able to return to this life. You must choose between this existence and the new one," explained Atropos
"Choose wisely, Gabrielle," said Lachesis.
The bard paced for a moment, adding up the pros and cons as her lover had taught her. If she left this world Xena and her friends would be alive, and hell, she would have her depth perception back. But also if she went she would be starting from scratch, she may not even meet Xena.
'But then again the Fates have sworn that I will live with Xena forever,' thought Gabrielle.
She stopped pacing, "What will happen in this world if I leave?"
Clotho and Lachesis looked to their sister, "It would be as if you had just walked off into the sunset. You would disappear but your legend and Xena's will live on, influencing others for generations."
Gabrielle didn't even take a moment to consider this new information; she walked up to Atropos and looked the crone in the eye.
"If this means I can be with Xena and no one is hurt here then do it. Remove my memories and send me to my new life," ordered the Battling Bard.
Atropos smiled and placed her hand on Gabrielle's golden head, "May the Gods be with you Gabrielle, bard of Potidea."
As light enveloped the Battling Bard she whispered one word, "Xena."
Once the light faded the temple was empty, the Battling Bard was gone and the only evidence that she had ever been there were three lit candles, slowly burning, keeping the conquering shadows at bay for another few hours.
The setting sun threw ripples of colour over the evening sky, once again creating a masterpiece for the whole world to admire. But like everything in life it was fleeting which was probably what drew Gabrielle to the rail of the ship to admire it. A creature of habit, Captain Gabrielle of the Emerald Serpent never missed the chance to watch the sun set. Often when a new crew member asked she would tell them that watching the changing colours helped her to predict the tides for the next day, but this was a diversion. In truth the young sea captain felt drawn to the site filled with both a sense of longing and sadness she could not explain.
Feeling the old, creaking boards beneath her boots and hands Gabrielle felt a different sort of sadness. This would be her last trip out on her fishing ship turned war vessel. Soon, once they had finished the patrol of the Greek border they would be returning to the large port of Potidea where she would, much to her parent's relief, be married off to her betrothed, Perdicus. The idea of never seeing her ship again, of never sailing again, sickened her to her very core, but the Admiral had been clear when she signed her boat up; there would be no married women in this war.
'Perdicus is nice enough,' she tried to console herself running a hand through her short hair, 'He has never struck anyone and as a merchant's son he has money. Ah, who am I kidding I would give every dinar I have to not go through with this wedding.'
Pushing herself away from the railing the young captain unconsciously felt for the katana strapped to her back before heading down below to dine with her men. The weapon and the ship had both been gifts to her from the previous captain. A quite man from Japa, simply known as Ghost since his original name was unpronounceable. It was Ghost who had taken Gabrielle under his wing when he met on the docks of Potidea. Amused by her curiosity about ships and her interest in stories he had taken her on as part of his crew. Despite the grumbles of the all crew at the time the young bard grew to be a useful member and eventually became first mate before taking over as captain.
Gabrielle still remembered the last words her mentor had spoken to her before he had left the ship, "Use these gifts well, my student. They will protect you from the coming darkness."
Four years later she still had no idea what he had been talking about, even in the end the Ghost Killer could not speak plainly. A simple good luck would have sufficed but no, he had had to leave Gabrielle with a cryptic message. She chuckled under breath, but if he hadn't done that then she really would have been worried. Instead she had nodded and watched sadly as he headed down the plank onto the dry land of one of the ports of Japa. Leaving him behind had been one of the hardest things the young captain had ever done, Ghost had been more like a father to her than Herodotus had ever been but sometimes you have to let go of the ones you love. It had been a hard lesson but like everything else in her life Gabrielle had taken it in stride and upon returning home had quickly signed up her small vessel in the war against the Conqueror.
The soft sounds of a lyre being stroked filled the blonde's ears, turning she followed the sound below the deck and into the sleeping/eating/recreational area located in the bowels of the ship. Looking around she took in the wide area and the thirteen hammocks hung up, although smaller than most of the other ships in the armada the Emerald Serpent was still a good sized ship and she was proud of it. Seeking out the source of the melody filling her ears she found half her crew in a semicircular around Glaucus, the youngest member of the crew and Gabrielle's look out/cabin boy.
The boy's sweet voice sang the tale of Aphrodite and Adonis of how they loved deeply before the ultimate untimely end of Adonis. The song was beautiful although a bit depressing considering that most of the men knew there was always the possibility that they might not return to their lovers during this time of war. As the song drew to an end one of the other men noticed Gabrielle.
"Captain! We didn't see you there, why don't you join us? We could use a good story," asked the burly sailor.
The other men joined in and Glaucus moved to the side to give the bard the floor. Gabrielle knew there would be no denying her men and it had been a while since she had told a good story so she graciously made her way to the center.
"Alright, alright, I'll do it. So, what do you want to here? The story about how Athena claimed Athens, the one about Odysseus, or how about the one about Baby Bliss?" suggested Gabrielle enthusiastically.
"How about the story of the Conqueror?" suggested Glaucus.
The room quieted as the men waited for their captain's reaction. The topic of the Conqueror was often a sore point with Gabrielle for reasons even she could not understand. All she knew was that sometimes when she heard news of the dark woman's newest atrocities a deep pain would flow through her heart making her angry. She felt her blood rush for a moment in irritation but quickly quieted the negative emotion, the boy was still relatively new and all boys love to hear tales of war.
The blonde nodded, "Alright, for you Glaucus I'll tell the tale of the Conqueror."
The men settled down, some huddled together with cups of wine or water cradled in their hands, others lay in hammocks near the walls, and the rest sat in various positions around Gabrielle, surrounding her with their patient attention.
"Sing o muse of the deception of Caesar, the cunning of Dionysus, and the anger of the Conqueror. Years ago, or so they say, a young farm girl became a warlord either through misfortune or through ambition no one knows. But she was blessed with the arm and darkness of Ares, destroying all who stood in her way and defying all gods but him. Some say the war god was her lover, others her father, but either way he made her strong and soon Greece became too small for her strength. Taking to the sea she met a young soldier from Rome, named Caesar, who charmed and seduced her into freeing him without bloodshed. But the young man betrayed his pirate lover, crucifying her on a beach and breaking legs without a thought. He even slit the throat of the body slave who attempted to save her.
Slowly dying on the cross the woman cried out to the heavens in anger cursing Ares and the other gods, refusing to die begging for forgiveness. It was then that a tall, hooded figure appeared before her. He called to the warlord offering a way out.
"Your war god has forsaken you, warrior. But what would you give to be free of this cross, to destroy your enemies, to become the conqueror you are destined to be?" he asked.
The crucified woman glared down at him and whispered, "Anything."
The figure pulled back his hood to reveal deep red hair styled into spikes as if red horns grew from his head. A crown of vines encircled his brow and sparkling violet eyes gazed up at the woman.
"You will be mine, my chosen, and it is in my name, not Ares, in which you will conquer the world."
"And how will the god of wine give me the power to do that?" scoffed the warrior.
The god blinked and the robes binding the woman to the cross vanished causing her to fall to the ground. She screamed as her shattered legs came in contact with the ground.
"Do not doubt me, ever. Now you have a choice, be crippled or conquer all. Cripple or Conqueror. Your choice."
The warlord looked up into those violet eyes with eyes of icy anger, "Make me a conqueror, Dionysus."
The god of wine smiled revealing two sharp fangs, faster than a human could see he pounced onto the woman sinking his teeth into her throat. Moments later the warlord was drained to the brink of death. Releasing his hold on her the god used his teeth to rip open his own wrist and brought the offering to her lips. The warrior suckled at the wound mixing her mortal blood with the blood of a god.
Once she had had her fill the god pulled his wrist away and spoke, "It is done my chosen, you are now a Maenad. No mortal can withstand you. No god will stop you. You will conquer all."
The woman stood on two strong legs and gazed at him with blue eyes tinged with gold, her lips stained with his blood, "What do you want in return?"
Dionysus gently touched his chosen's cheek, "All that I ask is that you make one like yourself; a Maenad chosen by you to help you conquer this earth in my name, but only one. Make as many Bacchae as you like to ravage and destroy but only one Maenad to help you rule. Choose wisely."
With that the wine god disappeared leaving the Conqueror to find her own way. And she did. From there she has conquered more than half the world and now only Greece and Britannia stand in her way. And we will be the ones to stop her."
As Gabrielle's story came to an end the young captain looked around at the faces of her crew. Most of the men had contemplative expressions on their faces; others appeared worried, only one looked curious.
"But what was her name?" asked Glaucus. One of the men cuffed him on the back of the head. Another mumbled that to say the conqueror's name was to bring on disaster. But the men shut up as their captain raised her hand for silence. Emerald eyes filled with anger stared at poor Glaucus who feared that the small blonde might strike him.
"Her name…is Xena," growled Gabrielle.
The floor boards of the ship softly creaked under Gabrielle's feet as she walked along the deck. The sun was just beginning to rise in the East and her men were already taking advantage of the high winds it brought with it. It was going to be a beautiful day the captain was sure of it. As she walked up to the front of her ship the blonde's eyes took in the deep navy blue of the sea and couldn't help wondering if the Conqueror's eyes were that shade of blue. Her tale of the powerful warlord was made up of various smaller tales which she had collected together from dozens of other sailors, farmers, and soldiers claiming to have known her or someone who knew her. The description of the crucifixion had come from an ex-Roman soldier with wine colored eyes who had described the scene to her as he had witnessed it from his post near the crosses. When she had asked why he had not interfered he had mumbled something about being unable to move once he saw the face of the god.
Her gaze flitted across the waves as she considered the soldier from her memory. She wondered if he had really been an ex-Roman soldier or if it had been a lie, in these uncertain times she wouldn't be surprised. Her mind was going over every detail of the conversation when her eyes stopped on a dark spot on the horizon towards the West.
"Markus! Spyglass, now!" she called to her first mate.
Swiftly, the man ducked down below and returned with the tool handing it over to Gabrielle. Raising it to her eye the blonde squinted at the shape before her eye recognizing it as one of the Conqueror's warships. There was only one important difference and that was that this particular warship was about three times bigger than a normal ship. Excitement filled Gabrielle's body at the thought of taking down one of the Conqueror's new toys. Quickly the short blonde began shouting orders, commanding the crew to make a course for the warship.
"Markus, how much Greek fire do we have below?" asked Gabrielle.
"If you're asking if we can take on that monster then all I can say is, I don't know. I'm not sure if all the Greek fire in Greece could put a dent in that thing but I will say that if it ruins the Conqueror's day then we should do it."
"That's what I wanted to hear," Gabrielle grinned.
Waving off her first mate the captain returned to watching the enemy ship grow bigger in her spyglass. But soon the bard began to worry; the ship had yet to acknowledge them which could only mean a few things. One, they hadn't noticed the Emerald Serpent yet, two they didn't care, and three it was a trap. She pushed down her trepidation as they pulled up close to the warship which had remained stagnant in the water. Everything was silent as they drew close enough that the ship loomed over them. Quickly the crew began to grab the bottles of the black, viscous fluid preparing to light them and throw them onto the deck of the enemy ship.
That was when Gabrielle saw the other warship coming around the side of the larger enemy ship, twisting around she saw another coming around the other side. It was a trap. The two other enemy ships moved to surround them.
"Markus get us out of here!" shouted the captain. But it was too late, the wind was with the two warships and soon enough they had blocked off the Emerald Serpent's retreat. Sounds of life suddenly came from the huge warship next to them forcing Gabrielle to focus on the monster ship. The crew of the ship, which must have been hiding to lure them in appeared and began to lower a gangplank. The blonde captain moved forward as a tall, burly man with a scar running along his face walk down the plank. He glared at the accumulated crew in disgust as if he smelled something foul. From where Gabrielle stood she was sure the man smelled only himself.
"Attention crew of the Emerald Serpent. You are now prisoners of the Conqueror's navy surrender your captain to us and none of you will be harmed," commanded the ugly officer. None of Gabrielle's crew moved knowing instinctively that any sign of deferment to her would betray her as their leader.
"I will not ask again," growled the man as he drew his sword. Above them the crew of the gigantic warship nearest the plank also drew their weapons. Gabrielle glanced up at the enemies above her and knew it was a lost cause. Her crew wouldn't be able to defeat all of them especially not with the two other enemy warships blocking their escape route. She wouldn't survive this but at least maybe her crew would. The blonde captain stepped forward.
"Gabrielle don't!" cried Glaucus as both him and Markus made to grab her and pull her back.
The captain shrugged them off, "I'm sorry but I have to. They will not be harmed?" She directed the question to the foul officer her nodded. With resignation she approached the man and handed over her katana before allowing him to chain her. As she was lead away in chains up the plank she glanced over her shoulder at her little ship praying that maybe just this once the Conqueror would keep her word.
"Welcome aboard the Conqueror's Fist," snarled the officer in her ear as he pushed Gabrielle across the deck of the warship.
The bard couldn't help but be impressed by the massive ship it truly was a magnificent piece of work, and considering she would soon be in Hades' realm she allowed herself to be amazed by the craftsmanship. The ship had three large masts instead of one and the wood used was of something darker and harder than what she was used to although the body of ship was still in the traditional Greek shape with painted eyes on the side. Towards the back of the ship Gabrielle spotted what looked like silk tents covering the wide deck. But that couldn't be. Why would a warship have pleasure ship accommodations, especially on deck? Unless…
Gabrielle's stomach dropped as she was pushed towards the silk tents, such finery could only mean that the Conqueror was really on this ship. Internally shaking herself the captain straightened her posture as well as her leathers (to the best of her ability) and with as much dignity as possible climbed the stairs leading to the pleasure section of the ship. What she saw the top of the ship stunned her.
Before her sat at least twelve people in various states of undress their pale skin protected from the sun by the red silk awning. The bodies of the men and woman moved against each other in ecstasy some were making love, others were enjoying food and drink, and still others were enjoying intense sexual punishment among the red and black silk pillows and cushions. Behind them on a raised dais sat the most beautiful woman Gabrielle had ever seen.
The woman's hair was inky black, her skin was golden although she seemed a bit pale, her full lips were a deep red, but her eyes were closed as if in deep concentration. The black gauze like material wrapped around her was almost see-through and the long, toned legs which peeked out hinted at her height. Gabrielle couldn't help but think that this woman was all legs as her head slightly tilted in an unconscious move to peek under the material. Realizing what she was doing the blonde shook herself. "What is wrong with me?" she wondered. She had never felt attracted to another woman before, but then again she hadn't been around many women other than her mother and sister. And she had never been attracted to Perdicas.
Before Gabrielle could analyze these new feelings raging through her she was captivated by the deep blue which were now lock with hers. Staring into those azure pools the blonde thought that the old Roman soldier was wrong. There was no gold in these eyes to detract from the blue; it was as if she was looking into the depths of the ocean. She could drown in eyes like those.
"Who is this Darfus?" asked the Conqueror, her voice deep and sensuous to Gabrielle's ears.
The man behind her grunted, "The Captain of the Emerald Serpent, my Lord."
The blue eyes flowed over the small captain's body taking her measure; Gabrielle couldn't help but hold her head up high in defiance. The Conqueror smirked, "You've been deceived Darfus, there is no way in Hades that this little thing is the captain of the one ship that has been a thorn in my side for the past year."
Gabrielle's body tensed in anger. How dare this woman just dismiss her? What? Did she think only a man could captain the ship which had terrorized her ships for over a year? But what had really pushed the short blonde's button was the use of the term 'little'. She was not little.
Without thinking the blonde fury lunged at the Conqueror and snarled, "Go to Tartarus you son of a bacchae!"
Darfus grabbed Gabrielle and pushed her to her knees before tossing her katana towards the Conqueror. A feminine hand shot up from the crowd of bodies lying before the dark haired woman. The woman who caught the sword appeared to be from Japa from what Gabrielle could tell. Shorter than the evil warlord she was very beautiful with defined muscles molded from a different sort of sword work than the Conqueror's. The blonde guessed that the half naked woman had probably practiced with a katana before. The woman from Japa examined Gabrielle's sword intently before reverently handing it to the dark warrior with her head bowed. Once the Conqueror had accepted the sword the woman turned and glared at Gabrielle with her piercing black eyes. The warlord gazed at the gleaming steel lightly touching the razor sharp blade before raising a dark eyebrow at Darfus.
He nudged the blonde with his boot, "She had it."
The Maenad stood, parting the small crowd of bodies with a hand. Crossing the deck she lightly touched Gabrielle's bare shoulder with the blade of the katana. Glaring up at her the captain barely felt the razor sharp edge of the weapon slice her shoulder. The Conqueror brought the blood tinted blade to her lips and sensuously licked the red liquid from it. She breathed in deeply, savoring the taste, and moaning in pleasure. Opening her azure orbs the Conqueror revealed gold tinted blue eyes which she turned on the helpless bard. The bard gasped in shock at the sight of the beast like eyes.
"What's your name?" asked the Conqueror placing the blade of the katana under the blonde's throat.
She didn't even flinch, "Gabrielle of Potidea."
"Do you know who I am?"
"Xena, the Bitch of Greece," snarled the bard.
Xena smirked, "I prefer Conqueror or My Lord but since you're not long for this world I'll let it pass. Gabrielle of Potidea, as captain of the Emerald Serpent you have terrorized my navy for far too long. The punishment for this is death."
"Unless of course," The Conqueror shifted the sword and leaned down running her thumb over Gabrielle's lower lip, "You wish to beg for forgiveness."
The captain felt a stab of longing flow through her loins. Oh, it would be so easy to give into this woman, no wonder she had been victorious in so many battles. Reigning in her libido Gabrielle snapped at the Conqueror's fingers actually catching the limbs long enough to draw blood. The small amount of precious red liquid that ran into her mouth was rich and flavorful vaguely reminding the bard of rich wine. Gabrielle's head snapped to the side from the force of the slap she received for her act of defiance.
Glancing up at Xena she saw anger in those animalistic eyes but also a hint of respect. Without another word the Conqueror grabbed the bard and threw her into the middle of the crowd of her followers. Looking around Gabrielle saw that all of men in the group had backed away while the women's eyes had turned yellow and red. Fangs sprung from the lips of the females and claws grew from their fingers.
The Conqueror smiled revealing fangs of her own and said only two words, "Don't bite."
With that the women lunged at the helpless blonde using their claws to rip away her clothes and cut her skin. Gabrielle screamed as each of the women suckled at her wounds drawing her life force into them. The last sight Gabrielle saw before the darkness took her was the Conqueror's eyes.
It was as if she floated on cool blue/grey water. There was no pain, no worries, no feelings at all simply peace. Which would be disturbed every now and then by flashes of pain or the sensation of something being poured down her throat, but she would always return to the cool water which rocked her to sleep.
The burning sensation was what finally drove the relaxing dream away, forcing Gabrielle into consciousness. Opening her eyes, Gabrielle found herself alone on the pleasure deck with the sun just beginning to set. Slowly she moved each of her limbs finding them intact if sore, she also found that she had been wrapped in the same gauze like material that the Conqueror had worn. In her slightly delirious state she wondered if this was the same outfit the dark woman had worn earlier and brought a bit up to her nose. Breathing in she caught the smells of sea, musk, and blood; looking down she saw the metallic smell had come from her own bloody hand. Examining her body she found that she was covered in lacerations each in various states of healing.
'How long have I been asleep?' she wondered.
Gathering her strength Gabrielle forced herself to stand, biting back the grown which tried to escape her lips. As she stumbled to the ship's railing she saw that the ships which had trapped her ship were gone but that her Emerald Serpent had remained. Gazing at in the fading light of setting sun she could tell that it was within swimming distance. Something she could easily pull off if she hadn't been recently attacked by the Conqueror and her crazy harem. She wondered where they had gone and instinctively reached for her katana. It was then that she remembered that Xena had confiscated the sword and the first time she noticed that she was no longer bound. Her lack of chains could only mean that the Conqueror no longer considered her a threat.
'Well, she is sorely mistaken if she thinks a little beating and blood loss will stop me,' though Gabrielle defiantly.
Looking at the water below her she knew what she had to do. She didn't like it but it was the only way if she hoped to escape before the shifting winds took her boat away and left her on this Hades of a ship. Taking a deep breath she threw herself over the side. The fall took longer than she thought but the water was as icy as she remembered, shocking her into a state of temporary alertness. Ignoring her body's instincts to stop and hold itself to regain warmth she used the adrenaline rush to propel herself towards here ship.
Gabrielle swam for her life, pushing past her body's limits in an attempt to reach her home on the water. Softly, she mumbled prayers to Poseidon to allow her to reach the Emerald Serpent or if he was unwilling to do that then let her drown rather than return to the Conqueror's clutches. Maybe the god heard her or maybe she was unaware of her own inner strength but the captain made it to the wooden vessel. With her remaining strength she whistled the signal for help over and over. Just as she was beginning to succumb to the welcoming arms of Morpheus she felt strong arms wrap around her and lift her up.
Welcome Home, Gabrielle. Welcome Home.
It took the Emerald Serpent a week and a half to make it back to the port of Potidea and Gabrielle was unconscious for four days of the trip. It had been young Glaucus who had heard the signal coming from the water; as soon as their captain was safely on board the crew of the Emerald Serpent had set sail with as much speed as physically possible for the little vessel. Gabrielle had been in and out of consciousness for those first four days with the cabin boy feeding her rations of water and soup while mumbling prayers. In her delirious mind Gabrielle saw a beautiful woman with raven hair and blue eyes cradling her and softly singing. An image which remained and tormented her once she awoke fully from her restful sleep.
Once she was on her feet again the crew had explain how she had been only on the Conqueror's Fist for a few candle marks before she had managed to escape. The bard's mind went over this information again and again in her confused brain. How could her wounds have already begun to heal so well if she had only received them a few candle marks before? In fact why were there no scars from her torturous encounter? And why did she repeatedly having those dreams of the Conqueror singing to her while she had slept? The questions continued to run circles in her mind until she felt fatigued from the uncertainty of it all. But she did know one thing for certain and that was that as soon as she was in Potidea she would be married. After that there would be no more fighting for her, or sailing, or adventures, and certainly no Conqueror.
Gabrielle gazed at her ship one last time as she stood on solid land for the first time in two months. The Emerald Serpent's sail looked red in the setting sun and despite the scrapes and scars running along the hull she was the most beautiful thing in the world to Gabrielle right now. But already her crew with Markus as its new captain was preparing to set sail before the sun was fully set. The bard felt her eyes welling up with tears at the sight of her one true home leaving her behind forever to a life of dismal house work. 'I guess it could be worse,' she thought to herself as she headed away from the docks.
She headed toward her family home at first but stopped half way there. With her pack that had held all of her worldly possessions for the past twelve years still slung over her shoulder and the song of the sea still in her heart, she couldn't bear to go back to her parent's house. She needed a distraction for a few candle marks at least before facing her mother and father and their wedding plans, and maybe a nice stiff drink. So, she went to the only place in town that could serve her needs, the Grog and Wench.
The Grog and Wench had been around for as long as Gabrielle could remember. While the tavern was rather seedy and the legality of how it was obtained was disputable; it sold the best wine and beer in Potidea and the surrounding ports. It also had the best entertainment in town, suiting all the needs of its patrons.
Glancing up at the painted wooden sign overhead with the picture of a drunken serving maid on it Gabrielle pushed open the heavy wood door. It was still rather early for the couples but late for the truly dedicated drunks. Moving past a few passed out bodies and jovial groups the former captain made her way to a vacant table need the small stage. With her pack deposited on the seat next to her the bard motioned to a bar maid for a drink. The voluptuous maid nodded and walked over to her table carrying a cup filled with mead.
Setting it down, she gave Gabrielle a very good view of her cleavage, "On the house for the captain of Emerald Serpent."
Gabrielle couldn't remove her eyes from the large breasts in front of her, "Tha…Thanks."
"If you need anything else, maybe something special for tonight, Captain just ask for Delia. I'll take real good care of you," the maid winked at the bard as she departed causing Gabrielle to blush.
Sipping the drink she almost choked when a hand came down on her shoulder. "Well, if it isn't the Bard of Potidea. Long time no see, Gabrielle," said the dark haired man.
Gabrielle grinned, "Orpheus! By the gods it's been a long time. How are you? Are you performing tonight? How's Eurydice?"
Orpheus chuckled, "Take a breath bard before you pass out."
Shifting her pack to the floor the bearded man took the seat next the excited blonde and accepted her friendly hug. "Let's see if I can answer all of your questions in order. I'm well, been traveling and only arrived yesterday. Yes, I am performing a few songs tonight to pay for my room. And Eurydice is well, I plan on seeing her and the new baby in a couple of weeks."
"Congratulations on the baby. Boy or girl?"
"Thank you, a girl. She's going to be a real heartbreaker when she gets older but her older brother will be there to look out for her. And I hear congratulations are in order for you as well Gabby. Aren't you marrying that Perdicas kid soon?"
"Yes," Gabrielle grumbled into her cup.
"You don't seem very happy about it."
"Would you be happy marrying Perdicus, Orpheus?"
"No, but then I have a weakness for the fairer sex."
Orpheus eyed his friend's suddenly depressed expression for a moment, "Is there something you would like to tell me Gabrielle?"
"Like why you were eyeing that bar maid's breasts earlier?"
Gabrielle's mouth full of mead suddenly went down the wrong pipe causing her to start choking and coughing, drawing the attention of many of the patrons in the tavern. While she sputtered the bard tried to focus her thoughts as Orpheus pounded on her back.
"I…have no idea what you're talking about," she gasped.
"Are you alright," Delia was suddenly as her side.
Gabrielle stared at the breasts in front of her face and nodded slowly while all the blood in her body rushed to her face.
Orpheus smirked, "Uh huh, no idea."
"What," asked the confused bar maid.
"Nothing, two meads please," replied Orpheus with a grin.
Delia nodded and looked at Gabrielle, "You're sure your ok?"
"Uh huh," squeaked the blonde.
With a nod the maid went off to get their drinks. Orpheus rested his chin in his hand grinning at the bright red bard. Gabrielle couldn't help but think that that little beard on his chin made him look even more mischievous.
"What are you grinning at?
Orpheus touched his chest lightly trying to look innocent, "Me? Oh nothing, just a young woman finally realizing she prefers her bedmates came from the fairer sex as well. So what brought on this sudden enlightenment?"
Gabrielle stared into her cup for a moment, "On my last voyage I ran into the Conqueror."
Orpheus stiffened before standing. Gabrielle watched as he walked over to the bar and retrieved their drinks before the beautiful bar maid could even think of coming over.
Sitting down he turned to her and passed the drink over, "No distractions. I want to hear this."
In true bard fashion Gabrielle gave Orpheus the whole story complete with vivid descriptions and sound effects. By the time she had finished the sun was completely set, the rowdier patrons had arrived and she was almost finished with her second drink.
"You drank some of her blood," Orpheus' gaze was intense. Gabrielle had never seen like this even when they had fought raiders together he had never looked like this. It was almost scary.
"Yes," she replied hesitantly. Not sure what he would do.
Fire filled his dark eyes, "Gabrielle, this is important, how much did you drink?"
"A few drops, but why does it matter? It's not like a little blood will kill me."
Orpheus looked grim, "It might."
The door the tavern suddenly slammed open revealing a terrified, young soldier from the local militia, "Enemy ships are attacking the harbor. Grab any weapons you can, the Conqueror is here."
Grabbing her pack Gabrielle moved with a speed unexpected for someone so small with two cups of mead in her. She grabbed the soldier by his tunic before her could even make it out the door.
"The Emerald Serpent! Did she sail?" Gabrielle shouted in a frantic voice.
Cowed by the woman's fierce look the soldier nodded, "It sailed."
The bard relaxed and sighed with relief. Letting the soldier she rushed out the door only to be faced with chaos everywhere. Families were loading up wagons and shouting for separated loved ones. While soldiers and other able bodied men armed with everything from fishing knives to swords ran towards the harbor. Gabrielle could already see the outlines of the enemy ships and the friendly ships engaging one another at sea. But Potidea's little protective navy would be no match for the larger enemy ships. Shouldering her pack the bard headed towards the harbor determined to help defend her home.
A strong hand wrapped around her upper arm halting her progress. Turning, Gabrielle was prepared to give whoever it was a piece of her mind only to find herself gazing at Orpheus. "What are you doing?" he shouted over the noise.
Gabrielle tugged her arm out of his grasp, "Come on we have to defend the harbor."
He grabbed her again, "No, we have to get you out of here."
"Are you insane? They'll destroy everything. Together we may be able to give the women and children time to escape," Gabrielle could feel anger and panic beginning to cloud her mind. Orpheus refused to let go, dragging her toward the town's stables.
"I'm sorry Gabrielle but you need to go."
"No! What about Potidea? What about my family? I can't just leave them!"
He spun her around, grasped her by the shoulders and shook her, "They're here for YOU!"
Gabrielle froze. That couldn't be true. She wasn't important, just a captain of a tiny vessel in the vast Greek army. Why would the Conqueror want to… Then it came to her. No one escaped the Conqueror; Xena was coming to finish her off.
"It's all my fault," whispered the bard numbly. Orpheus, unsure of what to do with her, whistled a sharp signal into the stables. A whiny followed by the sound of hooves breaking wood was the reply to the signal. Two horses came trotting out, stopping before the two friends. One was a pitch black stallion while the other was cream with a blonde mane. The cream colored horse leaned forward and nuzzled Gabrielle's neck, recognizing her owner.
The horse's affections distracted the bard from her distress. "Hello Argo, I've missed you," she whispered affectionately as she hugged the mare.
Orpheus disappeared in the stables long enough to retrieve two saddles and reins. Together they saddled the horses and set off. The bard constantly looking back, reluctant to leave her family behind, but it was Orpheus' words of warning that kept her moving. Maybe her family would escape, she prayed to any god who would listen that they would.
As they crested the hill overlooking the small port Gabrielle could already see the militia setting fire to the homesteads. 'They must already consider the battle lost if they're making sure there is nothing left for the enemy,' the bard thought.
As the flames began to eat away at her childhood home Gabrielle whispered, "Welcome home, Gabrielle. Welcome home."
Lesbian Bacchae Hunters in the Amazon Forest
It was a forced march as the two friends headed north towards Megara with few stops for food and only sleeping in the day. Irritated by the change in her sleep routine the bard had grumbled and whined about her lack of sleep until Orpheus had explained that Bacchea couldn't survive in the sun. The knowledge that sleeping during the day was probably keeping her alive kept her silent. In an attempt to cheer his friend Orpheus sang as they rode, songs of love and good conquering evil but nothing seemed to cheer the bard.
As they drew near to a large forest Orpheus decided enough was enough, if Gabrielle was going to make it without dying of depression they needed to have a talk. Despite the setting sun he called a halt to their journey and set up a small camp at the edge of the forest. Sitting across from each other with a small fire between them Gabrielle wouldn't to meet his gaze. She simply stared into the yellow-orange flames thinking of her ravaged town. Had her parents and sister escape or had they had been killed by the Conqueror's forces? Visions of her family in chains or run threw by enemy swords filled her mind as tears blurred her vision.
"It's not your fault."
Gabrielle didn't move, "Yes it is. If I had just stayed on that gods forsaken ship this wouldn't have happened. No one escapes Her clutches. Now Potidea is paying the price for my mistakes. You should have left me there."
Orpheus walked around the fire, keeling before his friend, "Hey. Don't ever say that. Do you hear me? This is not your fault. Potidea would have been attacked sooner or later, never regret surviving."
The bard glared at him, "You said they were there for me."
Grimacing Orpheus explained, "I didn't mean that it was your fault. It's just that you drank her blood, you're connected to her now and she's going to want to sever that connection as soon as possible. Or exploit it."
"What? What do you mean connected? Oh no, no way in Hades I am going to be connected to that monster. We need to fix this now, Orpheus!" Gabrielle began to panic.
"Calm down, we'll figure out how…" he stopped suddenly and looked up.
The quiet surrounded them with only the soft sounds of running water, their horses sleeping, and rustling leaves disturbing the silence. Then they heard it, the sound of a twig breaking, in one fluid motion Orpheus grabbed his sword from the pack behind Gabrielle. The bard followed suit grabbing the twin daggers from her own pack. The bard felt her heart pounding, if it was robbers they could take them with ease but if it was Bacchae then according to Orpheus their weapons would be useless. They waited quietly until a voice called out from the darkness.
"We mean you no harm. May we join you?" called a female voice.
"Step into the light," replied Orpheus.
From out of the shadows came a fair haired man and woman. The woman was dressed in animal skins in the tradition of an Amazon, her hair was curly, and her hazel eyes looked determined. The man had a more jovial look on his face, dressed in a purple vest and leather pants he looked friendlier than his companion. Both were armed with daggers made of bone.
"I'm Ephiny and this is my partner Iolaus," The woman motioned to herself then to the man.
"I'm Orpheus and this is my friend Gabrielle of Potidea," replied Orpheus.
Iolaus stepped forward and put out his arm in greeting, "Hi."
Orpheus and Gabrielle exchanged a look before putting away their weapons. "You're welcome to share our fire. There are dangerous things out there that might be wary of a larger group," said Orpheus.
No kidding, we just kill…"Iolaus began before being silenced by a look from Ephiny.
Sitting down around the fire the four strangers observed each other's movements closely before relaxing. Ephiny retrieved a small knife from her belt and began to sharpen her bone daggers, Gabrielle also began the ritual of honing her daggers using a whetstone to sharpen the blades. Orpheus and Iolaus stared at each other uncertainly over the fire uncomfortable with the silence.
Unable to take it anymore Iolaus spoke, "So…where are you two headed?"
"Megara," replied Orpheus.
"Oh, well we're headed to Sparta so we could travel with you if you like."
"Are you two…together?"
Orpheus and Gabrielle shared another look and smirked.
"No we're just friends."
"So you're free then?" Iolaus directed his question at the bard who rolled her eyes and shook her head.
"Trust me, you're not her type," explained Orpheus.
Ephiny suddenly spoke, "Doesn't she speak?"
Gabrielle glanced up into the hazel eyes, "I speak. The conversation just isn't interesting."
Ephiny smirked at that comment, "Then let's make it interesting. You say you're from Potidea how is it this time of year?"
"Right now, I imagine it's burned to the ground," Gabrielle looked solemnly at the fire.
"I'm sorry. We hadn't heard. Was it the Conqueror?"
"But you two escaped?"
"What about your fam…" Ephiny continued her interrogation.
"I don't want to talk about it," snarled Gabrielle, "Why are you two here?"
Ephiny and Iolaus exchanged a look before she nodded to him. Iolaus grinned from ear to ear, "We're lesbian bacchae hunters."
The bard's eyebrows rose, "Excuse me?"
Iolaus leaned forward in excitement, "Well you see lately most of the bacchae population have been coming here from Lesbos where the Conqueror has changed most of the population. They've recently attacked and changed a good portion of the Greek Amazon tribes. Ephiny is the last human Amazon alive, she saved me from being eaten by some of her sisters and we've been partners ever since."
Gabrielle grinned, "Well, we could always use more fighters with us especially if you're bacchae hunters."
"Being chased by the blood suckers," asked Ephiny nonchalantly.
"Do you have dryad bones?"
"We have a few we can spare for you but you look like you'll need some warrior training."
Gabrielle glared at the Amazon, "Excuse me?"
Ephiny smirked, "Come on, you don't really expect me to believe you're a warrior do you? You couldn't even hurt a fly."
Gabrielle growled and Orpheus restrained her just in time to prevent her from flinging herself at the warrior. "I have been dozens of battles and traveled from Chin to Rome to Japa don't you dare suggest I couldn't hold my own," snarled Gabrielle.
"Ephiny laughed, "Yeah, and I killed medusa and her sisters without a blind fold."
Orpheus held onto the struggling blonde barely keeping his grip, desperately he said, "She's telling the truth. Gabrielle is the captain of the Emerald Serpent."
Ephiny's amused expression suddenly vanished, "You're lying."
"No I'm not. This is Gabrielle, captain of the Emerald Serpent and Bard of Potidea," Orpheus breathed a sigh of relief as Gabrielle stopped struggling. She was fixated on the Amazon's face which looked both stunned and uncertain.
"You're the one who has been tormenting the Conqueror's forces for the past year?" asked Ephiny.
Gabrielle nodded her green eyes filled with fierce anger and determination. For a moment the Amazon just studied the bard before sticking out her arm. Gabrielle accepted the warrior's arm once she saw the respect in her eyes.
"It's an honor meeting the captain of the Emerald Serpent," Ephiny gave her arm a squeeze before releasing her grip and returning to her sharpening.
"So why are you two hunting bacchae all the way out here?" asked Orpheus.
A confused expression crossed Iolaus' face, "This is the edge of the Amazon forest. Didn't you know that?"
The dark haired man's body completely stiffened. "Hades' frozen balls," he cursed.
As the words crossed his lips the sounds of bird calls filled the trees around them. Ephiny stood in one swift motion drawing two dryad daggers and tossing one to Gabrielle. "That's the Amazon signal to attack."
As she spoke ropes suddenly unfurled from the tree tops above them followed by leather clad Amazons. The four stood together back to back as eight Amazon bacchae surrounded them. Looking closely at the women Gabrielle could barely see their red eyes behind the ceremonial masks if they had run into them before Ephiny and Iolaus she wouldn't have known they were bacchae. One of the women stepped forward and lifted her mask revealing a pretty face and dark locks.
The woman looked at Ephiny, "It's time to come home Ephiny."
"Get back Eponin, I don't want to hurt you."
"You belong with us."
"Not gonna happen."
Eponin held out her hand, "Your people need their Queen. Come with us Ephiny I promise it won't hurt it might even be pleasurable."
Hazel eyes looked at the held out hand with longing and for a moment Gabrielle thought the Amazon might take the offer. Then without warning Ephiny lunged at the bacchae warrior, "You are NOT my Eponin. You killed her!"
All at once the Amazons attacked the small group. Together Gabrielle and Ephiny held off the blood suckers attacking them and hoping that the boys could hold their own. The Amazon Queen was impressed by the bard's style as she easily flowed around her opponents' defenses. Ducking, jabbing, evading, slashing Gabrielle's moves were never forced and seemed almost like a dace compared to the bacchaes' brute force tactics. Distracted by the bard's moves Ephiny didn't see the blow coming towards her head until it was too late. The strike drove the Amazon Queen to her knees and Eponin took advantage of the situation. Lifting up her former lover by her throat the bacchae looked her in eye, "I'll enjoy this my love."
Gabrielle saw the bacchae go for Ephiny's throat and without thinking turned and threw her only dryad bone. The dagger went right through Eponin's heart, the bacchae's eyes filled with surprise before she disintegrated into dust. Back on her knees Ephiny gathered up the dust in her hands as tears ran down her face. The bard felt her heart breaking for the Amazon Queen but she had problems of her own. Turning back to the two bacchae who had been attacking her before she threw the dagger she only found empty space. She spun around looking for her opponents only to have them find her as one fell from above landing on her back and driving her forward.
Gabrielle rolled away from the camp as she wrestled with the Amazon for control, rocks and twigs scratching at her skin, until her head slammed into a tree trunk. Stunned by the blow Gabrielle tried to focus as the bacchae took advantage of her weakened state. As the warrior straddled the blonde's chest all she could think was, 'Not again.'
Gabrielle flinched as the bacchae's face came close to hers and prepared to slam her forehead into the warrior's nose. If she was going to die she was going to go down fighting. Just as she tensed her neck muscles she was startled by the sound of the bacchae sniffing her. Looking at the woman on her chest Gabrielle gazed in confusion as she continued to smell every inch of the bard. 'What? Do I smell bad?' she wondered.
Then without warning the Amazon kissed her. Too stunned to even think about what she was happening Gabrielle didn't move letting the bacchae do all the work. She felt cool hands roam over her body one played with her breasts while the other slid over her muscular abdomen to tease the top of her skirt. Coming to her senses the bard bucked against her adversary trying to dislodge her but was soon restrained by another set of cool hands. Together the two Amazon's began to explore the bard's body breathing in her scent, running their tongues over her sweat covered skin, discovering every inch of her. The erotic treatment was becoming too difficult for Gabrielle to resist her body was urging her to give in. The women knew what they were doing and somewhere in the back of her mind Gabrielle could hear a soft, rich voice say, "That's it. Give in, little captain. They will bring you to me."
She knew the voice but couldn't place it. Her mind was unwilling to fight the sensations the two bacchae provided and she gave in willingly. As one of them began to remove her top the warrior whispered, "You smell like her."
Delirious with want Gabrielle asked," Who?"
It was as if ice water had been thrown on her loins, Gabrielle jerked up against the two women in an attempt to throw them off. She couldn't allow this to happen she wouldn't become like the Conqueror. "GET OFF ME!" she screamed struggling against their steel like grip.
"Shhh, you'll enjoy this and then she will enjoy you," crooned the bacchae sitting on her chest.
'This can't be happening. I need to get out of here,' the bard's mind screamed. Using all of her strength she slammed against the women and this time their grip loosened. One more thrust and a hand was free, she grasped for anything she could use as a weapon just as the bacchae on her chest disintegrated.
"Get the Hades away from her," growled a very pissed off Amazon Queen.
The other bacchae hissed at Ephiny before attacking her, the blonde warrior simply held up her dryad dagger letting the bacchae impale herself on the weapon. As the last of the bacchae dust drifted away on the night wind the two women just stared at each other. Then Ephiny shifted the dagger to her left hand and offered Gabrielle a hand up. The bard accepted the help and leaned into the warrior.
"Thanks for the help," said Gabrielle.
"You saved me first remember?"
"True," grinned the bard but it quickly vanished, "How much did you hear?'
Hazel eyes hardened, "Enough. The Conqueror, huh?"
Gabrielle looked away, "I was captured by her a few weeks ago and I drank some of her blood by accident. It was only a few drops but Orpheus says she's connected to be now. We're going to try to sever that connection."
The Amazon Queen nodded, "The only way you can do that is by killing her."
"I can do that."
"Not without help."
Gabrielle glanced up and gave Ephiny a small smile, "Help from an Amazon Queen maybe?"
The Queen smiled back, "Maybe."
"Good, maybe then I can get my sword back."
"She took you're sword?" asked Ephiny as they walked back to camp.
Planning an Impossible Mission
They had waited until daylight to continue traveling and it was another week before they reached Megara. Gabrielle never told Orpheus or Iolaus about what happened between her and the bacchae. But she did confide in Ephiny about her fears maybe it was because she was a woman or because her lover had been turned, or maybe because she didn't judge the bard but either way Gabrielle felt comfortable talking with her. Even when she was just talking at her it felt good, it was nice to have a female friend for once. She told her about the voice that had spoken to her when the bacchae had been fondling her. The Amazon had said nothing at the time but the bard could tell she was worried because she had spurred their party on at a much faster pace.
If asked the bard wasn't sure she would be able to describe Megara Ephiny had led them quickly through the settlement until they reached the harbor of the beautiful seaside town. There she had departed on her own to find a ship leaving the others to find accommodations for their horses and themselves. A small inn did the trick and once two rooms had been secured the companions settled down for a well earned drink. Observing the two men in front of her she saw something that she hadn't noticed while on the trail. Both Iolaus and Orpheus were pale and dark smudges were under their eyes making them look older than they were. Although Iolaus tried to give her a smile she could tell it was forced and Orpheus just stared into his cup.
Concerned Gabrielle finally spoke, "Ok, what's going on? You to look like something Argo left on the side of the road."
Orpheus glanced up but remained silent. Iolaus, as usual, explained, "This is insane Gabrielle. You and Ephiny want to lead an all out assault on the Conqueror's palace and we don't even know where it is. And even if we did find it how in Hades are we supposed to get in there, kill the most feared woman in the world and walk out again?"
The bard understood their worries, she had them too but they couldn't just ignore the problem and besides she knew something they didn't.
"I know where she is," Gabrielle said with reservation in her voice.
Orpheus' head jerked up at the statement, "How?"
"I've been having dreams."
The dark haired singer held his head in his hands, "Oh gods. Why didn't you tell us? You know this means that…"
Gabrielle held up a hand, "I know what it means Orpheus, she's in my head. And it's scaring the shit out of me. But according to Ephiny the only way to fix this is to kill her."
"Alright, so where is she?" asked Orpheus wearily.
She took a long drink of her wine, "Her fortress is at Cnossus."
Orpheus chuckled darkly, "Crete? Great, that's just great. We'll just sail right past her forces without anyone noticing walk in through the front door and stab the Conqueror in the heart with a piece of bone."
"That's the idea," said a voice from behind Gabrielle.
Looking up at the Amazon Queen she smiled which was returned warmly. Behind her the bard saw a rather arrogant looking man dressed in green with a black mustache. He gave her a wink causing Gabrielle to roll her eyes.
Ephiny motioned to the man, "This is Autolycus, he says he can get us into the Conqueror's fortress."
"You left out the King of Thieves there, sugar," said Autolycus.
Ephiny raised an eyebrow at him, "I'll believe it when I see it."
The thief looked a little annoyed but shrugged it off and took the chair that was offered. He rubbed his hands together and got started, "Ok so you idiots want to break into the Conqueror's palace, well I can tell you now it's not going to be cheap. I already got a ship that can be outfitted to look like one of her scout ships but we'll need uniforms and regulation weapons as well as tools to get in."
"I assume you have all these things?" asked Gabrielle in a bored voice.
"Of course doll, but the point is do you have the money compensate me?" replied Autolycus in a sweet voice.
The bard leaned forward giving him her most sickly sweet smile, "As the King of Thieves you should know that the Conqueror has piles of gold in her palace. And since I'm assuming you won't be joining us in our little mission to rid the world of the most evil woman alive, why don't you satisfy your greed with her treasure?"
The thief look taken aback by Gabrielle, "I know skirts like you, you'll leave me behind the first chance you get."
"I swear by my ship we'll wait for you."
"There's no honor among thieves."
Gabrielle chuckled, "Yeah but I'm not a thief."
Autolycus' expression turned dark, "You're the worst kind of thief; you steal lives."
It was Gabrielle's turn to look taken aback by the harsh words. She hated to think about it but he was right she'd killed people and that was the worst kind of theft. Ephiny apparently didn't agree with the King of Thieves assessment of the bard considering she now had his face pressed against the hard wood of the table and his arm twisted at an odd angle.
"Apologize," she growled.
Autolycus slapped his free hand against the table, "Alright, alright I'm sorry."
The Amazon Queen gave his arm one last twist before releasing him, "So, do we have a deal? The Conqueror's gold for your services?"
Autolycus eyed Ephiny resignedly before nodding his consent. Gabrielle nodded then stood.
"Alright then, next stop Crete."
Blue eyes gazed at the rolling waves of the sea as they threw themselves over and over again the rocks below her stone fortress in a never ending battle. The Conqueror could feel the little captain, what was her name? Ah, yes, Gabrielle. She could feel the woman's slowly boiling fury and the fierce determination which she hid from her companions. The little captain truly wanted to kill her, how droll. The connection the Conqueror had with was both disturbing and useful; already she could feel the woman coming to her by ship no doubt. Unless she gained the aid of one of the gods, something Xena was sure had not occurred.
Crossing her arms the warlord heard her leather armor softly creak and smelled its fresh scent. As the warmth of the sun danced across her pale flesh Xena imagined the little blonde dressed in nothing but black leather straps wrapped around her wrists and ankles. Bound and struggling on an altar of Dionysus, laid out like a feast for the Conqueror to enjoy. Oh, and she would enjoy her, every part of her. The only question was how she should kill the little annoyance after she was through. Xena already knew she would change the insolent woman but how? A bite on the neck, the wrist, or the inner thigh? She licked her full lips at the thought of the last one. Yes, the thigh would do nicely. The captain wouldn't be expecting that.
Closing her eyes she recalled the athletic body which had been pinned beneath two of her bacchae from the Amazon tribe weeks earlier. She had felt Gabrielle's distress and then her acceptance as she gazed through the eyes of her servants. She couldn't wait for the bard to arrive. Bard? Where had that come from? Xena wracked her keen mind in an attempt to remember where she had heard Gabrielle described as a bard. When she came up empty she shrugged it off, it didn't matter although she did hope Gabrielle was a bard. It would be entertaining to see how well she formed words under both the Conqueror's painful and pleasurable ministrations.
A feral grin graced Xena's lips at the thought when a noise from behind distracted her from the delectable image in her mind. Glancing over her shoulder she saw Akemi step from the shadows stopping before she reached the light. Unlike her mistress, the Japa bacchae could not enter the sunlight unless she wanted to have one Hades of a sunburn. The dark haired warlord's eyes took in the muscular yet delicate woman. At one time Xena had considered turning her into a Maenad, had even loved the dark eyed woman but then she had attempted to commit seppuku. The Conqueror still couldn't understand how she would have preferred to commit suicide in the name of honor rather than remain with someone she claimed to love. It didn't matter, once the woman had stabbed herself Xena had bit her changing her into another loyal bacchae. In return for the gift of immortality Akemi had taken the position of the Conqueror's bodyguard and right hand.
"What is it Akemi?" Xena asked in the woman's native tongue.
"You seem restless my Mistress is something amiss?" Akemi replied.
The Conqueror returned her gaze to the sea, "It's nothing. A guest is coming I was merely considering the preparations needed for her arrival."
She could hear Akemi taking a deep breath no doubt smelling Xena's arousal on the air. Akemi's fangs dropped down, "It's her isn't it? That little blonde from the ship? She's coming."
The dark haired woman nodded, "That's the one. I expect her to be here in a day or so."
The sound of stone cracking made Xena glance over her shoulder long enough to see that her bodyguard had almost been successful in putting her hand through a stone in the wall next to her carved, wooden throne. She chuckled at the woman's irrational anger while also being thankful she hadn't destroyed the throne. Xena was not in the mood for punishing her right hand; she wanted to save all her wicked ideas for the short blonde.
"A little tense Akemi?"
The bodyguard flexed her hand, "Give the word and she will die by my hand."
"Oh, I don't know about that. But maybe I'll let you play with her a little first," Xena looked to the katana which graced the wall next to her throne. She doubted Akemi recognized it, she had never met the Ghost Killer but the Conqueror had. She had almost died at the point of that sword; for Gabrielle to have it was no coincidence. She didn't believe in destiny but maybe the fates were trying to tell her something. Maybe the little bard was the one she had been waiting for. Her Maenad bride. She would have to wait and see.
"Prepare the guards for our guest's arrival. Make it look like we've abandoned the fortress and left the door unlocked," Xena dismissed her with a gesture.
Akemi bowed, "By your will Mistress."
The Conqueror grinned, "Yes, by my will. By my will Gabrielle you will be mine."
Gabrielle gazed at the foreboding structure dead ahead of her from the ship's bow. It had taken them three weeks to make it to the Cnossus and she was feeling as restless as Argo who waited below the deck. She had been unwilling to leave her horse in Megara with people she didn't know and now she was glad she had been unrelenting in her decision. They would not be able to dock near the Conqueror's fortress instead they would have to travel maybe half a day to get there, Argo would be invaluable. She felt guilty about keeping the mare cooped up with only sparing amounts of exorcise while at sea; she would have to reward her with lots of apples and possibly settle in Crete for the rest of her life to appease the pouting horse. Anything Argo wanted she would get, as soon as Gabrielle killed the Conqueror.
Already she could sense Xena's presence it was as if a shadow was crossing the sun. She could almost feel the tall warlord standing behind her, wrapping strong arms around her, nuzzling her neck. Gabrielle shook herself ridding her mind of the distracting thoughts. For the past few days her dreams had become more intense scenes of her in the Conqueror's arms mixed with ones of her bound for the dark woman's amusement. And still there were others that seemed out of place, foggy dreams of her and the Conqueror in another time and place, friends and lovers fighting for good. These dreams she dismissed as flights of fancy to protect herself from Xena's more intruding visions. But it was last night's vision that disturbed her the most, she hadn't prophesied in years but this dream reeked of premonition.
She had seen herself in a throne room with the Conqueror sitting upon an intricately carved throne. Gabrielle could see various scenes of destruction and frolicking. Sex and death. The carvings were beautiful, perfectly representing the Conqueror's intentions. Directly in front of the reposed Xena stood the woman from Japa who had glared at her on the Conqueror's Fist and had taken particular delight in attacking the bard; the woman now stood in an "at the ready" stance her red eyes starring daggers at Gabrielle.
Xena raised a hand, "Begin."
The bacchae attacked and for a while Gabrielle held her own against the monster's enhance speed and strength. But suddenly the bacchae hit her with a back kick knocking her into a wall causing the bard to drop the katana in her hand. The dream ended with the woman's teeth going for her throat.
The bard glared at the dark palace on the cliff side, she wouldn't let the vision come true. She would find a way to kill the Conqueror and then immediately get the Hades out of there without ever running into the Japa woman.
Pulling into port the friends and the King of Thieves disembarked from the ship dressed in the uniforms of the Conqueror's army. Gabrielle had taken the clothing signifying that she was a captain despite Autolycus' whining. She had merely asked him if he enjoyed being thrown from a horse since there was no way Argo would let him ride her. That had stopped the arguments but the thief continued to grumble. But he wasn't the only one who had misgivings about Gabrielle's choice of uniform. She was saddling Argo on the dock once they had passed inspection by the dock authorities when Orpheus appeared at her side.
"Gabrielle, I don't think you should do this," he placed a hand on her shoulder.
The bard shrugged him off as she tightened the strap beneath the mare, "Do what, Orpheus?"
"Come with us. She'll know you're coming we'll be walking into a trap."
"That's why we have the uniforms so she won't recognize us."
He spun her around, "She'll see right through this. The Conqueror is not an idiot Gabrielle."
She growled before mounting her horse, "I know that Orpheus, but I also know that all I need is for her to be her arrogant self long enough to give me an opening. One opening and she's dust in the wind."
"Is everything alright?" Ephiny walked up to them placing a comforting hand on the bard's knee.
Gabrielle relaxed and nodded. Orpheus looked like he was about to say something but then nodded as well. The Amazon Queen appeared suspicious but let it go they didn't have time for self doubt and dissension among the ranks.
"Are we ready then?" Ephiny's hazel eyes looked to Gabrielle.
Argo moved forward slightly causing the bard to smile, "Argo is diffidently ready. I may have to ride ahead a bit so she can get some exorcise. Otherwise I think the only thing we're waiting on is Autolycus."
The three friends looked back to see Iolaus trying to help the King of Thieves man handle a large bag off the ship. After they dropped it a couple of times they finally got it on shore where Autolycus promptly began dragging it towards them.
"You are not serious," said Gabrielle taking in the thief's luggage.
Autolycus looked up, "What? We need this, besides that's what horses are for."
"You are not putting that on Argo."
"But we need these things."
Gabrielle glared at him, "Take what is essential otherwise drag it up the cliff yourself."
Autolycus cursed but did as he was told, digging through the bag until he found a leather tool kit. Stuffing the kit down his shirt he turned to the bard, "All ready to go captain."
Gabrielle shook her head before giving Argo a nudge in the sides leading the way followed by Ephiny, Orpheus, a rather annoyed Iolaus, and Autolycus.
"What if this is a trap?" asked Iolaus.
Gabrielle glanced down at him from her perch on Argo, "We spring the trap."
Beware False Friends
It was evening by the time the companions made it to the gates of Xena's fortress, the road had been rocky with not a lot of cover and the only sounds had been the waves crashing on the rocks below them. If it was possible there seemed to be even less noise as they stood in front of gates. The palace looked deserted; no guards stood duty at the gates, no servants moved about doing their chores, no horses moved around in the stables. There was nothing.
"I don't like this," said Orpheus.
"I second that," agreed Autolycus.
"Maybe they just left? The Conqueror could have another palace somewhere or left for battle," suggested Iolaus.
"What do you think Gabrielle?" asked Ephiny.
The bard closed her eyes and waited but she felt nothing. Xena's shadowy presence was gone as if it had never existed in this place. She kicked Argo and the mare trotted passed the open gates. Dismounting Gabrielle approached the heavy front doors and just stared at them.
She looked back at her companions, "I don't feel her."
Autolycus gave her a look, "You don't feel her? You know what I don't want to know. Let's just get out of here this place is giving me the creeps."
"Wait, there might be something inside that can tell us where she's gone," suggested Ephiny.
Gabrielle laid a hand on the hard wooden door, "She's right we need to find out where she is."
Using all of her strength Gabrielle pushed the door open and stepped inside expecting her friends to follow. The inner hall was dark, none of the torches had been lit forcing the bard to reach up and light one. Using the limited light of the torch she was able to see three staircases and a few halls leading out of the hall. There was a staircase to the right, one to the left, and one straight ahead. Gabrielle knew Xena's chambers would be above them somewhere, despots had an unfortunate habit of putting their rooms on the highest levels of their homes. She was sure it was just to make the servants suffer. Uncertain, the bard went with her gut instinct and chose the staircase to the right hoping she was correct. They marched up the stairs, climbing level after level until Gabrielle noticed a small gold symbol placed in the stonewall entrance of what she guessed was the sixth floor. The symbol was that of a throne.
"Her throne room," mumbled Gabrielle as she took off down the hall.
"Gabrielle wait!" shouted Ephiny and Orpheus together as they rushed after her with Iolaus and Autolycus bringing up the rear.
The bard slowed to a stop as she entered a large common area lined with benches in the middle of the room the outer edges were covered with overhangs. Above the middle portion instead of stone there was a glass ceiling. Gabrielle stood in the middle of the room looking up she could already see the first of stars coming out amidst the red and purple sky. 'It must be truly beautiful here during the day,' she thought.
"Gabrielle…don't move," warned Ephiny softly.
The bard looked back to her friend and saw what was upsetting her. Things were moving in the shadows, human forms seemed to detach themselves from the walls and move towards them. Ephiny, Iolaus, and Autolycus moved to where Gabrielle stood in the fading sunlight.
"What's going on? What are they?" whispered Autolycus.
The red eyes gave it away for Gabrielle, "Bacchae."
As the companions prepared to defend themselves the bard looked over to find Orpheus standing in the doorway watching them. Unable to see his face Gabrielle became worried.
"Orpheus, get over her now before they see you!" she whispered harshly.
He took a step forward then stopped his body projected regret, "I'm sorry Gabrielle. But she has my wife."
Gabrielle felt stunned, "Orpheus?"
One of the red eyed shadows moved towards the man and reached out taking his head in her hands and kissed him. The bard stepped forward, staying within the sunlight, and raised the torch high enough to see the red-haired Eurydice kissing her husband. She felt her stomach drop; it had all been a lie.
"Why?" choked Gabrielle.
Eurydice turned and smiled, "Orpheus' original mission was to kill those two murderers you have there but bringing you to her was of far greater importance. And you were so easy Gabrielle, play a little on your insecurities and you'll rush in without a single thought."
"What about me?" whined Autolycus looking petrified as the other bacchae gave him ravenous looks.
Eurydice looked bored, "You're just dinner."
Gabrielle felt tears of anger flood her eyes, "I trusted you!"
The red-headed bacchae stood in front of a cowed Orpheus, "You should know better Gabrielle. In war trust no one."
"I'll stop her," snarled Gabrielle.
"No, you won't. The sun is almost set, you won't be able to hide in its light for much longer and besides the light doesn't harm the Conqueror," said Orpheus weakly.
The knowledge stunned Gabrielle; it had all been for nothing they would die in that palace. 'No,' she thought, 'I will not die, not until the Conqueror is dead."
Gripping the dryad bone in her hand tightly she turned to her companions. The light was almost gone in a few minutes there would be no sunlight to protect them. "Get ready, when the light is gone take down as many as you can," she said with determination, handing the torch to Autolycus.
Ephiny touched her shoulder, "It's been an honor fighting with you Gabrielle."
The bard smiled, "Likewise, Ephiny."
The light vanished and the bacchae attacked. Gabrielle threw herself against the horde pushing them back as much as possible. Claws shredded the uniform she wore, forcing her to discard the leather tunic. Leaving her torso protected by nothing except a sleeveless cloth shirt underneath. The bacchae came at the bard from all directions forcing her away from the group and towards the far end of the common area. As her dryad bone finally pierced the heart of one of opponents something heavy slammed into her back forcing her forward. Stumbling Gabrielle saw the doors in front of her and prepared to brace herself against them only to have them open.
The bard fell to her knees on the hard stone floor of the new room; turning around she saw the doors close behind her. Getting to her feet slowly Gabrielle found that this new room was well lit, the flames from torches blazing along the wall, showing her the layout of the vast room. As she turned Gabrielle froze, straight in front of her was the carved throne from her dream and sitting in it was the Conqueror. Xena's eyes were closed as if she was asleep and lying on her lap was the bard's katana.
Cautiously the captain took a step towards her adversary. When the Conqueror didn't move she walked closer. 'Maybe, she's dead,' thought Gabrielle grimly.
As she neared the dark woman Gabrielle was suddenly hit be something very hard going very fast knocking her off her feet and onto the floor. With the wind knocked out of her Gabrielle thought, 'I wish they would stop doing that.'
Looking up she saw the woman from Japa standing over her looking as if she was barely restraining herself from killing the bard. Staring at those blood red eyes Gabrielle felt the shadow of Xena's presence reappear. Behind the bacchae she saw the Conqueror open her eyes and smile.
Releasing herself from her deep meditation Xena opened her eyes only to be graced with the presence of Captain Gabrielle. Flat on her back the blonde glared up at the Conqueror from where she lay on the floor pinned by Akemi. The warlord took in the black military issued pants and boots as well as the purple shirt that was customary for soldiers in her army; her eyes lingered on the dryad bone clutched in her captive's right hand. Oh, this would be entertaining.
Xena motioned for the bacchae to step back, "Let her go Akemi."
Once the bacchae had backed off Gabrielle rose, placing herself in a defensive stance with the bone dagger in front of her.
The Conqueror flashed her smile, "Hello Gabrielle."
"Xena," growled Gabrielle.
Akemi stepped forward but the Conqueror waved her off. She liked the bard's spirit, maybe she would last longer than her other playthings.
"You'll be calling me Mistress soon enough, little captain."
"I'll die first."
"Oh, I'm counting on it. That little sample you gave me on the ship was delightful I can't wait to try some more of that succulent vintage," Xena allowed her fangs to drop down.
Gabrielle took a step back.
The Conqueror grinned before she allowed a mask of boredom to replace it, "But first Akemi here has been rather restless lately. She seems to think you're a threat, personally I think she just wants to mark her territory. Either way I've agreed to indulge her. But in all fairness and what not I've decided to up the stakes a bit. I'm going to allow you to use Ghost Killer's katana; after all it can kill bacchae."
Akemi glanced back in surprise at her Mistress' words. Xena tossed the sword to Gabrielle, "You know it works don't ya?"
The captain caught the sword easily drawing it from its scabbard before tossing the sheath aside and tucking the dryad bone in her waistband. She glared at Xena, "I know how to use it and once I'm done with Akemi I'm coming for you."
The Conqueror pretended to shiver, "I can't wait."
Once the fighters were in position Xena raised her hand, "Begin."
Gabrielle and Akemi circled each other looking for weaknesses. It felt good to have her katana back, the grip felt warm and comforting in her hand. In her mind Gabrielle went through her dream making sure she knew when the bacchae would strike. And just like in her dream Akemi attacked her from the left. Using the vision as a reference Gabrielle weaved her way through the bacchae's moves turning this way and that, ducking, jumping; she evaded all of her attacks. The entire time the Japa woman attacked her the bard didn't make one single offensive move. She knew that soon Akemi would attempt to kick her back into the wall and that was when Gabrielle would make her move.
Just like in the premonition Akemi kicked out at the bard but instead of her foot coming in contact with the blonde's chest it came in contact with air. Rolling to the side Gabrielle sliced at the bacchae's stomach ripping through the leather armor and into the soft flesh beneath. Akemi froze, looking down she saw her blood begin to soak her leathers. Dropping to her knees in shock she simply stared at the wound in disbelief. Gabrielle rose and without a second thought spun her blade and sliced through Akemi's neck, decapitating her. Within seconds of losing her head the bacchae's body disintegrated into dust.
Staring at the pile of ash Gabrielle heard a soft chuckled from behind her. Turning she found a very amused Conqueror softly laughing at her bodyguard's death.
The bard pointed her katana at Xena, "Your time has come Conqueror."
Gabrielle had been expecting maybe a growl or the Conqueror to lunge at her not the belly laugh that assaulted her ears. Xena held her sides as she laughed, tears beginning to stream down her face.
The captain's face flushed with anger, her hand tightened on the hilt of her sword as she approached the Conqueror. Raising the sword above her head Gabrielle prepared to deliver the blow that would rid the earth of Xena's evil, but stopped when the Conqueror suddenly disappeared. Spinning around she found the Maenad standing behind her twirling a sword of her own.
The warlord smirked, "You didn't really think it would be that easy did ya?"
Snapping out of her stunned state of mind the bard rushed the Conqueror only to end up running through the air where she had been. Her ears heard the slap of metal against flesh before she felt the pain in her backside. Gabrielle's cheeks filled with blood at the humiliating strike as she saw Xena's blue/gold eyes fill with glee.
"You'll have to try better than that, little captain if you want to kill me," sneered Xena.
Gabrielle screamed out her rage and slashed at the Conqueror feeling slightly satisfied as steel met steel. Her attack went on and on; her slashes constantly deflected by the warlord's blade. Frustrated the bard threw herself at Xena's legs in an attempt tackle her to the ground. The result was two strong arms pinning her body to the dark woman's chest, imprisoning her.
Glaring up at her captor Gabrielle watched as the gold seeped out of the blue eyes but the feral look remained. "Oh, we're going to have so much fun, Gabrielle," Xena whispered, joy evident in her voice.
A knock at the door stopped whatever reply the bard was about to give. The Conqueror twisted the katana out of Gabrielle's grasp before shoving her away.
"Enter," said the warlord calmly.
Eurydice walked in taking in the scene; Gabrielle standing there breathing hard with anger evident on her face and the Xena holding two swords with confidence. The red-head smiled, "Gabrielle's friends have been taken care of."
The bard took a step forward, "What have you done to them?"
Eurydice smiled, "That's no longer your concern.
Gabrielle's rage hit the boiling point, grabbing the dryad bone she had stuck in the waistband of her pants she lunged at Eurydice. The red-head didn't even have time to change into her bacchae form before the bone touched her skin. But that was all that it did. Xena's hand gripped Gabrielle's wrist with enough pressure to restrain the limb without crushing the delicate bones. Her other arm was wrapped around the bard's waist.
"Ah, ah, ah little one. I think you've killed enough of my servants today."
Gabrielle's arm shook with the strain of trying to break the Conqueror's grip, "What did you do to my friends?"
Xena smirked then nodded to Eurydice. The red-head backed up a little, "The fair-haired man is dead and the thief and Amazon are in the dungeons."
Gabrielle could feel the Conqueror's breath tickle her ear as she spoke, "Kill the thief but keep the Amazon alive. A representative from her tribe is coming here in a few days I'll give the Amazon to her as a gift. I'm sure the Amazons could always use a new toy to play with."
"No!" cried the bard.
Xena spun the bard around while forcing her hands behind her back. Gabrielle could feel the Conqueror's leather covered breasts against her chest, see the barely controlled power in her muscular arms, the curve of her jaw, the deep blue of her eyes. Part of the bard wanted to give in to Xena, to cover herself in the woman's musky scent, to taste her, but she couldn't allow this. The Conqueror was a monster. But that part of Gabrielle wanted desperately to be with the monster to become like the monster and every second he spent with Xena made that part stronger.
Suddenly the bard felt a pressure at her neck, glancing down she saw two of the Conqueror's long, precise fingers pushing into a point at her throat.
"Dream of me Gabrielle," whispered Xena as her lips softly met the bard's.
As the world grew dark the last thing the bard could remember was the softness of the Conqueror's lips.