|Chief Chesty Forlock|
Sorry, I just couldn't leave this unfinished in the Archives, so I've resurrected it, and finished it.
Although it had been a long day Xena knew that she couldn't rest. She had to keep trudging on through the slush. She had to find Gabrielle. Before it was too late. Her leg muscles were tightening up from walking for so long, but she knew that she needed to keep Argo fresh so she could ride when walking was no longer possible. Time was of the essence.
Bitter words still echoed in her mind.
"If you won't help me Xena, then I'm going on alone. I thought you of all people would understand someone's past coming back to haunt them. But I guess I was wrong."
Gabrielle had turned her horse back toward the swamps of Gdynia, and the port that lay beyond, and ridden away without another word.
Columns of smoke rose from beyond the swamp. Xena approached them slowly, leaving Argo in the grass. She was watching for Mandrake, the signs of him were all around.
Dang it, where was Mandrake hiding? Xena had no time for playing hide and seek with the evil magician. She had to defeat him and get back to Gdynia, or risk losing Gabrielle forever. Gdynia. This swamp reminded Xena of that day when Gabrielle had ridden away from her through that other swamp. The first time in many years that Xena could remember Gabrielle chosing a path so different to her's. She knew it was a path Gabrielle had to follow. Xena also knew that she had to keep heading in the opposite direction, to defeat Mandrake's plans for conquest, or all of Greece would be at his mercy.
Every time she picked up Mandrake's trail, it led to a dead end. Xena sensed he was enjoying her frustration. He's toying with me. And I don't have time for this. Not this time. Rather than wasting any more precious time and energy chasing blind leads, Xena decided to stop playing the game by his rules. I gotta make him come to me...
Five riders approached Xena and Argo as they made their way to the stand of trees at the swamp's edge. The men seemed strangely familiar to Xena but she could not place them. "You ride alone Xena. Where is the blonde bard?" Xena reined Argo to a halt. She may not have recognized his face. But his voice, his voice was one that she had sworn never to forget.
Graced only by a sly smile, Xena's face showed no sign of the recognition or the apprehension that tingled up her spine. This was an additional complication she hadn't planned for. There was a chance she could make this work to her advantage, but it would take a clever strategy, perfect execution, and all the luck she could muster.
He broke from the men and dismounted near Argo. Xena extended her hand while mentally searching both he and his men. Odd that he could look so much like her. His eyes were her eyes. His hair was her hair. His smile was her smile. Suddenly Xena shivered remembering how she had been duped by Mandrake the last time she had seen Gabriel. Gabrielle. Focus or die trying she thought. Gabriel took her hand and pulled her into his arms. His cousin must not be far. Yet, Xena still hadn't answered him.
Instead, she chose to let them do all the talking. "We thought we might find you here," he said. He told her that a village was about to be raided by a ruthless warlord. He told her how they had tried to negotiate with the man, who in turn captured those sent to negotiate, and sold them into slavery. This warlord was no stranger to Xena. He had ridden with her in the past. And she would know how to defeat him. This would be yet another set back, especially considering she would have to go the opposite way she was headed. But Xena had that feeling. The same feeling she got when Ares would try to trick her into leading his army and changing her new ways.
Just then Gabrielle appeared to her in her mind's eye. Perhaps the trip to Eli's tomb and his followers would be helpful with this situation. Not all things could be handled through physical conflict- this she had by now learned. Mandrake was becoming powerful, and his black magic seemed to hang in the mist.
Knots were forming in the muscles along Xena's jaw. The situation was becoming more complicated by the minute. The slave-trading warlord threatening Gabriel's village was obviously one of Mandrake's distractions. But how could she be sure that Gabriel himself wasn't also one of his deceptions. There was only one way to be sure. Xena grabbed the strapping blonde warrior by the hair, bent back his head and kissed him roughly before releasing him with a backwards toss. Gabriel rotated his head and neck to make sure everything still functioned properly before grinning widely at Xena. "I see you still say hello the same way..."
Laughing, Xena knew that the brotherly kiss he had returned made him indeed Gabriel and not Mandrake in disguise. Mandrake. Had he already taken her into his spell? The vision of Gabrielle sending her to Eli while Gabriel's village was being threatened. Gdynia and Gabrielle seemed far removed from the moment. Now wasn't that just like Mandrake? Confusion. Chaos. The plan came together in her mind. Xena put her arm around Gabriel and they walked slowly toward Argo.
"My friend, that is indeed a clever plan," Gabriel said, laying his arm along Xena's shoulders. His touch felt comforting after so many lone nights riding through the long day's heat.
"We'd best be after your companion, before Mandrake grows wise to our intentions and tries to stop us." For the first time since setting out on this mission, Xena knew she was doing the right thing. Leaving Gabrielle had felt wrong, even though she had thought it the only course to take at the time. Now, with Gabriel by her side, and heading back towards her friend, Xena felt strength surging back through her aching bones. She knew that Mandrake would soon be following her, and that a surprise would be waiting for him, once he reached Gdynia.
Neither spoke as the riders headed back to the swamps. By nightfall, they would be knee deep in Gdynia's mires. Without warning, both horses stopped short. A small dark cloud appeared in the otherwise clear sky, directly over a nearby bush. A single bolt of lightning struck the shrub, setting it aflame. Gabriel sat, momentarily dumbstruck, but Xena recognized the signature entrance. The burning bush, a larger than average belladonna, was the same type of plant from which the evil magician derived his name--the type of plant that rendered poison. "Mandrake! Show yourself!"
On the way to meet with Eli's followers Gabrielle met an old woman. She was wise in the ways of Eli, yet she seemed to have something different about her. She sometimes swayed and spoke in an unknown tongue and when she revived she told Gabrielle many things.
"Purple smoke, I see," the woman croaked to Gabrielle. "Billowing. Clouding all."
Her voice rose to a screech.
"Danger! He is coming! All will be lost if he has his way."
The elderly woman collapsed again on the group at Gabrielle's feet, and could not be roused by any amount of effort. Gabrielle knew that she must hurry to meet up with the Elites. They would know what to make of all of this.
Querying the Elites Gabrielle learned that the old woman indeed had visionary powers. Tulik recalled her having seen the purple smoke in another vision. He told of a time when black magic had consumed a village. He recalled an evil magician, known as Mandrake, had cast bones over the village and its people. Gabrielle closed her eyes. Xena, I need you. I needed you when we parted. Tulik took Gabrielle's hand.
"Look the old woman is awake!"
Released of her vision and roused by it's meaning, the old woman reached immediately for Gabrielle's hand.
"you must go to her--she needs you. the Evil One will use her darkness against her. there is another of the light that rides with her, but the power of his goodness alone will not be enough to save her. there is only one thing that can rival Mandrake's dark magic--the power of love."
She knew that Xena had done it before, overcome the seduction of her darkness. Gabrielle knew it to be a fact--a habit. But she worried about the overwhelming odds of these ostensibly boundless dark powers in combination with the innate lure of her companion’s precariously measured lethal and ethical attributes. If Xena isn't reached on time...
...I'm not goint to think about that just yet-- "Who is this other child of the light? how long will he be able to help before i can get to her?"
The evil magician was smiling a smile that no one could see. He enjoyed this. Toying with Xena. The grand warrior princess. What is she going to do throw her chakram at me? OOOOOOOOOOH, scary lady with her toy!
"Hello Xena! How lovely to find you here."
"Show yourself you coward!" shouted Xena.
"Oh name calling, really Xena I expected more from you. I suppose next you'll be insulting my mother."
You could hear the smile in Mandrake's voice. He seemed to be casually walking around them. Xena tried to follow the voice but to no avail.
Suddenly, Mandrake appeared behind Gabriel.
Unless she and Gabriel reached Gydnia, Xena knew that Gabrielle and the Elites were doomed. They were almost at the outskirts of the city, and had relaxed due to its proximity. Dropping their guard had allowed Mandrake to take full use of the opportunity this afforded. Too late Xena had turned and shouted at Gabriel to be vigilant. Now she couldn't see him through the purple smoke which was billowing from somewhere behind him. An acrid stench filled her nostrils. Mandrake's dangerous scent of destruction.
"Very good, Mandrake. burning bushes and purple smoke. what else ya got? can you make it rain frogs? maybe some pink bunnies? i've seen better magic in a Calcutta street show. come out where i can see you, you cowardly bastard." as the smoke cleared, Xena could see Mandrake seated behind Gabriel on his horse, predictably holding a jeweled dagger to the young warrior's throat.
"As you wish, Xena." Mandrake whisked his free hand through the air, and instantly Gabriel was alone on the grassy hillside, more than a little bewildered by the sudden disappearance of both Xena and the madman who had so recently rendered him utterly powerless. but there was no time for confusion--Gabriel knew what he had to do. Gabrielle was the answer, and he had to continue on to find her.
"Well, well, well, Xena, isn't this lovely. Gabrielle, Gabriel and Gydnia," Mandrake smirked.
"Goodness me what great globs of ghastliness I can get going for your gang."
Mandrake's taunting was one thing, but aliteration was completely uncalled for. Xena sensed a warrior rage beginning to rise in her. Meanwhile Gabriel, running through fields as fast as he could, was halted in his tracks as he collided with a stranger racing in the opposite direction. He helped the golden-haired woman to her feet.
"Sorry, I didn't see you," he gasped.
As the woman looked at him, he saw herself in her eyes and stepped back in shock. Light seemed to be radiating out of his face.
"I've been looking for you," said the woman, "You are the child of the light I've been seeking. My name is Gabrielle."
"Xena has been taken by Mandrake" Gabriel said.
"Then we don't have much time, we must return to Gdynia." Gabriel followed Gabrielle, they moved quickly, but Gabriel still could not clear his head. How was he supposed to defeat such power and experience? He felt like a phony. He felt he might not live up to Xena's expectations of him. They arrived just outside of Gdynia and made camp. After a light meal Gabrielle easily drifted off to sleep. She was exhausted. Gabriel too was exhausted. But sleep wouldn't come. His mind was racing. He felt defeated. In his state of weakness, he asked for clarity. He decided to go for a walk. He reached a small lake and decided to go for a swim. Suddenly he felt like he wasn't alone.
"Who's there?" he shouted. Then he heard a voice.
"Don't be afraid Gabriel. You must embrace your destiny." A woman appeared in front of him. "Hello Gabriel, you are the child of the light. It is time for you to develop it."
"Who are you? What do you mean?" he asked.
"I am a guide, I was sent to present your power to you."
"My power? I have no power. Mandrake has taken Xena and I could do nothing."
"You have great power Gabriel, and with it you can defeat Mandrake."
"There is one in Gdynia that can help you. His name is Tolas. He knew your parents, and he knows your power. He waits for you." she said.
"How will I find him?" Gabriel asked.
"He will find you." She gave Gabriel an amulet and disappeared.
Yani, Gabriel's counsin, had once spoken of a young man called Tolas who lived in Gydnia. How Gabriel wished that Yani had accompanied him on this journey, as he usually did. However, Yani had stayed behind to care for his sick mother, his father having passed away some seven years ago in the time of the plague. So, Gabriel had ridden with just his four kinsmen, who had turned back once he was in the safe company of the Warrior Princess. Now Gabriel had met up with Xena's sidekick. It was obvious that Xena had never told Gabrielle anything about Gabriel. Still, she had recognised him as the child of the light, so she must have known something of him. Gabriel lifted the strange amulet to his face. He must trust Gabrielle and this bracelet to lead him to the truth that would help him to save Xena from Mandrake's clutches. Time to find what awaited him in Gydnia.
Zzzzzzzzzz! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz! Snort, fnarckle. Xena awoke with a jerk.
"What were you dreaming about?" the blonde bard by her quizzed her.
"Where am I?" Xena looked about her in a disoriented daze. She was by last night's burnt out campfire with her travelling companion. Argo was grazing quietly nearby in the dewy morning foliage. The forest was still, birds having yet to feel the sun's rays that would awake them.
"Oh yeah, that was a strange dream." Xena sat up and rubbed her eyes. "You were in it, and just about everything in the dream started with the letter 'G' and it had magical warlords and got more and more confusing as new people kept being introduced and it seemed to be set in Britania in another time. There was even a male version of you! It was almost as though some people had been eating some henbane and decided to try to write new adventures for us, but they didn't really know where the story was heading at any given moment. Sure was entertaining, though."
"Well, maybe you should lay off the spicy pork before bedtime, in future," Gabrielle chided. "It's still quite early. Your mutterings woke me up. I'm going to catch a bit more sleep."
Gabrielle rolled over.
Xena lay thinking for a few moments. The dream had been so vivid. Then she smiled and rolled over, herself. Maybe she could find out what would happen to Gabriel once he met Tolas, if she drifted back to the magical land of Gydnia through her dreams.
Thank you for finishing the story!
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