It was quiet in the tomb. Moonlight filtered through the entrance, and the firelight from the torches that lined the walls flickered on the stone floor. Lyceus’ sarcophagus lay to the right while Xena’s urn sat on the carved alter in the middle of the crypt. After news of the Warrior Princess’ death reached Amphipolis, the local citizens took it upon themselves to honor her by enshrining the family’s tomb and giving her the place of honor. They also posted guards outside that were more than adequate and took their post seriously. If it were not for their commitment Gabrielle would have never brought Xena here and instead kept her ashes with her during her travels. Instead, Xena had a place of rest, and Eve could pay her respects whenever she wanted, which wasn’t very often given her missionary work in the East. Her shrine had also turned into quite the pilgrimage site as well. Many came to leave something at the road marker outside her tomb since no one was allowed inside. No one except for Gabrielle that was. Every year she came to spend a week here reflecting on the years since Xena had left her, and her subsequent travels. Xena probably didn’t like the fact that she would devote so much time still mourning her death, but she wasn’t alive to tell her to move on. Some would shy away spending all night in a tomb, but it felt like home here. She felt Xena with her everywhere she went, but there was a sense of wholeness when she was in the tomb.
As Gabrielle sat on the thick rug in front of the altar meditating, she could feel morning rise. She would need to eat soon. It had been day three of her fasting, her ritual during this week every year. Slowly she stood, the joints in her legs and back cracking as she stretched. After laying a hand on the urn she left the tomb, the guards nodding to her as she left to find her breakfast. They knew she would be back to resume her meditation after midday. After all that was the ritual.
Brown eyes tracked the petite blond as she made her way out of the tomb. Her medium length hair hung loose around her shoulders. The blue robe brushed her mid thigh and was left open revealing a gray samue kimono with the soft matching trousers hitting just below her knees. When the blond shifted, shrewd eyes caught sight of the famous chakram on her waist confirming that this was indeed the right place, and the right time. The seemingly easy thing to do was to take out the guards, but that would draw unwanted attention. No, there had to be another way. Soft footfalls stalked around the area and found the small opening through another family tomb that once connected to the underground caverns. It was a short trek that took skill to navigate the many passageways, as well as balance and agility to traverse across cavernous gaps and paper thin ledges over deep pitfalls. For most this would have been near impossible, but this was no problem for the experienced intruder. Finally, the main tomb opened up. After scanning the stone walls and floors for traps or alarms, the intruder walked closer. Footfalls were precise in stepping around the ornate prayer rug, and slow movements didn’t disturb the tall flickering candles around the rug and urn. The altar was simple in construction with a swirling design carved into the stone. Steady hands reached out and gently lifted the urn. There was no catch or lever, just the weight of the urn. After securing the lid and placing it in the satchel the intruder turned to go.
As soon as the first foot touched the lower stone floor the whining sound filled the cavern punctuated with metal striking stone. Fast reflexes saved the intruder from almost certain death as the chakram caught the hood of the intruder’s cloak. Looking up green eyes held the intruder immobile. “Put it back and I’ll only break two of your ribs.” With a sigh the thief knew this already difficult task had become exponentially harder.
Gabrielle watched as the thief secured the urn by wrapping the satchel to his body. To be fair she couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman underneath the dark hooded cloak, face cover, and brown leather breeches and armor, but the audacity of the thief seemed so aggressively male. Not to mention the obvious disregard for the pain that awaited them screamed with testosterone. If the thief was foolish enough to try and take Xena from her than she was happy to oblige him with a massive ass-kicking.
The blue robe came off and before it hit the ground a flurry of punches and kicks were being delivered that were just barely blocked. Gabrielle was surprised by the speed in which her blows were reflected, but despite how fast the thief was, she still managed to land a few solid hits. After a solid palm met with ribs pushing the thief back a few feet, the masked aggressor stood back cradling the broken ribs and wheezed.
After stretching the tight muscles in their neck, the thief executed practiced moves that Gabrielle easily recognized from Southern Chin, and crouched low into tiger stance. Strong gloved hands forming claws: one held out in attack as the other rested close to the hip. The determined glint in the brown eyes gave nothing away; not pain, fear, or even hatred. Gabrielle acknowledged the stance with the high stylized movements she learned from Northern Chin before settling into a tall crane stance. She could see the smile forming on her opponents face, and waited as Gabrielle moved in first striking with a series of open balms and kicks that were deflected with hands and forearms. It was when Gabrielle realized that every time she tried to attack, her enemy’s center shifted. The thief was stronger and faster forcing her out of position. The defense was most impressive. Unfortunately, this great defense led to an opening of her defense leading to the inevitable attack as the thief landed some hard-fisted powerful blows to her nose and solar plexus. She was too busy trying to avoid the simultaneous attack and defense to notice she was being pushed away from the tomb opening. Gabrielle struck again landing a few good kicks when her opponent countered when a cloud of smoke engulfed the two. As soon as she was able to see she knew the thief was gone. And they had taken her soul mate ashes. A boiling fury erupted in her stomach as she let out a primal yell. Someone would pay dearly for this.
The thief road hell for leather away from Amphipolis, trying to get as much distance as possible. The blond wasn’t joking about the ribs. Two were broken for sure along with a cracked tooth, and some serious bruises. But there would be no stopping till they reached Stagira where a Phoenician merchant ship was waiting. Night had fallen and foam was hanging from the horses mouth when the docks came into sight. The heavy bay colored warhorse bound right onto the deck from the dock. The boat swayed from the heavy impact. As soon as the rider and horse were safely aboard, the gangplank was pulled and the boat took off from port heading for Troy.
Rider finally dismounted pulling off the bridle and grabbing the water bucket nearby for the horse to drink. The captain came walking over, not feeling very comfortable with his two new passengers, but the pay was better than anything he had. As soon as the horse was drinking its fill the thief pulled off the mask revealing a strong chin and full lips that were happy to finally breathe without the suffocating obstruction. After taking off the hooded cloak, brown locks tumbled around strong shoulders that were well developed from years wielding a weapon. “I’ll be honest with ya’. The boys don’t feel comfortable with having a woman on the ship, let alone that beast of a horse.”
Laying down the cloak next to her few belongings, she started to brush out the stead’s sweaty coat. “Too bad for them. Hopefully the money my employer is giving them will help change their mind.”
He chuckled at the severe tone coming from the woman. “Aye, that it will. I told them you’d be staying below deck, so that should help appease the spirits.” She ignored him as she kept brushing the dark brown coat. Finally he left, walking back toward the bow of the ship leaving the her alone to her task. She wanted to relax and rejoice as they made their way towards Troy with the cargo, but the job wasn’t done yet. Remembering the feral scream as she fled she knew that the blonde would always be a step behind.
Hours later below deck she felt safe enough to remove the wrapping that secured her cargo. The urn was still intact and a peek inside confirmed ashes. She didn’t want to face the blonde again for nothing. The hammock swung side to side next to her trusted mount, and she thought of how far she had come to get this close to the end. Some would consider this desecration of one of the greatest heroes unredeemable, but she didn’t care. After all, she had done worse things in the past. Grave robbing was last on her list of sins.
Gabrielle was close. She was able to track the mysterious burglar to the Scamander River just outside of Troy. The heavy hoof tracks from the monstrous horse lead her down river and finally to a cave hidden by a waterfall. After entering through the hidden opening and following the tight passageways filled with knee deep water she heard talking. The walkway opened up into a great space with two springs on either side: one steaming and the other edged with ice crystals. The two pools had cut ruts around the edge of the chamber and converged into a pool in front of the entrance. That explained the comfortable temperature in the water around her knees, but less about what was happening around her. She could make out a large group of armed men standing on the high ground in the grotto and one deep voice was ringing off the walls. Gabrielle was able to sneak around to getting a better position to see what was happening. “Did you get it?”
“Why don’t you give me what I want before--”
“Ah, ah, ah; you know better than that. You give me what I want, and I’ll give you what I have.”
She was surprised to see a woman standing in front of a well accessorized man in fuchsia silk. Those shrewd brown eyes looked around her surroundings, and found no recourse. Reaching behind her back she pulled out Xena’s urn, and held it out to the man. The man chuckled with greed and stepped forward. She shifted farther from the man who stopped the giggling. The man huffed in annoyance and shrugged. “You know, now that I think of it, I don’t need to see it. After all, how do I know those are indeed the Warrior Princess’ ashes.” He looked around and waved at their surroundings. “No; I think the best way to show me is to prove those are her ashes. Take two handfuls of the ashes and drop them into each spring.”
“That wasn’t the deal Tagonius.”
He laughed at the disgruntled woman, “Of course it wasn’t, but now I’m changing it.” She looked back and forth trying to decide what her options were. “You do want your payment don’t you?”
Seeming to make up her mind the woman walked over to where the stream bisected before flowing into the springs. Setting the urn down on the ground, Gabrielle acted before the woman could take the lid off. Landing behind the crouching girl Gabrielle stopped her. “I really wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“I’m sorry Blondie, but I have to do this.”
“You don’t have to do anything but get your hands off that urn.”
The brunette turned back with a regretful look, “I’m sorry but I do.” She reached in and took out a handful and placed some into both hands before reaching out to empty them in the stream. The ashes drifted down to swirl into the twin pools. Thick fog filled the air and an otherworldly sound filtered through the echoing chamber. The fine hairs started to stand on the back of her neck. Gabrielle felt a presence beside her and saw it was the brunette. She watched as the girl drew a carved war axe and short sword. “Why don’t we put this on hold until we deal with this group. Then you can kick my ass.”
Gabrielle smirked at her boldness, “Sounds reasonable.” They waited side by side for the men to start attacking but the assault never came. She could feel the nervousness roll throughout room. Whispers from an unknown source added to their discomfort when the fog started to dissipate. The fog was low below her knees when a ripple in the pool caught everyone’s attention. The men started to back up, Tagonius cowering behind three burly men as a long, lithe form started to emerge from the water.
Long black hair was slicked back from angular cheekbones and icy blue eyes raked over the group. Gabrielle’s heart stopped in her chest at the sight before them. She wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. She stepped closer drawn to her soul mate when Tagonius let out a gleeful laugh. “It worked! It worked, it worked-it worked-itworked-itworked! Now no one can stop me. With the unstoppable Xena under my control I can rule over all of Greece.” He started to dance around in glee holding an ornate amulet in the air. Gabrielle’s lip curled as she threw her chakram without heed, it bounced from wall to wall, and sliced through bone as it ripped through Tagonius’ wrist leaving behind a bloody stump where the hand clutching the amulet once was. Gabrielle waited for the chakram to return when Xena’s hand stopping its progress. She looked around at the cowering men and smiled viciously, “Let’s have some fun.”
As those words left her mouth all hell broke loose. Despite Xena’s nakedness she fought without compunction, taking out those who came close. Gabrielle was fighting just as savagely when only a few were left to flee. All that was left was Gabrielle and Xena and Gabrielle couldn’t take her eye off of her. Her heart was pounding as she walked slowly towards her as if she were approaching a wild animal. Xena’s held out her hand and touched her gently. They both smiled in relief and moved to embrace each other when a piercing scream sounded outside. Quickly they ran to the noise, and found the thief facing off with Tagonius. He held a young blond as a shield. Judging by the amount of blood smeared all over the girl and white parlor of Tagonius, he had lost a lot of blood, but the thief wasn’t going to let him leave.
“Stay back or I slit her throat, do you hear me!”
“Tell me what I want to know Tagonius. You won’t last long with the way you're bleeding, now where is he?” The thief stood hiding her left side from Tagonius.
He wheezed a laugh as the knife held to the girl’s throat dug in leaving a trickle of blood, “You don’t get it do you. You're never going to find him. And if you do, he’ll kill you. You can’t touch him, not now anyway.”
With a sneer the thief lashed out and with lightning speed struck Tagonius in the throat with a long dagger. His body went limp and collapsed. The blond stood frozen in shocked, not sure if it was safe to move. Her savior walked towards her and she was grateful thinking she was coming to console her when the brunette walked past her to the search the body behind her. She watched, slack-jawed when she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. She turned around to see a petite blond with medium length hair looking at her in concern. The one bit of compassion was the last straw and she broke down. She shouldn’t be acting like this in front of strangers, she had to be strong. Taking a couple deep breaths she managed to calm herself. “Thank you. He was going to kill me.”
“I think you should thank her. We only arrived for the end of the confrontation.” They all looked over at woman who was kneeling next to the body.
There was nothing. She could find nothing on the wretch to lead her to the Lion. After years she was no closer than before. Boiling rage built up inside of her so hot that as she stood, she had to deliver a few angry kicks to the body to let it out. Taking a deep breath the thief turned around and saw the group of women staring at her. She went over to the pool of water and washed off her hands and face. Once she was done she whistled loud and the sound of heavy hoof beats came closer.
“Th-h-thank you. I’m sure I would be dead if it wasn’t for your quick thinking.” A gigantic horse came thundering up, and the blond could only stare mesmerized. The woman walked up to it and started adjusting the saddle without even acknowledging her. How dare she. The least she could do was acknowledge her existence.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” Gabrielle came closer to thief having just about enough of her.
“Moving on. I wasted too much time here.”
Gabrielle grabbed the woman’s arm and spun her around to be pushed away, but Gabby wouldn’t be swayed. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
“What are you angry about? I brought your companion back to life. You should be thanking me,” and she looked to the other blonde, “and you shouldn’t be going out without escort.” her ranting was stopped short when a small stone bounced off her forehead.
She looked up to see the tall dark haired warrior getting ready to throw another rock. She dodged the next few stones flying towards her. Xena punctuated each word with a pebble thrown at the thief, “Do you have any idea what you have done. Do you know how many souls you have condemned?”
“When you brought me back you condemned 40,000 souls-” The thief shook her head in confusion and laughed. “You cannot shake this off like it’s nothing.”
“You really don’t know do you?” When she was met with twin stares of confusion. She laughed again, “Those 40,000 souls were released when you killed Hidoshi. What, did you think they were tied to you?” Xena gave her an incredulous look. “You may have been responsible for their deaths but as soon as you released them the debt paid.”
Gabrielle came up behind Xena with a look of confusion, “How do you know this; who are you?”
The thief was swinging herself up onto the horse, “In this case, a friend.”
“Wait! How can I repay you?” The thief reared the warhorse around and saw the young blond standing there. The thief smiled at her, “Stay out of trouble,” and took off following the river.