Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: I do not own the Xena concept and certain characters but the plot is all mine.

Violence: There is violence.

Subtext: Yes, this where subtext is maintext.

 

Summary: Set just after Xena and Gabrielle stop the Destroyer and Hope, they're headed to southern Greece to get away from everything that happened in Potidaea. But an overnight stay in a small village brings on news about a monster, which Xena promptly investigates while Gabrielle worries it may be the Destroyer again. Despite no evidence of it being the Destroyer, Gabrielle quickly discovers who the creature is and tries to help solve the creature's mystery.

 

Feedback: redhope@redhope.net

Homepage: http://www.redhope.net

 

Started: January 27, 2009

Series 3: Putting the Puzzle Together – Story #27

 


 

The Warrior Gargoyle

by Red Hope

 

Chapter 11

"Faster, Gabrielle," the gargoyle snapped. She was too close to getting her talons on the bard.

Gabrielle was breathing hard, sweaty, and rather tired after walking all day and now practicing with her partner. But it was essential that Gabrielle stay focused on Xena's training, especially once they met other gargoyles in Britannia.

Suddenly Gabrielle's brief thoughts were cut short when her ankle was snared tightly. She was swiftly airborne until a strong hand took her other ankle. Gabrielle glowered at her partner's upside down face.

Xena had an unimpressed look and a displeased frown. "You are slower tonight." She continued holding Gabrielle upside down. She sniffed the air, which was a mix of the campfires, Gabrielle's sweat, and leather.

Gabrielle watched how Xena's tail whipped around in a seeming irritated motion. "Maybe I'm a little…" The bard growled and tried grabbing at the large hand around her ankle. It was useless so she swung in the air and huffed. "I'm tired."

The gargoyle raised the right ridge over her eye. She wasn't gentle and dumped Gabrielle onto the ground. "You are not focused is the problem." She was clearly not happy and started walking away.

The Amazon Queen rolled onto her hands and knees but had to brush the hair from her face. Thanks to the two fires on either side, she was able to easily make out Xena in the darkness. "I'm doing fine," she fought. However, her tone didn't hold the confidence in it. She remained crouched, breathing hard, and mentally mapping out a new attack.

"Fine is not enough." Xena still had her back to her partner. She was headed to the packs for water, but she paused and reached for the red tie on her left arm. She had over a dozen of them tied in various spots on her body.

Gabrielle gave a low growl in response.

The gargoyle picked it up quickly and halted from undoing the red ribbon from her arm. She twisted her torso some and gazed sidelong at the bard. She sensed what was about to happen any heartbeat.

Gabrielle gave a low cry then launched from her position. She went straight for Xena's back.

The gargoyle responded with a deep growl of her own. But she was unsure about Gabrielle's attack until it was too late. Xena begun spinning around in hopes to capture Gabrielle, but she was slow this time. She sensed the red ribbon being removed from where her tail connected to her lower back. Then she felt Gabrielle moving upwards.

The bard gave another battle cry that was laced with some fear. She wasn't sure her plan would work until she managed to twist her torso over Xena's head, and her boots came back to earth. She hit the grass and backed up a few steps to get away from her opponent. But Gabrielle waved the red ribbon in victory. She smirked.

"One down," Xena agreed. She raised her hands and returned an evil grin. "A lot more to go."

Gabrielle chuckled and dangled the ribbon in the air as if it were her earlier. "I'm too fast for the big bad gargoyle," she mocked. "I can go slower for you." She took a step back.

The gargoyle slotted her eyes at the taunt. "Do not get so confident."

Gabrielle chuckled and took another step back, which brought Xena to her. She stretched out the ribbon towards Xena and teased, "You want it back?" But fear sharply shocked her body when Xena's eyes lit up a fiery blue. "Hades," she gasped.

The gargoyle jumped up, higher than any human, and she came straight down for Gabrielle.

The bard squealed until her courage came back to her. She dropped the ribbon like a distant memory and came after the gargoyle. Gabrielle acted quickly by dropping to her knees, reaching up, freeing another ribbon off Xena's ankle, and perfectly calculating Xena's tail attack. She hopped over the dangerous tail, rolled twice, and popped onto her feet behind the gargoyle.

Xena spun around in a furious fit. Her talons balled into fists, and her eyes lit up brightly. She saw the new tie tangled in the bard's hands. She blinked in surprise, which caused her eyes to go dim.

Gabrielle bit her bottom lip, held up the ribbon in silent victory this time, and waved it a few times. She then released it from her fingertips and watched it settle to the ground.

"Two," the gargoyle whispered. There was a hint of pride in her tone this time.

Gabrielle took a deep breath and decided not to waste any more time on teasing. She knew a real fight wouldn't work this way. So she became serious and quickly came at her partner with all her focus on the training. She remembered what Xena had taught her over the past fortnight about being quick, agile, and using the gargoyle's body like a wall. Amazingly Gabrielle found it was true because she could jump or push off Xena's body at certain spots.

Xena was feverish to catch the skilled bard. She tried grabbing any part of Gabrielle, but failed each time. She was becoming short on ribbons on her body. She gave a startled growl after Gabrielle took the third to last tie.

Gabrielle backed off, still holding the ribbon, and she was breathing very hard. All around her the camp ground was peppered with the red ties that she'd taken off Xena. She eyed the last two ribbons on Xena's body – one was on Xena's right bicep and the second tied around Xena's brow.

Xena decided to make it harder on her partner. She drew in her wings around her body and hooked her wings' talons under her throat. Now her bicep ribbon was covered by her wings.

Gabrielle didn't comment and instead worked out a new plan. She had some thoughts, but she decided on the most exposed ribbon.

Xena watched Gabrielle's eyes focus on her forehead. She knew Gabrielle's first attempt would be so she waited for it. She remained standing between the campfires and acted relaxed despite she was wired from head to tail.

Gabrielle finally released the ribbon from her hands. She casually watched it rest beside another one that'd she'd freed half a candlemark ago. Gabrielle looked back at her partner, who took a step closer. She tensed up yet approached the gargoyle. What she didn't expect was when Xena backed away from her.

The gargoyle continued moving further away from the campfires and closer to the light ring that the fires made for them. She read the bard's confusion and even concern. It made her grin, wildly. She paused then slowly continued drifting backwards until she was absorbed by the darkness of the night.

Gabrielle felt her heart seize for a beat until a low growl to her right made her jump. She cursed under her breath at Xena's new tactic. She hadn't planned for this, at all. It was new yet realistic to what could happen to her if she actually fought another gargoyle.

The bard flexed her hands in subconscious need for her staff. She felt vulnerable now. Several thoughts went through her head until she realized she needed to remain calm and listen for Xena's movements. After a shaky breath, Gabrielle focused on the sounds around her. First she filtered out the campfires, followed by the last crickets of the fall, and then the soft rustle of the leaves. Gabrielle listened for anything unnatural to the woods.

The gargoyle moved nearly silently through the trees until she was on a large branch directly over Gabrielle's head. She barred her sharp teeth and narrowed her eyes at the human. She could smell Gabrielle's fear from even high up. Xena extended her talons and bent her knees as she released her wings from her body.

Gabrielle picked out the unusual creaks above her head. She instantly dropped her head back just as the black gargoyle swooped down from the branch and appeared in the firelight again. Gabrielle couldn't help a scream but spun on her boots so the gargoyle didn't land at her back. Gabrielle grabbed for the bicep ribbon and caught it but not before her hand was snared too.

"Gotcha," the gargoyle snarled and started lifting Gabrielle off the ground.

Luckily the bard's body was plenty moist from the training, and it made her skin slippery. She hastily yanked her hand out of the gargoyle's grasp before Xena could get a better handle on her. Gabrielle tumbled to her knees, but she hastily moved away on shaky feet.

Xena's lip turned up into a sneer. She glanced at her right bicep then back at the ribbon in the bard's left hand.

The bard was gasping for air but more from the fright of Xena's trick. She balled up the ribbon in her left hand then squeezed it tightly. That seemed to steel her mind because she knew she only needed to get the last one.

The gargoyle wasn't happy about her losing streak. She gave a deep growl that rumbled through the camp. She narrowed her eyes, which began to brighten up with blue fire. The gargoyle showed her teeth in a dangerous warning.

Gabrielle took a hesitant step back, and her grip on the ribbon tightened. She nearly drew blood from her palm thanks to her nails, but Gabrielle finally released the ribbon. She felt terror course through her body at the gargoyle's primal display. She wasn't sure it was Xena anymore.

The gargoyle smelled the human's panic in the air. She wanted to bring out more of it. Another deep inhale exhilarated her, and she lowered down until she was on her hands and feet. Her talons clawed into the earth once she started stalking closer to her prey.

"Xena," Gabrielle whispered. She couldn't hide her anxiety. She helplessly watched how her friend transformed into an angry animal that stalked her on all four. Gabrielle back away but kept her eyes trained on the black gargoyle.

The gargoyle flicked her pointed tail through the air. Her wings arched over her back and made her seem even larger. As she closed in, her low growl grew hungrier for the human.

Gabrielle couldn't find any words to reach her friend. She knew they were useless, and she wasn't sure if this was still training. She trusted Xena not to ever harm her during training besides a few bruises, minor cuts, and sore spots. But this wasn't right, and her instincts put her on alert.

The gargoyle swiftly disappeared from the camp and into the darkness of the woods around. She was eerily silent.

But Gabrielle's back prickled, and she spun around to find glowing eyes only a few paces outside the fires' ring. She yelped, stumbled backwards and toppled onto her back. She managed her hands under her, but she went very still once the gargoyle's face came in front of hers. She sucked in the tight air around her. Her nails dug into the soil under her.

The gargoyle revealed her razor teeth and started snarling at the human. She kept her blazing eyes locked on the petrified human's white face. After another inhale of the human's fear, she crawled slightly further over top of the human.

Gabrielle could do nothing but lower back down onto her elbows as her lost friend's dangerous body moved over her. She felt faint but desperately fought it off despite her heart was thundering against her chest and in her ears. Gabrielle was unsure what to do or how to bring Xena back to herself.

The gargoyle continued soaking in the human's terror that made her feel stronger than the gods. She lowered her head down closer to the human's face, and her right talons tore into the ground next to the human's ear.

Gabrielle held her breath and froze when the gargoyle's teeth came closer. She could feel the heat coming off the creature, and it made her sink to the ground. She prayed to Aphrodite for some kind of salvation because her ideas were thinning out with each heartbeat.

The gargoyle started her low growl deep in her chest and brought her face towards the human's left cheek. She started smelling the human's sweat again and heard the human's erratic heartbeat finally.

Gabrielle slowly shut her eyes and decided not fighting back was her best option. She sensed that submission was what the gargoyle expected from her right now. It wasn't a game or training anymore. But hot breath against her ear made her gasp. She curled her fingers into a fist once she realized somehow this was also exciting her body now. Her fear was starting to fade slightly and changed into something more erotic.

The gargoyle must have sensed it too. She slowly lifted her head and her lips nearly touched the human's cheek. She paused above the human's face again with her lips so close to the human's. But she remained still and instead smelled the air around the human, who was now radiating both fear and sexual excitement. It made a deeper rumble roll up her throat.

Gabrielle hesitated at first but bravely opened her eyes and gazed back at the fire blue orbs burning above her. She parted her lips almost to speak, but it was a moan that filtered between her lips when she felt the gargoyle's tail snake around her right ankle. She shut her eyes though and carefully turned her head to the right in a better submissive tone. She hoped it was right.

The gargoyle bent down again but towards the human's neck. She smelled the distinct scent that was this human, and it charged her, greatly. She wanted the human that both defied her and submitted to her. She couldn't deny the constant pull she felt for the unusual human.

Gabrielle wanted to grab her friend, for reassurance, but she instead held onto the ground for an anchor. She was unsure what would happen to her next. She only knew she trusted Xena no matter what happened between them.

The gargoyle breathed the human's scent more as she shifted her head down to the human's chest. She easily heard the erratic heartbeat under the human's fragile chest. The gargoyle closed the distance and brought her teeth against the soft skin between the human's top. The human's surprised gasp excited the gargoyle further.

Gabrielle couldn't control her chest from dropping and falling so fast, but she stayed still otherwise. She tracked the gargoyle's light but distinct bites that trailed up her chest and towards her shoulder. She hardly controlled herself from moaning Xena's name for fear it'd anger the gargoyle. But she hesitantly gazed back at the dark face above her. She wanted to tell Xena she'd do whatever she wanted, but she suspected her posture and eyes spoke it already. Gabrielle sensed that perhaps the gargoyle was coming around, and she wanted to touch the creature. But she faltered when the gargoyle sharply raised her head up and started growling dangerously again. She thought she made a mistake until she realized the gargoyle was looking across the camp.

The gargoyle instinctively tightened her tail around the human's ankle. She directed her angry growl at one empty spot near the campfires. Then she lowered her wings and draped them around her and the human in a protective shield.

Gabrielle decided it wasn't her doing and something else alarmed her friend. "Xena," she gently tried. "What…" She couldn't help but finally touch her friend's left arm. She felt how the gargoyle's bicep protruded like a thick coil of rope. She couldn't imagine what'd set off Xena so badly.

Suddenly the gargoyle started moving and snared Gabrielle by the waist. She ignored the human's muffled cry and instead had them both on their knees facing the campfires. The gargoyle flared out her large wings, spread out her hand's talons on the ground, and snaked her left arm around the human's stomach. Her eyes were brighter than ever.

Gabrielle fought off the dizzy spell after being moved in a blur. She oriented herself but finally focused on what had caught the gargoyle's attention earlier. She stiffened at watching the small lightning bolts form into a god in front of them. Instantly her features turned grim, and she sourly greeted, "Ares."

The God of War slowly inclined his right eyebrow at the scene before him. He was mildly amused by the gargoyle's protective manners. "Don't you two look cozy."

The gargoyle revealed her teeth at the god. Then the blue light returned to her eyes.

Gabrielle felt the gargoyle's arm tighten across her stomach. She also sensed how Xena's tail dangerously whipped through the air. She realized it was up to her to steer the eggshell conversation away from any fighting. The gargoyle was on a dark ledge tonight.

"Xena is really not in the mood tonight, Ares," Gabrielle fairly warned. "I'm not much either." She placed her right hand on the ground so that she was better balanced. "What do you want?"

"I just came here to give my old friends a warning." Ares put on his best smile and started closer to the pair despite the warning signs from the gargoyle. He hesitated from a third step when the gargoyle was about to rise up.

"What do you want, Ares?" Gabrielle repeated. Her tone held no room for games tonight. "We all know Xena can hurt you, and I can't do a thing to stop her." She then grinned at him and darkly whispered, "Not that I would anyway."

The God of War shifted his hand to his sword hilt at the bard's threat. But he didn't draw it thanks to the gargoyle's menacing growl rising up between them. He suddenly smiled brightly and freed his hand from the sword hilt. "We're all friends here." He ignore Gabrielle's dubious look. "I just wouldn't suggest going to Britannia."

Gabrielle tilted her head. It intrigued her why he wanted them to stay away from the isle.

"Especially considering your history from your last visit," Ares added. "It would be a shame if certain things repeated again."

Gabrielle detected the gargoyle's wave of protection because a tail wrapped around her lower leg. She also thought the gargoyle may make a try for the god so she calmed her friend by placing her left hand on the gargoyle's tense thigh. "I think we can handle it, Ares." She then smirked. "But we truly appreciate your concern."

The god was obviously displeased and sharply snapped, "You both are foolish to go back there." He shook his head and fisted his left hand. He nearly added more but kept quiet.

Gabrielle saw it and wished to pry it out, but she knew he wouldn't speak unless he decided to give it away. She licked her dry lips then replied, "Thanks for the concern." She squeezed the gargoyle's thigh. "Now leave us alone."

Ares looked between the mortal and the gargoyle. He seemed to want to say more but huffed and took a step back. "You'll be in Dahak's hands once you leave the mainland," he declared while taking more steps back. He then started fading away and only whispered, "Goodbye."

Gabrielle actually felt shaken by the god's warning about Dahak. She slumped back into the gargoyle's strong presence and wasn't disappointed when the gargoyle lifted her up. She was held close against the gargoyle's body. She tucked her face into the gargoyle's warm neck and felt her body seem to float through the air.

The black gargoyle quickly abandoned the camp and went to the woods where the darkness hid them from the world. She climbed up a tree with the human still tightly in her arm. She went to the highest branch that safely held their combined weight. The gargoyle leaned against the tree's trunk, sunk down, and pulled the worn human into her lap.

Gabrielle hooked her arm around the gargoyle's neck and rested her head against the large chest. But she twisted her head and looked out at the beautiful view of the land under the quarter moonlight. She sighed and whispered, "I think I understand now why you like to fly." Each time Xena took her, she enjoyed it more and more. "You can leave everything on the ground."

The gargoyle lowered her head and gently nuzzled her partner's soft face. "Yes," she whispered to the human.

Gabrielle sadly smiled at finally hearing her friend speak again. She peered up into calm features and murmured, "Welcome back."

The gargoyle's lips turned down, and she softly argued, "I did not leave."

Gabrielle felt her smile pull a little wider. "I know."

But still Xena knew she'd gone to some other place during the end of the training. She lost her eye contact with Gabrielle. There was guilt heavy in her stomach so she nearly spoke her apology until small fingertips held her lips closed.

"It's okay," Gabrielle seriously told. She lowered her hand to the gargoyle's shoulder. "It's okay," she gently repeated again.

Xena let out a thankful sigh and instead brought her wings in around them. She detected how chilly the air was and most likely her friend's body was cooling off rapidly after tonight's practice.

Gabrielle curled up against her partner. She faced the beautiful view and tried focusing on it despite her thoughts went back on Ares's words. She didn't want his warning to fuel her worries about Britannia, but it was hard to ignore now. She didn't like it, but she wouldn't voice it to Xena because they both felt the same way about the situation.

Xena rested her head against the tree's trunk. She tried shaking off the last of her desire to rip Ares to shreds for his invasion tonight. She and Gabrielle didn't need his visit that would surely worry the bard further. She let out a low sigh.

Gabrielle shifted and peered up at her friend, who was just as quiet. She grinned at the ribbon up on the gargoyle's forehead so she reached up and carefully removed it. "I didn't do too bad tonight." She found soft blue eyes on her.

The gargoyle's lips twisted into a grin, which showed some of her sharp teeth. "For a human." She enjoyed the bard's chuckle.

Gabrielle now spun the tied ribbon on her index finger. "I don't hear any complaints." She then quickly added, "Now."

Xena chuckled at her friend's correction. She brought her hand up from under the wings too and snared the spinning ribbon. "You have done well," she granted her friend. She noted the proud smile on the bard's face. Xena only paid compliment when it was true. "I just hope you do not have to fight a gargoyle."

Gabrielle wasn't as concerned as she was a fortnight ago. Before last fortnight, she wouldn't have known what to do to stop a gargoyle if she'd been attacked by one. But Xena trained her very easily in the passing nights during their journey to Gaul. It'd started as a simple game of Gabrielle moving around Xena's body without being caught. Eventually Xena started tying a few ribbons on her body that were easy grabs for Gabrielle, but more ribbons were added each night. Quickly Gabrielle learned that those spots were exact weak points on a gargoyle's body if Gabrielle struck or stabbed with a staff, sword, or dagger. But Xena explicitly expressed to Gabrielle that a precise stab where a gargoyle's tail met their spine would paralyze them. It was an ugly but necessary fact Gabrielle logged into her head.

"Perhaps they won't bother me too much since I'm with you," Gabrielle attempted.

Xena now took the large ribbon and placed it on the bard's head. "I would not lay confidence on that." She softened though at the bard's crinkled nose.

"But you'll probably be the biggest one." Gabrielle was only guessing since she'd never seen another in her life.

The gargoyle shook her head and grinned despite the conversation. "Males are bigger." She brought her hand back under the wings and held Gabrielle.

"But you're bigger than most human males," the bard argued. She left the ribbon on her head and tucked her arm back under the wings too. It was indeed chilly tonight.

"True," Xena granted. She lowered her head and brought her brow against Gabrielle's.

Gabrielle closed her eyes and softly hummed at the affection. She knew it was more meaningful than a kiss. "You've trained me well." She squeezed the gargoyle's knee, behind a long talon. "And I'll be careful."

"Yes," Xena murmured. She continued holding her brow against Gabrielle's but after a moment, she started brushing her cheek across Gabrielle's softer one. She let out a low rumble from her chest.

After Xena pulled away, Gabrielle rested her head on partner's shoulder. She shut her eyes after studying the beautiful stars with Xena. "Ares did actually seem concerned," she murmured after a long silence.

The gargoyle huffed. "For himself, perhaps."

"I don't know." The bard's eyes drifted open. "He's always kept an eye on you."

"And we both know it is so he can find a way to bring me back to him," Xena reminded her friend.

Gabrielle let out a low sigh then pulled up her knees under the gargoyle's wings. "I guess so." She sadly grinned though. "He's almost as relentless as me."

Xena couldn't help laughing at the joke. "Nobody is as relentless as you."

Gabrielle's grin shifted into a proud smile. "I know." She and Xena traded a chuckle. She became somber after a few beats. "We'll be in Gaul in eight days, right?" She paused but added, "Near the channel."

"Yes."

The bard shut her eyes again and started relaxing. "Maybe we'll hear something from Aphrodite by then." She and Xena hadn't seen the goddess since Amphipolis. They wondered if the goddess had given up on them. Gabrielle wasn't totally sure.

"Perhaps," the gargoyle whispered. She leaned her head against the tree trunk. She stayed quiet and listened to her friend's breathing, which was slowing down. She tightened her hold on Gabrielle when she sensed that Gabrielle had fallen asleep. Xena remained in the tree for awhile and went over in her head what the plans would be in Britannia. She wanted to quickly track down a clan, speak to them, and determine if any were trustworthy or not. If she found one trusting or kind gargoyle who they could explain Xena's situation then maybe they'd get some kind of answers. But such an attempt seemed somewhat out of reach. Xena had low hopes of finding out why she was half human and half gargoyle or at least changing between them.

After settling her thoughts, Xena carefully gathered the human into her arms and eyed the distance to the ground. She found an open space downward so she opened her wings but cupped them so she could parachute down safely.

Gabrielle raised her head from her friend's shoulder when wind started passing around her face. But she didn't totally come to until Xena was on the ground. She tightened her arm around the gargoyle.

"It is okay," the gargoyle murmured. She carried Gabrielle back to camp. "It is time for some rest."

"I agree," the sleepy bard muttered. She gave a small yawn then nuzzled her friend's neck. "You're so much… warmer." Gabrielle was grateful too because the night was only getting colder.

Xena had a bemused expression. "It is because I am black… I absorb all the heat." She felt Gabrielle's grin against her skin.

"Liar," the Amazon Queen muttered. She peered up and revealed her worn features. "And you're taller because you eat more olives than I do."

Xena gave a throaty chuckle then grinned at her partner. "You are discovering all my secrets."

"Oh don't worry I won't tell anybody either," Gabrielle teased.

The gargoyle shook her head but had to duck under a lower branch before entering the camp. She knelt beside the bedrolls, lowered Gabrielle into them, and settled onto her right knee. "Come on," she softly ordered.

Gabrielle understood and fumbled with getting changed. She was amazed at how much faster Xena was at getting her boots unlaced since Xena had talons. "I think you're…" She faltered because she had to yawn. She found curious blue eyes on her. "You're definitely getting use to being a gargoyle." She indicated how easy Xena manipulated the laces.

"I am." Xena was taking off the boots and put them aside.

"The headaches are gone?" Gabrielle caught her friend's firm nod. "Nothing since the last one?"

The gargoyle was busying getting the bard's nightshift out but paused and twisted towards the bard. "No and I am sleeping better."

Gabrielle was glad to hear it. She finally had her top off and noted how Xena turned her back again. It gave Gabrielle a beat to get her skirt off too. She set her clothes near the boots and received her nightshift from her partner.

Xena climbed to her feet and headed to the campfires. She wanted to make sure one stayed burning through the night while the second one could burn out.

Meanwhile, Gabrielle curled up under the furs and became comfortable. She knew shortly her partner would join her. They'd finally found an easy arrangement each night despite Xena's changed form. They also typically slept an extra candlemark after sunrise before they had breakfast and continued on their journey north-west.

The days went by quickly for them as they traveled through the Roman Empire. Nearly every night they slept at an inn unless they happened to be in an area where there was a long stretch between villages. It wasn't often, and they always had enough supplies to get through two to three nights.

Usually before dinner, Xena had Gabrielle practice with her after sunset occurred. Xena felt that her partner was as prepared as she could be to hold her own against a gargoyle. But Xena knew that there was little chance that Gabrielle could fend off two or more gargoyles. It concerned Xena if the clan didn't accept her, but Xena was fearful if the clan didn't accept Gabrielle. All of it was risky, but Xena knew she couldn't have her partner stay put somewhere. Besides, some part of Xena needed her partner's moral support because Xena was somewhat nervous about meeting the clan and handling their acceptance or rejection. Despite Xena shouldn't care about the clan's opinions there was still some part of her that hoped for it. She was, after all, a lone gargoyle without any clan.

When the friends made it to northern Gaul, they went straight to the shore that overlooked the channel. It was afternoon when they approached the beautiful cliffs. Despite the sunny day, it was rather cold and not many leaves were left on the trees. There wasn't any snow or ice fortunately, but the air was biting at night.

Gabrielle's cheeks were brushed by the cool air that'd rushed up the seeming endless cliff side. She continued admiring the beauty before her. And when she took a deep breath, she felt the salty scent excite her skin and worry her stomach. Tonight would be the night of prayers and most likely several curse words in between too.

The bard gingerly rested her temple against her staff. She couldn't tear away from staring at the channel that seemed like it was dug out by the gods themselves. It was what separated her from her nightmares. A place that she swore she'd never return to after what happened to her and Xena. But the Fates were taking them back to the cursed isle.

Xena clutched her duster's collar and quietly approached her best friend. She released her collar and gently gripped Gabrielle's shoulders. She shifted slightly closer until her chest pressed into her partner's relaxed form.

Gabrielle rolled her forehead on the staff in a weak headshake. "I hope this…" She sighed and closed her eyes. She had brief flashes of Dahak, the temple, Kraftstar, and Hope's birth. A dark hole resurfaced in Gabrielle's chest and wished to grow, but she quieted it with what kept her going since she was reborn over a moon ago.

Xena felt her partner's dark turmoil. She bowed her head until her nose brushed over Gabrielle's ear. She barely managed to strangle her whimper at feeling Gabrielle's pain. She slid her left arm around the bard's trim waist and held her tightly. "We don't have to do this."

Gabrielle calmed the storm in her heart and slowly felt her control come back over. She was not foolish to Dahak. She wouldn't put anybody ahead of Xena, again. And now more than ever she understood that she made Xena whole. Nobody else was capable of that role in Xena's life.

"I'm okay," the bard whispered after a long silence. She knew it wasn't any easier for Xena. "We're okay," she softly amended.

Xena knew she could only do this journey because Gabrielle was at her side. If she had to go alone, she wasn't sure she'd survive whatever rested ahead of her in Britannia. She cleared away her darker thoughts and kissed her partner's temple.

Gabrielle raised her left hand until it met Xena's on her waist. "We have several candlemarks before sunset."

"Mmmmm." The warrior brushed her cheek against Gabrielle's temple. "We should have dinner back in town."

The bard nibbled on her bottom lip and thought more about their flight tonight. "You're sure we can make it across the channel with our supplies?"

"Yes." Xena straightened up some and seriously studied the seas beyond the cliff. "The winds will calm after sunset." She inhaled the salty air and felt charged by it. She loved the seas, perhaps more than land.

"I hope so," Gabrielle murmured. She lifted her head finally. "If it doesn't, it's going to be an extremely bumpy ride across this thing." She was quickly becoming an expert on flight after all the candlemarks of flying and gliding with her partner during the nights. "And you will be covered in bar-"

"Gabrielle," the warrior complained. She had a disgusted look. "Should we pick you up an empty goat bag while we're in the village?"

"Funny funny." Gabrielle clicked her tongue once at her partner. She squeezed Xena's hand then tapped her staff once on the hard ground. "I'm hungry."

Xena knew a hint when she heard it. She also knew it was better if Gabrielle ate sooner rather than later in case the bard did become sick. If Gabrielle became sick, Xena was worried the bard could become dehydrated too.

They hadn't flown over open water like this, and it was extremely dangerous for them. There was nowhere for Xena to land and take a break. She also had to keep careful eye on the wind's direction and make sure they weren't blown away from the island's lands. It wasn't that far different than how currents worked against a sailing ship. Despite Xena's understanding, it didn't settle her concerns about tonight's flight. They would be flying blind for at least a candlemark before they may see landfall, if the Fates willed it.

"Come on," Xena softly ordered after she put away her worries. She broke away from Gabrielle and started back to the village they'd passed a quarter of a candlemark ago.

Gabrielle returned to her partner's side after stealing a last glance at the dark waters. She sighed and turned on her boots then hurried after her partner. She was ready for dinner.

Back in the small village, the locals were friendly to Xena and Gabrielle despite they were foreigners. Xena practiced some of her local knowledge on the dialect, but she was barely fluent and knew enough to get by. She found that using her Latin was the best as the Romans required the language in their newly conquered lands. And northern Gaul had long ago begun learning Latin so it was well rooted in the meshed culture.

The bard enjoyed the experience of the new food in Gaul. She hadn't sampled it the last time they went to Britannia because they'd gone by ship. But traveling by foot and air had required them to eat at many local taverns. It was a nice pleasure for Gabrielle. It also gave her ideas for new dinners for in the future. She kept mental note too of what Xena did or didn't like from the meals.

After dinner, the pair went to the agora before it closed by sunset. Xena wanted a few things for the journey, especially filled skins and a dagger for Gabrielle. Gabrielle didn't waste time because she knew sunset wasn't far off. She hated for Xena's transformation to happen in an agora of all places, especially in a foreign location under Roman rule. She could only imagine what stir it would cause through the empire. Ever since leaving Greece, they had been extremely careful to not let any humans see Xena's gargoyle form.

Gabrielle felt some relief once they were getting out of the village. She glanced over her left shoulder at the low sun that hugged the horizon. "Just in time," she muttered.

"I second that." Xena had a fast pace until they were well away from any suspecting eyes. She slowed their walk and started off the road towards the same cliffs.

Gabrielle started picking out the salty air. She looked at the sun again and saw little time was left so she looked back towards the village. She no longer saw it and was glad for that. She then heard Xena removing her duster and weapons. "Here," she offered.

The warrior handed Gabrielle the sheathed sword, which had the chakram hooked through the cross-guard.

The bard had the weapons and carried them in her left hand.

Xena carried her duster in her right hand. She slowed her walk but continued towards the cliffs that were still a good walk away. She felt the warmth flaring out from her stomach so she glanced at the sun that only had a sliver left on the horizon.

Gabrielle softly grinned at how far Xena had come with the transformation. But it still amazed Gabrielle each time Xena went from a warrior to a gargoyle.

Xena didn't falter in her steps and continued alongside her best friend despite her body grew, beautiful wings spread from her back, her skin blackened, and her hands and toes sharpened into talons. She'd grown so accustom to the transformation in the past moon and half that it no longer pained her at all. For a moment, her blue eyes lit up as bright as lightning before they calmed again.

Gabrielle couldn't help a chuckle after it was all done.

The gargoyle easily heard her friend. "What?" She held out her hand and received her weapons back.

The bard had a pleased smile and replied, "The difference from when this all started to now is big." She tilted her head and added, "It's nice."

"Hmmmm." Xena traded a knowing smile with Gabrielle. "You have helped me greatly. I do not think I would have made it to this point without your support, Gabrielle." She noticed the small flush creeping up the bard's cheeks.

"That's what friends do," Gabrielle softly reminded her partner.

The gargoyle mirrored the bard's smile and remembered the first time she'd heard those words years ago. She briefly stretched her wings then brought them around her body like a duster. She and Gabrielle approached the cliff and stared across it.

"You sure about this?" the bard checked one last time.

Xena's brow ridge drew tighter, and she looked over at her partner. "I am sure."

Gabrielle shook her head and met her friend's gaze. "You don't think it'll be too hard or long for you?"

The gargoyle stared back at the channel and narrowed her eyes. "I do not think so." She hefted her black duster that was now too small for her. "We will organize our things then begin."

Gabrielle only nodded then moved away from the cliff. She helped Xena rearrange their things in the packs and strapped down the weapons accordingly. Gabrielle disposed of any unnecessary items such as older food. She felt they were ready and put Xena's pack on her first. She also hooked her staff through the small leather harness that Xena had picked up a fortnight ago. It was a safer way to fly with Gabrielle's staff on Xena's back.

The gargoyle adjusted the staff that went slightly diagonal across her back. She shifted the front leather strap across her chest. She then glanced at her friend, who was putting on her leather satchel. She could tell that Gabrielle was ready for the ride across the channel.

The bard took a small drink from the skin, corked it, and hung it across her chest. She wanted easy access to it for them both during the ride. She brushed a few strands of hair from her face then neared the gargoyle.

"Just one thing," the gargoyle murmured. She held up a sheathed dagger. "I want you to keep this on you."

Gabrielle hesitated but took the new dagger from her friend. She knew exactly where to put it so she knelt down and started strapping it down on the outside of her right boot. She stood back up after making sure it was in place. "Thank you," she seriously offered.

Xena understood that it wasn't about having a new weapon. But Gabrielle appreciated that Xena had prepared her for any possibility once they were in Britannia. Xena didn't plan to leave Gabrielle's side, but she knew the reality of the situation if anything became ugly. She and Gabrielle were not foolish.

Gabrielle furrowed her eyebrows when a familiar prickle started on the back of her neck. She drew closer to the gargoyle and whispered, "I think it's Aphrodite."

Xena's lips thinned, but she didn't reply and waited. She tilted her head when pink sparkles formed several paces away.

The bard gave a warm smile when the goddess took shape in front of them.

"Hey, chickadees," the goddess happily greeted. She popped out her right hip and placed her hand there. "How's it shakin'?"

Gabrielle was amused by the goddess's carefree attitude. "We thought you forgot about us."

"Naaaaah!" Aphrodite tossed her hand at the pair. "How can I forget my favorite bardie and warrior gargoyle?" She had a bright smile then it sank away. "I just… haven't found out much."

Gabrielle exchanged a glance with her partner then focused back on the goddess. "It's alright." She cleared her throat then brushed out a thick strand of hair from her face thanks to the wind. "We're almost to Britannia." She indicated the channel next to them.

The goddess gazed at it and her features began to darken. "Like you're really going over there?" She looked at the pair again.

"Why?" the gargoyle asked in her thunderous voice.

Gabrielle noted her partner's suddenly rigid form so she took a side step closer to Xena. But she listened to what Aphrodite had to say.

"I was asked to talk to you, gals." Aphrodite actually became nervous and fooled with her pink dress's ruffle.

"By who?"

The goddess looked at the bard after her question. "Zeus." She caught how the mortals' features became perturbed by such news. "He would have talked to you himself, but he knows how you feel about gods."

The gargoyle had a low rumble roll through her throat. "So he sent you because Gabrielle favors you." She wouldn't admit she had a soft spot for Aphrodite too.

Aphrodite felt guilty, but she decided it was an important mission. She did like the two mortals, greatly and after what she learned from Zeus, she had to warn them. She neared them and better explained, "Zeus asks that you don't go to Britannia."

"Why?" Gabrielle pressed.

The goddess sighed and simply answered, "Dahak." She sensed the instant tension flare up between the mortals. "Da-jerk isn't dead… he's just… like waiting." She glanced at the seas that separated the mainland from Britannia. "He waits in Britannia... where we can't touch him." She shifted her worried features to the women. "Like we chased him off the mainland, but we can't touch him in Britannia."

"Why?" the bard whispered. She'd hoped Dahak was gone, for good.

 "It's just not our domain," Aphrodite explained. She crossed her arms tightly against her chest.

"What's he waiting for?" Xena prompted.

Aphrodite now shrugged and shook her head. "Like I don't know."

"Maybe another chance to get to the mainland," Gabrielle offered to the group. She looked to her partner for any thoughts.

Xena considered the idea and gave a low rumble. "Perhaps."

"Whatever his plans are," Aphrodite continued, "you could be apart of them." She still was worried. "Zeus asks you do not go there."

The gargoyle narrowed her eyes some then sensed her friend's stare on her so she met it.

Gabrielle easily read what was on Xena's mind. She looked at Aphrodite again and replied, "We have to go." She shifted closer to Xena again then took Xena's hand into hers. "We need the answers."

Aphrodite could tell the mortals wouldn't back down. It indeed worried her after Zeus had implored her to intervene. She knew her efforts would be useless, but she could at least warn them of the seriousness of going to Britannia. "The answers may be costly, Gabrielle." She then shifted her eyes to Xena. "Like haven't you paid enough lately?"

The gargoyle dropped her eye contact from the goddess. She felt a burn in her eyes, and she blinked it away.

Aphrodite hung her head once she knew there was no point in arguing over it. She could only wish them luck. "Just be careful over there." She read the worries on the friends' faces. "If you are in need of help, I'll… like I'll try my bestes to come to you." She wasn't sure she'd be able to do it, but maybe she could find a back way into Britannia.

"Thank you, Aphrodite," Gabrielle sincerely offered. She then separated from the gargoyle and hugged the goddess.

Aphrodite tightly held the bard and whispered to her, "Do not leave Xena's side… for any reason." She knew the bard would heed her words. "Be safe," she told Gabrielle after the hug.

"We will," Gabrielle swore as she backed up to Xena.

Aphrodite gave the gargoyle a bittersweet smile. She started fading away with sprinkles around her. "I'll be watching like it’s a peepshow." She giggled after her joke in hopes it'd lighten the air.

But it didn't really help. Xena sensed the worry coming from the bard, but they had come this far. She knew that Gabrielle would not back down now.

"We do not have to do…" Xena's words were silenced by Gabrielle's fingers. She sighed after Gabrielle lowered her hand.

"We're not talking about it for the hundredth time," Gabrielle warned. She was scared about what was in Britannia, but she was also determined to find answers for Xena.

"But Aphrodite is right," the gargoyle fought. "If Dahak is there then…" She couldn't finish her sentence because Gabrielle was giving her a hard stare.

"We'll deal with it if we cross that bridge," the bard decided.

Xena frowned and looked at the seas behind her best friend. "We will not deal with it," she whispered, "I will fly us back here immediately."

"I can work with that," Gabrielle agreed. She held up her hands. "No argument here." She then put her hands into her duster's pockets. "Let's just get this done." She turned on her heels and looked at the channel. "Time to go," she whispered.

The gargoyle approached her partner's back and gently clutched her shoulders. She took in the nearly dark channel as the last of the sunlight faded away. "Yes… time to go." She bent her knees and easily lifted the human into her arms. "Hold on tightly."

Gabrielle smiled at her best friend. "We don't let go."

Xena heard the quiet words, and she smiled back. She stepped up to the ledge and stared out at the dark water below. She could see the water but knew Gabrielle could not most likely. She opened her wings yet didn't move forward into the waiting winds.

Gabrielle took a deep breath then looked from the channel to Xena's dark features. She reached up and moved black hair from the gargoyle's cheek. "Come on, my Warrior Gargoyle." She grinned, pointed at the channel, and ordered, "That way. Yay!"

Xena growled and shot a warning look at Gabrielle. She tucked her wings back in then suddenly jumped off the cliff.

"Xena!" the bard squealed and nearly strangled the gargoyle because of the free fall.

The gargoyle's heavy laugh rolled against the cliff walls and echoed around them. She abruptly opened her wings, which captured the winds and jerked them out of the fast fall. Rapidly her and Gabrielle ascended high above the sea.

Gabrielle gasped but didn't loosen her hold until she was sure they were safe. She then smacked her partner's shoulder once they were on a straight and level glide. "Smartass." But Xena's throaty laugh made her smile. Despite where they were headed, she kept smiling because she was with Xena, who she considered her home and family.

 

To be continued.