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 12

"We are getting close," Xena announced to her weary partner.

Gabrielle scrubbed her face with her left palm in hopes it'd rid of her exhaustion. She couldn't imagine how Xena felt after a candlemark and half of flying. She slotted her eyes and scanned their immediate surroundings, but even the partial moonlight wasn't enough for her to see anything. The smell of the sea was plenty strong.

"Can you see land?" the bard inquired.

"Not just yet," the gargoyle replied.

"Then how can you be sure?" Gabrielle caught her friend's grin.

"I can hear the waves crashing in the distance."

Now it dawned on the bard why her partner was confident about their location and the isle. "Thank the gods," she murmured. But she patted the gargoyle's arm. "How are you feeling?"

The gargoyle developed an unfocused expression and distantly replied, "I am fine."

Gabrielle detected Xena's distracted tone so she shifted some and looked at the gargoyle's taut expression. "What is it?" she murmured.

The gargoyle shook her head and focused back on the task at hand. She realized the crashing waves were rather close now. "I can see the shore."

The Amazon Queen was searching for the shoreline, but she still didn't see much of anything. She knew that the gargoyle's vision was far superior than hers. "We should land so you can rest," she suggested.

"We will take a break," Xena agreed.

Gabrielle nodded then another thought came to mind. "Are we going to Londinium tonight?"

Xena shook her head once and replied, "It is too far for tonight."

"Then Dubris?" the bard suggested. But she could tell Xena was unsure about staying in Dubris.

"There is a lot of military activity in Dubris." The gargoyle had a displeased look. "We will search for a smaller village beyond Dubris."

"Sounds good," the bard quietly agreed. But she noted her partner's troubled expression, and she tried determining what was agitating the gargoyle. "What is it?" she whispered near Xena's ear.

Xena inhaled deeply and slowly narrowed her eyes. "I am… not sure."

"I don't like that," the bard muttered.

The gargoyle started descending closer now that she had the shore in sight. She also slowed their speed by pitching up slightly. "There is... another." She started scanning about frantically in hopes to confirm her senses.

"Another?" Gabrielle was confused, and her body started becoming wired now. "What you mean another?" She sharply felt the gargoyle's arms tighten on her.

"There," the gargoyle growled.

Gabrielle indeed saw it and was dumbfounded. "By the gods," she whispered in awe.

"Hold on," Xena ordered. She suddenly pitched down and picked up speed.

The bard did her best not to squeal at the sudden change of attitude. She briefly squeezed her eyes shut then dared to look over her left shoulder. She was awestruck again when her vision focused on the sleek creature gliding through the air not far from her and Xena.

"Can you catch it?" Gabrielle urged. "Can we go faster?" She desperately kept her eyes trained on the other gargoyle ahead of them.

"It is… difficult," Xena replied. She was somewhat frustrated because she couldn't gain anymore airspeed despite the winds coming off the sea were helping. But it just wasn't enough because her weight now included Gabrielle plus the supplies.

The bard sucked in a breath when the other gargoyle did a steep turn. She hadn't seen something that beautiful in awhile. Gargoyles were dancers among the winds.

"It's coming right towards us," Gabrielle called over the wind.

Xena became alarmed because it was happening too fast. She hadn't flown with or around other gargoyles. Birds were rarely in the nightsky other than the occasional bat, which was easy to maneuver past. Xena made brief eye contact with the other gargoyle, who seemed to have picked up on them earlier.

"Hades," Xena snarled and sharply did a right turn.

"Xena!" Gabrielle cried out. She felt their bodies slipping out of the wind's lift.

Xena had made her turn too steep and all their combined weight plus their supplies become three times heavier than in normal flight. She couldn't handle it and gave a cry of pain from the piercing wind and weight tearing against her wings.

Gabrielle dug her nails into her partner's thick skin. But her world started spinning as their bodies tumbled downward.

Xena desperately fought against the inverted spin, but she couldn't regain lift under her wings. All the weight was dragging them downward and increasing their speed. "Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle's mind was reeling at what to do. She was far more helpless than Xena, but she quickly recalled what'd been the problem earlier. She knew when they'd left Gaul what could happen if they weren't careful. There was only one chance so she gave a scream and forced herself to separate from Xena's larger body.

"Gabrielle, no!" The black gargoyle failed at grabbing her human partner because the winds hooked under her large wings. Her descent almost instantly stopped now that the excess weight was gone. "Gaaaabrielle!" Xena started a controlled descent for her partner, but she wasn't moving fast enough to catch up. She knew there wasn't much distance left between Gabrielle and the ground.

Gabrielle hated heights; she truly hated them. She decided looking down wasn't going to give her peace. Instead she shut her eyes and allowed the Fates to decide her future. She listened to Xena's cries for her, but they were growing distant now. Soon she imagined she'd hear Xena's prayers to her, but she wouldn't offer apologies for her choice.

The fall to earth was truly peaceful. All that Gabrielle heard was the air moving past her ears. In the distance, she finally did hear the waves crashing against the shore like Xena told her. The air was perfectly salty and also quite cool. After one last inhale, Gabrielle began to picture the underworld instead of fearing her death.

However, her beautiful illusion of Elysium was abruptly shattered by her body being jerked out of the air. She gasped as if she was pulled out from water. The strong arms secured around her body and pulled her against a nice warmth. Gabrielle's eyes flew open when she sensed the now upward motion. She gripped her savior's firm shoulders until she realized they were not familiar.

Gabrielle finally looked at her savior, who was anything but black as a moonless night. She stared at the chiseled features of the richest green shade she'd ever seen. "By… the gods," she repeated yet again.

But the gargoyle disregarded the human in her arms and carefully descended to the ground below.

Gabrielle continued gawking at the gargoyle, who held her tightly. She quickly processed two facts right away. The gargoyle was female and was green as an emerald. Gabrielle became dried mouth and debated on taking a sip from her waterskin until she realized it was gone. Most likely it was already on the ground.

The gargoyle started a wide, slow spinning descent to the ground. She carefully made a landing not far from the cliffs that overlooked the channel. But it was an easy landing thanks to the open lands other than the occasional large rocks protruding up. She slid the human out of her arms then centered her brown eyes on the shaken human.

Gabrielle took a weak step back but was fixated on the green gargoyle. "I…" She tried clearing her foggy thoughts, but it was impossible.

The gargoyle canted her head then quite calmly informed, "Humans are not meant to fly." She glanced over her right shoulder at something in the night sky then took a few running steps towards the cliff with her wings closing.

Gabrielle turned on her heels and watched the gargoyle leap off the cliff. She whispered, "It's… gliding." She covered her racing heart with her right palm.

"Gabrielle!" Xena swiftly landed a few paces away from her partner. She ran across the short distance and grabbed the bard. "Gabrielle," she urgently called.

"Xena…" The bard latched onto her friend but pointed at the cliffs. "Look!" She indicated the emerald gargoyle that suddenly arched up into the nightsky from far below the cliffs.

Xena took a step towards the cliffs, but she stopped beside Gabrielle.

"You can still catch her," Gabrielle insisted.

The black gargoyle was extremely tempted to go after the other one, but she withdrew and remained at her partner's side. "No." She faced her friend.

"But…" Gabrielle's argument died on her lips once she saw all the worry written on Xena's face. Even with the sliver of moon, Gabrielle caught the fear in those blue eyes about what just happened earlier. "I'm okay." She took Xena's arms into her hands. "She caught me before…"

Xena parted her lips some but closed them and shook her head. "You should not have done what you did." Her brow ridge grew tighter each passing heartbeat. She was becoming upset about their fall.

"You weren't going to recover," Gabrielle rationalized. She waited to see if the gargoyle would argue her.

Xena clenched her jaw and a slight glow started behind her eyes. "That does not mean you were right."

"And both of us dying would have been a better choice?" Gabrielle snapped. She sighed and looked away. She rubbed her forehead and tried working away her temper. They were both poorly reacting to what happened moments ago.

"Yes," Xena quietly replied after a long silence. She found hesitant green eyes back on her. "I rather go to the afterlife with you."

The bard swallowed hard and nodded once. "I'm sorry." She stared off to the side until a talon gently hooked under her chin and made her look up.

"I am sorry." Xena developed a deep frown. "I should have been far more careful and not risk our lives."

Gabrielle shook her head and whispered, "It happened quickly." She sighed then shifted closer to her partner. "Maybe we should just walk to the village." She managed her left arm around Xena's waist. She felt Xena's nearly silent chuckle against her shoulder.

"I think so too."

Gabrielle had a small smile at this. She peered up at her friend. "Did you see that other gargoyle?"

Xena huffed and smartly replied, "You mean that wagon wrecker?" She shook her head and added with distaste, "She pulled that stunt on purpose."

Gabrielle softly laughed at her partner's attitude. "Maybe it was by accident." But she received a doubtful look from the gargoyle. "Come on, Warrior Gargoyle." She patted the solid stomach under the leather top. "But seriously, did you see her?"

Xena had caped her wings around her body before she took step beside her partner. She held up her right hand and brought her thumb and finger near each other. "We were that close… I believe I saw her."

Gabrielle grinned and informed, "She was green." She recalled the gargoyle's profile from when the green gargoyle was carrying her. "She had brow ridges like yours but two talons that swept back into her black hair like a crown." She continued thinking over the green gargoyle's features. "Even her lips were green." She then tilted her head and softly added, "But her eyes were brown… very earthy brown."

The black gargoyle slowly inclined her brow ridge as the description continued from the bard. "You had a good look at her huh?"

Gabrielle detected some jealousy but held back her wicked grin. "She did save me."

Xena rolled her eyes at that remark.

"She had a beautiful shade of skin," Gabrielle commented. She grabbed her partner's nearby arm. "Green like an emerald."

The black gargoyle stopped and faced her partner. "Should I be jealous over her?" Her lips curled slightly.

Gabrielle was giddy on the inside at seeing her partner's jealousy. It made her feel better about Xena picking on her over Deniz's crush. She decided to poke just a bit further and softly mentioned, "Her skin is the same shade as my eyes."

Xena gave a low rumble in response. She was obviously not pleased by the comparison.

Gabrielle now bit her bottom lip to hold back her smirk, but she ran her right hand over her friend's arm. "I do like green… a lot." She couldn't hide her grin when Xena let out a deeper rumble. "But…" Gabrielle trailed her fingertips down her partner's arm. "I have a thing for black." She winked then continued on the walk towards civilization.

Xena gave a hum of satisfaction and quickly caught up to the bard after a few wide strides.

"Besides," Gabrielle started, "should I be concerned?" She flashed a grin at her friend. "She was a beautiful gargoyle after all." She saw peered up with inquisitive features. "Just your kind."

"Too tall," Xena joked.

Gabrielle chuckled and smiled at her friend. She then started scanning about her surroundings. "My waterskin should be… around here… somewhere." She couldn't see that great, but maybe she'd be in luck.

"Indeed," the gargoyle agreed. She broke away and beelined to a spot near a large rock. "Perhaps this is your unlucky waterskin." She hooked its strap with her tail and lifted it up. She rejoined the bard, who was excited to see the skin.

"Hey, thanks." Gabrielle caught the skin when it was tossed to her. She was amazed the cork was still in place. "I'm rather parched after being saved by that beautiful gargoyle."

"Gabrielle," Xena hissed.

Gabrielle laughed in response and took a sip from her waterskin. She then offered it to her partner, who also drank from it. She recorked it, slung it over her shoulder, and walked closer to Xena. "Hopefully it's a short walk to the nearest village."

"We can fly there," Xena offered.

Gabrielle weakly laughed and patted the wing covered arm next to her. "No thanks." She sighed deeply. "I'm done flying for the night."

"You were a good sport about it," the gargoyle commented.

"Thank you." Gabrielle had a proud smile. "I didn't do badly." She wouldn't have been surprised if she'd been sick to her stomach. But in fact she didn't have any trouble, until the end. She slightly puckered her lips. "You really think she did that on purpose?"

"Yes."

"Hmmmm." Gabrielle considered it, but she just wasn't so sure herself. "She did speak to me."

"Oh?"

The bard easily recalled the heavy voice of the green gargoyle. "She sounded similar to you."

The gargoyle was not impressed and her thunderous voice rumbled in displeasure when she spoke again. "What did she say?" She noted how long it took Gabrielle to reply.

The bard snapped out of it when the gargoyle sharply said her name. She bashfully smiled and replied, "She told me that flying wasn't meant for humans."

"Hmmmm." The gargoyle was not amused. Her tail whipped through the air in reflection to her mood.

"I wonder if we'll meet Emerald again," Gabrielle mused aloud.

Xena's eyes slightly widened at the bard's nickname for the other gargoyle. "Gabrielle," she warned.

"What?" The bard shrugged and edged closer to her friend. "At least we know there's another gargoyle out there."

Xena considered this quietly then replied, "That's what concerns me."

Gabrielle became lost by what her partner meant and asked, "What concerns you?" She brushed her messy hair from her face. She couldn't wait to brush her hair later after being well windblown.

"She was alone," Xena pointed out.

The bard was still confused then she started piecing together what Xena's thinking was about the lone gargoyle. "You think she should have been flying with others?"

"Most likely," Xena answered. She looked at the small human. "Gargoyles are in clans and don't typically go alone." She shook her head because it didn't make sense. It was a little odd.

"Emerald sure wasn't keen on meeting you either," Gabrielle concluded. "She was definitely in a hurry to get away."

"So I noticed too," Xena replied.

Gabrielle reached over and caught Xena's hand into hers. "We'll get it figured out." She saw the gargoyle's concern melt away. "At least we know you're not the only one now."

"Yes," the gargoyle whispered in her deep voice.

The bard briefly squeezed her friend's hand but said nothing else. They continued north-east until they reached a Roman road that would take them to an aged road. It was a solid candlemark before they finally came upon a small village north of Dubris. Xena felt it was relatively safe, but she made Gabrielle wait outside the village. Xena took to the air and visually assessed the quiet village from above. She easily determined an inn and landed back beside Gabrielle.

The Amazon Queen retrieved her staff from the gargoyle then promised to be quick. She smiled at Xena's promise to keep an eye on her. The bard trekked into the quiet village and hoped there was room at the inn Xena had told her about earlier. She also hoped her Latin was enough to get her through it because there was no telling what the locals knew in the way of Latin. But Xena assured her that the Romans had well established the language in lower Britannia.

Gabrielle was relieved when the inn keeper did indeed speak Latin. She wasn't fluent in the language, but she knew enough to get by, thanks to Xena's teachings. Gabrielle paid for the room then thanked the innkeeper for the bronze key to the room. She went on her way to the back of the inn. She heard a few voices from other rooms, but she didn't want to bring attention to herself.

The bard slipped into her room, locked the door behind her, and immediately went to the mat. She was glad the inn was on ground level, which made it easier for her partner. She unhooked the mat from the window then poked her head outside. Gabrielle didn't hear or see anything until Xena was suddenly in front of her.

"Hades," Gabrielle hissed and covered her chest. She glowered at the gargoyle's smirk. "You just love that, don't you?"

The gargoyle chuckled then waited until the bard was out of the way. She then easily climbed through the window and entered the warmer room.

Gabrielle quickly put the mat back over the window so nobody would see her friend. She and Xena then started taking off their things.

After Xena was free of her pack, she went to the fireplace. She knew Gabrielle would get chilled once she took off her duster.

"You know," Gabrielle mentioned, "it seemed colder in Gaul than here."

The gargoyle was knelt in front of the fireplace and preparing it. She peered over her shoulder and explained, "The channel keeps the isle warmer."

"Mmmmm," the bard murmured. She was unsure how her partner knew this, but she also wouldn't argue it. Gabrielle's knowledge was vast, but it certainly didn't meet or exceed what Xena knew about the known-world.

The bard began unpacking their things for the night. She wandered into the washroom with her nightshift in hand. "Where should we start tomorrow?" she called from the bathroom.

Xena remained motionless in front of the fireplace after igniting the brush underneath the logs. The flintstones rested in her hands as her blue eyes stayed fixed on the small flames. She considered her partner's question.

"I am not sure," the gargoyle confessed.

Gabrielle had washed her face and came out with a towel in hand. She leaned against the doorframe. The candlelight from the washroom gave her a golden glow. "Maybe we should continue traveling north." She leaned her head against the wood frame and studied the black gargoyle. From her angle, she was able to appreciate Xena's beauty as a gargoyle. "Or maybe ask around."

Xena shook her head once and looked at the fire, which was growing finally. "I do not think asking is wise." She set the flintstone down near the fireplace's foundation.

The bard softly hummed and continued staring at her partner. She lifted her head up. "Then maybe we should track down that green gargoyle. She's obviously a good starting point if anything."

The gargoyle's black lips slowly thinned as her thoughts rolled around a few ways. "Perhaps." She stood up slowly, which caused her pooled wings to draw off the floor. "We will decide in the morning." She faced her friend.

Gabrielle sighed some, but she could tell they were both quite tired from tonight. Both the flight and the fall had drained them. She slipped back into the washroom to finish getting ready. "How are your arms and shoulders?" she called.

Xena actually took inventory of them and found they weren't too sore after tonight. "I am alright."

Gabrielle came back out and had on her nightshift and boots. She set her clothes down on the table then sat in the chair that held her duster on the back. She started removing her boots. It gave her a beat to consider her partner's mood.

The gargoyle remained still but stared in the direction of the bed. She was obviously in deep thought.

The bard had one boot off, but she peered across at her friend. She sensed the gargoyle's dark mood, and it worried her. "What's bothering you?" She rarely saw Xena remain still and mentally in a distant place. She didn't like it.

Xena's lips pulled with a slight frown when she focused on the bard. "We are here." She started to the foot of the bed and sat on it. "Our arrival did not start out well."

Gabrielle tucked her boots under the table so nobody would trip on them. But she had her new dagger in her right hand. "Xena, don't get superstitious on me now." She straightened up and placed the dagger in her lap. "You know…"

The gargoyle's blue eyes centered on her friend.

The bard pointed the dagger's hilt at the gargoyle. "You're getting funny acting in your old age."

"Thanks," the gargoyle deadpanned.

Gabrielle sighed because her tease fell rather short, like herself. She got up from the chair and sat down next to her friend. "Come on… it was just an accident." She set the dagger on the small space near her leg. Now she saw a small grin on the gargoyle's face.

"This is backwards," Xena whispered in her heavy timber. At the Amazon Queen's arched eyebrow attempt, she grinned and explained, "It is usually me calming you."

Gabrielle mirrored back the grin now. "Well… we all have our moments, right?" She reached for her friend's hand that protruded out from the wings. But she was still concerned and stared hard at her friend. "Is there something else though?"

Xena felt somewhat caught by Gabrielle. But she wouldn't voice her concern because it wouldn't encourage their journey right now. Since their arrival, Xena felt a draw or pull through her senses, especially in her mind. She decided she was on edge because they were in Britannia again. There was no reason though to worry Gabrielle further.

"No," the gargoyle quietly answered. "I think we are just tired."

Gabrielle squeezed the larger hand and nodded. "It was a long day." She freed her hand, scooped up the dagger, and ordered, "Come on." She got up and went around the bed.

The gargoyle started in Gabrielle's direction but only because she was going to the washroom. "I will be right there."

The bard nodded, put her dagger on the nightstand, and climbed into bed. "You'll get the candles?" After Xena's positive response, Gabrielle settled under the cool bedsheets for the night. She didn't have to wait long for her best friend's company.

At dawn, Gabrielle found that the gargoyle had changed back into a warrior in leathers and armor. She worked out of her sleepy haze enough to get Xena out of her armor. She then shifted to their comfortable arrangement with Gabrielle laying half on Xena.

The warrior adjusted the covers over them because it was a bit chilly now that the fire had long faded away. She brushed her lips across the bard's temple then dozed back off. She didn't wake up until nearly two candlemarks after dawn.

Gabrielle felt her friend moving first so she slowly woke up. She offered a sleepy smile then rolled onto her back.

The warrior did a small stretch and turned onto her left side. She studied the bard's profile.

Gabrielle had her eyes closed but sensed her partner's obvious stare. "How you feel?" She finally looked at the warrior after turning her head some.

Xena rolled her shoulders but winced after an attempt. "A little sore."

Gabrielle chuckled and offered, "A warm bath will probably help that." She took a deep breath then asked, "Market after breakfast?"

"We do need supplies," the warrior agreed.

The bard scratched her nose for a beat then dropped her hand onto her stomach. "I didn't really get to shop when we were here last."

Xena developed a small grin. "I don't recall us coming here for vacation."

Gabrielle laughed and rolled her eyes. "Do we ever vacation?" She rolled onto her side so she faced her friend. "I think not… trouble finds us."

Xena now laughed and argued, "Trouble finds you then I have to get you out of it."

"Me?" Gabrielle poked her friend's chest. "I was never in trouble until I met you."

The warrior hardly believed it and suddenly her voice became light as she teased, "Oh take me… let the other's go." She placed her right hand over her chest and further tormented, "You've got to take me with you and teach me everything you know." Her words echoed from years ago when she first met the bard.

"Ha ha." Gabrielle shoved her partner's shoulder because she knew it was sore. "And you fell for it."

"I truly did," Xena agreed with a smirk. "You fooled me good, Gabrielle."

The bard tweaked her friend's nose and taunted, "Warrior Sucker." She crinkled her nose.

Xena laughed in response, but she became serious. "And now…"

Gabrielle lifted an eyebrow, just as she learned from Xena. "Now what?"

Xena reached over and cupped her friend's cheek. "And now I've fallen for you."

Gabrielle instantly felt the heat rise in her cheeks, especially where Xena's hand rested against her skin. She lost her eye contact, but she cleared her throat. She wasn't exactly sure what to say back. It amazed her that she was tongue tied for the first time, especially by Xena.

Xena had a triumphant smile and was satisfied that her words melted into Gabrielle's heart. She shifted closer to her partner and instinctively pressed her forehead against Gabrielle's forehead.

The bard shut her eyes once she and Xena shared an intimate moment that they often exchanged when Xena was a gargoyle. She gently placed her left hand over Xena's cheek too. They stayed motionless for awhile until slowly Xena's lips met Gabrielle's for a tender kiss.

Gabrielle expressed her love for Xena through the kiss. She listened to how her heart responded to Xena's kissing. She carefully drew her friend closer until their bodies met.

Xena continued kissing, but she felt small hands worked her leathers' straps. She didn't halt Gabrielle's attempt and allowed their relationship to natural progress. Xena actually felt slightly nervous, but as her emotions came to life, all she could consider was sharing her love with Gabrielle. Xena finally experienced what making love felt like, and she decided the bards still didn't have a clue. She suspected that Gabrielle, her new lover, would keep that tale a secret from the world.

By mid morning, Gabrielle stirred from a brief nap. She felt the warrior's strong arms around her waist. She peered over her shoulder and noted how the bedsheets were tangled around their molded bodies. For a bard, it was the perfect romance.

Xena was already awake and gently nipped her lover's bare shoulder. "We should get moving."

Gabrielle gave a low chuckle and teased, "Are you sure?" She felt the warrior's smile against her skin.

"I think so." Xena ran her hand across the bard's taut stomach. "We'll continue our earlier conversation later."

Gabrielle now had the devilish grin. "I wouldn't miss it."

Xena chuckled and kissed an attractive spot between Gabrielle's shoulder blades. "I know." She gave a gentle squeeze to Gabrielle.

The bard took the hidden signal and unwillingly separated from her lover. She didn't realize how hard it would be, but she knew they'd have more time later. Gabrielle followed her partner's demonstration to get ready. They would probably have an early lunch since breakfast was candlemarks ago.

Once outside, Gabrielle felt ready to take on the day. She didn't ask Xena about their plans and decided to wait until later. Right now, she wanted to eat then go to the market. She was excited to see the local market here. She enjoyed finding new things that a foreign place could offer. Yet Gabrielle knew better than to waste their coins, especially on such a journey.

Xena was somewhat quiet while they ate lunch at a local tavern. She was obviously judging the locals. She was assessing the actually locals from possible Romans. Xena easily picked out the different people by their dress, dialects, and overall appearance. She knew she and Gabrielle stuck out like a human in a gargoyle's rookery.

But once she and Gabrielle were heading to the local market, Xena felt more at ease despite she remained close to her partner. She noted that Gabrielle was definitely sensitive to her surroundings too. She was pleased by this and concluded that Gabrielle had indeed progressed greatly as a warrior. It was starting to ease Xena lately.

"Hey…" Gabrielle touched her lover's forearm. "I want to check out something over at that stand." She pointed at it with her staff.

The Warrior Princess followed her friend's pointing and nodded. "Alright." She nodded over to her right. "I'll be over here."

Gabrielle glanced at the stand Xena started to, which had basic supplies like flintstones, whetstones, skins, packs, and other travel supplies. The bard briefly watched her partner then went across the market to the giftware stand. She was curious to see any local items. Gabrielle picked through the merchant's tables.

The merchant warmly greeted his new customer in his own language. But he noticed her confused look so he switched to Latin. "Good morning."

Gabrielle smiled at the familiar words. "Good morning," she replied in Latin.

"Can I help with anything?" the merchant checked. He'd edged down closer to the foreigner.

Gabrielle missed one word, but she understood what he'd asked her. She shook her head and answered, "I'm browsing." She offered a smile. "Thank you."

The merchant didn't press her and instead went to another customer that called for his attention. But he curiously glanced at the foreigner now and again.

Gabrielle puckered her lips and picked up an unusual but creative piece of jewelry. She could tell it was common to these lands. She was amazed by the workmanship that would rival anything in Greece.

The bard carefully returned the necklace to the rest of the jewelry. She then glanced back at the stall that Xena had gone to. She noted the warrior's location easily. Gabrielle continued studying the beautiful jewelry until something caught her eye. She furrowed her eyebrows and looked at the woman off to her right.

The woman wore black leathers that nearly covered all off her body. She had her back to Gabrielle and was headed across the market to a fruit and vegetable stand. She was looking over the items with careful consideration.

Gabrielle was drawn to the woman, out of strange curiosity. She didn't notice any weapons on the woman so she wasn't too concerned about following her. Gabrielle hefted her staff and quickly started across the street.

The woman was obviously young but not as young as Gabrielle. She was perhaps Xena's age or slightly older. She was tall but thin. Her black hair was long and tied back to keep it out of her face. She was now picking through potatoes from a few filled baskets.

Gabrielle slowed down once she neared the woman's back. She grew nervous but couldn't help checking out the local. She edged closer but from the side so she could get a decent look at the woman's face. Once she had a clear view after a few people moved aside, she gasped in pure shock. Her eyes grew larger than the potatoes the woman held in her hands.

The women tensed at feeling rather watched by somebody. She gripped the potatoe hard then desperately sought out who was studying her. She finally locked eyes with the young blond about a hundred or so paces away from her.

Gabrielle continued staring without modesty. She nearly dropped her staff as she took in the woman's beautiful emerald green skin.

The woman felt her heart leap into her throat. She sharply reacted by tossing the potatoes into the basket, bolted away from the stand, and disappeared into the crowd. She was alarmingly fast.

"Hades," Gabrielle growled. She broke from her revere and began a full run but not without yelling, "Xena!" She had to find that green skinned woman, who looked all too familiar from last night.

The Warrior Princess was in the middle of negotiating a price with the stall merchant until she heard her friend's cry. She caught a glimpse of the bard starting a chase so she shoved all the items into the merchant's hands. "I'll be right back." She ran after Gabrielle, who was moving quickly through the people.

Gabrielle broke through the crowd and spotted her target going down a street. She sucked in a quick breath and continued chasing after the other woman. She started a full run now that there were less people, but she realized how her staff was a problem. She wasn't fearful the woman would attack her so she glanced back at the market. She spotted Xena coming through the people too.

The warrior followed her friend's trail and saw Gabrielle way ahead of her down the street. She ran at her top speed until she spotted Gabrielle's staff propped against a torch post. She stretched out her hand and snared the staff. She knew Gabrielle was determined to go after whoever it was they were chasing.

The Amazon Queen was far faster now that she ditched her staff. She sprinted down the next street when the woman made a sharp turn for it. Gabrielle was breathing hard, but she was barely worn out after all the years of walking and traveling. She was well trained, and it helped her catch up to the green woman.

The woman looked back a few times at her pursuer. She became frantic to get away so she darted into the middle of the street that had a lot of traffic.

Gabrielle didn't lose her target and weaved through the carts, horses, and wagons. She came up behind a slow moving wagon so she jumped up onto it and briefly had a clear view of the other woman. She jumped off it and poured all her strength into a faster run.

The green woman sensed that the girl was nearly upon her. She jumped back up onto the sidewalk and started for an alleyway that would get her back to the market where the mass of people may hide her again. She made it around the corner until she was harshly slammed into the left building's side.

Gabrielle tumbled to the ground with the tall, green woman. But she got her hands on the woman, who struggled to get away. Gabrielle was outmatched in strength, yet she quickly evened the odds when she grabbed the dagger from her boot's sheath.

"Do not!" the woman pleaded when the blade came to her neck.

Gabrielle was on top of the woman and kept the blade under the green chin. "I don't want to hurt you." She was gasping for air like the other woman. She withdrew the blade from the emerald skin but kept it out for good measure.

"Gabrielle," Xena called when she came into the alley. She was about to ask what was wrong, but she was caught off guard when she saw the woman under the bard. She lowered the staff's end to the ground and continued staring at the unusual woman.

Gabrielle held the taller woman down and demanded, "You're the gargo-"

"No," the green woman cut off. "I am not." She glanced over at the warrior that stood a few paces behind Gabrielle. She now couldn't take her eyes off the warrior.

Gabrielle realized this after a beat and decided to get up. She held out her hand in offer.

But the green woman didn't accept it and got up carefully. She wearily eyed the two foreigners.

"Who are you?" Gabrielle demanded.

The woman was studying the dark warrior near the bard. She finally shook her head and looked at Gabrielle. "I wish to be left alone."

Gabrielle was sure the woman was the gargoyle that'd saved her last night from hitting the earth. She lowered the dagger to her side but came closer until the woman backed up. "What's your name?"

The woman shook her head again and refused to answer the questions.

The bard was becoming agitated until a strong hand clasped her shoulder. She peered up at her partner, who hadn't spoken yet.

Xena tried appealing to the other woman's good graces. "We just need some help… anything at all." She wasn't going to argue whether or not this woman was the gargoyle that'd saved Gabrielle last night. They all knew it was true.

Gabrielle continued assessing the green skinned beauty in front of them. She could pick out distinct features about the woman that made her the gargoyle last night. Then slowly Gabrielle realized that some of the woman's features and characteristics were quite similar to Xena's own.

"I am sorry… I cannot help you." The woman took another step back.

Gabrielle felt desperate and almost spoke until Xena squeezed her shoulder in silent plea. She bit her tongue and allowed Xena another try.

"We just want to know where a clan is located," Xena quietly informed. She sensed that the woman was about to run off. "Please," She softly added.

The woman's earthy brown eyes darted between the warrior and Gabrielle. When she finally replied, her voice held a similar timber to Xena's tone. "Continue north-east… but south of Londinium along the coastline." She took a step back.

"Wait," Gabrielle tempted. She felt guilty about earlier now that they'd indirectly confirmed that the green-skinned woman was indeed the mysterious gargoyle. "Thank you…for saving me last night."

The woman licked her dry lips but nodded at the bard. She then met the warrior's gaze and offered, "I did not know you had a human with you." She took another step back. "I am sorry for that." She finally turned on her feet and jogged down the alleyway.

Gabrielle watched her go then only faced her partner after the woman was gone. She sighed and shook her head. "Well… that could have gone better."

"Or worse," Xena murmured. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine," Gabrielle promised. She knelt and quickly sheathed her dagger. Once she was up again, she retrieved her staff from her friend. "So…" She tapped her staff once then declared, "North-east then." She nodded and stepped around the warrior.

Xena slightly frowned at the bard's backside, but she took three wide steps and was at the bard's side. She silently waited for Gabrielle to speak to her.

"She could have been a bit more receptive," the Amazon Queen finally chewed out. She was annoyed that the woman hadn't been more helpful.

The warrior smirked and teased, "She's not quite a gem huh?"

Gabrielle tried staying agitated, but Xena's joke made her crack a smile. "Funny, funny." She wanted to say more, much more. However, Gabrielle was wise about it because they were out in public. They couldn't be sure who would overhear them talking about gargoyles, especially if somebody in the crowd was a hunter. Gabrielle suspected the green woman, Emerald, was most likely trying to stay in hiding. But their second encounter with Emerald left a lot unknown.

Xena scanned the locals but suggested, "Let's go back to our room so we can decide where to go next." She wanted to look at her maps of Britannia too.

Gabrielle nodded. She knew that meant they'd discuss their new found friend, who wanted to remain a mystery to them. She inwardly sighed because nothing could be simple for them.

"By the way," Xena commented, "nice chase too."

Gabrielle beamed a proud smile at her partner. "You like that skill huh?" She took two fast steps in demonstration. "They use to call me Slick Gabby back at home."

Xena's mind went to another place than running, and she doubled over in laughter. She grabbed the bard's shoulder and barely managed, "So… I found out… this morning."

Gabrielle went wide eye and blushed brighter than a sunset. "Xena!" She quickly shoved her lover away. She was shooting invisible daggers at the warrior for the dirty remark. Yet she couldn't come up with any good retort thanks to her embarrassment.

Xena was still laughing and had to shake it off a few times. She sucked in a deep breath after getting over it. She acted calm despite she was still chuckling on the inside. She slipped her arm across her partner's shoulders and gave Gabrielle a nudge.

Gabrielle huffed but didn't brush off Xena's warm touch. She cleared her throat once and attempted changing the topic. "Leave at noon, you think?"

"Yes, but first I need to get our supplies from the market." Xena recalled she'd left the merchant with the items they needed for their continued trip.

"Did you talk him down?"

The warrior merely grinned.

Gabrielle gave a dramatic sigh because she knew the answer. "I'll handle him."

Xena chuckled and squeezed her partner's opposite shoulder. "Thanks… Slick Gabby."

"Xena," the bard fairly warned. She rolled her eyes at seeing the warrior's continued amusement.

Xena took a deep breath as if enjoying the beautiful day. "Doesn't it pay to open your mouth?"

Now Gabrielle's eyes sparkled in mere reply, but she whispered, "Oh it sure can." She and Xena exchanged a wicked chuckle.

The friends returned to the busy market where they collected their supplies. Xena was obviously in a hurry because she wanted to get on the road again. It would take them a good candlemark or more to get situated on a plan. And Xena knew the bard would have plenty to say about Emerald after this morning. But once they were on the northern road, Xena felt well on their way to possibly getting a few answers, and it actually scared Xena.

 

To be continued.