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 15

Xena followed closely behind her partner. The market place was exceedingly busy, and she was determined to stay at Gabrielle's side. Moreover, Xena was better at the local tongue than Gabrielle.

"You think we should get any dry meats?"

Xena nodded.

Gabrielle led the way to the butcher's stand. "You're quiet." She briefly studied the warrior's face. "You can't stop thinking about tonight?"

Xena sighed and placed an arm across the bard's shoulders. She steered them through the crowd. "I'm anxious."

"So am I," Gabrielle admitted. She moved in front of her lover as the crowd tightened then opened again. "I hope this goes better than last night."

Xena silently conceded with her partner. She followed Gabrielle to the butcher's stand straight ahead. Together, they picked out their dried meats and paid for them after a minute of bartering. By the time they were done in the market, Gabrielle had to pull out the second rucksack and fill both. On the way to the inn, Xena started rubbing the bridge of her nose.

"Is your headache back?"

"No." Xena lowered her hand. "Some kind of pressure is behind my eyes."

Gabrielle frowned. "Like when you get a cold?"

"Similar," Xena agreed. She blinked a few times, but her eyes ached further.

Gabrielle bumped her shoulder against Xena. "You're just getting old."

Xena weakly smiled at the joke. "Maybe so."

The bard entered the quiet inn first and went to their room. She was glad to put the rucksacks down. "Maybe we should rest before dinner."

The warrior agreed with her friend. She hoped she was simply tired from last night. She and Gabrielle slept for two candlemarks before they had an early dinner. Afterwards, they started on their trek towards the gargoyle's home along the white cliffs. Several times, Xena checked their surroundings. She was unnerved and felt somebody behind them even though the path was clear.

Gabrielle was rather quiet and hoped tonight would go better than last night. She considered what Rowan had to offer them. It would be more useful than what Garrison had given them. A glance at the sun told Gabrielle it was more than half a candlemark before sunset. Most likely, Xena would want to fly the rest of way so it was quicker. She was about to ask until Xena gripped her shoulder.

"What is it?" Gabrielle murmured.

"We've been followed," the warrior explained.

Gabrielle was confused and looked behind them. The rolling lands were clear, as far as she could tell. "Are you sure?" She received a raised eyebrow. She sighed dramatically and asked, "So what we do?"

"I'm going to double back. You just keep going," Xena explained.

The bard worriedly peered up at the warrior. "Alright." She was least keen on separating. She watched Xena go then she continued the journey east. She remained more alert than before and considered when the fight would start. Her answer came shortly after her partner's war cry rang out.

Xena had sneaked behind the three warriors that had tailed them. She was impressed by their ability to hide and follow. However, they were not good enough. She took on all three until her partner arrived for support.

Gabrielle sprinted towards the fight. She recognized the men from the tavern yesterday morning. She prepared for a battle and picked her target. She readied her staff, but one of the warriors broke from the fight. Gabrielle cursed and raised her staff when his sword came at her head. She jumped back at his stab.

The ugly warrior's face, under the helmet, was familiar. He had been the warrior holding the unusual gastraphetes weapon. It was strapped across his back, along with the bolts.

Gabrielle quickly assessed her opponent's power. He was just as strong as he was ugly. She caught a whiff of his dirty scent. She tried not choking during the fight.

The ugly warrior deflected an attack, but he missed the next one. His chin was smacked hard by the end of the staff. He stumbled one step and became mad. He hacked away at her, hoping to wear her down.

Gabrielle was use to it after candlemarks with Xena. She broke his spell by cracking the staff across his right knee. After he went down, she spun around him and slammed the butt end of the staff into the back of his head, just under the helmet. It was a perfect execution.

The ugly warrior groaned and tumbled face first into the grass.

Gabrielle smiled, proudly. She then looked at her partner, who was still dealing with both warriors. She would have thought one would be down by now. She grew concerned and started towards them until a distant whistle caught her ear. Gabrielle faced the sound and reacted on trained instinct. Her staff came up diagonally in front of her face. Xena's warning rang in her ears.

The Warrior Princess nearly took a strike thanks to her own amazement. Her partner had caught the arrow with her staff. She refocused and parried two blows from her opponents. "Archer to the west, Gabrielle! On horseback!"

Gabrielle spotted him on a small ridge. He released another arrow at her. "Hades!" She lifted her staff and listened for the arrow. She adjusted her staff in time. The arrow struck her staff below her hand, missing her stomach. Gabrielle silently thanked Xena for all the training that was saving her life now.

The archer was frustrated, and he gave a cry. He hit the horse's sides and slung his bow on his back. He urged his horse harder and extracted a sword. He pointed it at Gabrielle.

The bard held her breath. She glanced at Xena, who was still busy.

The archer started another cry as he neared his target.

Gabrielle heard Xena's holler, but the words fell short in her mind. She hefted her staff and turned to run. Fear gripped her chest as the horse hoofs grew louder.

Xena gave another yell. She watched the horse fly past. "No!" she screamed. She dove into one of her opponents and slammed him in the face, knocking him down. Xena ducked under her other opponent's swipe and took off at an incredible sprint.

Gabrielle ran as fast as possible. Her mind was numb to handle the situation. She looked over her shoulder and terror flared in her stomach at the archer's bloodlust.

Xena watched as the archer gained on her lover. She glanced at the sun, which was still above the horizon. There was no way she could catch the horse, and her chakram was a slim chance. Rage poured through her, and a roar escaped her lips. Xena launched into a long jump, her hands in front of her. The earlier ache behind her eyes flared up as her body went black and her hands transformed into talons.

Ahead the archer readied his sword and laughed wildly as he neared his target. He could smell her fear. Behind him, he missed the black creature that sprinted on all fours at an alarming rate.

Gabrielle gave a last cry and looked over her shoulder as the horse's breathes came to her ear. Then a black streak came over the archer and ripped him off the saddle. Gabrielle knew it was a black gargoyle.

The horse reared up in fright and tumbled to one side, legs in the air. He clipped Gabrielle with his head. After he rolled, he whined loudly and climbed to his hoofs before he galloped off. The winged creature had frightened him greatly.

Gabrielle stumbled several steps and fell onto her hands. She gasped twice then shook her head. Her right hand hurt the most from the staff. Yet, she slowly stood up. Gasping for breath, Gabrielle looked over at the gargoyle that had the archer.

The gargoyle was on her feet, covered in dirt and furious. She held up the archer by his throat. Her bright white eyes burned at him.

The archer hopelessly grappled with the creature's hand.

Xena reached up and clutched the archer's head with her freehand. She savored his fears as she prepared to rip his head off. Her talons tightened around his head.

Gabrielle stared in amazement after she noted that the sun had only begun to set. She was confused until a sharp whistle caught her ear. "Xena!" Gabrielle caught the gargoyle jerk her hand off the archer's head.

The gargoyle had been too preoccupied with her catch to hear the trouble. Xena painfully cried out after the bolt tore through her left arm like parchment. She dropped the unconscious archer and clutched her bleeding arm. She turned her glowing eyes towards the ugly warrior that was reloading the gastraphetes. She showed her teeth in a low snarl.

Gabrielle raced for Xena, her staff at the ready. She would catch the bolt with her staff just like she had with the arrows.

"Hurry up!" the warrior barked at his comrade. "Before she recovers." He stole a glance at their third comrade, who was still unconscious from Xena's earlier hit. He huffed in annoyance.

The ugly warrior raised the gastraphetes after reloading a new bolt, using his belly. He took aim but lost his focus after a tap on the shoulder.

"Excuse me," a woman cut in.

The ugly warrior turned to his left and received a solid punch to the face. He dropped the weapon and fell on his back. He groaned heavily.

The other warrior faced the newcomer, a green woman. He stared at her unusual skin.

It was a perfect opening, and she kicked the sword from his hand. She landed another kick to his stomach and a final one to his face. She grabbed his sword and drove it into his stomach.

By then, the ugly warrior was almost to his feet. He reached for his sword and faced his opponent. He went still after he realized his own weapon was pointed at him.

The green woman smirked and lined the gastraphetes's sight on the ugly warrior. "I hate hunters," she muttered and pulled the trigger. She hit him perfectly in the chest. Tossing the gastraphetes aside, she reclaimed the bloody sword and strolled over to the last hunter that was unconscious.

The green woman spun the sword then drove it into his chest, killing him instantly. She turned and looked towards the gargoyle and female human.

Gabrielle exhaled loudly and muttered, "Wow." She shook off her revere and turned to her partner. "Xena..."

The gargoyle moved closer to her partner. "Are you okay?"

"I am... but you're not." Gabrielle reached for Xena's bleeding arm.

Xena hissed and fisted her hand. "At least it went through." She lowered her injured arm and used her good hand to touch Gabrielle.

The bard read the worry on the gargoyle's face. "I'm okay, really."

Xena pulled Gabrielle into her body. She pressed her brow against the bard's head.

"I guess we have a new training topic when we get Argo back," Gabrielle weakly joked. She heard Xena's low rumble.

Xena lifted her head when she heard the newcomer approach them. She looked at the woman that they had nicknamed Emerald.

"Are you both okay?" Emerald inquired.

"We're okay," Gabrielle replied. She swallowed and indicated Xena's wound. "I need to bandage her arm."

Emerald nodded and reached for her cloak. "Here." She easily tore a nice long piece to use.

"Thank you." Gabrielle took it and hastily wrapped Xena's wound with it after she dropped her staff.

Emerald ran her fingers through her midnight hair. "Those damn hunters have been following you two since my village."

Gabrielle shook her head in annoyance. She looked at Emerald as she finished with Xena's arm. "Thank you for your help."

Emerald gave a low nod.

"What is your name?" Xena asked. She gave a low hiss after Gabrielle's last knot briefly tightened against her wound. She lowered her arm and softly thanked her partner.

"I am Devlin," the green woman finally revealed. She wanted to say more, but she looked at the sun. "Here. Wear this for me." She handed her cloak to the other human.

Gabrielle swung it on and noticed it was sunset. She studied Devlin, who stepped back a few times.

Similar to Xena, Devlin gave a powerful roar. She spread out her arms in welcome. However, unlike Xena, her green skin peeled off into the air and revealed a gargoyle's leathery texture hidden under it. She grew taller and her tail whipped in the air. Her clothes were nearly shreds. Slowly, her bright red eyes faded to a soft green.

Xena assessed the green gargoyle and noted how her ridge came to a point over her head.

Devlin removed the torn clothing and revealed her regular attire underneath. A gold arm bracelet accented her white loincloth and white top. She had rather simple clothes.

"You..." Gabrielle pointed a finger at Devlin, not sure about what she saw earlier. "You changed differently." She lowered her hand.

Devlin huffed and looked at Xena. "And I was going to ask how you changed before sunset."

Gabrielle opened and closed her mouth a few times. Devlin had a good point. She looked at her partner and turned her staff. She grabbed an arrow and ripped it out.

"I do not know," Xena admitted aloud. She only recalled the gargoyle coming forward within her.

"This is getting more complicated each day," Gabrielle muttered. She ripped the second arrow off.

"You followed us," Xena stated to Devlin.

"Technically," Devlin started, "I followed the hunters that were following you." She frowned. "They were most likely trying to find the rookery."

A low groan drew everybody's attention to the archer, who was getting to his feet. He only lived for a short moment before the green gargoyle had him. His scream was cut short after she snapped his neck.

Gabrielle turned away from the scene and let out a low breath. She shut her eyes. Even though the archer would have no remorse in killing her or Xena, it was still difficult.

Xena grasped the bard's shoulder.

"Hunters are excellent fighters," Devlin remarked. She rejoined the pair. "They are dangerous and unrelenting when it comes to killing our kind."

Gabrielle turned her head sideways. "I didn't think Xena was your kind."

Devlin considered the bard's words then summarized, "You have spoken to Garrison already." She tilted her head. "Then why have you returned to the rookery?"

Xena narrowed her eyes. "You know this clan."

"I was a part of this clan," Devlin revealed.

Xena gave a low nod and finally answered Devlin's question. "Two of them promised to speak to us." She looked to the sunset. "We will be late though if we do not hurry."

Gabrielle studied her partner's injured arm. "You can't carry me."

The black gargoyle lifted her arm, which pulsed with pain.

Devlin shifted on her feet and hesitantly offered, "I can carry your human."

The bard turned to Devlin. "Gabrielle." She placed her freehand on her hip. "My name is Gabrielle." She indicated her partner. "And this is Xena."

"I know your names." Devlin had a weary look. "You defeated Khrafstar."

Gabrielle stared in amazement at Devlin. She had blocked Khrafstar from her memories, but his features and voice bombarded her. "You know him?"

"Knew," Devlin corrected. She had a disgusted look and explained, "He was a corrupt gargoyle." She sighed, heavily. "We can discuss it later." She then held out her hand to Gabrielle.

The bard faltered and peered up at her partner for approval.

Xena nodded and allowed her partner to go with Devlin.

Devlin easily lifted the human after she bent her knees. Like Xena, she sought out a nearby tree and used it for advantage to glide.

Gabrielle adjusted the staff so it was out of the way. "Sorry," she muttered. "I'm still getting use to this."

"So am I," Devlin admitted. She caught the soft blush on the human's cheeks.

"Thank you for your help with the hunters."

"Your mate is rather distracted," Devlin commented.

Gabrielle's flush returned after Devlin called Xena her mate. "She's not herself," she admitted. She gazed ahead at Xena, who was leading the way.

"Perhaps she is more herself now." Devlin tightened her arms around the human when the winds briefly went turbulent.

"That's what we're trying to find out." Gabrielle wanted to ask why Devlin decided to help them. Before, Devlin seemed against helping her and Xena. She held back her questions though and waited until it was a better time.

The flight took over a candlemark before Xena landed not far from the coastline. They were much further south than the rookery's location. It was safer and more remote. Xena approached rather large stones that protruded from the ground.

Gabrielle slid out of Devlin's arms and stretched her legs. She spun her staff once and neared her partner. "How's your arm?"

"Very sore," Xena admitted. She flexed her hand, and the pain ran up her arm.

Devlin studied the wound. "It may be healed by tomorrow night."

Xena considered the green gargoyle, who indeed had similar features as Gabrielle pointed out days ago. Their body shapes and height were also close. However, Devlin had larger ears and emerald green skin. Devlin's eyes were anything but blue.

"Why did you decide to help us?" Gabrielle probed.

Devlin frowned and looked at the human. "I did not wish to get involved, until I saw the hunters." She had a concerned expression. "I knew they would follow you to the rookery." She centered her attention on Xena. "I have been in hiding for so long that I forgot what it is to be in a community."

Xena sympathized with the gargoyle. She needed to ask more and learn more. However, she and Devlin both simultaneously turned their heads to the north.

Gabrielle suspected it was the two gargoyles Rowan and Luna. After a bit, she saw them emerge under the moon's light.

Rowan landed first with Luna behind her. She took in the unexpected guest with Xena and Gabrielle. Rowan brightened in absolute delight. "Devlin!"

Devlin was just as excited and took a few wide steps. She scooped up the younger gargoyle in a furious hug.

Devlin laughed and spun the green gargoyle in a circle. "It is so good to see you, sister."

Luna watched on with a sad smile. After the sisters released each other, she received a warm hug from Devlin too.

"What are you doing here?" Rowan questioned.

Devlin nodded at Xena and Gabrielle. "I am keeping these two out of trouble."

Rowan chuckled and guessed, "Hunters." She appreciated Devlin's protection despite the past.

Xena was agitated that she had missed the hunters.

"It takes time to understand their methods," Rowan mentioned to Xena. She read the black gargoyle's frustration. She, Luna, and Devlin joined Xena and Gabrielle by the rocks.

"Thank you for coming out here," Gabrielle mentioned.

Rowan nodded and suggested, "We should sit for this." Like the others, she took a seat in a small circle. "I am unsure where to begin."

"At the start," the bard prompted.

Rowan turned a toothy smile onto the only human. "We do not have that much time." She lost her smile. "But perhaps that is best." She focused on Xena and asked, "Do you know how gargoyles began?"

"No," Xena admitted.

"Are you truly going to feed her the legend?" Luna complained.

Rowan rolled her eyes and glowered at Luna. "It is our history."

"It is a story."

Rowan ignored Luna and instead looked at her sister.

Devlin held up her hands and refused to pick a side.

Rowan shook her head then turned back to Xena. "It is our history... even if some gargoyles are thick headed about it." She sighed briefly. "Have you ever heard of dragons?"

"Yes," Xena replied.

"They're from the land of Chin," Gabrielle offered.

Rowan smiled at the bard. "It is not that they are from the land of Chin. It is simply that the last dragon lived there." She leaned forward and rested her arms against her legs. "In a time that humans have forgotten, there use to be hundreds of dragons. Then they were hunted to extinction by humans." She saw the disbelief on the bard's face. "This was during the age of Titans, before your gods."

Gabrielle tried fathoming how long ago. She ran her fingers through her hair.

"There were no seas between the lands," Luna spoke up. "There were other species besides humans, and it was the glory of magic in that era."

Rowan nodded and continued explaining the past. "There were dragon hunters like there are gargoyle hunters today. The dragon's patronage god saw the decline of his precious creatures so he endeavored to settle the war between the dragons and humans. He bound a dragon's soul with that of a human's body."

"They were called Dragonborn," Devlin cut in. "They had the unique ability to consume a dragon's soul and absorb that dragon's special gift." She looked at Rowan.

Rowan mentally pictured the Dragonborn in her mind. She sadly smile and looked away from Devlin. "A Dragonborn was destined to rule the world. Like a dragon, they were proud, noble, and consumed by the desire to be powerful. Over the centuries, different Dragonborns ruled the empire."

"But the war between the dragons and the humans never truly ceased," Luna interrupted. "Many were still hunted down for various reasons... mostly out fear."

"In the last era of dragons, the last Dragonborn ruled the empire," Rowan told, "And she fell in love with a dragon."

"Some say it was the dragon god, Drakon, that fated it," Luna revealed. "A final attempt to save his dragons." She was saddened by it and looked at Rowan to finish the tale.

"The last Dragonborn was the most powerful." Rowan grew excited as she continued the story. "She excelled as a mage and a warrior. She was so madly in love with Tasonth that she wished to bear a child with him."

"Slight compatibility issue," Gabrielle joked.

Luna chuckled and replied, "The Dragonborn was a great mage. She used her powers to make him human long enough so they could mate on the Breeder's Moon."

"And that was the first gargoyle." The bard grinned and leaned against her partner.

"Yes." Rowan was proud of the history. "The first of four gargoyles that the Dragonborn barred Tasonth." She paused and added, "Some of us like to forget that we are part human."

"What happened to Tasonth and the Dragonborn?" Gabrielle questioned.

Devlin shook her head. "The Dragonborn died of old age. But Tasonth... some say he was murdered after the Dragonborn died. Others believe he fled east after the Dragonborn died."

"I heard that the humans and gargoyles allied against the gods," Xena spoke after being quiet for so long.

"Yes." Rowan nodded. "It was after the gods overthrew the Titans. The gods could be cruel to the humans. As gargoyles, we have the ability to hurt them."

"What about kill them?"

Rowan looked at the human. "It is not impossible... difficult but not impossible."

"The pact between the humans and gargoyles fell apart," Luna helped. "The gods promised to make immortals out of those that brought them a head of a gargoyle." She frowned and added, "But there are those hunters that do it for pure sport."

Gabrielle heard a low rumble from Xena. She peered up and read the bitterness in Xena's profile.

"Since then, the gargoyles' numbers have dwindled over the ages," Rowan told. "Many clans have combined in hopes they can survive better."

"But we are still dying," Luna piped up. "In a few more hundred years, we will not exist anymore."

"Our clan is one of the largest," Rowan revealed. It was obvious that the clan's numbers displeased her. "We have lost many too and not just to the hunters." She looked at her sister, Devlin. "Some to clan politics."

Devlin huffed and argued, "More like egotistical small minds, sister."

Rowan sighed. "She means our father."

"Perhaps your brother as well," Xena supplied.

Rowan inclined her head. "Males are not known for being open-minded, I am afraid." She tapped her knee.

"Why were you banished?" Gabrielle directed at Devlin. "Because you turn human?"

"Yes." Devlin dug her hand into the stone, which chipped under her strength. "It is a spell casted upon me." She noted Xena's peaked interests.

"By who?" Gabrielle pressed.

Devlin looked at the human. "By my mother... Dominique." She sighed and glanced at Rowan before she spoke again. "She casted the spell upon me when I was a youngling. At the time, my mother was still learning magic. That is why my skin remains the same color whether I am human or gargoyle."

"Our father was disdained by it." Rowan glanced at Devlin. "He banished Dominique first and then later Devlin once she was of age. I was not yet born."

Xena's voice rumbled when she asked, "Then Dominique is not your mother?"

"No." Rowan shifted on the hard stone. "My mother was killed not long after I was born. Devlin and I are half sisters."

"What happened to Dominique?" Gabrielle looked between Rowan and Devlin.

"Nobody is exactly sure," Devlin replied. "She did leave the isle though."

"It was a long time ago," Rowan added.

"Garrison banished Dominique because she was a mage?" Xena checked.

Rowan shook her head. "That was the smaller reason." She was clearly uneasy. "In a clan, it is most common for a male to be the leader. At rare times, a female will be the leader."

"Mother was fated to be a leader," Devlin explained. "Generally a leader is naturally born to be." She tilted her head. "A gargoyle born with a ridge shaped like a crown and has the white glow is meant to be a leader."

Slowly, Gabrielle turned her eyes up to her partner. She stared at the prominent ridge that Xena wore like a crown.

Xena sighed and gave the bard a warning look.

"Dominique had these features." Rowan carefully studied Xena. "It was in her nature to be leader, and it was too for my father. They attempted leading together, but it was Dominique that had other ideas than my father."

"The clan turned on her as whole," Devlin told Xena. She then stood up and walked over to Xena. She knelt down in front of the black gargoyle. "You appear nearly identical to her as I remember her."

Xena barred her teeth and growled, "My mother is Cyrene of Amphipolis."

Devlin bowed her head to the gargoyle. She swallowed the rebuke that almost came from her lips. She took a step back before she stood up and returned to her sister's side.

Gabrielle caught the white glow around the rim of Xena's eyes. She blew out a low breath and decided to steer the conversation into a different direction. "Devlin, I noticed you changed forms differently than Xena." She read Devlin's confusion too. "When Xena changes forms, she kind of transforms and shifts into a gargoyle." She held out her hand at Devlin. "But you did it differently... it was like you came out of a human shell."

Devlin's curiosity was peaked by the news. "It must be different spells." She stole a glance at Xena, who was calm again. "I have some knowledge about magic, but I am by no means a mage." She looked hopefully. "There may be a way to discern what has been casted upon you."

"Rowan, we should return to patrol before we are missed," Luna suggested.

Rowan gave a low sigh. "You are right." She turned to Devlin. "It was good to see you, sister." She and Devlin stood and shared a long hug.

Xena climbed to her feet with Gabrielle at her side.

Rowan approached Xena while Luna and Devlin hugged goodbye. She came in close and spoke softly. "I admire Dominique greatly." She held the black gargoyle's sky blue eyes. "She believed there was a way the gargoyles could live again rather than surviving."

Xena clenched her jaw, not sure how to respond.

"It's a lot to take in," Gabrielle intervened. She peered up at her partner.

"It is," Xena slowly agreed. "Thank you for your help, Rowan."

Rowan lowered her head briefly. "I may have confused the situation more than helped it."

"You helped a lot," Gabrielle assured her.

"Be safe in your journey." Rowan excused herself and rejoined Luna. She said goodbye to her sister one last time before she and Luna left them.

Devlin kept her eyes on them until they were gone in the night sky. She sadly sighed.

"Are you staying outside of Londinium?"

Devlin drew her attention to Gabrielle. "Yes." She approached the pair. "I will join you both on the flight back." Her next words fell on Xena. "If that is acceptable?"

Gabrielle parted her lips, but she was silent. It was apparent that Devlin defaulted to Xena's command even though it was not a clan.

"Yes, of course." Xena glanced at her partner, who would have to fly with Devlin again. "Where were you staying?"

"I had not selected an inn," Devlin replied.

"That's perfect. She can stay at the same inn." Gabrielle gave her partner a hopeful look.

"That would be the best," Xena agreed. She studied the moon and estimated at least a candlemark had passed since Rowan and Luna's arrival. "We should go."

Gabrielle agreed so she went to Devlin, who picked her up carefully. She adjusted the staff as usual and enjoyed the extra warmth the green gargoyle provided her.

Xena led the way to the nearest trees and started the flight back to the inn. She was quiet and distant on the flight. Occasionally she heard Gabrielle's talk with Devlin, but her mind was somewhere else.

"It must be difficult for her," Devlin replied.

"She has spent her life being human." Gabrielle brushed a few stray strands from her face. She considered what she had learned tonight. "Is Xena really your sister?" She studied the tension in Devlin's features, and it indeed reminded her of Xena's own tells.

"It is highly possible that we have the same mother."

Gabrielle shook her head. "She didn't know her father well." She recalled one tale that Xena told her about her father. It was some time ago when Ares posed as Atrius.

"My mother was an excellent mage when I was a youngling," Devlin explained. "Her spell may have not been complete when she casted it upon me. But it was far more advanced than anything our clan had seen in ages."

"Do you think she somehow managed to mate with a male human and had Xena?"

Devlin was quiet for a long moment and stole a glance at the human in her arms. "It is not impossible."

Gabrielle released a low breath. It was hard to believe and yet it explained a lot too. "If that was true then that would make Xena a hybrid."

"Much like the Dragonborn and Tasonth," Devlin replied.

Gabrielle was quiet and considered how she would talk to Xena about it. "Do you think it would explain why she was able to change forms before sunset?"

"Yes, it is possible." Devlin weighed it, but she would have to see the spell upon Xena first. "I may know more after I see the spell."

Gabrielle nodded once then stifled a yawn. She was worn out from traveling and late nights. She looked forward to a quiet night. Not realizing it, Gabrielle had dropped her head against Devlin's shoulder. "Sorry," she muttered.

"It does not bother me." Devlin gave a side-glance at the human. She considered the unusual human, who remained at Xena's side. Devlin only saw such loyalty in gargoyles.

"The moon is so beautiful." Gabrielle loved nights like tonight when the stars shined and the moon was bright.

"It is." Devlin admired the nearly full moon. Then a thought dawned on her, and she asked, "Are you aware of tomorrow night?"

"Tomorrow night?"

Devlin bit her lower lip and debated how to approach such a tender topic with a human. She cleared her throat first. "Tomorrow night is a full moon."

"Yes, the first full moon after the fall equinox." Gabrielle titled her head so she could see Devlin's features better. She was unsure whether she saw a red hue under Devlin's emerald skin.

"It is also the Breeder's Moon."

Gabrielle stared hard at the gargoyle's profile. She then stuttered, "B-b-breader's Moon?" She cut her eyes to the moon that sat in the western sky.

"It is when a gargoyle must breed with his or her mate." Devlin stated it factually, but a longing was hidden in her eyes. "It happens a moon after every tenth equinox."

"You said... must breed," Gabrielle checked.

Devlin's voice had lowered an octave as she continued speaking about the Breeder's Moon. "A female goes into heat and has the overwhelming urge to breed with her partner." She felt uneasy explaining her species' culture and traditions to a human. "If we do not breed then we will suffer through the night."

"Like in pain?"

"Yes." Devlin glanced at the human.

"By the gods," the bard whispered. She pressed her freehand against her forehead. "I doubt Xena has any idea."

"She must be forewarned." Devlin had suffered two Breeder's Moons alone and tomorrow night would be the third. She learned how to cope with the pain. She suspected Xena could manage the pain, if she were alone. However, Devlin smelled the human's scent all over Xena. She was unsure if Xena and Gabrielle had mated when Xena was a gargoyle, but Devlin knew under the Breeder's Moon it was different.

"I will discuss it with her tonight," Devlin promised.

Gabrielle was relieved but worried too. Tomorrow night could mean various things for their relationship. Numerous scenarios played out in Gabrielle's head. Her worst nightmare was that Xena sought out a male gargoyle for a partner. She shut her eyes and leaned her head against Devlin's shoulder. She prayed that the Breeder's Moon did not damage their healed relationship.

 

To be continued.