The Amazon Queen
Part XXI: Once and Future Queen
by L. M. Townsend
DISCLAIMERS: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, CyrenL, Joxer, Janice Covington, Melinda Pappas, Jack Kleinman, et al (meaning anyone else I didn't list and should have.) are the property of their creators and anyone else who has a legal claim (thanks for letting the girls come out to play!) Melys and The Amazons belong to themselves (and I dare any man to say different!) This story is mine, though, and written just for fun, not profit.
Subtext: YES, though nothing explicit. Xena and Gabrielle, while still soul-mates and the very best of friends, are not a couple in the romantic sense of the word. They are joined to others as heart-mates.
Violence: Yes, but no more than youll see on the show.
Language: Pretty tame, so far.
Spoilers: "Sins of the Past", "The Xena Scrolls", "Looking Death in the Eye", "Livia", "Eve", "Motherhood"
Other: If you havent read the previous instalments in this series, you may have difficulty following along with whos who. You can find all of them at:
Melys opened her eyes slowly. Her head was throbbing and her whole body ached. She had never felt so beat up, even after battle. The priestess surveyed her surroundings. She was lying on a soft bed in a darkened room. The smells of this place were all wrong, though. She could detect some kind of smoke, but it wasnt wood smoke. It was harsher, more acrid and it burned her nose. Melys tried to cover her face with the blankets, which also felt somehow wrong. She could hear a panicky voice in other room, but the words were unfamiliar to her. It would take some time before she could assimilate the language, though it sounded remotely familiar, especially with the hammering pain in her head.
"Come on Nat - you have to help me - this is all your fault!" said the voice. "Oh, yeah - big uptown MD. Well, if it werent for you, I could have called the police when I hit her - youre the one responsible for me losing my drivers license. Never mind that - I dont need the damn pills - just get over here - shes hurt and I dont know what to do - if I end up in jail, think what a scandal it will be for your big career - I can see the headlines now, Prominent Physicians Cousin Kills Woman details at eleven. Okay, Ill see you in a few. Thanks, Natalie."
Melys tried to curl up and hide her face from the light which exploded in her head when the door was opened wider, but to no avail. She could feel her body healing itself, but slowly and she couldnt remember how she came to be in this place.
"Hey, are you alright?" she heard, but the words still held no meaning for her. She could feel the strange womans fear, but the aura of panic had dissipated somewhat. Perhaps once my body is healed, I will have the energy to assimilate this language, though the priestess. She had always been gifted in languages. It was a form empathy more than vocabulary or grammar. She understood the meaning of the words being spoken if not the words themselves. At the same time, she could make others understand the meaning of what she said in her own language. They heard their own tongue when she spoke. It could prove awkward in diplomatic situations where the mouthings of messengers from rival nations were simply empty flatteries to get a boon from the Amazons, but Melys had learned tact as well as how to protect her people from such manipulations.
Being the daughter of Zeus, her body would heal itself of all but a mortal wound, but it was a painful process. Melys had no memory of how she came to be in this strange place. The last thing she remembered was Anaxilea grabbing her ankle. Perhaps the memory would return once she was healed. She knew that she had been injured badly inside as well as out, but she didnt know how it happened. She allowed herself to slip back into a healing trance as the door closed and the light faded.
She wasnt sure how much time had passed when the door opened again and the light burst upon her, wrenching her from the trance.
"Hey," said a soft voice. Melys eyes parted slightly against the blinding light, then oozed tears of relief.
"Xena!" she cried softly, wrapping her arms around the woman who sat beside her on the strange bed.
One eyebrow raised, the woman gently disentangled herself from the embrace.
"Kate, is this one of your weirdo internet friends?" asked the woman, rising angrily.
"Natalie, I swear I have never seen her before tonight," said Kate, pacing, an unlit cigarette between her fingers.
"Okay," said Natalie, with a resigned sigh. She sat back down beside Melys, who looked up at her puzzled. "Do you know your name?"
"Im sorry," said Melys, haltingly. She had assimilated the language of these women at last and her memory was returning slowly. "The light ... its too bright and I couldnt quite see - you are not Xena after all, but the resemblance is strong."
"Told ya," said Kate, grinning.
"I do not look like that half-clad Wonder Woman wannabe," said Natalie, annoyed.
Melyss eyes narrowed. "Im not sure what you said, but it didnt sound very nice," said the priestess.
"Okay, look," said Natalie, patiently. "My cousin - who is not supposed to be driving - hit you with her car. I am a physician and I am only here to make sure that youre alright - you want to sue her or press charges, thats fine by me. Now, do you know your name?"
"Car? Oh, like a chariot," said Melys nodding her consent as Natalie made her examination."I am Melys." Her memory was returning. She remembered Anaxilea grabbing her ankle and saying something about time. She remembered Dahaks roar in her head when he had been unable to kill her. He dragged her to his place of fire and there Melys saw Anaxileas story unfold. Even there in his own realm, Dahak could not harm her and so, he had flung her far from him, laughing that she could find her own way home but for now, she would be out of his way. The next thing she knew, she had been standing someplace, overwhelmed by the smell and the noise and the strange lights moving about in the night. She had seen the metal chariot coming, but was paralysed with fear and unable to get out of the way in time.
"What was so important you had to go driving, anyway?" said Natalie, rising. "I just brought you some groceries."
"I was out of smokes," said Kate. "You wont bring me those and the corner store was closed."
Natalie rolled her eyes. "That figures," she said, rising. "Well, youre lucky - both of you. I cant even find a bruise, though youve got some pretty scary scars. What do you do for a living?"
"I - what do you mean?" asked Melys, sitting up.
"You know, how do you pay your bills? Are you an actress?" asked Natalie, eyeing the long tunic and woolen trousers.
Melys shook her head, then closed her eyes and dropped her head against a wave of dizziness and pain.
"Hey, hold on," said Natalie, sitting back down and feeling with gentle fingers along the priestesss neck and head. "Headache?"
"Yes, I get them sometimes, but not since my last daughter was born," said Melys.
"Light bother you?" asked Natalie, noting the throbbing vein in Melyss right temple.
"Yes," said Melys.
"Migraine," said Natalie, opening her bag. "Are you allergic to anything?"
"Im not sure what you mean, but usually an infusion of willow bark and klafŽ will work," said Melys. "When it doesnt, Xena makes a draught of poppy juice."
"Xena again," said Natalie, shaking her head. "Well, Im not going to give you opiates until Im sure you dont have a concussion, but I think Kate has some aspirin."
"In the bathroom - Ill get them," said Kate, leaving.
"Okay, truth - did Kate put you up to this? No way have you been hit by a car," said Natalie.
"I dont know what youre talking about," said Melys.
"Look, I love my cousin - thats the reason I reported her to the DMV for the seizures," said Natalie. "So if this is some crazy scheme of hers to get back at me for that ..."
"Natalie is your name? Though I confess you both look very familiar to me, I have never seen your cousin before this night," said Melys. "I think she did hit me with her ... car ... though my memory is a bit fuzzy. I dont believe she did it deliberately, though, so the retribution you mentioned will not be necessary. As for what I do, I am the High Priestess of the Amazon Nation and Priestess-Queen of my Tribe, the AemetzainL."
"What?" said Natalie, shaking her head slightly. "Okay, maybe you have a head injury."
"You do not believe me," said Melys rising from the bed.
"How could I?" asked Natalie. "Where do you live - really?
"I live in AemetzainL with my children and my heart-mate, Xena, the warrior queen," said Melys.
"Okay," said Natalie, with a sigh. She took her cell phone from her pocket and began pressing buttons. "Im going to make arrangements for a CAT scan at the hospital - "
"No!" cried Kate running in with a bottle of aspirin. "You cant do that, Nat - please?"
"Kate, shes either crazy or she has a concussion - or something," said Natalie. "I cant keep covering for you."
"Natalie ..." With a frustrated groan, Kate went into the other room while Natalie made her call. Kate returned shortly with a triumphant grin.
"Never mind Nat - Grandmas coming over. She said shell handle everything from here," she said, lighting the cigarette between her fingers.
Natalie stared at her for a moment, then angrily told the person she had been speaking with to never mind and hung up. "Fine - why didnt you just call her to begin with?" she said. "And put that thing out until I leave, if you dont mind."
"Grandmas not a doctor," said Kate, stubbing out the cigarette in an overflowing crystal ashtray. "I just needed to make sure I hadnt killed her - Grams says shell handle it from here, so Im to send you back home, Miss Grouch."
Natalie angrily put her medical instruments back in her bag. Melys put a gentle hand on her arm and smiled at her. "Thank you for your care, Natalie," she said. Natalie hesitated, then reluctantly returned her smile.
"Youre welcome - but if I were you, Id leave before our grandmother gets here," she said, rolling her eyes. "When those two start plotting, its not safe."
"What ...?" began Melys.
"Never mind her," said Kate, shaking her head as Natalie left. "Great Aunt Mel says shes just like herself - before she met my grandmother. They raised us. Im Kate, by the way - Kate Covington."
"I am Melys," said the priestess.
"Im really sorry I hit you, but you just appeared out of nowhere," said Kate, re-lighting her cigarette and offering one to Melys. Melys looked at it a moment before shaking her head. She had learned to smoke sacred herbs in ritual, but she didnt recognise the smell of this herb and didnt think it safe to try it without a shamenki nearby.
"No, I didnt think it was deliberate," said Melys, looking around the room.
"When you first saw Nat, you said something about Xena. What do you know about her?" asked Kate, quietly.
"Why do you ask?" said Melys, cautiously.
"Well, before Grams gets here I should tell you, she reacts kind of funny when she hears people talk about her," said Kate. "Listen, I also need to tell you that Grams and Aunt Mel are ... well, theyre partners ... I mean, theyre ... Look, youre not like some religious fanatic, are you?"
"I am ... religious, yes, but fanatic? I am not sure I know that word," said Melys, frowning.
"Oh, of course - I should have recognised the accent," said Kate nodding. "Youre from somewhere around Russia, arent you?"
"Russia?" said Melys. "Im afraid I do not know the place you speak of. My home is - "
Just then, a woman came in. Kate ran to her, hugging her tightly. Her long blonde hair was generously laced with silver and hung down her back in a single braid. On her head was perched a beat up brown hat and she wore a brown leather jacket, equally well-worn and aged. Her boots were scuffed and her jeans were faded and soft with wear. Clamped between her teeth was a cigar, unlit and well-chewed. She tossed a pack of cigarettes on the bed.
"There ya go, Katie - no more nightly excursions, kay? You need something, you call me or Aunt Mel," she said, then released Kate and stuck her hand out to the priestess in greeting. "Hi, Janice Covington. And you are ... ?"
"I am Melys," replied the priestess, taking the womans forearm in greeting. Janice Covington raised an eyebrow, but clasped the priestesss arm in return, briefly, then let her hand drop abruptly to her side.
"Melys ...? No last name? Nice outfit," said Janice. "Looks like what the Amazons really wore, not just those scraps of leather and feathers they showed on TV."
"I ... I dont understand. This is what we wear, normally, unless were fighting or for ceremonies or something," said Melys.
"Okaaaay," said Janice, rolling her eyes. "Hey, Katie Im going to use the facilities. Be right back."
She left, closing the bathroom door and Kate whispered to Melys. "Okay, really quick before she comes back - she and Aunt Mel are ... um ... together. You know what I mean?"
"Yes, of course," said Melys, shrugging.
"That doesnt bother you?" said Kate, delighted.
"Why should it?" said Melys, puzzled.
"Okay, great," said Kate, quickly glancing at the bathroom door. "She and my Aunt Mel worked together looking for the Xena scrolls. They had ... an experience in Macedonia that really freaked them out. Apparently, they found out that they are the descendants of Xena and Gabrielle."
"De ... descendants?" said Melys, suddenly feeling light-headed. She sat quickly down upon the bed. Taking a moment to quiet her mind which was racing through her confusion towards panic, Melys closed her eyes. "What happened in Macedonia, exactly?"
"Im not sure. I know they found some of the scrolls in this tomb, Uncle Jack - thats Jack Kleinman, a friend of Grams and Aunt Mels - got some of them and his grand-son took them and sold them to some TV producer. Really pissed Grams off, but the show was a huge success - even I love it. So does Aunt Mel, but thats beside the point," said Kate. "They got the scrolls back and Aunt Mel found out the translator Uncle Jack hired screwed up. See, Grams is an archaeologist and Aunt Mel is her translator - she knows all kinds of ancient languages. Anyway, its a real sore spot with Grams and shes still looking for the rest of the scrolls. Every so often she gets a lead and off they go."
"I see," said Melys, opening her eyes. "You know I think I may have bumped my head after all - what day is this?"
Just then Janice came out of the bathroom. "Hey, now - youre not planning on making any trouble for Katie here, are you?" she said, her green eyes narrowed.
"No, not at all," said Melys.
"Okay," said Janice. "Its Tuesday, June 12."
"Who rules in Themiscyreia?" asked Melys.
"Themis - okay, whats going on here?" asked Janice, hands on her hips.
"Please, just tell me the name of the High Queen?" Melys pleaded.
"There is no queen and there is no Themiscyreia - not any more, at least," said Janice.
"Since ... since when?" asked Melys, her voice barely above a whisper.
Janice shrugged. "Rome absorbed Anatolia during the Ist century BC," she said. "The Amazons were long gone from the region before them - according to ancient sources, they went looking, but there were no Amazons there. They took over the whole known world at that time, including Thrace - "
"Amphipolis?! And Poteidaia, too?" said Melys alarmed.
"Yeah, the Athenians lost Amphipolis to Philip of Macedon first - " began Janice.
"Old news," said Melys frowning. "They were conscripting everyone - thank the Goddess Toris was too old."
"Toris?" said Janice, her eyes narrowing.
"Yes - Xenas brother - "
"Yeah, I know - what do you know about Xena?" asked Janice, her eyes widening and beginning to glitter with interest. "Wait - let me call Mel to come over - Katie, put on a pot of coffee. I have a feeling were going to have a long night - youve seen the scrolls, havent you?"
"Yes, of course," said Melys. Kate left, smiling, to do as her grandmother bade her, even as Janice pulled a cell phone off of her belt and punched buttons eagerly.
"Just hold that thought," she said to Melys, then turned her attention to the phone. "Melinda? Get over to Kates - I got a lead on the scrolls!"
She turned the phone off and looked at Melys eagerly. "Where are they? The scrolls, I mean," she said.
"Well, Gabrielle has the originals, of course, but there are copies floating around all over the place - The Academy in Athens, of course, and the Temple Library in Ephesus, the library in Themiscyreia, the Great Library in Alexandria ..." began Melys, but Janice interrupted her with a disgusted snort.
"Whaddaya mean Gabrielle has the originals?" she said. "And all those places with copies no longer exist."
"They ... they dont?" said Melys, her voice forlorn.
"No, they dont," said Janice.
"Blessed Goddess, what has happened?" said Melys, tears beginning to form in her dark green eyes. "What in this world has happened? How could the all of the worlds great centers of learning no longer exist?" The priestess shook her head, then laughed bitterly. "What am I saying? I saw the decline of Ephesus beginning myself. Bloody gods-be-damned Rome is what happened, of course. Barbaric bastards!"
Janice grinned at her and offered a handkerchief. Melys wiped her eyes. "Spoken like a true Amazon," she said.
"I have to get back there and stop it," said Melys, her jaw tightening and her eyes narrowing in determination.
"Um, okay - you had me right up until now - what do you mean, get back there?" said Janice.
"Somehow, I have been transported to this time - well, not somehow, it was Dahak," said Melys.
"Dahak? Hes still around? But the scrolls say that Hercules killed him," said Janice.
"He did - sort of, but the son of a Bacchae didnt stay dead," said Melys. "We trapped him for a while, but Hopes daughter came along and - "
"Whoa - okay, Hope had a son - the Destroyer," said Janice.
"Hope had twins," said Melys with a sigh. "She thought the boy was the Destroyer because he looked ... well, monstrous. The girl was called Anaxilea and she was beautiful. Hope had enough of her mother in her to not kill the child outright. She left her on a hillside to die of exposure, but Anaxilea was taken by Dahak and kept in stasis until Hercules killed him. Then she was transported back to that same hillside where she was rescued by a Tribe of Amazons. They raised her, but she left them and met up with Eves daughter - whom she escorted to our village after rescuing her from the Elisians."
"Oh, wow - waitll Mel hears all this - none of this was in the scrolls!" said Janice.
"Well, Gabrielle hasnt written it down yet, but Im sure she will - or, has - or whatever. Im sure the story is somewhere - probably with the rest of the scrolls which havent been found yet - if they havent been destroyed," said Melys. "You see all this happened in just the last few days in my time."
Kate entered with three mugs of steaming coffee and handed them to the others before taking her own. Melys sniffed and grinned, happily.
"Its klafŽ!" she cried, sipping and smiling, her eyes closed in pure pleasure. "Ah, you must tell me how you prepare this - its wonderful! My cousin sends it to me from Themiscyreia - one of her warriors found this and brought the plants back from her travels, but I havent been able to get the cuttings to take root in AemetzainL."
"Uh, well, I wasnt sure how you liked it, so I just made yours the same as mine - lots of cream and sugar," said Kate, blushing under the compliment.
"Thank you," said Melys, her eyes sparkling.
"Lets go in the living room and wait for Mel," said Janice, rising abruptly. The other two followed her, Melys gazing about in wonder.
"You have a lovely home, Kate," she said as they entered the living room. Melys noted the shelves of books which three of the four walls, many of them bearing the name Kate Covington as author. "Youre a bard!"
"Well, Im a writer," said Kate, modestly. "Novels - not like Grams and Aunt Mel." She pulled one book from a shelf and handed it to the priestess.
"Im sorry, I cant quite make this out," said Melys looking at the title, puzzled. She had managed to decipher Kates name, but she had not yet mastered the writing of the other womans language.
"An Alternative History of the Amazons," said Janice, eyeing the royal purple dust jacket. "Not our best work, but its Kates favourite."
"And mine." The women looked up to see Melinda Pappas, a briefcase in one hand and laptop in the other. She was tall and slender, her long dark hair as silvered as Janices, her face barely lined for her eight decades on the earth. She was dressed comfortably, but it was easy to see she took great care with her grooming, unlike her partner. Her hair was also braided, but the braid was wound around like a coronet. She wore a white cotton button-down shirt, oversized, but belted around her slender waist over loose-fitting jeans, tucked neatly into knee-high brown leather boots. In fact, her attire was similar to Melyss own long linen tunic and woollen breeches, but the priestesss boots were ankle high and soft grey suede-leather.
Melinda approached Melys with a welcoming smile, setting down her briefcase and handing the laptop to Kate. She held out a slender hand to the priestess. "I am Melinda Pappas."
Melys took her arm as she had with Janice, but Melinda showed no surprise, merely grasping the priestesss arm firmly and briefly before releasing her. She stood expectantly, her head slightly to the side, awaiting Melyss response.
"Im Melys," said the priestess.
"Great High Mucky-Muck of the Amazons," muttered Janice, rolling her eyes.
"Actually, I am - " began Melys.
"I know - the High Priestess of the Amazon Nation and priestess-queen of the AemetzainL Tribe," said Melinda, still smiling, her blue eyes twinkling. Janice sat up abruptly.
"How did you know that?" she asked, looking expectantly at Melinda, then in awe at Melys and back at Melinda. "Did ... did someone contact you?"
"Yes - Natalie," said Melinda, taking the cup of coffee Kate handed her and sipping cautiously before sitting down next to Janice on the couch and opening her briefcase and laptop on the coffee table before her. She powered up the machine as Melys looked on, curiously. She settled a pair of glasses on her nose and looked at Janice over the tops of them, smiling mischievously. "This isnt Macedonia, Janice."
Disappointed, Janice sat back against the couch. "What else did Miss Grumpy have to say?" she asked.
"Now, now - she told me everything - Katie, Honey, you call us from now on if you need anything," said Melinda, her soft voice tinged with worry. "Least till we get this thing straightened out with the DMV and get your license back."
"Thats impossible," said Kate, sitting in a chair across from the older women with a sigh.
"Dont be too sure about that - your Grams and I have many skills," said Melinda, pushing the glasses back up on her nose before turning her attention to the computer before her. "And many contacts. Yall are just lucky no one was seriously hurt - fact is, Natalie still thinks it was a ruse to get back at her for pullin your license."
"It isnt," Kate protested.
"I know that, Honey," said Melinda, never taking her eyes from the screen. "Now, Miss Melys, if yall just show me where AemetzainL is on this map ..." She turned the screen towards Melys.
The Amazon looked on in wonder at the coloured picture before her, then shook her head. "I dont see it," she said. Melinda looked and typed for a moment.
"Now?" she said. Melys looked carefully and again shook her head. Melinda pressed more keys on the machine and Melys pointed excitedly.
"There!" she said.
"Uh, huh," said Melinda, pulling out a battered notebook and pencil and writing for a moment, before turning back to the screen. "Modern day Kalmucks still use the term aemetzaine to describe a strong or independent woman, just as ancient writers used the term antianerai - "
"The Antianaeirai are a sister Tribe," said Melys, growing excited. "As are the Lykastians, the Chadesians, the Philocreians - "
Melinda looked at her, sharply. "What about the Sarmatians?"
"Yes," said Melys, sadly. "They are descended from a group of our lost sisters, but they no longer accept the title Amazon. They have grown accustomed to living among men, even if it is on their own terms."
"Fascinating," said Melinda, pulling a scroll from the briefcase. "Can you read this?"
Melys took the scroll, gently unrolling it, her eyes scanning the aged parchment briefly. Shaking her head, she handed it back to Melinda.
"Im sorry," said the priestess. "Its Phoenician, but other than that, I cant decipher a word."
"Thats right!" said Melinda, gently re-rolling the parchment and handing her another. Melys noticed this one was much better preserved than the first. She opened it up and smiled in delight.
"Oh, yes," she said, softly. "This is one of Gabrielles - well, a copy. This one was kept in the library in Themiscyreia - see, its in Amazonian and here, in the corner, is the transcribers name - its a tiny bit faded, but you can still make it out. Sajae."
"Janice! Do you know what this means?" said Melinda, excited.
"No?" said Janice, one eyebrow raised.
"It means that the Amazon language is not derived from Indo-European! Its completely independent from any other language of that region," said Melinda, taking the scroll back and replacing it in the briefcase with reverence.
"So?" said Janice.
"Never mind," said Melinda, smiling fondly at her partner. "The implications will hit you later. In the meantime, you say this scroll was housed in Themiscyreia?"
"Yes," said Melys, nodding.
"Janice do you remember where we found this one?" said Melinda, eagerly punching keys on the computer.
"Yeah, I remember where we found them all," said Janice, with a slight shrug. "You seem to be forgetting something - Melys here says shes an Amazon - that she somehow time-traveled from Ancient Amazonia - Melinda, that is impossible!"
Melinda looked at her partner, one eyebrow raised so far it was hidden by her bangs. "So was Macedonia," she said, pointedly.
"Thats different," Janice muttered.
"What exactly happened in Macedonia?" asked Melys.
"Its a long story," said Janice, shortly.
"Oh, come on Grams - I want to hear it, too," Kate piped up. "All my life, Ive heard about something happening in Macedonia, but you and Aunt Mel wont say what it was. Please?"
"Alright, but Janice should be the one to tell it - my memory of its a bit fuzzy," said Melinda, nudging the reluctant Janice.
Janice sighed, resigned, then spoke, her eyes taking on a far away look as she traveled back in memory to the most extraordinary event in her life ....
"It was 1942. The second world war was raging and I was in a damn hurry to find the scrolls and get them to the safety of the States. I didnt care how I was going to muddle through customs with rare antiquities. I just knew that bastard Hitler was mad about collecting anything ancient and rare - and I also had heard he had this thing about Amazons. I wasnt about to let him get his slimy hands on the scrolls.
"My father had invested his very soul in this cause - finding the scrolls. I was carrying on his work. We had been at the dig site for months and I was on the verge of opening this tomb when Mel showed up - so did John Smythe and his goons. And so did Jack. Thanks to Mel, we got the tomb opened up. We managed to ditch Smythe and goons temporarily. Mel found the scrolls and half of Xenas chakram and we decided to get the hell out of there before any more nasties showed up.
"All of a sudden, Mel got this funny look on her face and started walking off like a zombie. It was as if she couldnt hear me telling her to stop. Jack and I went after her but Smythe appeared, holding the other half of the chakram, laughing at us - at me. He demanded the scrolls and the other half of the chakram. All of a sudden, Mel was walking toward him, the chakram - I thought she was gonna just hand it over - but no. The two halves came together and Mel hit the floor, unconscious. The next thing I knew ... "
Janice hesitated and looked to Melinda, who smiled and patted her arm in encouragement.
"Ares was there," said Melinda. "This is the part thats still fuzzy. Evidently, he told Jack and Janice they were descendants of Joxer and Gabrielle - respectively. Somehow he had been trapped in that tomb - I believe by the other gods, but the glyphs on the walls were so faded the legend was a little hard to make out. It would take a descendant of Xena to release him. Well, I guess he thought I was some dumb Southern Belle who would just about bend to his every wile and whim."
"Thats when Xena Xena showed up," said Janice, taking up the tale.
"Xena?" said Melys, fascinated.
"Yeah - she was in Mels body, but it was her, alright - there could be no mistaking it - there was a power .. . a presence," said Janice, her voice quiet, the memory still inspiring a certain awe.
"Yes," said Melys, smiling. "I know just what you mean. Xena is a force of nature in her own right."
"Yeah," said Janice, looking sharply at the priestess. "Anyway, to make a long story short, Ares tied up Jack and me and set some sort of pendulum thing swinging to try and force Xena to release him from his prison - seems he wanted to help the damn madman in his cause. Xena fought him, we escaped and then she left Mel - for good. She hasnt been back since - has she?"
Melinda chuckled. "Youd be the first to know, Honey," she said.
"Yeah, well, even with all that, I still dont believe your time-travel, story," said Janice, her green eyes narrowed, her voice dangerously quiet. "You may know a lot, but not because youre from the past. Youve seen the missing scrolls and I think you know where they are - and I want them." All of a sudden, Janice leaped to her feet, pulling a pistol from out of her jacket in one swift, practised move. She aimed at Melys, who sat, unconcerned as Melinda jumped up, grabbing Janices arm, causing the gun to go off, the bullet smashing into the wall just above the bookshelves behind the priestesss head. Melyss jaw dropped as plaster showered over her. She turned and the saw gaping hole in the wall.
"Janice put that thing away before you hurt someone!" cried Melinda at the same time Kate jumped up, crying, "Grams, no!"
Melys gave into a bad habit she had long ago given up trying to break. Her mind cried out in terror, Xena!
All of a sudden, there was a tension in the air and the women found it difficult to breathe, as if a strong wind was blowing directly in their faces and Melinda stood there, removing her glasses, one eyebrow raised, her face stern.
"Janice," she said, quietly, but the voice had taken on a different tone and Melys ran to her, embracing her tightly.
"Xena," she said, tears streaming from her eyes.
"Its alright, Lys," said Xena, gazing fondly at the priestess as she disengaged herself from Melyss arms. "Janice put the gun away. Shes telling the truth."
"Wheres Melinda?" asked Janice, clicking the safety on and slipping the pistol back in its holster in her jacket.
"Shes here, too," said Xena, calmly.
"Okay," said Janice. "Im sorry - I just ..."
"I know - but you need to believe her and help her to get home - we miss her," said Xena, a rare tear welling up. "Lys, the girls are fine. Ill tell them youre okay and youre trying to get home. Anaxilea is awake and recovering and Eve has taken Lucina and the baby back to the Elisians - theyre going to start working towards correcting whats been done there."
"I have some of that to do, too," said Melys, grimly. "Ill tell you about it when I get there."
"Right, then," said Xena. "In the meantime, stay strong - and remember I love you."
"I love you, too, Xena," said Melys, smiling through her tears.
Melinda shook her head, then smiled. "See Janice? I told ya youd be the first to know," she said.
Janice looked incredulous at Melys. "Well that wasnt in any of the scrolls I read," she said. "What happened between - ?"
Melys sighed. It was a sensitive subject, but she supposed she should try to offer an answer.
"Xena and Gabrielle share a soul bond," said Melys. "After Hope and ... Solan ... Eve was to be another chance at motherhood - for both of them, but that was taken away when the gods of Olympus decided that Eve was going to cause the destruction of the Olympian order. They faked their deaths and Ares in his grief, put them in an ice cave where they slept frozen for twenty five years. When they came out of it, Eve was a grown woman - and ... not a very nice one at that. She was known as - "
"Livia!" said Melinda, grinning. "We have that scroll."
"Oh, okay," said Melys, smiling back. "Well, Gabrielle still wanted children. I dont know why she chose Virgil to be the father - perhaps it was because she truly felt something for him, him being a fellow bard, or more likely it was becuase she felt an obligation to his father, Joxer. I honestly dont know, but Virgil was an Elisian and he wouldnt father any children with a woman he wasnt married to, so ...
"Ewww! Do not go there!" said Janice, grimacing.
"Well, Im sorry, but thats what happened," said Melys.
"And Xena ... chose to be with you?" said Melinda, gently.
"For this life, yes," said Melys. "But only in this life. I think it was necessary - otherwise, none of you would be here. It was just a blessing that we have the love we do this time around."
"I am a descendant of ... " Janice shuddered. "Joxer, too?"
"Well, yes, but Joxer is ... well, hes ..." Melys faltered. "He may not be a warrior of Xenas calibre, but then, who is?"
"Very tactful, Sugar," said Melinda, winking.
"The truth is, Joxer is a good man," said Melys. "He has a warriors courage and a kind heart - Xena told me she could always count on him and she loved him like a family member. Never once did he step down from a fight and he never let anything come between him and his friends."
"Thats true," said Janice with a small sigh. "And it could be worse - I think. I could be carrying Dahaks blood."
"Never know, Sweetie - maybe ya are," said Melinda, pointing to the hole in Kates wall.
"Uh, yeah," said Janice, scratching her head. She looked sheepishly at Kate. "Sorry, Honey - Ill have that fixed for you first thing in the morning, okay?"
"Okay, Grams," said Kate, yawning. "Meantime, I need to get to bed."
"You go head, Sweetie," said Melinda, sitting back down in front of the computer. "Im gonna do a little more work - and Melys, ifn yall arent tired, I sure could use your help?"
"Of course," said Melys, smiling and sitting next to her.
"Night owls - sure can tell you two are related," said Janice, yawning and shaking her head as she made her way to Kates guest room. Melinda continued typing on the laptop, then pulled the Amazon Scroll back out of the briefcase.
"Would yall mind reading this one to me?" she asked, a little shyly. "I havent been able to find the key to translating the language - maybe if I had an idea what it says, I could figure it out."
"Id be happy to teach you," said Melys. "Evidently our gift for languages is inherited."
"Like Kates seizures," said Melinda, shaking her head, sadly. "Her mother - my daughter - had em too."
"Seizures - like ... fits?" said Melys, quietly."
"Nah, nothing like that - used to call em petit mal - thats French for little bad - now Natalie calls em absence seizures - more fittin, really. Its like shes not there, just stares off into space for a time, then when she wakes up, shell just pick up conversation like it never happened," said Melinda.
"She trances?" said Melys, quietly excited. Perhaps Kate had the power to send her back. Melys had tried to exercise her powers to get back to AemetzainL and again when Janice pulled the pistol out of her jacket, but to no avail. It was then she realised that Zeuss daughter or not, she would not be able to exercise the greater magics in this time and place.
"Yes, like a trance," said Melinda. "Only Natalie, bless the child, after she got her medical degree, was so gung ho and by the book she decided that they were seizures. She ran tests and made the diagnosis and reported Kate to the DMV so now poor Katie cant drive anymore. Its not that much of a hardship, but it does take from her independence, so Janice and I have been as supportive as we can. Nat gave Kate some pills and said if she takes them and has no seizures for a couple of years, she can get her license back, but Kate wont take em. Says she gets her best story ideas when she has the trances and she doesnt think theyre anything more than intense daydreams."
Melys was thoughtful for a moment, then put the knowledge away for a time.
"Melinda, you said that Kates mother was your daughter? But Kate said that you and Janice were together. What happened - if you dont mind telling me? If I am intruding - " said the priestess.
"No, not at all," said Melinda, with a sigh. "Back in the day when Janice and I first met, women just didnt go together - well, I know some of them did, but it was only in great secrecy and at a great risk."
"What? Why?" asked Melys, truly puzzled.
"I ... dont know what made the people think the way they did back then - perhaps it was because the predominant religion at the time said it was a sin," said Melinda. "Leastways, thats what my mama told me when she first suspected - threatened hellfire and brimstone and when that didnt work, she threatened confinement in an institution designed for girls with my special problem."
"An ... institution?" said Melys.
"Insane asylum," said Melinda.
"But that doesnt make sense!" Melys cried. "That horrible - and cruel, and - "
"Yes it was, but Mama didnt know any better," said Melinda with another deep sigh. "It was one thing for me to go off to Macedonia - see, I found a telegram Janice had sent to my daddy, asking for him to come and do some translatin. My daddy had just died and Mama figured I was reactin to that, so she didnt say too much. After all, I had graduated from the University with a degree in Ancient Writins - Mama figured I may as well get puttin it to use out of my system so I could settle down and give her some grand-children. But then I didnt come back until after the war - I told Mama travel wasnt safe until then, but really, Janice and I had followed leads all over Eastern Europe lookin for the rest of the scrolls. We finally had no choice but to come - politics bein what they were, the United States could no longer guarantee our safety overseas. We both came home and married men. I had a daughter, Janice had a son and we didnt see each other until fifteen years later. By then, Janice was a widow and I was divorced."
"How sad that seems," said Melys, quietly. "To be denied your true love because of peoples prejudice."
"It was a very sad time," said Melinda nodding in agreement. "But we found each other again in the end - all due to my daughter. See, my daughter Margaret was a wild lil thing - ran off with a Gypsy boy when she was about nineteen. I couldnt find her and her daddy was no help, so I called Janice - first time we spoke in so many years and yet ... it was still there. Janice had a boy, Gabriel, but he was on his own at the University, studyin archaeology, just like his mama so she and I went to go look for Margaret. Janice still had all these contacts overseas and through them, we found my daughter in Bulgaria, living with the boys Tribe. He himself had left her there with his mother and grandmother. She was pregnant with Kate."
"And did she come home with you?" asked Melys, gently.
"No," said Melinda, sadly shaking her head. "She refused. She kept hoping the boy would return for her. According to their customs, no man - not even him - was allowed to be in her presence while she was pregnant and she believed that was why he left her with the women of his Tribe. As it turns out, I can only thank the gods she was carrying Kate or he would abandoned her altogether over there. You see, since there was no bride price paid, they were not really considered married."
"Bride price?" said Melys, her dark green eyes narrowing, jaw tightening. "Sounds like ..."
"I know," said Melinda, raising one hand and smiling slightly. "But it has a place in their culture and I have learned through my travels to always respect another culture whether I agree with it or not - with a few exceptions."
Melys thought for a moment, then nodded briefly. "Yes, I understand that," she said. "So ... what happened?"
"Margaret died in childbirth," said Melinda, brushing a tear from her cheek. Melys placed a gentle hand on her arm and Melinda felt a gentle warmth flowing from the long slender fingers. "Thank you. Janice and I played hell getting Kate from them. But we had an unlikely ally - the boy married another Roma girl after Kates death. She was jealous of Katie and he wanted to please her, so he refused to acknowledge that he was the father. We brought her home and raised her ourselves. Natalie came to us later, though she is almost exactly Katies age."
"How?" asked Melys.
"Well, Gabriel married another archaeology student, Sharon," said Melinda. "Janice was a little disappointed - she wanted him to finish school before he married, but it was a strange and unsettled time. They had little Natalie, but Sharon continued to go to school. We kept Natalie when they went on a dig in Colombia. They were both killed in a cave in and Janice was awarded custody, since Sharons parents were both dead."
"If you are her grandmother, then why does Kate call you Aunt?" asked Melys.
"Ah, because Kate didnt come to us until she was three-years old," said Melinda.
"It took that long?" said Melys.
"Yes, you see her other grandmother was - and still is - very fond of her," said Melinda. "In fact, we still keep in touch. Poor little thing didnt know what to call Janice and me. It wasnt until Natalie started coming to visit that she called us anything at all and then . - "
"She followed Natalies example," said Melys, nodding in understanding.
"Yes, exactly," said Melinda. "Now, if you dont mind ...?" She held the scroll out to Melys who took it with a grin.
"Of course," said the priestess, gently unrolling the parchment. "By the way, the Phoenician scroll?"
"Yes?" said Melinda, one eyebrow raised.
"I really actually could read it, but it was quite pornographic," said Melys, grinning. Melinda laughed and Melys began to read.
"This is one of the first scrolls," she said, smiling. "I sing of Xena, the Warrior Princess. In a time of Ancient gods, warlords and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero. She was Xena, a mighty princess, forged in the heat of battle. I sing a tale of power. I sing a tale of passion. I sing a tale of danger. But mostly, it is a tale of friendship and of love. I, Gabrielle of Poteidaia, sing of Xena ..."
Melys looked up briefly and saw that Melinda was caught in the spell of Gabrielles words, her eyes already glistening with unshed tears. The priestess resumed her reading.
"It seems strange that the day was so ordinary to begin with for this day was to mark the beginning of the very best part of my life - the day I walked away from all that I knew and set out to follow Xena. My sister Lila and I walked to the market to get some things for mother. Had we stayed home that day, I would never have encountered the most amazing woman I will ever know ... "
The scroll continued to describe the sights and sounds and smells on the way to the village of Poteidaia so vividly that Melys and Melinda both felt as though they were experiencing them firsthand. Both felt the young Gabrielles terror when they were attacked by Dracos men and the excitement when Xena appeared and began to fight the men off.
"As soon as she began to fight, I felt my courage rise," Melys read. "In that instant, I knew I wanted to be just like her, to be strong and brave and willing to fight for those who couldnt - or as some of the other women in my village I knew, wouldnt fight for themselves. I wanted to learn from her. In that moment of all the other moments of my life, I knew I had met my destiny ..."
The women were almost reduced to tears when Gabrielle described her disappointment as Xena refused to take her away from Poteidaia, but rallied with the young Gabrielles determination as she set out in the middle of the night to find the woman who had touched her very soul so deeply in just that brief encounter.
"I knew that this was ordained by the gods or maybe even the Fates," Gabrielle had written. "Sometimes, the gods test us - I knew that this was just such a test - if I meekly accepted Xenas rejection, I would not be worthy to be her apprentice or ... I hesitate to dare think it - her biographer, chronicler of her path to redemption. I had heard the stories, of course - any Bard worth her ink listens and collects all the stories she can - but I had faith in Xena, somehow. Hadnt she saved my own village? I knew she would backslide, but I wanted to be the one to pull her back on the path of light. Maybe that was selfish, but I dont care. As soon as her eyes - those eyes as blue as the Aegean - caught mine, I knew what I wanted and it was to follow Xena. As if she were a goddess and I her worshipper - whatever the price I would pay it just to be near her ... "
As Melys finished the story, both she and Melinda were wiping tears from their faces.
"Well this is a damn pretty sight!" Both women jumped, startled, and saw Janice standing in the hallway, looking at them, hands on her hips, but a grin was tugging at the corners of her mouth. "Do you have any idea what time it is?" They looked to see pale light oozing through the gaps in the blinds at the window.
"Oh Janice - Melys was just readin Gabrielles scroll," said Melinda. "You should hear it - its so much more powerful when its read aloud."
"Yeah, yeah - maybe later - you two need to get some sleep now - its going to be a long day - I figure were flying to Turkey - or wherever this AemetzainL is ... was ... whatever," said Janice. "We got to find a way to get you back. Now move it - Kates got another guest room. You can bunk in there - as for you, Mel - you get your cute backside in that bed and Ill be right there."
Melinda blushed and replaced the scroll in the briefcase as Melys made her way into the room Janice indicated was for her.
Later that morning, when all were up and dressed, Melys in a some of Kates jeans and a shirt, Janice began making phone calls in the privacy of Kates office. She emerged after a couple of hours, grinning around her unlit, chewed cigar.
"Okay - just a couple of people we got to see later today and then Melys herell have a passport," she said.
Melinda raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. "Really, Grams? Howd you do that?" asked Kate.
Janice shrugged and grabbed the newspaper, sitting on the couch next to Melinda. "Just calling in a few favours," she said, snapping the paper open and reading. Melys merely smiled and opened the book she had begun reading after Melinda worked with her for a bit so that she could decipher the written language. Melys had given the translator the key to Amazonian, much to Melindas excitement.
"The Amazon language is not derived from the Indo-European family," said Melinda, excitedly. "Which is highly unusual, though not unheard of, for a civilization which was founded in Anatolia, as the Amazons were reputed to be. I cant quite determine which family it is from, though."
"Well, our history teaches us that the Lawgiver Lysippe brought our people to Themiscyreia from our original homeland near Lake Maeotis," said Melys.
"Scythian?" said Melinda.
"Hardly," said Melys. "No, the Scythians came along later, after our people left Lake Maeotis, from the eastern steppes. My people lived in the steppes, but further west. We have tribes there now ... uh, I mean my now."
"Hmmm, and where you indicated AemetzainL is, is somewhere between Caria and Lydia though a bit west of both ..." said Melinda, thoughtfully as she began to type upon the keyboard again. Then she sighed. "Looks like Mother Nature did what even Rome couldnt - earthquakes and tectonic plate movement have so altered the landscape that ... well, Im sure if we go back far enough, well find it."
"If I just had my powers, I could do a ..." began Melys ruefully, her voice trailing off as she realised with some trepidation what she had said.
"Your powers?" said Melinda, one eyebrow raised and Melys had a glimpse of what Xena would look like in the years to come. The priestess smiled.
"Never mind," she said.
"No, I dont think so," said Janice, lowering the paper. "What powers?"
"Well, I am a priestess," said Melys, trying to evade.
"And ...?" said Janice, fixing her eyes steadily upon Melys.
"Well, I ... um ... I have studied and worked for many years and ..." Melys felt trapped. She didnt like to tell anyone her father was Zeus, or that she was the Chosen of Hekate, Mother of All and she felt especially self-conscious about those facts with her powers gone.
"Spit it out," growled Janice.
"Theres nothing more to tell," said Melys, simply. "This is another time and place; here you have such wonders as this." She indicated Melindas laptop. "And that shower! And television and so much more. In my time we have priestesses and gods."
"And supernatural powers?" said Janice.
"No, no," said Melys, shaking her head. "For us, they are natural. They are a part of our nature and our very being."
"If thats the case, then why dont you have yours?" asked Janice pointedly. Melys sighed, defeated.
"Because my nature is such that ... it requires mortals faith in me to perform the greater magics," she said, softly.
"Are you a god?" asked Kate, eyes wide.
"Demi," said Melys, embarrassed. She grinned through her blush. "Only a half-blood, as my cousin used to tease me."
"Like Hercules," said Kate, smiling in delight.
"More than you know," muttered Melys, looking down at her book again. It was one of Kates. Melys had been absorbed in the story of a lone swordswoman, travelling about some imaginary world, battling demons and monsters and protecting innocents along the way, all the while she was searching for her lost family. She finished the book and took another from the shelf.
"Wow, for someone who just learned you sure do read fast," said Kate, smiling her delight at the priestesss choice. "And that one is one of my favourites." Melys smiled. The pictures of dragons on the cover had drawn her attention to this book. "Its a bit different than the one you just finished, though."
"They dont kill the dragons, do they?" asked Melys.
"No," said Kate, surprised. "How did you guess? Most authors of that genre do have a dragon-slaying."
"Remind me to tell you of the Mage Wars near Themiscyreia," said Melys, smiling.
"Were you there?" asked Kate.
"No, I was ... busy," said Melys.
"Doing what - rescuing a dragon?" snorted Janice.
"Well, actually, all of the dragons," said Melys, shyly. "They were under this geas - a curse - and ..."
"Never mind," said Janice, shaking her head and going back to her paper. Suddenly she closed the newspaper with a snap and jumped to her feet, glaring at the clock on the wall. "Lets go."
Melinda sighed, accustomed to her partners abrupt ways and powered down the laptop, packing everything up to take with her. Kate, too, grabbed her keys and a tossed a spare jacket to Melys, then donned her own and made ready to leave. Melys followed the women out of the house to a huge, enclosed chariot. She knew this was what these woman called a "car" and that no horses drove it, but something called an "engine". The specifics of the mechanism, as Janice had lovingly and enthusiastically, described to the priestess earlier now escaped Melyss memory. It sufficed to know that it worked, if not necessarily how. The women got into the vehicle, Kate showing Melys how to latch the safety harness. Then Janice drove off, tires screeching, a wild grin on her face. Melys noted that Melindas knuckles whitened as she clutched the armrest, but Janice kept her eyes on the cars around them, weaving expertly through traffic to get to their mysterious destination.
At last they arrived at a seedy-looking storefront in what Kate had whispered to Melys was the "red-light" district of the town. The priestess glanced surreptitiously around, but didnt see any red lights about. She shrugged and got out of the Ford Explorer, following the other women into the place.
It was dim and smoky inside. Odd smells assaulted the priestesss nose, which wrinkled in distaste. The women were approached by a large bald man dressed in a tailored suit which seemed out of place in the apparent squalor of the place.
"Ladies, perhaps you are lost?" he said, his voice quiet, but firm.
"Nope - Im here to see Merlin," said Janice, lighting her cigar. Melinda frowned, but said nothing.
"And you are ...? asked the man politely.
"Lancelot. I have an appointment," said Janice, squinting through the cigar smoke.
"Follow me," said the man, leading them to a quiet and considerable cleaner - by the smell, anyway - room. "If you will have a seat, I will have some refreshments sent in while you wait. Ah ... Merlin is occupied at the moment, but he will be with you shortly."
"Great," said Janice, standing, even as she indicated for the others to sit. "Ill have a beer."
"Nothing for me," said Melinda. The man looked to Kate who shook her head while Melys merely looked around wide-eyed.
"Theyre fine," said Janice, sitting at last and the man left them. A few moments later, a young woman brought a pitcher of beer and a glass, setting them on the scarred wooden table.
"On the house," she said, shyly when Janice offered her cash.
"Yeah, I know," said Janice. "Take it and get the hell outta this place, willya?" The girl looked at the bill and her eyes widened as did her smile. Tears welled up in her eyes and she nodded her thanks, leaving quickly.
"Whats this, Dr. Covington?" asked a man as he entered the room through another door. "Have you cost me yet another employee?"
"Ares!" gasped Melys, rising swiftly and starting towards the man. Two large men stepped in front of her, barring her way.
"Sit down!" Janice hissed to her. Bewildered, Melys sat. The two bodyguards stepped back, but kept a wary eye on the priestess. The man Janice had called "Merlin" threw his head back and laughed. "Relax, gentlemen - Janice made the same mistake when first we met. No, I am not the god of war, but I am told," he grinned at Janice and Melinda, "that the resemblance is remarkable."
"Youre hiring them way too young again, Nick," said Janice, flicking an ash to the floor. "What is she, thirteen?"
"Fifteen," Nick corrected her, sitting in the empty chair across from Janice.
"Youre gonna lose your liquor license," said Janice, casually. Again, Nick laughed.
"No, I think not," he said, then turned to look appraisingly at Melys. "So this is the young woman who needs identification - immediately?"
"Yep," said Janice. Nick leaned back and whispered to one of the men, who nodded and left, returning moments later with another man. The newcomer looked as seedy as the establishment.
"Rico - full set, including passport - U.S.?" said Nick, looking to Janice.
"Of course," said the archaeologist, looking around for a place to put out her cigar. Melinda had managed to get her to quit actually smoking the things years ago, but Nick always made her tense - maybe it was the resemblance to Ares or the fact that Dominick Martino was head of the most powerful underworld organisation in the region. An alliance with him was risky, but Janice had pulled his ass out of the fire too many times to not take advantage of his warped sense of honour and genuine gratitude and respect when she was this desperate. The trick, she believed, was to hide that desperation. It wouldnt do to ever let Nick know she needed him. In truth, Nicks charming personality and genuine affection for both Janice and Melinda nearly won the archaeologist over. Nearly. She would never completely trust him.
If he just didnt look so much like Ares, thought Janice. Actually, thats probably a good thing after all. He just too goddamn charming.
Rico started to guide Melys into another room, but Janice jumped up. "Hold it - she goes no where without us."
"But I do not work that way," said Rico, shaking his head.
"You will this time," said Nick, nodding to the body guards who stepped aside to let the women pass. Melys couldnt resist hesitantly touching the sleeve of Nicks jacket. A jolt passed through both of them and in a flash, Melys "saw" a frightening explosion and this man in the middle of it, bleeding and dying.
Her eyes were glazed over as she spoke. "No you are not he, but you are of his blood," she said, softly. "Stay away from the restaurant tonight. Do not go home in the sun-coloured chariot, I beg you."
Nick was startled. His driver had called in sick and he had been planning to take a taxi to dinner at a restaurant he owned. He gave into his superstition and mentally changed his plans. His dark eyes followed the women out the door, then he rose and gestured to one of the bodyguards.
"Youre driving tonight," he said, leaving the room. The man nodded, following Nick to the silver Lexus SC430 and drove his boss home.
In a few hours, Melys was Melissa Pappas, Melindas distant cousin and she had the papers to prove it.
"Okay," said Janice, clamping a fresh cigar between her teeth and chewing it into a comfortable position. "Now, I have reservations for the five of us - "
"Oh, no!" Kate groaned, looking pleadingly at Janice. "Not Natalie!"
"Yes, Natalie," said Melinda, firmly. "Now, Katie you know we always go together - and we need her. Shes part of Janices plan."
"Which I suppose, youre not going to tell me," said Kate with a sigh. "As usual."
"Good guess, Katie," said Janice, champing a bit on the cigar. "Come on, we have to go and pick her up. Dont feel so bad - she not only doesnt know the plan, she doesnt even know shes going."
Natalie felt the wind blowing her long, dark hair back. She felt the horses strong muscles moving under her as they galloped together across the pasture towards the woods. This was her early morning ritual, moving with the horse as one creature. Horses had always been a passion of hers, even when she and Kate were children. Since their childhood had been spent travelling, Natalie had not had the opportunity to develop a relationship with her own horse, though Janice and Melinda had bought her one when she completed a course of riding lessons. Both she and Kate had taken the lessons, but Kate rode with a casual enjoyment, while Natalie put her whole being into the experience.
Natalie had first earned her degree in veterinary medicine, but she couldnt bear it when had to euthanise animals and so she had gone back to school and earned her medical degree. She now had a successful and thriving private practice. She had hired on two physicians assistants to help out with her patient load. She had bought this ranch and some horses, hiring some experienced handlers and landscapers to help keep it as beautiful as it was, though she preferred to do as much of the work herself as she could. Working the ranch made it hers more than the cash she had laid out in an ineffable way that Natalie herself would never understand. The ranch gave her a sense of security and permanence which she had felt was missing from her childhood.
She rode to the woods and dismounted, tethering her mare to a post she had installed just for that purpose, then wandered through the trees, seeking serenity. She walked deeper into the trees, shedding the cares and concerns of both her practice and her family as she went. The trees themselves whispered comfort as the wind blew through their leaves. She could feel the earth beneath her feet, a firm foundation, grounding and centring her, preparing her to face the rest of her day. Finally, her mind quiet and her heart calm, she left woods and re-mounted her horse, galloping back to the stables. She hadnt known it at the time, but she would need the serenity she gained this morning.
Normally Nick hated interruptions during his dinner, but this evenings phone call was the exception. His bodyguard drove him home, stopping at the corner delicatessen for dinner. He went home, changed from his designer silk suit into sweats and took his meal in his study.
The woman Janice brought to him that day was foremost on his mind. She intrigued him, much as Janices partner Melinda had intrigued him when first they met. There was even a very slight resemblance. Ah, if only Ms. Pappas were a few decades younger, thought Nick, chuckling to himself. Then he laughed out loud, shaking his head - it was quite obvious that no matter what their respective ages, he would never have had a chance with Melinda. "Mad Dog" Covington would have ripped his eyes out of his head if she even thought he was looking at Melinda that way.
Nick had disliked Janice Covington from the first time they met. He found her abrasive and annoying as hell, but after that embarrassing incident in Madagascar ... well, Janice and Melinda had pulled him out of a very sticky mess relatively unscathed and his respect for the archaeologist grew. Over the years, the two women had "rescued" him from several minor scrapes which, taken individually seemed inconsequential, but cumulatively - Nick owed his life and the few legitimate businesses he owned - his baby steps out of the organisation- to the women. They didnt know that and if Nick could help it, they never would. No, Melinda would be off-limits - out of respect for both of them - even if she werent too damn old for him.
The other "Ms. Pappas", now - the one they were calling Melissa - when she touched him, something happened. Nick wasnt sure what it was, but it had been a powerful something. Just how powerful remained to be seen ...
Nicks dinner was interrupted by a phone call. He frowned at the interruption, but his guards and assistants knew when to take a message - or handle a problem themselves. Nick picked up the receiver.
"What?" he said.
"Mr. Martino, theres a problem," said a nervous voice. Nicks associates and employees hated to be the messengers of bad news.
"Solve it, Tommy," he said, shortly, all the while knowing that if Tommy could solve it, he would have already, even if just to avoid this phone call.
"The Dante is gone," said Tommy, quietly. "There was an explosion and - "
"What?" said Nick, sitting up more attentively. The Dante was Nicks restaurant - one of a growing number of legitimate enterprises owned by Nick and his organisation.
"Yea - uh, yes, Mr. Martino," said Tommy. "There was an explosion in the kitchen. The fire marshal is here now. I think you should come down here, sir."
"No, that wont be necessary," said Nick, quietly. "You can handle it, Tommy. I want to know what happened, though - and call in Calvin and Frank - I want them to go and have a talk with someone."
"Yes, Mr. Martino," said Tommy. Nick hung up the phone.
"She knew," he said quietly. "Somehow she touched me and she just ... knew." Nick picked up the phone again and dialled. "Rico, you put a chip in that new passport - the Pappas one?"
"Yeah?" said Rico. "You want a trace?" Rico was a disgusting little worm, but he was a genius. He could create official papers which would never be questioned by an official of any country. He could also put a micro-micro-chip behind the picture in a passport, virtually undetectable to anyone, but which he could trace through his computer. It was a tracking system many governments would give anything to have. Nick was considering the sale of this and several other items of military interest, but he wasnt stupid - no matter how high the profit, he couldnt spend the money if the country who bought the things blew up the planet.
"Not ... yet," said Nick. He wasnt sure why he hesitated. He didnt know what he had in mind, but he wanted to keep tabs on the women, just in case. Whatever had happened in that grungy little room today, if it wasnt just a random thing, it could mean profits - huge profits. "Ill let you know." Nick hung up the phone. He sat back in his chair, hands folded behind his head and closed his eyes to think.
Natalie left the exam room to go and write a prescription for the four-year-olds ear infection. Her nurse accosted her on the way to her office, a smile playing about the corners of her mouth.
"Hey, June, go ahead and discharge the patient in room - what?" said Natalie.
"Im sorry, Dr. Covington," said June after bursting into a fit of giggles. "Your grandmother is just so funny!"
"Is she here?" asked Natalie, worried.
"Oh, yes - the whole family is - I put them in room four," said June, taking the prescription hastily scribbled by Natalie and going to discharge the patient as Natalie went to room four.
"Grams, Aunt Mel - whats up?" asked Natalie, entering the room. One eyebrow raised when Natalie saw Melys was still with them.
"We need you to check our vaccines for Turkey," said Janice, chewing a bit on a fresh cigar. It was tough - she should never have lit that one earlier.
Natalie looked at them, stricken. "Youre going again?" she said, quietly, looking pointedly at Melinda.
"Yep - and so are you," said Kate, glumly.
"No, I am not," said Natalie, firmly. "I have my patients and I have my horses to take care of."
"Your colleagues and assistants have already agreed to cover your patients and you have people on the ranch to care for your horses," said Janice.
"You went behind my back and - " began Natalie, angrily.
"Nope, just asked em if they would be willing," said Janice. "Were going."
Natalie sighed. She knew from experience when her grandmother took that tone, there was no arguing. She looked to Melinda.
"Aunt Mel - " she began, then saw equal determination in the set of Melindas jaw and gave in. She knew that when the two women were in accord this way, they were an impenetrable wall through which no amount of common sense could permeate. "Alright. What about her?" Natalie nodded briefly towards Melys.
"Uh, assume she doesnt need any shots," said Kate, smiling, slyly.
"Look, I cant - " began Natalie.
"Shes from the area, Natalie," said Melinda, gently. "She doesnt need any immunizations."
"Okay," said Natalie. "I guess Ill finish seeing patients and then go home to pack - " She looked at Janices grin, and shook her head. "I guess youve taken care of that, too." There was a knock on the door and Natalie opened it for June.
"Dr. Covington, Dr. Harris is here," she said. "Hell be taking over this afternoon?"
"Yes, indefinitely, June. Schedule accordingly," said Natalie. The nurse nodded and left and Natalie turned back to Janice. "Do I at least have time to go back to the ranch and change?"
"Of course," said Melinda, interrupting Janices impatient fluster with a gentle hand on the archaeologists arm.
On the ride to Natalies ranch, Kate told her cousin the long-awaited story of Macedonia.
"Oh, come on," said the physician, incredulous. "You cant expect me to believe that Aunt Mel somehow ... channelled Xena! And that the god of war was alive and active - no, Im not buying it. Theres no real proof that Xena ever actually existed."
"We have the scrolls!" insisted Janice. "Well, some of them."
"And what makes you believe that theyre accurate representations of true facts?" asked Natalie. "They could be Ancient Greek fairy tales. There is no actual archaeological proof that Xena and Gabrielle were real."
"Natalie, I held the chakram in my hand," said Melinda.
"Yes, but you left in the tomb - which Grams blew up - so theres still no proof," said Natalie, stubbornly folding her arms across her chest.
"I had to blow it up or Ares would have escaped and helped the Nazis!" said Janice.
"Ares escape - he is a mythological character," said Natalie, patiently.
"No," said Melys, quietly. "He is quite real. I met one of his descendants today."
"Nick is a descendant of Ares?" said Janice, excitedly. "Thats why he makes my skin crawl."
"You were with Nick Martino today?" said Natalie. "Why? Hes scum."
"Yeah, you oughta know - you dated him," said Kate, snickering.
"We all make mistakes," muttered Natalie, looking pointedly out the window, effectively closing the subject of Dominick Martino. Natalie still felt a certain attraction for the crime lord - which she likened to a moths attraction to flame. He was dangerous, though and Natalie had the good sense to avoid danger - self preservation was a valuable lesson instilled within her by the two women who sat in the front seats of the Explorer.
"Yeah, well, I believe it," said Kate.
"Of course you do," said Natalie, still stinging from her cousins announcement about Nick. "You live in a world where its a possibility - unlike most of us."
"How would you know?" asked Kate, defensively.
"I read your books," said Natalie, quietly.
"You ... you do?" asked Kate, smiling.
"Of course I do," said Natalie. "Ordinarily its not my thing, but you write really well, if a bit unrealistically."
"Thanks," said Kate. "But its supposed to be unrealistic. People who read for pleasure want to be taken to different worlds for a while, I think."
"Maybe," said Natalie, shrugging. "Anyway, where exactly are we going?"
"Back to Macedonia, where this all started," said Melinda, her voice quietly excited. Natalie sighed and sat back in her seat, silent until they arrived at the ranch.
She changed quickly, grabbing the bags which one of her employees had packed for her under Janices direction and left explicit instructions for the care of the ranch and especially her horses. She glanced longingly towards the stables as Janice honked the Explorers horn impatiently, then, resigned, turned and put her bags in the back of the car and buckled up for the ride to the airport.
Kate whispered to Melys exactly what the priestess should expect about going through customs and on the airplane. Anxiously, Melys presented the forged passport to the customs agent, but he stamped it without comment and the priestess boarded the plane with the others, settling in with one carry on bag full of Kates books for the long flight.
Nicks phone rang and the guard picked it up, then handed it to his boss in silence.
"Mr. Martino, I got a flag on the Pappas passport," said Rico.
"Really, Rico? I thought I told you to hold off," said Nick, mildly irritated with man.
"Yes, Sir, but its one of the new chips Ive been developing - it automatically triggers a flag when the holder goes through customs," said Rico, proudly. Nick swallowed his annoyance before speaking.
"Very well, Rico - where is she headed?"
"Istanbul," said Rico.
"Interesting," said Nick, nodding. "Thank you, Rico - the information you have provided - while unsolicited - may prove to be of value, after all." Nick hung up before the other man could say any more.
Melys read while the others dozed. "This is amazing," she whispered to herself. "How could she know all this?"
"Hey," Melys looked up to see Melinda smiling down at her. "Cant sleep on a plane, I never could. You want some conscious company?"
"Id love it," said Melys, smiling in delight as Melinda gently shook Kate awake and led her to resume her nap beside an equally somnolent Janice. The translator returned and took the now vacant seat.
"Kates gettin attached to you," said Melinda.
"I like her very much - she reminds me of my daughter, Neiromei," said Melys.
"No, I meant ... well, never mind," said Melinda. "I dont think Kate sees you as a mother-figure, though."
"Oh," said Melys softly, nodding her understanding. "Well, not to worry, Melinda - I hope to be back where I belong before she can form a stronger attachment - and I promise that I will do nothing to encourage any more than friendship."
"Honey, you breathe - to Katie thats all the encouragement she needs," said Melinda.
"Oh, my," said Melys frowning in concern. "What should I do?"
"Dont worry about it," said Melinda, kindly. "Let Kate handle her own feelings."
Melys nodded. "Very well," she said. "Where are we going? Janice said Macedonia, but this flight is to Anatol- I mean Turkey."
"Were flyin in to Istanbul cause Janice and I know some people who will make the rest of this trip a lot easier," said Melinda.
"More people like ... Nick?" asked Melys, hesitantly.
"Im afraid so," said Melinda. "Relax, they wont harm you so longs youre with us."
"Oh, Im not afraid of that," said Melys, smiling. Melinda chuckled.
"No, I spose not," she said. "Xena probably taught you how to defend yourself."
"My mothers actually taught me that, long before I met Xena," said Melys.
"Mothers? Plural?" said Melinda. "I know that the Amazons were ... not so uptight about such things from the scrolls, of course, but I thought ...."
"My mothers were malatyra - soul mates - I only learned which one of them actually bore me a few years ago," said Melys. "It didnt - and still doesnt - matter. They were both my mothers in the true sense of the word. As for the other matter, there are Amazons who prefer men, some prefer women and some dont care either way. I have found and hopefully taught my daughters that love is precious and you should treasure it and hold to it, no matter what form it takes."
"Thats just what Janice and I have tried to teach the girls," said Melinda. "Naturally, they had a rough time of it with other children - when we were in the States. It didnt seem to matter on a dig. The workers always treated Janice as one of the guys and respected both of us for our knowledge and skill."
"Have you read Kates books?" asked Melys, changing the subject. That love should ever be questioned or derided in this time saddened her too much to continue thinking about it.
"Of course," said Melinda, proudly.
"Did you recognise any of the stories?" asked Melys.
"Well, of course she was inspired by the scrolls - thats plain to see," said Melinda. "Janice and I used to tell the stories to the girls all the time."
"Melinda I read all the scrolls you and Janice have found," said Melys. "Kate writes about things Gabrielle recorded in scrolls you dont - yet - have."
"Really? How is that possible?" asked Melinda, only mildly surprised.
"Im not sure," said Melys.
"You dont think that maybe shes Gabrielle, re-incarnated, do you?" asked Melinda.
"No, I would recognise her, Im sure of it," said Melys. "Maybe Gabrielle speaks through her, just as Xena can speak through you, but there is a different tone to her stories than Gabrielles. I think I have an idea who it is and why."
"Well dont be so mysterious - who is it?" asked Melinda.
"Aphrodite," said Melys, so softly only Melinda could hear her. "She is as much a mentor to Gabrielle as Ares was to Xena."
"If Ares was still around, then it makes sense that she would be too," said Melinda, thoughtfully.
"Of course - of all the remaining Olympians, they took on the job of ruling, so to speak," said Melys. "What I dont understand is how my bro - um, how Ares got trapped in that tomb?"
"Well, like I said, the legend on the wall paintings was pretty faded, but from what I could make out, he put there by the other gods - maybe out of revenge for his allowin Xena to kill Athena and the others?" said Melinda.
"Hm, well if thats the case, they sure took long enough to do it," said Melys. "No, Im pretty sure thats not the reason."
"Then what?" asked Melinda.
"If its what I suspect, then the sooner I get back and correct the problem, the better off this world will be," said Melys, frowning.
Nick looked at the three men standing before him, one of them being held up by the other two. He sat behind the desk in his study, feet propped up in deliberate casualness.
"What happened to him?" he asked, his voice mild.
"We found him, just like this," said one of the two men, nodding towards the third between. His head lolled and he began to cough, violently.
"This man is ill," said Nick.
"Yeah, but you said to bring - " said the other of the two men.
"I said to go and check on him and if he was alright, to bring him to me," said Nick, swinging his feet to the floor and rising in one swift move. The hapless driver looked at Nick through glazed eyes.
"Boss, if youre gonna kill me for somethin, please - make it quick?" he said.
"Im not going to kill you," said Nick, his voice just this side of a growl "Unless I catch whatever it is you have - get him out of here."
The two men all but carried the sick driver out of the room and Nick sighed. He had started to believe that it was a conspiracy - his driver calls in sick, so he takes a cab to the Dante for dinner. Anything could happen in a taxi - and at the restaurant. The fire marshal had reported that the explosion was an accident - a freak, but an accident, and he had been looking closely, hoping to catch Nick at something illegal, so Nick had to believe that no human being was responsible. He sat back down, leaning forward, elbows resting lightly on the desk, his hands folded in a prayer-like aspect, fingers just touching. He was thinking about Melys again.
"What if shes not human?" he said aloud, very softly to apparently no one. His hand reached for the special phone in his office. No one had the number to this phone and it was untraceable by any government agency. Suddenly it rang, startling Nick. He picked up the receiver and placed it hesitantly to his ear, but said nothing.
"Nick," said a voice Nick knew well - this was the only person in the organisations hierarchy to whom even Dominick Martino answered, even though he had never laid eyes on the voices owner. "Dont even think about it." The connection was severed with a soft snick and the line was quiet. Nick hung up the phone.
The women landed in Istanbul where Janice rented a car and drove them through winding narrow streets, finally parking before a whitewashed building. She told the others to wait, then emerged from the place, a smug grin on her face.
"Okay, lets get to a hotel," said the archaeologist. Kate and Natalie looked wide-eyed at her, but Melinda merely smiled.
"We have never stayed in a hotel here, before," Kate whispered to Melys. "Grams knows so many people, usually we stay in a private home with about a bajillion other people while we wait to get a permit to the site or something."
"Yes, well, Miss Smarty-Pants," said Melinda turning around. "We dont have to get a permit this time."
Melys smiled at Kates surprise. "She always does that," said Kate. "How does she do that?" Melys shrugged, then turned to look out the window. The motion of the vehicle and a general lack of sleep caused the buildings and people to blur in her vision and the priestess found herself entering into a light, comforting trance. She began to see this place as it had been in her own time and suddenly, she was stricken with a pang of homesickness so sharp it brought tears to her eyes.
"Melys, whats wrong?" asked Melinda.
"Please - drive east?" she said, brushing the tears away with the back of her hand. Janice looked back briefly, then nodded and kept going. Melys remained in the half trance as they traveled out of the city.
"How far east?" asked Janice after they had been driving for a few hours. "Were going opposite to the direction we need to end up."
"I know," said Melys, gazing out of her window. "Just ... please keep going."
"Okay," said Janice. "But we need to stop and get some gas and food - and probably another car - a jeep or a Rover, I think. Well go to Sinop - I hope we have enough fuel, cause theres nothing between here and there."
She drove past several small villages on the way to the larger city, stopping only once at one that had gas - just to be sure. Dr. Janice Covington had stopped taking such chances when Melinda joined her life. Melys continued to gaze, entranced out the window while those around her began to doze off. Janice gripped the wheel until they came into Sinop. She pulled up to small cottage-like building and began to wake her family.
"Come on, lets get some rest and then well push on," she told Melys. The priestess nodded and followed them into the small inn. She fell into the soft bed, still half in trance and slept like the dead until Melinda awakened her the next morning.
Nick paced in his study, uneasy with his own anxiety about leaving his house. If only she were here to tell me it was safe, he thought, then shook it off, feeling more foolish than afraid now. "This is stupid," Nick said aloud, angry that he was startled by the sound of his own voice. He hadnt gotten where he was by being afraid and he wasnt about to give in to fear now. He strode over to the phone and cautiously raised the receiver to his ear, but heard only the expected dial tone. With a relieved sigh, Nick dialled and started making travel arrangements. Whatever was drawing those women to Istanbul, he wanted a piece of it, too. Whatever the "Boss" may have to say about it, Nick was going.
Hours later, he hung up the phone in frustration. He had been able to make reservations to fly into Samsun - but only just. It seemed all flights to Istanbul had been cancelled. Nick would fly to Samsun and drive to Istanbul. If the Covingtons were headed there, then Nick surmised they had a damn compelling reason for it - and he suspected that the mysterious "Melissa Pappas" was that reason. Nick was going to find her and after that ... he didnt know what he was going to do, but the need to see her and speak with her again was beyond all reason for him. He would take Mack and Andy as bodyguards, but would tell no one else of his plans. That should keep the old monster from finding me, thought Nick, thinking bitterly of the voice on the phone.
Melinda woke Melys gently. The priestess stirred, smiled slightly, then rolled over and fell back into the deep sleep which had claimed her the night before. Melinda looked at her for a moment, then went down to the kitchen and came back with a steaming mug of good, strong Turkish coffee. The scent did what all of Melindas gentle shaking could not and Melys sat up, gratefully reaching for the mug, liberally laced with thick cream and lots of sugar. The priestess sipped, appreciatively, then smiled at Melinda.
"Where are we headed?" said Janice, striding into the room.
Melys shook her head to try and clear the residual fatigue. "Themiscyreia - I think," said the priestess.
"Why there?" asked Melinda.
"Im not sure," said Melys with a rueful smile. "Maybe habit - whenever I have needed information, I go to Themiscyreia, the centre of Amazonian History and culture. Then again, maybe Im looking for Lykastia."
"Lykastia?" said Janice, trying to control her excitement. "Thats just now being explored. I know where to go to find Lykastia - I think."
"Why Lykastia?" asked Melinda, gently.
"Thats where my nykel - oath-sister, Tai lives - shes the Lykastian queen," said Melys. "East, anyway. Towards the Black Stone."
"Giresun Island?" said Janice, one eyebrow raised.
"Is that what they call it now?" said Melys absently. "I think ... I think we may find a clue to the scrolls there."
"Oh," said Janice, scratching her head. The archaeologist shrugged. "Its as good a place to go as any, but we need to get to Macedonia - theyve re-opened the old site and are excavating a certain tomb."
"Janice you did a job on that tomb - I dont believe anyone could get in there again," said Melinda.
"Maybe not then, but the field has a lot of new technology, Mel," said Janice.
"Well, I still doubt theyll open it anytime soon - I dont think theres much of the structure left," said Melinda.
"It was underground, Mel," said Janice. "All I did was close any entrances. They can always dig down past the debris. And if that happens ..."
"Ares gets out," said Melinda.
"Only if hes released by a descendant of Xena, remember?" said Melys. "Maybe our best bet is to stay away from there?"
"Shes right, Janice," said Melinda. "Maybe we should - "
"No, I have to go back - just make sure," said the archaeologist.
"Very well," said Melys rising and looking with dismay at her sleep-rumpled clothing. "I need to clean up and change - "
With a wide grin, Janice produced a brown paper bag, handing it to Melys. "Bathrooms down the hall and I believe its empty - for now. Better hurry."
Melys took the bag, smiling her thanks and made her way down the narrow hall to the bathing chamber. She showered quickly and donned the clothing in the bag. To her delight, it was her Amazon clothing, cleaned and neatly folded. It felt good to be back in her own clothes and she left the bathroom feeling more grounded than she had since the previous morning. She went back to the room the women shared and braided her hair just as she usually did in AemetzainL. With a pang, Melys missed Xenas deft fingers plaiting her long, dark, unruly curls, but she managed to finish the job herself.
"Okay, I guess Im ready," said Melys to Janice and Melinda. "Where are the girls?"
"They went to breakfast," said Melinda, smiling. "Are you hungry, Melys?"
"Oh, no," said the priestess. "I never eat this soon after waking up."
"Neither does Mel," said Janice, eyeing the translator. "Okay - lets go collect the girls and be on our way - I managed to get a Land Rover - not as comfortable as my Explorer, but its better than that little tin can we drove here in."
"My, you were busy this morning," said Melys as she eyed the Land Rover. Janice had obtained camping equipment and groceries as well as the vehicle.
"Well, since we have no idea where youre leading us, I figured we better be prepared for anything," said Janice, opening her jacket slightly to reveal a pistol shaped lump bulging through the inner pocket. Melys frowned slightly, but said nothing. Janice, Melinda, and Melys loaded themselves into the Rover and Janice drove to where Kate and Natalie said they were going for breakfast. There was no sign of the young women.
"Where are they?" Janice said with a growl.
"Theyre here, Janice," said Melinda, calmly.
"There - in that shop," said Melys pointing. To her delighted surprise, she saw that the young women were dressed similar to herself in long, belted tunics and baggy trousers and boots.
They got into the Rover and Janice set off, going east.
Nick drove the rental himself, Mack in front and Andy in the back. He easily navigated the streets of Samsun, looking for the route to Istanbul. It may have been easier to take a train, or even a small plane from the Samsun Airport, but Nick had felt uneasy all the while he was in the air. He needed to take control of something for a while, even if it was a car.
He had an idea where Janice would head first in Istanbul - they had several mutual acquaintances and Nick knew Janice well enough to know that would feel naked without some kind of weapon. So the first place he stopped was a gun dealers house. He needed to replace the weapons they hadnt been able to take on the plane anyway.
"Tabari," Nick greeted the man who answered the door.
"Dominick!" said the other man, smiling. "What can I do for you, today?"
"I was supposed to meet Dr. Covington here in Istanbul, but we got separated," said Nick, jovially. "Have you seen her?"
"Yes, she was here just yesterday," said Tabari, nodding. "She didnt mention meeting you, though."
"Hmm, yes, well we had set up a meeting place, but my ... plane was delayed," said Nick, feigning polite regret. Inwardly he was seething. A whole days head start to wherever they were headed. "Ah, well, my friend - I need to ... ah ... do some business here, anyway." Nick allowed the man to see a roll of cash before slipping it back into his pocket. Tabaris eyes widened and a smile tugged at his lips.
"Yes, of course - please, you and your companions, please come in and refresh yourselves before continuing on your journey," he said, stepping aside to allow the men to enter.
He led the men to a small sitting room and bade them sit and be comfortable. He left them for a bit and returned bearing a tray. Small cups of coffee, along with cream and sugar were on the tray and Tabari served them himself.
"So, Dr. Covington was here yesterday?" asked Nick, suppressing the face he wished to make at the thick, bitter coffee.
"Yes, yes - Janice, she does not buy from me so much as she rents my wares," said Tabari, with a chuckle. "Always, she buys and then upon her return, she sells back to me - at a discount, of course."
"I imagine so - especially now with airport security what it is," said Nick, amiably.
"Ah, yes," said Tabari. "Me, I am small and I do not sell to those I do not know well. Only for personal protection, I sell my wares."
"Yes, I know," said Nick, setting down his empty cup and hoping Tabari did not offer more. "Speaking of which, we should get down to business - I really must find Dr. Covington. She didnt mention where she was going?"
"No, I am sorry," said Tabari, rising and taking the tray. He stopped, and turned, a delighted smile across his pleasant face. "But she did ask me about conditions across the Strait."
"The Bosporus Strait?" asked Nick excitedly.
"Yes, of course," said Tabari, puzzled. He turned and took the coffee things away, then returned with a large black suitcase. "Now to business ..."
Tabari opened the case and Nicks eyes shone at the scent of gun oil and the black steel, gleaming softly before him.
"Yes," he said, softly. "To business."
Janice drove eastward, toward Samsun, never knowing just how closely she and her group missed Dominick Martino, who was then headed west to Istanbul and a certain gun dealer. Melys allowed herself to drift deeper into trance and was silent for most of the trip. Natalie looked at her with some concern.
"Hey," said Kate softly to her cousin. "Is that what I look like?"
"Yeah, pretty much," said Natalie.
"Jeez, no wonder you thought I was nuts," said Kate, worried. "She looks ... catatonic ... or something."
"I dont think youre nuts, Katie," said Natalie, turning to Kate. "Its just ... brain activity gone awry. Thats a simplistic explanation, but - "
"You talk about me as if I cannot hear you," said Melys, her voice quiet, but clear. "I am still with you, but I am elsewhere, too."
"Whoa," said Kate, smiling.
"Where?" asked Natalie.
"I am here as it was before," said Melys. "Searching - Janice, please stop here."
The archaeologist pulled off the dirt track and stopped the Rover. "Whats here?" she asked.
Melys pointed to the ruins of a fortress high up on a hill, overlooking the valley. "Themiscyreia," said the priestess, getting out of the vehicle. "Come - and bring water."
The women spent hours climbing the to fortress. It was an arduous endeavor, but Melys seemed to know the clearest paths. At last, they reached a staircase and Melys led them up to a platform, tears forming in her eyes.
"This is all thats left of the palace of Themiscyreia," she said, shaking off the trance. "I dont know what I expected, but ..."
Melinda put an arm around her waist to comfort her. "What did it look like before?" asked Janice, eyeing a freestanding arch expertly.
"It was beautiful," said the priestess. "And very practical. It was huge - at least by AemetzainL standards. According to my cousin, this was the fortress built by Lysippe when she brought the Amazons here from the TanaVs River near Lake Maeotis. It housed the entire Amazon Nation at that time. By my time, most of it was no longer used. The stables were over there - see, the rue still grows wild."
"Rue?" said Natalie, curious at the word stables.
"Yes, Amazons planted near the stables because it helps keeps the biting insects at bay," said Melys.
Natalie nodded, filing the information away for when she got home - she would plant some near her own stables. It beat potentially toxic pesticides, despite the weird smell of the stuff. Melys walked over to a large pit-like structure and dipped her hand, tasting the water which sat there.
"This is still good - rain water was collected here and saved incase of a siege," she said. "We can fill the bottles and canteens here for the trip back."
They did so, and Melys turned and gasped. "It still looks beautiful," she said. The other women turned and followed her gaze to the view of the valley below. It was, indeed, breathtaking.
"Wow," said Kate. "Its like ... coming home."
"Not exactly," said Melys, a sad smile playing about her lips. "But at least I can feel ... the land is only sleeping. She is still alive here. Come."
They made their way back down the hill and by dusk were driving towards Giresun. They arrived in a few hours and checked into a small bed and breakfast where Janice knew the owner. At first the woman didnt want to give them a room, but Kate stepped in and began speaking to the woman in Romany, her fathers language which she had learned from her grandmother. With a smile, Kate announced to her family that the woman had made a mistake and that there was one room available.
"Where are you headed so late?" asked the woman, smiling at Kate.
"Sedkala nap Hekate, Melys absently replied in Amazonian. Her eyes still bore the vestiges of an entranced glaze.
"Aretias - Giresun Adasi," said the woman, nodding. "You have the look of those women."
"What women?" asked Janice.
"They go there to dance around the stone - it is said, that if you dance about the Hamza Stone three times, your wishes will be granted. There are those of us who still honour the old ways," said the woman, nodding. "Some of us more than others. There is a group of women trying to revive the old ways here, though it must be done in secret. They meet often in the circle of Stones on the Isle of Ares."
"Ares?" said Melys, her attention fully on the woman now.
"Yes, that is what it was called for many years," said the woman, nodding. "But we know its true name, dont we?"
"Yes, we do," said Melys.
The women retired and were up early the next morning. Janice had slept little pondering the womans words about a group of women on the island and the reference to Ares. They left very early to catch a ride with one of the fishing boats heading to the Island. Melys wept bitterly but in silence the whole way.
"What have they done?" she whispered at the sight of offal in the water. The friendly fisherman clicked his tongue and shook his head in sympathy.
"Its terrible, I know," he said. "But the governments are trying to clean it up. Sure hope they hurry - the fish are scarce and day to day, I never know what will come in my nets."
They landed on the island and thanked the fisherman, who set off to try make the days catch in the polluted sea. Melys felt the ground under her feet as a muted hum, not like the living being it had seemed the last time she was here in her own time.
"Its still alive," she said, mildly comforted. "But for how long ... Still, the ancient rites are attempted here."
"Didnt they sacrifice horses on this island?" asked Kate to the gasp of dismay from Natalie. Melys frowned.
"For a while, yes," she said. "But not in my time. The Priestess-Queen, Leilae put a stop to it - and Hekate purified and re-consecrated this island when my daughter, Neiromei was presented to her here."
Natalie looked around. "Its ... peaceful," she said, relieved that she felt no residual pain or fear from the horses sacrificed.
"Yes," said Melys. "But it should be active and alive. You should be able to feel the power of the land moving through your body. Its here, but very quiet. Come."
She led them to a huge rock. "This is what the woman called the Hamza Stone," she said. "It is powerful, but it is not the sacred Black Stone of this island." The women each took a turn touching the rough surface of the stone, then Melys led them further towards the centre of the island, where a rough circle of stones was still evident. "The baetyl was in the centre of this circle. I do not know what happened to it."
The priestess made her way to the centre of the stones and stood quietly for a moment. All of a sudden, her head was thrown back and her arms stretched outward, as if in supplication, her eyes closed. Natalie rushed towards her, but was held back by an unseen wall. The women looked on, aghast by the priestesss pose.
"Whats happening?" Kate cried, as the earth beneath her feet began to vibrate, thrumming with power. She did indeed feel it moving throughout her body, as did all of the women.
"Shes re-charging the land," said Melinda, excitedly. "I read of this ... somewhere - in one of the Ancient texts. She really is a priestess."
"Okay, Mel, thats great," said Janice, frowning. "But how long is it going to take? We have to get to Macedonia ..."
Suddenly, Melys dropped to her knees, her head bowed. Natalie again tried to get to her, but again was rebuffed by some force. The priestess was beyond hearing the womens frightened cries to her. Her body remained within the circle, but her spirit walked to the centre of a familiar crossroads, where the priestess met her goddess.
"Mother!" she cried, running to the figure seated in the throne. Hekate arose and embraced her Chosen.
"Child," she said, comforting Melys with gentle, motherly caresses, wiping away Melyss tears of relief.
"Please - can you send me home?" Melys pleaded, looking up at her.
"I can do all things," said the goddess. "But I have an important task for you first."
"Anything, Mother," said Melys, eagerly.
"Be sure you mean that before you say it," said Hekate, smiling.
"I want to go home," said Melys, stubbornly.
"I know - but I have a task for you which only you can accomplish," said the goddess. "When you were taken to this place, your own time suffered. Your brother and sister, who were tacitly in charge of the other remaining Olympians, were overthrown by them and imprisoned."
"I knew it," said Melys with a sigh.
"Had you taken your place as their queen, this would not have occurred," Hekate chided her. "But that is not the point now. You must release your sister, Aphrodite."
"Ares is ..." began Melys.
"Do you really believe that a simple explosion and rock fall would keep him confined, Little One?" as soon as that chakram hit the Eye of Hephaestus, the conditions for his release were met - a descendant of Xena released him from the curse which bound him. Aphrodite, now, must be released by a descendant of Gabrielle."
"Then why did you say I -?"
"You carry the blood of Zeus - it takes an immortal to see your sisters prison," said Hekate, gently.
"I am the daughter of Zeus, yes, but I am not immortal," said Melys, dreading the goddesss next words.
"Yet," said Hekate, pointedly. "If you do not accept this responsibility, Chaos will reign in your place - that is why Love and War were imprisoned and the balance was upset for so many thousands of years. If you do not accept this responsibility, you will not be able to release your sister from her prison and War will wander the earth unchecked by the balance of love - you see what has happened in just the few decades Ares has been free without Aphrodite to temper his ways?"
"Yes, I have," said Melys, sadly. "Very well, but I would ask a boon in return."
"Yes, I already know what you ask and it shall be granted, My Child," said the goddess, smiling proudly. "You would live out your life with those you love."
"That, too," said Melys. "But that you have already promised me. No, I want the scrolls for Melinda and Janice. They have been searching for so long ..."
"The scrolls are with Aphrodite, sealed in her prison," said Hekate, sadly. "The gods of Olympus told Aphrodite that since she was so fond of the mortal Gabrielle, she could have her company in the form of the scrolls for eternity - or until one of her descendants released her."
Melys frowned. "Thats not nice," she said. "How is Dite?"
"How would you expect her to be?" said Hekate with a sigh. "But for now, my daughter, you must look to your companions."
Melys emerged from her trance and turned to see a confrontation taking place. Janice was standing toe to toe with another woman, arguing vehemently. There was a group of women surrounding her and the others, all looking angry. Except one. Something was familiar about the woman who stood facing Janice, calmly listening to the archaeologists tirade.
"Tai," Melys said softly, tears coming yet again to her dark green eyes. Melys approached the two and lightly placed her hand on the womans shoulder. "Tai."
She turned and looked at the priestess, puzzled for a moment. "Lumina?" she said, then shook her head. "No, youre ... Melys. But thats not possible ... This is all very strange."
"Tai!" Melys cried, embracing the woman.
"Melee, what ... what happened?" asked the woman she called Tai. "Whats happening? I dont ... I am not Tai this time around."
"I know," said Melys, sympathetically.
"Are you a ghost?" asked Tai.
"No," said Melys. "I am very much alive - at least as far as I know. Its a long story, Tai. What are you doing here?"
"We are trying to keep the Amazon Nation alive," piped up one of the women, angrily. "What were you doing in there?"
"The same thing youre trying to do," said Melys, shortly. "And you think attacking - even verbally - other women is the way to Amazon Honour?"
"We werent attacking," said another woman.
Tai looked at Melys. "We were defending," said Tai. "We thought you and your companions were desecrating the sacred circle."
"Tai, you know better," said Melys.
"I do now, but when the memory of who I was - am - recedes - as its bound to do, will I still know that?" said Tai, troubled. "In this life, I am a school teacher, not a priestess."
"If you are teaching, then you are a priestess still," said Melys. "The fact that you are here doing what you do here tells me that you remember more than you realise, Sister." She looked around, recognising the other women in the group, their angry faces all looking at her with mistrust. "These women - this is what the Mother of All calls the Hope of the Amazon Nation?"
Tai looked at them anew. "They are the descendants of the three," she said. "Some of the descendants, at least." Melys shook her head.
"This will not do. I really must get back there - Tai, where was Aphrodite imprisoned?" she asked.
"Listen, Melee, they do the best they can with they know," said Tai, defending the women.
"I know - which is precisely why I must get to the time where I can do what I must so that they - and everyone else - will know more of our ways," said Melys. "Dont misunderstand me, Sister - I appreciate what youre doing here - more than you know - it is your group and others like you who are keeping this land alive, but the power has waned significantly."
"You just fed the land," said Tai, nodding in acknowledgement.
"Yes, but I dont have enough magic here to make much difference," said Melys, sadly.
"Would it help if they - if we ..." began Tai, biting her lip.
"Kora, whats with all the talk?" yelled one of the angry women. "Get em out of here."
"Hey - this is public land!" Janice yelled back.
Tai/Kora stepped forward towards the group of women. "Sisters, listen to me - this is Melys," she said.
"The Prophecy ..." Melys heard several of the women whispering to themselves in awe.
"What Prophecy?" she said, frowning.
"A legend has been passed down from mother to daughter in all of our families for as long as memory holds that the last great High Priestess of the Amazon Nation never died, but would return to us when we needed her," said one of the women. "Are you she?"
"Goddess, I hope not," said Melys, shaking her head. "The last High Priestess? What of Selen? And Neiromei? What of their daughters?"
"When you left, Chaos took over as ruler of the remaining gods," Tai explained. "Selen tempered his ways for as long as she could, but she was pledged to Avalon and keeping its sacred mysteries safe. She took them - and the Holy Isle - into the mists. She was mortal, Melee. I can only assume that her descendants are there, still. As for Neiromei, she and KaiytŽ and Ryns daughter ruled Themiscyreia until Rome began encroaching into Amazon Lands. They were forced to move ever eastward, into the steppes. I dont know what happened to them after that."
"Tell me no more, please, Tai," said Melys, feeling sick. "What of the protection of the Amulet of Persephone?"
"You were gone - with the amulet," said Tai, looking pointedly at the amulet, still hanging around Melyss neck.
"Where is Aphrodite imprisoned?" asked Melys again.
"Mt. Olympus," said Tai. "In a cave near the Great Hall. But, Lys, you wont be able to free her even if you had your powers. The curse says that - "
"It must be a descendant of Gabrielle, I know," said Melys, quietly. Janice approached.
"What are we waiting for?" she asked, planting a fresh cigar between her teeth. "Im ready to meet the goddess of love - I have a lot to thank her for." She looked back at Melinda and grinned. "Her influence may be weakened behind her walls, but its still there and working."
"Just as Aress is," Melys reminded her, but gently.
"Yeah, well, Im ready to meet him again, too," said Janice, with a growl.
"Be careful what you wish for," the priestess admonished her. "With my family, usually youre sorry you get it."
"Family?" said Janice, one eyebrow raised.
"Never mind," said Melys, catching her slip too late.
"Uh, huh - later, Priestess," said the archaeologist.
"Melee, there is one thing I would ask of you before you go," said Tai.
"Anything, Sister - you know that," said Melys, smiling.
"Would you lead the ritual tonight?" asked Tai.
"Aw, we dont have time - we have to get to Macedonia," said Janice.
"Janice, Ares is already out of that tomb," said Melys. "There is nothing we can accomplish in Macedonia."
"How do you know that?" asked the archaeologist.
"In the circle, I spoke with ... One who knows," said Melys. "Just please believe me that Ares is out - and if I know him, he will be trying to keep us from freeing Aphrodite any way he can."
"Why would he do that?" asked Janice.
"Because ... thats just what he does," said Melys with a sigh.
As Nick drove west towards the Bosporus and Macedonia, his mind wandered. He couldnt seem to stop himself from thinking about Melissa Pappas. The more he thought, the more he realised there was something familiar about her, but he couldnt quite ...
Slammed out of his reverie by a near accident, Nick stopped the car and allowed one of his men to take over the driving, retiring to the back seat to continue his thoughts uninterrupted by the need to watch for other cars. He re-lived that moment when she touched him over and over, but still couldnt remember where he had seen this woman before. He no longer felt threatened by her; instead, he was drawn to her.
They drove for hours, but Nick, lost in his thoughts, only noticed when they arrived in the small town just outside the perimeter of the dig site, founded by Janice Covington over sixty years ago. He got out of the car, shaking off the dream-like state which had caused his attention ... his focus to wane. This was not a good sign. Nick hadnt stayed alive this long by daydreaming when there was business to take care of. He still held out to the notion that there was long-term profit potential in this endeavour. Chuckling at his unconsciously made pun, Nick approached one of the workers at the site to inquire after the foreman. They had some things to discuss.
Janice was cursing under her breath - another habit, like the cigars, she had tried to break, or at least keep under control in Melindas presence.
"We left the camping gear in the Rover," she sputtered to Melys, who was preparing the women for the nights ceremony.
"Its alright," said Tai/Kora. "We have a boat - Tina, go with Dr. Covington to get their gear." She turned to Melys. "Id offer you the use of ours, but we dont use any gear."
"Trying to emulate the Amazons?" asked Melinda, taking mental notes about the upspringing of the Amazon-like cult for a future book.
"Exactly," said Tai, who now seemed to slipping away, back into Kora, more frequently. Melys was saddened by this, but she knew her sister well enough to realise that the grief Tai had felt as Tai when Melys "disappeared" so long ago was not an emotion she would wish to re-live, and so she sought the refuge of forgetfulness.
"Well, I hate to disillusion you, Sister, but the Amazons used gear on the trail," said Melys, frowning at her unconscious use of the past tense. It almost felt as she herself were slipping away from her people.
And so you are, Little Sister, she heard and gasped - Tai could still bespeak her, mind to mind and she realised that "Kora" was more Tai then she wanted to other women in the group to know. Melys smiled, then realised what Tai had said.
What do you mean, Tai?
The longer youre here, the harder it will be for you to get back - Hekate has told me this, Tai replied. She will not allow you to risk draining more of what little reserve of power you have left to speak with her directly - she has said that you will need it when you go to rescue Aphrodite.
"Did they?" said "Kora", feigning surprise.
"Of course!" said Melys grinning uncontrollably as contact with her sister brought her back to herself a bit and she realised that Tai had given her some of her own energy. Melys sent her gratitude, but put up shields - her sister was too generous with her own limited reserves.
Blessed Mother, are mortals really so ... un-magical in this time? she thought to herself. Of course. They have polluted the earth and the water so - whatever power is left there is soured and perhaps cannot get through human disregard. And human garbage ...
With a sigh, Melys resumed the preparations. She truly hoped that this ritual would help these women re-touch their true heritage and perhaps help this land recover a bit more as well.
Darkness came upon the island. The moon was but a sliver in the sky, but it was growing, night by night. There was little light, save for what the fire, built where the Black Stone had once stood, offered. Melys gathered the women, including Janice, Melinda, Kate, and Natalie in a circle, having them all clasp hands. They began to dance in a circle about the fire, still clasping hands and Melys began to chant in the ancient language of the Amazons, words which had not been heard here, in this once and now again sacred space, for millennia. The women focussed on the sound of the words and the dancing light of the fire. The women felt their bodies grow warmer with the dancing; they became aware of their breath and their heartbeat - and suddenly their souls came awake! They began to join the chant, their voices melding with the priestess.
They could feel the earth responding to them, power rising from deep, deep within, vibrating, humming, throbbing ... The women danced and chanted for how long, none of them knew or cared. They felt free, as if they were flying high above the earth and yet, they felt firmly grounded, supported by the land which they were feeding, as well as receiving from. At last, a pale shimmering figure took shape in the centre of the flames. Translucent at first, but gradually gaining solidity as the women danced for her, Hekate, the Great Mother of All appeared before her Amazons once again. The women stopped, breathless and exhilarated, awed by the sight of their goddess before them. Melys dropped to her knees before her, bowing her head. The others followed her.
"Mother, we honour you," she said.
"Rise up, my Daughters," said the goddess. "You have awakened me, at long last. I am pleased." Melys looked at her, puzzled.
"Great Goddess, you do not slumber," she said.
"In the souls of those who do not - or will not - believe in me, I do," said the goddess, sadly.
"You are wakened in my soul, Lady!" cried one of the women, others echoing her words.
"Aye, and now your real work begins, my Daughters," said the goddess. She turned to Melys. "Thank you, my Chosen - as always, you serve me and mine with all of your heart. You have done well here and your sisters in this place will continue what you have started within them - but now you must go quickly. As you suspected he would, your brother is scheming to keep you from your sisters rescue. Already his plans are in place."
Melys bowed her head in assent. "I love you, Mother," she said, lifting her eyes in time to see the goddess fading from sight, but she heard the reply in her heart. And I love you, my Child - more than you will ever know.
The spell broken, the women looked around at each other. Melys arose, the others following and opened the circle.
"What the hell just happened?" asked Janice, she and Melinda approaching Melys as the others began preparing some food and helping Kate and Natalie to set up a campsite just outside the sacred circle. "Did that ... apparition ... or whatever, say that we had to go? Why in the hell did we lug all that sh- uh, stuff here in the first place?"
Melys merely looked pleading at the archaeologist, who stomped angrily off, looking for a match to light her cigar. Melinda looked at Melys and smiled.
"That was her, wasnt it? The goddess of the Amazons?" she said, quietly.
"Yes, it was," said Melys looking worriedly after Janice.
"Dont worry about her, Honey - shell go off and smoke that thing and then come back feelin a whole lot better," said Melinda.
"And stinking to high heaven," said Natalie, approaching the women. "Whats going on, Aunt Mel? Was there some kind of hallucinogen in that fire? I didnt smell anything, but - "
"Natalie, cant you just take anything on simple faith?" said Kate coming up to the group, her eyes shining. "What, everyone in the group had the same hallucination?"
"Whatever Melys was chanting could have been subliminal, in conjunction with a drug to induce suggestibility, yes, its possible," said Natalie, defensively.
"Oh, for crying out loud, Natalie - you are hopeless!" cried Kate, walking off with her cousin to continue their "debate" elsewhere.
I certainly hope not, thought Melys, watching them retreat even as their voices raised in volume. Melinda shook her head and turned from watching them to watching Melys. The priestess was tense, biting her lip at Kates parting words.
"Janice isnt goin to be the one to rescue Aphrodite, is she?" asked Melinda, gently. Melys turned, startled.
"No," she said, quietly. Melinda looked worried for a brief moment, then spoke very softly.
"Ares and Aphrodite are your brother and sister - youre Zeuss daughter?" she asked.
"One of many," Melys said with a wry chuckle.
"Then I wont worry," said Melinda, putting one arm around Melyss shoulders and pulling her in for a hug.
Melys smiled. "Thank you," she said. "I needed that - more than you know."
Nick Martino surveyed the dig site from his tent. It was hot and sticky, but his men stood by in their designer suits, enduring the discomfort. Nick looked up from the paper he was writing on and saw them perspiring profusely, one of them, Andy was already looking burned in the sun. Nick called them into the tent and had them change into the clothes he had purchased for them in the village just outside the site. Nick himself was cool and relatively comfortable in linen. It wouldnt do him any good to kill his men here - one of the reasons Nick inspired such loyalty was that he was known for taking care of his people. Andy and Macks job was to protect him; they couldnt do that if they were suffering heat exhaustion. Nick decided they had been intimidating enough for the time being.
His thoughts drifted back to the Covingtons. He had copies of Janices original journal, describing her discoveries in this place. They were deceptive, though. Dr. Covington had determined that her original assessment of the historical value of this site, which she originally thought to be the ancient town of Amphipolis, was erroneous. She had written that she was mistaken and that she had found no artefacts of any historical or cultural value.
"So why blow it up?" Nick mused aloud.
"Boss?" said Mack, looking up from something he was examining in his hands.
"What have you got there, Mack?" asked Nick.
"Aw, just this piece of clay - I wanted to take it home as a souvenir - the workers said it wasnt valuable and I could have it - is that okay, Mr. Martino?" said Mack.
"Let me see it, Mack," said Nick. Mack handed him the shard. Nick looked closely at it and privately agreed with the workers. "Sure, Mack, you can keep it."
"I dont see how they can think it isnt valuable," said Mack, taking back his shard, his face like a happy little boy who has just found a "treasure", valuable only to him. "I mean, someone a long, long time ago took the trouble to make the thing that this was once a part of - someone from olden times, with a name and maybe even a family, held this. Dont they want to know about that someone?" Mack scratched his head and continued to gaze at the shard.
"Of course they do, Mack," said Nick, good-naturedly. "Thats why theyre here - maybe they just cant find out about those things from that particular piece and thats why it isnt valuable to them."
"Yeah, maybe - but to own something like this, to be able to touch it with my hands, and know that someone a long time ago touched it, too - thats pretty special, isnt it Sir?" asked Mack, earnestly.
"To you and me, maybe, Mack, but these people need more, I guess," said Nick, going back to Janices journal.
Why did she blow it up? he thought to himself. Janice was one of those people who would have thought the piece of pottery worthless in the greater scheme of finding something bigger. Melinda, now, she would have treasured that bit of clay just as Mack apparently did and for much the same reasons. Nick himself was known to cast aside things of lesser worth in pursuit of greater things - and greater profits.
His mind wandered to Natalie. She was not a cast off. She had dumped Nick, an experience he wasnt accustomed to and certainly didnt want to repeat. It was all that Kleinman kids fault, Nick believed. Ted Kleinman was a goofy, nerdish boy. Nick had to put him in his place more than once. The last time was the trigger for Natalie to dump him. Nick had believed that Natalie only befriended the kid, who was a few years younger than they, out of family loyalty - their grand-parents were close and had been for years. It was only after Nick put Ted in the hospital that he realised Natalie genuinely cared for the boy - in a purely platonic, fraternal way, of course. She never did see the adoration in those blue eyes, hidden behind coke-bottle glasses as they followed her every move.
Even if she had, it wouldnt have mattered to Natalie. She was focussed on her studies - until Nick came along and seduced her, that is. It hadnt been an easy conquest, but Nick was all the more aware of the sweetness of his victory for that fact. He had courted her and finally won. What Nick hadnt realised - or planned for - was that he fell for her - and fell hard and fast. He still loved her. In fact, she was the reason Nick had begun to acquire more legitimate enterprises for the organisation. He planned to get out and then go back and try to re-win Natalies affections. He had paid for Teds medical bills of his own volition and had apologised - in public, no less - to Ted. He had even tried to befriend him, despite his annoying habit of making a song out of everything he did.
Ted was full of stories about some heroic ancestor of his. He even hinted that he had proof of this Jerksters - or whatever the name had been - existence, but would reveal nothing more, saying it wasnt yet the time to share his discoveries. Then, after he graduated from the Universitys Film school, he went public with the Scrolls and what followed was that "Show". Nick watched a few episodes and was hooked - the eye candy was irresistible to him, but more than that, something about the whole thing drew him in. He was discrete about this obsession, of course, for he was on his way up in the organisation. It wouldnt do for his superiors to suspect that he was a "fan" of anything, especially a campy television show with scantily-clad women doing impossible acrobatics.
At any rate, Nick kept his interest in perspective. This was the first time he had followed a hunch this wild. He still wasnt certain what the outcome would be, but he was long overdue for a little personal time and .... suddenly, his cell phone rang, startling him. Nick had no idea who would be calling him here, but he answered anyway.
"Hello?" said Nick.
"Dominick, Dominick, Dominick," the familiar voice said, with a disappointed sigh. "I told you, did I not, to forget about this?"
"Not in so many words," said Nick, sweating even more profusely.
"True," said the voice, then a chuckle. "Well, since youre here, I have a job for you. And this time, Nick, do not disappoint me."
"No," said Nick. "I wont. What do you want me to do?"
"I need for you to go to where theyre digging. Theyre about to break through to the tomb. Theres something I need for you to get there for me," said the voice.
"What is it?" asked Nick.
"Youll know when you see it," said the voice. "Get it and then get the Tartarus out of there. And Nick, dont show up empty-handed. And do not send in one of those idiots you use for bodyguards. You get it yourself. I will meet you later to ... ah, retrieve the object."
"I understand," said Nick and the connection went dead. He arose from his chair, signalling his men to remain. Nick wandered with studied casualness over to the site where workers were digging. Suddenly, there was a shout and the foreman rushed over. They had broken through the debris created by Janice Covingtons destruction and by time itself. Nick approached more quickly and started down the shaft. The foreman, stopped him with a hand on his chest.
"Mr. Martino, please - it is not yet safe. We have to shore up the shaft and - " he began. One look from Nick and the man dropped his hand and stepped aside. Nick grabbed a flashlight and entered the shaft, ordering everyone to stay back.
He flipped the torch on and began to walk, cautiously evading piles of rubble. It seemed hours before he reached the centre of the cavern. Then his light flickered and went out. Cursing, Nick slapped the torch against his thigh, but to no avail. All of a sudden, torches flared in their sconces along the passageway where Nick stood, trying to get his light to come back on. Nick shook his head, pondering the wisdom of going on. The memory of the voice, however, was motivation enough. He walked through the passageway until it opened up into a broad chamber. There, Nick could still see evidence of a fight. Two swords lay on the dusty stone floor and Nick reached down to pick one of them up, thinking they must be what his employer wanted - until his eyes caught another sort of gleam.
"Nah, it couldnt be," Nick whispered to himself, then went over to the object. In disbelief, he picked up what appeared to be Xenas chakram, only it was broken. Tucking the half he had located into his shirt, he began to make his way back in the direction from which he had come, then thought twice - if one piece of this was still here, then it followed that the other would be, too - and Nick didnt want to disappoint that voice. He wandered around a bit longer, finally spying the other half beneath a large metallic ornament of some kind.
Nick tried to lift the ornament, but it was too heavy. No way was he going to leave this tomb without the other half of the chakram, though. He looked around then grabbed up one the discarded swords to lever the thing off of his prize. He managed to slide the sword under the thing, but when he started to lift it, the blade snapped - cut through by an edge of the ornament. Cursing, he leaned forward, trying to get a better look. Suddenly, the metal inside his shirt grew uncomfortably warm, then burning hot. Nick jumped back as the piece of chakram against his chest began to vibrate. The piece under the heavy ornament began to shudder, then slide of its own volition out from under the thing, screeching and grating as it went. All of a sudden, it flew up from the floor, straight at Nick. Moving quickly and using reflexes he hadnt even known he had, Nick put up his hand and caught the other half of the chakram before it flew into him.
Nick looked around for something to wrap the pieces in. He saw a pair of womens pumps from a more recent age than anything in this place should have been, but little else except dust and rubble. The he spied a tiny piece of burgundy-coloured linen. It would have to do, he decided, picking it up and wrapping the half of chakram he held in his hand.
"As long as I keep them from making contact," he said to himself, then tucked the wrapped piece into his trousers, arranging his light jacket so that the bulges in his clothing were hidden.
Nick walked back through the passageway towards the opening of the tomb. The torches went out and his flashlight came back on. Nick shook his head, deciding he would think about that later, then emerged from the tomb, carefully arranging his face into mien of disappointment. The foreman greeted him eagerly.
"Mr. Martino, did you see anything?" he asked.
"Nope - sorry, fellas, but Dr. Covington was right - anything that mightve been there is gone. Just a lot of dust," he said. The foremans face fell.
"Very well," he said. "We will stop for today." He signalled his workers and they all began to walk away, dejected.
"Ill be off, then, too," said Nick, trying not to sound too eager. "No point in my hanging around with nothing to see."
Nick went to his tent and got his men to take everything down. Even though he was eager to be out of the place, Nick didnt want to raise suspicion by just leaving the expensive gear behind. Soon, the men had everything packed up. Nick waved at the foreman as they drove off.
"Where to, Sir?" asked Andy, who was driving.
"Anywhere fast," said Nick, settling back in the back seat. The chakram dug painfully into his skin, but he wasnt about to take it out just yet; they were still too close to official eyes. He could wait, he decided.
Melinda had taken the wheel of the Land Rover. Janice sat beside her, head back, eyes closed while Natalie sat behind her gently massaging her grandmothers temples. Melys sat beside Natalie, looking on with concern. Janice Covington had lived hard and fast and for a lot of years. Her body was tired, but the fiery spirit and pure-d stubbornness with which she had lived those years wasnt finished yet.
Tai had essentially warned her to conserve her limited reserve of power. Though the ritual on the island had raised some power, it was small compared to what Melys had at her disposal in her own time and place. Still, she could not resist the instinctive impulse to rest her hand on the archaeologists shoulder for a brief time, lending what aid she could to the battle against time. Janice smiled, then slipped into a light but restful doze.
Suddenly Melinda grew pale and began to tremble. She pulled of to the side of the road, parked and put her head in her hands for a moment.
"Mel, are you alright?" said Janice, instantly awake and alert.
"Yes," said Melinda, raising her head again. "I just felt ... somethin strange for a minute there. Im alright now."
Melys felt it, too; a familiar displacement in the air. Wordlessly, she got out of the Rover and made her way to a clump of trees by the side of the road. There, out of sight of those in the car, she looked around.
"Ares?" she called. The god appeared, a wry grin on his face.
"Hey, Sis," he said, folding his arms across his chest. "Long time no see - whats it been? Couple of millennia?"
"Try a few days, Ares," said Melys.
"Oh, yeah - for you maybe," said Ares, laughing bitterly. "For me its been an eternity - first, trapped in that damn tomb, and now exiled from Olympus."
"Ares, Im sorry - " Melys began.
"Too little too late!" Ares yelled, pointing at her. A bolt of fire flew from his finger tips and the priestess was forced to expend precious power to deflect it.
"Ares, listen to me," said Melys, holding out her hands in a warding gesture.
"And let you cast your spells on me again? Oh, no - I dont think so," said Ares, his eyes literally flaming.
"What spells?" said Melys.
"Your emasculating, be a good little god, now spells," Ares spat, advancing on her. "Im back and Im baaaaad ... and I like it! Aphrodite stays where she cant interfere with me ever again."
Melys sighed sadly. "Very well, Ares," she said and turned to walk away. "Then I guess there is nothing more I can say to you."
"Wait, wait," said Ares, taking a step towards her. "Thats it? Just like that, you give up?"
"Oh, no," said Melys turning to face him again, a slow cold smile creeping over her lips, but falling far short of her eyes. "Im not giving up. Youve made your decision for whatever reason; and I have made mine. Obviously, we are on opposing sides."
"We dont have to be," said Ares smiling, slyly.
"I think we do, Ares," said Melys, sadly.
"Your choice, Lys," said Ares with a shrug.
"And yours, Ares," said Melys, pointedly. "Just ... what made you go back?"
"Oh, I dunno - couple thousand years trapped in a tomb?" said Ares, oozing sarcasm. "Gives a guy time to think."
"About what?" asked Melys.
"About family, responsibility - you know, all that crap you preached to me, made me believe in - before you walked away from all that, turned your back on it all and left the rest of us hanging for Chaos," said Ares, darkly.
"I did not!" cried Melys
"You refused godhood - you refused the responsibility of leading the rest of the gods of Olympus and because of that Chaos took over and Aphrodite got locked up," said Ares. "You with your sanctimonious words and your superior attitude - your family isnt good enough to identify or associate with. What, is it because of Zeus? Because youre an Amazon and Amazons dont count the father or his kin as family? You denied your own family."
"At least I never betrayed them." The pinprick of truth in Aress words jabbed painfully into the priestesss conscience and the words, delivered in a low, neutral tone from behind the icy wall Melys erected around her heart at that pain, were instantly regretted. It was not her way to be deliberately cruel, or to bring up her brothers past misdeeds. In her youth, she had lashed out when angry or hurt - always calmly, always her demeanour was cold and stony when she delivered the cutting words; but she had outgrown that - hadnt she?
"Oh, going to be like that, huh? Well, which betrayal are we talking about here? Was it when I let Xena kill the other gods by letting her daughter and best friend live - giving up my own immortality in the process? Or was it when I let Xena live after she killed them?" said Ares.
"Actually, it was when you sold out the family you talk so highly of to Dahak," said Melys. What was the matter with her? Its too much, she thought, trying to temper her words and failing.
Seeing the foundation of everything she and her foremothers had built, all the hopes and dreams for the future of the Amazon Nation crumbled away to forgotten dust under the sliding sands of time and having Ares all but tell her outright that she was responsible for that happening was more than she could take. She closed her eyes and willed herself to inward calm. Her head was throbbing under the strain, but she could afford to show no weakness to Ares.
"Ah," he said, quietly. "That one." Melys looked into his eyes and saw the pain she had caused him, but still she held her ground.
"Yes, that one - if you want to lay blame, Ares, you need look no further than the mirror," she said, firmly. "You sired Anaxilea with Hope - she released Dahak again, and it was Dahak who sent me here - after he couldnt kill me, that is."
Ares looked at his sister. He saw the throbbing vein in her temple and remembered her headaches. He knew that sign meant that the headache was well under way and she was in a lot of pain now, but she wasnt showing it. His respect for her returned slightly. He mused over her words for a few moments, then laughed.
"Good point," he said. "Okay, cut me some slack, alright? Its been a few days for you, yeah, but Ive had a hell of a lot longer to stew about things. The truth is, while I believe that if you had been in charge, that tomb thing would have never happened, theres no guarantee you could have stopped them."
"Oh, I will stop them, alright," said Melys, her jaw tightening more against the pain. "I am going home, Ares, and I intend make it so that when this time does come, things are the way they are supposed to be."
"Aw, cmere, Sis," said Ares, holding out his arms to embrace her. Melys went to him, hugging him tightly. Suddenly, she froze as all of her reserved power was drained from her by Ares. He released her, chuckling.
"Sorry, Lys - I meant what I said - I like things the way they are and I cant let you change them," he said. "You are so predictably easy! Love ya, though!" He disappeared in a flash, still chuckling. Melys smiled and twirled a brown leather pouch which she had lifted from Aress belt when she hugged him, then hooked it to her own belt.
"Love you, too, Brother," she said, meaning it, as she made her way back to the car. She was still smiling as she got back into the Land Rover. The others looked at her in silence until she buckled the harness and looked expectantly at Melinda who was still in the drivers seat.
"What was that?" asked Janice.
"Ares decided to make an appearance," said Melys.
"Theres more," said Melinda, quietly. "The chakram has been found."
"How do you know that?" asked Kate.
"I just felt it," said Melinda. Melys nodded in acknowledgement, but Natalie shook her head.
"Oh come on - this ... fantasy has gone too far. Its getting out of hand," she said. "This is ridiculous - Grandma, Aunt Mel, you are both too old to be running around the world like this and Kate - Kate doesnt need this kind of stimulation to her already overactive imagination."
"Natalie shut up!" yelled Kate. "Why cant you just open your mind a little - just a tiny crack? Would it hurt that much?"
"This is ludicrous!" cried Natalie. "Why dont you just step into the real world for a split second and just ... look at this situation?"
"Alright, thats enough!" yelled Janice. "Whats the matter with you two? You both need to grow up and stop bickering with each other."
"Dont talk to me like Im a child!" Kate yelled, glaring at her.
"Then stop acting like one," said Natalie, rolling her eyes.
"Katerina Maria Kiraly Pappas-Covington, you do not speak to your grandmother like that," said Melinda, sternly.
"Youre my grandmother - shes just your lover," said Kate.
That stopped the quarrel cold as Kates mouth dropped open, shocked at her own words. Great tears welled up and began to roll down her cheeks. "I - I - " she began before dissolving into heaving sobs.
"What ... what was that?" asked a contritely quiet Natalie.
"Ares, making his presence known," said Melys with a sigh. "You may believe what you will, Natalie, but the fact of the matter is that Aress influence grows stronger, while Aphrodites is muted by her prison. I just spoke with him - he is determined to keep her locked up so that he can continued to run amok. We have to get to Aphrodite and get her free as soon as possible."
"Well," said Natalie. "We may as well go somewhere rather than just sitting her by the side of this rode. I guess Olympus is as good a place as any."
"How are we going to stop him?" asked Melinda, adjusting her glasses. "Is that why the chakram was found? Will Xena need to ... ah, borrow my body again?"
"I dont know," said Melys, frowning in thought.
"I hope not," Melinda chuckled. "Last time I had aches in muscles I didnt even know I had - and I was young then. She also ruined a perfectly good linen suit and lost my brand new shoes."
"Um, well, Xenas really fit," said Melys, then she blushed. "Not that you werent - or arent, I mean."
"I know whatcha mean," said Melinda, chuckling. "At any rate, if she needs me, well, here I am."
"Lets hope it doesnt come to that," said Janice, looking meaningfully at Natalie. The physician glanced quickly at Melinda, smiled briefly, then looked away. Melys looked on, but said nothing.
"Lets go, then. I -" Janice words were interrupted by Kate, wrapping her arms around her and crying, "Im so sorry, Grams! I didnt mean that - I have never felt that way about you! I love you."
Janice smiled and affectionately patted Kates back. "I know, Monkey," she said. "Its okay - I didnt think that sounded like you. Come on, Mel - Im driving. We need to get to Aphrodite."
With Janice behind the wheel, they made good time and got to their destination within a couple of hours. She pulled up to a hotel and left the Rover in the capable hands of a valet. "Lets go," she said.
They walked to front desk, where Janice produced a credit card. "We need rooms," she said.
The clerk picked up the plastic, eyeing the group warily. "Have you reservations?" she asked.
"No," said Janice. Melinda pulled a card from her bag and presented it to the clerk.
"Here," she said, smiling. "Does this help?"
The woman looked carefully at the card, then smiled widely.
"Oh, yes, Dr. Pappas! Why didnt you say so? Of course, we will have rooms for you - you are doing some work for the University now?"
"We are always working to expand knowledge," said Melinda, smiling as the clerk handed the card back to her.
"This is your crew? They will each need a room?" asked the clerk, turning from them to a computer and typing.
"Nah," said Janice. "They can bunk together - Mel - uh, Dr. Pappas and I will share as well."
"Very well," said the clerk, handing the credit card back to Janice, along with a printout and some hotel key cards. "I will have someone take your luggage for you. It is still in your vehicle, no?" She picked up the phone and spoke rapid Greek as Janice handed her the valet ticket. Melys could barely make out a few of the words. She shook her head, smiling.
"So much change," she said softly.
"I know," said Melinda. "Thats why Janice does most of the talkin - I find myself slippin more easily into the older dialects and that gets a lot of funny looks, believe me."
Porters arrived shortly to show them to their respective, adjoining rooms. Janice went to the concierge desk to arrange for equipment and a guide up Mt. Olympus. She paid for the rentals and the guide fee, then went up to the suite of rooms. Whistling, she looked around the luxurious suite.
"I told you affiliatin with the University in Thrace might come in handy," said Melinda, smiling.
"Yeah - I shouldve had you hire the stuff for the climb," said Janice, shaking her head. "We cant get a guide until tomorrow morning - unless you already know the way to where were going?" She looked to Melys.
The priestess sighed. "I dont even know where were going yet," she said.
"Okay - what do your divine senses tell you?" asked Janice, arms folded across her chest.
Melys took a deep breath - she hadnt exactly been forthcoming with these women about the extent of her powers - which was all but nil in this time and place - so she wasnt sure she should divulge that Ares had drained her of what divine power she did possess here.
"Well, lets just see," said the priestess, weakly. She went to the desk and produced a black glass ashtray, the pulled a bottle of spring water out of Natalies open pack and poured a small amount into the ashtray. She took another deep breath, and whispered a fervent prayer in Amazonian,
"Please, Great Mother of All, I plead with Thee - show me what I need to know?" She had rarely been successful scrying through water, though she had been taught the technique by Hypsyple, the AemetzainL shamenki at a very young age. Still, without her powers, it was all she had to try. She looked to Kate.
"Kate, I need you to record what I say - most of the time, I dont remember after this is over," she told her, knowing that author would have paper and a writing implement handy. Sure enough, Kate pulled out a pencil and small notebook, nodding to the priestess that she was ready to go.
Melys allowed herself to slip into a light trance. Thank the Goddess for priestess training, she thought. At least I can still do this part - whoa!
Suddenly the water began to swirl before her eyes and the trance deepened without her willing it to do so. Xenas face floated to the surface. The warrior opened her eyes and smiled.
"Xena!" said Melys.
"Yes - theres not much time, Lys. Ares has grown steadily more unstable without Aphrodites powers to check him," said Xena. "This has happened before, only to Aphrodite. Thank the gods Caligulas no longer around."
"I dont understand, Xena," said the priestess.
"Never mind - listen, you have to get to Aphrodite - now," said the warrior.
"Xena, I have no powers here," said Melys, sadly.
"How did that happen?" asked the warrior.
"Ares ... well, I didnt have much to begin with and what little I did have Ares sort of sucked out of me," said Melys.
"Damn! That complicates things," said Xena. "Youll have to climb the mountain, then."
"Yes - Janice hired a guide for tomorrow morning," said Melys.
"You cant wait that long, Lys," said Xena, shaking her head. "Youll have to lead them up that mountain."
"Xena, I have never climbed a mountain in my life!" said Melys. "Any mountain. Ive never had to."
"I know - and I cant even help you because ... I dont dare borrow Melinda for something so strenuous," said Xena.
"I know," said Melys. "What about Kate? Shes your descendant, too."
"I suppose I could try," said Xena, musing. "She has a thing for you, though."
"What does that have to do with anything?" asked Melys, frowning through the trance.
"Nothing - I just wanted to bring it to your attention - you might want to let her know her great-great - ad infinitum grandmother was our daughter," chuckled Xena. "That ought to cool her off."
"Natalie will have to release Aphrodite," said Melys, ignoring Xenas last comment.
"I know," said Xena. "Do you think you can convince her before its too late?"
"I have to," said Melys, with a shrug.
"Its going to be a toughie without your powers - she has to see, feel, taste, hear, and smell something before shell acknowledge its real," said Xena.
"Oh, like someone else I know," said Melys, smiling affectionately at the warrior.
"Who, Ryn? I know - Ive been working on her to - " began the warrior.
"Oh, hush!" said Melys, laughing. Then she grew serious, her eyes welling with tears, blurring the vision. "Xena, I miss you."
"I miss you, too, Love," said Xena. "Remember - you have no time to lose - youll have to work on Natalie on your way up the mountain."
"I will," said Melys, as one tear fell from her, landing in the scrying water, and Xena was gone. With a sigh, Melys arose from the trance and looked at the others. They sat around, looking at her expectantly.
"Well?" said Janice.
"We have to climb today - right now," said Melys. "Theres no time left to wait."
Janice muttered a curse and started back down to the concierges desk.
"Just like that?" said Natalie, her arms folded across her chest, glaring at Melys. "What were you in your own time, some kind of dictator?"
"Natalie!" cried Kate.
"Well?" asked Natalie, fixing her gaze on Melys. "What is it about you that makes them jump to your every whim and demand?"
"Natalie, enough," said Melinda, softly.
"No, Aunt Mel - I really want to know - what is it about her that makes you do whatever she says - no matter what the cost?" asked Natalie, tears starting to form in her sea-green eyes. "This hike could kill you, you know."
"Natalie, Aunt Mel is probably in better shape than you or I," said Kate, impatiently.
"No, Katie, she isnt," said Natalie.
"Natalie, that is enough," said Melinda, warningly.
"No, she needs to know - Aunt Mel has a bad heart," said Natalie. "Thats the only reason I agreed to come on this stupid trip - because she and Grandma were going regardless and all because of her. So, what is it? What makes them believe in you so totally that they would agree to what is essentially a suicide mission?"
"Aunt Mel?" said Kate, her voice quiet. "Is it true?"
"I just have a stray flutter now and then, Katie," said Melinda. "Nothing for you to worry about."
"Its a lot more serious than that," said Natalie.
"Natalie, youve said quite enough - its my choice," said Melinda, sternly.
"So, what, priestess? If Aunt Mel collapses on the slopes - as is quite probable when we get to some altitude - are you going to resurrect her?" asked Natalie. "Why do they believe you?" The last was an anguished cry.
"Why dont you?" asked Melys, her voice soft, but clear and strong.
"I want to," said Natalie, looking away, her voice barely above a whisper. "Why is it so easy for them? All my life, the scrolls, Xena and Gabrielle, the Amazons - they had all of those things, but I ... didnt. They had belief in those and joy and conviction in their belief. All I had was dust and clay and ... pieces of pottery that didnt fit together. And I had them, Grams, Aunt Mel, and Kate."
"And to lose any of them would hurt, wouldnt it, Natalie?" said Melys, gently.
"What do you think?" asked Natalie, frowning and brushing away her tears with an angry fist.
"Natalie, were going to climb the mountain," said Melys. "I hope and pray that you will join us because I think you will finally find what youre looking for up there."
"Im going - of course," said Natalie, resigned. "But dont get your hopes too high. I dont think Im gullible enough to fall for your ... whatever it is. Been there done that. I learned the first time."
In a flash of insight, Melys realised she was speaking of Nick Martino. "Thats another reason, Natalie - I think hes already started up the mountain. With Xenas chakram," said Melys.
"Thats not - how did you ... you read my mind?" said the physician.
"Not exactly," said Melys.
Natalie looked at her doubtfully for a moment. "If thats the case, then you should know I really dont want to see him - ever," she said.
"Then lets hope Im wrong," said Melys. Janice returned at that moment.
"Okay, we got the equipment and transportation as far as it goes to Olympus," said the archaeologist. "This is going to be a very expensive lark if things dont pan out."
"They will," said Melys, her eyes gazing off into the distance. "One way or another, Im going home."
They took the hotel shuttle - a charter trip which had cost, according to Janice - five times as much as it would have had they waited until morning - to the ferry which would take them to Litochoro, a village at the foot of Mt. Olympus where Janice was hoping to find a guide to take them ... wherever it was they were going. She eyed Melinda with concern, wishing she had the guts to order her to stay behind with Natalie and wait for them Litochoro. With a sigh, Janice realised that she would rather face Zeus and the rest of the Olympians than Melinda after ordering the translator to do anything.
They arrived at mid-day and Janice was frustrated to learn that no guide was willing to take them up this late in the day. Melys merely grabbed a pack and some equipment and started up the trail, leaving the others to follow. Kate came running up after her first, then Melinda, Janice and finally Natalie. The trails were well-marked, but the priestess had a feeling that their still-unknown destination would not be at the end of any of these well-worn trails. Melys stopped, waiting for the others to catch up.
"Come on," she told them, gazing up ahead. "If we follow this trail, we should be able to make the Muses Plateau by nightfall."
"Okay," said Janice, relieved. "Theres a climbers refuge there. We can spend the night, catch a meal and maybe meet some other climbers who can sort of guide us the rest of the way."
Melys looked at her, one eyebrow raised, then smiled. "Where were going, Janice?" she said. "Well be lucky if were allowed to arrive there."
"What do you mean?" asked Natalie.
"Ares is out to stop us," said the priestess. "I know my brother - he will stop at nothing to keep us from releasing Aphrodite."
"Your bro- ...," began Janice, eyes wide. "Aw shi-, um crap, it figures! Youre Zeuss kid!"
"Just one of many," said Melys, wincing at her slip. "And I do mean, many."
"Yeah? So one of those many was Hercules," said Janice, grinning at her.
"Yes, and I sure wouldnt mind him showing up about now, either," said Melys, gazing at the trail ahead.
"So, why dont you call him - or better yet, just ... zap up there, or something?" asked Janice.
"Because in this time and place, I have no god powers," said Melys, patiently. "What I did have, Ares took from me back by the side of the road. All I have is what we all have and the training to know how to use it. Now come on - the sooner we get moving, the sooner well get where were going."
They began hiking again. This was by far the easiest trail on the mountain, little more than a walk uphill. Melys remained focussed upon the trail ahead, but she was very aware of Melinda just behind her. She dropped back a bit to walk beside the older woman.
"Melinda, I need your help," she said softly so that only the two of them could hear. Melinda nodded, expectantly. "I need you to keep Janice at the shelter tonight. I have to take the girls up there - alone."
"I understand," said Melinda, disappointed. "I was really hopin to meet Aphrodite ... but you know what youre doin, dont you?"
"I hope so," said Melys.
They made to the shelter just after sunset. Janice was grateful to see that they made it just in time to take the remaining beds available. They settled in and sat down to a hot meal before retiring.
Just then, the door burst open and there stood Nick Martino and his guards.
"Im sorry, Sir, the shelter is full," said one of the attendants.
"Make room," said Nick, smiling. His guards pulled out guns. "Now."
"Aw for crying out loud, Nick," said Janice, rising. "Take our camping equipment. Come on, dont make trouble."
"I am trouble," said Nick. "What are you doing here, Dr. Covington - and Natalie? Whats going on?"
"Were on holiday?" said Kate.
"Yeah, right," said Nick, his eyes narrowing. He grabbed Melinda and held a gun to her head. "Whats going on here? You dont expect me to believe that youre climbing Olympus for fun - at your age?"
"How rude!" said Melinda, stomping on Nicks foot and elbowing him in the groin. He dropped the gun and released her. Melinda quickly scooped up the pistol and held it on Nick, then she chuckled. "Nick, you had no intention of shootin me - the safetys still on." The guards looked at him, surprised. Their boss was going soft. Nick glared at Melinda.
"I cant get information from a dead woman, now can I?" he said, thinking fast. The guards looked relieved.
"Theres no information to get," said Melys, softly.
"Oh, I doubt that very much," said Nick, gazing at her. "Especially where youre concerned. Ill bet youve got a lot of information I would find ... useful."
"God damn it, Nick - leave us alone, cant you?" cried Natalie, angrily. She was surprised at the pang she felt when he used that voice to Melys. Swiftly, she put it out of her mind - Nick was no damn good for her, he never had been and he never would be.
"Okay, now just wait a minute," said Melinda, emptying the clip of the pistol and handing it back to Nick without the bullets. "You boys put those things away now." She nodded to the guards and Nick sighed, signalling them to do as she asked. "I have an idea - why dont we play for the beds?" She produced a deck of cards from her purse and winked.
Janice grinned eagerly. "Hey, Im in - winner sleeps inside, loser camps - come on, Nick. You got the ba-
Nick raised one eyebrow, then grinned back. "Deal," he said, sitting at the table with Janice and Melinda. He looked at Melys. "You in?"
"No," said Melys, smiling. "That would hardly be fair."
"Yeah, I got a feeling you arent kidding," said Nick, turning his attention to the game. "I want more than just a bed though - I want information."
"Fair enough - I want something you have, too, Nick," said Janice. "I have reason to believe you may have a certain ... artefact."
Nick looked shocked for a split second, then grinned, shaking his head. He looked back at Melys and winked. "Wonder how you figured that one out, Janice." He signalled to his men who brought his pack to him. Nick reached in and pulled out half of the chakram, still wrapped in the burgundy linen.
"Hey, I remember that suit!" said Melinda. She started to reach out to touch the fabric, but Janice stopped her with a gentle hand on her arm.
"Remember last time, Mel," she said, softly.
"Oh, thats right," said Melinda, smiling and pulling her hand back.
"Wheres the rest of it?" asked Melys, frowning.
Nick sighed and pulled out the other half, setting it some distance from the first, but still well within his reach.
"Alright - here are the stakes," said Janice, lighting up a fresh cigar and squinting through the smoke. Nick reached for the pack, and raised one eyebrow. Janice grinned and nodded her assent. Nick withdrew a cigar and Janice lit it for him. "Winner takes the chakram and beds down here for the night."
"Okay, but if I win, I also want to know what youre doing here - and what she -" Nick nodded once towards Melys. "Has to do with all this."
Janice sighed. "Youre not gonna make it easy, are ya Nick?"
"Hell, no!" He laughed. "If theres one thing Ive learned about you, Dr. Covington, its that everything you do has profit potential. Must get that from your old man."
Natalie scowled and started to speak, but Janice laughed. "Thats not the only thing I got from him," she said, shuffling and cutting the deck in a rapid and impressive pattern of moves. She slapped the deck down in front of Nick. He looked up at her expectantly. "You still havent agreed to my terms."
"Yeah, okay," said Janice, reluctantly. "On one condition - if we find any scrolls, theyre mine - uh, ours, Mels and mine, I mean."
"This is about the scrolls?" said Nick, incredulous. "Again? I thought theyd all been found and translated already."
"Nah," said Janice, waving away some smoke. "You think Kleinman found all the scrolls? He had some copies - Im talking about the mother lode of scrolls - the originals, all written in Gabrielles own hand."
Nick looked dumbfounded for a moment, then threw back his head and laughed. "Do you have any idea how many people follow that TV show? Its almost a ... religion, for crying out loud. And its based on fake scrolls?"
Janice looked annoyed for a moment. "They werent exactly fakes - they were just copies," said Janice. "I have no reason to believe that some - maybe even most - of the stories in them werent true."
"Youll never convince people of that," said Nick, wiping his eyes.
"If I have the chakram, I will," said Janice, gravely. "So what do you say, Nick? Lets get it on." She tapped the deck and Nick cut.
"Five card draw, twos and threes wild," said Janice, dealing. Melinda looked at Melys and nodded once, winking. Melys nodded back and drew Natalie and Kate a little away from the spectators who were watching the players with rapt attention.
"Lets go," she told them, handing each of them their packs before taking her own. Natalie glanced once at her grandmother and former lover engrossed in the game, then back at Melys, a slow smile appearing. The three left the shelter unnoticed and began to make their way up the mountain.
"We have to be very careful," said Melys. "Ares is around somewhere. I can feel him."
"Is he really your brother?" asked Kate.
"Yes," said Melys. "And I love him, but I have to stop him."
"Good luck," said the god of war, materialising before the women, grinning. He held up one hand and produced a cell phone. Flipping it open he spoke, sternly. "Take two and hold, damn it." He snapped it closed again and it disappeared. "Handy little gadgets. Now, Lys, you didnt really believe that I wouldnt notice my stuff missing, did you?" he said holding out his hand.
"No way, Ares," said Melys. "Thats my ticket home. After I free Aphrodite."
"Fine - keep it - theres not much in there, anyway," said Ares with a shrug. "Besides, youre not going to get to Aphrodite."
"You wont stop me, Ares," said Melys.
"What are you going to do, fight me?" Ares laughed. "Snow Leopards are all but extinct - besides you dont have the stuff to bring it out anymore."
"I will fight you if I have to," said Melys. "You know I dont want to, but - "
"No, you never want to fight - thats your problem," said Ares, shaking his head. "I dont understand you, Lys. You know that I can stop you - theres no way you can get past me. Xenas not here to fight your battles and you have no magic here - how do you expect to defeat me?"
Natalie looked at the god in disbelief. "You!" she said. "Youre the one who makes Nick do all that rotten stuff!"
"Yeah, Baby - and youre the one hes trying to mess it all up for," said Ares, glaring at her. "Aphrodite may be locked away, but some of her gooey love crap still manages to get out and it got all over my boy."
"What do you mean?" asked Natalie.
"Well, you dont think all the legitimate business crap came from me, do you?" said Ares. "Just like Draco - the idiots nearly no better than that lovesick twit was when Bliss hit him with the arrow - and leave it to Xena to make Cupid leave it on him." Ares shook his head. "I lost a perfectly good warlord to that mess, let me tell you. Nothing I did could counteract Cupids arrow. To the day he died, Draco was trying to impress Gabrielle with his good deeds. Poor sap didnt even know she wasnt around to hear about them anymore."
"Where was she?" asked Kate, awed by the gods presence.
"Frozen in a cave," said Melys, eyeing her brother.
"Yep," said Ares. "Anyway, Missy, once youre gone, Ill have Nick back in my fold."
"Shes not going anywhere." Ares looked toward the voice and saw Janice and Melinda coming up the trail behind Melys, Natalie, and Kate.
"Game over already?" said Ares with a chuckle. "What a surprise."
"Yeah," said Janice, grinning as she pulled both halves of the chakram out of her pack. "All of a sudden, your boy just folded - he had a royal flush, too - all hearts."
"What?!" Ares roared, his eyes flaming. "I told him to hold!"
"Guess it was a bad connection," said Natalie, smiling smugly. "That can happen in the mountains, you know."
"Quick, Grams! Put the chakram together and call Xena!" said Kate. "Like before - you know, in Macedonia."
"That wont work," said Melys, taking both halves and fitting them together. "This isnt Xenas chakram. Its Ryns. And Ares, I really dont want to know how it got in that tomb - and broken."
"What? Not Xenas - Oh, my!" said Melinda. Suddenly the translator grew pale and clutched at her chest. She fell to the ground and Natalie rushed to her, frantically searching for a heartbeat. With an agonised cry, she began CPR on the older woman while the others watched, tensely. Kate grabbed Natalies cell phone and tried to call for help.
"Its no good - the phone wont work here!" she cried.
"Ares, did you ...?" asked Melys.
"Uh, uh - no way - not this time, Lys," said the god, raising both hands in the air.
Janice knelt beside her and caressed Melindas face, tenderly, then stopped Natalies life-saving attempt.
"Let her go, Nat," said Janice, quietly, tears welling up in her sea-green eyes and spilling over her cheeks.
"No, I cant," said Natalie, shaking her head, but stopping. She looked up at Melys and Ares.
"Nothing ever changes here, does it?" she said. "You gods have been all but forgotten for centuries and still you manage to play with mortals lives - are you happy now? Are you god damn happy, you ... you ..." Overwhelmed, Natalie sat down beside Melindas body and wept bitterly. All of a sudden, Nick ran up to her, wrapping his arms around her heaving shoulders.
"Come on, Nat," he said, gently.
"No!" cried Natalie, but she did not move from his embrace. Kate, too, knelt beside her grandmother, weeping silently, then she looked up at Melys.
"Can you ... either of you ... do anything for her? Please?" she pleaded.
Ares shook his head. "No way - last time I did that ... no, I cant," he said, backing off from the scene.
Melys looked on, her face betraying nothing of her feelings. Then she pulled the pouch she had taken from Aress belt out of her pack and approached Melinda. Ares grabbed her arm.
"Are you crazy?" he said. "You said yourself, thats your ticket home. Listen, Lys, I have an idea - you eat that, you get your powers back. You go back to your own time and prevent the other gods from locking us up and none of this will have to happen."
"Nice try, Ares," said the priestess. "But thats not the way this works. The only way I can get home is to release Aphrodite in this time and you said yourself you will never let that happen."
"Maybe I lied," said Ares.
"No," said Melys. "You can deceive and you can manipulate, but even you cant break an oath youve made. You will never let me get to Aphrodite. Even if you have to kill me to prevent it. You win, Ares. I cant beat you. But I can make choices that I can live with, even if I have to live with them in this time and place."
"Lys, I never figured you for stupid," said Ares, angrily. "Come on - shes old - how much time do you think youre buying for her, anyway? A few days, months, maybe? Whatever happened to I cant interfere even if I wanted to? What a waste of perfectly good ambrosia."
"Ares, if Aphrodite were free and your mind clear again, you would remember that life is never a waste," said Melys pulling free of him and kneeling beside Melinda. She pulled the crumb of ambrosia from the pouch and looked at it doubtfully. Ares wasnt kidding when he said it wasnt much, she thought, then slipped it into Melindas slightly open lips. She sat back and waited.
"Nitroglycerin wont work now," said Natalie.
"Its not nitro - whatever you said," said Melys, quietly, even as she silently prayed.
"What is it?" asked Kate, looking hopeful through her tears. Janice looked in wonder at the priestess.
"Food of the gods?" she whispered.
Melys nodded once, still gazing at Melinda. Suddenly, the older woman, gasped and her eyes fluttered open. Natalie looked, wide-eyed, then laid her head on Melindas chest. She looked up at Melys, her face unreadable.
"Thats not possible," she said, her voice wavering a bit. "She was dead. Im a physician and I know it wasnt a mistake. She was dead, irretrieveably dead."
Melys smiled a little sadly. "Where I come from, dead doesnt have to be permanent."
"You ... you really are ..." said Natalie, shaking her head and rubbing her eyes to looke more closely at Melys. She rose, leaving Nicks arms and approached Melys as Kate and Janice helped Melinda to her feet.
Ares looked at Nick and growled. "You! You nitwit - I told you to draw two and hold - not fold," he said. Nicks eyes widened, then he straightened his shoulders. "I know," he said, shrugging. "What can I say? I have a thing for her." He smiled at Natalie, who turned and smiled back, hesitantly at first, then wider.
Ares looked stunned for a moment, then shook his head. "Damn! DŽja vj, all over again - cant help but appreciate the irony. Hope you have better luck with that line than I did," he said. "Well, I guess my work here is done - without the ambrosia, there is no way youre going to find Aphrodite now - and I didnt even have to kill you. Good luck in the twenty-first century, Sis." The god disappeared in a flash.
"Melys, Im sorry," said Natalie, offering her hand to the priestess, who took it warmly. Natalie felt a warmth filling her from the touch of the priestesss hand. "I shouldnt have said ..."
"Dont worry about it," said Melys, smiling kindly.
"What you did ... what you sacrificed ... I have never seen anyone - " said Natalie.
"I am an Amazon, Natalie," said Melys, quietly. "Thats what we do."
"Still, Id like to make it right somehow," said Natalie. "I wish I could help you get home."
Melyss smile widened. "Well, actually, you can," she said. "Melinda, I need your eyes."
Melinda chuckled. "Well, my eyes have never been what youd call exactly efficient, but Ill do what I can," she said, adjusting her glasses.
"Your eyes are exactly efficient for what we need now. We need immortal eyes to see Aphrodites prison," said Melys. "I was going to take the ambrosia and then I would have been able to see ... but you escaped mortality - death. You will be able what the rest of us cannot, with our mortal eyes."
"You need a descendant of Gabrielle to open it," said Janice.
"Yes," said Melys, cautiously. "But ... "
"But what?" said Janice, suspiciously.
"Nothing," said Melys, turining towards the trail. Though she had foreseen that it was to be Natalie to open the door, she hadnt seen the circumstances. She took a deep breath and prayed silently, hoping for the best. She was fresh out of ambrosia.
"So, where do I look?" asked Melinda as they started up the trail. Nick lagged behind, talking quietly with Natalie while Kate forged ahead, holding the flashlight.
"I wish I knew," said Melys. "But I know shes nearby - I can feel her. And just look at those two." She nooded back towards Nick and Natalie, smiling.
The group topped a hill and Melinda cried out, pointing. "There!" Melys saw a slight depression in the side of the mountain wall. Unfortunately, the path was straight up and it was dark. Suddenly, they heard a muttered curse. Turning quickly, Melys saw Janice, sitting on the ground, clutching her ankle. She had tripped over a rock in the dark.
"Damn, damn, triple damn!" yelled the archaeologist, as Natalie declared her ankle was broken. Natalie splinted it and put a chemical cold pack from the first aid kit on it.
"Guess Ill have to wait here," said the archaeologist, glumly. "Did you know this was gonna happen?"
Melys shook her head, sympathetically, but secretly was relieved. "Melinda, Kate - you stay with Janice. Natalie and I will go up and check it out."
"Im going, too," said Nick, eyeing the climb warily.
"Actually, Nick, would you mind terribly waiting here with them?" asked Natalie, smiling at him. "Just in case Ares comes back."
"Oh, yeah, sure," said Nick, doubtfully, though secretly, he was relieved; that climb looked dangerous enough without doing it in the dark and while Nick believed that Natalie was somehow immune to the danger, he wasnt at all sure about his own chances - especially since he now suspected that his "patron god" had deserted him.
The two began their ascent carefully while the others all trained powerful torches on the wall of the mountain they were climbing. It helped only a little, but it was better than nothing.
"Hang in there, Dite," said Melys softly. "Were on our way."
"You really think she can hear you?" asked Natalie.
"Dont you?" asked Melys with a chuckle.
"Actually, yeah, I do," said Natalie surprised at her own certainty. They made it to the narrow ledge and stopped.
"Now what?" asked Natalie, unhooking the climbing gear and looking all around the depression in the rock wall.
"Im not sure," said Melys, training her own flashlight all around the area. "There should be a lock or something ...."
"How about this?" asked Natalie, brushing her fingers over a group of raised bumps. As she brushed, bright jewels appeared from under the layer of soil. They were too perfect to be raw.
"Yeah, that looks about right," said Melys, training the flashlight on the pattern of gemstones.
"So ... what do I do now?" asked Natalie. "I mean, do I press them like buttons, or ...."
Melys took Natalies hand and placed each finger on a gemstone. Nothing happened. Melys frowned.
Suddenly, Natalie grinned. "Oh, I get it - look!" she scraped away more of the soil and revealed a hand print and more of the gemstones underneath. Placing her hand in the depression, she turned her wrist, moving the entire panel until the gemstones were all lined up, matching.
There was a loud grating noise, matched by shouts and cries of triumph from the observers below and the rock slid back to reveal a very dark cave.
"Aphrodite?" Melys called.
"Is she here?" asked Natalie.
Melys remained silent, moving the flashlight around in the dark cavern. "Aphrodite?"
Suddenly, she stopped the flashlight, training it on an ornate gold sarcophagus. The priestess grinned. "Roccoco - figures," she said, shaking her head. She and Natalie made their way to the casket.
"Shes not ... " said Natalie, swallowing hard.
"Oh, no," said Melys with a chuckle. "Shes not. Come on, Natalie, give me a hand."
Together, the two women pushed the heavy lid off of the casket and Melys shone the bright torch inside.
"Oh, my!" said Natalie, her eyes growing wide. "Oh, gosh - we have to get Grams and Aunt Mel - " Melys stopped her as Natalie began to run to the cave opening. The casket contained nothing but scrolls - at least a hundred of them.
"No, wait," said Melys, training the flashlight further into the cave. There was another lock panel, just like the one at the entrance of this cavern. "Come on."
Melys emptied her pack and then Natalies. The women leaned into the casket and began to lift the scrolls out, filling the packs until they had all of the scrolls in the casket. Then she and Natalie went to the other lock and Natalie fit her hand perfectly into the print, turning it as she had before. The door slid open, this one much quieter than the first had been and the women saw another sarcophagus, this one of plain white marble. Melys tried to push the lid off, but even she and Natalie together couldnt budge it. Melys stood back and looked at it perplexed.
"Now what?" asked Natalie, leaning against the casket. Suddenly the lid moved slightly. Melys smiled.
"Looks like you have to do this one by yourself," said the priestess. Natalie rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Then she hesitated.
"Um, whats the catch?" she asked.
"Catch?" asked Melys.
"Yeah, dont these things have booby traps? I remember once when Grams opened a tomb in Iran ... never mind," she said, shuddering at the memory.
"Have faith," said Melys.
Natalie rolled her eyes. "Im afraid I dont have much experience in that department," said the physician.
"Better start practising," said Melys with a chuckle. Natalie sighed, then squeezed her eyes shut, bracing herself and pushed with all her strength. The lid fell to the stone floor and broke into several pieces. Natalie backed away swiftly as a brilliant pink light shone out from the casket and Aphrodite sat up, stretching.
"Oooh!" she squealed, then smiled. "Melys! Little Sister! I knew youd get me out of here!" Suddenly, the goddess was standing and hugging the priestess tightly.
"I cant take all the credit," said Melys hugging her back, fighting tears. "This is Natalie, Gabrielles descendant. She actually released you."
"Oooh, you precious thing!" said Aphrodite, transferring her affection to Natalie. "I am like, so glad to be out of that thing - you know mean the family was? They put those dumb old scrolls in the pretty box and stuck me in that old thing."
"Im sorry, Aphrodite," said Melys.
"Its not your fault, Lys," said Aphrodite. "You know how the family is - they couldnt wait until you were out of the way to get back at Ares and me."
"For what?" asked Melys.
"We wouldnt call off the search for you - we looked for like, a thousand years and I guess they finally just ... well, it doesnt matter. Were here now."
"Aphrodite, this is the twenty-first century," said Melys, quietly.
"I know, I know," said the goddess. "Believe me, I know just how long I was in that thing - hey, my dress isnt like, wrinkled or anything, is it?" She turned around and tried to look at her own backside.
Melys chuckled and hugged her again. "No, and your butt isnt any bigger, either, despite all the inactivity," she said.
"Whew," said Aphrodite, with a giggle. "Anyway, lets get out of this dreary old place."
"Dite, wait," said Melys. "We have people waiting for us on the path."
"Oh, alright - Ill zap you down there, and then were going to the Great Hall and kick Apollos butt, right?" said Aphrodite. She looked down and pouted, then noticed Natalies shoes. "Nike has shoes named after her? Oooh - like she has any style!" The goddess stamped her foot. "Waitll I get my hands on Apollo - "
"Dite, calm down," said Melys. "Love, remember? Believe me, we need all you can give right now - Ares has been loose for a while."
"Without me?" said Aphrodite, eyes widening. "And theres a world left?"
"Only just," said Natalie.
"Okay," said Aphrodite. "I can already tell I have my work cut out for me, cleaning up after Ares."
"Ares can clean up after himself - once your influence is felt a bit more in the world," said Melys.
"Oooh, you go, Little Sister," said the goddess. "Just waitll Olympus hears - the Queen is back and kickin butt!"
"I didnt know you were into butt-kicking, Aphrodite," said Melys smiling. "You are Queen on Olympus - at least for now. I made Hekate a promise, but ... it is not my time. Not just yet."
"Oh, you mean I get to be like, your regent? Like you Amazons have when the queen has to to do something somehwere?" said Aphrodite, excited.
"Yes, exactly - you and Ares, together," said Melys. Aphrodite pouted a little at that. Then she sighed.
"I guess, if Ive learned anything, we cant be one without the other - everything gets all messed up when that happens, huh?" she said.
"Im afraid so, Dite - there has to be the balance," said Melys. "But - you do have my blessing to kick Apollos butt when you see him."
"Aw, by then, youll be back in your time and there wont be any good reason to do that," said Aphrodite, with a sigh.
"Are you kidding?" Melys chuckled. "That cocky little - trust me, Dite, hell give you reason sometime, even if its not for locking you up."
"Thats true," said Aphrodite, brightening. "Okay, lets go!"
The goddess used her magic to transport all of them, including the scrolls to where Janice, Melinda, Kate, and Nick waited for them.
"Aphrodite!" said Melinda, smiling and rising to greet the goddess. Nick also stood, but Janice grimaced at her attempt.
"Awww," said Aphrodite, leaning forward and gently touching the archaeologists swollen ankle. There was a pinkish glow and Janice stood up, her ankle healed.
"Um, thanks," said Janice, blushing.
"Oh, my, Janice - Ive never seen you do that before - leastaways, not in public," said Melinda, grinning at her.
"Aw, gee, Mel," said Janice, turning a deeper shade of pink. She looked at the overflowing packs of scrolls. "Are those ...?"
"Yes - all of them," said Aphrodite, smiling. Melinda had already opened one and was scanning it, a delighted smile on her face.
Janice sighed, a little sadly.
"Why Janice, whats wrong?" asked Melinda, looking over at her partner with concern.
"Well, its just ... what will we do now?" said the archaeologist.
"Well retire and live happily after, just like Xena and Gabrielle did," said Melinda, showing Janice the scroll. Janice read, her lips moving slightly as she translated. A slow smile spread over her face.
"Well thats a hell of lot happier ending than that TV show came up with," she said, grinning.
"Yeah, well." said Ares, appearing. He glared at Melys and Aphrodite. "I had a good thing going. I knew youd screw it up, Sis."
"I know you knew, Ares," said Melys hugging him and whispering, "Thank you."
"Hey, I have no more ambrosia to lift," said Ares, gently disentangling himself from her embrace, but he smiled. "Okay, enough of this mortal coil - come on, Lys, lets get you back where you belong - you have history to re-write."
The siblings disappeared with a brilliant flash. Melys looked around and saw that they were in the Great Hall of Olympus, the gathered gods looking on in disbelief. Apollo arose from his seat on the throne and approached, a plastic smile planted on his handsome face.
"Ah, Melys ... what a surprise," he said. "Ares, Aphrodite." He graced his other siblings with a brief nod.
"Indeed," said Melys, curtly. "Thank you for keeping my seat warm for me, Bro." She walked up to Zeuss throne and sat down.
"Ah, heh, heh," Apollo laughed a bit nervously and walked over to her. "Um, I ..."
"Never mind, Apollo," said Melys, glaring at him. She allowed her gaze to travel over the assembled gods and demi-gods. "Where is Hercules?"
"Hes down on earth," said Apollo, rolling his eyes. "Helping mortals, of all things."
"And this wrong because ....?" said Melys looking again at Apollo, her gaze unwavering.
"Ah, never mind," said Apollo, looking away from the intensity of those dark green eyes. "Um - "
"What excuse do you have for locking up our brother and sister?" Melys asked bluntly, never taking her eyes from him. "Do you know what havoc you have caused in the world? Do you even care?"
"The world? Theyre mortals - who cares?" said Apollo, with a shrug. "You know what I mean, Sis - right?" He looked up at her through his long, curling lashes, his golden cap of hair shining in the torchlight of the Great Hall.
"No, I dont - why dont you explain it, Apollo?" said Melys. "Being mortal myself, perhaps it may be that Im a bit ... dense on this subject."
"You ... youre not mortal," said Apollo, laughing heartily. "Good joke, my Queen."
"Uh, Apollo - shes not joking," said Ares, grinning at his brothers discomfort.
"What?" said Apollo, suddenly seething. "Get her!" he shouted at the assembly of gods. The others remained in their places, looking at one another and murmuring.
"Did you hear me? I said, get her!" said Apollo. "And these two as well - well put them back where no one can get them out!"
"Apollo, Im not too hip on locking up my own mother," said Cupid with a shrug.
"You wimped out the last time, too," said Apollo, sneering in contempt.
"Oooh, Cupie!" said Aphrodite, hugging her son. "I knew you wouldnt have anything to do with all that."
"Actually, Mom, none of the important gods would have anything to do with Apollos stupid power play," said Cupid, grinning and pulling away from her hug. "Thats why Hercules isnt here, either - yeah, he likes slumming down on earth - no offence, Aunt Lys." Melys merely smiled and shook her head. "But its more to it than that - he just cant stand Apollo."
"Oh, shut up, Cupid," Apollo said with a snarl.
"You want to make me?" said Cupid, his wings flapping in annoyance.
"Enough!" said Melys, sharply. Apollo approached and propped one sandalled foot on the throne beside her. He leaned forward and smiled his brightest and most charming smile. Melyse looked pointedly at his foot, then back up into his eyes, one brow raised. "Move it."
Apollo dropped the smile and his foot simultaneously. "Look, Im sure we can straighten all of this mess out," he said, earnestly.
"I know I can," said Melys, rising. "As soon as I get back to my own time and place, I will ensure that none of this nonsense occurs."
"Oh, Im afraid I cant let you do that," said Apollo, this time his smile was anything but charming. "You see, I quite enjoy things the way they are."
Melys looked at Ares and sighed. "What is that? A god-thing?" she asked, her annoyance rising. Ares grinned and shrugged, sheepishly.
"Hey, what I can say?" said the god of war. "I wasnt thinking clearly. I forgot how much smoother things go when youre in charge."
"Smooth, huh? That would be a nice change," said Hermes, approaching the throne. "Sorry, Apollo, but Ive had enough."
The other gods murmured in agreement.
"What is this, mutiny?" whined Apollo.
"No, revolution," said Persephone, coming forward. "Melys, I heard you were back - I am so glad." She smiled and embraced the priestess. "Mother and I have not been to Olympus since ... well, in a very long time."
"Im not - quite - back yet," said Melys, smiling. "But thank you. I just have to convince Apollo here that it is really in his best interest to stay out of my way so that I can get back."
"Oh," said Persephone, immediately grasping the situation. "Well, I say if he wants to stop you, then let him face the consequences - I know that most of Olympus is pretty tired of the pretty boy here."
"Hey!" said an indignant Apollo.
"Well, its true," said Persephone. "Youve been nothing but a petty tyrant up here - havent you noticed how few of the older gods ever even come here anymore? And havent since your treachery against Ares and Aphrodite."
"It was not ..." began Apollo heatedly, then he took a breath and re-set his face into gentler lines. "I did what I thought was for the best of Olympus at the time. If I was wrong, then I most sincerely apologise."
"Thats not good enough, Apollo," said Melys, firmly. "I need to go back and put to rights what you and your power lust screwed up."
"I - " Apollo began, then looked up as Demeter, Hestia, and Hera appeared.
"He - Hera?" said Apollo, flustered. "We ... I ... thought you were ..."
"Dead? You wish, Step-son," said Hera, her eyes flashing flames. Persephone smiled at the goddesses and joined them, facing Apollo. "We have come to depose you and to send Melys home - thats what you want, isnt Dear?"
"Yes," said Melys, relieved. "Thats all I want."
"Very well," said Hera. Melys arose and took the older goddesss hand. Hera led her away from the Great Hall. Apollo watched until they were out of sight, then jumped into the throne, glaring at all who would oppose him. Ares chuckled.
"Sit where you want, Pol - wont matter now - once Lys is back ...." he began, then looked around as he found himself seated in that throne with Aphrodite in an identical one next to him. The two looked at one another and smiled.
Melys sat at her desk, comfortable in her cosy cottage. She glanced over the parchment once more, smiling, then slipped it onto the wooden rollers, rolling and sealing the scroll with wax. Suddenly, she felt strong arms wrapping tightly around her. The priestess leaned back and smiled up at her warrior.
"Whats that for?" she said.
"For coming back," said Xena. "Dont you ever do that again."
Melys laughed softly. "Ill make a deal with you - you keep Dahaks crazy relatives away and Ill do my best," she said.
"Ill go you one better - how bout I keep your crazy relatives away, too?" said Xena, pulling her closer.
"I heard that," said Aphrodite, appearing. Xena sighed and let go of Melys.
"What do you want, Aphrodite?" she asked.
"Hey, dont quit on my account," said the goddess, grinning. "And Melys called me - you have it ready?"
"Right here," said Melys, handing over the scroll.
"Whats that?" asked Xena.
"Oh, just a letter to some friends," said Melys, smiling up at her.
"Do I know these friends?" asked the warrior.
"Oh, yes, Id say so," said Melys as Aphrodite winked out of sight. "Now, where were we?"
The warrior smiled and drew her back into her arms, holding her close.
"Hey, Mel," said Janice, walking into the office they shared. "What are you doing? I thought you finished translating those scrolls. Come on, Love we have to prepare the presentation - and it has to be good, too. Im worried that Nick may be right - after the popularity of that TV show, no one is going to want to believe that these are the real thing, even if most of the stories are the same."
"Oh, Janice!" cried Melinda, holding onto the archaeologist. She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes. "This is just so ... touchin!"
Janice took the scroll and frowned, scanning the words, her lips moving ever so slightly.
My friends - my family,
Thank you - for everything. My hopes and faith in the future of my family and my people are realised in you and the two wonderful young women you raised.
I am so sorry we didnt get a proper farewell, but I have a feeling that by the time your time on earth comes to be, I will be with you anyway - one way or another. My love and blessings be upon you and your descendants, always.
Janice smiled and hugged Melinda closer. "Yeah - and I have a feeling we wont have to worry about people not accepting these as authentic after all. Shell see to that." She raised her eyes and whispered, "Thank you."
(for now - actually, the series will continue after a brief hiatus. Until then - blessings upon you and please - keep reading! )Return to Academy