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It is daytime in the meadow of eternal summer. The sun shines warmly
on a group of women reclined on the grassy slopes listening to the soft
music playing in the air. The strains drift teasingly on the wind as the
musician skillfully plies the lyre she is holding. The sounds are perfect
and precise, yet the notes contain an enchanting quality that no mortal
music could ever equal. As the player finally winds down, her audience of
eight smile and clap appreciatively. The musician bows slightly before
resettling back on the grassy ground.
"It's my turn." one of them stands up as her sister sits down.
"Oh, Mellie, you're always so depressing. Let's have some poetry, now, shall
"Surely, not any of your own, Erato." another of the women argued. "Your
work is rather to intense for such a lovely day."
"Poly does have a point, Erato," the eldest of them gently stills the debate
with a wave and all eight turn to regard her with respect. " For I believe
it is Callie's turn to share her art with the world."
"Yes, so it is." a young performer stands up, with an odd look on her face.
She has been unusually quiet, her sisters notice, and seemed to be unduly
disturbed about some matter, which was truly odd. For there were supposed
to be no troubles in the meadow of eternal summer, only dreams and half
fantasies waiting to be formed into substance. "Today, sisters, I do have an
interesting tale to spin, one which I do not know the outcome of." Callie
notices that her words have caught the complete attention of her sisters.
"How can that be?" the eldest has gotten up in alarm.
"Because this story has yet to unfold." the girl says quietly, with a
distant look in her eyes. In the distance, she can already see storm clouds
beginning to unfold across the normally azure sky. She knows that time is
short and prepares to give herself to the performance. She only hopes that
she will be able to finish it in time. "I sing of a mighty princess, forged
in the heat of battle...."
The sun was nearing its apex when the two travelers reached the top of the
hill. One of them, who was astride a beautiful palomino, stopped shortly to
view the landscape around her. Her piercing gaze swept over the hills and
the trees, taking in the details and drinking in information like a dry
sponge soaks up water. Her companion, however, seemed to see the
surroundings in a much different light.
"Isn't the view lovely." she breathed, eyes sparkling in wonder.
"I guess." the rider shrugged. "But if you've seen one part of Greece,
you've seen it all. Pretty good location to defend though, if push comes to
"Oh Xena, that's not what I meant." the younger of the two swung the staff
she was carrying in a wide arc. "Look at the trees, the grass, the sweet
smelling air...it reminds me of a story I once heard."
"Not again, Gabrielle." Xena rolled her eyes. "Everything reminds you of a
Gabrielle just grinned in response. Xena tried to muffle a groan as she
urged Argo on. It was inevitable. As soon as they began walking, Gabrielle
launched into her fifth story for the day.
"And the great Dragon, flaring its five heads..."
"Last time you said it was three." Xena reminded her.
"Five, three, what's the difference?" Gabrielle smiled. "Anyway, this six
headed dragon, with venom dripping from its wide gaping jaws..."
"Can't you just stick to the facts? It was a three headed dragon Hercules
fought, and there was no venom." Xena griped, although her eyes held the
slightest trace of a smile. Gabrielle ignored her .
"And closer it came to the gallant hero, but Hercules never flinched. With
his brave companion, Iolaus by his side, he charged, striking at the monster
with ...hmmm what do you think sounds better, clashing swords or bare handed
"Neither. " Xena snorted "If I remember correctly, he used arrows."
"You're no fun. We bards have to embellish a little to keep the audience
interested." Gabrielle grinned. "Just wait until you hear my newest version
of our battle with Draco."
"Not again! " Xena grumbled. "No, I do not want to hear it."
"Come on Xena, where else am I going to get any practice?"
Xena looked at her uncomfortably."Somewhere else. I do not relish hearing
our adventures blown way out of proportion."
"But think what it would do to your reputation."
"That's what I'm worried about." Xena sighed. "People tend to get an
overblown idea of what I can or can't do. I'm just a simple warrior ,
Gabrielle, nothing more or less. The way your stories tend to go, it seems
like I can solve any problem and defeat any foe."
"But you can!" Gabrielle insisted. "I haven't seen you lose yet!"
Xena gave the young bard a wry smile. "The operative word is `yet'. It's
just a matter of time."
Gabrielle hesitated at the somber note that had crept into the warrior's
voice. "Xena, there's nothing you can't do." she said confidently. "I
believe in you."
Xena shook her head in reflection as she gazed fondly at her friend. "I'm
only mortal, you know. And I have been defeated before. I wouldn't be here
if I hadn't been. Sometimes, a step backward tends to be more enlightening
than any victory." She hid her smile at Gabrielle's puzzled expression.
"You'll understand one day."
Gabrielle could tell that Xena was reluctant to elaborate further. As was
her talent, the bard decided to switch to a more comfortable subject. "
Anyway, what about this opening scene. It's the middle of the day and this
huge band of warlords have surrounded a poor defenseless village. All hope
seems lost, when out of the woods thunders Xena, Warrior Princess. She
brave, she's smart, and she really knows how to kick some as-"
"Gabrielle, enough." Xena held up a hand. "Could we talk about something
else besides your stories? If you'd spend half the time practicing your
staff that you do composing tales, then you'd be the greatest warrior this
side of the Styx."
Gabrielle stopped and tried not to let the hurt show on her face. She had
been practicing as much as she could with her staff, but somehow, warfare
never seemed to thrill her soul like carefully choosing and weaving words
into an animated tapestry of their adventures. Although there were some
exhilarating moments when she fought side by side with her best friend,
nothing could ever take the place of her first love of telling a tale and
telling it well.
Xena could tell that she had hurt the small bard's feelings. "You're doing
fine with your staff, and you've grown much better at it. I know you're
doing your best. It's nothing to be ashamed about that you like storytelling
more than fighting. It's a good thing, in my opinion. The world needs people
like you. One day the our land will be ruled by people who use words instead
of weapons to make peace. Count on it."
Gabrielle nodded, although she still felt a tiny bit of sorrow. However, it
was not in her nature to brood for long and Xena could tell that another
long drawn story was coming her way unless she did something fast.
"Gabrielle, I'm really not in the mood for your storytelling." she warned.
The bard frowned. "Okay." She shrugged as she fiddled with the bag at her
side. Xena raised an eyebrow. The bard didn't usually give up that easily.
She sighed as she realized why her friend had agreed. Gabrielle had pulled
out her pan pipe.
"I wanted to work on my composition anyway." Gabrielle grinned.
"No. Not on your life." Xena leaned over the saddle and grabbed the
instrument from the bard's hands. "I do not want to go deaf any time soon."
She tucked the small instrument safely away from her friend's grasp.
Gabrielle pouted. "If you won't let me tell stories or play music, what do
you want me to do?"
"I'll make you a deal. If you can make it to the next town without making
another sound, we'll stop there for a meal or two. Otherwise, it's trail
Gabrielle frowned, her bard's instincts fighting with her love of food.
Finally, her hunger won out and she nodded her agreement.
"Don't look so miserable. Cotidi is only a couple of hours away. This
exercise will help you learn patience. When we get to the tavern, you can
tell as many stories as you want, as long as I don't have to hear them."
Xena spurred Argo to a fast trot. Gabrielle followed, still silent, but with
a stubborn look on her face.
They arrived at Cotidi in record time. Xena was surprised that Gabrielle
had managed to keep her part of the bargain, although the trail there had be
filled with many scenic sights that would have normally sent the bard into a
torrent of chatter. Although she would never admit it to her friend, Xena
had missed the Potidean's steady voice. Gabrielle had a way of seeing the
world as if each day was unique and every trail lead to some uplifting
discovery. Her curiosity and fascination with life permeated everything the
bard did. This was especially evident when Gabrielle launched into one of
her stories. Xena cherished this trait in her friend, even if at times she
wished that the bard would find other materials for her tales besides
embellishing Xena's own adventures.
After finding a suitable stable for Argo and getting directions for the
nearest tavern, Xena and Gabrielle headed out to see the town. Gabrielle
surveyed the market with a wary eye as she neared the tavern. There were
many people milling about in the afternoon sun, and the square was filled
with a myriad of sights and sounds. However, she felt inwardly nervous.
There was something wrong here...she could not exactly pinpoint what it was,
but it gnawed at the edge of her consciousness like a itch that could not be
scratched. The feeling had been hovering on the edge of her mind for a
couple of days now, but it became a full blown wave of panic almost as soon
as Gabrielle had stepped into Cotidi. Struggling to remain calm, Gabrielle
tried to push the feeling away to a far corner of her mind.
"You know you can talk now." Xena's voice startled her out of her thoughts.
Gabrielle turned to give her friend a playful grin.
"I'm just saving my voice until I have a more appreciative audience." she
retorted. "Besides, I rather fill my mouth with food than words at the
moment." She smiled at her friend, but her heart was not in it. Gabrielle
shivered as her sense of unease grew. "On second thought, maybe we should
try to get a meal in the next town...."
"Are you alright? You've never turned down food before." Xena looked at the
bard concerned. Was Gabrielle sick?
"I'm fine." Gabrielle wandered a few steps toward the tavern, then looked
back at the warrior with troubled eyes. "Xena....there's something not right
"What do you mean?" Xena was suddenly cautious as her sharp eyes scanned the
market for any unforeseen danger or ambush, but she could find nothing.
However, she was not one to take a warning lightly. "What kind of danger?"
"It's not a danger, exactly. Not in the physical sense." Gabrielle murmured.
She had a far off look in her eyes, one that Xena recognized all to well. It
was Gabrielle's bard mode. There was something different in the young
woman's stance though, and suddenly, Gabrielle went rigid. Xena could see
the fear in her friends eyes.
"What?!?" the bard shook her head as if trying to clear it.
Xena quickly strode over and put a hand to Gabrielle's forehead. It felt
"I'm feeling fine." Gabrielle said exasperated.
"Then what was that all about..."
"I don't know." Gabrielle's face was a picture of confusion.
"You said something about the town..."
"It's not the town." Gabrielle blinked. "Call it a quirky feeling, but I
think something's wrong with the big picture."
"What do you mean?" Xena tried to keep the impatience out of her voice.
Gabrielle was acting strangely and she was very worried about the bard. "Are
you sure you're all right?"
"Come on, don't worry." Gabrielle said forcefully, determined not to let the
strange feeling color an otherwise perfect day. "Probably just something I
ate. Anyway, let's get going. You do owe me lunch."
Xena cast a doubtful look at the bard, but Gabrielle had already started
picking her way through the crowd, whistling a cheerful tune. Xena followed
her silently, vowing to keep a close eye on her friend.
Halfway to the tavern, Gabrielle paused again, as if listening to
something. A frown crossed her face, and the bard took off to her right,
winding through the crowd. Xena quickly did the same.
"Where in the name of Hades are you going?" Xena asked her when she finally
caught up with her friend. "The tavern's that way."
Gabrielle did not reply. Turning, Xena saw that the bard's attention was
drawn to a pair of people that stood on a crude makeshift stage. The man, a
stunning blond with deep blue eyes was singing an ancient love song to a
beautiful brown haired woman, who replied him with equal fervor and volume.
Both were obviously performers, and Xena could see nothing wrong with what
they were doing. To her, it looked like any other pair of wayward musicians
that wandered the roads of Greece. Perhaps they were a little worse than the
rest, she thought wryly as the male singer hit another flat note, but they
were certainly not out of the ordinary. However, by the expression on
Gabrielle's face, it was as if the bard was hearing something out of this
As soon as the duo ended their number, Gabrielle was the first to rush up
onto the stage. The rest of the onlookers, perhaps a little more
unimpressed, wandered away without comment. Xena watched as Gabrielle
engaged in a furious conversation with the man and wondered what the whole
situation was about. Finally, Gabrielle led the performers toward her.
"Hey Xena. This is Branyel and Tenya." the bard gestured to her two new
friends. "Branyel and Tenya, this is Xena. "
"How nice." Xena said, frowning slightly at her friend. She was still
curious as to what Gabrielle was doing.
"It's a pleasure to meet you." Tenya extended her hand, which the warrior
took awkwardly "My husband and I have been long time fans of Gabrielle and
her stories about you. We're so glad you're here."
"Yes, we know of your ability to solve problems.' Branyel sounded hopeful.
"What do you mean? Is there a problem?"
"Yes." Tenya said determinedly. "We haven't been singing very well. It seems
like every time we try to compose another song, something's missing. At
first it wasn't that big of a deal, but today, it's like all of our music
"You were singing just awhile ago." Xena said skeptically.
"Yes, but that was all it was. Just singing. It wasn't music. " Branyel
struggled for the words. "There's something gone, Xena. I can't explain it.
I hope you can help."
Xena gave Gabrielle a "you can't be serious about this" look. The bard just
turned away sheepishly. Finding no help from that quarter, Xena turned back
to the two performers, who were looking at her intently.
"What do you want me to do about it? I'm a warrior, not a music teacher."
Xena tried to keep the sarcasm at a minimum, but she was beginning to find
the whole situation a tad ludicrous.
"We don't know who else to turn to. The Academy in Athens has been
experiencing the same problems; theirs deals with not being able to form new
stories. My friend, Archais, has trouble sculpting his clay, and our town
historian reports that he can not remember the correct sequence of events
anymore. We've already sent for some help, but we thought that since you
were here, you could--"
"That I could what? I don't know how to battle a spell of noncreativity. And
as for your historian, perhaps you should look for a better one." Xena shook
her head exasperated. "I'm sorry that your music is not as good as it used
to be, but I don't see what I can do about it."
"We think that maybe the gods are displeased..." Tenya looked up in surprise
as Xena held put up her hand in a signal for silence.
"I don't deal with that department. Warlords, yes. Awful kings, deadly
dictators, and nasty despots, yes. But you have the wrong person for the job
if it involves the rulers in Mount Olympus. C'mon, Gabrielle, let's get some
food. If you really want a someone who can talk to those high and mighty
deities, call Hercules." Xena strode off toward the tavern, mumbling to
herself. Gabrielle gave an apologetic look to both Tenya and Branyel before
running after her friend.
Branyel watched the retreating figures and heaved a big sigh.
"Let's hope that our next pair of heroes will be more helpful." he remarked.
"Xena, aren't we going to help them?" The bard asked as soon as they both
were seated at a table at the tavern. Xena gave a stern glare to a leering
barkeep before replying.
"Honestly, I don't know what you want me to do. Your stories have made the
world think that I'm a miracle worker of some sort, able to fix every
problem that arises."
Gabrielle stared at the floor uncomfortably. "Sorry about that."
Xena relented. "All I ask is that you tone it down a bit, not give up the
"Xena, what if the gods are involved?" Gabrielle asked quietly.
"I don't see why they would be. It is small pleasure to torment a group of
artists. You creative types give enough entertainment as is. Besides,
without bards, poets, and musicians, no one would sing of the immortals
great deeds and adventures. The way I see it, you give them enough of an ego
trip to ensure your own safety. It's just a slump in productivity. "
Gabrielle looked thoughtful then nodded. "It makes sense."
Xena gave her a enquiring look. " Don't tell me that you've run out of
"No. Not that." Gabrielle gave a quick smile. "In fact, while we wait for
our food, I think that I might take the chance to get some more dinars for
the road. " she got up and walked over to the barkeeper. Xena watched her
go and sipped the mug of ale that had been placed in front of her. She
frowned as a big hairy oaf the took the chance to make a swipe at the
passing bard. However, before she could take action, Gabrielle had already
effectively elbowed him in the groin.
"I'm not that type of girl." she informed him. The miscreant looked as if he
might argue, but he when he saw Xena shoot him THE look, he let the bard
pass. After exchanging a few words with the manager, Gabrielle was back.
"The tavern manager agreed to let us have our meal and a night's lodging for
free in return for a performance. Seems that the regular bard hasn't shown
up yet." Gabrielle looked pensive for the moment, then straightened. "Don't
eat all the food, okay?"
Xena sighed and prepared to hear another exaggerated tale of her
adventures. One of these days, she thought sourly, Gabrielle was going to
stretch her stories a little too far. Xena just hoped that she could live
with the aftermath. As Gabrielle began her tale, Xena recognized that it was
the one about Hercules and the Dragon. She caught herself being drawn into
the plot despite hearing the tale earlier. There was no doubt about it,
Gabrielle was quite a bard. However, Xena could not help but feel that
something was missing in her friend's account. Gabrielle was putting her
whole heart and soul into the performance, but Xena knew that the young bard
could have told the story in a much better way than what she was presenting now.
"Last time I remembered, it was a two headed dragon." a warm voice in the
air made Xena stop her musing.
"Nah, it was a three headed one." another voice joined in. "However, you've
got to admit that she has style. She's the only bard that even bothers to
remember that I was there."
"Hercules. Iolaus." Xena said guardedly.
"Hello, Xena." the immortal son of Zeus took a chair. "It's been a long time."
"Yeah...wasn't it back with Prometheus...?" Iolaus also sat down.
"Yes." Xena nodded, smiling faintly at the memory. Now THAT had been an
adventure. "What are you two doing here?"
"We came at the request of a couple of local musicians in the area. Seems
that they've been disappearing." Iolaus shrugged. "Something to do with Hera
again, I bet. So, why are you two ladies here?" his eyes strayed across the
room to where Gabrielle was emphatically gesturing with her hands in order
to emphasize a dramatic point in her story.
Xena followed his gaze and hid another small smile. "We're just passing
through. I didn't know about the disappearing musicians. From what I heard,
it was their songs that were missing."
"Well, whatever has been taking them apparently wants more than that."
Hercules looked angry. "We just came from Athens, and the whole Academy of
Bards has disappeared."
"What do you mean?"
"Their scrolls are still there, but all the students and teachers are gone.
That's not all of it. Every township and village has been reporting
disappearances of their historians."
Xena looked up sharply. "And you think that the gods are involved."
"Yes. But it doesn't make sense. Apollo would never let this happen,
unless...."Hercules looked even more angry.
"Hera was behind this." Xena gritted her teeth. She knew what it was like to
have a god for an enemy.
"My half- brother would never dare defy our stepmother openly. If Hera is
behind the disappearances, no one on Olympus would dare lift a hand, except
for Zeus. And he's out of town right now." Hercules smacked a hand on the
table, making the whole inn shake. "She's taking advantage of the fact that
no one will try to stop her."
"The thing that I don't get is what she would want with a bunch of bards? I
understand if she wanted to torment ol' Herc and me. This would be the
perfect opportunity. But instead, she goes around snatching all the
storytellers." Iolaus snorted. "Maybe she can't go to sleep and she wants
them to tell her a bed time story."
"I don't think it's that simple. Hera's up to something and I aim to stop
it." Hercules looked at Xena hesitantly. "We make a great team...."
Before she could reply, Gabrielle moved toward the table. Her face lit up
when she saw Hercules and Iolaus. "Hi! Glad to see you guys again." she said
brightly. "Where's the food?"
Xena chuckled as she signaled the bartender. "Coming, Miss Greedy Guts."
"Say, now that you're here, what did you think of my tale? You know, I need
more substance to flesh it out a bit." she said to Hercules.
"I think you've fleshed it out just fine." Hercules told her with a smile.
"Then how about some other adventures?" Gabrielle asked quickly. "You know
the world can't ever get enough of you or Xena. Personally, I've always
wondered about those twelve tasks..."
"Not now, Gabrielle." Xena said sternly. Quietly, she informed her friend
why the Hercules and Iolaus were there. Gabrielle looked shocked, then angry
as she gripped her staff tightly.
"I want to help, Xena." she said firmly. Xena looked at her friend seriously.
"Gabrielle, I'll join Hercules and Iolaus but I want you to go home to
Potidea. Something is out after bards and it could come after you next."
"I'm not going." Gabrielle said determinedly. "I faced warlords before; I'm
Xena grumbled fondly "I know you're not. But we could be dealing with a
goddess here, and one who wants creative blood. You'd be in more danger than
any one of us."
"Goddess, warlord, same difference." Gabrielle glared defiantly at her
friend. " I'm coming. I want to fight this thing. Besides, it's not going to
help if I just ran home. From what Hercules has said, bards are disappearing
from everywhere. What's the difference if I disappear here or at home? At
least I have a chance if I confront it head on."
"Traveling with us, you could put yourself in even greater risk."
"I can take it." Gabrielle gripped her staff and swung it around. "I know
how to fight now Xena...you even said so." she out her chin up defiantly.
"There's nothing you can do about."
Xena looked at her friend with a mixture of affection and irritation. Her
first impulse was to haul the bard back to Potidea and leave her there, tied
if need be. However, in her heart, she knew that Gabrielle was right. There
was nothing she could do to prevent whatever force was out there in taking
the bard. If the pattern remained consistent, than Gabrielle would disappear
very soon. Xena pushed down the feeling of despair that welled up at the
thought. NO. She told herself firmly. She would not let it happen.
Gabrielle watched Xena closely. Although the warrior's face remained
impassive, Gabrielle knew that a storm of emotions was raging inside her
friend. Placing a comforting hand on Xena's shoulder, she smiled reassuringly.
"Hey, nothing's going to happen to me. I have the world's three greatest
heroes by my side, remember?"
Xena nodded slowly. "Fine. But you stay within eyesight, you hear me? If
anything happens to you, I'm going to kill you myself."
Hercules and Iolaus had remained quiet throughout the whole exchange
between the two. As he watched the bard face off with the warrior, Hercules
could sense the deep bond that had formed between them. It reminded him of
the one he shared with Iolaus, and he knew the pain that Xena must have been
going through. It was not easy watching your best friend go into danger and
not to anything about it. He swore silently to do anything in his power to
see that the two would not be separated by his stepmother's plans. Seeing
that the battles of wills was finally over, with Gabrielle as the surprising
victor, Hercules cleared his throat.
"Ladies, if you will, Lunch's here." he gestured to the food. "Let's
continue after we've eaten."
At the mention of eating, Gabrielle immediately perked up. "Great idea! By
the gods, I'm starved!" Immediately, she dived into her plate, even
surpassing the son of Zeus in her feeding frenzy. The amount of food
Gabrielle could put down would satiate a cyclops. The amazing thing about
it though was that she managed to stuff it all down without breaking a
single table manner or dirtying herself or her surroundings. As she started
on her third plate of chicken, she noticed the amused looks on her
"I was wondering if you ever came up for air." Xena replied. She turned to
Hercules and Iolaus with a hint of laughter. " Now you know why we have to
spend so much time in bar rooms like these; if Gabrielle wasn't such a good
bard, we'd be broke by now."
"Well, you don't have to watch me eat." Gabrielle said as she noticed that
everyone else's plates were empty. "Go ahead and plan something."
"Do you know where Hera may be taking all the people?" Xena asked.
"No. But I willing to say that its someplace nasty, dark and dank, with
about a thousand monsters guarding it. " Iolaus shrugged as Xena raised an
eyebrow. "Hey, that just happens to be her style. Kind of matches her
"Unfortunately, half of Greece tends to be nasty, dark, and dank." Hercules
"Have you tried the Oracle at Delphi ? Apollo may not want to cross Hera
directly, but he may tell you where she's holding his bards." Xena suggested.
"Done that already. They're not speaking about it. Hera's got to powerful of
a hold over Olympus at the moment. Like I said, none of the gods would dare
defy her. Including Apollo." Hercules brow furrowed as he thought furiously.
"She has to have them somewhere secluded, where no one would dare venture."
"That sounds like the other half of Greece." Iolaus remarked.
"Watha aaguot." mumbled Gabrielle. She swallowed quickly. "Sorry. What
about a seer or a prophet? Like Cassandra and Tireseas the Blind. Maybe
"Unfortunately, the seers were among the first to be taken." Hercules
He never got to finish his sentence. Suddenly, the door to the bar burst
open. A woman came in, looking wild eyed with grief as she ran over to the
"Tenya!" Gabrielle exclaimed. "What's wrong?"
"Have you seen Branyel? I can't find him anywhere." Tenya cried . "We were
in the middle of the Ballad of Psyche when we found that we couldn't sing
another verse. No matter how hard we tried, the words wouldn't come. Branyel
was furious and before I could stop him, he ran off towards the towards our
home, where we had the original scroll of the words. I tried to follow him,
but I lost sight of him in the woods. Then I heard him scream, then...." the
woman broke into tears.
"What happened next?" Gabrielle asked gently.
"He was gone! I can't find him, Gabrielle. I feel so empty inside without
him..." she turned away. "His void echoes the one which was made the day
that our music started dying. I have nothing to live for without Branyel and
my music...you must understand. You said your stories..."
"Hey," Gabrielle said softly. "At least you haven't lost your dramatic
sense." she smiled comfortingly at the singer. "Anyway, Branyel won't be
gone for long. Xena and Hercules will find him, right guys?"
Tenya turned to them, her face suddenly alight with hope. "If anyone could
find Branyel, it would be you two. Please believe me now, Xena, there's
something out there..."
"I know." Xena said shortly. Nodding to Hercules and Iolaus, she headed
toward the door. "Stay here." she commanded Gabrielle. She locked eyes with
her friend. "I mean it, Gabrielle. I need you to take care of Tenya.
Whatever took Branyel may come back for her. You two should be safe enough
here in plain sight of these people. We'll be back soon."
"I'll stay behind to give extra protection." Iolaus volunteered. When
Gabrielle gave him an annoyed look, he waved his hand placatingly. "Not that
you would need it or anything."
Gabrielle smiled but motioned him to follow the other two. "I'll be fine
here. Xena and Hercules could use another pair of eyes. Besides, your old
hunting tricks will come in handy." her face clouded "Be careful, alright?"
"We will be. Now stay put." Xena headed out of the door. Gabrielle let out a
the breath she had been holding before turning to Tenya.
"So, you want to hear a story while we wait?"
The woods around the town were suspiciously quiet. Not a single bird lifted
its voice in song, nor were the grassy paths serenaded with the usual
buzzing of cicadas.
"It's as if Gaia herself has lost her voice." Iolaus said as he drew nearer
to his friends.
"I know. And I don't like it." Xena stooped to examine the dirt on the
trail. "Here are Tenya's tracks, those are Branyel's." Her eyes traced the
ground. "Hercules, Iolaus, come here....what does this look like to you?"
Iolaus noticed the puzzled frown on Xena's face and hurried over to
investigate. "That's impossible." he said finally. "It looks like he was
running one minute then disappeared before his next step."
"Maybe it was an air attack." Hercules suggested. "Or his trail could have
been wiped clean."
"Nah, there's no sign that he was lifted...there would at least be a faint
drag mark. There's nothing here. Of course, knowing the gods, they could as
well made him vanish into thin air."Iolaus stood up and looked at Xena. The
Warrior Princess nodded, confirming what he had said.
"We'd better go back to the tavern." she got to her feet. "We won't find
anything here. Whatever took Branyel is long gone by now. Without a trail,
he could be anywhere."
Hercules nodded as he surveyed the woods. The trees remained deceptively
silent. Suddenly, out of nowhere, an arrow pierced the gloom. In reflex,
Hercules caught it and tensed for an attack. He could sense Xena and Iolaus
doing the same.
They were as ugly as he remembered them to be. About twenty in number, they
swarmed out from between the tree trunks, all of them waving nasty looking
swords. In moments, the quiet air was broken by the first sounds of battle.
"Do these guys ever give up?" Iolaus asked as he flipped a thug over his
shoulder and used the body to knock out another.
"Nope." Hercules replied, after bashing the face of another assailant and
deflecting a second attacker's sword.
"You'd think that Hera would get a little more creative."
"I've seen her when she gets creative....its not a pretty sight." Hercules
grunted as he swung two more attackers together and effectively knocking
them out. "Remember the hydras?"
"How could I forget? My shoulder hurt for weeks!" Iolaus ducked a blow that
was meant for his head and kicked his opponent's legs out from under him.
"But still, these guys are getting too cliche, if you know what I mean. Oh,
Hercules swung his fist around and it connected with the groin of a soldier
creeping up in order to ambush his back. Not far away, the clang of metal
upon metal could be heard as Xena chopped her way through her share of the
attackers. She sounded happy as her sword swooshed through the air, and
around her the groans of the fallen soldiers echoed loudly. With a
triumphant leap and a chilling cry of AYIYIYIYI, she flipped through the
air, landing with uncanny precision beside Hercules and Iolaus. A quick flip
of her chakrum felled the last three remaining soldiers. Catching her deadly
weapon, she deftly hooked it back onto her outfit. A wild grin was on her
face and her eyes were alight with battle fire.
"That's all?" she said, almost disappointedly. Hercules had to raise an
eyebrow at her question. By herself, the Warrior Princess had disabled ten
of the would be killers. He himself had only accounted for six, while Iolaus
had managed to dispatch four. To her credit, however, Xena had only killed
the soldiers when it was necessary, so the carnage was not as great as it
could have been. Xena walked up to one of the prone men and quickly tapped
"I've just cut off the blood flow to your brain." she said, in a calm voice.
"In ten seconds, you will die, unless you tell me what you know about the
The soldier just struggled. Before he could reply, however, the whole squad
had vanished, leaving Xena clutching thin air.
"I hate it when they do that." Iolaus said sympathetically as Xena strode
back toward them, anger apparent in every step.
"There were too few of them." she declared.
"Hey, I know you like crushing their gourds like melons, but I do think that
wishing for more is a tad bit bloodthirsty." Iolaus remarked.
"I mean that Hera must have known that we would easily defeat her
creations." Xena narrowed her eyes. "Especially when there are so few of
them. I think that the attack was just a delaying method....oh no." she
"And then...." Gabrielle took another swallow of apple cider as she
desperately groped for the correct words. Tenya was studying her intensely.
"It's happening, isn't it ? You're losing your stories."
"I can't be..I'll remember!...then Xena came down onto the village..."
Gabrielle paused again, then looked hopelessly at Tenya as her mind . "Yeah,
you're right." she said slowly. "I can remember what happened, but I can't
put it to verse." she tried to keep the panic out of her voice "The words
Tenya nodded knowingly. "It's no use fighting it. I'm surprised you were
able to hold out so long." her eyes flashed brief admiration. "You must have
a great amount of talent."
Gabrielle blushed. "Not really. It's just that I can usually see it all so
clearly in my head. I want it to share my stories ...but now the images
"You have a pure heart and the true soul of a true artist." Tenya said
wistfully "I know how you feel for I too know the power of our art.
However, unless your friends succeed, all that will be gone. "
Gabrielle tried not to let the thought sink in. "They'll succeed. Branyel
will be back here before you know it, along with the other missing people.
Xena's never failed." she said calmly, although the warrior's earlier words
echoed through her head.
"Perhaps it won't be soon enough for me." Tenya replied softly. Gabrielle
looked at her in alarm.
"What do you mean?" she said anxiously.
"It's coming for me, Gabrielle. I can feel it. To tell you the truth, I'm
not sure I want to fight it anymore. Without Branyel and my music, it feels
like a part of my innermost being has been cleaved away. I can't live with
only a half of a soul." Tenya sounded resigned. "You'll understand when all
of your stories disappear. I can tell that barding is a integral part of
your soul. It knows it to, and will be after you."
"What's this IT thing?" Gabrielle fingered her staff as she glanced warily
around the room.
"The thing that eats men's dreams and crouches on the edges of nightmares."
"I think it may be a dream eater. The gods have released a dream eater."
Gabrielle tumbled the name in her mouth. The mere sound of the word sent
chills down her spine. "I've never heard of a dream eater. Where did you
learn about it?"
"We were protected, Gabrielle. There was an ancient song about how and why
it lives, but I can't recall it anymore. My memory fails me, perhaps because
the dream eater has already gotten to the verses. That demon has been
stalking me for a while now." Tenya sighed "You think I'm crazy. But you'll
know the truth when it finally hunts you down. It's been gnawing on my
thoughts and it is about ready to attack."
Gabrielle took a deep breath. Had the singer gone over the edge? But the
look in Tenya's eyes showed that woman truly believed what she was saying.
"The others thought it may have been Hera that was kidnaping the bards." she
"The goddess does have something to do with it, I am sure." Tenya's eyes
were distant. "She's probably the one who unleashed the creature in the
"Then tell me all that you know about this dream eater thing." Gabrielle's
eyes widened. "We need to warn Xena and Hercules!"
"Your friends will be fine. A dream eater cannot do any physical harm nor do
your friends have anything that the demon wants. It eats only the creators
of dreams." Tenya put a hand on Gabrielle's shoulder. "You should be more
worried about yourself. As for what I know about this beast, I can only say
that he can be stopped by reinstating our original protectors."
"Something guarded that thing from coming into this world! Whatever it was,
it was taken away!" Tenya voice dropped. "However, I do not know who the
Gabrielle nodded. "Well, at least we know what's taking the bards and the
musicians. I bet Hercules can convince Hera to replace the protecting
thingie. We'd probably have to fight a whole bunch of monsters, but I'm sure
it will be alright."
"I hope so." Tenya did not sound very confident, "Little one, do you realize
just what is at stake here?"
Gabrielle swallowed. "All the bards' lives, including mine."
"More than that." Tenya shuddered as she realized the full extent of Hera's
plans. "All of humanity's dreams and hopes."
"No..." Gabrielle gulped as she saw what Tenya meant. "Without stories,
music, and art, human kind will fall back on itself."
"True. Our work makes life more bearable and takes the toil out of living.
We find the beauty in every day and give light to the darkness. It would be
a sad time for the souls in our world when every last remnant of art is taken."
"Xena won't let that happen. We'll find the protector of the dreams and
force that nasty dream- thing back to where it belongs. You'll see."
Gabrielle gripped her staff tightly as she gave Tenya a grim smile. "It'll
probably make a great story."
Tenya refused to share the bard's enthusiasm. Instead, she stood up, her
eyes unfocused. "It's here.' she said, stiffening.
Gabrielle got up too and swung her staff into attack position. Around her,
she could feel the other customers tense as everyone went for their weapons.
Everyone had heard Tenya's recounting of the dream eater and all were
cautious. Suddenly, Tenya bolted away from Gabrielle and ran out the tavern
"Tenya!" Gabrielle screamed as she followed the singer.
"Stay away from me! Don't let it eat you too!"
Gabrielle watched in horror as the woman stopped in her tracks. A cold
sensation swept past the young bard as Tenya screamed in agony. There was no
time to think. Acting without reacting, Gabrielle flung herself at the
Tenya's attacker, although she could see nothing to fight.
The bard was too late however. With a slight wail, the singer disappeared,
amid a flurry of chilling laughter.
"I'll be after you next......" a voice whispered on the wind. Then Gabrielle
Xena, Hercules, and Iolaus were halfway through the city gates when they
heard the screaming. Doubling their already fast pace, the three heroes
arrived just in time to see Gabrielle collapse to her knees.
"GABRIELLE!" in a heartbeat, Xena was beside her friend, shaking her. "Are
you alright?" Anxious eyes searched the bard's body, but there were no signs
of injuries. "Say something!"
"I couldn't stop it." Gabrielle mumbled dazedly as she got to her feet.
"Tenya....it got her. I could feel it snatching away her music and ...."
Xena ignored the torrent of words. "Are you okay ?!?!" she demanded as
around frantically for any sign of the attacker. Hercules and Iolaus was
already scouring the market place, but both soon returned, shaking their heads.
"I'm fine." Gabrielle brushed back her hair absentmindedly as she picked up
her staff where she had dropped it. "The dream eater was not after me."
"What in Olympus are you talking about?"
Gabrielle's eyes turned to Xena. The Warrior Princess was taken aback by
the level of fear she saw in her friend's eyes. However, the fear was not
for herself, but for something else.
"Hercules and Iolaus need to hear this also." Gabrielle said faintly as she
turned toward the inn. As soon as they had settled themselves around a
table, Gabrielle told them all that Tenya had told her, omitting only the
part about her own personal danger.
"I never thought that Hera would sink this low." there was a trace of barely
restrained anger in Hercules voice. "Stealing the dreams and stories of all
mankind is too cruel. I don't understand why she would do it. Many of the
bard's stories are about Hera's own glory."
"A people without dreams are easily ruled and conquered." Xena said slowly.
"That would be enough of a tradeoff for her. Would Zeus be able to stop this?"
"By the time Zeus got back, the dream eater would have finished eating all
the bards." Iolaus said looking worriedly at Gabrielle. The bard had been
uncharacteristically silent throughout the exchange. She had not even
attempted to turn Tenya's information into a story.
"Gabrielle, what are you not telling us?" Xena asked.
"I told you all I know about the dream eater."
"I know that. But there is something else, I can see it in your eyes."
"Nothing much." Gabrielle forced a ghost of a smile on her face. "Just
reminds me of the time with Pandora...remember the box that was suppose to
contain hope? Wouldn't it be nice if this could turn out like that adventure
"Pandora?" Iolaus asked. "You two actually met her?"
"Yeah. We helped her and a kingdom. That's about it." Gabrielle replied.
Xena stared intently at the bard. There was definitely something wrong.
Gabrielle had missed her cue for a story. Iolaus and Hercules noticed it too.
"Gabrielle, just to relax us a bit, why don't you tell the whole story
about Pandora?" Hercules said carefully.
Gabrielle twisted around in her seat as she nervously fingered her staff.
Finally, she looked up, despair written across her face. "I can't." she said
"You've lost your stories...." Xena looked shocked "Gabrielle...."
"Hey, it's no big deal." the bard shrugged, "We're going to do something
about it right? C'mon, I bet you got something big planned already."
Xena could see the pain in her friend's soul and that tore at the warrior's
heart. "We will, Gabrielle, I promise. Besides, the trail would be awfully
silent without you blabbering along."
"Yeah, you're the only one that remembers to put me into the action."
Iolaus said warmly.
Gabrielle managed a small smile. However, she remained moody and distant as
the night wore on. She did not seem to listen to the others as they tried to
formulate a working plan. Instead, the bard looked as if she was tuned into
another source that was interesting her terribly. When their dinner came,
Gabrielle only picked at her food for a couple of minutes before pushing it
away. Xena, who had been watching her best friend like a hawk, worried even
more. When the bard got up and walked outside, Xena followed her, motioning
for Hercules and Iolaus to stay where they were.
"Can you tell me what's wrong?" Xena asked her once they had gotten out of
earshot of the others. "Something's been bothering you for awhile and I know
it has nothing to do with you losing your stories."
"Xena, I want you to know that you're my best friend. I've never regretted
coming with you." Gabrielle said quietly. "Whatever happens, it's not your
"What do you mean, whatever happens?" Xena said suspiciously, half afraid of
what the bard was insinuating.
"Xena, I want you to remember your promise to me, the one you made when we
were still fighting Callisto."
"What does that have to do with it ?" Xena's eyes widened and the feeling of
fear clutched her stomach. "Gabrielle....you're going to be fine. Don't talk
"I mean it Xena." Gabrielle's eyes were haunted. " I also have a favor to
ask. If anything does happen to me, remember the happy times. I don't want
you to grieve over me."
The bard turned away. "Xena, promise me these things. Please."
"No." Xena gripped her friend and turned Gabrielle around. "I'm not going to
let anything happen to you."
For a minute, Gabrielle's fiery spirit flared up. "I don't need protection.
I'm not a baby!" she retorted. But almost as immediately as it had come, the
fire died, to be replaced by something akin to desolation.
"Will you promise me ?"
"Stop talking nonsense. Hercules and Iolaus are waiting for us." Xena tried
to hide the terrible feeling of fear that was building up in her. Gabrielle
followed her wordlessly. The mood back in the tavern was as somber as the
one that they had left outside. There was something missing in the
atmosphere of the bar, and abruptly, Xena realized what it was. The
convivial air was gone, as were the boasts that usually flew thick as the
ale. There were no loud talking soldiers, nor were there drunk has-beens
retelling their days of grandeur. Even the fire in the hearth seemed to
crackle with less spirit.
"I think I want to get some sleep." Gabrielle said as she walked up the
stairs to where the tavern's room were. "We have a long day's journey ahead
if we are to make Athens."
"Why Athens?" Iolaus asked.
"Well, we don't have any other place to start and Tenya did mention an old
song that might hold a clue to how to defeat this thing. I hope that the
Library in Athens holds a copy." Gabrielle said tiredly. "Good night."
"I think I better turn in too." Xena said. She did not feel comfortable with
Gabrielle out of her sight. Hercules and Iolaus nodded, understanding her
"We're going to make camp outside the gates. You can meet us there in the
Xena nodded as she went up the stairs and towards the room that she and
Gabrielle shared. The bard was already asleep on the bed nearest to the
door. Xena pushed the bed quietly across the room, away from both the door
and the windows, to a place that she thought would be the most defensible.
Gabrielle snored away, oblivious. Then the Warrior Princess settled herself
onto the floor, eyes fixed on the sleeping figure of her friend, and
prepared herself for another long sleepless night.
Just before dawn, Gabrielle woke suddenly, gasping for air. Immediately,
Xena was at her side.