Chapter 9

"What's wrong?" Xena sensed the stranger's consternation as soon as Gabrielle showed Dari the watering hole where they had bathed just yesterday evening.

"This is the bath?" Dari gestured laughingly at the pool of water. "You gotta be kidding me. Come on, really now, can we get outta this forest and go to some real town where I can get a room, with a bathtub?"

"The nearest… town is a few moons away."

"Few moons?" Dari's light eyes cast themselves down on Gabrielle. "I don't even want to know what you use to tell time around here." This was all too much. She started walking away from them. "Hey, thanks for healing me, and saving my life." She laughed a small, hysterical laugh. "I'd say it's been a lovely dream -- if nearly every bone in my body hadn't been broken and I still didn't feel slight twinges of pain where they were broken."

With a nudge from Gabrielle, a glance into those clear green eyes told Xena her bard wanted her to act quickly and make the stranger stay. "Where are you going?" Xena moved so quickly, Dari hardly had time to blink before the warrior was standing in her path, a hand on her shoulder, holding her in place. "We're not going to just let you wander off by yourself. You still need to eat, and some more rest wouldn't be a bad idea either."

Dari looked down at the strong hand on her shoulder and back up into Xena's eyes. "I'm fine, really. I can find this town on my own."

"Well, I don't think that's such a good idea." Xena brandished her, 'don't argue with me' expression that always worked on Gabrielle.

Dari, a few inches taller than this dark woman, just stared back at her, her eyes never flinched, nor showed any indication of backing down like any normal half-witted person would have. Instead, she brushed Xena's hand off her shoulder and stepped around her. "Like I said, thank you, I owe you my life, but I have to find a way back to where I came from. Detaining me will only prolong my stay here." Xena was taken aback by the woman's audacity, but also couldn't help be somewhat impressed by her courage.

Gabrielle came up beside Dari, lifted her eyes and couldn't suppress a smile when hers met the stranger's bright blues. "Please stay…" She implored gently, laying a hand on the woman's side, her hot touch seeming to reach inside and warm the taller woman. "You don't know these parts, and you may come to more harm. I couldn't forgive myself if you suffered any more than you already have. We can camp at the cave tonight and be off bright and early in the morning. In that time, you can fill us in on what happened to bring you here. Besides, you said you wanted to read my scrolls, remember?"

"And believe me, she'll fill you in on every story she's written since the beginning," Xena mused lovingly about her bard. She watched the two of them, trying hard to ignore the fact that when close, their bodies seemed to gravitate toward one another 'til they were a breath away from touching. It happens between Gabrielle and myself, Xena gloated, taking great pride in the fact. But the ugly green monster was showing itself again, and her jealousy was in overdrive. Trying to be reasonable didn't alleviate the inner turmoil she felt when she watched them together. Am I losing her? She wondered. I can't be, she thought, attempting to deny the feeling. We're destined to stay together, no matter what -- or who comes along.

Dari finally relented. How could she not? Gabrielle was proving to be quite the persuader. And she didn't look forward to a second tromp through another forest, alone, especially if Lutheran and his minions were in the area. She wasn't up to snuff as of yet, she knew. And a few days in this woman's company wouldn't be that great a sacrifice.


Gabrielle smiled with glee and slid her arm into the crook of Dari's. She turned them both back and smirked at Xena, whose eyes effectively hid the concern she felt in her heart.

Chapter 10

Dari hated to admit it, but bathing in the pond wasn't too bad after all. She needed this private time to sort out what had taken place during the past 24 hours. Part of her refused to believe that this was really happening-- being hunted down like an animal by that mobsters' thugs, then spirited away to some unknown place and time. Although the women who had rescued her had been more than hospitable, she still felt uneasy.

Her logical, 'facts only' side was playing devil's advocate every time she began to relent to the possibility that some 'Greater Power' was involved in her change of scenery. Sure, she was in the woods one-second, and falling through the sky the next. Ok, so she couldn't understand Xena and Gabrielle when they spoke those brief times she had momentarily regained consciousness. But there had to be a reasonable explanations for every odd occurrence.

She had been blinded by the lightning and fell off a cliff, into the river. Maybe she had drifted along with the current. The women just imagined that they saw a body caught within the lightning, so when Xena grabbed at what ever it was and fell into the water, the warrior assumed it was she. And the fall alone would surely have scrabbled her brains enough to ensure she wasn't able to figure out what anyone was saying, at least for a while. Plus who but a doctor could have looked at her wounds and really be able to tell the true extent of the damage.

It was a coincidence that Xena dove into the water in the exact same spot she occupied. A big coincidence, came an unsolicited response from within the mostly unused 'what if' side of Dari's brain. And what about that man, the one they called Ares. Was he, in fact, a God? She remembered the intense pain that had seared throughout her body. It was unlike anything she had ever experienced. And then there was that beam of light. She would have sworn that it sprang from his fingertips. After that, the pain was gone, and she understood their language. Then POOF, he vanished in a twinkling of lights.

No! Dari internally protested. She had merely experienced an injury-induced hallucination. She had only needed some rest for her body and mind to get back to full, working capacity. That was it! That had to be it! Otherwise, Dari was no longer in her world, in any world she was familiar with, and getting to a town wasn't going to make things any better.

Chapter 11

Roscoe was down on all fours, scouring over the patch of Earth where the cop had vanished. It was at least the half-dozenth time he had combed the spot, looking for even the smallest trace of what had happened a day ago. "The Boss is gonna kill us." Roscoe shook his squared head back and forth slowly as he stated the obvious.

Karl was at the nearby pier, poking around to see if any of the local riff-raff, dock workers, or seamen had noticed a newcomer in their midst. Like she could go unnoticed, Roscoe thought. The Redmond dame was a looker; that is if ya liked your women big and tough? Personally, the lug thought that tough was great, but he leaned more toward the short in stature.

Roscoe had been so deep in thought that he hadn't noticed the shaded figure as it approached from behind. As it advanced upon its unsuspecting prey, a dark covered arm reached inside a hidden pocket. A long metallic object emerged in the figure's hand. Only a few steps closer and the big mans' back would be within range. The hand holding the object extended up and out over the hunched frame, when the block-shaped head suddenly jerked up and saw the shadow of something behind him.

Roscoe dropped to his stomach and rolled over, pulling his revolver from its holster as he came to a stop on his broad backside. He aimed down the barrel, focusing on the front site, when the fuzzy image of the familiar came into view.

At the other end of Roscoe's Smith & Wesson stood a very surprised Karl, both arms now in the air, one hand carrying a "King Size Three Musketeers" bar. The silver foil wrapper glinted in the noonday sun.

"L'il jumpy today, aren't ya buddy?" Karl inquired with two raised eyebrows and a questioning grin. "All right for me to lower these?" He pointed his head in the general direction of his still raised arms. "Or does creamy nougat always have this affect on ya?"

Roscoe snorted a laugh and lowered his weapon. "Ya scared the bejesus outta me, Karl." The big guy exclaimed as he re-holstered the revolver. "I thought ya was some kinda 'bogeyman' come to git me da same as that Dari broad."

It was Karl's turn to laugh this time. "No such thing as 'bogeymen' Roscoe. The cop's someplace real where we can find her, we just haven't looked in the right place yet." Karl sat down beside his partner in crime and handed him the candy bar. "Knew you'd be jonesin' for a sugar fix 'bout now."

"Thanks, pal. You're always lookin' out for me." Roscoe mumbled as he bit into the milk chocolate.

"Well . . . " Karl shrugged, as he picked up a leaf and inspected it, " . . .somebody's gotta."

Chapter 12

With one brow raised upward at the scene before her, Dari watched quietly from the brush, a small smile creasing the corners of her full mouth. The stranger to this land had never witnessed such a sight. The steely-eyed warrior who had helped save her life was thigh-high in a small stream, bent over at the waist, apparently listening to the surface of the water. Dari cocked her head to the side in an effort to surmise just what was going on. Suddenly the light of recognition shone in the traveler's previously confused eyes.

After a short time, when she was sure the tall, dark woman hadn't noticed she was there, Dari moved closer, her bare feet soundless on the soft moss beneath them. She stood at the water's edge and crossed her arms, the smile growing, finally overtaking her whole face.

"Wouldn't it be better to use a fishing rod for that? You're going to be here for days waiting for a fish to just swim to you."

"Is that so?" Xena serenely stated without bothering to look back. In fact, she hadn't so much as twitched when Dari made her presence known. The Warrior Princess could see the vision in her mind's eye. She smiled at her own reflection in the water as her hands shot underneath the surface raising just as quickly with her prize. She held it up and swung it over her shoulder at the woman she knew was standing right behind her.

Dari deftly sidestepped the incoming fish, her eyes following it as it came to a thud on the grass beside her. "And for an encore you do?"

The warrior turned fisher, laughed and turned to look at her. "Try it, you may like it." Xena couldn't stop from staring. Gods, the woman could take your breath away in moments like these. If only she could put her finger on just what that quality was. It was nearly impossible to feel uncomfortable around Dari. She had an air of familiarity about her. Yep, she knew what had caught Gabrielle's eye with this one. She virtually radiated goodness, and it illuminated her outer beauty ten-fold. She had a kind face, eyes, and smile. The woman just oozed decency. Nope, no dark past there, at least not one that could compare with hers.

Dari shook her head. "No thank you, I'm not much into the whole hunting thing, but thanks."

"Sissy." Xena mumbled and turned back to her task. There could be such a thing as too much beauty and light, at least for one day.

"Call me whatcha want, I'm still not going to fish in a stream and stand there like a-"

Xena whipped her head back around. "Like a what?" She asked with a quizzical upturned eyebrow.

"Never mind." Dari sent Xena a dazzler of a smile and changed the subject. "So, why are you doing that?"

"We have to eat, don't we?"

Dari's smiling face deflated. "Fish? For breakfast? At the crack of dawn?" It was all way too ludicrous.

"Why not? Gabrielle and I have fish every day. Besides, it's hardly 'the crack of dawn.' You've been in your 'bath' at the pond forever. I was beginning to think you'd drowned. It's nearly mid-day." She turned and grabbed another slithering body as it swam past. This one was tossed onto the ledge and next to Dari's feet. "You have to be hungry by now."

"Not that hungry."

"We'll see."

* * *

Dari watched Gabrielle prepare their "breakfast" in wonderment. "You really do this every day?" She couldn't fathom the thought. This way of life had gone out with prehistoric man.

From her post at the cave entrance, Xena snorted at Dari's obvious revulsion for the breakfast menu. She looked back over her shoulder and down at Gabrielle. Gabs could take some ribbing, but when it came to her cooking…

"Yes. What do you do for food where you're from?" The bard inquired.

"Well, if you're really lazy, you grab a cup of coffee and a donut on the way to work," Dari stated as she assisted the chef by handing her another piece of wood. Gabrielle had put her to the task of wood gathering. Dari didn't mind though, she had to do something with herself. Normally, she was laid back, calm even, going about life as if she had lots of it left to waste. Now, she felt this urgent need to be somewhere, to do something. The rational, as well as the not so rational, instincts inside of Dari were telling her that she had to get from where she was back to where she needed to be.

"Hmmmm," was Gabrielle's reply. "What's a donut?"

"It's a round thing with a hole in the middle." Dari had never really contemplated bakery goods before.

Gabrielle giggled. "Sounds like Xena's Chakram."

"Her what?"

"The circular weapon there, hooked to her waist." Gabrielle patted her hand against her own right side as further explanation.

"Oh!" Dari exclaimed, glancing over at the razor-edged, metallic circle Xena went nowhere without. "No, no. It's a kind of fried bread dipped in a sweet coating."

"Ah." Gabrielle drawled. "A round eating thing." Gabrielle and Dari's eyes met, and the humor of their verbal exchange sunk in. Both women doubled over, dissolved in peals of laughter.

Xena smiled to herself and turned back to the early morning view. Beautiful day, she thought as she inhaled deeply, taking in the aroma of the breeze as well as that of the frying fish.

Gabrielle sniffled loudly, trying to regain her composure. "They're really good once they're Cooked," emphasizing the last word at Xena's back. "Sometimes we have to eat them raw for one reason or another."

"Gabrielle…" Xena tried to hide the amusement in her voice.

That was enough for Gabrielle, she said no more on the subject. "Anyway, you'll like it. I promise you, you will." Dari looked, unconvinced, from Xena's back to Gabrielle's striking gaze.

Chapter 14

After making a few important business calls, Lutheran walked up the grand staircase and headed straight to his bedroom. He yawned widely and spread his shoulder blades apart, cracking them in the process. Those bumbling fools better have some good news for me when I wake up, he thought as one hand reached for the brass doorknob.

"Will there be anything else sir, before you retire?" Collingsworth was standing to Lutheran's right when the startled crime boss whirled around. The Gentleman's Gentleman paid the display no mind and rephrased his question. "May I get you anything sir, before you repose?"

Lutheran regained his senses and replied, "Where the hell did you come from?!"

"Before you acquired me sir, the Northern side of London. Before that . . . "

"That's not what I . . . never mind." Lutheran rolled his dust gray eyes and gritted his teeth. "Just see that I'm awake by six. I have things to do tonight." He didn't wait for a reply before entering his bedroom and slamming the door shut.

"As you wish," Collingsworth stated, bowing slightly to the mahogany door, before exiting the hallway in the same manner in which he had arrived.

Chapter 15

"Well, that was… interesting." Dari gave her opinion as she washed her plate at the stream. Gabrielle knelt beside her, smiling. "Can't wait to see what's for dinner."

Gabrielle's smile broadened into a smirk. "What happens if you can't get back to where you're from?" Gabrielle asked. Her look turned suddenly serious.

Dari was silent for a time. She didn't know how she'd gotten here, so the prospect of finding the way back seemed almost insurmountable. "Well, . . ." She began slowly. "first things first. I need to know why I'm here. After I figure that out, I'm hoping that the how will take care of itself."

Gabrielle nodded, wanting to be supportive of her new friend, but not truly convinced that Dari had a clear grasp of her situation. "In the meantime, I can teach you about our world, show you some points of interest, if you'd like. The land here is as beautiful as it is sustaining." Gabrielle, looking for a second opinion, casually gestured to Xena, who had decided to take a nap on an adjacent rock closer to the stream. Gabrielle turned her attention back to Dari with a soft shrug of her squared shoulders. "If you can't get back, you're welcome to travel with us. Sometimes she's not so talkative . . . well, most times she isn't. Gets kind of lonely just writing in my scrolls."

Dari studied the soft green of her eyes for a moment. "However blissful that may sound, I do intend to return home. Dunno how, but I'll get back there. I have to. I have a… friend… and a cat. I just can't leave the only life I've known behind."

"Well, we're going to do our best to help you. Xena can figure almost anything out. She'll come up with a plan, you can bet on it."

Gabrielle nodded her head in the direction of the stream with the utmost of assurance, and then she turned back to Dari. "Dari?" Gabrielle cocked her head to one side and wrinkled her nose as she gazed sternly into her newest friends face. "What's a cat?"



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