Chapter 16

The afternoon passed by quickly. Between keeping the fire going, foraging for food, and drifting in and out of sleep, the sun had begun to set before Dari knew it. She hadn't realized how tired her body was. She couldn't even remember the last time she had slept the day away at home. It was just another little hole punched into her continually leaking bubble of logic.

As the day had progressed, Dari discovered that Gabrielle had been right. Xena was not the most communicative person she had ever met. But the bright-eyed blonde more than made up for any lulls in the conversation. Dari had felt an instant report with Gabrielle even before she could understand what the young woman was saying. And now that they could talk together, the bond between them only seem to grow more comfortable.

As the sun sank into the horizon, Xena "ordered" that they all return to the cave for the night.

"Why so early?" Dari questioned. That was one thing that hadn't changed.

"It's safer in the cave," Xena explained, not used to being questioned, "plus we need to get up at sunrise to start searching for your way home."

Sunrise! This was not the proper atmosphere for a night person. Dari watched the dark warrior as she gathered up what needed to be taken to the cave. There had been times when Xena had looked upon her with kind, but questioning eyes. And then there had been those occasions when Dari was certain that she viewed her as an enemy. The truth was, Dari wasn't sure who wanted her home more- herself or Xena.

* * *

At six o'clock, on the dot, Lutheran arose from his dream heavy slumber. Visions of gusting winds and swirling light filled what was usually peaceful sleep. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut to rid himself of the lingering images. When he reopened the slightly puffy orbs, he was startled by the site of Collingsworth standing like a statue at the foot of his bed. "I didn't hear you come in." Lutheran's voice squeaked out having not been used in several hours.

"I came to wake you sir, as per your instructions."

"Oh yeah, right." The Boss yawned as he spoke. "My little internal alarm took care of that for you." Lutheran tapped the side of his head with a stout index finger. "Guess it comes in handy being left-brained sometimes."

Collingsworth merely bowed in response, and asked, "Would you care for some dinner, sir?"

Lutheran patted his paunch and contemplated. "I'm in the mood for Filet Minong, rare, with all the trimmings. You know how I like it."

"Of course, sir." Collingsworth headed for the bedroom door as his master threw the silk lined duvet aside. "Do you have a preference of wine this evening?" He asked before fully exiting the room.

Lutheran sat on the edge of the bed, allowing his box like feet to dangle. "The Chateau Lafite Rothschild . . . No, make it the Latour instead."


"It doesn't matter. I only stock the cellar with the best." Lutheran laughed wickedly as he bounded off of the mattress, grabbed the suit Collingsworth had laid out, and strolled into the adjoined dressing room.

* * *

The evening meal was the "usual" fish, along with fried bread. And even though Gabrielle and Xena had tried to encourage her to eat in order to regain her strength, Dari ate very little. The two warriors glanced anxiously back and forth between one another and their guest during the entire meal.

Dari had planned on explaining what led up to her bizarre arrival, as best she could. Somehow, the words just wouldn't come. Occasionally, Xena would open her mouth, about to express some bit of encouragement to prod Dari along. But inevitably, Gabrielle would sense what Xena had planned and she would place a light touch upon her, stopping the woman before she could utter the first sound.

The tension inside the cave slowly grew unbearable. With every passing minute, Dari's strong features became more pale and gaunt. When finally it looked like the flood could be held back no longer, Dari began her tale. She held very little back from her saviors, she saw no reason to. Who knew how long she would be in this strange land, or for what purpose she had been brought here. Maybe, if she told them everything that she could, everything which was relevant up to when the lightning apparently took her, then maybe they could help her return home.

It was worth a shot.

She told them of her back alley brawl, followed by the chase. The chase- that constant, exhaustive running which she was afraid would never end except with the expulsion of a bullet. She described the storm, with its voracious thunder and lightning, especially the lightning. How the streaks had appeared to be aiming specifically for her, until, when that last bolt of blue-white heat had struck, and she had awoken here, in excruciating pain.

With every detail, Dari relived what had happened. The truth contained in the experiences hit her harder than any bullet ever could. Finally, Dari was no longer able to deny that this was real. Whatever this was.

By the time Dari had finished, the tears had begun to spill out of her aqua eyes and onto her highly sculptured cheeks. She reached up and dabbed at the salt water with the back of her hand, angered by their arrival, infuriated more by her loss of control. She wanted desperately to be at home. But more than that, she wanted- Before the name could even reach her mind, Dari succumbed to the pain and confusion she had felt since it all began. She bent her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms tightly around her shins, bowed her head, and sobbed uncontrollably.

Gabrielle could take no more. Before Dari had completely released her first ragged breath, she was by her side, draping herself around the rocking figure. "Please, Dari, don't. We'll find out what's happening. We'll get you home. Won't we?" The bard turned a limpet eye to her companion.

"Of course," Xena replied. How could she say otherwise? Between Dari's story and Gabrielle's reaction, the decision had already been made.

* * *

Lutheran finished his meal with a hearty belch. No need for politeness at his own table. Especially since he dined alone. He pushed the empty plate aside and rang for Collingsworth. Before his finger had released the button, the manservant appeared.

"Any word from 'Mutt and Jeff'?"

Collingsworth imperceptibly raised an eyebrow and replied, "Mr. Karl and Mr. Roscoe just rang. They're on their way."

"It's about time." Lutheran mumbled into his Laleek crystal wine glass. "They better have some good news for me. I'd really hate to be forced to kill them inside the house."
"Yes, sir." Collingsworth bowed ever so slightly. "I'll inform you immediately upon the arrival of your employees."

"You do that." The Boss stated, absentmindedly sucking the final bits of his dinner off his teeth. From beside him, Lutheran was brought back to reality by a concerned sigh. "What is it, Ole Boy?"

"Forgive me, sir. I was just thinking that hopefully violence wouldn't be necessary this evening. Blood splatter is so difficult to clean up properly." With that, Collingsworth exited the dining room.

Lutheran, falling back into his own world of thought, merely nodded his head in silent agreement.

Chapter 17

"NO!" Dari shouted, reaching out, not knowing what was dream and what was reality. She awoke to find herself shuddering, in a cold sweat, encircled in Gabrielle's caring embrace. She looked around her nervously, "What… where…"

"Shhh." Gabrielle soothed, glancing over to where Xena's fur was and saw it empty. A quick glance around the cave told her she and Dari were alone. "It's ok, I've got you. It was just a dream, that's all." She brushed her hands over the woman's hair several times, beginning from the temples, working backwards, pressing her forehead to Dari's. "Just a bad dream is all…"

"It was so real. I was being chased again, and this time they caught me."

"Shhh." Gabrielle laid her back down and moved closer than she had already been, tucking herself neatly against Dari. "Everything's all right now, you're here, with me, those men wouldn't dare lay a hand on you."

Gabrielle's inner nervousness laid lie to those words. What if they were to attack, and Xena wasn't here to save the day as she always was? Now stop that! You're a great fighter in your own right, Gabrielle, she chastised herself. Yeah, but what about those "guns" Dari had told her of, the mysterious weapons of the 21st Century? How was she to fight those? She may be a good fighter, but she doubted she could catch a bullet in her hand like Xena could an arrow. And what of Xena? Could she catch a bullet? The doubt she felt was beginning to show on her face.

"What's wrong?" Dari inquired, wide eyed, still unsettled from the dream.

Gabrielle breathed deeply to regain her composure. "Oh, I'm just thinking about your dreams. I wish I could take them away." She smiled down at Dari, leaned forward and kissed her forehead at the hairline. She could faintly smell that fragrance she had emitted when she'd first been in her arms. "What is that smell? Or was that smell?" She laughed gently.

"Salvador Dali." Dari supplied.


Dari smiled. "It's a perfume I wear. Like it?"

"Oh, do I…" Gabrielle flushed and looked away. "Yes, it's very nice. I can barely smell it now though, it was stronger…" She trailed off, remembering holding Dari all that first night, how she'd fallen asleep several times to her uneven heart beat and shallow breaths. The dreams she herself had experienced that night… she stopped herself there, the thought totally unrealistic. If anyone, she would share her first soul kiss with Xena, and not some stranger that fell from the sky. A change of subject was in order, "It's unlike any perfume I've ever smelled."

"You have perfume in this time?"

"Of course we do," Gabrielle giggled, "only ours are more singular fragrances, like jasmine or lilac."

"Hmmmm." Dari was unaware of the historical beginnings of the perfume industry.
Xena stepped into the cave, noting Gabrielle's whereabouts… Again. She tossed her Chakram down on her fur skin and reached for her sword. "What are you two doing up?"

"Where did you go?" Gabrielle watched her friend as she prepared for bed.

"For a walk, nightly check before bed. Everything ok in here?"

"Yes, Fine now. Dari just had a bad dream."

"Well, get back to sleep. We'll be leaving soon, better get some rest. We have a long journey ahead of us."

Gabrielle glanced back at Dari. "She's right, get some sleep. I'll be right here if you need me." She stroked Dari's hair until the woman closed her eyes and drifted back into a deep slumber.

* * *

Xena sat awake as the two slept soundly beside her. She watched as Gabrielle, even in sleep, kept a protective arm around Dari's waist, pulling the woman closer to her at the slightest movement. She was disturbed with how Gabrielle caressed the stranger. The loving way she stroked her shoulders, her neck, and her face.

Their faces -- so close, Gabrielle's lips just at the corner of the other woman's. If either turned only slightly, they'd be sleep kissing. Xena closed her eyes to shut out the images, but she knew that wouldn't stop them from dancing across her inner lids. She mentally cursed whoever bestowed this stranger upon them.

What did it mean? Why had it happened? Everything had a purpose, a reason. So what logic lay in this? Was this person supposed to come into their lives and take her Gabrielle away? How could they stay together if Gabrielle's heart belonged to another? No. That would never happen. That she sincerely believed. Their hearts beat the same. She knew that now. She was as much a part of the young bard as Gabrielle was of her. They may not have the physical closeness Xena craved, but they had the emotional connection, and that was nearly as good. And nothing would sever that.


Chapter 18

"She's gorgeous," Dari commented upon seeing the mare. "Hi, Argo," she patted the horse's strong neck when Xena came astride her. The horse nuzzled her hand then bumped her in the chest, making her lean backwards without taking a step back.

"She likes ya." Xena beamed with pride at her horse. "Guess we do, too." She reluctantly stated. The warrior had begun to feel the uneasiness Dari had around her. Actually it was a feeling she was used to. Most people seemed to automatically go on alert as soon as she entered a room. But for the sake of her bard she would try to keep the intimidation factor down to an acceptable level.

"Well that's good, I guess." The cop wasn't completely convinced of Xena's sincerity.

"You're a good person, Dari. It emanates from you. It's almost blinding it's so bright. I doubt you could be evil, even if touched by it." That much she meant.

"Very poetically stated, Xena, but it hardly sounds like me." Dari laughed and turned to see Gabrielle traversing the incline from the cave with her arms loaded. She jogged over, scooped the supplies up before the petite woman could protest, and carried them over to Argo's saddlebags.

"Thanks." Gabrielle spoke with uncharacteristic shyness. "But you didn't have to do that. I'm used to lugging around our provisions."

"Oh, I don't doubt that you could have handled everything just fine." Dari kept a watchful eye on Gabrielle as they stuffed the bags full. "But I can never resist assisting a beautiful lady."

Gabrielle blushed as she finished fastening the saddlebags and proceeded to check on Argo's cinch without looking up at the rider. She knew that Xena had heard and saw everything, especially the things left unsaid. Her constant traveling companion had the unnerving knack of reading between the lines. And at this moment, she had no intention of looking into those penetrating eyes to review the paragraph she had just been privy to. A change of subject was most definitely in order. "So what does a 'Cop' do?" Gabrielle asked as they fell in behind the now traveling Xena and strode side by side at a leisurely pace.

"Generally we keep the peace, stop bad guys from doing bad, and lock 'em up when they do."

"That's what Xena and I do!" Gabrielle beamed.

"Hadn't thought about it. I guess so. I can't wait to see the towns here. They'll be something, I bet."

"They're pretty much the same. Some places, like India, are different. Bigger buildings -- different way of life. Is it the same where you're from?"

"Yes, it's global I would imagine." For the next hour, they settled in to an unhurried gait, two figures walking beside one another, and one on horseback. Each thinking their own thoughts.

* * *

"Gabrielle, quick, hide Dari!" Xena shouted from up ahead. Dari grunted when Gabrielle grabbed and then shoved her into the bushes, nearly falling on top of her.

"What's wrong?" Dari sputtered, trying to right herself, feeling the weight of Gabrielle's body as it hovered over hers.

"Trouble." Gabrielle informed, quickly hopping up, darting from the brush, and racing to where Xena, sword already drawn, was standing.

Dari peeked through the bushes and saw Gabrielle standing taut with her staff at mid-waist, ready to defend herself and her traveling companions. In front of she and Xena stood a band of dirty, horridly dressed men, their swords also drawn, with one or two carrying bows and arrows. She couldn't just lie there and do nothing. She had to lend her knowledge of defense to the brawl, which she knew was eminent. These women had saved her life, she owed them at least that much. Feeling resolved in her decision and confident in her abilities, Dari jumped from her hiding place causing all eyes to dart in her direction.

The gang of marauders stood there, jaws agape, staring at her as if she were a Harpy.

"What is THAT?" The leader questioned, momentarily forgetting about the fight.

"Dari, get back where you were!" Xena commanded.



Dari cursed under her breath. "I'm not an invalid, I can defend myself. I am a cop ya know."

Xena rolled her eyes. For the love of Zeus! This was not the time for heroics. Besides, now that these men had seen her, word would get out and trouble would be sure to follow. Xena just shook her head. This wasn't the old days. She couldn't very well kill them all to keep them silent.

The exceedingly tall female not only looked strange, the leader of the ruffians surmised; she spoke in a strange accent, with most of her words sounding unfamiliar to the band of thugs. She would gain them a hefty price if they captured her. Oh, a hefty one indeed.

"Grab her!" The leader ordered.

Dari's eyes widened in surprise, and she just stood there as a band of ten men came racing toward her.

"See? What'd I tell ya!" Xena said in exasperation, and with her warrior yell, bolted after the throng of men, swinging her sword ahead of her. Gabrielle also leapt into action, spinning her staff with grace and power, knocking several of the men down to their knees with a series of jabs, then whacking them over the head to render them useless.

The few men that did escape both Xena's and Gabrielle's attacks charged at Dari like a pack of wild dogs, shouting and drooling as if she was a mountain of dinars. Her law enforcement reflexes kicked in, and with lightning fast movement, Dari cracked several of the men in the chin with the heel of her hand and the sole of her boot, knocking them backwards and down. She stood there; men sprawled out around her feet, first glancing down at them, then up at Xena and Gabrielle, who were also standing, gaping at her.

The cop reached down and grabbed the scruff of one of the ruffian's furs, hauling him up to the tips of his toes. "Just what did you think you were doing?" she asked. He could only shake his head and slobber an unintelligible answer.

Disgusted, Dari dropped him to his feet and side stepped him. She spotted the leader and narrowed her eyes. "Go!" she ordered, most persuasively, and the man turned tail and fled.

Gabrielle was gushing with pride. "Great Gods! Where'd you learn those moves?"

"Karate training." She shrugged and sauntered up beside the pair. She smirked when her gaze met Xena's. "Like I said, I can take care of myself."

Chapter 19

"So, what are we gonna tell the Boss?" Roscoe hopped nervously from one foot to the other.

"The truth, what else?" Karl 'sheeshed' at his partner as they stood at the entrance to Lutheran's house. "Don't be so chicken. What's he gonna do? Kill us for telling him the truth?" The small man froze in mid buzz of the grand double door's bell and turned to Roscoe. "On second thought, maybe we should wait 'til morning." But just as the duo was about to step down off of the lanai, one of the front doors swung open.

"Mr. Ingles is expecting you, and you know how he doesn't like to be kept waiting."

Collingsworth stepped sideways to allow the men into the foyer. Reluctantly, Karl and Roscoe walked onto the tiled floor. "This way gentlemen." The manservant extended his right hand and preceded to follow the two in the direction he had guided them toward.

When the men reached the door to the study, Collingsworth took the lead and entered the room. Seated at the oversized mahogany desk was Lutheran, dressed in his usual dark, tailored suit, typing like a madman on a streamline laptop. "It took you long enough." Lutheran spoke without bothering to look up from the screen. "Come." He ordered, as he bent the chubby fingers of his right hand in a chopped forward motion.

Karl and Roscoe stepped farther into the room. As soon as the pair stood clear of the entrance, Collingsworth shut the door deftly behind them, leaving the three men alone to conduct their business.

* * *

"So where are we headed anyway?" Dari asked once they had been back on the trail for a few hours without any further mishaps.

"Amphipolis," Xena called from up ahead.

"That's Xena's home . . . town," Gabrielle added, leaning closer to Dari. "You'll like her mom, she's one of the best cooks around."

"We're making a stop first." Xena interjected. "We have to get her dressed in something other than what she has on; we can't take any more chances."
"I'm not wearing a skirt." And that was final.

Xena smiled to herself and gently guided Argo forward with a tap of her heels to the horse's side flanks. During their journey, she'd tried to rationalize what had happened, and how to correct it. She dallied with the idea that Dari's "praying" for help had had something to do with her escape from the men who were chasing her. The means of transportation for her arrival, obviously being the lightning bolt. So, Xena surmised, that a possible way to get her back to where she belonged was to have Dari pray again to the entity she had first called upon, under similar circumstances.

However, Xena could never recall a spectacle the likes of which she and Gabrielle had witnessed the night Dari arrived. Although the storm still lingered when the three had left the cave site, Xena was certain that from the weather they were experiencing now, the squall would have already dissipated. Besides, no ordinary lightning would do. So, that left the warrior woman with two problems: one, how to recreate the light show that exploded in the sky on that fateful night; and two, what to do with the stranger until conditions permitted her an attempt to return home?

The answer to one, would require planning. The solution to the second question was much simpler. Hide her.

Xena glanced back at Gabrielle and Dari. So how come Xena just couldn't seem to shake the feeling that there was something . . . fishy about the whole situation?

* * *

Lutheran saved the material he had been working on and gently closed the computer case. "I'm waiting."

Roscoe nudged Karl with his elbow, in essence telling his comrade that he had better do the talking.

"Ya see; it's like this Boss." Karl swallowed hard and glanced up at Roscoe, who nodded his head in affirmation of what Karl was about to say. "We done everything like you asked. We got a couple of the boys to stake out the Redmond broad's house, and the precinct she works in, while I combed the waterfront, and Roscoe searched the woods. We even got a tail on the other chick the cop lives with. But we got nothin'. We're sorry, Boss."

"You're sorry?" Lutheran clasped his hands atop the desk and inhaled deeply. "Did you bug her telephone, check out her other friends- family?" The crime lord was beginning to turn that certain shade of color again.

Both Roscoe and Karl instinctively took a step backwards. "All that, Mr. Lutheran. It came out a total bust every time." Karl shrugged his shoulders, wishing that he and Roscoe had waited 'til morning, or maybe never to come and see their boss.

"I see." Lutheran loosened his grip and began to drum his fingers on the black leather desk cover. His temple was throbbing again. He raised his other hand to massage the area, when a glint of blue caught his attention. He looked up and watched as a sparkle of light from in front of him reflected the flames in the fireplace and refracted throughout the study. Blue and white shards danced across the ceiling and twinkled intermittently against the walls. Upon tracking the light back to its source, the display appeared to be coming from the hand of one of his hired henchmen. "What's that you've got, Roscoe?" Lutheran questioned the big man as he stood from behind the desk.

"What Boss?" Roscoe whirled around 360 degrees in an attempt to figure out what he could possibly possess that Mr. Lutheran might want.

"There! In that baseball glove you call a hand!" He pointed, stretching across the desktop.

"Oh, this?" Roscoe extended his arm and opened his left hand, flattening out the palm. "I found it this morning, in the woods."

"And why didn't ya tell me about your lil' discovery?" Karl placed closed fists against his hips in indignation.

"We was lookin' for the Redmond dame, not shiny blue bits of…" Roscoe glanced back to the object in his hand, "of whatever this thing is."

Karl rolled his eyes at his partner's shear magnitude of density. "Of all the numbskull things you've ever done Roscoe, this ranks right up there with the numbskulliest."

Roscoe, now indignant himself, attempted to defend the way in which his mind worked, by replying, "And how was I ta know . . ."

"Enough! Both of you!" Lutheran's gaze was still affixed to the item currently under such passionate debate. Lying motionless in the middle of the large hand was a brilliant blue gemstone. All three men stood, suddenly struck silent, staring at the square-shaped object. Lutheran reached out to take hold of the jewel, but just before he could touch it, a shaft of light emanated from the center. The entire room flooded with a brilliance bright enough to cause the men to flinch in response. Then just as quickly as the light appeared, it faded, pitching the room back into its normally darkened hues.

The men all staggered, momentarily blinded by the stones ray. "What the hell?"

Lutheran finally managed to blurt out. He reached for the gem a second time, only with much more caution.

Roscoe and Karl stood opened mouthed as their Boss took the jewel from the bigger man's possession, caressing the stone as if it were a lost child, now found. Roscoe was relieved that he was no longer in contact with the thing. Plus, Mr. Lutheran seemed pleased by the shiny hunk of glass. He could only hope that maybe what he had found would keep Karl and him outta too bad a'trouble.



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