Disclaimers: While this fiction is based on the characters of the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, they and the stories presented on this website are otherwise of my own creation, and thus belong to me. Please do not reproduce this text in any form without my permission. I hope you enjoy this piece, feel free to email me with any questions or comments.
Rating: Devon likes a good fight just as much as Xena, and there is both violence and bloodshed in this fic, as well as some light swearing. PG-13
Uber Reflections: The character of Arkon is based on that of Draco from X:WP. Talia in human form resembles angel Callisto.
Liria awakened with a start, lurching forward in bed. Her blankets had somehow wrapped themselves around her as she slept, and she clawed at the stranglehold around her chest and neck, shuddering. At the foot of the bed, Talia raised her head from her front paws and looked at her quizzically. Breathing heavily, Liria dropped her hands into her lap and smiled sheepishly.
“Sorry,” she told her familiar. The dog whined and fell to her side, snuggling against Liria's feet under the blankets. Talia's size made the bed tight quarters, but it was comforting to have her so close.
“Is something wrong, Liria?” a female voice asked in hushed tones.
Madra gazed at her from across the room, where she'd been sleeping in a small trundle bed near the door. The older woman smiled kindly when she had her attention. “More dreams?” she asked.
Liria nodded, then tossed the blankets aside and swung her feet to the floor. “I'm going to Lenchester,” she decided.
Instead of arguing, Madra merely nodded absently and lay back in her narrow bed. Surprised, Liria thought she saw a smile cross the woman's face. Her gaze fell on the gown thrown over a chair near the fire, making her remember the journey she'd taken to reach this place.
Devon had been gone only two days before Liria had decided to finish traveling to Madra's home. Feran's son had been a magnanimous host, allowing her to stay as long as she needed, but Liria soon grew uncomfortable in the atmosphere of Seward. A great man had just died, and the funereal tone of the castle was too much for her to bear in her present circumstances. Garrick actually gave her a horse to take with her, making the trip that much quicker. Still, it took nearly two weeks to arrive at Madra's cottage near the city of Glenyth.
The gown had been Devon's, a lifetime ago, it seemed. Liria couldn't imagine her friend in such finery, having seen her wearing the armor and clothing of a man for the majority of their time together. But when she saw it, she knew she had to have it. The lush fabric felt heavenly beneath her fingers, being a deep shade of violet. Beneath it she wore an underdress of scarlet, which complemented the tone beautifully. Liria almost felt like nobility herself when she wore it. Her blue dress was currently residing in her saddlebags. She didn't quite have the heart to toss it out, perhaps fearing that her new clothing might somehow disappear one day.
They'd sent word out to Lenchester, but the courier had returned on his own, describing the scene of the siege itself even though he'd been unable to finish his journey to the castle. She'd heard nothing from Devon since the day her friend had left Seward. Deep down, Liria knew that Devon would be furious with her for following, and claim that there was nothing she could do to help the situation. But after witnessing Madra's secret satisfaction over her decision, it was clear what the older woman expected her to do.
Liria went to the hearth, pushing the kettle over the low flames and stoking the fire to new strength. There was little chance she'd be sleeping any further this night, and she had plans to make.
She rose out of unconsciousness slowly, her mind resisting a return to the physical pain her body promised. When she heard the sounds of men speaking nearby, her eyes popped open immediately. Her gaze landed on the bearded face of a filthy, disheveled man wearing chain mail. He sat against the heavy wall of the tent, staring at her.
Damn, Devon thought. Doesn't this bastard even have to piss? She'd hoped her sentry had taken a moment to chat with someone outside and left her alone for a moment.
Expressionless, she lowered her head, using her hair to shield her face. She hated the feel of his eyes on her. The coppery taste of blood filled her mouth as her head dropped, prompting her to examine its confines with her tongue. Small favors, she thought, no teeth knocked loose.
Arkon had her thrown in this tent three days before, as far as she could tell. Chains bound her wrists and ankles. A man stayed with her at all times.
"Do not take your eyes from her," Arkon had directed him, "Approach her with sword in hand, and only if you intend to use it. She's dangerous. Don't believe a word she says."
He spoke as though he understood her, Devon had realized then. Now she knew for certain that he still maintained that absurdly male paternalism that so often underestimated her. He hadn't killed her outright, thinking perhaps that he might be able to control her. He didn't understand her at all.
The heavy tarp above them shielded the light of the sun. She counted the passage of days by the quality of light spilling through the flaps covering the entryway. The tent itself was only partially illuminated by a small lantern near her sentry.
Raising her head once more, she carefully eased it toward her right shoulder, testing her neck for stiffness. Her body was healing well after the beating she'd received. She grinned to herself, recalling what she'd said to Arkon after his first blow to the middle doubled her over.
"You have a woman's touch," she'd murmured, earning the strike that had resulted in the throbbing mass on the side of her face.
The guard at the doorway eyed her suspiciously. Clearing her throat, she requested, "Water, please."
Devon watched for the brief patch of sky that appeared when another man answered the call of his comrade and stepped inside. Just as she thought, the darkness outside revealed the time to be well after dusk. Tonight, she thought, I'll find my moment to move on from this place.
"I once heard the tale of a sorceress who worked for the king," Madra commented later that morning, as Liria packed a bag of supplies. "Long ago, of course," she continued when she got a disbelieving glance. "This woman managed to destroy an entire army, protecting the country from invaders."
"What happened to her?" Liria asked.
Madra shrugged. "Those details of the story never survive the legend," she said.
Liria snorted. "Probably got burned at the stake for her troubles," she muttered. She stopped, glancing down at her hands. They were trembling.
Madra placed a hand on her shoulder. "There are ways to go undetected," she whispered. "You know this. You have the ability to stop this terrible event from occuring. Devon needs you."
"Why do you care whether or not I use my powers?" Liria asked. "How does that affect you either way?"
Madra's hand fell away. "You sound like her. Like Devon," she added when Liria frowned. "I can't help but want to see the both of you rise to your potential. Devon, because I've known her since she took her very first breath in this world. And you...you, because I can see the great abilities just waiting to be released. Perhaps I'm more than a little selfish in wanting to be the one who discovered them."
Liria couldn't help but smile at the sheepish expression on the older woman's face. "I know what to do," she said. "And I won't be seen."
"Keep Talia close by your side. She'll be a comfort," Madra said. The dog, watching from the floor, barked softly at the sound of her name.
"Don't worry, she's definitely coming with me."
"I want you to take something else, as well." The older woman turned away to rummage through the trunk at the foot of the bed. "This is a tool you might find very useful in the future. I wanted to wait until you were more sure of your path, but I think now is a better time."
Watching with interest, Liria saw Madra straighten, a glint of steel in her hands. The woman crossed the small expanse of the room to place a dagger into her hands. The handle was old and worn, obviously well-used. But it had a comfortable weight, and seemed to fit easily into the palm of her hand. The blade itself was unlike any she'd ever seen before. Curving dramatically, it shone brightly, like it had only just been forged by a smith's labor.
"It's beautiful," Liria whispered. "But I can't accept it."
"Nonsense," Madra answered. "It belongs to you now. This is a ritual knife. It is to be used for the purpose of making magic, and nothing else. Keep it with you always."
Taking a deep breath, Liria nodded. "It's time for me to go," she said. ***
Her breath rasped in her ears, dulling the sounds of the forest around her. She held the stolen blade close to her body, pressing her back against the trunk of a tree. Behind her, she heard the unmistakable sound of a foot breaking a twig on the ground. She froze, holding her breath. Any minute movement on her part would reveal her location, by the clanking of the chains, the shifting of the leaves on the ground at her feet, or her breath itself.
Devon exhaled lightly when she heard nothing further. Leaning to the left, she peered around the tree to see that she was alone again at last. Sighing in relief, she pressed forward, anxious to get some distance between herself and their camp.
It wasn't quite dawn when Arkon had returned to her makeshift cell. He made a great show of mocking her appearance, smelling the air above her and grimacing. "You have not changed," he'd finally said. "Still think you can save the world."
Devon hadn't answered, instead staring mulishly at his boots. He'd squatted before her then, grabbing her chin harshly. But she'd jerked her head away, making him laugh.
"Your father polluted your mind," Arkon had continued. "To make you think that you, a woman, could behave in such a manner and not pay the price? You are an abomination."
Devon paused in her flight, stooping. The chains that bound her legs had allowed some freedom of movement, but now that she was on her own it was time to do something about them. She sat on a large stone, propping the metal against it. Using Arkon's sword, she swung heavily, watching the chain break. Her legs flexed out in either direction, and she grunted in satisfaction.
"Much better," she said. With shackles still circling both wrists and ankles, she continued her circular path toward the secret entrance into the castle.
The moment she'd been waiting for had occurred as Arkon was leaving. As he swept from the tent, the breeze caught the flap at the entrance, and a rush of wind swirled inside. The guard's lantern blew out at that moment, plunging the two of them into darkness. As he swore, Devon quickly rolled away from her position, moving toward the outer wall. By the time the lantern was lit once more, she was well out of the way. She'd watched the guard's eyes widen in shock to see her gone. She couldn't help the sounds she made as she pounced on him, but he hadn't had much time to react, anyway. The chains ended up being very useful, after all.
Unfortunately, she hadn't been as quiet as she would have hoped. He'd managed to cry out before she strangled him. The chain between her ankles was long enough to allow movement, although she had to remain constantly conscious of her gait. Devon had hurried outside, seeking to use the darkness to cover her escape.
But there had been several guards waiting for her. She ducked as the first swung the hilt of his sword, intending to knock her unconscious. Off balanced, he was easy to cast aside. She used his forward momentum to throw him over her head. He flew headlong into the tent, which caved inward at the impact.
Devon whipped around in time to catch the flash of another sword, the business end threatening more than a bump on the head. She threw her arms before her, stretching the chain between them taut. A great spark illuminated them a brief moment, and the chain broke under the strength of the blade.
"Thanks," Devon said, then butted the man in the head.
As she tiptoed away from the area, she'd spotted Arkon chatting with several of his men. Grinning wickedly, she ignored the little voice that urged her to cut her losses and get out of there. But after the previous few days, she was filled with more spite than conscience.
"Arkon!" she'd called. He turned, startled. The expression quickly turned to anger when he saw her. "Are you going to breach that wall, or sit out here with your thumb up your--"
Devon broke off when the group started running toward her. She spared a moment to laugh at their outrage before turning and hopping away the best she could with her feet restrained. Her target was near--they were encamped at the edge of her father's favorite hunting forest. She had a long history with the trees growing within, and needed to get off the ground.
Hauling herself up into a large oak, Devon found it much easier to rely on her arms to get around. She heard the men rushing into the forest behind her, but had already traversed several trees by that point. Pausing, she waited for her quarry to approach.
But Arkon had not been the first man to step beneath her perch. Fortunately, though, this one was alone for the moment it took her to drop down to the proper level to do some damage. Hanging from her arms, she used the chain binding her ankles in a familiar fashion. At least this man was lucky enough to go quickly. He landed on the ground after the sound of snapping bone prompted her to release him.
The helmet gave Arkon away, even in the darkness. Devon had the urge to pluck those foolish feathers right off his head. Instead, she waited for him to pass before leaping to the ground behind him. As she landed, she reached forward, managing to relieve him of his sword before he realized she was there.
"Hello, sirrah," Devon sneered. She turned his own weapon on him, ready to finish him.
But an angry whisper went streaking past her head at that moment, alerting her to the archers grouping nearby. Devon gnashed her teeth in annoyance.
"We're not finished," she promised, darting away into the trees once more.
Now, approaching the safety of the castle once more, Devon allowed herself to enjoy her brief moment of triumph. Looking down at Arkon's sword, she whispered to herself, "I'm keeping this."
Not far up the unmarked path, she spotted several men wandering about. Frowning, Devon crept closer, noting that they belonged to Arkon. They were trying to find whatever passageway they'd used to leave the castle. It was unlikely they'd be able to, since it was not visible from the ground, and appeared to be nothing more than a common opening in the cliff face from the sea. But it made her task a little more interesting. She'd hardly be able to sneak back inside with them milling around the area. There was one more entrance this side of the castle, but she didn't look forward to implementing it. She'd been twelve the last time she used it to make a secret exit, as it had been before her father showed her the proper passageway. Sighing, Devon turned away from the men and went back into the trees.
The smoke was visible from miles away. Dozens of campfires spewed their blackness into the air, marking the location of Arkon's army. Liria pulled up on the reins of her mount, pausing to gaze up at it.
"We're close," she said, glancing down at the large animal plodding alongside the horse.
Talia turned her head up and tossed it minutely, acknowledging her statement. The dog knew better than to bark this close to the area. She gazed up at her mistress a moment longer, an odd light of understanding in her amber eyes.
Sighing, Liria nodded. "I know I have to do it," she said. "I'm ready," she added, lying.
Inside of her was a tumultuous storm of indecision and fear. Madra said she had the ability to do this, and Liria believed her, but that was hardly the point. The ability Liria had was destructive, and out of her ken. How could she in good conscience unleash it upon anyone, even an army bent on bloodshed? She bit her lip and gently kneed the horse, prodding him to move forward once again.
As they followed the faint path, she noticed the land began to rise gently away from them. She peered up along the left hand side. A rolling hill loomed above them, covered only in wild flowers and grass. The trees around it would provide some cover, while the height should allow her to see her target. After a moment's consideration, she urged her mount off the road.
"This will work," she whispered a few minutes later. Liria stood at the top of the hill, Talia by her side. Her horse grazed peacefully behind them, unaware of the proceedings to come.
Lenchester was clearly visible from this point. Although the army's encampment cluttered the foreground, the castle still appeared desolate, and dead. She wished she knew for certain if Devon was inside, but could only assume that the woman had managed to enter on her own. At the sight of the stone edifice, Liria felt herself begin to tremble. She was surprised and a little ashamed to find her vision blurring as fear crowded in to affect her focus. She was forced to turn away, lowering her head and taking deep breaths to clear the fogginess.
"Stupid," she muttered. Talia nudged one hand with her snout, but Liria wasn't able to supply the comforting stroke along the animal's head.
Just then, a loud clap rolled along the countryside. It seemed to reach her from a great distance. Curiously, she turned back toward Lenchester. There appeared to be some activity brewing down there. She squinted, trying to see across the distance. Then, feeling a warmth unfurling in her middle, she whispered, "Clear my sight."
As though a fog had been lifted, she was suddenly able to see the outer walls of Lenchester. She could have been standing only a hundred paces away. What she saw horrified her. Apparently Arkon had decided to take their attack to the next level, for they'd begun to ram the doors. She saw each strike, then heard the blow echoing back at her several moments later.
"Oh, God," she whispered. Her hands rose to her face, which she buried into them. "I can't...I can't."
"Liria," someone spoke behind her.
Her heart contracting in surprise, Liria turned, her hands falling to her sides. The right instantly reached fumbled inside her cloak, seeking Madra's dagger. She wished again that she was as deft as Devon in handling weapons. But a moment later she paused, her mouth dropping open in shock.
Before her stood the woman she'd seem only in her dreams. When Madra had given her the henbane, and she crossed through a number of painful hallucinations, this was the person who had given her most comfort. But she shouldn't exist in reality. Liria wondered if she'd lost consciousness in her fear.
"You're awake, my friend," the blonde woman assured her. She smiled gently, her long hair swaying in the breeze. She seemed as solid as anyone.
Liria glanced around, but could not see her furry companion. "How have you done this, Talia?" she asked the woman.
"In this form, you see me as an equal to yourself," Talia explained. When Liria opened her mouth to argue, she raised a hand. "Please. I know that perception forms the human world. As a dog, I am your friend. But as a woman, I can serve to focus your strength. No one else can see me like this. Let me help you now."
Feeling a tear burn its way down her cheek, Liria closed her eyes. "I'm not as strong as Madra thinks I am."
Talia took several steps toward her. Her white dress fluttered across the grass around her. "You are stronger," she said firmly. "Right now you let fear cloud your mind. You will not unlease darkness on this land. Your soul seeks what is right, and just. Our Mother trusts you with Her power to create, and to destroy. She wields both equally, and so will you."
Liria opened her eyes to see Talia standing next to her, holding out one hand. Swallowing heavily, Liria nodded. "All right," she said. "I trust you, Talia."
They turned toward Lenchester, where Arkon's army still battered the outer doors.
Devon stalked across the battlement, shouting orders at the men who were stationed nearby. She braced herself as the wall shuddered once again. "Have you got that oil ready?" she snapped.
If then men were able to break through the first defense, they would be forced to run through a narrow passageway before meeting the inner portcullis. With easy access from the wall above, the men could be liberally attacked with arrows and debris. Bursting through the outer doors was merely the first challenge.
"We haven't lost yet," she assured the men. "Be ready with those bows."
She spotted her uncle nearby. He looked ashen, and ready to collapse. Sighing, Devon approached him. He brightened when he saw her, but she knew this was for show. He didn't want her to know how afraid he was. He glanced at the bruised side of her face and shook his head.
"I should not have let you go out there," he muttered.
Devon snorted. "You don't let me do anything, I go where I choose." At the pained look on his face, she relented. "I was not harmed overmuch. I do regret the loss of your men. But we are not going to lose this castle."
He sighed, the weight of the situation hunching him forward like an old man. It was on the tip of her tongue to let him know how he could have avoided this, how his gambling had left the area destitute and ripe for plunder. But even she knew that now was not the time for pettiness. She reached for his elbow, not allowing her features to reveal the revulsion she felt at touching him.
"You need to go below. I can handle this. Go be with your wife."
He looked at her suspiciously at hearing this last bit, but her face remained bland. He finally consented, turning and walking away with a slight wobble. She suspected there was more than a little drink in him as well as fear.
"If they get inside, they will only move forward from there," a man spoke to her. "We do not have the numbers to keep them at bay for long."
Devon didn't answer him. She gazed out across the broad expanse of her father lands, wondering how much longer they would remain in the family. But it wouldn't do to show any of this weakness to her men. Never take the easy course, her father had always told her. It was sound advice, but it wouldn't take much force for her to accept it. Arkon was a nasty thorn well overdue for a plucking.
She came to her senses when she heard several of the men whispering excitedly. They pointed toward the air. "Storm's coming up," she head one of them say. "That should slow them a bit."
Devon stopped to listen more closely. It was true that clouds had begun to gather overhead. The wind had picked up as well. She frowned. There was a certain quality to it, however, that was instantly familiar. A faint crying voice could be detected as it rushed past.
"I'll kill her," Devon muttered. "Even if she completes the task."
"Milady!" the man who'd spoken to her earlier rushed toward her again. He pointed toward the wall. "Look!"
Devon crossed the battlement to peer over the wall. The vibration of the blows hitting the doors had stopped, and she now saw the reason why. Arkon's army had abandoned the battering ram. She couldn't hear them over the wind, but she observed them jabbering to one another and pointing frantically toward their encampment. Devon followed the direction of their gestures and was impelled to smile. Several tents had already been yanked from their stakes and coasted away. Interestingly enough, any inhabitants of those tents made the trip along with them. She spotted several men plunging headlong into the growing darkness, screaming in fright.
"It's a cyclone!" one of her men shouted. "We should take cover!"
"No!" Devon ordered. "Ready those bows. Now!" she shouted when they stared at her in amazement. "You see anyone in range, and you take him out." She paused, peering out into the wind, which had solidified into a frightening cylinder. Somewhere out there, Liria was making this happen. "She won't cause many casualties if she can help it," Devon whispered to herself.
Devon took a bow herself. The wind made aiming difficult, affecting the trajectory of their arrows, but they were well away from the worst of it. She saw her men making numerous successful strikes, and nodded in satisfaction. Leaning away from the wall a moment, she observed the damage with a critical eye.
"This will work," she decided.
Devon lurched forward in the saddle as Tyne broke her stride once again. She'd trounced on another body, and was clearly not happy about it. Devon patted her horse on the neck consolingly.
"Disgusting, yes," she said. "But still beautiful."
What amazed her the most was that nearly all of the dead were punctured by her men's arrows. The majority of Arkon's army had surged toward the castle walls in the last moments as they sought shelter from the strangely selective act of nature. Her men obediently struck as many as they could reach with their bows. Most of these men died by Lenchester hands, and not Liria's. The girl would be happy to learn this.
Devon finally spotted Liria near the edge of some trees, and prompted Tyne to move faster. The blond woman was mounted on a gorgeous black stallion, with Talia looming beside them. Although the horse was large, on all fours the dog's head reached his shoulders.
Liria held her hands before her as Devon approached, sputtering, "Don't be angry with me." Then immediately following with, "By the Goddess, what happened to your face?"
Devon shook her head. "It's nothing," she assured her friend. "But you. That was...impressive."
The girl blushed, then glanced down at the dog. "Everyone is safe?" she asked.
"Even that waste of flesh uncle of mine, and stepmother," Devon said.
Liria looked confused. "Who?"
Devon turned Tyne toward the road beyond. "All right, I'll tell you the rest of it. But let's get out of here."
As they rode away, Devon glanced again at the animal that Liria was riding. "That horse belongs to Feran...I mean, Garrick."
Liria looked offended at the gleam in her eye. "I did not steal it," she protested. "Besides, aren't you glad I'm not going to slow you down anymore...my lady?"
"You can stop that right now," Devon grumbled. She prodded Tyne ahead, not letting Liria see the smile that broke out on her face at the sound of the girl's peals of laughter.
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