Welcome to the home of - The Ruined Castle
Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
The Ruined Castle 

The following week went by in a blur for them all. If they were not at school they were with Harmony and she was a tireless and unforgiving taskmaster. She could have made Varia quell and hop to. But after the first week they all admittedly felt stronger despite being sore all over. Still they had a very long way to go. 

Xena and Gabrielle held hands and kissed and cuddled as much as they could at school. Xena was thrilled that after all of this time Gabrielle was finally alright with a certain amount of pubic affection. Although she had to admit that if they hadn’t been kissing in public they wouldn’t be kissing at all. They simply had no time and when they did they were either studying or sleeping. They certainly were too busy or tired to even have the inclination to give each other anymore hickeys. 

The following Monday at school they were all in classes when the grandmothers called Zaria and Galatia to them. 

They were taken to the Marine HQ and up to the office at the top. Gabrielle couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as she rode up in the private elevator to the office that she had shared briefly with Cara. It had been changed from that time of course but she had seen the new design when she had come in Hope’s body. Xena was right, all of this hopping around through time and in and out of bodies could get very confusing.

Xena was having no such problem this time around. She seldom got nostalgic these days. It was easier for her to simply focus on the problem and on Gabrielle. When she had time, if she had time after the problem had been dealt with she would spend some time mourning those people and places that she had left behind and perhaps then she would allow herself some time to be nostalgic.

The double doors opened before them and they entered the office. It was presently occupied by the three grandmothers and the Sisters, Alex, Clair and Debora and another woman that they did not know. They had seen her face and knew her name but they had never met her. The Sisters were all pushing eighty or beyond but their strength of character emanated from them like waves of heat.

“Hello ladies, it’s good to see you again. I see that you are being put through your paces. Who would have expected to find you in such poor shape?” Clair greeted them as she always had with calm gruffness.
Gabrielle shook her head and smiled but it was Xena that answered her. “Where better to hide? We’re not even proper Amazons. We’re no threat to anyone but ourselves.” She had no idea what she was talking about but Clair didn’t need to know that. Xena was just spewing crap to see if Clair would spew some back.
“It’s good to see you too Clair. You’re not still sore about that dressing down that I gave you last time I was here are you?” Gabrielle said before Clair and Xena could really get into it.
Clair snarled but otherwise remained silent. ‘Good she’s learned a thing or two in the past thirty odd years.’ Gabrielle thought to herself. “Alex, how are you?” She approached the youngest of them and hugged her warmly. “Deb, how are you?” She repeated her greeting to the next sister. Xena followed in Gabrielle’s wake and greeted the Sisters as well.
After the greeting between old comrades was done, Alex introduced them to her granddaughter. She was a strikingly beautiful woman with legs that went all the way to her neck. She had long flowing blond hair that she kept in an intricate braid that fell down the middle of her back. She had a devastating smile, pearly white teeth and crystal blue eyes. They reminded Xena of Hera’s eyes. “This is General Allison Rayne-Blazer; she’s the lady in charge of the Marines these days.”
The General was standing at attention. “Xena, Gabrielle, it is a great honor and a pleasure to meet you both. I hope to serve you as efficiently as my ancestors did.”
“Relax General; we’re not going to bite.” Xena commented.
“Rayne and Blazer, it makes a nice combination… tall and blond… nice.” Gabrielle was wondering how she might have liked being tall. But when she looked at Xena she knew that she wouldn’t want to be any other height. She fit just fine under Xena’s arm.
Xena shook her head and so did Clair… for once they agreed on something… hell of a time. “General, do you have something for us?”
“Right, down to business… I collated all of the internal video shots and thermal scans and just every bit of information that we had that showed us the layout of that Castle. I tried to anticipate what it was that you might want to look at so…” She activated the hologram and an image of the Castle from the air came up in the center of the coffee table.
Gabrielle grabbed a Diet Pepsi from the bar and took a seat on the couch next to Xena. She handed her partner a bottle of water and opened her soda. The image of the Castle rotated. There were some tiny red spots in lines in what were probably hallways. These were the thermal images.
“These images were taken by the Amazon Queen when Gabrielle and her team entered the Castle. From these scans we came up with a very rough floor plan.” The image changed to something that looked like an architect’s building plans. “We of course have no idea what purpose the rooms served or where most of the corridors went.
Both Xena and Gabrielle leaned forward. “Can you stop the rotation of the image?” Xena asked the General and the image immediately stopped. The GEV was controlling the image… she should have known. “Thanks.” They leaned in and looked closer at the schematic. 
It was easy to spot the front door and from there they traced the line to the throne room. But that is where it got a bit dicey. Gabrielle remembered more than Xena because she had not been beaten until she had reached the dungeon. The memories, strangely enough were not painful for her. Xena had been right, she wasn’t afraid of anything that had happened in that room. She felt guilty about abandoning Hope again, even though it was only the empty shell of her body.
“Can you turn the thermal back on please?” Gabrielle asked… and for the first time in a very long time no-one jumped to do her bidding. “Is there a problem?” The image on the table had been expanded to show the details of an area of about a hundred feet square. In short it was zoned in on the dungeon room and little else.
“Queen Gabrielle… the thermal… is…” General Rayne Blazer was obviously hesitant.
Gabrielle knew what the problem was and it needed to be addressed. “Look, no-one knows more about what happened in that room than me. I’m sure that all of you have seen the thermals. I’m not embarrassed… you shouldn’t be either. We’re at war. Sometimes things happen in a war that aren’t pretty… get used to it.” She sounded brave and stalwart. Inside she remembered Xena saying something similar to her. She silently hoped that these women were better at listening than she had been.
The thermal came back up. It wasn’t hard to see why the General had been reluctant. The red human shaped images in the room left very little to the imagination. “Thank you… I don’t want any further delays or interruptions because someone wants to spare me. Believe me when I tell you that I have dealt with this and I simply want to finish the mission.” Gabrielle tried to calm their fears or their understandable desire to protect her.
Xena had waited patiently but now that it all seemed to be under control again she took up the conversation again. “Back up the images to when Gabrielle and her men first came into the Castle but keep the image on this spot. Can we do that?”
Apparently it could be done. A counter appeared at the bottom of the image and she and Gabrielle focused on the image. “I don’t see anything. Are you sure that there should be something?”
“Electricity produces heat. There should be something.” Xena was sure that there should be something. But there really was nothing there.
“What, may I ask are you looking for? Perhaps we can help.” General Rayne-Blazer asked.
Gabrielle turned to look at the General. She had sat on one of the chairs at the end. “Can I just call you Allison or something?” The General offered the name Ally. “Alright Ally, all of you… I suppose that we should tell you but this is strictly a need to know kind of thing. Alti recorded what went on in that room.” At first none of them reacted but then one by one they all started to see and to understand what Gabrielle was saying.
“Oh my God.” Alex said into her hands.
Debora and Dura both just sat with their mouths open in unbelief.
Solace looked anything but relieved and Clair even looked stunned and angry. But it was Faith that said the obvious. “We can’t let anyone see that. It must be destroyed!”
“My thoughts exactly.” Xena said after the initial shock had worn off the matriarchal Family members. “So help us find where the video feed went.
Everyone began to pour over the feed then. They were looking for a line of energy that went from that room to somewhere else. But if it was there it was so minute that even the computer did not register it. Next they started with the throne room and still they found nothing. That was not surprising considering how warm the throne room had been. It appeared as a large red blob on the picture. The bodies inside the room were masked almost completely by the temperature of the room itself. They sat back into their respective seats almost as one and glared at the image.
“Wait a minute… what’s that?” Gabrielle pointed at the picture and got an inquisitive response from everyone. “Look at how the red area just ends right there but not anywhere else.” She got up and used her hand to show the area that she was looking at. “This is really red so I’m guessing by its position from the hallway from which we entered that it’s the fireplace that was banked so high. So if that’s the fireplace shouldn’t this area behind it be really red?”
“Wait a minute she’s right. This cuts off like its refrigerated or something.” Ally was looking at the area closely. Right behind the fireplace there was a very distinct square like area.
“That would be the perfect place to put a computer room… if you were trying to hide it and didn’t have energy concerns.” Clair added her expertise to the conversation. “Didn’t you say that she had her throne just in front of this fireplace?”
“Yeah, she did and she had a set of monitors next to the throne.” Xena had stopped looking at anything. She was in planning mode.
“Have you decided how you’re going to get us there? Are we going to be a class field trip or is it going to be a Family thing?” Gabrielle knew that look on Xena’s face it was best to just leave her alone and let her think while Gabrielle gathered the rest of the information so Xena could plug it into her plan when she came up with one.
“We could just form a task team and send you two with them.” Ally was offering but Gabrielle waived her suggestion off.
“No, if we did that then we would have to explain why you would send us… we’re not exactly the crème of the crop right now. We’ve not earned any special treatment and for anyone to go to Uranus after you have had it off limits for what thirteen years now… that would cause some talk.” Gabrielle explained.
“I don’t understand why you just don’t let everyone know that you’re here. People will understand the shape that you’re in if you’re embarrassed.” Clair asked.
“It figures that you would think that was all we are concerned about is our image… the reason we don’t want to be known yet is a selfish one but it is not that kind of selfish.” Xena said and then shook her head.
“Alti has been quiet for almost forty years now. But she’s in there… under that rock pile waiting. When we go to Uranus… no matter how we go she’s gonna smell us. She’s gonna know that we’re back and she’s gonna start digging herself out.” Xena continued.
“It will take her a while. That will give us some time together. It may be years or only months but we want that time. We have no idea how long it will take her to get out but we know that when we finally face her we will win and then we may be gone again. We want a little time together… that’s all.” Gabrielle was kind of pleading to their heartstrings. It worked, even on Clair because despite herself Clair liked Gabrielle. She had no use for her own ancestor but Gabrielle she liked; the Queen of the Amazons had stood up to her and put her in her place. It had been humiliating at the time but it had earned Gabrielle Claire’s respect.
“Alright, we’ll figure it out. Give us a week to come up with a viable plan to get you there. Xena if you could coordinate with Ally on how you want to plan entry into the Castle and any insight on where you think Alti is inside the ruins would be really helpful. Once all the plans are at least in their final stages we’ll plan a departure date.” Faith the Queen of the Amazons had listened carefully to all that had been said and she made the decision when it was all concluded. Gabrielle was kind of proud of how Faith sounded.

They all assented to the plan of action and Galatia and Zaria were returned to school.