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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Two Cats and Two Bags 

They were deemed clean about a half an hour later. Another team was waiting for them when they came out of the shuttle. It was Cadence’s team. When Cadence caught sight of Galatia with Zaria right behind her she looked as if she had just been hit with a two by four. 

“Galatia” She called her daughter to her. “You found them… but I shouldn’t be surprised. You knew where they were didn’t you?” 

Gabrielle smiled and opened her mouth to reply but Cadence continued before she could. 

“When we found the swords and the girls wanted to bring these two specific swords to you two… that’s when it finally started to sink in. Everyone else seems to know except me. But how could I have missed it? You’re my daughter for God’s sake!” Cadence was somewhere between angry with herself and embarrassed. 

“To be fair, Mom we didn’t get our memories back until about two months ago.” Gabrielle took her mother’s hands and held them to her chin. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” There was some anger in her voice. 

“You know why I didn’t tell you at first but afterwards… there just never seemed to be a good time. I wanted to… it just never seemed right. I’m sorry.” She looked into the pretty blue eyes of her mother and silently begged for forgiveness.

Cadence returned her daughter’s look. “So what should I call you? Are you still my daughter or are you Queen Gabrielle or is there something else you would like to be called?”

“Oh Mom, you’re still my mother of course and let’s not get started with that whole Queen Gabrielle thing… at least not between us, unless of course there is a really big reason. But I would like to be called by my name, Gabrielle. I like the name Galatia but my name is Gabrielle.”

Cadence nodded and smiled at her middle daughter. They hugged and giggled a little.

“To think that Gabrielle… The Gabrielle is my daughter is… well incredible!” Cadence was beside herself with joy and surprise.

Now that the cat was out of the bag some of the tension that some people had been holding was released and for the first time since this whole expedition had been announced there was laughter in the ranks. Those that hadn’t known were being teased by those that had. Xena retrieved her sword and was flipping it around like a toy. The mood was light. They had achieved their objective and they had done it with the help of the two greatest Amazon warriors that had ever lived.

Gabrielle and her mother and younger sister were all talking, joking and laughing. Xena was doing the same with her mother and siblings. But suddenly the both of them stopped. At first no-one seemed to notice. They just kept on talking.

Xena looked at Gabrielle and in their unspoken language they both understood. Xena turned her attention to the Sisters. They had been watching the heroes and they knew just by their looks that something was wrong. “Clair, is there someone still in the Castle?” Xena had to yell to be heard even though Clair was only about thirty feet away.

Clair quickly polled her sisters and the three grandmothers that were standing near them. “Yes, two teams are still inside.” Her eyes flickered towards Cadence. Gabrielle didn’t miss the look. Her elder sister, Joy was still in the Castle.

“We need to get them out… now!” Xena had become agitated. Something was terribly wrong. “Gabrielle”
Gabrielle had already started to move. She was pushing her family back and moving down the ramp. “Stay back!” She shouted at those that were between her and the Castle as she pushed through them.

Xena was half a step behind her and gaining ground. People were moving out of her way. It might have been the snarl on her face or the urgency of her step or it may have been the fact that she wasn’t trying to push them back like Gabrielle was doing she was just pushing through. Either way she emerged from the crowd of Amazons and Marines ahead of Gabrielle. They looked at each other and in that glance they made a decision. As one they began to sprint down the ramp.

Behind them Clair was on the radio calling the two wayward teams from the Castle, with all urgency. 

The heroes could hear the voices and feet of dozens of people racing down the ramp behind them. They didn’t bother to tell them to stay, to tell Amazons and Martian Marines not to follow them would be pointless. Gabrielle could hear her mother’s voice calling after her, telling her that she was not alone. But in her heart Gabrielle knew that there was nothing that they could do.

They were fifty yards from the front door when the first team came out of the gaping front doorway at a dead run. Gabrielle and Xena could see the second team in the foyer… they were also running but they were not all actually moving. Their legs were moving rapidly but they weren’t gaining ground very quickly.

Xena and Gabrielle came to a skidding stop ten yards from the front door as a line of four young women started to dart one by one out the doorway. The last in line was Joy. Suddenly as she passed the doorframe her back arched and she silently screamed.

It was then, looking at the now immobile girl framed by the broken doorway that the heroes and those nearest 
to them could see the bodies that lay in the foyer. Cadence moved forward. Her face was a mask of concern and her mouth formed the name Joy. Gabrielle held out her arm and stopped her mother.

“You can’t help her mother… not now.” Gabrielle looked at Cadence and shook her head minutely. A tear slipped out of Cadence’s eye. She begged for a different verdict but she wasn’t going to get it. “Let us deal with this. You don’t know her.” Cadence could not help her child. She had to stay here and watch while someone else tried. She would obey but she didn’t have to like it.

Joy’s head snapped around like she was trying to get a feel for it. She swept the crowd before her with a dark gaze and finally settled on the two right in front of her. “Xena… welcome… again.” Joy’s mouth moved and her voice box made the sounds but it was Alti’s voice that came out not Joy’s. “Just couldn’t leave me here could you?”

“You know how I am Alti… I gotta tidy up after myself.” Xena goaded. She could see that the bodies behind Joy were still moving. Perhaps if she engaged Alti in a conversation the children that had apparently been hurt could somehow escape.

Alti had broken out in humorless laughter at Xena’s comment. “How do you live with yourself with all of that blood on your hands?” She asked.

The answer to that question was standing beside her… Xena looked over at Gabrielle. “You know the answer to that question Alti.” She smiled at Gabrielle and then looked back down at Alti.

“I don’t get it Xena. You could have had it all… but you chose to follow her. What has that got you?” The children behind her were moving with some purpose now.

“It got me life Alti. What has your choice gotten you?” Xena had to keep her occupied.

“I am what I always wanted to be Xena. I am the face of death with the power to kill souls!” She was really proud of herself.

“And yet you are trapped inside a crumbling Castle because your God is angry with you. So what good does your power do you there?” She was leading her into the conversation that she wanted to have.

“I’ve just been waiting for you Xena… speaking of souls… how’s your soul Gabrielle?” She sounded like she already knew the answer.

“My soul is just fine thank you for asking. Your darkness and evil can’t destroy my innocence or purity because they’re based in love… and you can’t touch love.”  Gabrielle took a step forward to draw Alti’s full attention. The children behind Alti were preparing to run past her.

“No matter little girl I’ll just kill you again and again until I kill you forever!” She sneered. Gabrielle did not seem to be harmed by anything that she had done… clearly that bothered her.

Xena took the opportunity to address what she wanted to address while Alti was off balance. “We’re not going to fight you here Alti. You got to pick the time and place four times out of six. It’s my turn now.” Xena said.

“Name it Xena.” Alti was angry now and not paying any attention to the children behind her.

“I am tired of all of this space stuff. I want to go home. Meet us where this all started Alti. Meet us on the steppes. We’ll know when you finally dig yourself out and we’ll meet you there… if you dare.” Xena challenged her.

Alti threw her head back and screamed. It sounded more like the howl of some unknown creature… and perhaps it was. When she was thus distracted the children made a break for it. None of them looked to be seriously injured but a few of them did run with a limp and one was half carried. Alti saw them but did not react fast enough to catch any of them. She didn’t seem to really care. She laughed again this time it sounded almost human. “Oh Xena, do you really think that I care whether or not a handful of children live or die today? I am the face of death. I can kill that many and more with a single sweep of my hand. They are nothing to me.” She laughed again. It was a cold maniacal laugh, one born of insanity. Her gaze was suddenly on Gabrielle. “But this one means something to you… doesn’t she Gabrielle? Because I hate you so much I’m going to take her from you!” Again she laughed. “See you on the steppes Xena…” The laughter turned to a scream and the voice was no longer Alti’s.

“Get to the ships!” Xena yelled and no-one really moved to leave. She had no idea if something was going to happen or not but it was better to be safe than sorry.

“You heard her… Go!” Gabrielle yelled scant seconds after Xena. She saw the horror on some faces and knew that their feet were stuck halfway between shock and surprise. They started to move at the order from Gabrielle and once the first one truly turned to run the flood gates were opened and all began to run. Xena ran towards Joy, and Gabrielle and Cadence were on her heels. Xena started to scoop up the girl but Cadence beat her to it. The three of them headed back towards the shuttles as fast as they could manage. Cadence had her eldest daughter slung over her shoulder like a sack of grain and was moving at a pretty good clip. Gabrielle was at her side and Xena came up the rear.

The ships had all been fired up and students and Marines alike were piling into them. When the three final members of the party finally got onto their ship the three shuttles left the ground as one.

Cadence laid Joy on the floor of the cabin and checked her breathing and pulse. She was alive but she seemed to have been literally scared out of her wits. Joy had a look of pure fear on her face. Her eyes were like saucers and her mouth was still open as if she was waiting for another scream to come out any time now. She didn’t say anything; she didn’t move or respond in any way. She was still at home somewhere inside but she didn’t want to answer the door.