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WHAT ARE LITTLE GIRLS MADE OF?
For Gabrielle, time slowed to an excruciatingly deliberate pace as she watched Parcelsus move towards her partner and the flames of the hearth swelled, promising to engulf them both.
Until the door to the laboratory crashed open--then time instantly sped back up to normal. The captain of the guard rushed into the room, took a quick look around, his entrance followed closely by Naderus, Mallika, Lakme, and a score of villagers that backed up into the hall behind them.
The captains attention was drawn immediately to Gabrielle and Chemeclees, but Lakme stumbled in after him and caught sight of the burning Paracelsus. She shrieked in horror, commanding Mallikas attention. They both realized at the same time that he was reaching for Xena.
Lakmes scream brought the captains attention around, but before he could react, Lakme bolted towards the alchemist in a bounding run. She crashed into a table, sending the contents scattering across the room. A flask broke on the stone, drenching the floor in puddles.
Her next step landed her foot in the slick liquid. The sole of her shoe slid across the slippery surface. She whipped around, losing complete control of her balance and her arms flapped about in the air. Mallika reached for a hand, but missed it by a breath.
The barmaid tumbled, the momentum of her run sending her flying across the room and she crashed with a heavy thud right into Paracelsus.
Lakme screamed. Paracelsus howled. Xena flipped out of the way as the alchemist was propelled head first into the iron cauldron of boiling green liquid. The old mans legs kicked once, then became still as he disappeared down into the bubbling brew.
The laboratory was deathly silent as Paracelsuss feet disappeared into the bubbling depths of the frothing cauldron. There was no protest, no scream just the hissing of fire being extinguished and a final slopping sound made by the souls of his boots as he was sucked at last into the thick green liquid and out of sight.
The chilling moment was broken by a command barked out from Captain Cyres.
"Help me release them!"
The captain and Naderus struggled with the irons around Gabrielles wrists, until Cyres was finally able to pry them open with an iron rod found in a corner. The apprentice was next and he nodded in thanks to Naderus as he rubbed his wrists.
Gabrielle immediately pushed her way past the Captain anxious to make sure that Xena was not injured. She found the tiny warrior rubbing her knee in the corner of the room having skinned it as she landed after vaulting away from the hearth.
"Are you all right?" The bard asked worriedly.
"Im fine."Xena replied in a small voice, standing up and adjusting the tattered tunic to cover her exposed limbs more appropriately. Her reply brought the attention of both Captain Cyres and Naderus to the corner of the room.
Although Naderus had the benefit of having seen the results of Paracelsus experiment earlier, Cyres had not. The captain was not even sure he believed the story in the first place. Now, he found himself staring at the living proof of King Democritus foul experiments. The rest of the townsfolk who had followed into the castle were pushed up against the doorway staring with wide eyes at the miniature warrior who was gazing back at them all in quiet confidence.
To say they were amazed at the sight would be an understatement. In fact, no one made a sound at all; they just stared until Xena cleared her throat and pulled at her tunic to cover what little it could one more time. The sound spurred Gabrielle into action.
"All right everyone, shows over. You can pay as you leave." The bard said to the townsfolk, smiling and illiciting a few nervous laughs. "Thanks for your help...really, but we appear to have everything under control now."
The Captain took the bards lead and helped usher everyone out of the room. Only the girls and Naderus remained. They had been in it from the beginning and were damn well going to see it through to the end.
Xena put her hands on her hips and smirked at Gabrielle.
"So we have everything under control now, do we?"
"Right." Gabrielle replied confidently, pulling Chemeclees forward by the arm, "Now all we have to do is get you back to normal size. We know how to do that, dont we Chemeclees?"
All eyes turned to the apprentice. He gulped and shrugged.
"You do know what to do, dont you? I mean, you found the answer in the notes, right?" Gabrielle pressed.
"Well, actually....." The apprentice stammered.
"Actually...what?" Gabrielle moved a bit closer, making the boy uncomfortable. He was only an apprentice, after all. What did he know about the secrets of the universe?
"Well, Paracelsus kept pretty good notes about the steps he took to get her in this condition......" The boy stammered.
"Thats good, right?"
"Well, sure its good. If you want to make another one."
"What are you saying?"Xena asked, losing a bit of patience. By the gods, this boy was as good at evading a point as Gabrielle.
"Well, the steps show the path to making a homunculus, but it doesnt show how to change a homunculus back to a human...not exactly anyway."
"What do you mean by not exactly." Gabrielle shook Chemeclees by the arms.
"Well, I suppose I could just follow the basic principle of alchemy."
"And what would that be?"Xena asked, stepping forward and looking just a little bit dangerous.
Chemeclees gulped again.
"Well, its seek three in one, again seek one in three; dissolve and condense and thou shalt be master of the art. " He answered looking around at the faces staring at him, small and large.
"And what exactly does that mean?"Captain Cyres asked.
"Ill have to....er..... dissolve her........again."
"What do you mean, dissolve her?" Gabrielle pressed, a little shaky on the apprentices intent.
"Just like Paracelsus did the first time, dissolve her essence, seek her elemental forces. Dissolve then condense them back into the one. It ....er.....should work."
Gabrielle glared at the apprentice with serious doubt. The thought of dissolving Xena did not sound to the bard like a good plan for a cure at all, not in the least. In fact, dissolving Xena was definitely out of the question.
"Do it."Xena barked.
Gabrielle swung her head around.
"Are you crazy, Xena. He doesnt know what hes talking about!"
"I said do it."
"I WONT LET YOU! ITS TOO DANGEROUS!" The bard stamped her foot in anger.
"Gabrielle, Cmere."Xena stepped forward and motioned with her hand for Gabrielle to kneel. The bard compiled and stooped down to get closer to her partner.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle and tried to smile reassuringly.
"You dont understand whats happening to me, Gabrielle. Theres something else that was changed within me other than my size and I dont understanding what it is. I only know that its growing stronger and I dont know how much longer I can control it."
Gabrielle made as though to speak, but Xena halted her with upraised palms.
"Gabrielle, if we dont try this I have a feeling Im going to burn up in a puff of smoke or worse. I feel like Im about to explode. Do you understand? We have to try it. My goose is cooked for sure, if we dont."Xena snorted at her own joke, lifting the corner of her mouth in a small smile.
"I dont find that funny." Gabrielle stated flatly. "Xena....."
"Its my only chance. Im out of time. Now, lift me up onto that pallet and lets get started."
Gabrielle stared at Xena, the last of her stubborn defiance slipping away.
"Cmon. Lift me up."
The bard hesitantly held out her hand and Xena climbed in.
"Now take me over to the pallet."
The bard did as ordered, almost mechanically. She didnt like this plan at all, not one bit. She carried Xena over to the wooden pallet and carefully placed her down, allowing the warrior to climb out of her palm on her own.
"Lets go, Chemeclees,"Xena ordered with a jerk of her head, "do your alchemy thing."
Gabrielle backed away, not taking her eyes from her partner. She stepped back until she felt the hands of Lakme and Mallika latch onto her shoulders and arms in a comforting embrace.
"Itll work. Youll see," Lakme whispered in the bards ear, giving her arm a tender squeeze. Gabrielle tried to smile, but found the action swallowed by worry. They all watched silently as the apprentice pulled a table over and began to arrange a series of flasks and tubes.
Chemeclees searched the room briefly until he found exactly what he was looking for. He pulled pieces from a shelf and picked a perfect tube with needle up from the floor where it had splattered when Lakme tumbled into it. He arranged it all neatly on the table top and then he stopped to look at the warrior.
"Almost ready," the apprentice said with a nod, "You better get....er.....undressed."
The boy turned away with blushing cheeks and a flask in his hand, then walked over to the still bubbling cauldron.
Xena began to untie the strip of leather she was using as a belt and slipped out of the ragged piece of blanket, slightly relieved to get the itchy material away from her skin.
Captain Cyres moved away from the pallet to give the warrior some privacy and the boy a bit of room to work.
Naderus walked behind his daughter and put his hands on her shoulder and rubbed. Mallika smiled back at him, but they were all as worried as the bard. Gabrielle stood by grimly, not saying a word.
Chemeclees walked over to the cauldron and stopped, staring down at the frothing contents of the iron pot. It flashed through his mind briefly that Paracelsus had fallen in and was still inside, simmering in the green juices. The very thought made the boy shudder and he suddenly feared that when he dipped his hand in to retrieve some fluid, the alchemists bony fingers might actually pop up, grab his wrist and pull him in so they could cook together.
The apprentices hand froze, poised over the cauldron holding the flask, shaking as he pondered this fate. Chemeclees took a deep breath, stilled his quaking hand and dipped the flask into the pot as quickly as he could. He backed away from the cauldron as soon as the flask was filled and returned to the table, an embarrassed expression briefly crossing over his features.
He really didnt want anyone to know he was afraid of the pot.
The truth of it was, though, they were all afraid of the pot and thinking the very same thing. Cyres promised himself to rid the castle of the cauldron as soon as time permitted. He just didnt know who he was going to be able to get to do it.
The boy brought the filled beaker over to the table and worked for a moment, adjusting the tube and some other equipment as quickly as possible. Xena waited patiently, rubbing her arms against the coldness of the room. She looked over at Gabrielle and smiled. Gabrielle smiled back, but the bards eyes were filled with worry and Xena had to look away, not wanting her feelings for Gabrielle to break her resolve.
This was going to work, Xena had a feeling about it. After all, it was really her own will that brought her through the first time. She would simply just do it again. She had to; Gabrielle was depending on it.
Chemeclees stretched out a long tube with one end attached to the flask and a needle at the other. He moved towards the pallet and pointed the needle at Xena, but paused no more than a breath away from her skin.
Xena took a deep breath and waited, steeling herself for the needle to penetrate the skin, but Chemeclees was frozen in place.
Xena stared at the boy.
"Whats the matter?"
The boy seemed nervous and his hand began to shake. The needle wavered just in front of the warrior, droplets of slimy green fluid steadily dripping out of the tip.
"Whats wrong?" Gabrielle asked worriedly, taking a step closer.
"Well," the apprentice gulped, "Im supposed to put this into her vein.
"Yea, and....?"Xena prompted, impatiently.
"Well, youre so small now and this needle is so big, I dont see how Im going to do it.........." Chemeclees began to explain nervously, but before he could finish, Xena wrapped her hands around the middle of the needle.
"Give it to me!"The warrior barked and then plunged it directly into her stomach.
"XENA!" Gabrielle gasped in horror, lunging forward only to be stopped by the quick hands of Mallika and Lakme.
The warrior gasped in pain, her eyes rolled to the back of her head and then she collapsed backwards onto the wood. The needle sticking out of her stomach was feeding the fluid quickly throughout her system.
They all watched as the green slime gurgled its way down the thin transparent tube finding its way into Xenas bloodstream. It took only a few moments before the red of Xenas blood began to seep up into the tube and mix with the green.
Then mixture became active, coming to a sudden boil and rising quickly back up the length of the tube until it simmered over into the flask. Five pairs of eyes followed the path of the boiling mixture up into the beaker and widened as the contents of the flask itself began to simmer first, then boil violently, smoke forcing its way out of the corked top. The beaker began to shake violently.
"GET BACK!" Chemeclees yelled, recognizing the beginnings of a chemical explosion when he saw one, "Its going to explode."
He ran away from Xena and the table with outstretched arms, pushing everyone with him towards a corner at the opposite end of the room.
The flask danced with the power of the chemical mixture, tainting the air with the foulest of smells until it was obvious that the glass of the beaker was not going to be able to withstand the pressure.
"Get down!" Chemeclees yelled once again. They all squatted and shielded their eyes.
The beaker exploded violently, filling the laboratory with smoke so thick, that not one person could see the other.
Cyres and Chemeclees held them all firm against the far corner of the room until the smoke began to dissipate and the sound of hissing fluid could be heard no more.
Chemeclees peeked out from under his arm. He could barely make out the table and pallet through the pungent gases that filled the room.
Gabrielle stood up tentatively, unsure that the danger was over. She waved the smoke and foul smell away from the front of her face and moved towards the pallet. Squinting through the disappearing layers of fumes, the bard moved slowly forward almost afraid of what she was going to find waiting on the pallet for her.
Xena was laying unconscious upon the wooden bunk, one arm and a leg hanging limply over the side. She was very still and very pale, but the litter was barely able to accommodate the size of her full stature. The warrior was back to normal, in all her glory. Gabrielles hand covered her mouth as she whimpered in relief.
The bard ran over to the pallet and grabbed the Xenas hand with her own. It was limp and cold.
Cyres was right behind the bard and he took the hand quickly from Gabrielles grasp to feel the pulse. He found one, but it was rapid and weak.
"Shes still alive." The captain announced, placing his ear close to the warriors mouth and frowning, concerned with the shallow breathing he could barely detect. Gabrielle touched Xenas cheek lightly and furrowed her brow.
"Xena," she whispered, trying to wake the warrior, "Xena."
There was no response.
Naderus helped Lakme and Mallika up and together they left the corner to gather at the pallet.
"Xena!" the bard called a little louder to her partner, frowning at the lack of response.
She slapped the warriors cheek lightly, but urgently with the palm of her hand.
There was no response.
"Gabrielle," Cyres advised softly stopping her hand, "Shes unconscious. She cant hear you. Shell come around shortly, Im sure of it."
Cyres looked towards Chemeclees for some confirmation, but the apprentices attention was no longer with the warrior.
"I did it. I did it. I actually did it." The young apprentice was whispering to himself, staring at the cauldron and rubbing his chin in deep thought.
Cyres ignored him and returned his concern to Gabrielle. He patted the bards shoulder comfortingly, but when the captain locked eyes with Naderus, he could not hide the doubt plaguing his thoughts.
"We better cover her." Gabrielle mumbled, while trying to arrange the warriors limbs more comfortably on the pallet.
"Here, let me help you," Mallika offered, stooping beside the bard to assist her with Xenas legs.
"Ill get a blanket." Lakme offered.
"We better get a healer." Cyres whispered to Naderus, and together the men left the room.
Continued in Step 21
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