Author's Warning : This is a story that includes some of the darker aspects of human nature. It is a story with lust, obsession, madness, betrayal, and sacrifice. In other words, it's a story about love - simultaneously dark and light, on several levels - and the deeds both noble and base that it can drive a person to do. In case you haven't yet realized, this is not one of my fluff pieces : this story can be emotionally wrenching, so be warned.
Content Warning : There is an explicit depiction of a female / female encounter with malicious overtones, but which is consensual. There is lesbian sex, naughty words, violence (with some abusive violence), and angst. Think very carefully about this and the last warning before you decide to continue reading : there are reasons for everything that occurs, but that doesn't make it any less disturbing. Also, if the lawmakers of your area would find your reading such a story to be objectionable, it's probably best to pass this one by.
Spoiler Warning : This is set in the middle of the Xena : Warrior Princess episode "A Necessary Evil," and references many details and events from that episode, and to a lesser degree, "The Quest."
Non-ownership Disclaimer : Don't own 'em. Wish I did. If I did, you can bet my handling of Ephiny would be quite different... Can you say "Mary Sue"?
Setting Explanation : SPOILER WARNING : In "A Necessary Evil," Xena & Gabrielle run from the newly-created goddess Velaska in order to find some way to stop her. Xena delegates the task of delaying the goddess to Ephiny, but offers no helpful hints. In the episode, Velaska falls for a simple pit trap. Delay? Less than 5 minutes. But... If the situation were handled just a little differently... What if...
Xenite Disclaimer : Velaska received a severe tongue-lashing during the production of this work.
Thanks : to Erin, for putting up with many, many prerelease versions, and to A, who despite my inability to be all that she deserves and my overall clumsy ineptitude, helped me beat and whip this into shape anyway. Thank you... and I'm sorry.
"Most of us can still walk," Ephiny calmly summarized to Xena and Gabrielle in a quiet, but determined voice. The tousled-haired Amazon mostly managed to keep her expression neutral as she spoke, but as her eyes lingered on the dimly-lit huddled shapes of the injured scattered through the cave, her mask of control occasionally slipped, allowing a glimpse of the pain aching her heart. "But I can't leave the wounded here."
Unlike Ephiny, Solari was unconcerned with appearing dispassionate. Outraged by the very idea of abandoning the conflict - no matter how impossible the odds - she immediately protested, "No! We can still fight. Send us back," she demanded, clenching her fists in frustration. "We can take Velaska!"
More objective than the scout about the odds, Xena quickly pointed out the glaring flaw in the Amazon's plan. Not bothering to moderate her harsh rejection, she flatly rejected the idea. "No. She can't be killed. She's an immortal."
Seeing Solari's wry grimace as the full implications of that began to sink in, Xena turned back to face Ephiny. "Send the wounded over to Tyldus and the centaurs. He'll take care of them." A sudden thought struck her, and after a brief pause the warrior added, "and make sure they tell him to stay where he is - Velaska's not after him. Yet."
"No," Gabrielle immediately murmured, more to herself than to the others. "She's after me." Seeing the expressions her comment elicited on her friends' faces, she feigned nonchalance. "It's okay. I'm all right with that."
Her bravado convinced no one, least of all herself.
"We can't just hide," Solari protested, her pride still stinging from the ignominious retreat following Velaska's attack on the village - and now the added indignity of another withdrawal. The thought of slinking away with their tails between their legs again was anathema to the proud warrior. "We have to do something..." Xena's expression turned rueful, and Solari had the unsettling suspicion that the tall warrior knew exactly what she was feeling.
After a moment's painful silence as they digested the situation, a light of hope dawned in Xena's eyes. "Yes," Xena slowly drawled as a possibility came to mind. Turning back to Ephiny, she quickly ordered, "I need as many Amazons as possible to delay her."
Before the regent could voice the protests that immediately rose to her lips, Xena clarified her instructions. Slightly. "Don't get anyone killed - just slow her down. Gabrielle and I need time."
Ephiny's lips curled in what was supposed to be a smile, but looked more like a corpse's rictus. "Shouldn't be a problem." After a heartbeat's pause, she wryly added, "I think I'm high on her list of things to do."
Solari frowned, hearing an edge to Ephiny's comment that Xena and Gabrielle - virtual strangers to the village - couldn't possibly hear or understand. Before she could question her regent, she caught Ephiny's sudden quelling frown. Ah, Solari realized. Not in front of Gabr... Queen Gabrielle, now, she reminded herself. Wordlessly obeying Ephiny's small gesture of dismissal, Solari hurried off to begin making arrangements for the transport of the wounded. "At least I can do something," she reassured herself. "Just standing around waiting is driving me nuts."
She fell to with a will, but before she could do more than the most preliminary triage of the wounded, Ephiny rejoined her. "As Xena pointed out," the scout commented under her breath, "Velaska's a god now. How are we even supposed to delay her?" Solari wondered aloud.
Smiling, Ephiny looked away, not wanting her friend to see her amusement. "Nice to see you have your objectivity back. No more plans for a frontal assault?"
"No," Solari sighed in frustration before sitting back on her haunches. "But I can't think of anything else to try, either. Got a better idea?"
Ephiny remained silent, seeming to focus all her concentration on bandaging the blistered burn that marred an unconscious Amazon's thigh.
"Eph?" Solari ventured, disturbed by Ephiny's failure to answer.
"Yes?" Ephiny off-handedly returned.
"You do have a plan, right?"
"Yes," she answered shortly, refusing to elaborate.
"You don't plan to..."
Ephiny interrupted her before she could complete her question. "Put together a small war party - no more than ten of us, including you and me. No one with obvious injuries - and make sure they can run. When it goes bad - and it will - we'll need to evacuate quickly."
Slowly nodding her agreement, Solari glanced around the cavern, silently picking the warriors to accompany them. Whatever it was that Ephiny had planned, she knew they'd need the very best as backup and support - and the very fleet to escape.
"Hm?" she mumbled, mentally weighing the merits of two potential candidates to accompany them.
"We're also bringing Elona and Thalia."
Solari froze, all thoughts driven from her mind by the quiet instruction. "Them?" Solari dropped her voice to a harsh whisper in a belated attempt at privacy, though the only person close enough to overhear her retort lay unconscious at their feet. "Eph, you can't be serious! The others may have been willing followers, but those two were so tight with Velaska that she had to ask 'em to move their lips whenever she wanted to wipe."
Sighing, Ephiny rested one hand on Solari's shoulder in both reassurance and commiseration. "That was before this morning. Iona's dead, Sol, and the village is all but destroyed. I doubt either of them will be blindly obedient to what Velaska says anymore."
"Maybe not, but can they be trusted?" Solari pointedly protested.
"For what we need to do, yes," Ephiny's voice was cold, but also calmly logical. "Besides," she waited until Solari's attention was riveted on her before continuing, "their presence will reassure Velaska. It will give us an edge, and we'll need all the help we can get if we're going to buy Queen Gabrielle time."
"I don't like it," Solari scowled. Seeing Ephiny's sudden frown, and the hardening of her expression, Solari sighed in reluctant surrender. "But I'll do it," she grudgingly concluded.
"Yeah," Ephiny breathed, nodding her understanding of Solari's reservations. "I know exactly how you feel." Shaking her head, she ordered, "Gather up the rest of the party and start the others moving for the centaur village - we need to get started as soon as we can. We'll meet by the cave entrance."
Nodding her acceptance, Solari hurried to obey.
Watching her friend quickly get the migration organized, Ephiny frowned in disquiet. Confronting Velaska - especially now that she was a god - wasn't one of the most intelligent choices she'd ever made, but it was a necessary one.
Even without the purely personal motivations, she knew she had to do it. Ephiny took her responsibilities very seriously, and stopping Velaska before she could annihilate the entire Nation outweighed any other considerations she could possibly muster. The fact that Gabrielle had appointed her regent was only the capstone to a mountain of obligations and motivation, but decidedly clinched the matter.
"Now all we need to do is figure out how to survive the encounter," Ephiny mused. Shaking her head, she stalked towards the cave entrance and the imminent rendezvous.
A candlemark later, the "ambush" was ready. By running as fast as they could, taking shortcuts through the trees when necessary to avoid rough terrain, they managed to get ahead of Velaska's course - but they'd cut it very close.
Ephiny stood, seemingly unarmed, surrounded by armed warriors in a pool of moonlight on a section of the forest path where it passed through a clearing. The daggers she'd hidden in her boots were small comfort (they were, after all, confronting a god, however new) but they were a comfort nonetheless.
Shaking her head at the distracting thought, Ephiny vigorously mussed her curly locks yet again, giving her hair the proper look as she altered her stance, pretending to favor one leg. Added to the dirt she'd rubbed into her skin, and her torn and disordered clothing, she looked like she'd come out the loser in a particularly vicious unarmed combat - which was exactly what she hoped Velaska would think.
"Remember," the newly appointed regent ordered the armed Amazons under her breath. "Do nothing until I give the signal." She repeated herself for emphasis, biting out the word even as she drew it out. "Nothing..."
A low murmur of grudging agreement circled the party, along with more than a few disappointed looks. Despite their disquiet, all eventually accepted the order - though Solari and Eponin were particularly disgruntled in their agreement.
The two women's hands stroked their weapons as though drawing comfort from the chill metal, while their brows lowered as they scanned the forest with even colder eyes. They remained mute when the others voiced their acceptance, shuffling and attempting to mask their silence behind the others. Unsatisfied with her friends' lack of response, and easily seeing through the ploy, Ephiny stared into first Solari's and then Eponin's eyes, refusing to look away until each had dropped her gaze and nodded agreement to her orders.
Ephiny nodded slightly, smiling with relief and satisfaction. The coming confrontation was fraught with too much peril to leave anything to chance - even well-meant disobedience. "Good." Ephiny acknowledged their grudging submission, her lips tilting up in a half-smile. They still didn't like the necessity, but each understood her orders and would obey.
A faint sound of rustling leaves came from the night-darkened forest. As one, the Amazons froze, then swiftly turned to face the source of the gentle noise.
"Positions," Ephiny breathed. The Amazons tightened their cluster around Ephiny. Drawing their swords, they warily formed a circle about her until she was completely surrounded, shielded from view with their bodies.
Ephiny frowned in concentration, listening for the approach of Velaska. As she rubbed shoulders with the warriors surrounding her, she was struck by a sudden insight. Although not overly tall, she was nearly of a height with the newly-made goddess. Standing upright, looking directly into her eyes, even if she appeared injured, was probably not the best way to convince Velaska of her utter defeat.
Reconsidering her posture, Ephiny sank to the ground, leaning on Eponin briefly as she shifted her center of gravity. While kneeling was far too servile a stance for her taste, it would surely pique Velaska's interest - and would reassure the goddess of her supremacy as well. The surrounding Amazons milled about briefly, adjusting to her change in position, but soon returned to their watchful posture.
From her new vantage, it was impossible for Ephiny to miss the fact Eponin wasn't wearing anything under her leather skirt. She quickly looked away from the weapons master, shaking off the momentary distraction as she made a mental note to tease her friend about her state of dress - or more precisely undress. "Leave it to Eponin," she smirked to herself.
In total silence, and with renewed concentration and vigilance, the war party settled in to await the goddess' arrival.
Although Velaska was making no conscious effort at stealth, a cautious manner of walking was ingrained into all Amazons from birth. She made virtually no noise despite striding imperiously through the forest. The waiting Amazons listened in wary silence, tracking her movements by the slight sounds that she made, and were ready when she appeared - stepping out of the forest verge, impatiently brushing aside a tree limb and snapping the inch-thick green wood with an offhanded swipe of one hand.
"Velaska," Solari immediately stepped forward, drawing the new goddess' attention.
Behind the scout's back, Eponin scowled ferociously. She'd been planning to do the same, but had been a hair too slow.
Velaska's inhuman blue-white eyes slowly passed over the knot of armed Amazons, counting the swords leveled in her direction. So few couldn't have stopped her even before she became a goddess - she almost felt insulted by such a pathetic display of resistance. "Don't be a fool, Solari," she sneered, the beginnings of a sadistic smile growing on her face. So few... and gathered conveniently together so that they could all be hit by a single fireball...
Solari paused. The moment lengthened, tension growing with each heartbeat that passed - and then the scout deferentially lowered her sword, "I'm not." She made a small gesture. As one, the Amazons separated, revealing the woman they'd concealed in their midst - before turning their swords to menace their captive.
Ephiny's scowl was thunderous. Even though she was kneeling, her hands clutched behind the small of her back, the air of self-confidence and composure that she exuded was staggering. She was the very model of an unrepentant, undefeated captive, captured but undismayed - an image all but guaranteed to fire Velaska's sadistic imagination.
Velaska's smile widened in surprised delight, thrilled to the marrow by the offering. She dismissed the fireball she'd summoned from her hand, and stroked her cheek in thought. "Perhaps the display at the village wasn't a waste after all," she silently mused; "it took them a while to adjust to the idea of my godhood, but clearly the Amazons have relearned the wisdom of following the strong - and I'm the strongest of all, now."
"Wise. Very wise, Solari." The goddess didn't bother to keep her satisfaction from entering her voice when she finally broke the silence.
Turning back to the goddess, Solari hurriedly spoke up, valiantly attempting to sound eager and subservient, "We have no argument with you, Velaska. Many of us believed you should have been queen long ago. And now that you're a god..."
The self-satisfied smile that grew on Velaska's face as Solari attempted to ingratiate herself was dazzling. Dismissing the scout with a small wave of majestic acknowledgement, the goddess focused her attention on the kneeling "prisoner." "Bow before me, Ephiny," she ordered.
The captive met the goddess' smug smirk with a faintly mocking sneer. "Never. You'll have to kill me first."
Solari felt her heart race, but kept her face studiedly blank. Ephiny hadn't given the signal yet, so she had to remain in character - no matter how much she loathed the idea. Before any of the Amazons - or more dangerously, Velaska - could react to Ephiny's taunting words, the scout took the initiative, kicking her friend powerfully in the stomach.
The wind exploded from Ephiny's lungs in a strangled grunt as the scout's boot slammed forcefully into her unprotected belly. Ephiny crumpled face-first into the dirt. As she struggled to regain her breath, she curled protectively around her injured stomach, warding herself from any additional blows.
"None of your insolence!" Solari barked, hiding her self-reproach behind a mask of anger.
"Gently, gently," Velaska chided the scout in amusement, the sudden cloud that had contorted her features fading as Ephiny writhed in pain in the dirt. "Is that any way to treat your..." She trailed off and pretended to think, tapping one finger lightly against her cheek. "What was it I heard this morning, Ephiny? It was so hard to hear," she paused meaningfully before concluding harshly, "I was busy bleeding to death at the time." With mock joviality, she ended, "Oh, yes! Now I remember. Did I hear that you were going to be our little queen's regent?"
Thalia swiftly knelt and pulled Ephiny's head back by the hair, forcing her to look into Velaska's eyes.
Staring contemptuously, Ephiny worked her tongue through her mouth, gathering saliva. Blowing out her cheeks, she loudly spat at the goddess. The milky globule of saliva arced through the air and splashed at her feet, barely missing the goddess' boots.
The Amazon immediately released her grip on the regent's hair and let her nose plow into the dirt. Thalia didn't want to hurt Ephiny, but such a visibly disrespectful act demanded a response if their pretense was to be maintained.
Velaska was undismayed by both Ephiny's impertinence and Thalia's minor assault on the captive's person. Her smirk simply grew wider as Ephiny sneezed, blowing dirt from her nostrils.
Eponin and Solari stared at Ephiny's prone form, waiting impatiently for the regent to give the signal - but none was forthcoming. "Come on," they chanted silently, wanting to end the charade and wipe that smirk from Velaska's smug face.
Ephiny was unswayed by their impatience, and made no signal. Every minute they were able to delay Velaska here was another minute for Xena and Gabrielle to either escape or find a solution to the problem presented by the mad goddess, and she would do whatever it took to buy them all the time they needed.
Cradling her ribs to feign a severity of injury that didn't exist, she slowly lifted her head. Arching her back slightly, she was able to see, but remained sprawled on the ground. Turning her head, she looked directly into Thalia's eyes. "Gee, thanks, Thalia." Her tone of voice was sarcastic, but her eyes held a warmth that belied their roles in the drama.
Under her facade of contempt, Thalia felt her admiration for the tousled blonde lying so defiantly before the goddess growing as the confrontation lengthened, but kept her expression carefully schooled in a mask of contempt. The Amazon slowly nodded acceptance of the gratitude, seeing the true message in her regent's eyes, but sneered in an overblown and melodramatic display of disgust meant solely for the goddess' voyeuristic pleasure.
Eponin's eyes narrowed at the odd exchange, not understanding the subtext, but said nothing. With great relief she watched as Ephiny rose to her knees and began brushing the dirt from her face, her movements far too sure for her ribs to be severely injured, despite her continued favoring of her side.
Thalia hovered watchfully behind the now-kneeling regent, one hand resting on the hilt of her sword, but made no move to interfere.
Smirking, the goddess offhandedly waved Thalia away from Ephiny. "Thalia's followed me like a lovesick puppy ever since my return to Melosa's - my! - tribe," the goddess ruminated to herself. "It's nice to see that she's good for something other than the occasional, only moderately pleasurable, dalliance."
"So, Ephiny," Velaska mused aloud, striding forward until she towered over the kneeling regent. "Here we are."
Ephiny glared venomously at the gloating goddess, but held herself mute. "Play for time," she reminded herself.
Reaching out, Velaska ran one finger over the lines of her captive's cheek, her touch as gentle as a mother's - or a lover's. Her odd eyes seemed to glow momentarily in the darkness, and then Velaska bent down... and kissed Ephiny on the lips.
Ephiny's eyes widened in startlement, but she held herself rigid. Velaska's tongue slithered across the regent's teeth until she instinctively parted them. With the way clear, the goddess' tongue swiftly darted into her mouth, exploring its depths and dueling with Ephiny's own as she deepened the kiss. Velaska kissed her hungrily, passionately, consuming her mouth even as she eagerly swallowed Ephiny's breath, leaning bruisingly into the heated kiss as though to fuse their beings at that single point of contact.
Despite the situation, Ephiny found herself responding. Her tongue entered Velaska's mouth in turn, and some of the tension knotting her shoulder muscles began to release as she leaned into the fiery heat emanating from Velaska's leather-clad length. "Sweet Aphrodite, she's good!" Ephiny marvelled in amazement, every nerve in her body coming alive and tingling in reaction to the goddess.
Velaska smiled as she drew back, teasingly pulling Ephiny's tongue with her teeth for a moment before releasing it.
Startled and not entirely displeased by the surprisingly loving attention, Ephiny found herself automatically smiling back in response. The delicious warmth lingering in her depths glowed contentedly with comfort and pleasure, filling her with a sense of well-being.
Velaska reached down and twined her fingers around the material of Ephiny's leather top. She looked down into Ephiny's eyes and her smile grew.
Ephiny's breathing deepened as the goddess' fingertips ever so lightly grazed her breasts, and she felt her nipples tighten into alertness. She could feel the heat of the goddess' hand radiating against her skin, and she struggled to maintain her composure as she basked in the glow of the goddess' appraisal.
Without warning, and without losing her smile, Velaska reared back and viciously lashed out with a clenched fist, sending Ephiny crashing to the ground. Torn fragments of Ephiny's top remained clutched in the goddess' hand, but the shock of the abrupt turnaround overshadowed both her sudden nudity and the pain from the blow.
The surrounding amazons stiffened in preparation for an attack as Velaska struck, and Ephiny was forced to dare a small gesture, ordering them to wait. A dreadful tension hung over the clearing, but they obediently remained motionless. "Buy time," Ephiny reminded herself under her breath.
Velaska ignored the nervous murmuring and shifts in posture of the surrounding Amazons and stepped forward until she was straddling Ephiny's prone form, her feet on either side of her hips. The imagery of her standing triumphant over the fallen regent was potent, and Velaska played it masterfully, glorying in the moment of her greatest success. Smiling her triumph, she lifted one foot and rested it atop Ephiny's chest, holding her pinned to the earth with negligent ease.
Slowly licking away the blood that trickled from the small split in her bruised upper lip, Ephiny struggled to keep her face neutral. She stared up at her smug tormentor, feeling a sudden surge of hate curdling her soul as the warmth she'd been feeling froze into jagged shards of bitter ice. "That'll teach me to forget who I'm dealing with," she darkly reminded herself, her brow furrowing as her eyes burned with rage. The thought was galling and hurt worse than the pain in her jaw, but served to help refocus her attention on the reality of the situation.
Glancing down at her prone captive, the goddess surprised an intensely focused stare. Mistaking the direction of her gaze, and the reason for the intensity, Velaska actually blinked in surprise, startled out of her plans for global conquest. "Gods, you really are a slut, aren't you, Ephiny?"
It was Ephiny's turn to blink in surprise, and invisibly in the gloom, her cheeks colored. "Velaska actually thinks...?" she wondered to herself. "Velaska certainly doesn't lack for arrogance. After being slugged and ground into the dirt, she really thinks I'm looking up her skirt?"
Velaska mockingly spread her thighs wider, making her leather skirt gape at the bottom in order to give her captive a better look under her clothing. "I hear poor Terreis' funeral pyre wasn't even cold before you were sniffing after that beast whose spawn you bore, and now you're hot for her adoptive niece," she sneered in contempt. Clucking her tongue disapprovingly, she began to sway her hips over Ephiny's face, performing a lewd bump-and-grind worthy of the most hedonistic and orgiastic Amazon festival. "Whatever am I to do to you?" she wondered aloud, gyrating her hips lower until her skirt all but brushed against Ephiny's chest.
Dropping her voice to a sultry, seductive register, Velaska ground her foot roughly into Ephiny's chest, her boot scraping the sensitive skin of her bared breasts. "And after I hit you, no less," she clucked reprovingly.
Studying the dismayed Amazons that surrounded her, Velaska smiled triumphantly, her inhuman eyes glowing with might and pleasure. They feared her - and even hated her - but not one had dared to so much as raise hand or voice in challenge to her, even after striking their former leader. "They are mine," she silently exulted, "and before long I'll own them utterly - body and soul. The Nation will be reborn in my image, and the Amazons - I - will take my rightful place as ruler of the world..."
The goddess' eyes opened wide and she abruptly straightened as an epiphany took her - wholly wrong, yet no less powerful for its complete inaccuracy - completely displacing her dreams of conquest. Dropping her voice to an intimate whisper, she intently asked her captive, "Was that the attraction the animal held for you? Why you abandoned your sisters to lie with the enemy in a betrayal of the Nation? Why you went so far as to bear him an heir? Was the pain so delicious as he forced himself into you?"
Ephiny remained silent, swallowing her immediate heated defense of her husband and son - not to mention herself - only with a vast effort of will. Let Velaska believe what she would; her arrogance would be her downfall. "Time," she reminded herself, the word serving as a mantra to focus her concentration. "Time..."
"If only I'd known of your needs sooner," Velaska murmured, too softly for the others to hear, yet loudly enough to easily reach her captive's ears. "I could have spared you that necessity - for Terreis' sake - and shown you all the pleasurable pain you could desire." Shaking her head sadly, she added, louder, so the others could hear, "But you betrayed your sisters, and have sought to weaken us. For the good of the Nation, you must now pay for your sins."
The Amazons surrounding the pair in a frozen tableaux of watchful wariness began shifting uncomfortably, the direction the confrontation had taken becoming disturbing. Ephiny had still given no sign, but none of the Amazons had any intention of letting their regent get herself killed - no matter their orders.
Velaska scowled quellingly, and Ephiny was forced to risk another warning sign. Reluctantly, the Amazons complied with the two silent orders, settling back to watch the confrontation as it continued to unfold.
"What would be adequate recompense for betraying your sisters in a time of war?" the goddess wondered aloud, raising her voice so that all could hear as she tapped her foot on Ephiny's chest. "Since our war with the centaurs has never formally ended, you both committed treason and aided and abetted the enemy in a time of war - and I suppose sleeping with one can also be considered providing 'comfort' to the enemy," she added. "According to Amazon Law, the punishment for any of these offenses, let alone all of them, is death."
A low whisper came from the huddled forms of Thalia and Elona, and Velaska was forced to raise her voice once more to drown them out. "They really need to work on their timing," the goddess thought, sending a withering glare in their direction, "and realize when to shut up." Refusing to acknowledge the interruption, she raised her voice enough to be heard over the noise of their whispered conference. "But I'm willing to be merciful."
Eponin swallowed a snort of disbelief, quivering with the need to attack. "Give the signal," she prayed silently, her eyes unblinking as she watched for the slightest sign of the command.
Finally removing her foot from Ephiny's chest, Velaska backed away from the prone regent, keeping her gaze locked on her face. Smirking, Velaska looked deeply into Ephiny's eyes and ordered, "Get on your knees and worship me, and you will be forgiven. You will find me to be a..." she paused to smile benevolently, "merciful goddess."
Looking like she'd sooner bite out her own tongue, Ephiny slowly sat up, drawing out her movements as she played for both time and the audience. She stared intently at Velaska, meeting her inhuman gaze without flinching.
"I can take care of you," Velaska breathed, trying to bend Ephiny to her will as she met her gaze unflinchingly. Killing her would only produce a martyr - and the idea of having Ephiny willingly submit to her was acting as a potent aphrodisiac. Not to mention the fact that the discovery that Terreis' little friend had a thing for pain made her doubly desirable as a bedmate... "Worship me..." she commanded, attempting to seduce her with voice and sheer presence alone. "Submit to me. Only I can give you what you need..." she inveigled.
All eyes were glued to the unmoving figure of the regent. Ephiny continued to stare into Velaska's eyes, not moving a muscle. A cloud of tension radiated from the tensed forms of the watchful Amazons, and no one, human or goddess, so much as blinked.
After several long minutes passed, and Velaska's brow had begun to crinkle in displeasure, the moment broke. Slowly, visibly fighting herself with each movement, Ephiny moved her arms into the opening position of the Amazon worship ceremony. A wordless sigh arose from the watching Amazons.
"No!" Velaska barked, freezing the startled Amazons into motionlessness, their stealth training serving them even in such unusual circumstances - though the warriors' eyes immediately locked upon the angered goddess. Elona, thoroughly on edge, broke training and jumped in startlement, clawing for her sword, but somewhat sheepishly fell once more into a wary pose, sketching a brief bow to the goddess in apology. Velaska utterly ignored the surrounding Amazons, all her concentration focused upon Ephiny.
Ephiny blinked, looking up into Velaska's eyes. She'd planned to perform the rite, mouthing whatever words the new goddess demanded of her while repeating the correct prayer in the silence of her heart and soul, hoping that Artemis would understand and forgive her for the impiety. "Did Velaska intuit my plan?" she wondered.
"No," Velaska breathed again, repeating herself much less harshly in a voice as silken and rich as flowing honey. Running a hand caressingly down over the laces criss-crossing her stomach, she rested her palm against the front of her skirt and lightly began stroking the soft leather - and herself through it. "Worship me," she ordered, rolling the consonants on her tongue and putting an unmistakably carnal emphasis on the command.
Another near-silent gasp of stunned outrage arose, only to fall silent as Velaska glared, running her eyes over the cluster of Amazons until they were cowed once more.
No one dared breathe as all eyes locked once more upon Ephiny's quiescent form.
"No," Solari whispered silently.
"Don't do it," Eponin mouthed urgently.
With Velaska's eyes crawling over her body like beetles watching for the slightest hint of defiance, Ephiny couldn't risk shaping another "wait" signal. Her skin twitched under the goddess' unblinking, openly wandering gaze, shivering and twitching with the need not to show a reaction, and the suppressed desire to order the attack. Long minutes passed, and Ephiny counted each second as it crawled much too slowly by.
The interminable delay stretched almost to the breaking point. Putting her hands on her hips, the goddess glared down at the kneeling woman, her eyes narrowing in anger as her mouth curled into an evil leer. And then the moment broke. Losing patience, Velaska finally ordered, "Do it, or die." Her expression spoke volumes towards her character, proclaiming that she'd fully enjoy herself in either case.
Thalia flinched, and Elona quickly grabbed her to keep her still. Slowly, Thalia shook her head in warning, openly defying Velaska's probable ire. Ephiny's eyes met hers, and they shared a momentary communion as their gazes locked. She understood - they both understood. And then Ephiny turned back to Velaska... and slowly began to crawl forward.
Only rigorous training and iron discipline kept the watching Amazons motionless. Elona pulled Thalia into her arms, forcing her head into the cradle of her neck to keep her from having to watch the spectacle, and squeezed her tightly in the circle of her arms, preventing her from interfering. Eponin's hand gripped Solari's shoulder with bruising force, as much to anchor herself in position as to hold the scout still.
Velaska began to laugh; loudly, exaltedly, and with more than a hint of madness darkening her pleasure.
Ephiny continued along her slow, crawling course towards the laughing Velaska, delaying the inevitable moment of true decision for as long as she could. Moving slowly, she crept humbly across the forest path, all but grovelling on all fours as she went, until she lay crouched at the goddess' feet, her hair falling forward to obscure her expression behind its tousled veil.
Gloating at her dominance - and Ephiny's submission, Velaska spread her legs wider, thrusting her hips slightly forward as she posed majestically. She stared down at Ephiny's slumped posture, taking a great deal of sadistic pleasure in how beaten and humiliated her one-time friend and later rival looked, crouched at her feet.
Slumped before the goddess, Ephiny - topless, battered, and with a trickle of blood still crusted on her chin, waited to give her pleasure. It was almost enough to bring the goddess to climax just thinking about it, and was more than sufficient to awaken a fiery lust flickering into ravenous life in the depths of her soul.
The tension in the air thickened, becoming almost palpably physical as the surrounding women and the goddess alike watched and awaited Ephiny's next move. No one dared breathe as they watched her, crouched so meekly and humbly by the goddess' leg.
Thalia whimpered into Elona's neck, finally understanding the depths that her former mistress was capable of sinking to, but was quickly silenced by Elona. Although never as enraptured by Velaska as Thalia had been, Elona too had fallen under the spell of Velaska's leadership, deceived by her strength of personality and the rosy vision of a future return to dominance that she painted with her words. Now, watching as events unfolded, and the Amazon-turned-goddess demanded sexual servicing from the rightful regent after destroying her own village, Elona could feel the last remaining vestiges of her loyalty to Velaska burn away, leaving only cold, bitter ashes and crushing regret behind.
"Ephiny..." Velaska teasingly drew out her name, eyes alight with ill-hidden anticipation and lust. "I'm waiting." The muscles of her backside tightened as she clenched herself, and her arms and legs tensed, bringing the corded muscles that lurked beneath her flawless skin into stark highlight as her hips edged slightly closer.
Slowly, as though a great weight were pressing down upon it, Ephiny's back bent, and her head bowed before the goddess, resting her forehead atop her boots.
A small orgasm immediately rippled through Velaska's center, the quick waves of pleasure rolling over her in thrilling pulses of delight as the regent openly, meekly surrendered to her. The sheer deliciousness of Ephiny's submission was enough to bring her to fulfillment before she could even truly be touched.
"Oh, yes..." she gloated aloud, squeezing her eyes shut as she savored the sweetness of the moment. Goosebumps erupted on her skin as she shivered with still-rising excitement and arousal, and she sighed in pure satisfaction as her inner walls continued to convulse in the aftermath of climax.
Hushed whispers from the Amazons distracted her, but before she could smite them for daring to disturb her moment of orgasmic bliss, tentative fingers lightly touched her knee. The goddess felt another wash of excitement tingle through her core as the thought raced through her mind, "Just like all the other Amazons, Ephiny is mine!"
Years before, Ephiny had rejected Velaska's advances - choosing Velaska's adopted aunt/sister Terreis over her. Now, that wrong would be redressed, and Ephiny would pay in full for her mistakes.
The moment was as close to Elysia as Velaska would ever come, in life or after.
Eponin's hand tightened on Solari's shoulder until one nail pierced her leathers to sink into her flesh and another snapped off to the quick. The Amazons continued to stare at their regent, hoping, praying that she'd give the order. But still, Ephiny made no sign to trigger the attack.
Carefully, making no sudden moves and working as slowly and teasingly as possible, the regent rolled Velaska's leather skirt up, bunching it about her waist. Her expression was utterly unreadable, frozen in a mask behind the curtain of her hair as she rested her hands on Velaska's flanks, holding the skirt in its raised position.
Velaska's eyes hooded, and she watched the woman kneeling before her with total concentration, absorbing every sensation, every feeling, every touch, her excitement building with each heartbeat that passed. Her breathing deepened, and a fresh surge of moisture was released to seep into her already thoroughly dampened breeches. "Yes," she exulted silently. "Do it..."
As though in compliance with the unspoken command, Ephiny's hands slid down the curve of her flanks, skinning over the smooth swell of the goddess' hips. She gripped the band that held up Velaska's breeches with both hands, simply holding them with her fingers pressed against warm skin. At Velaska's sharply indrawn breath, she tugged them down with a short jerk.
The breeches dropped to mid-thigh, then caught, the goddess' spread legs holding them trapped. Snarling, Velaska reached down and tore the undergarment from her body with one unsteady hand, violently baring her loins to the woman kneeling in front of her, waiting to serve.
Turning her head at a small sound of movement, the goddess espied Eponin and Solari rapt in concentration as they watched Ephiny. They were spell-bound, appearing almost hypnotized to judge by the intensity of their unwavering gazes as they watched the trembling hands stroking her hips.
Smirking in smug satisfaction, Velaska flung her ruined underwear into their faces.
The goddess' aim was perfect. The torn breeches slithered across Solari's cheek, letting her feel the moisture that soaked them, then struck Eponin squarely between the eyes with a muffled "thwap" that seemed to echo loudly in the silence of the forest.
The two women cursed foully and vilely under their breaths, the spell that held them enraptured broken by the rude interruption. Eponin immediately pulled the breeches away from her face, tossing them into the woods with a sharp underhanded throw. Solari swiftly wiped the feel of the goddess' dampness from her face with an irritated swipe of one hand.
They tensed to launch their attack, uncaring that Ephiny hadn't signalled. The other Amazons immediately readied themselves as well, ready to follow Ephiny's lieutenants' lead and to abort the imminent encounter before it could progress any further. They'd delayed Velaska enough, they decided, their cheeks suffusing with rage as their features contorted, the totality of Velaska's evil overwhelming...
...and then their eyes met Ephiny's.
Solari froze, followed bare instants later by Eponin. Their gazes locked for long moments, not even a blink interrupting the wordless confrontation. And then the awful tension that radiated from their taut muscles slowly began to drain from their bodies.
Ephiny's eyes were clear; her features wholly unmarred by anger, or lust, or even excitement. "You will obey," her calm expression ordered, the unwavering certainty of that fact burning with a cold light deep in her eyes. Gradually, reluctantly, the Amazons returned to their ready posture - alert, but not openly poised to attack.
Velaska watched the brief interplay with interest, her power swelling in her breast as she readied a fireball on the edge of her concentration. She had been convinced that the two would attack when she taunted them, yet somehow they'd managed to restrain themselves. "Excellent..." she mused silently. "They'll live longer if they learn not to challenge me."
She would have said something to them directly, either to goad them further or to reinforce the lesson of her superiority and dominance - or more likely both, but Ephiny chose that moment to bury her face between the goddess' thighs.
"Gods!" Velaska gasped aloud, her inhuman eyes widening in startled delight as she felt Ephiny's tongue immediately insinuate itself into her depths, darting through the swollen gates of her portal to stroke across her inner walls. Velaska threw back her head and moaned in sheer carnal rapture, her planned attack totally forgotten as Ephiny began to pleasure her. A delighted shiver raced up her spine as the regent's tongue toyed with her entrance.
Edging forward, Ephiny's naked breasts briefly brushed against the goddess' thighs as she leaned forward. A taut muscle twitched as an erect nipple scraped across its length, then returned to gently quivering quiescence, allowing Velaska to focus all her concentration on the sensations that Ephiny's lips and tongue were evoking from her throbbing center.
Raising herself into a crouch, the regent positioned herself aright after drawing back from her first deeply-probing, slurping exploration. She leaned forward, breathing in the thick musk of Velaska's arousal, and then, before Velaska could recover from her first sally, swiftly ran her tongue down the length of the goddess' sodden sex, stroking the slice of her labia in a sudden slick caress that released a flood of fluid against her lips.
The reaction was immediate. Thrusting her hips forward, Velaska ground herself roughly against Ephiny's face. The damp, matted hairs surmounting her mound scraped against the regent's forehead, pulling the skin of the goddess' mons taut and opening her entrance wider, spreading herself more fully for the eagerly awaited resumption of Ephiny's hungry assault.
"Oh! Oh! Yes!" Velaska cried out, spreading her legs wide in open invitation to Ephiny's tongue.
Despite the shift in stance, Ephiny acted as she willed, refusing to obey the implicit command. Moving away from the drooling heat of Velaska's entrance, the regent instead redirected her focus.
She teased the junctures of the goddess' legs and torso. Scraping her tongue along the sensitive skin of her inner thighs, Ephiny tasted the salty sweat and sweeter fluids that had gathered in the crease.
The powerful muscles of the goddess' thighs began to quiver. She struggled to hold herself upright on far too-widespread legs, but her stance remained uncertain. The strain of holding herself in the stiff posture was sapping strength from her reserves, reserves that were already being drained much more pleasurably in other ways.
Feeling Velaska beginning to sway against her, Ephiny's arms darted between the goddess' legs and braced her, supporting her legs with the shafts of her arms and cupping the globes of her backside with her hands. Her clenched biceps could feel Velaska's legs shivering against the support, and she tightened her grip, straining to keep them locked together.
The added support her arms provided not only enabled Velaska to remain standing, it also gave Ephiny a slightly better angle on her target - an angle she immediately took full advantage of despite the strain on her back.
She drank of divine nectar and found it to be sweet, warm and delicious as it poured in never-ending streams from the goddess' fount to flow slickly across her tongue and down her throat. Ephiny licked her lips, momentarily halting her frenzied assault as a part of her unaffected by her circumstance savored the taste of the goddess' juices, then redoubled her efforts.
While Ephiny and Velaska were enmeshed in each other, the other Amazons quite simply didn't know what to do. They stared at the spectacle, their thoughts all but identical despite their stunned silence. "Ephiny gave no signal, and she's clearly... keeping the goddess occupied, but... but... This is Velaska she's... Why is she...?"
The object of the Amazons' curiosity neither knew nor cared of their concerns or their befuddlement. As Ephiny crouched at the goddess' feet, a stark clarity of purpose had overtaken her, overriding and dismissing all lesser concerns.
It was oddly invigorating; Ephiny mused distantly, unflagging in her continuing efforts to pleasure Velaska. She needed to buy time, and Velaska had chosen the method. That was all the encounter meant, and the need to gain precious time for Xena and Gabrielle was the only thing that was important.
Unhampered by any true desire, or even excitement, she was completely free to perform; she was wholly unfettered by any wants of her own other than a compelling need to stretch the encounter out for as long as she could. She could analyze each twitch, each tiny change in position and posture, each tiny convulsion that gripped her tongue, and view them with a pure objectivity and sensitivity that would have been impossible at any other time or in any other circumstance.
As more and more of herself became enmeshed in the fullness of the now, horror at what she was doing, disgust at who she was doing it to, thoughts of morality, self-disgust, and even will itself faded. Considerations of the future and past were meaningless in the totality of the moment. Transcending self, her thought processes crystallized, becoming like a diamond - cold, hard, pure, and as close to perfection as possible.
The presence of the other Amazons watching her, her son, her dead husband, and even the Nation itself was irrelevant to the intensity of focus that Ephiny constructed. Her entire being concentrated on pleasing Velaska, arousing her and pleasuring her - and thereby turning her focus away from pursuing Gabrielle and buying time for Xena to find a solution.
She felt no lust, no heat of desire - just an awful clarity of purpose that let her gauge with exacting precision what she needed to do to fulfil all of Velaska's desires, meet her every need, and give her pleasures unmatched - with one absolute exception. She would do whatever it took to keep the goddess poised on the edge of ecstasy - but under no circumstance would she allow her to attain the release of climax.
The coldness that was Ephiny's gestalt knew that as long as Velaska desired release, she would remain rooted in the clearing - tied to the regent's hands and mouth with unbreakable chains of lust and need stronger than any forged by Hephaestus - and the goddess didn't even realize that fact. Velaska would be delayed in her pursuit until she either saw through the deception, or Ephiny released her from the chains and allowed her release - and the regent had absolutely no intention of granting the goddess that satisfaction.
Eyes narrowed in almost inhumanly intense concentration, Ephiny willingly gave herself over to the chaining of the goddess.
Velaska simply continued to revel in the sensations Ephiny was giving to her, savoring the delicious pleasures that rocketed through her with each lick and nibble, each stroke and rub. She moaned and shimmied, voicing her pleasure for the watchers to witness and enjoy - and to learn from - wholly unaware of the duplicitous nature of the delightful sex she was receiving.
The unflinching - and disbelieving - stares of the surrounding Amazons troubled Velaska not at all; indeed they added a certain zest to the encounter, a piquancy that made it all the sweeter as she was driven ever closer to fulfillment by her one-time rival. Indeed, the very thought of her former supporters bearing witness to Ephiny's submission to the new goddess made her moan in even greater delight.
Moaning in sheer ecstasy as her hips unconsciously began to rock, Velaska silently exulted, "Let all watch as Gabrielle's regent pleasures me, submitting herself to the true ruler of the Nation!" Pulling her leathers open with an abrupt jerk of one hand, snapping the leather thongs that held her leathers closed with negligent ease, she began to fondle a breast with the other hand, teasing the turgid nub and adding to her enjoyment. "It's even better than a festival!" the goddess marvelled distantly, memories of past orgies paling to irrelevance by comparison to Ephiny's servicing.
Lost in her pleasures, pursuing Gabrielle was the furthest thing from Velaska's mind - which was, of course, the point. With the small part of herself not devoted to pleasuring Velaska, Ephiny noted her thoughtless rapture with a hint of smugly satisfied pleasure. Her lips, firmly pressed against sweat-dampened skin, slowly curled into a satisfied smile as her tongue scraped over bestubbled flesh. It was working...
Her breath blew over the goddess' womanhood like a desert wind, hot and demanding, setting fine hairs dancing in the wake of its passage. Heated air crossed hotter flesh, making it swell and quiver in needy response and flushing it a deeper, ruddier hue as blood raced to inflame it. With every breath, Velaska grew more and more sensitive, more turgid and aroused.
Ephiny nosed the point of fusion of Velaska's labia, stroking the length of her engorged clit with the point of her nose. She suckled on a swollen inner lip, milking it with lips and tongue, and occasionally adding gentle pressure with her teeth as her head moved slowly across Velaska's sex.
Velaska tensed, muscles quivering sweetly as she felt herself beginning to ascend the spiral to fulfillment, fingers tightening their grip on taut nipples...
...and then Ephiny backed away, kissing her way away from her needing, clutching channel and up the taut muscular planes of her stomach that had been revealed when the goddess had torn open her top. Pressing herself against the gaping leather armor, she tongued the goddess' navel through the opening, swirling the tip into the dimple and dampening her belly.
Fingers massaged the tensed muscles of the goddess' rear with touches that soothed as well as inflamed. The pace was abruptly slower and shifted, but it felt so good, the goddess didn't care.
Groaning in mixed frustration and delight, Velaska's breasts bobbed as she began to chuckle. "Damn, she's good... I should have taken Ephiny away from Terreis all those years ago," she thought in ecstatic wonderment, "and if I'd known just how good she was, I would have."
"You should have taken lessons from Ephiny, Thalia," Velaska moaned in pleasure, lust overtaking her momentary amusement, "You were never this good."
Thalia shook with silent sobs and buried her face deeper in the comforting solace of her true lover's neck. She couldn't bear to watch Velaska use Ephiny as she had been used - as a whore for Velaska's pleasure, and not an act of love. She hadn't even realized how tawdry her own experiences had been, overwhelmed as she was by being allowed so close to her idol and ecstatic over being chosen for the purpose. Distanced and disenchanted by time and bitter experience, she was now forced to confront the truth of the deceptions and her self-delusion.
After Thalia's infidelity was confirmed by Velaska, cold looks of disgust and disapproval were cast in her direction by the other Amazons. Their hard gazes were met by an equally icy, level stare from Elona.
Elona had known of, if not exactly approved of, the liaisons that had occurred between her mate and Velaska. She too had fallen for Velaska's siren allure, and had made no protest when the charismatic Amazon had bedded her lover. Indeed, at the time, it had been almost... exciting.
But that was then... and now everything was different. Now that both regretted what had happened, they were willing to deal with the infidelities - no matter the consequences or costs.
What was in their past was nobody's business but theirs, to her way of thinking, and Elona's frosty eyes and set expression - not to mention the gentle way she enfolded Thalia in a protective embrace - proclaimed that fact to the other Amazons far more clearly than mere words ever could.
Unaware and uncaring of the silent confrontation going on amongst the watching Amazons, Velaska grunted as a finger penetrated her channel, joining its fellow in a teasingly slow exploration of her inner reaches. Velaska's torso undulated with serpentine fluidity, her shifting weight braced against the shivering support of Ephiny's arms. "More," she ordered with a breathless moan, rocking her hips in an attempt to force the fingers to drive deeper into her body.
Ephiny obliged, stroking her fingers across the rhythmically clenching walls of Velaska's passage. She breathed in the sweet musk of the goddess' arousal as her fingers flashed in the moonlight, pistoning powerfully in and out of the goddess' body. Velaska shook and moaned in pleased reaction to each thrust.
They rocked together, the goddess and her duplicitous worshipper, in carnal harmony, Ephiny gauging her level of enjoyment with a calculatedly discerning eye. After one more deep thrust, Ephiny shifted pace and focus, beginning to move slower while shifting the angle of her hand. The change caused her fingers to stimulate a relatively untouched area of her inner walls.
Velaska's body shuddered.
Ephiny's hand stilled as her fingers were gripped by a velvet vice, the goddess' inner muscles clenching tightly around them. With a sudden flash of insight that froze her thoughts and stilled her movements, Ephiny realized that she'd made a mistake. She had miscalculated - and with a tone as somber as the knelling of a death-bell, the realization raced through her mind that the goddess was closer to a climax than she'd thought.
"No," the goddess groaned as Ephiny stopped, revealing the power of her desperation. She thrust forward with her hips as Ephiny ceased her labors, bumping her pubis roughly against the crouching Amazon's face as she blindly fought for release. "More!" she snarled in a frenzy borne of frustration. "I'm so close..." she gritted.
Ephiny held the hand buried in the goddess rigidly motionless, not removing it, but neither did she resume her movements. Instead, she leaned into the juncture of Velaska's legs and began to slurp up the fluid that had leaked down her fingers with her tongue, occasionally brushing it across the flushed and distended labia that they pierced.
The gentle touches of Ephiny's tongue as it flickered against her nether lips felt almost painful to the goddess after the hard thrusts she'd been absorbing from Ephiny's hands, and served only to fuel her ire. Rage building, Velaska panted in frustration as her eyes began to glow with the intensity of her need. "More... Harder... Now!" she grated from between clenched teeth.
When Ephiny didn't obey, Velaska reached down with a feral growl and seized Ephiny's head in an iron grip with both hands, taking physical control of the direction of the encounter for the first time. "Finish me, damn you to Tartarus!" she ordered in a harsh, grating voice. Pulling roughly on tousled curls, she forced the Amazon's mouth deeper into her matrix.
Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Ephiny yanked her fingers from within the goddess' body and tried to pull away, infuriating the snarling goddess. "Now!" Velaska squealed, the word cracking with frustrated need. She thrust her hips forward, even as she pulled on Ephiny's head.
Compressed between tensed thighs, hard hands, and the yielding pillow of Velaska's mound, Ephiny's face was thoroughly trapped, her mouth and nose inescapably enveloped by fragrant and pliant moistened flesh that smothered her as efficiently and effectively as an assassin's garrote. She struggled to draw breath, her mouth and tongue working futilely as she strained to draw air into her lungs.
Her desperate motions only managed to further enrage the goddess. Ephiny's efforts to pleasure Velaska slackened to nothing and the goddess began to fall away from the brink of imminent release.
Smothered in Velaska's dampened flesh, Ephiny began to panic. She frantically, blindly clawed at Velaska's ass and thighs, desperate to break free as she strained to draw breath. Her nails opened jagged, bloodless wounds in taut skin that sealed itself almost before her nails were withdrawn, but still Ephiny failed to gain release from the goddess' ever-tightening grasp.
Velaska's eyes squeezed tightly shut, her expression frozen in a twisted snarl that bared her teeth in an awful grimace of maddened lust and fury. She blindly humped her hips in increasingly more powerful thrusts against Ephiny's face, tightening her hands about the woman's head as she struggled to bring herself to climax, unheeding of the effect she was having as she kept the woman's nose and mouth trapped against her core.
The crystalline perfection of Ephiny's carefully constructed mental state cracked.
Burgeoning fear as her lungs burned with the need for air broke the icy perfection of her mental state, opening a pathway for all the thoughts and emotions that she had carefully locked away while she was busy to reassert themselves with a vengeance. They tore through the floodgates, washing away her gestalt in a ravening flood of thought and emotion that drove Ephiny's panic to a maddened extreme.
Disgust at herself for doing such a thing to a hated enemy blossomed in her heart, while loathing for Velaska herself for even suggesting the action erupted in her soul; a thousand thoughts, feelings and emotions simultaneously began to clamor for attention, distracting her and irreparably shattering her carefully constructed mental state. And, dominating her thoughts and growing until it all but drowned out the voices of the multitude, fear exploding into terror as her lungs heaved uselessly, still unable to find precious breath.
Ephiny's chest rose and fell as she desperately sought air, and her face was battered mercilessly as Velaska's pubic bone was smashed against it again and again. Pain exploded in Ephiny's head as Velaska's fingers tightened their grip on her skull, entangling themselves in her hair and squeezing until she could feel the very bones creak in protest, causing a muffled scream to lance into Velaska's depths.
Ephiny could endure no more; as a haze of pain and oxygen deprivation began to cloud her vision, Ephiny's fingers shakily began to form the signal to attack.
Before Ephiny's fingers could shape themselves into the proper signal, the Amazons attacked. There were limits to everything, even obedience, and Velaska far surpassed even the Amazons' iron discipline as she continued to brutalize Ephiny.
Crossbows, hidden in the bushes a long eternity before, were brought to bear and fired in an eyeblink, impaling the goddess with a half-score iron-tipped wooden shafts. Velaska's eyelids instantly snapped open, revealing eyes glowing brightly in the night with madness, frustrated lust, and a wild fury reinforced by the awesome power of a goddess.
"Get her!" a high-pitched woman's voice cried out, made anonymous by darkness and terror, and a second flight of quarrels was immediately launched. Velaska released her death-grip on Ephiny's skull as she instinctively raised her hands to block the quarrels' flight. She managed to catch two and deflect another, but the remainder thudded home, sinking to the fletching in her body, and rocking her back a step as she absorbed the impact.
Ephiny, loosed from the goddess' grasp and desperate for air, slumped backwards in a near-faint, heaving great breaths of air into grateful lungs. She stared up at the enraged goddess from blurry, unfocused eyes, her turbulent emotions and returning thoughts swirling violently through her mind as quarrel after quarrel sank into divine flesh.
Velaska shuddered as a third flight of the bolts neared her, then froze as they sank home. For a moment she looked startled, staring down at the quarrels that impaled her, but the moment of uncertainty soon passed. An evil smile began to grow on her face. Unfazed by the Amazons' attack, she began to laugh - a mocking, taunting laugh that chilled the blood of all who heard it, and sent the few animals that hadn't long since fled the vicinity fleeing in terror.
At Velaska's feet, Ephiny's face contorted into a twisted mask of enraged fury at the goddess' mockery. Snarling, she drew her daggers, palming them expertly as she pulled them from their hidden sheaths. Without the filter of the need for delay, her rage at the goddess exploded into frenzied life.
Thalia and Elona leaped forward as another flight of quarrels smacked into the laughing goddess, rocking her back another step, but doing nothing to quell her laughter. It continued to increase in volume, bubbling up from her pierced chest even as Elona knelt by Ephiny's side to render aid, hoping to draw her away from Velaska.
Thalia screamed in blind fury as she raised her sword over her head, running towards the laughing goddess. Her face burned red with the pain of betrayal that ached in her soul and the cold ashes of love and broken trust that hardened her heart. Tears streamed unchecked down her cheeks, but her eyes were savage as she leaped to attack.
Velaska's eyes widened as she looked at the sword poised to strike her. Despite herself, she took half a step away from the enraged Amazon.
The instinctive retreat was in vain. With a sharp cry, Thalia thrust downward with all her strength, burying the sword to the hilt in the goddess' black heart.
Velaska at last fell silent, emitting a startled grunt as the blade sank home. Thalia's hand slipped from the well-worn grip as she slowly backed away from the silent goddess, her eyes still wild.
The goddess' gaze dropped in shock until she was staring wide-eyed at the pommel sprouting from her body. The blade cleaved her chest, the hilt nestled in the valley between her breasts. She gasped in shock, feeling the cool metal of the guard against her sternum.
Ephiny shook off Elona's attempts to assist her as Thalia began to back away, her back arching as she contorted. Rising to her knees, the regent lashed out with her daggers. Driven by the full fury of her unleashed rage, the blades carved deeply into the flesh behind the goddess' knees. Spinning as she rose, Ephiny then drew them in twin parallel lines carved across Velaska's belly, the sharp blades slicing through the gaping leather of her armor as easily as the pale flesh that it so imperfectly shielded. As a final gesture, Ephiny butted the now-silent and wide-eyed goddess in the nose with a vicious blow of her forehead, sending Velaska crashing to the ground with a sharp clatter.
"Run! Now!" Ephiny ordered, raising her voice in a loud cry. Her eyes burned with a wild light, and inspired instant obedience. She spun in place to make sure everyone had heard her order, then ran into the woods as though Cerberus himself was chasing her - though in truth, the reality was far more terrible.
The Amazons scattered into the night like a flushed covey of quail, and in mere moments the forest path had been abandoned to the prone goddess. The moonlight glittered mockingly on the dark leaves of the disturbed vegetation, but all was still and silent - nothing else dared chance her wrath.
Growling ferociously, and with flames dancing across her fingertips, Velaska unsteadily climbed to her feet, her body pincushioned by crossbow bolts. Thalia's sword, still deeply embedded in her chest, hampered her efforts to rise, but couldn't truly harm the evil goddess.
"I underestimated you, Ephiny," Velaska snarled aloud. Had she not been a goddess, Ephiny's attacks would have severed the hamstrings in her legs before the disemboweling stroke killed her... slowly. "You'll pay for this..." she snarled to herself.
Velaska clenched herself, and a firestorm erupted around her body. The inferno of its heat incinerated the quarrels embedded in her flesh, but left her disordered clothing untouched.
She panted in a wild cacophony of rage, frustration, and unsatisfied lust as her thoughts skittered madly. Unnoticed, the wounds inflicted by the Amazons' arrows silently closed, sealing themselves and leaving her skin unmarred once more.
"I'll hunt that slut down, and break her legs! I'll chain her to my bed and make her live for eternity as my slave as an example for those who would toy with me. Me - a goddess!"
The visions of the pain and suffering that she planned to inflict only fueled her lust, and a haze of passion and madness descended over her vision, veiling her sight with a tinge of blood red. "I'll get you Ephiny... You and Solari and Thalia and her little friend and all the others..." she panted, her molten core reawakening with desire as she devised hideous torments for the Amazons who had attacked and betrayed her.
Wrapping one hand around the swordhilt sticking out of her chest, she slowly began to pull the sword from her body, relishing the dull ache of it. Her flesh slid across the metal with a low slurping sound, attempting to heal itself, but frustrated by the foreign object still filling the wound.
A sudden question froze her mid-pull, the sword still half-buried in her chest. "Why did Ephiny submit to my desires?" she wondered aloud. She had no illusions that Ephiny's heart harbored any love for her.
"If she was simply going to attack, why didn't she do it when I first approached?" Velaska continued. "Why did she choose to go so far as to...?"
The realization of Ephiny's true motives made the goddess grimace in self-disgust. She'd missed the obvious answer, blinded by her lust and hopes for conquering and humiliating the regent. "Oh, Ephiny. You really are good. You were trying to delay me... and you succeeded. I see now that I underestimated you a great deal."
A sadistic smile blossomed on Velaska's face as she drew Thalia's sword the rest of the way out of her body. She chuckled in grudgingly rueful appreciation of Ephiny's success as she contemplated the flawless blade - which was unblooded despite its recent impalement through her torso. "But when I fling Gabrielle's severed head into the dust at your feet," she gloated aloud, "then we'll see who succeeded and who failed."
Discarding Thalia's sword, Velaska reoriented herself, intending to resume her pursuit of Gabrielle. Almost immediately, after taking but a single step, she halted again with a shiver.
Glancing down, she noted that her skirt was still bunched about her waist, leaving her loins bared. More importantly, still awash in desire, the movements of walking were sending thrills racing through her already over-stimulated core. Each step caused shivers of delight to flood through her, rocking her with the intensity of their power and threatening to destroy her concentration and focus.
Velaska snorted in frustrated amusement at her predicament, but wasn't unduly concerned. Reaching down, she stroked the soft fur of her mound, goosebumps returning as the sensation of the soft caress melted into her depths. "I was so close," she thought to herself, "This shouldn't take me long." Spreading her legs once again, she braced herself and started stroking.
She writhed in ecstasy on unsteady legs, thrusting into herself with one hand while teasing her clitoris with the other, but couldn't reach climax. Between her mounting irritation, frustration, rage, and simple over-stimulation of her parts, the release that she craved continued to elude her. Long minutes later, she began to worry.
She was too aroused to continue her pursuit of Gabrielle, but too angry and frustrated to relax enough to achieve release. And, as time passed and her efforts to relieve the heat burning in her center merely inflamed her passions - and friction-heated flesh - she grew more and more frustrated, exacerbating her dilemma.
Throwing back her head, the goddess screamed her fury into the night sky, her voice echoing over the forest for miles as she unleashed a volume of sound that shook the nearby trees. "You're next Ephiny! I'll be coming for you!"
Her unthinking, unfortunate choice of words only stoked her anger, reminding her of her problems and worsening the dilemma that held her rooted in position. Sinking to her knees, Velaska thrust into herself even harder, roughly squeezing a swollen nipple with her other hand as she struggled in vain to reach a climax.
The chains Ephiny had woven around the goddess remained potent and binding. Ephiny's mission had been successful : Velaska was still delayed.
The Amazons were silent as they hurried through the forest, bound for the rendezvous at the centaur village. Velaska's last hideous scream of rage lent wings to their feet as they ran, and all made haste lest the vengeful goddess decide to pursue them.
Running slightly behind the others, Ephiny let the tears that trickled down her cheeks flow undisturbed. She felt no elation at the success of her ploy, nor any satisfaction at the frustrated rage that had throbbed in Velaska's cry. The brief, overwhelming surge of rage that had burned so hotly in her heart, driving her to attack the goddess, had flickered and died, and now she simply felt... Empty.
Empty and dirty.
Turning aside from the path the other Amazons followed, Ephiny altered her course, saying nothing to the others. Only Solari noted her departure, and after a hurried whispered consultation with Eponin, followed after her.
Slightly ahead of the main group, Thalia and Elona ran hand in hand. Of all the Amazons who had banded together to delay the goddess, the two lovers were handling the experience the best. Blessedly purged by the confrontation and their victory, they were suffused with a longing for home and rest, and an urge to leave Velaska and the troubles of the past far, far behind.
Behind the pair, the other Amazons followed, shepherded and watched over by a wary Eponin. Although glad the ordeal of the confrontation with the goddess was over, and eager to rejoin the rest of the tribe, they remained silent despite their triumph, held mute by the power of what they'd witnessed, and the sacrifice that Ephiny had made to buy time for queen and Nation.
Still, one thought dominated all others, and was shared by every member of the party, regardless of their other feelings : they had done their duty, and been successful in their mission. Velaska had been delayed.
"Eph, wait up!" Solari called, catching up to the fleeing regent as she rounded a bend in the path, breaking her silence in order to keep her friend from slipping away while out of sight. "Hey, where are you going?" she asked as she caught up to her.
Ephiny slowed, and came to a stop beneath the spreading branches of a large tree, not looking towards the Amazon that now flanked her. The pool of darkness beneath the sheltering boughs of the tree felt immensely comforting, and Ephiny gladly sank into its cloaking embrace. "There's a stream about a mile or so that way," she gestured vaguely, the pale skin of her arm flashing in the moonlight as it briefly left the pool of shadow.
"Why?" Solari asked, blinking in confusion. "We've got our waterskins, and it's not that far to the village - we don't need any water."
Her breathing deepening, Ephiny mumbled almost inaudibly, "I wanted to feel clean." The regent brushed at the tears streaming down her cheeks, but her sharp, abrupt motions did little other than to smear the salty drops, blending them into the fragrant evidence of the goddess' pleasure that still bedewed much of her lower face.
Solari slowly nodded her understanding, her expression darkening as she gauged her friend's condition. The conclusions she drew were not comforting.
"Come on," she finally urged. Taking her friend's arm, she drew Ephiny into motion once again. Together they silently walked through the forest, listening to the night sounds.
Solari maintained her hold on her friend's arm, guiding and supporting her as they walked, but making no effort to break the silence. Eventually, in the distance, they heard the muted gurgle of the stream and unconsciously picked up the pace.
When the stream was at last in sight, Ephiny pulled her arm from Solari's grip and ran ahead, only to drop to her knees and plunge her head into the shallow water. She stripped off the torn remnants of her top and flung the leather scraps away, shuddering as she did, then began to wash herself with a fervor just short of violence.
Halting on the banks, Solari watched her friend scrub her face and chest with a thoroughness and ferocity that spoke volumes towards her emotional state. Solari uneasily looked away from the harsh cleansing, choosing to concentrate on the less disturbing vision of her surroundings.
It was a beautiful place - pristine, clear, bathed in moonlight. The gentle noise of the stream and a prowling owl were the only sounds for miles around. It was the essence of peaceful - and a marked contrast to the two Amazons.
Solari waited until the frenetic splashing had eased before sinking down beside her friend with a sigh. "Gods, I hate sensitive chats," she thought to herself. "How are you doing?" she asked, with an offhand, casual air that sounded false even to her own ears.
"I've been better," Ephiny admitted, blinking eyes that were swollen and red from crying as she ventured a weak smile. Her face was clean - though battered and bruised - and she felt a little calmer now that she'd cleansed the visible and olfactory evidence of Velaska from her body, but was just as obviously in emotional turmoil. The dirty bootprint that had been left on her chest when Velaska stepped on her had been scrubbed away, but a red mark presaging a nasty bruise lingered, and Ephiny fingered it self-consciously as she wrestled with her emotions.
"The others won't talk," Solari began. "No one has to know."
"Truthfully I hadn't even thought about that part of it yet," Ephiny admitted. She dropped her hands into her lap and stared into nothingness as she contemplated the future. The possibilities were few enough. "Either we delayed her long enough for Xena to find a solution, or Velaska will be back to kill us all. Either way, it doesn't really matter. On the bright side, I don't suppose I'll have to worry about it very long."
"True," Solari reluctantly admitted. Like it or not, Velaska was now a goddess, and there was very little that could stop her. Still, if anyone could figure something out, it would be Xena.
They fell silent for a time, listening to the water flow. "Eph," the scout tentatively began, carefully not looking at her friend's face as she mustered her courage. "I have to know. Tell me... Why?"
Ephiny blinked, turning to study her friend's profile. "What do you mean 'Why?'"
Solari met her eyes. "I know Xena asked you to delay Velaska, but Artemis' tits, Eph..."
Ephiny snorted and broke eye contact, one corner of her lips turning up in wry self-disgust. "I didn't do it for Xena," she answered quietly.
"You..." Solari trailed off, twisting her head to look deeply into her friend's eyes. Despite Ephiny's attempt to hide it, she found the answer shining in their depths. "Oh, Eph," she murmured in compassion. "Does she know?" she wondered aloud.
Frowning, Ephiny's tears started afresh. "Yeah, right," she snorted. "She can't even recognize how Xena feels about her, but she'll recognize how a virtual stranger feels..."
"Oh, Eph," Solari repeated herself, shaking her head slightly in sorrowful empathy. "Gods, Cupid must really have it in for you."
Ephiny laughed through her tears, the flow beginning to ease. "Leave it to you to think of something like that."
After long minutes of silence as Ephiny dried her eyes and regained her composure, Solari finally spoke. "You have to tell her, you know."
"No!" Ephiny barked, her voice harsh, but still resolute and commanding. Upset she might be, but she was still every inch the regent. "If she wants me I want it to be because she truly loves me. Not because of pity - or 'gratitude' for my 'sacrifice.'" Her bare chest heaved as she struggled to master her turbulent emotions, and renewed tears began to trickle down her cheeks once more.
Solari watched Ephiny silently, then softly amended herself, "I meant how you feel about her. Not about..." she trailed off and concluded only with, "Velaska."
"Oh," Ephiny whispered in a small voice. For a moment, Solari thought Ephiny would burst into tears once more, but much to the scout's surprise, she started to chuckle instead. "Y'know, you're right, Sol. Cupid really must hate me. Terreis... Phantes... Gabrielle... I must be cursed. Why do all the people I fall for either die young or have someone else?" she plaintively whispered.
"Maybe Aphrodite loves you," Solari ventured. With a half smile, she prodded, "Remember Gabrielle's stories about how... she..." she trailed off as Ephiny began to laugh through her tears again. "Sorry, Eph." Brilliant move, she castigated herself, feeling like an utter heel.
"No, no... It's okay," Ephiny snickered, her breasts shaking as she struggled to hold back the hysterical laughter that threatened to erupt. "It... it feels good to laugh." She shook with the force of barely suppressed manic hilarity, and tears were beginning to flow freely once more.
No matter how she struggled to master herself, Ephiny simply couldn't. Inevitably, her fragile control cracked, and she broke down and wept. "I had to do it. I just had to," she wailed, burying her face in her hands.
"I know," Solari murmured, drawing her friend into a comforting embrace. "I know."
The laughter had faded, but it had done its work, creating an opening to allow the release of some of the dreadful pressure that she'd bottled up. The emotions Ephiny had been trying to suppress since her control had cracked were unleashed to war for control of her heart, and she was racked by the force of their battle. She wrapped her arms tightly around her torso, protectively, as though to shield her heart from further pain. "I just had to give Gabrielle time to find help - or at least to get away," she cried, sobbing into Solari's chest.
"Shh," Solari soothed, cradling the weeping woman in her arms and stroking her hair with gentle fingers. "I know."
"Velaska's a furkin' goddess..." Ephiny ranted, her tears falling unchecked to soak into Solari's leathers. Ephiny tried to pull away, but Solari held her tightly as she continued to rant, keeping her friend nestled in her arms.
"How in Artemis' name were we supposed to delay her?" Ephiny suddenly demanded, her vehemence only slightly muffled by her position. "Dig a pit? Drop rocks on her head? She destroyed the entire village! What did Xena expect me to do that wouldn't get someone killed?"
"I know," the scout's voice was gentle and understanding, soothing and calming. "I know."
Ephiny wept from shame and self-contempt for what she had done for the woman she loved - a woman who loved someone else. Her tears fell for an eternity.
But besides a loss of control, Ephiny's crying jag was also a profound release. Gradually, Ephiny found herself starting to relax as she poured out her misery in great heaving sobs. "I'm sorry, Sol," Ephiny whispered, when the war had at last run its course, and she'd gained a semblance of self-control. She tried to pull away from her friend, but the scout tightened her grip, keeping her locked in her embrace.
"I'm the one who should apologize," Solari murmured, continuing to stroke blonde curls as she tilted her head, trying to meet Ephiny's gaze. "I'm the one who kicked you in the ribs."
"I'm glad you did," Ephiny muttered in return, stiffening, but grudgingly moving back into the embrace. "You made it work. You didn't see the look in her eyes - she was so pleased with herself after you kicked me, that she stopped looking for motives and just gloated about her 'victory.'"
The scout blinked in amazement, and her hand stilled on Ephiny's head. "Really? But I... I..."
"I'm just glad everyone made it out in one piece. I just... I..."
Solari tightened her grip, holding Ephiny firmly in place, and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Everything'll be okay. Trust me. Look, you bought over a candlemark for Gabrielle - and maybe more, if that yell is any indication of how frustrated Velaska is right about now."
Ephiny smiled into Solari's breast, snuffling a little as a small chuckle rumbled in her chest; Velaska's suffering was the sole, tiny, bright source of comfort amidst the confusing welter of her conflicted emotions. "I suppose," she admitted.
"Now," Solari continued on, keeping her voice light and teasing, though her hesitancy and awkward phrasing made her sound disjointed and confused. "Aphrodite knows - I'm... No, what I really mean is.... you... you really put us to shame tonight, and I... I sorta envy Velaska... I mean... I... and... and I admire you for being able to do what had to be done, even though... What I mean... Um... Well, you're... You're my hero, Eph. You did the right... I... Aw, Hades, I don't know what I mean." She fell silent, her skin blushing a rosy hue in the moonlight.
It was a backhanded, rather mixed compliment that lay embedded in the disjointed attempt at reassurance, but Solari's heart was in the right place, and Ephiny gratefully accepted it for what Solari meant, rather than the awkward way that it was phrased.
Besides, Ephiny noted, it felt awfully good to simply be held. She'd been alone for a very long time, and holding Xenan, while certainly pleasant, was much different - and no substitute for being in the arms of a companion. She felt unreasonably soothed by the warm embrace and the gentle motion of her friend's fingers as they stroked her hair. "Sol?" she tentatively offered.
"You suck at sensitive chats - but I love ya for trying, anyway. Thanks. You know. For being here for me."
"Gee, thanks," Solari smirked, momentarily tightening her arms around her friend. "And you're welcome," she added, easing up slightly on her embrace and meeting her gaze. "You ready to get moving, now?"
"Yes. If Xena and Gabrielle don't..." Ephiny trailed off as her voice broke, but forced herself to continue, "don't make it, Velaska will be back. And after this little stunt, she'll really be out for my blood. I want to spend as much time with Xenan as I possibly can - just in case."
"Good plan," Solari agreed, helping Ephiny clamber to her feet. Together they reentered the forest, leaving the sanctuary of the secluded stream behind.
They had barely begun the return journey when Solari broke the companionable silence. "Eph?"
"Tell her," she urged. "She won't even know of the possibility if you don't, and Artemis knows, you deserve some happiness."
"Thanks, Sol," Ephiny breathed, genuinely touched as she brushed her fingers lightly across her friend's.
Solari smiled, her teeth glinting in the moonlight. "You're welcome. Now let's get back. It's all up to Xena and Gabrielle now."
Author's Afterword : If you've read many of my stories, you've probably figured out that I really, really, really like Ephiny. So, how could I do this to her? I dunno. It started out differently, and then some ideas I had for a different story crept in and the tone got much, much darker.
"I think I'm high on her list of things to do," was a line of dialogue that was just fraught with possibilities for a PWP - and was the original inspiration for this. I honestly initially envisioned something much different. But, like I said in the beginning, love has many forms, and ultimately this is a story about some of the many facets of love. Dark? Yes. Impossible? No. Self-sacrifice is one of the noblest of human drives, if surely one of the most painful, and one of the most compelling. For love, Queen, and Nation, it could surely have happened this way - and it definitely bought more time for X&G than the lame ambush that they used in the actual episode... But that's enough preaching... What this story really reminded me of when I was reading back over it, was some of the example cases used in my college ethics courses. You probably remember 'em, or have at least heard of them : the ones where you have to wonder if there is a right answer...
One final note : about midway through, after I'd started to characterize Velaska's dominating charisma, I found the lyrics to the old Living Colour song "Cult of Personality" running through my head. I quickly realized why. When she's not being a megalomaniacal psychopath, Velaska was a pretty charismatic and powerful person, and clearly enjoyed a popular following among the Amazons. She was hot... Pun intended. Anyway, just thought I'd mention that, since it helped me clarify some of my views on her while writing this story.
Really, really final note (added 10-19-1999 - about 2 months after the "final" version was written) - After finishing this and going through many, many rereads and revisions, one of my prereaders wanted to read the original PWP this was derived from. Watch for "A Necessary Orgy" to be posted on Katrina's site : Coming Soon!
Liked it or hated it, let me know. I'd love to hear feedback :Chris M.
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