Disclaimers: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Lao Ma, Alti, Borias, and everyone else who sounds familiar belong to Pac Ren and Universal Studios. I am not making money off of this story.
Genre Disclaimer: Ok. Bear with me, please, because this is kinda tough to explain. Sometime last year, I read a story on the internet that moved me so much, I was inspired to write a sort of companion piece to it. That story was "Lost Soul Walking" by DJWP. In her words, "This is NOT UberXena fiction. It just starts out like it is." The same can be said for this piece. While not directly related to "Lost Soul Walking", "Desert Storm" can be considered a sort of prequel to it. It is a story, if you will, about the lifetime before the one depicted in that fabulous, outstanding story. (Can you tell I loved it?) In addition, this is somewhat of an ambitious piece of fiction, in that I am attempting (dont know if Ive succeeded, but Ive attempted) to take the entire X:WP universe and modernize it. We start, in updated terms, with my version of Xenas betrayal by Caesar (seen in "Destiny"), and continue up through the X:WP episode known as "Remember Nothing". The plot will be very recognizable to you. Its meant to be that way.
Special note: Because of this, Gabrielle does not appear, except in offhand mention, in a great deal of the first half of this story. Do not look for her, because you wont find her. After all, she was not a part of evil Xenas life. If she were, things might have turned out differently, but because this is based on the premise of "Lost Soul Walking" it cannot happen differently. Gabrielle will, however, make her presence known, and that quite strongly, in the second half of the story. If you can hang on till then, I believe that you will not be disappointed.
Sexuality and Violence Disclaimers: Were dealing with an updated dark Xena through much of the first half, and an updated redeemed Xena through the second. Theres gonna be violence. There are gonna be naughty words. There are also descriptions of sexual activity in this work. There are allusions to heterosexual sex, but nothing graphic. There are some graphic (though I hope tasteful) scenes of sexual expression between women as well. That is how I see the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and that is how I will continue to write it.
And, finally, thanks: To, as always, the incomparable Mike. A better beta and a better friend one could never hope for. Thank you also, as always, to Mary D, who rescued this story from the refuse heap and begged me to keep going on it. If you hate it, blame her. <w> Grateful and heartfelt appreciation goes out to DJWP, for continuing to write stories that grab me somewhere above the liver and giving her kind permission to mention her story in these disclaimers. If you havent read her stories, please, do yourself a favor and do so. Finally, this story is dedicated to a group of people without whom I would most probably be living on the streets. Elizabeth, Rachel, Sulli, and the rest of the "Get Sue to Atlanta" crew, this ones for you!
Feedback: As always is gratefully appreciated. If you wrote to me regarding "Redemption" during the month of September to early October and I havent responded, please allow me the honor of apologizing in public. It was then that I was at my lowest point and making ready to move to my new home. Your words of praise and encouragement for my writing kept me firmly out of the pit of depression I was falling into and I shall be forever grateful to each and every one of you who took the time out to feed this bard. And for those of you patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for Redemptions sequel, fear not, for with the conclusion of this piece, that piece will be started. Any and all who wish to may write me atSwordnQuil@aol.com . Ill continue to do my best to answer each and every email. An exploding mailbox is a good thing to have. Thanks again!
by: SwordnQuill (Susanne Beck)
Same Day. Mid-Morning. Lao Mas Home. Chengdu, China.
Kael awoke shortly after dawn, as was her habit no matter how little sleep she managed to get the night before. Long years of military service had managed to survive the drug and crime induced haze of her new life, forcing her body into a state of awareness that came with the sun's rising.
Regardless of its brevity, her sleep had been the most refreshing she could ever remember having. It was free of the nightmares usually plaguing her attempts at rest and seemed, because of that, much longer and more restful than was usual for the troubled criminal.
Slipping from the bed, the American found herself pleasantly surprised when her body offered up only the most minimal of protests. Curious, she checked beneath the bandage on her leg, pleased to see the wound had been well tended and, in fact, seemed well on its way to recovery without further intervention.
She paused as her rapidly awakening mind replayed the events of the night before. Her mind slowed as memories of the bath and what came after played behind her eyes. That woman has great power. I want that power. And Im gonna get that power.
Snickering inwardly, she pulled on the robe and belted the sash before walking barefoot out of the small bedroom and following sensitive hearing to a place where women were heard to be talking. Eventually, she came upon a formal dining room, its long, low table surrounded by young women sitting on pillows and eating breakfast.
Lao Ma looked up, smiling and coming to her feet as she saw her guest enter into the room. "Welcome, Kael. Please, sit and break your fast with us."
Kael allowed herself to be escorted to a space near the head of the table. Sitting cross-legged in front of a feast of Chinese delicacies, she took a sip of the bracing green tea set before her and dug right in, more famished than she could remember being in a long time.
Conversation muted since Kaels entrance, and every so often shed look up to catch one or more of the young women looking her way. She noted with appreciation that the women were much more beautiful without their traditional facepaint exaggerating their features. When she met their eyes, each woman would look shyly down after the briefest of seconds. Ordinarily, this overt staring would have aggravated the volatile American. That morning, however, she was in such a good mood that she didnt let it bother her.
Instead, she spent her meal flirting outrageously, if non-verbally, with the women at the table, inordinately pleased with her self when she managed to get a blush or a girlish giggle from each and every one, save for the serene woman sitting at the head of the table, who pointedly ignored the goings on.
To say that Kael was fascinated by Lao Ma would have been an understatement of the most grandiose proportions. She was more enigmatic than Kael, a woman who buried her emotions hard and deep, could ever hope to be. She seemed to carry the secrets of the world within her heart. She could tell just by looking that the Asian had power beyond reckoning. Kaels quick mind began to plot and plan on how to get that power and make it her own.
All in all, though not one word was spoken, it was a very interesting meal.
Breakfast complete, Lao Ma rose gracefully from her position at the head of the table. "If it pleases you, Kael, would you join me in my sitting room? We have some things which require discussion."
Jumping easily to her feet, Kael simply nodded, determined not to fall into the trap of complacency that had so effortlessly snared her the evening before. Lao Ma had something she wanted, and she was determined to do whatever it took to get it.
The two women walked down several long, narrow halls before coming to an open, airy space. Light streamed into the room from various unshaded windows, casting colorful patterns on the floor and walls. There was a simple desk at one end of the room, and several comfortable-looking chairs filled out the rest of the furniture requirements.
Kael took an offered seat, looking around curiously at the soothing tapestries which covered the walls. The whole room seemed to be given to quiet contemplation and the American found herself quite liking it.
Lao Ma took a seat in another of the chairs, facing Kael at an oblique angle. "Was your sleep restful?" she asked after a long pause.
Lao Ma smiled. "It pleases me to hear that. Is your wound troubling you?"
"No. Its just fine."
Nodding, the smaller woman relaxed into her chair, her posture, as always, one of dignity and grace. Kael could easily feel the seductive pull of the Lao Mas natural power, but was determined not to give in to it.
Slow minutes passed by as the women stared into each others eyes, neither showing any signs of breaking the stalemate.
Finally, Lao Ma cleared her throat and smiled, very slightly. "You are a woman of strong will, Kael Androstos."
The corner of Kaels mouth curled upward. "What clued ya in?"
Lao Ma refused to be drawn. "If you continue to serve your will like a slave to his Master, it will be your undoing. To depend solely upon your will is to upset the delicate balance of your true nature. It will get you nowhere."
"Ya dont say."
"Did your will allow you to sell Ming Daos son back to him for ransom? Did your will keep those thugs and whores you bought off with money and sex loyal to you?"
With the first of Lao Mas polite questions, Kael began to slowly rise from her seat, her face set into stony planes of anger. "How do you know these things?" she asked from between clenched teeth.
"I know many things about you, Kael Androstos."
Coming fully out of the chair, Kael stepped toward Lao Ma, her fists clenched at her sides, her body rigid with feral intensity. "You goddamned son of a . . . ."
Before Kael could finish the epithet, Lao Ma raised her hands and the American found herself blown back into her seat, stunned and out of breath. She felt as if she had just been touched with a cattle prod. She tried to lift her arms, but they didnt seem to want to work anymore. Likewise, her legs appeared to have given up the ghost.
"The effect is only temporary," Lao Ma advised.
"How did you do that?" Kael asked, surprised that she had the voice for it.
"You desired to cause harm. That desire was turned back upon you."
"Bullshit." The tingling feelings were beginning to abate. Kael found herself able to move her arms and legs more normally. She shook both hands vigorously.
"I have no reason to lie. If one fills oneself with desire, one sees only illusion. Empty oneself of desire and one can see the great mystery of things."
"Like the mystery of how to force someone away from you without even touching them, huh?"
Lao Ma smiled. "Among other things, yes. Will and desire are concepts that have no place in the natural order of things. Yet you bandy them about like they are priceless objects. You feel like you can bend anyone you desire under your will. And you are just finding out now how false a theory that is." Turning her head a little, Lao Ma gazed upon one of the tapestries that hung on the wall. "My wise ancestor was known by a particular saying."
"And what was that."
"Soft as water, yet who can withstand the raging flood?"
Kael smirked again. "Oh yeah. Thats a keeper alright."
"Water can heal or harm with equal force, Kael. Yet it desires to do neither. It has no will. It simply acts according to its nature. Yet it is more powerful that you or I will ever be. And that is one of the great mysteries. That which acts according to its nature will always be more powerful than that which attempts to impose its will upon that nature."
The American shook her head. "I drop one bomb on your house, and nature pretty much pisses itself all to hell." Her grin was white with bared teeth.
Lao Ma chose to maintain her serene silence.
Kael shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Why are you telling me these things?"
Lao Ma closed her eyes for a long moment. "Because I sense the seeds of greatness inside you, Kael Androstos. If you continue to impose your will on all you see, those seeds will never be allowed to germinate and will die, unborn. And that will be a great loss to everyone."
The American snickered. "I think you need to pick up a little more wisdom from your venerable ancestor, Lao Ma. The only thing great about me is my capacity to do great evil. And I happen to like it that way."
"Yup. Wouldnt have it any other way."
"If I am wrong, it will be revealed soon enough. Until then, I would be honored for the chance to continue speaking with you about these things."
Kael shrugged. "Why not? Ive gotta lay low till things with Ming Dao cool down anyway."
"Wonderful." Lao Ma rose gracefully from her chair. "My business is set to open for the day soon. If you should wish it, would you like to assist in the preparations?"
"Sure. Sounds like fun."
Late that evening, Kael found herself back in Lao Mas personal sitting room, wiping sweat dampened hair back from her forehead. The silk overblouse and loose pants Lao Ma had given her were, likewise, soaked through with sweat in places. "I didnt realize running a den of iniquity would be quite so tiring."
Indeed, Kael had been on her feet for over twelve hours, assisting in any way she could. She found herself fascinated by the business of pleasure, but kept herself carefully out of the line of sight of the many customers, never knowing if Ming Dao would try to send a spy inside. The night had, fortunately, been without incident. Kael found herself physically exhausted, a state rare in the trained soldier.
"A garden may grow without aid, but there is more to reaping the harvest than waiting for the rain to fall," Lao Ma advised.
"Do you always speak in riddles?"
Lao Ma laughed. The sound reminded Kael of the wind-blown tinkle of the tiny chimes which hung outside of many houses in China. It warmed her. She looked upon the smiling woman, her own face softening. "Youre a beautiful woman, Lao Ma."
To the Americans utter shock, Lao Ma dropped her eyes and blushed, like a schoolgirl.
"Its good to know youre human after all," Kael gently teased.
"I have never claimed to be otherwise," Lao Ma replied, though she smiled as she spoke the words.
"True. But watching you, you take everything in stride. Nothing seems to faze you."
"The same could be said of you."
A dark, knowing smile spread Kaels lips. "Oh, plenty of things faze me," she purred, seeing if she could get another shy blush from the normally imperturbable woman.
Lao Ma didnt rise to the bait. Instead, she settled herself comfortably in her own chair, seeming to take in everything and nothing as she glanced around the now silent room. After a long moment, her eyes shifted back to Kael and she smiled slightly. "Would it please you to hear a story?"
Biting back a retort about what would please her more, the American settled for a nod. "Sure. Why not."
"A long time ago, my ancestor, Lao Ma, attended a fateful meeting in the place of her ailing husband. There, she met an intriguing woman, a warrior from Greece. The woman, who was known as Xena, had become crippled at the hands of someone she thought she loved."
Kael snorted. "A crippled warrior. Not much call for those."
"Perhaps, though she learned to fight on horseback and became one of the best warriors, if not the best, of her time. She fled to China after being betrayed by the man and gathered an army there, together with another man she took as her lover."
"Got around, didnt she."
"She was very confused about love," Lao Ma said softly. "The softer things had no place for her in her heart, or so she told herself. She was consumed by rage and hatred and the need for revenge against anyone who would oppose her."
"Smart woman," Kael replied, smirking.
"Oh yeah." Kaels smile grew dark as vivid images of her planned revenge against Geraldo played through her mind. "Very smart."
Finally noticing the continuing silence, Kael shook herself from her reverie and met Lao Mas patient, if saddened, gaze. "Please, continue."
"Xena was very jealous of her warlord-lovers attentions to my ancestor and attacked her after dinner that evening. Though crippled to the point of needing to use a cane to walk, Xena was still a formidable foe . . .as Lao Ma said, she was a dangerous woman."
"So, Xena beats the crap out of your ancestor and starts a war in China," Kael deduced.
Lao Ma smiled. "Not exactly."
"Well dont leave me hanging, woman! What happened?"
The Asian woman laughed good-naturedly.
Kael scowled. "If you tell me patience is a virtue, Im gonna scream."
"I dont think my windows could survive that," Lao Ma replied in mock horror.
"Did you just make a joke?"
"I believe I did."
Grinning, Kael shook her head, suddenly liking the small, quiet and supremely confident woman very much. "Please, will you continue your story?" Dear God, did I just say please??
"As it pleases you. Lao Ma defended herself much the same way I repelled your attack earlier today. Xena was knocked unconscious and Lao Ma took the opportunity to leave, after speaking with her attacker briefly."
"What did she say?"
"Fill yourself with desire and see only illusion. Free yourself of desire and see . . . ."
"The great mystery of things," Kael concluded, nodding. "Sounds familiar."
"It pleases me to know that you heard my words."
Kael snorted again. "Like I had any choice in the matter? I couldnt have moved even if Id wanted to." She shifted a bit on her chair, pulling the fabric away from her heated skin. "What happened next?" Despite herself, she was becoming quite interested in the story, especially as this Xena person seemed to mirror her life so well. Kael had no doubt that this was Lao Mas intent in telling the story.
"Some time passed. And in that time, Lao Ma learned that Xena had made a terrible mistake, causing a powerful head of one of the largest families in China to turn against her. With the help of her warlord-lover, she was captured and handed over to the man, who sent her into the forest and set his hunting dogs after her."
"Guess she wasnt so smart after all."
"No. She was young and full of hate. She thought she could bend the world to her will. She found out just how wrong her philosophy was."
Kael resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably in her chair, very much aware of the mirror being held up to her eyes. "Did . . .ah . . .did the dogs get to her?"
Though she did not say so, Lao Ma could easily detect Kaels increasing discomfort with the subject matter. Perhaps a breakthrough would come this evening. "Fortunately, they did not. Lao Ma happened to be in the right place at the right time and was able to offer assistance to Xena, who accepted it."
"Fortunate indeed," Kael replied. Smiling to herself, the young American steepled her fingers. "It occurs to me that this . . .tale . . .is sounding more and more familiar as time goes on."
Lao Ma nodded sagely. "Left unchecked, history does tend to repeat itself."
Kaels eyes narrowed. "Care to explain that?"
"I think the explanation will reveal itself in time."
Huffing out a frustrated breath, Kael flicked her hand. "Continue then."
"In time, Xena came to love Lao Ma, becoming my ancestors most passionate student. She had an amazing capacity for learning. She soaked up Lao Mas teachings as a sponge soaks up seawater. In time, she learned to let go of her hatred and subdue her ravenous will."
"Did Lao Ma love Xena?"
The Asian womans face softened. "Very much so. It is said that Xena was her greatest love. And because of that, some believe, she failed in her mission."
"What was her mission?"
"To unify all the families in China."
Kael whistled. "Your ancestor sure didnt dream small, did she."
"Indeed not. But while her intentions were pure, her desire for peace throughout the land took her away from her philosophy. And, some believe, it all started with her desire for the Warrior Princess."
"The Warrior Princess?"
"Yes. That was the title my ancestor bestowed upon Xena. Through the use of her strong sword arm, coupled with the powers Lao Mas teachings had given her, Xena would have been the peace-keeper of a united China."
"Doesnt seem like a bad job for a warrior to have. What happened?"
"It became apparent that although Xena sublimated her hatred and need for revenge, she hadnt cleansed them from her spirit."
"Ahhh," Kael said, nodding wisely. "She had fooled Lao Ma."
"And herself as well. I believe that she really wanted to be what Lao Ma saw in her. The knowledge would not have come to her if she were consciously evading Lao Ma. But when she saw the men who she felt had wronged her, my ancestors teachings were buried under a tide of hatred. Lao Ma tried to stop her, but in the end, she failed. Xena left and the houses of China remained separate entities."
"Damn. Thats tough. What happened to them?"
"Xena went through many more years of revenge and hatred before turning her life around. She never forgot Lao Ma, nor what my ancestor taught her. She spent much of the rest of her life regretting the decisions she had made. But, she eventually became a great force for good and, with the mate to her soul, went on to bring hope back into the world in which she lived."
"And Lao Ma?"
"She was eventually executed by her son, the emperor of China."
"Holy shit! Her son?"
"Yes. He was a brutal tyrant. Given her philosophy, and the fact that he was her son, Lao Ma could not divert his course. She sent a message to Xena for help, but it came too late to save her own life."
"Did Xena get the message?"
"Yes. She returned to China and assassinated the emperor."
Kael chuckled. "Gotta hand it to her. The woman had balls."
"Indeed. Though she did feel it was her duty. She helped to create Ming Tien, after all."
Lao Ma smiled sadly. "That is another story for another day. It is late. Perhaps sleep is in order."
Standing and stretching her tired muscles, Kael nodded. "Ill hold you to that. Thanks for the story, Lao Ma."
"Thank you for listening, Kael. May you have a pleasant evening."
"And you as well. Goodnight."
8 June 1991. Lao Mas Home. Chengdu, China.
Kael stepped from the bathing chamber, her skin still warm and tingling slightly from the vigorous scrubbing shed given herself.
It was Saturday, the Pleasure Houses one day of rest for the women who had stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, pleasuring the men and women who had come to work off a hard weeks labors. The house was quiet in the golden minutes just after dawn. Kael padded silently through the massive structure on bare feet, the fine silk of her robes brushing softly against the floor to mark her passing.
She was heading toward Lao Mas private sitting room; the one place in the entire house where she felt most comfortable. As she moved, Kael thought back on the three weeks already spent in the remarkable womans gentle company.
The two women spent many evenings together after the business was closed down for the night. Lao Ma spoke candidly about her total devotion to the Tao and its principles. She spoke very little about herself, yet was warm, caring and compassionate, with a serenity about her that helped draw out a tiny sliver of peace lodged deep within Kaels dark and shadowed soul.
The story of the original Lao Ma and her warrior-student was never spoken of again after that first night. Instead, the small Asian woman took up the mantel of mentor once again, gently opening Kaels eyes to a new philosophy of the world.
Lao Ma taught Kael forms of meditation that the former soldier, well versed in such arts, had never considered. The techniques were welcomed, for they helped her ease her way out of the opium addiction shed fallen back into. They also helped to impart some sense of stillness to the Americans always active mind, and for that, Kael was grateful.
Though the teachings of the Tao, with their emphasis on stillness and serenity, were as foreign to the American as anything could ever be, when seen through the eyes of a true devotee like Lao Ma, Kael couldnt help but feel the smallest bit jealous over the womans seeming comfort with the world and her place in it.
For Kael, every day of life was a war, a struggle which pitted her unbending will against any foes who had the audacity to face her. She was born a soldier and likely would die one. She felt it her destiny, if such a thing could even be contemplated.
To accept, then, life on lifes terms was a concept she couldnt begin to understand, except at the most basic of intellectual levels. How could it be possible to live life without expressing her will, her desire for things she wanted? It could simply not be done, not even with the bright promise of a world the Tao envisioned hanging over her head like a reward.
Still, Kael had, at some deep and unspoken level, come to treasure her evenings with the gentle woman who had taken her in, though she would probably never admit it to anyone but herself. If spending time with Lao Ma was like looking into the window of a world she could only dream of, then look she would, and be content with the view.
"I really am going soft," she chuckled to herself as she rounded the last corner to her destination. She rounded the corner, and then stopped, her vision captured by one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen.
Lao Ma, her hair unbound and luxurious, gently brushing against the curvature of her buttocks, stood at one of the long, narrow windows in her sitting room. A shaft of early morning sunlight lanced through the window, gilding the Asian woman in tones of purest gold. Her simple white robe took on a luminescent quality, and the sun brought out the bluish highlights in her night-black hair.
To Kael, Lao Ma didnt look prosaic as a mere angel, but rather a goddess, bathed in the hues of her majesty. The American suddenly found herself physically aching with the need to become a part of that light, that majesty. She felt pulled to the vision as a magnet to a core of iron. Her feet carried her across the room, her eyes never wavering from what was before them.
If utter goodness had a physical form, surely this was it.
Stopping less than an arms length away, Kael reached out a slightly termoring hand and brushed the tips of her fingers against the shining radiance of Lao Mas flowing hair. Her hand tingled as if she were touching some great, but controlled, power source.
Lao Ma, who had known Kael was present from the moment the other woman had stopped before the threshold, felt the gentle, almost reverent, touch to her hair and turned, closing the distance between them to almost nothing.
Kael, too, was standing in the light. Her eyes fairly glowed from an internal heat Lao Ma couldnt even begin to contemplate. The Asian tilted her chin up slightly, taking in the sun-gilded features of the striking woman standing so close to her. She is truly beauty incarnate.
Quite of its own volition, Lao Mas arm went up, the backs of her fingers gently brushing away a strand of hair that had laid itself across Kaels marble-cut cheekbone. She smiled at the unconscious gasp of air which came from the lips of the taller woman.
"You are so beautiful," Kael whispered, her eyes drawn to the pink-bow lips of her teacher. Still drawn, she lowered her head slowly, her hand sinking into the thick fall of Lao Mas hair to cup the skull beneath.
Their lips brushed lightly against one another, then melded seamlessly, tasting, touching, taunting.
Kael felt as if she had swallowed the sun. A riot of colors exploded behind her closed eyes, washing through her as if giving benediction for her sins.
For one brief and shining moment, she felt . . .clean.
Then her body caught up to her mind and she deepened the kiss, drawing her tongue against Lao Mas lips, which opened in invitation and drew her in to the warmth beyond.
Lao Ma responded primally to the kiss of the beautiful woman, tasting the heady flavor of her lips, taking the warm, exotic and thoroughly female scent of her deep into her lungs.
Desire arrowed through Lao Ma on eagles wings.
When she recognized it for what it was, she gently pulled away, gathering up Kaels hands and kissing them softly, her face shining.
Stunned, Kaels ice-blue eyes popped open and she stared dumbly down at Lao Ma.
"It is not yet time," the other woman said, smiling.
Kael blinked. "But I . . .you . . . ." She sighed, shaking her head. Then she cleared her throat. "Did . . .did I do something wrong?"
"No, not at all." Lao Mas smile broadened, her almond eyes twinkling. "It was wonderful. What Id dreamed it would be."
"You . . .thought about kissing me?"
"I have. But . . .not like this. Its not time yet. We have much more to go through."
"Im afraid I dont understand."
"As with all things, Kael," Lao Ma replied gently, brushing their joined hands against her own cheek, "understanding will come to you when you are ready for it." Then she smiled again. "But, it seems as if youve taken at least one of my lessons to heart."
An eyebrow rose over one impossibly blue eye. "And which one was that?"
"When I pulled away, you did not attempt to follow. For that one brief moment, you did not try to bend something to your will. This is a good thing."
For the American, standing in a puddle of her own raging hormones, it didnt feel like a very good thing at all.
As if reading her mind, Lao Ma threw back her head and laughed gaily, enjoying the perplexed look on the beautiful womans face. "Come, my friend. Let us sit and talk awhile. I think we could both use some cooling off."
Totally dumbfounded, Kael followed meekly behind her teacher, absently wondering where the real Kael Androstos had gone off to and if she was planning on coming back anytime soon.
To Be Continued...
Return to The Bard's Corner