Some of the characters in this story are mine. The rest belong to Rob Tapert and Co., RenPics, Studios USA, MCA/Universal, and anyone else who has an investment in Xena: Warrior Princess. I am just borrowing them for use in this story. Except for Aphrodite - she belongs to herself and I dare anyone to say differently.
To Phil and Mac for picking up the strays again and hunting out the missing among them. And to Steph for inviting me to play again.
If you have read Blood Bond
, this story will make a little more sense to you than if you haven't. This rates as weird on the Halloween scale, but this is what P&F gave me, so this is what ya'll got.
The Storyteller's Cardinal Rule is in effect.
A Long Time Ago....
Once upon a time, back when the world was new and Chronos and Rhea were still in their infancy, life existed in perfect balance and harmony - yin had yang, strength had weakness, good had evil - but they only touched one another at the fringes of their existence. They never melded... never blended into a single reality. Light ruled the day and darkness ruled the night and ne'er did the twain meet. Only at dawn and at twilight did either get a glimpse into a life not their own. It is during one of these twilight sightings that our story begins.
Zephyr glanced down into the face of her betrothed, unable to stop the grin from forming at the impish expression Tuwa wore when her nose crinkled up as she laughed. Life was good for these two creatures - one of the earth clan, one of the water tribe yet both from the people of light - the sun shone down on them, warming their backs and lighting their way; the air was fresh and clean; they were joining their lives together the following day and had just received the blessings of their coven.
Now they were headed out to the small meadow that had been granted them to create their home together. One rule the children of the light functioned under was the axiom, "Do No Harm". They formed their home from the earth in a way that did not disturb the nature that lived around them, moving slowly until they gradually had the shelter they had envisioned together.
Tuwa wrapped her arms around Zephyr's waist, leaning her head on the strong back before Zephyr pulled the smaller woman to stand in front of her, back to chest. "Are you as excited as I am?" she asked, whispering into the small ear. Tuwa shivered at the sensation as goosebumps tickled up her spine, then she turned in Zephyr's arms.
"Yes," she replied with equal softness. "I have dreamed of this day since we met as children. I knew then you were my heart's center."
Blue eyes sparkled with unabashed happiness at the words. "As you are mine, beloved. But it is time for us to head back to the village before night falls." She dipped her head to brush their lips together, taking a few moments to explore before pulling reluctantly away. She took Tuwa's hand in hers. "Come... before we get caught out in the darkness."
Those words were enough to cause Tuwa to take Zephyr's hand, and with one last look at their new home, they turned to walk back to the village. "At least the coven will be out to help us furnish it tomorrow before the ceremony."
Zephyr scratched her jaw. "Yes," clearing her throat. "I am a little concerned about that. I have a feeling we may be paying for any number of practical jokes we have played in our lifetimes."
Green eyes widened and then Tuwa shook her red-gold hair. "I hope not. I want to enjoy our first night together as a newly joined couple making love with you, not dodging the surprises our family will hide in the house for us."
"Well, it *is* tradition, and it is all in good fun."
"And I will gladly pay them back tenfold if they ruin our first time together." Feeling unnaturally emboldened by her happiness, Tuwa raised her voice as they entered the village, glaring around at the elders who smiled indulgently at her. Each new couple had at some point posed the same threat to the coven and every joining was the same - the new couple invariably was 'gotten' by the elders. It was tradition and once gotten, each new couple was anxious to join in the fun from the other side.
Tuwa's declaration garnered her laughter from the village as its temporary inhabitants began to ascend into the trees as the sunlight waned. The only time so many of them came together in one place was on markets days or when there was to be a joining and this joining had been highly anticipated among them for years.
As the final bit of light faded, darkness took its place on earth and its children came out to take dominion over it. But Tuwa and Zephyr were comfortably ensconced in the temporary dwellings with the rest of their kinsmen... unaware of the horror that was headed their way.
Ursula watched the happy couple scamper up into their temporary home, eyes blazing with hatred and envy. How dare they be happy together! Why should she have to suffer the darkness alone?? She deserved a mate worthy of her and only converting this child of the light to the darkness would satisfy her perverse desires.
The rest of her coven felt her anger course through them as a tangible thing, and it brought them to her side... eager to share in the dark, edgy energy Ursula was projecting. There was something satisfying about it and curious as well.
"What are you doing, Ursula? They are not of us."
"Not yet... but they will be. I covet the one for my mate and if I cannot have her, then no one shall."
"Ursula, there are rules that even the darkness must abide by - we cannot function without them. There must be balance between us; otherwise, we would be lost in Chaos."
"Fuck the rules, Sherizod! I want her and I WILL have her. There is no darkness strong enough and no light capable of stopping me. She will be mine."
"And what of her mate, Ursula? Even without the joining, they are bound one to another. There is not enough dark magic in the world to overcome such a bond."
"Then we will create more. Why should we settle for the darkness when we could rule both day and night? Who could stop us if we decided to take over?"
Eyes started to glow with greed and anticipation. "What shall we do with the other?" a new voice asked as ideas started to form.
"I don't care," Ursula snarled. "Kill her, screw her, fry her up for dinner. Hell, you can make her an immortal and torture her forever as far as I am concerned! BUT, you can do nothing until the one is mine - bound to me. I won't lose her to martyrdom and without her mate," Ursula sneered, "she will lose her will to live. And I want her to live; I want her to embrace the darkness... relish it like we do."
"And if she doesn't?"
"She will," Ursula growled. "Anything to protect her precious mate."
The rest of the dark coven cackled in excitement. "When, Ursula? How soon?"
Ursula closed her black eyes and breathed in through her nose, sucking in the air with satisfaction. "The night of their joining - when the moon is full and the veil between darkness and light is at its thinnest. It is our best chance of bringing her to our side willingly... crossing over is easiest then and capturing her before their union is consummated will assure our victory."
Gasps flew around the room. "Ursula, no one has survived such an attempt."
"Then we will have to do everything in our power to insure she does. Get started - we don't have much time."
An excited buzz rose from each of the women in the room. They had never felt so powerful, and if this worked... there would be no stopping them. They exchanged dark smiles, then buckled down to work.
Tuwa smiled as she blinked green eyes open, thrilling to the warmth of the body that cradled her so protectively. The arms that held her flexed and tightened their embrace and Tuwa shifted until she was gazing into Zephyr's twinkling blue eyes. "Good morning," she whispered.
"Good morning, beloved," Zephyr replied with a smile, leaning down to steal a kiss - a kiss that went on long enough that her mother cleared her throat to separate them from one another.
"Enough of that for now, you two. It is time to get the day started; the coven has a lot to do at your new home before your joining tonight. You do not want to miss out on all the fun."
"Yes, I do," grumbled Tuwa. She turned to look at Zephyr. "Can we not simply run away together?"
"And deprive the coven of an opportunity to share in our joy?" the question asked gravely just loud enough for Tuwa alone to hear, noting the seriousness in the green eyes.
"Yes... I feel the need to be selfish where you are concerned." She shivered and Zephyr held her even closer. "I am not sure forever is going to be long enough with you, beloved," kissing Zephyr once more.
"EW!!" came a call from outside their alcove. "You two are making me ill. I am going to need the coven to find a treatment for the sickly sweetness you are inflicting on us."
"You are going to need a treatment for something if you do not leave us alone for a few minutes to enjoy this bit of peace on our joining day," Tuwa called back to her younger sister. "It is not like I do not know where you live - you are not that hard to find. And this conversation is not for your ears."
"MAMA!!" the younger girl whined in outrage. Leduna chuckled silently and tried to affect a clear, scolding tone with something less than success.
"Tuwa, you and Zephyr have the rest of your lives to live as one. You can wait a little bit longer before you are left alone together."
Tuwa huffed and rolled onto her back, allowing the nagging agitation she felt to melt when Zephyr leaned over her with a smile on her face. "What do you say to beginning our joining ritual early? We can marry now, then we can escape to celebrate alone while the coven sets up our home."
"Do you think they will allow such a thing, Zephyr? It is unprecedented," unable to keep the hope and desire she felt at Zephyr's words out of her expression.
"Then we shall set one," Zephyr assured Tuwa. She looked out towards the doorway. "Call the clans together, Mama," knowing those in close proximity would hear and summon the rest together quickly. "We wish to be joined immediately."
"Zephyr, you know that is not how things are done."
Zephyr rose with the gracefulness of a cat and urged Tuwa up beside her. Together they crossed the threshold into the sunshine and looked at the gathering crowd with twin feral smiles. "Perhaps not until this day, but we are changing that." Zephyr held up her hand to halt the protests before they could start. "We accept that the coven wishes to play ridiculous tricks on us as part of the celebration - it is custom and tradition. And we have abided by every preposterous rule placed upon us as a betrothed couple... even though we have been a couple for longer than many of you have been joined. However, we refuse to wait until an hour before sunset to be joined, only to spend our first night together being plagued by practical jokes instead of consummating our union."
"And if we refuse?" asked one of the oldest elders gathered beneath the tree's alcove.
Zephyr's blue eyes hardened and she wrapped herself around an equally determined Tuwa. "Then we will have a private ceremony," eliciting gasps from across the crowd. Private ceremonies were practically unheard of - it meant the joined couple was cutting themselves and their gifts off from the clan. They would be shunned by the coven for a term of five years and then only allowed membership status again if they submitted a petition and were accepted by a majority of the coven.
"You would not be so foolish," Naureen said flatly. "No one has ever survived being cast out."
Zephyr kissed Tuwa's neck and unwrapped her arms from the smaller body. "Gather your things together, beloved. It is time for us to depart," calling their bluff.
Naureen blinked. "You are serious. You would cut yourselves off from us to defy a tradition that has been part of our culture since the sun first rose from its bed."
"We would," Tuwa said firmly, surprising them all with her outspoken bravery. "We are not denying you the right to indulge in the tradition of playing practical jokes on us today. We are simply ensuring that we are allowed to enjoy our joining before you get a chance to enjoy the results of your fun and games. But if we have a private ceremony, you will be denied the opportunity to ever play those tricks some of you have been planning as retribution for years." She smiled impishly at them and Naureen gave her a sour look before smiling wryly and looking at the rest of her coven sisters.
"Someone remind me why we agreed to let these two become joined to one another?" she asked plaintively. "They are too damned smart for their own good - together they are a menace," she added without rancor and with a distinct twinkle. "All right," she added, clapping her hands together. "Let's get these two anxious young people joined so we can go start our part of the celebration." She turned back to them. "You do realize this means there will be heaven and earth to pay for this."
"You do realize that what goes around comes around and comes around again," Tuwa retorted with a smirk. "There is a reason we are a menace." Naureen groaned. There was just no way to win with these two, but the coven favored them anyway. She swatted Tuwa's behind, shooing her back into the alcove she and Zephyr had emerged from.
"Go get ready. We will begin the ceremony in thirty minutes. That will give us all time to get into our robes and then we will walk to your homestead together." Tuwa pumped her arm in victory and even Zephyr had to laugh at her enthusiasm. Then the two of them headed back into the temporary room they had shared, anxious to prepare for their joining ceremony.
When the coven was ready, they made their way to the ground to await the arrival of Zephyr and Tuwa. Gowned in white robes, the two emerged into a veritable rainbow of color. Each sect of the different clans had its own colors and designs to show their allegiance. The crowd cheered and Naureen huffed. Despite the aggravation these two always caused her, she couldn't help but smile at the picture of perfect happiness they displayed.
The cheering died down and Naureen called up to them, "If you plan to have any time to celebrate this joining alone, perhaps you should join us now so we can get started." Several catcalls and guffaws could be heard throughout the crowd and Tuwa stuck out her tongue before they descended to the ground. Then a shout went up from the tribes and the water and earth clans hoisted them high above the crowd and everyone proceeded to make their way to the newlywed's new home.
The service was mercifully brief as much of the celebration involved setting up the home and rigging the practical jokes to be played on the joined couple. Zephyr and Tuwa were hardly pronounced as joined before they disappeared into the woods surrounding their home, leaving the mischief makers to do their worst.
About an hour before sunset, Zephyr ran a hand over her mate's smooth, naked skin. They had spent hours loving one another, discovering touches and tastes and sounds that brought them release time and time again. She was glad the grass beneath her was soft and cushioned - even knowing Tuwa as well as she did, she would have never guessed at the wildcat that lay beneath the normally shy veneer. And the scratches on her back would serve as a testament to that fact for some time to come. Zephyr smiled - she had never been so happy - so complete. Then she chuckled unexpectedly as Tuwa blinked her eyes open and tickled her with her eyelashes.
Tuwa stretched and sat up on one elbow so she could meet blue eyes even as Zephyr continued her gentle stroking. "Why were you laughing, beloved?"
"You mean aside from the fact that I am the happiest, luckiest, most blessed woman in the world?" Tuwa nodded though she couldn't stop the shine that lit up her green eyes. "You were tickling me," Zephyr stated matter-of-factly.
Tuwa blinked again, causing Zephyr to smile. It caused Tuwa to lose her train of thought as she traced the full lips that had loved her so completely only a little while before. "You are so beautiful, Zephyr. I love you."
"And I you, beloved mate." She paused. "I like the way that sounds. But come... we must get back to our home so the rest can toast us. They must return to the village before the sun sets. Tonight of all nights they cannot be late."
Tuwa sighed. "I know - how we managed to be joined on this day of all days...." she let the thought trail off. The children of light knew of the thinness of the veil between them on this night just as the children of darkness did, and they had great respect for the possibilities it presented them with. It was merely coincidence that this month the full moon corresponded to the eve of the day of the dead.
"That is what the coven ordained," Zephyr reminded Tuwa as she rose to her feet and slipped into her robe. She extended a hand down to Tuwa who accepted it with alacrity and donned her own robe swiftly. Then hand in hand they made their way back to their new home, letting the sounds of revelry guide them.
When they reached their homestead, hoots and catcalls of welcome greeted them and despite their resolve, both blushed a furious bright red. Naureen smirked at their flushed faces though inwardly she smiled, glad of their obvious happiness.
"Well," she drawled, "I can honestly say I have never been in quite this position before. Usually the new couple is torn between wanting to go inside to consummate their union and wanting to be anywhere else to avoid the tricks waiting to be played upon them. I can tell you that we were most clever in our efforts, but as always, there is nothing harmful or spiteful in the jokes we have played. It is simply a bit of well-meaning fun. However, since your joining is already complete, they are also a bit more intricate in nature to keep you both completely occupied tonight."
Neither of them reacted badly - they had expected as much after their ultimatum to the coven. And since the "Do No Harm' axiom extended to each other, they knew they were safe from malicious pranks. Besides, as the premier mischief makers in their respective clans, they, more than the rest, had a good idea of what to look for to discover the hidden traps.
"That is acceptable," Zephyr nodded, "and not unexpected. Will you allow us to offer you hospitality before you return to the village?" She motioned to the cauldron sitting to one side of the doorway.
"I think that would be excellent idea," Naureen agreed. "It will certainly make toasting the new couple and offering a final blessing much easier," she added with just a hint of snarkiness.
"I would not be so confident of that, esteemed elder. I believe you could do both without it," Zephyr commented calmly, "but where is the fun in that?"
"Indeed," Naureen concurred, taking her cup and dipping it into the bubbling vat. The rest followed her example and soon the entire coven held a cup of party punch. Zephyr and Tuwa shared a cup and each held a candle waiting to be lit.
"Never have we had a joining and celebration like the one we have experienced today, but then we have never had a couple quite like Zephyr and Tuwa." Laughter erupted from the congregation and many of them raised the cup in agreement. Naureen turned to face them. "We have watched the two of you grow up as one, refusing the advances of others and becoming more together than you ever were apart. It is our wish for you that you continue to find that same strength and completion in one another and your lives together will only serve to make you happier as time passes."
The coven raised their cups as one again and this time everyone took a drink. Naureen cleared her throat and resumed speaking. "Blessings on this house and good fortune on the two of you." Cups were raised once more and drained. Then Naureen turned to the two of them while Zephyr and Tuwa turned to face one another.
"Light from my heart - light in your darkness," Zephyr said as she lit the taper with a flame created from a spark between her forefinger and thumb.
"Light from my heart - light in your darkness," Tuwa responded, lighting her own candle.
They turned to the single candle held by both their mothers, lighting it with theirs before blowing the two tapers out. Then they accepted the candle and held it while each member of the coven lit a taper from it to put into the carved gourds they carried the candles in.
"Light from our hearts to light your way home," they intoned together. Each member received a kiss on the cheek as their candle was lit and they placed a small token on the table set by the cauldron specifically for that purpose. Once everyone had put their gift on the table, Naureen started the traditional tune that the coven would sing as they returned to the village to sleep before separating to their own homes the following morning. The rest took up the song and Zephyr and Tuwa stood watching them out of sight before turning to the tokens that had been left for them.
Tuwa's eyebrows went into her hairline and Zephyr gently laughed at her expression. "I think they are sending us a message, beloved," motioning to the large selection of apples left behind.
"Are they expecting us to start our own coven?" Tuwa joked nervously. "I am not sure we have room in our home for such a large number of children."
"That's not going to be a problem," came a voice from the shadows that were forming from the encroaching darkness. "You're not going to be a couple long enough to produce children."
Zephyr wrapped herself around Tuwa and began backing them towards the doorway while looking towards the shadows. She wasn't able to discern anything clearly - her eyesight unable to pierce the darkness that was gathering around them - but she could feel the evil in the presence she could not see. Then she realized that they were surrounded by the evil and had time enough to wonder how they managed to function while it was still light out before Tuwa was ripped from her arms.
Tuwa screamed and Zephyr growled and Ursula chortled with wicked glee. "Ooo... you want me, big girl?? Come and get me!" Then she screeched when Zephyr ignored her and leaped for those that held her beloved, intent on rescuing her from those who had stolen Tuwa from her arms. It wasn't supposed to be like that - Zephyr was supposed to focus her rage on Ursula so she could bring out the evil impulses necessary to cross the barrier. Then she watched as one went down before realizing she was dead and the second barely got her arms raised in a defensive position before she also slumped into a dead heap.
This made Ursula cackle - suddenly this was going much better than she planned. Bringing Zephyr to the side of darkness should be no problem given the strength of her wrath and the damage she was inflicting on those who had threatened Tuwa... especially on this night of all nights. She could taste victory on the tip of her tongue, and it was sweet.
Then the minion holding Tuwa cast a spell, hoping to get away from Zephyr's fury, but died before the spell could settle. Zephyr watched in horror as Tuwa convulsed and reformed into a fox with red-gold fur and bright green eyes. Before she could decide whether to scoop Tuwa into her arms and run inside or turn and destroy the evil that had done this to them first, Zephyr was hit by a bolt of magic from Ursula and shuddered in agony as her body morphed into the sleek appearance of a black panther. Her eyes sparked blue rage and she turned to face their tormentor when a crackling in the atmosphere around them caused them all to freeze where they stood.
Gaia stood before them, her eyes burning with the fury that radiated from her very being. The goddess looked around at the destruction that had been produced, then at the two animals and Ursula. "What has brought evil to good and darkness into the light?" she demanded in a voice that roared like the wind. "Who has wrought this destruction?"
Gaia waved an arm and the sky lit up again as it replayed the events in excruciating detail. She left the light in place to countermand the darkness and turned her attention to Ursula. "Release them," she commanded, furious at the selfish actions that had brought chaos into the mortal plane.
"I can't," was Ursula's smug response. "The one who created the fox is dead by her hand," pointing to Zephyr who growled deep in her throat, "and I wouldn't fix it if I could. And the spell that was placed on the cat can't be reversed until she binds herself to me and comes to live in the darkness as my mate."
"Foolish mortal... these two were already bound to one another - body, mind and soul. She will never come to you - she and the fox are already mated."
"NOOOOOO!!!!!!" Ursula screamed. "That can't be!!! They were just joined. They haven't had time to consummate their union!! She will be mine or she will belong to no one!"
Before Gaia could answer, Zephyr pounced, pinning Ursula down with sharp claws and breathing hot breath on her neck as she opened her jaws for the kill. Unexpectedly, Tuwa stepped into her line of sight, her head cocked slightly and her green eyes pleading for mercy. Zephyr growled again and backed away, but not without leaving Ursula a reminder.
Ursula screamed as four claws gouged the skin of her face and left bleeding tears in their wake. Then she walked to Tuwa and wrapped around her protectively. Ursula lunged for the pair of them by was halted by Gaia's upraised hand.
"You have done enough, child of darkness. Because of your actions this day, good and evil will never walk separately again. The lines will become blurred between them and mankind will suffer for your actions and greed. For that alone you should die a slow, painful death. However, since you have cursed the panther to immortality by the very spell you cast on her, you will remain alive as long as she survives, forced to watch her from a distance. Close enough to see; too far away to touch. And you will do so as a cockroach... the most reviled and hated creature Uranus produced... so you will die over and over and over - stomped on by everyone - just to come back to life and do it over again."
Ursula shrieked but the sound was cut off by her transmutation. Gaia could see the grin form on Zephyr's face as she lifted a paw and lazily batted Ursula's cockroach form against the tree with a satisfying splat. She shook her head to keep the smile from breaking out, then sobered when she realized what she had to tell the two of them.
"There is nothing I can do to reverse the spells that have been placed on you. The magic Ursula used on you is very powerful and very evil and I have nothing to counteract such wickedness and malevolence. However, I can grant you one night a year to be together in your human form until such time as a cure can be found to neutralize the effects of her magic."
"From this time forth, the night of the thinning of the veil between worlds shall be known as All Hallow's Eve. And on this day - from the setting of the sun til the setting of the sun again - you shall be human once more. That is the best I can do for you until I find a way to reverse the spells that have been cast over you both."
Neither animal moved towards her. Instead, they gazed at one another sadly and settled in each other's arms, relieved that despite their differences, they would be able to be together. Later there would be sadness and anger and frustration. But right now, there was only exhaustion and an odd measure of peace.
Gaia kissed them both, promising them protection for as long as she was able to provide it, and then she was gone.
And when morning came, the panther and the fox were gone as well. All that was left was the destruction around their home and the stink of evil as the dead quickly rotted under the midday sun. The coven never found a trace of Zephyr or Tuwa and the tribe mourned their loss for a full season - the highest honor they could be given.
When winter passed and spring was blooming once more, their attention was taken with survival as the world shifted and soon everyone was fighting for the continued existence of their own way and kind. Zephyr and Tuwa were forgotten in the struggles and no one bothered to find out the real story behind their disappearance.
But among the Titans and their godly offspring, Zephyr and Tuwa became something of a myth or legend and though it would take time, eventually someone would take an interest in their story.
Time passed - Zeus killed Chronos and set himself up as king of the gods. Then he set up his own pantheon, taking a page from the world before chaos had erupted and ensuring there was balance in everything. Of course, since anarchy was now a normal part of life on the mortal plane, his efforts at balance were negated by his children's petty squabbles and power plays.
Still, life moved on and their powers grew and then ebbed as humanity moved from the old ways into a new one. And one by one the Greek gods moved to Rome to recoup the powerbase they had lost in Greece, only to have it fade again as the Roman Empire crumbled and mankind's attention turned to yet another god with yet another message.
For most of the Pantheon, that meant retirement - a return to Olympus to live out their immortality in relative obscurity. For Aphrodite, however, it meant a greater workload. But that didn't stop her from keeping an eye on some of her favorite mortals, and it was this little hobby that brought Zephyr and Tuwa to her attention, making her realize for the first time that at least some of the stories she had heard all her life and discounted as myth were in fact truth. So she set out to see if there was a way to undo the damage that had been done to them all those many years ago.
Zephyr and Tuwa had had lifetimes to explore as the panther and fox and days to experience the love they had shared in their mortal manifestation. They did not survive without arguments and disagreements, but always they returned to one another, their bond strong and their love true. They'd seen every bit of the world... several times over... and found that some cultures reviled them while others revered them. With this hard-gained knowledge, they had decided to settle in the wild and untamed regions of the Plains on the North American continent. The natives there respected them as spirit guides and they were content to serve in such a capacity. It allowed them to roam freely without fear of being slaughtered for their pelts.
They continued this way for some time, always taking care to be alone on All Hallow's Eve so as not to be discovered in their human form. Then one night, something extraordinary happened and everything changed... though it would be a little while longer before they understood the far reaching effect the arrival and their subsequent friendship with the warrior woman named Xena would have upon their lives.
They had been watching the young shaman, curious as to what he was up to. The lightning he conjured nearly blinded and deafened them with the power of the blast, but it was the female that rose from it that drew their attention. Tuwa, who had grown in confidence and poise since her youth, wanted to go to the woman immediately, certain she needed their help. Zephyr, on the other hand, was much more cautious and insisted that they wait and watch for a little while to discover what they could about the stranger that had dropped from the sky.
They watched as Xena struggled to understand her situation and when she fell to her knees in agony as her soul felt its rending. They watched as the natives cared for her and as she returned their efforts in ways they would allow. And they watched when her bacchae nature forced her to hunt for her survival. It was during one such hunt that they made her acquaintance... by Tuwa's choice and much to Zephyr's dismay.
Xena had gone out looking for a fight and Tuwa, sensing her rage, left the safety of their den to see if she could do anything to help this tormented human that had literally fallen into their lives. Before Zephyr was aware of her intentions, she dashed out the doorway of their sanctuary and crept towards where Xena waited, her senses extended in an effort to determine how close she could approach.
Tuwa was surprised to find herself caught by the scruff of her neck and lifted up to meet eyes as blue as those she had known and loved for all of her lifetimes. She curled up into Xena's arms as she sat, then snuggled in her lap when Xena stroked her fur.
When Xena lifted her up, Tuwa held her gaze, tilting her head as she tried to understand what the human was searching for. Then she felt Xena stiffen and realized Zephyr had noticed her absence and was approaching to seek vengeance as she had with Ursula and so many others.
Xena easily recognized that a predator now circled behind her and by the hiss knew it was most likely a big cat. She tried to ease the fox out of her grasp so she could stand, but the animal would have none of it. Instead, Tuwa gazed at Xena confidently, then scrambled down and took up a position of sentinel, sitting up proud and tall as the panther advanced.
Zephyr continued to circle and Xena held herself in check, keeping a very close eye on the fox. The small animal showed no fear, but kept her green eyes focused on the cat that now paced back and forth in front of them. The panther growled, yet Tuwa merely tilted her head in questioning. Nearer and nearer the cat paced, until the fox reached out a paw and laid it on the panther's muzzle.
Xena watched the panther lower her head and gently nuzzle her face into the fox's neck. The fox laid her nose on the cat's momentarily and then they both looked back at Xena. The familiarity between them was astonishing and reminded her greatly of herself and Gabrielle. She watched in continued disbelief as the fox settled between the panther's forepaws and the cat wrapped herself protectively around what had to be her mate.
They helped her corral the white buffalo for her kill and in return she fed them. By unspoken resolve, Zephyr and Tuwa stayed by her side, determined to aid this human in her quest to find the answers she sought.
This was the decision that brought them to Aphrodite's attention.
At the time, of course she didn't recognize the when or the where that Xena was and when she first realized that she had found the warrior princess, she was thrilled to be able to have something good to share with Gabrielle. It was only afterwards that Dite remembered the two animals, wondering what it was about them that stirred her curiosity so. Then she realized that it was their behavior... towards one another and towards Xena. Predators like they were did not tend to stay close to one another and they certainly were not protective of humans. Yet when she had seen them, they were functioning as a single unit - one providing comfort to Xena while the other provided protection. It wasn't until she saw them morph into their human forms one Samhain sometime after her first sighting of them that Dite knew who they were and determined to do what she could to right the injustice that had been done to them so very long ago.
On the Halloween that Xena finally found Gabrielle, Aphrodite figured it was time to talk to Zephyr and Tuwa. If she had guessed right, she had found a possible solution to their dilemma.
She waited until Xena had taken Gabrielle to bed, absorbing the power that flowed through her like an electrical current with a welcome sigh. The animals had wandered outside just before the sun set and Dite watched as they transformed and then waited until Zephyr and Tuwa satisfied their first frenzied lust for one another before daring to interrupt their coupling.
It took some effort - her batteries, though seriously juiced from the love vibes that were flowing from Zephyr and Tuwa as well as Xena and Gabrielle - were not nearly as strong as she liked them to be when she did her snap and go mode of transportation. Still, she felt better than she had in ages, and with a snap of her fingers, Aphrodite found herself in the grove behind Gabrielle's cabin... wrapped in the arms of a naked woman and very close to suffocating.
"Zephyr," Tuwa chided softly. "I do not think the goddess of love means us harm."
"I would think the goddess of love would know better than to interfere with us tonight of all nights... especially popping in and surprising us," Zephyr replied with a glare at Aphrodite before releasing her and returning to Tuwa's embrace. "What do you want, love goddess? If you know who we are then you know we only have a day to be the people we really are. Why must you disturb us?"
Aphrodite cleared her throat nervously and took a seat across from them, trying not to stare. Though they both bore the softness and curves of the female form, the sleek leanness and defined musculature that was indicative of their animal makeup was apparent and it made Dite a little uneasy. The fact that they were older than her and still remembered her great grandmother (of sorts) Gaia from her days of ruling the earth only made the whole thing more surreal than it already was. Then she remembered why she had come and straightened up, looking Zephyr dead in the eyes.
"Ya know, I came here to do you babes a totally rad favor, but if you're gonna be like that, I can so go home. I have got the most awesome love buzz going and I wouldn't mind a chance to enjoy the groove myself, ya know. It's been a long time since I had this kind of gnarly juice flowing."
Tuwa and Zephyr gazed at one another before turning their attention back to Aphrodite. "Excuse me?" Tuwa replied. "I did not understand you. Could you please repeat what you said?"
Dite scrubbed a hand over her face. She had forgotten the more formal language of Gaia's time, much preferring the cadence and fluidity of her own special language of love. "Sorry," she apologized. "I forgot you two bitchin' babes haven't like, learned to chill like I do." She cleared her throat again. "I came to tell you that I believe I have found a way to reverse the curse that was placed on you."
That caused an immediate reaction as both women sat up and leaned towards her, clutching one another with shaking hands. "Excuse me?" they repeated again in tandem whispers. "What did you say?? Are you sure??"
"I think we can reverse the curse and yes, I'm sure," Dite repeated with a happy grin. Despite her reception, she truly was thrilled by the opportunity she had been given to help these two. Their story had always brought a tear to her eye, and to be able to change things was an incredible feeling.
"How?" One word - growled out and tersely bitten off in the anxiety of asking.
"When Gaia cursed Ursula, she ultimately cursed the two of you, binding the three of you together until Zephyr agreed to be bound to her and walk in darkness," Dite said, thinking aloud to get into a more serious mode of speaking. "However, when Xena gifted you with the immortality of the bacchae, you technically died before being reborn. Therefore, the curse should be lifted as soon as we find Ursula and eliminate that particular bug," giving a delicate shiver, "from the food chain."
Zephyr blinked and looked at Tuwa, who sat shell-shocked at Aphrodite's words. Zephyr reached out to Tuwa and raised her chin with gentle fingers. Tuwa bit her lip and glanced at Dite before turning to cradle Zephyr's face tenderly in her hands, staring into bright blue eyes suddenly filled with hope instead of the anger and sadness she had grown used to seeing.
"That simple?" Tuwa asked in disbelief.
"That simple," Aphrodite confirmed. "Of course, it is only a theory and we do have to find the right cockroach, but I totally think it will work."
"What's the catch?" Zephyr asked. This time her voice held no malice - only a weary curiosity.
"None that I am sure of. The only possibility I can come up with is that you may still have to return to the forms of the panther and the fox, probably one night a year - on Halloween - because the spells will have not been broken... only the curse lifted. I am hoping that lifting the curse would bring about a reversal of the spells as well... or better, eliminate them altogether. But I'm honestly not sure. A lot of this is guesswork on my part because there's not a lot of information around anymore to go on, but I didn't think there'd be anything to lose by giving it a try. At the very least, Ursula would die again and you would continue as you always have been."
Silence fell while blue and green eyes gazed into one another, holding a conversation in the tacit method they had managed to perfect over the millennia they had spent together. Finally, they broke the tableau and turned to Aphrodite simultaneously.
"We would like to try," Tuwa said finally.
"BUT," Zephyr broke in, "we would prefer to remain as we are a while longer... at least until Xena and Gabrielle execute the ritual required to return them home. We swore to protect her and that includes her mate as well. They will both need someone to watch over them while they perform the necessary rites. There is a great evil lurking nearby; we would hate for that to interfere or destroy their opportunity."
"They may or may not succeed, ya know."
"True, but either way, we will eventually cross paths and we will become bacchae by their hand. That much destiny is written."
"Ya sure? I didn't think anything was like, certain in life and the life you've been forced to live has so not been the one of your choosing. If we do this now, it won't be undone regardless of what happens to Xena and Gab, but if we wait...."
"No, Aphrodite," Tuwa broke in. "Though we admit our life has not been one of our choosing and would never have been had we been offered the choice, the fact is that it *is* our life. And despite the difficulties, we have seen so much... done so much... but above all, we have always had each other." She paused and turned to Zephyr who nodded in support, then she looked back at Aphrodite. "Xena and Gabrielle are mates bonded to one another with a soul bond much like the one Zephyr and I share. They deserve the chance to share it together. If it works now, it will work again, whether it be in this time or some other."
"Besides, we do still have to find Ursula. She is forbidden to wander far from us, but she learned long ago to keep her distance as much as possible. She does not like dying at my hand. I have learned to be more and more creative over the years."
"All righty," Aphrodite agreed, losing her serious tones without missing a beat at Zephyr's confession. "We'll play this your way, dudettes. When you're ready, you like, call me and we'll do this radical thing together since I'm not totally sure how it will need to go down. Um... do I need to find Ursula or...?"
"No," Zephyr said. "When the time is right, we will find her."
Aphrodite shrugged and nodded her head. "'Kay... let me leave you two groovin' chicks alone to enjoy the rest of your Halloween together." A hand on her arm caused Aphrodite to look into green eyes.
"Thank you, Aphrodite," Tuwa said sincerely. "Whether or not this works, it is heartening to know we were not forgotten."
Aphrodite cupped Tuwa's face. "Oh, Tuwa... you were never forgotten. I'm sorry it took so long to find an answer. Gotta jet," she said abruptly, disappearing in a shower of rose petals. Tuwa blinked and looked at Zephyr.
Zephyr didn't answer - she simply reached for the tear that rested in the midst of the petals, its sparkle visible even in the moonlight. Tuwa gazed at the diamond for a long moment, then set it to one side before returning to Zephyr's arms to continue their lovemaking. They still had twenty-three hours to be together before returning to their animal forms and they intended to make the most of every single second they had together.
Time passed, though not much. It was only a couple months before Xena and Gabrielle were ready to perform the ceremony that might be able to send them home, and when it was over, Zephyr and Tuwa walked away to carry out their own ritual.
Ursula was easy to find, as Zephyr had known she would be. She had distinctive marks that they recognized after millennia of involvement. Aphrodite was dutifully called and she came to them in a shower of sparkles and petals.
"Guys, I think we have a major issue. I think this has to wait until that whole thinning of the veil thing - you know... Halloween. I mean... we can totally try now, but I'm thinking it will only work, ya know, when the transition will be at its easiest."
Tuwa and Zephyr exchanged glances and Aphrodite watched them sigh before they nodded and released Ursula. Then they headed out onto the Plains away from people, hoping to be left alone for just a little while.
As Samhain drew closer on the American continent, Aphrodite collected Zephyr, Tuwa and Ursula and transported them all back to Greece - back as closely to their point of origin as she could manage. It was exhausting and very draining, but Dite wanted to give them the best chance of returning to their human forms that she could.
On All Hallow's Eve, just as the sun dropped below the horizon, Zephyr swatted Ursula up against a tree with enough force to cause a squishy splat. Nothing happened. For the first time in the millennia since their original transformation, the cockroach that was Ursula stayed dead and Tuwa and Zephyr retained their animal form.
So Aphrodite popped a small fire into place and the three of them sat down to wait.
As the witching hour approached, when the veil was at it very thinnest, and those in the know could walk between worlds, Gaia stepped into the mortal plane. She stroked first the dark head and then the red-gold, gazing at them with sadness.
"I am sorry for the years I inadvertently kept you locked into these forms. I am thrilled my granddaughter was wise enough to find a solution to my blunder. Her actions and your own have freed you from the curse that was placed upon you. The spells however, have not been removed... only transmuted by the events that have taken place. So from this day forth, only on the day of the thinning of the veil will you live as the panther and the fox from witching hour to witching hour and on that day will you hunt and feed as bacchae. When that time has past, you will be human again."
With those words Zephyr and Tuwa morphed into the women they had once been and they looked at one another before turning to Aphrodite. They didn't speak, but leaned forward to kiss her - one on each side. She blushed and kissed them both on the forehead, stepping back just slightly when she was done.
"You babes totally rock, and if you ever need anything, all ya gotta do is like, give me a shout. I am so there for both of you. I'm glad things worked out so awesomely cool for ya."
"As am I," Gaia agreed softly. "Thank you, Aphrodite... you did a very good thing here." Then they watched as Zephyr and Tuwa walked off into the darkness together, anxious to begin their new life together.
Time passed and All Hallow's Eve became darker and more sinister as it morphed into the modern celebration of Halloween. Zephyr and Tuwa changed along with it, becoming successful, contemporary women in the modern world whose secret was hidden by their escaping every year to a private, hidden dell deep in the heart of property they had acquired not long after their return to the United States.
So as the stores stocked up on candy and ridiculous costumes and the farmer's markets offered pumpkins and hay bales, Zephyr and Tuwa left the chaos of the city that was normally their life in this lifetime and headed to their sanctuary.
The witching hour that began Halloween struck and they transformed once more into the panther and the fox and they headed out to hunt. When their hunt was successfully completed, Tuwa sat surrounded by Zephyr's embrace, nuzzling her muzzle into the dark, fur-covered neck, waiting for the witching hour that signaled the end of Halloween.
As it drew closer, Zephyr turned and started licking Tuwa's neck, sinking her fangs into the vein there and smiling at the purr it pulled from the depths of the fox's chest. Tuwa returned the favor and as the clock struck midnight, they transmuted back into their human forms and met body to body, heart to heart and soul to soul. And at the height of their passion, just as the last chime struck, they sealed their blood connection and the circle was complete once more.
"I have to admit... this is not a bad way to spend Halloween," Tuwa said as she snuggled deeper in Zephyr's arms.
"Yes, and it is the perfect way to spend our anniversary. Happy Halloween, beloved."
"Happy anniversary, my immortal love."