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by Anon.

I watch the fire and I dream. It is always dark in my thoughts; a moonless night that stretches through eternity. Even the flickering flames before me sheds not light but shadows. I hear ... voices all around me, crying in pain, in torture. There is blood on the ground, scarlet against the brown dirt, and pain is thick in the air. I close my eyes, but still I see her, standing in the distance, watching, waiting, friend to death. Her image is burned in my memory as is the dream and the darkness ... the voice begin anew ...

The fire is low now. I add more wood to its hungry crackling and begin to prepare my nightly ritual. Although the old ways mean nothing to me now, I still repeat the motions that anchor me to the past. Lifting my cup, I give the time honored salute to the fire's flames. Death in life, life in death. The liquid within is mulled wine and deer's blood ... it is an ancient hunter's drink in my homeland. Curious ... hunting never was my strong suit, yet hunter I have become. Soon, my arrows will find their path into the warrior, soon, I will have peace from the past. So I seek, and I watch, and I wait. Time does not matter anymore, nor does anything else save silencing the voices and ending my nightmare. That is all I am now, and that is all that holds me to reality.

Do you know I am here Princess? That I watch your every move? You lift your head to the winds in puzzlement. Could it be that you sense me? No ... you turn your gaze back to the fire. You do not see me, do you? I am not surprised ... even your vaunted ability to detect danger, so keen when finding the enemy's sword, is no use against me. You are accustomed to an attack coming from an external source, but I ... I am within you, almost like a part of you. I am your shadow, and how would you notice a single shadow, when you are lost in a forest of darkness ? I am no threat to you yet, and your attention is not drawn to me. Beware, though, mighty warrior. Just because you can't see me doesn't mean I can't see you ...

I know your dark soul as you ride to village after village, destroying all in your path. Your arrival shreds life into tatters; your banner is death. You laugh, drunk in your conquest, but soon, you will laugh no more.One day ... one glorious day, I will feel your blood on my hands and rejoice even as you are doing now. I cannot move against you yet, however, ... you are still strong ...

What? Why are you hesitating now? You never have before. A child ... you hold a child in your hands. Women and children ... you say you do not kill them. Lies ... that did not stop you from destroying my whole life! Where was your noble sentiment when you rode into my village? I, once clothed in a simple but peaceful life, was stripped bare by your hands. It doesn't matter who you kill, or who you let live. You still end up ravaging your victims' souls. I was not a killer! I am not a bringer of death! But you force me to be one now ... if only there was another way. However, your soul is that of a demon. I have no mercy for you.

Hold. What are you doing now? You throw yourself in the midst of your own troops, all for the sake of one child ?!? I don't understand. This is not like you ... can it be that the demon longs to be human? NO! It does not matter. You still killed my village ... I hear them crying for your blood. Yet ... hush, my family, my friends. The demon is still strong. This turn from her old ways, it cannot be permanent! She will fall back, and I will be there to stop her. Demon warrior, you can still surprise me with the crooked windings of the maze in your soul. Be it that this change is permanent, then perhaps there can be another route for you besides death by my hands. However, stray not from the path on which you have set. For I am watching, and I will be there if you do.

The season passes, winter to spring. I feel the earth awaken, and I see the warrior awaken also, brought to a new life from a long spell of dormancy. Somehow, she has stayed on the road on which she has started ... it bewilders me still. She has been traveling without her army, wandering far and wide as if searching for something. Perhaps she is looking for a way to end the voices in HER head. I know they follow her too, as they follow me. They drive her nearly wild with grief and remorse. Her dreams are filled with images of her past; night after night she cries for forgiveness from her victims, her family .... but mostly, from herself. I understand her torture, for it so like mine, and I know the only release for the both of us is for me to end her life. So I still follow her ceaselessly, waiting and watching for my chance. She remains unaware of my presence, but I ... I am forever aware of hers.

She has changed much in these past few months. The proud countenance that she used to wear as tightly as her armor is gone, and in its place is something akin to despair. She has lost her way, and is uncertain of herself now. I should strike ... but yet, something stops me. The voices clamor insistently, but I beg them to wait. She is still strong physically, and I am no match for her yet. However, human strength is found not only in body, but in spirit, and hers is lagging sorely. Soon it will be gone. Then I will strike. For now, though, she is changing, and I must wait to see the full metamorphosis.

Today will be the day. The voices inside me sing in pleasure.

[Soon,] they croon joyfully [Soon, we will have her blood, and her pain will wash out ours!]

I try to quiet them as I watch her. I have never seen her so depressed before. It started when she met that little boy in that shell of a burned out village. He was a victim of her once great trail of death; however, circumstances are different this time around. It is he who vanquishes her with a single plea for mercy and food. His words, unlike many enemy swords, pierces through the frail armor of her soul. She reels against the blast and falls mortally wounded. She vows no more to carry the sword, and I watch her as she takes off her armor, preparing to bury it into the Mother Earth where so many of her victims are now a part. This is my chance, my one moment of truth, to end both our suffering ... I am ready to ...

A sudden sound! We both turn, startled. In the distance, I see a group of young girls caught in the clutches of a band of rough soldiers. Poor, poor, helpless things, trapped by an world unkind to innocence. My heart bleeds for them ... I was once like they were until the wolves of reality tore me apart as well. I cannot spare too much attention to them, however, I have a task at hand here; I must kill the one who was my wolf ... yet she moves away. I watch her descend on those soldiers, a lioness protecting her cubs. Can it be that she, once the destroyer of innocence, has now become its protector? Disbelief fills my thoughts, drowning out the dissonance of the voices. Has she truly changed so much? I do not understand, I cannot fathom this! I have to get away, to think things through. She may live ... for now.

I find her again, about a full moon later. The change that began on that fateful day has come to a full completion. She is no longer lost ... she follows the path towards penitence with a new determination. She has changed in more ways than one, however. I begin to see a glimmer in her soul. Perhaps it is due to that young one who now follows her in her journey. Such a silly little creature, with no real concept of the world! However, this is exactly what the warrior needs right now. As pure and happy as the golden sunshine, the young one is a healing bandage to the warrior's bleeding soul. The voices that plague her are not so loud now, overwhelmed by the incessant chatter of her companion. Her nights are not so lonely either ... when the dreams come, she has an ally, although she does not know it. Many a night I have seen the young one wake to her cries and run to do battle with the voices of past. It is a hard war to fight, much more difficult than what the two might face in the daytime, for this is the fight for a soul. I pray that they will win this battle, even as the voices scream to be heard. I cannot ignore their summons for long ; I have put them off as much as I can. I know I have a mission to do, but I'm not ready! Do you hear me? I'm not ready! Leave me alone!

My head aches as does my spirit. The last time I tried to quell the voices, they nearly killed me with their chanting for her blood. Why me? Why must I do this? They answer back in full force:

[Because you lived. Because of what you know. You saw what she did! How could you pity her, with all that blood on her hands?]

I don't know! I try to run away, but they fill my thoughts with the desire for her death. I cannot fight them much longer, so I yield, and I go back.

She has suffered a loss, a great one that tears her heart out. A man whom she loved has died and she ... she feels like her soul has been split in half. I can understand; my own soul was cleaved asunder by her hand, yet, all I can feel is sorrow for her, despite my own pain, and despite the insistence of the voices. She is luckier than I, however, for her love died an honorable death ... a death which she did not give mine. She also has the counsel of her friend to help her pull through this dark time. I look at this young one jealously now. If only I had someone to help push away my grief ! The warrior ... she is still too scarred to admit her need for the little one. Foolish, foolish woman. How can you deny a part of your own soul? Yet she does, fearing that somehow she might taint the young one, or destroy the thing that makes her so precious.

Ah, warrior, the world is an unkind place. Don't you see that she owes part of her soul to you? If you hadn't intervened back at her village, then her innocence would have been destroyed anyway. She does need your protection, and you do give it to her in many forms. To her, you are something to look up to and someone to believe in when things go wrong. You give her a chance to live out her dreams, and you teach her so many of the lessons in life. Most importantly though, you are a friend to her, and in our vicious world, friendship is so precious ... Why can't you see that she needs you as much as you need her? You are two parts of a whole, yin and yang, forever united by both your needs. Yet you still try to push her away, to keep a part of your soul that is so obviously hurt, still bleeding. Do you think that by keeping your anguish, you may somehow make amends for the pain you've caused ?

No, warrior, you fool yourself. Your pain does not help anyone for it comes too late ... what the land needs now is your actions to heal it, not your worthless pining to change a past set in stone. Let the little one heal your soul so that you both may make the world a better place. Lucky for you, she is much wiser than you in the matters of the heart. She knows you need her, warrior, and she won't go away, no matter what you do or say. Have faith, warrior, have faith. She can withstand anything life will throw at her ... you should worry more about your own self. If only I could tell you and make you see. But I am the enemy, always watching and waiting. Someday, I will have to kill you. But not now, not today.

I am frightened. The voices have become stronger lately, growing in chorus until I can barely hear my own thoughts. They were especially loud when I watched the warrior almost destroy a village in revenge for her father's death. It was all a ruse by a god, but for a moment there ... I saw the woman that had started my nightmare and had caused my present torment. I saw the evil warlord who had painted the land in blood and had broken lives like they were some useless clay pots. I was ready to kill her then, without hesitation, without remorse. However, the little one stepped in before I could and broke the curse. That stayed my hand, but not the wailing of the voices. They still cry for her blood. I know I need to heed their call someday ...

Careful, I must be careful. She looks to the air again, in my direction. I tense ... after all this time, could it be that she senses me? No. She turns away again ... I am safe. I am still shielded by her guilt and grief , for I am a part of the past she carries with her day to day. A ghost, if you will, a spirit long dead by her sword ... my body is all that remains of me. No one can detect a shade unless it wants to be seen. No, she will not notice me until all the pain in her soul is released and all the wrongs of her past have been righted. Then I will again be brought to life and she will sense me. However, that time will not come, not if the voices have any say in the matter. They are impatient, and they moan in pain as I delay. Oh, for one blessed moment of silence! I hear you, and I will do as you bid ... but please, please, for now, just let me be. I can still kill her later, I promise. But not now, not yet ...

Wait! Someone moves before me. She is crafty, that blond headed one. Stealing the act that should have been mine alone, she succeeds in bringing down the one I was supposed to kill. The voices in me rail angrily, ... but she is dead, so they are satisfied and leave. I welcome their disappearance, but am saddened, somehow. I have no purpose anymore. How could she be dead? NO ... so many things she had to do, a life before her that stretched bright. And by rights, if any should have brought her down, it should have been me! I ,who have watched her for so long, have seen her journeys and her growth, I know her almost as well as the little one does, and I have seen so many of her faces, much more than anyone could possibly dream of.

Oh Princess, there are so many things I could have said to you. You have changed so much; I could have sworn you were reborn! I have seen you in your darkest hour as well as your brightest one. I have seen you when no one else was around to know you. Who was there when the young one decided to leave you, once to seek a future in her storytelling, once to resolve the questions in her soul? It was a dark time for you then, I know, for I saw how much you missed her. How many nights did you spend talking to your horse as if she could reply you like the little one could? I heard your prayers for her safety and your pleas for her return. Yet you were wise enough and strong enough to let her go her own way. You were repaid in kind for your trust, were you not? She came back to you, for your friendship is a bond even stronger than the many temptations in her young life. However, death now parts you more strongly than ever.

If only your still body could hear me. Yet you cannot. Proud warrior, you fought well, and my soul is silent for you. May in death you find the peace you never had in life. For me, I too have gained some measure of peace ... and I am glad I was not the one who brought you down after all. I will miss you greatly ... we were soul sisters, you and I. We struggled in the same battle to win back our lives ... and in the end, we never got to finish what we set out to do, although we have both come so far. A last gentle look, then I'll be gone. But wait ... here comes the young one ... I worry for her, so I follow.

Yes, bang on the tree, little one. Hit it as hard as you can. It will not help relieve the deep grief I see burning in your eyes, but it will give your hands something to do. You have also come a long way from when first I saw you. Remember the time you released those giants? That was the time that was nearly your first ... sigh. You still remain pure in many aspects, despite all you've seen. However, you have grown up. You're a warrior now, not the defenseless little chatterbox following her half formed dreams. Yet, from the beginning, you have always had a strong sense of heart, and it has served you well. Although your physical strength has yet to catch up with the strength in your spirit, you are well on your way to becoming a great woman. Soon, I will no longer be able to call you "little one" anymore. Oh, please do not weep so heart breakingly! Your cries tear at my own soul. Death comes to us all, and you know that Celesta is not unfair or unkind. Perhaps it would have been easier if the warrior had told you how much she loved you as a friend and as a part of her soul ... but you knew, didn't you? You've always known it, although she never could find the words to tell you. I still wish I could comfort you though, perhaps I should break my silence. After all, she is dead, and I have no need to kill anymore ...

What?!?! She's alive !?! How? Why? Joy fills me, and I see it reflected in the little one's eyes. I cheer the warrior on ... perhaps there is justice in the world after all! Yet my joy is short lived ... the voices have begun again ...

Help me, O ye gods above! The little one, she is in danger ... I see her life leaking out before me. I have to do something, bring help. The warrior is still back at the healing temple ... but I cannot go to her! The voices will not leave me alone if I approached her and did nothing! Hang on, little one ... I see people up ahead, I will bring them to help you. I will break my silence, which I have held ever since I started on this path. The voices will punish me for this, but I don't care. You are a friend to me, although you do not know it. You have stopped my attempts to kill the warrior many a time with your simple stories. I could listen to you forever. You were right you know ... this cycle of revenge and hate can only be stopped by love ... but tell that to the crying of my dead village! I fear that with you gone, I will be unleashed to kill the warrior ... something I know now is not right. More than that though, I fear for the warrior ... without you, she would be lost again, thrown into chaos. I know her soul is still weak, and you are its only strength ...

Shadows flicker all around me; the rush lamps of the temple seem to smother out the light. I had not meant to enter the doorway, but I find myself here nonetheless, drawn by the little one's pain. I had almost forgotten what it was like in a healing temple, yet after all this time, it still feels like home to me. I know the power in the warrior's hands as she works on her patients ... funny how those hands that once held a sword in anger can now hold the ability to heal life. I once had that power too ... but that is long time ago, in a life I have left behind. There is one thing I do not miss about this place, however. Death surrounds us strongly here; the pain and suffering is almost tangible as it crackles through the air. This brings back too many memories, ones that I long to forget. Will the past ever let me rest? Yet, I cannot leave, not without knowing what will happen to the warrior and the young one. A choking sound breaks loudly upon my ears ... can it be that Celesta has come to visit you, little one? I look to the warrior, and my heart weeps. Even the voices are silent for once. The look on my enemy's face ... I see a whole world breaking apart in her eyes. No, it cannot be ... the bond between you and her is not meant to be broken like this! The warrior pleads for your life, listen to her! Fight! So many lives still need you ... your story is not finished yet!

One breath, two. The warrior and I, we are both relieved. You can still save us from the shadowed paths our lives would have taken, the one that I am still being driven to now. Fare thee well ... I leave you both to recover from this. I do not know how long I can stay away, but I will try my best to prolong it. Warrior, I hope that you use this time to tell the little one how much she means to you ... she needs to hear it in words, as do you. Do it soon, for next time we meet, you may not have the chance again.

[You delay! You forget your purpose and your calling!! How could you stand there and just watch them like that? Do you actually consider them as friends now? Did our village mean NOTHING to you? You were our daughter, our sister, our lover, our friend. How could you not revenge our lives?]

Oh, mama, papa, I'm trying to be good. But I can't do this, what you are asking is too hard, too much! I am not meant to bring death! It's against my oath and my nature! Can't you see? She's not that different from us ... she is no longer a monster! She's a mother too! You saw her son, how much she must love him! To take her away like that ... she has a life, she has friends, and she helps so many people ...

[We had a life too! We had children, we had families! She took it all away! Just because she has repented does not erase that fact! Are we supposed to forgive her now just because she no longer takes lives in anger? What about the ones that she did? Our lives will not come back just because she is saving the world! She does not have an excuse ... kill her, or you will be just as guilty as she was in our deaths!]

But ... it is not right. If I do this, I WILL become like she once was, driven by revenge ... a demon in human form ...

[It does not matter. You MUST kill her! KILL! KILL!]

Pain, bitter pain. It burns like the fires of Tartarus. Why couldn't she have killed me too? If she had, then both of us could have been spared this ... I the pain of killing her, she the pain of dying. In a way, this IS her fault, yet ...


NO! Please, no ... I can't hear myself think ...


Kill Xena ....

My arrows are ready, dipped in Heart's Ease, a most deadly poison. It has been used for war before and many soldiers have succumbed to its touch ... the warrior would know it well. There is no cure that the world knows of ... yet, my memory stirs again, shaking out the dust of time to show me a past I have forsaken. The first time I learned how to make Heart's Ease, I was but a child. I remember the rhythm of my father's voice as he showed my brother the herbs to blend together. His words ran soft and gentle as he explained that the poison was only to be used by the hunters so they may bring down the game that would feed our little village. How stern he sounded as he reminded us that it should never be used to take a life without cause, for even the animals that fed us had a place on Gaia's earth. Death should only bring life; that was the balance that we tried so hard to keep. We were so happy and content back then! I remember we used to mix the blood of any creature brought down by the arrows into a drink. The metallic taste of blood on my lips and the words of the ceremonial toast "Death in life, life in death " ... all are in a tribute to those who have fallen to let us be where we are today. The memory fades, however, and I am left alone again ... oh, father ...

I know I am a coward, unable to kill the warrior in a face to face combat. Yet, I know I wouldn't stand a chance if I did that. I've watched her too long, and I know better than to try to take her by the sword. Callisto had the best plan when she first shot the warrior with a poison dart ... I too will use that method. Only, my arrows of death will not cause any pain, just a short time of numbness before the gentle sleep of eternity overtakes the body. It is the least I can do. In a way, it is fitting that the lessons which I learned in my childhood should be the thing that takes down the one who has taken my childhood away.

I position myself on the hill overlooking their path. As usual, they do not notice me ... not that they ever have. I have been, and always will be a shadow to them. I raise my bow and take aim. It will take one arrow, two at most. The warrior has always been very aware of her surroundings; she will probably catch the arrow midair before it can do any harm. However, by then, she would have already absorbed the poison smeared on the shaft. If by any chance the bard is able to catch it with her staff, or the warrior deflects the arrow without touching it, well, I have others. My aim is always true though ... I won't need many.

I pause as I watch them walk under me. They are not in range yet. The little ... no, I cannot call her that now. She has been through too much to be called the "little one" ever again. I feel sorrow for her, and I see my feelings mirrored in the warrior too. There was a time when I had thought that she would never learn the ways of the world or ever stop talking. However, her voice was silent for a long time. Callisto ... she nearly took the bard's soul with her senseless acts of vengeance. When I saw her sink into the quicksand, I felt my soul rejoice. Yet, strangely enough, I felt remorse for her too. So like me, so like the warrior ... she had her own demons and voices to contend with. Only, she took an even darker path than I had. I only seek the life of one ... she took many innocent lives in her grief. She deserved her end ... yet, I still grieve for her. We shared a bond, Callisto and I, for we both were created by the warrior we seek to destroy. In the end, she did get some revenge. The bard's soul will never be as bright again, and the warrior has another regret to add to her burden. Oh, mighty Princess, will you ever be free of your guilt? Will I?

I recheck the bow .... it is strong and will do its work well. I wait. My thoughts turn back to the bard and the warrior. At least in this past Solstice they have found some measure of peace even after the whole confusion with body switchings, bacchi, and all the other strange and fascinating things that seem to occur when the bard and warrior are around . Life following these two has never been boring. However, it is time to end this now, for once and for all. Below me, I hear the faint sounds of the bard's sweet laughter as she begins to tell yet another tale. I am glad ... at least I was able to hear the bard's voice raised in story again, for one last time. A sob catches in my throat. Will she still be able to create stories after I kill her best friend? Am I shattering more than one life with my act? What will be the price of my inner peace?


I pull back the string on the bow until it is taunt, almost ready to break. The voices in my head raise to a desperate pitch. Muscles straining, I am about to release ... closer, closer, almost in my aim ...

Whoosh! The arrow is going ... going ...


NOOO! Get out of the way! You're not supposed to move in ... oh by the gods what have I done?!?! I'm not supposed to hurt anyone BUT the warrior ... my arrow hits, I can hear its impact ... my aim has been always true. As if in mock salute, a lonely cry echoes past me.


"TELL ME THE ANTIDOTE!!" the world is shaking ... rather, I am being shaken by arms that are stronger than steel. A pair of icy blue eyes bore into mine. The warrior moved faster than lightning up the hill, charging like an angry bull. Too stunned by the result of my action, I had let her catch me when I should have slipped away. However, I did not feel like running. It is over now ... a shadow brought to light fades out of existence. The warrior shakes me again, and I meet her eyes reluctantly, my sorrow deeper than she could ever know.

"There isn't one," my voice croaks, harsher than the winter winds that sweep around us. I have not talked to anyone in so long ...

The warrior refuses to take this for an answer. She instead taps a series of fingers onto my neck, and suddenly, I find it hard to breath.

"I have just cut off the blood flow to your brain. In thirty seconds, you will DIE unless you tell me who sent you and where the antidote to the poison is!"

My vision is already becoming cloudy, and I can feel death near. I welcome her ... at least she would bring an end to the voices who are screaming at my incompetence. Yet, I owe the warrior an answer.

"No one sent me. I came by myself ... for revenge for what you did to my village, Paxiam. The poison's Heart's Ease ... you know that there's no antidote to that. I meant no harm to the bard ... I only wanted to hit you. But I failed ... I failed you all. I am so sorry." I feel myself weeping. The tears are for my family, for the warrior, for the bard ... and for a past that has haunted us for so long ...

"Paxiam...." the warrior whispers hollowly as she releases me from her touch "But, that's impossible ... I .. I killed all the people in there ..." she glances at me, horror in her eyes. " But why her ?!? She had nothing to do with that!"

"I know," I replied. "And for that, I am truly sorry."

"Xena?" the bard asks quietly. Her eyes, once so full of life, are already drooping with the sleep of death.

The warrior looks up and rushes to her friend's side.

"Hang on, Gabrielle! You can make it, please, hang on." She pleads, but the poison has neither ears nor heart to listen. She turns to me, despair in her eyes as well as anger. I know that look well. It was the one I must have worn when I saw my whole life disappear at her hands. In a way, I got my greatest revenge ... I did to her exactly what she did to me. The voices are satisfied ... but I am not. I just feel sick and empty as I wait patiently for her to kill me. How can she do otherwise? I have taken her world out from under her. Now she flounders in its wake.

Her hands move uselessly over her friend. Always a fighter, even at the end. She tenderly pulls the arrow out of the bard, and blood gushes forth, pouring scarlet life against the amber dirt. The warrior fights valiantly to staunch the flow, but it is no use; the bard's life is slipping away between her fingers, too fast for even her strong arms to hold. A bluish tinge is already creeping upon the young one's skin, and death hovers nearby to claim the ultimate victory. Oh warrior, this time, we have both lost the battle. Even you cannot fight against this. There is nothing more you can do.

She must sense this too, for she takes up a cloth and carefully picks up one of my arrows. Hopelessness has ingrains itself into her eyes as she watches her friend die before her. She turns toward me, and I know what her next action will be. So ... I would be killed by the my own obsession, by my own weapon. Poetic justice ... I like that ...

"Xena ... no, please ..." A small plea for life, given by one who cannot hang onto hers much longer. "Remember what you promised me ..."

However, the warrior holds up the arrow mercilessly. It's sharpened spearhead gleams in the sun as she lifts it high and brings it downwards ... into ... herself. As I watch in disbelief, she crumples next to her friend.

"You know, I never could deny you," the warrior sighs.

"XENA!" The bard ... Gabrielle murmurs with as much force as she can muster. " No! Why? This can't make it any better! "

"Because ..." The warrior ... Xena ... smiles faintly "It's my fault. This is so she could get her revenge, so she could have her peace." Her eyes look at me, haunted. "I did something unforgivable ... I-I slaughtered her whole village. I know that look ... she would have come after me again. The cycle never ends, Gabrielle ... and I'm so tired. It's either I kill her or she kills me. There's no other way. Besides, a world without you ..." Xena breaks off, unable to continue. "Let's just say that it would be awfully silent ..." she finishes lamely.

My mind reels, for once, empty of all thoughts and voices. This should have been my proudest moment ... my one mission in life has been accomplished. Yet I cannot feel anything at all. I did not mean for this to happen ... I never wanted it to end like this! All I can do is look at the two figures on the ground and weep. Death upon death ... even if the voices of my village are silent now, I will never be free of the guilt ...

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry I brought you into this," Xena is saying ... I can barely hear her through my own sobbing. "I never meant for you to die with me ... I should have known better than to ..."

"Stop it! Xena, listen to me. I've never regretted a moment with you. NEVER. You understand me ?!?! Not even now. I wish with all my heart that you could have thought before stabbing yourself like that, but I've always worried that if I ... died before you, you would be left all alone ..." Gabrielle's voice trails as she struggles to stay awake. " Now, though, at least we'll be in the Elysian fields together ... for eternity. Don't give me that look ... I KNOW you're going there. Despite your past, you are a GOOD person, and one with a great heart. I've always believed that, and I always will. You DESERVE to go to the Elysian Fields. End of discussion." Her energy spent, the bard closes her eyes, and I feel my heart skip a beat.

"Gabrielle!" Xena says fearfully. There is no reply. She continues haltingly, saying words that should have been spoken so long ago. "I just want you to know that ... that ... thank you. For being there for me. I know I don't say it enough. You're my best friend, and my soul mate ... you've made my life worthwhile. I'm sorry that I made life tough for you in the beginning, but I'm glad you stuck it out with me. You've done so much for me ..."

"And you for me," Gabrielle whispers weakly "I know." Her hand sneaks out and touches Xena's. Hand in hand, they wait for Celesta to take them on their final and greatest journey.

I watch them, my heart in pieces. There just has to be something I could do ... anything to stop this. They did not deserve to die by my hand! The world still needed them ... I still needed them. For without them, what life had I?

[You know what you can do.] A voice like the first of winter's frost brushes across my thoughts. I see her, dressed in white, a candle in one hand. Celesta, come to take away the two that I had murdered. [You don't have much time left.] An image touches my memory, of an arrow speeding towards its path and a deer ... death in life ... life in death ...

"I don't understand ..." Yet I do. Her voice has opened up a window of my mind that I forgot had existed, showing me something I had pushed away in all my sorrow and fear. Long ago, it was put there by myself ... a kinder gentler me, the one which had lived before I had first met Xena. I had never wanted to kill this gentle soul of mine ... and something inside me must have listened. Now I hear my own voice instead of the others wailing through my brain. Gathering up my strength, I go over to my quiver and dump out the arrows, searching for the flask that I know must be at the bottom. Time, I had to work against time. Already, Gabrielle's breathing is becoming shallower and shallower. A bit of water from their water skins, poured into a cup and mixed with the contents of the flask to make a thin wine ...

"What are you doing?" Xena gasps, puzzled as I bend over her.

"It's the antidote ..."

"But ... there ... is ... none ..."

"There wasn't, " I look a her, and my soul is at peace. "But now, Death herself has shown me the way." I smile at her gently. There is one last ingredient I must add ... I prepare my knife blade.

"What are you going to do with that knife ?!?"

"Even death can bring new life ..." The taste of blood is strong in my mouth. Oh, Celesta, wait for me ... I know you came to take somebody away. Let it be me and not them. I don't feel any pain now, even as the blade slices my wrists, causing the blood to flow freely. It spills over into the cup, the last ingredient, the ingredient of life. As I push the cup towards Xena, I feel a strange sense of serenity as the world fades away. The voices are gone ... soon, I will joining them in the Elysian fields. Perhaps they'll find it in their hearts to forgive me. If not, at least I know I forgive myself.

"She'll live." A flat sardonic voice filters into my dreams. Slowly, one by one, my senses awaken, and I find myself lying on the cold hard ground. When I open my eyes, I see a clear blue sky above me. Sitting up, I notice that somehow, I am still on Gaia's green earth instead of below in Hade's realm.

"You have a lot of explaining to do." another voice tells me. I look at her in amazement. So the antidote had worked! However, if that was the case, then why was I still here? The bandages around my wrists may have something to do with it.

" Xena an' I don't appreciate being wounded ..." I see that the girl has a bandage on the arm where I had struck her with the arrow, and the warrior has a bandage on her side where she had impaled herself. By the looks of it, both were shallow gashes, but I still felt enormously guilty for them. "But why ? I mean, not that I'm upset that you gave us the antidote to save our lives, but you obviously wanted to kill Xena. THEN you turn around and risk your own life to save us both. I don't understand."

I answer as honestly as I can. "The voices told me to do it." She and her companion exchange a look. I know what they think ... sometimes, even I think I am a little insane . "In revenge. They wouldn't leave me alone. You should understand." I glance at the warrior.

"You said you were from Paxiam?" Xena asks in reply. I nod. She looks away, eyes troubled.

"What happened in Paxiam?" the bard inquires curiously.

"Gabrielle ..." Xena gazes at the ground, her movements tense with unspoken fear.

"She is strong enough to hear it. You should know that by now ... nothing you ever did could ever push her away. So tell her the story, warrior." They both look at me in surprise.

Finally, Xena begins. "Paxiam was a small farming village. My army used to go there to resupply itself. One day, the men there decided to put up a resistence ..."

"My father, my brother, ... and my lover was among those. We were due to be married in the spring." I whisper, half in memory. Xena winces but I gesture for her to continue.

"So, I moved my troops in to put down the rebellion. We hadn't counted on the women and children joining the battle ..." Xena closes her eyes. "I tried to stop them but my men were lost to the heat of the battle. We killed most of the men and ... all the others that attacked us, even women and children. It was in self defense ... but then things changed. We won, of course, but it wasn't before my second in command was killed. Lanaus ... he and I, we were close. He came from Amphipolis and he was an old childhood friend ... one of the few who stayed with me through it all. I I lost it then. For the first, and only time, I ordered my troops to kill every living thing in the village, be it man, woman, or child. I even had a hand in the killing of a group of children barely four years old. My army ... we were very thorough. We left nothing behind but death ..." Xena dips her head in shame, and her voice becomes hoarse with anguish and self disgust. She my destroyer, the one whose hands ripped apart my life she is reliving the nightmare I have been dreaming for so long . Now I know realize that we both died on the battle field that day ...

"That was one of the darkest moments of my life. I lost my honor, my dignity, and my pride that day. I broke my oath as a true warrior and in doing so, I crossed the last barrier of humanity remaining in my soul. After Paxiam, I swore never to kill women or children again. I kept to that vow. However, it was too late for that village. Paxiam still burns in my conscience today. I can never repay you for what I've done ... " She looks at me, eyes bright with unshed tears. " And I understand you anger and your hatred ... but how? I thought that no one had escaped my blade." In her voice, there was hope. Hope that maybe the blood she had spilled that day was not as complete as she had long remembered. Hope that maybe something else had survived through the bloody massacre besides me and my thirst for revenge.

My voice rings through the air, as if called to life by the warrior's gaze. The words tumble out as the memory pours over me. " I was the only one to make it out of my village. There were no others." a heartbeat passes as I look into Xena's face. She has turned away from me, and her eyes are shadowed. "I was in the healing temple when you came through. I was once an assistant to my father ... he was the head healer. We were very busy that day with all the ones you had already wounded. I was working on one of our youngest fighters, barely thirteen years in age. He didn't even have a chance ... I remember he took his last breath as my lover came running to warn me of your arrival. My father ... he wouldn't let me stay, although I should have been there. A healer's place is by her patients, even to the end, ... but he bade me to go into the crypts at the back of the temple, while he and the others defended it. So I hid there, underneath the body of a fallen soldier, watching as your troops stormed in and killed my father, my lover, and all the rest of the healers. You - you didn't even spare the wounded! There was a time when I wished I had come out and let you kill me too ... but I was frozen, unable to move or to turn away from the slaughter. I was a coward, I guess, ... I stayed in my position for three days, only sneaking out at night to grab a bite of food or a sip of water. I was so scared that you would come back. However, on the third day, the voices began and I found that I could hide no longer."

"You mean you stayed under a dead body for three days?" Gabrielle was incredulous. "By the gods, I would start going crazy too ..."

"It wasn't that bad ... it was winter time ..." I close my eyes, trying to shut out the memories. Yet they still come. "That's when I started following you, warrior. At first, I didn't know how to kill you ... I was only a simple village healer. My oath was to bring life, not cause death ... but as I watched you conquer village after village, I began to practice, to teach myself how to kill."

Xena's voice drifts into my forced darkness, her voice haunted."No wonder you hate me so much ... Why then? Why did you save me when you could have let me and Gabrielle die?"

"Like I said, I've been watching you. I saw the time you and Hercules were together, and how you began to change then. I was still unsure that I really could kill you in the beginning, so I waited around and watched some more. I was about to kill you that day right outside of Poteidea ... but you had to pull that one act of kindness. I hesitated then, and I have been ever since." I paused, opening my eyes to look at them. " The voices must have sensed my faltering. As my desire to kill you grew weaker, they increased in volume. In the end, it was either them or me." I looked at the arrows. "I didn't want to kill you painfully, so I used my knowledge of herbs and potions to make the poison that I knew had no cure. Well, that I thought had no cure. You see, I must have blocked the fact that I did know the antidote to Heart's Ease from my mind. That way, both my conscience would be pleased ... it knew it had a way out of killing you if I should change my mind ... and the voices were pleased. After that, it was my decision to do what I did." I look at my bandaged hands. "This was my choice."

Xena and Gabrielle look at each other for a long moment. It is tense between them, but I know their bond will hold. The Xena that had committed those crimes had long ago vanished ... I know this, as does the bard. Finally, Gabrielle reaches out a hand and pulls the warrior into a hug. There are still questions that will have to be answered between the two, but she reaffirms that she will be there for Xena if there is need. Then she turns to me, a question in her eyes.

"What do you plan to do now?"

I look at them, and I find I don't know. For the first time in my life since the tragedy, the voices no longer plagued me. I do not have a clear path to follow. What comes after revenge, anyway?

As always, it is Gabrielle who has the answer. "Why don't you become a healer again? You seem to remember it pretty well."

A healer? Could I really be one and bring life instead of death? The idea is tempting, and my soul aches to try.

"But I'm a woman ..." Two pointed looks tell me what they think of my excuse. Not that I myself, think it is such a good one anyway ...

"You'll be fine." Xena says, her eyes still not meeting mine. At her words, I know I must try, at least. I need to start over, as she had, or the past will haunt me forever. The path ahead of me is difficult, but I know I can travel it. A healer again ... the thought sets my soul aflame, like the idea of killing Xena once did. And as a healer, I must first set right the wound I see before me now. Screwing up my courage, I lift out a bandaged hand and cup Xena's face to turn her to look at me. She is much taller than I am, but I manage this feat as best I can. She stiffens, as does Gabrielle ... not many dare to touch the Warrior Princess. But she allows me this small gesture. As I gaze into the crystal blue eyes, so deep and turbulent, I know the next words I am about to speak will weigh more heavily than my actions ever did.

"I forgive you, Xena, if you'll forgive me." I mean those words too. They echo in my soul, and they give me release. I know the voices will not be coming back ...

For a moment, there is a long silence. Then, like the first hint of spring across a land frozen in winter, she smiles at me.

"Done ... and thank you." she nods. I turn once to Gabrielle and give the startled bard a hug. [Thank you for being there for both of us.] my mind whispers, before letting her go. Then I take to the road again.

Xena puts out a hand to stop me. "Just answer me one question ... you say that you've watched me for so long ... how did I not see you ..."

I turn to her, a half smile playing across my lips as my feet lead me down the road. There are many answers to this question ... I am not sure anymore. Does it even matter now that there is no need for my silence?

"I've been very careful of course. I always watch from a distance. It's also gift of mine that people don't notice me. I tend to blend in with the scenery you know. There's nothing really remarkable OR memorable about my appearance or my attire. That's why your army, Gabrielle, and your other many acquaintances didn't notice me. In your case, however, there's a different explanation. At first, perhaps you didn't know I was there because I still had yet to gain the skills to become a threat to you. I was a nothing ... a small town healer ... I wasn't big or important enough to trip off your alarm system. You also had other things to worry about, especially when your first started your path towards redemption. Later, I guess I became like a rock in a river ... at first the water churns around it, but with time, that rock will wear down to nothing until the water flows over it without the slightest disturbance in its current. Your senses just got used to me and disregarded me as harmless. Don't worry, there are no others ... at least, not that I know of ... " I let them both ponder my last statement as I head further away.

"Wait!" Gabrielle calls after me. "We don't even know your name ..."

I pause, perplexed. I don't know. My name, like my past life, seems to have washed away with the blood I lost. Then, I remember the word that fits me so well. "Shadow. Just call me Shadow." And into the shadows I retreat ...

The End

Well, what do you think? Do you hate it? Thought it readable? I know it's a bit different from what I usually write! And NO, I am not insane, and I won't kill you if you reply, so please feel free to tell me what you think! This story was written over the New Year's and sprang out of my urge to write something to recap all the important episodes I had seen. However, things didn't turn out quite as I planned. *Sigh* Instead of an episode summary, I end up with this piece. Oh well ...

As always, I owe many many thanks to many many people for helping me!

-- First, I must thank Lucy Lawless, and Renee O' Connor and all the staff at Xena: Warrior Princess for bringing such a wonderful show to life. I couldn't write without them!

-- A HUGE thank you to the three very talented bards who lent me their wise advice and helped me edit this monster

Rebekkah -- yes, the part near the beginning (when Gabrielle soothes Xena's dreams) WAS an intentional reference to her great story "All Through the Night", which this bard wannabe humbly pays her respects to!

Imbri -- who's a bit of a "shade"-y bard herself

Roo -- who's comments helped made this piece a little less confusing

You guys are the best! :)

Finally, this piece is dedicated to ALL the watchers of Xena and Gabrielle. May you live long and prosper!

Well, enough babbling. Thank you for reading! Take care.

Anon. (F.S.)

BTW: For reference, this story ends about a week after "A Solstice Carol" and before "Xena Scrolls"

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