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General Disclaimer: All characters depicted belong to Renaissance Pictures/Universal, etc. This story is just for fun, and no copyright infringement was intended.

Violence: It’s Xena, what can I tell you? But I will say that this is not a war story, it is first and foremost a love story.

Subtext: The subtext is here and shall not be denied. No gratuitous sex, just a fair bit of innuendo and flirtations involving women in love.

Lucy Lawless Alter-Ego disclaimer: Just for the hell of it I thought I’d have Lucy Lawless’ Xena meet up with one of her alter egos from the past, Lysia from "Hercules and the Amazon Women", but there’s no corny "hey you look familiar" jokes I promise....ohh well maybe just a couple in the beginning:-)

Spoiler disclaimer: This story is set after "Bitter Suite" but before "One Against an Army". I refer to the Herc telemovie "Hercules and the Amazon Women" but have chosen to ignore the whole "Zeus sends Herc back in time to fix everything" thing. I loved the Lysia character and wanted to use her, so...As far as I’m concerned Herc did go to Hippolyte’s Amazon village and Lysia did kick the living daylights out of him and it was a satisfying, feminine-affirming experience all round. None of this going-back-in-time-and-having-it-never-happen stuff. Iolaus just stayed home and stopped himself from getting killed. Or maybe he hung around to gawk at the Amazons. But since this is my fantasy world I get to decide what happened and what didn’t, and I make no apologies:)

Dedicated to all the writers involved on Xena:Warrior Princess, whose work I admire enormously.


The Game
by Poto


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5

Part Two

The alarm sounded in the Amazon village at dawn. A confused Gabrielle lifted her dishevelled head from the pillows and yawned widely, dragging her still slumbering limbs from the bed. Moving to the doorway sluggishly she waylaid a passing warrior.

"What's going on?"

"Xena is on the move, my Queen, there's been a sighting from the West tower!"

Gabrielle murmured her thanks to the young Amazon who hastily bowed and rushed off, keen to join the hunting parties who were forming at the main gate.

Relief washed over her senses as she glanced around at her fellow Amazons. She was delighted to see that all the women were smiling excitedly, obviously playing the exercise seriously, but also in the spirit in which it was meant.

Out of the corner of her eye she spotted Solari and Ephiny. The feeling of relief she had felt dissolved, and tightened into a knot that sat suddenly, immovably between her shoulder blades. An instinct flared that something was wrong. Solari was gesturing wildly with her hands while Ephiny stared back her, her looks sombre.

Gabrielle hurried out to meet them, lacing her boots and grabbing her staff as she raced out the door. The two women strode purposefully towards the large podium in the courtyard. Sparing a momentary thought of nostalgia for her coronation on that same podium Gabrielle joined the conversation, catching the end of Solari's rapid tirade.

"...and I have no idea what she's capable of!"

"What who's capable of? I assume you don't mean Xena."

"Gabrielle, we may have a problem." Ephiny said calmly. The bard raised her eyebrows, waiting for the explanation.

Solari sputtered into one. "I'm sorry my queen, I should have thought it through better, but I forgot..."

"Will somebody tell me what's going on in a language I understand?" She held up a hand as Solari was about to launch into another string of babbled phrases. "Preferably one that involves complete sentences."

"One of our sentries that was assigned to guard the east tower last night hasn't returned." Ephiny said at last, avoiding the smaller woman’s eyes.

"Why, where is she?"

"We think she may have gone after Xena, alone."

"By the Gods, this is just what I was afraid of! Damn it Xena! If she hadn't decided to play this stupid game..."

"Yes well, we may be forced to alter the objective of the game now." Ephiny mumbled, irritated. "We can send out one party to look for Xena, to warn her, and the other party to look for Anya."

"I don't think you need to be too worried about Xena..." Gabrielle started. Ephiny flashed her a dark look.

"I'm not worried about Xena, I'm worried about Anya when she forces Xena to defend herself. Anya is one of the best warriors in the Amazon Nation, and she can give Xena a fair fight, even if she wasn't so angry, so fair that the only way Xena might be able to get rid of her, is for Anya to end up seriously hurt."

"I should never have let Anya out of the gates last night. It never crossed my mind, I’m so stupid!" Solari cursed. Not waiting to be dismissed, the Amazon second in command strode away angrily over to the first party of Amazons. The women milled anxiously by the gate, ready since the break of dawn to rush out on Xena’s trail.

"What did Solari mean? Why is this girl so angry? It can't possibly be for my sake." Gabrielle squirmed. The last thing she needed, the worst possible thing that could happen, was for some young Amazon to try and get revenge against Xena for what had happened.

"You know the law Gabrielle, if Xena comes in the gates every Amazon here is entitled to challenge her to mortal combat for what she did to you that day." Ephiny paced back and forward nervously. "Sometimes I think I should do it just on principle."

"You know I would never allow that to happen." Gabrielle replied softly.

Ephiny fumed. "I was there, I saw her drag you away like a dead piece of meat." The bard’s face turned hard but Ephiny ignored the warning signs. "Some things just happen Gabrielle, and not even a Queen can stop them."

"But that's not even the point here is it, Ephiny? This girl can’t be doing this for me. What is going on here?"

"She thinks Xena killed her sister."

Gabrielle stared at Ephiny dumbfounded. "But you wrote a letter! You said no one was killed that day." She stammered, confused.

"No one was." Ephiny gestured in frustration. "Xena didn't kill anyone directly. But one of the women was seriously hurt, Anya's sister Natalya. She broke her leg in the fight to stop Xena from taking you. It didn't mend as well as we hoped it would, she was barely able to walk again after it happened."

"But she didn't die." Gabrielle insisted.

"Not physically Gabrielle, but emotionally she was shattered. Natalya was a warrior who would never ride in battle again. She got depressed when the healer told her ... she thought she was useless." Ephiny swallowed hard. "We tried to convince her that wasn't so, offered to elevate her to the council where she'd have to make decisions on the fate of the whole village, but she just stayed in her hut and wouldn't speak a word to anyone, except Anya." Ephiny paused, finding it difficult to go on. After a few seconds she found her voice. "Barely a week ago she threw herself on her own sword."

Gabrielle flinched in horror. "By the" She breathed, shocked. "Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? If I’d known... If Xena had known about this there's no way she would have been out there playing some stupid game of hide and seek."

"We didn’t know Xena would try to sneak into the village. There wasn’t time to get word to you. And yesterday, I don’t know, it’s just like Solari said, it didn’t cross our minds that it would be a problem." Ephiny breathed out deeply, trying to get her thoughts straight. "Anya won't be out there trying to bring her back you know. She knows Xena will never stand trial in this village as long as you are our Queen."

Gabrielle tried to protest but she couldn't. She heard her own words from just moments before. You know that I would never allow that to happen. The sentence rang in her mind.

Is that what this has come to? That I’m so blinded by how I feel for Xena that I would stand in the way of...of...justice?

Gabrielle couldn’t speak. Ephiny stared at her, shook her head, and turned away. She watched the hunting parties as they prepared to leave the gates, Solari riding at their head. An excited stillness settled across the courtyard, in contrast to the cold silence between the Queen and her regent.

Ephiny nodded to the groups of women. "They're waiting for you, Gabrielle. Give them the signal."

The bard looked sadly at Ephiny before raising her arm and dropping it, giving permission for the Amazon war parties to leave the gates. Solari echoed her command, and fifty Amazon warriors filed through, splitting into two groups outside the compound and finally breaking into a run, disappearing into the dense forest surrounding the village.

Ephiny sighed loudly and turned to Gabrielle. "If we can't find Anya before Anya finds Xena, I'm afraid Xena won't have any choice, she'll have to kill or be killed, because Anya doesn't have any reason to back down."

"Ephiny, I'm sorry. If I could explain it to you, or offer some excuse for what's happened, believe me I would. But I just don't have one to give you."

Gabrielle watched as Ephiny raised her eyebrows, shrugged her shoulders and strode away. Once again she felt that helpless feeling creep over her as events unfolded beyond her control.

No, damn it, I won’t let you just walk away!

"Ephiny!" The Amazon Queen cried loudly across the courtyard, stopping her regent in her tracks. Gabrielle recognised a tone, almost regal, in her voice that she’d never heard before. It both scared an exhilarated her.

The curly haired warrior turned, apprehensively, finding herself eye to eye with a furious Gabrielle.

"What am I supposed to do? I love her! What do you want? Do you want me to pull her before me and sentence her to death for what she did to me? I can just see it now, 'By the way, we have to kill you now, sorry I killed your son, but you really shouldn't have dragged me through the mud like that!' Is that what it takes to be a true Amazon?!"

"Dragged you through the mud? You could have died Gabrielle! I still don't understand how you can be standing here, how she didn’t kill you."

"Because Xena forgave me." She paused, taking a deep breath. "And I forgave her too."

Ephiny could see Gabrielle shaking. The only thing keeping the small bard standing was her iron grip on her staff. All the regent could think about was that she had given Gabrielle that staff personally. It was a legacy of her own family. Gabrielle was like her own sister, her Amazon sister. In her heart she knew she had to try and understand what pain Gabrielle had endured to be standing here, saying these words.

"I want to understand Gabrielle, but I don't think anyone apart from you and Xena can really know what this feels like, what it all means."

"No, you can't understand, because you don't know Xena." Gabrielle felt tears of frustration well up inside her. "Don't you think she would rather die ten times over than know she was the cause of an innocent’s death? She's seen too many people die not to know what death means, and too many of those died at her hand. You know all this, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you." Gabrielle breath was ragged. She struggled as her grief threatened to overwhelm her. "Don't you think I would happily kill myself right now if I thought it would bring Solan back? Xena knows that."

Ephiny couldn't look at her any longer, she lowered her eyes to the ground, refusing to meet the glowing eyes of her Queen.

Gabrielle continued, each word ripped painfully from her small body. "Xena was wrong. She knows! She was confused, afraid, possessed...hurting."

"That gives her no right!"

"No, of course it doesn't. And it isn't an excuse, it's an explanation, the best one either of us will ever be able to give you, or the Amazon nation."

A silence fell between them like a stone wall. Ephiny could feel the energy draining from her limbs and she used the last of her strength to look Gabrielle, finally, in the eye.

"I don't think Anya cares much for explanations right now." She said evenly.

"I know, and I have a really bad feeling about this." Gabrielle let out a deep breath and turned to stare at the gates that had closed behind the departing Amazon warriors. "All we can do is trust that if she finds Xena, then Xena will know what to do."

*   *   *

"There's something wrong here. Solari never thins her borders out like this, and today I would have thought there'd be almost double the guard." Xena's brow creased in concentration.

"Maybe they're not being as predictable as you thought?"

"Maybe. Come on, let’s go. There's something I want to see before we head into the village."

"You don't think we have enough challenges as it is without adding a little bit of sight-seeing to the program?" Lysia’s question went unanswered as they snuck out through the undergrowth.

Since leaving their campsite in the hills Xena and Lysia had avoided seven patrols and one lone Amazon on horseback who had come riding roughly through the forest. The second patrol had been close, Lysia remembered distinctly feeling the air resistance as one of the advance sentries missed her head and fingers by a hand-span, thrashing wildly with blunted pole-arms and chobos into the undergrowth.

Xena commented each time she recognised an Amazon leader, and she particularly pointed out Solari. Lysia had watched fascinated as the defenders marched past where they'd sat, safely concealed in the thick leafy cover of the trees, high above the heads of the Amazon women. The Amazons all wore feathered masks, birds of prey, that perched upon their heads with beady eyes watching their wild surroundings. Xena even thought she heard someone calling out her name. The warriors had dodged and skirted the Amazon hunters for hours since daybreak, stopping only to munch on berries they managed to scrounge from the forest.

"Why doesn't this feel like much fun?" Lysia commented at last, watching Xena climb a tree to check their position. Xena dropped from the tree next to her, silent and dangerous as a wildcat, and the Amazon shook her head in awe.

"This doesn't feel at all like it usually does. It's almost as if they're not out to catch me, they're just out to find me..."

"There's a difference?"

"A big difference. To catch me I'd have to not know they were there. None of this thrashing about with weapons and calling my name."

"Well, why don't we catch one of them and find out?"

Xena nodded, "But there's something I have to do first. Stay here." Lysia raised her brows in a silent question. Xena simply motioned to the tree bough above. "No questions, just stay out of sight."

Within seconds, all traces of Xena had vanished.

As the warrior rushed away from the young Amazon, she tried for the millionth time that morning to second guess Solari. It was just a game, she knew she could give herself up and find out what was wrong. But if there was nothing, if her instincts were wrong, if everything she was feeling was just leading her into a very clever trap Solari had devised for her...? It was hard to tell. The lone Amazon they'd avoided this morning confused her. The woman hadn’t been riding fast enough to be a messenger, and a messenger would just stick to the roads, the easiest paths from the village to her destination.

The idea of the messenger had popped into her mind simply as an explanation. Someone riding out from the village would have cause to be armed to the teeth with a sword, obviously sharpened.

Not exactly the game plan as discussed.

All these thoughts flipped through Xena's mind as she crept silently through the Amazon forest. She knew her destination was close by. It was a place she had to visit, a place she needed to see without Gabrielle. It hurt her soul to admit that fact even to herself, but it was the truth. She didn’t want to rip at any old wounds from their love, their friendship and trust.

Xena could sense the burial grounds before she could see them, just through these bushes, around this next tree, over this next rise... Suddenly she was there, and the clash of sensations fell on her like a hammer blow from the Gods.


The tiny grave in the corner of the burial ground was just growing its first layers of grass, covering the brown earth Xena had stood and watched being shovelled in top of the box containing the ashes of her child. She’d insisted on burying the remains here. It was a small ivory box - just as a reminder, something she could visit from time to time. He had to be here, right near where he’d been murdered. She assumed the ashes of the evil child, Hope, had blown away to Tartarus with the night winds at the funeral fire.

Their children. She couldn't stand here with Gabrielle, as her child lay here and Gabrielle’s did not. The pure irony of their creations would beam out from the rocky earth, the murderess with the child of purity, and the Goodness that was Gabrielle with a child of pure evil. The horrible part was that she truly believed Gabrielle deserved a son like Solan, an innocent child, untouched by the horrors of death and murder.

Xena had always wondered, since Hercules had pulled her bodily from the flames of her own self destruction, what her punishment would be for her years of slaughter. She'd sometimes thought, naively, that Callisto had been her punishment, doomed to walk the earth knowing she could not walk away from this creation, the walking embodiment of her evil.

Now she knew. She'd walked beside Gabrielle for thousands of miles, loved her, watched her carve a life for herself that fit so neatly into Xena’s own, as her companion, her friend, her lover...Of course it would be through the person she loved most in the world that her final punishment would come. It was only right. The most fitting thing in the world.

"It seems poetic that I should find you here, surrounded by death, just the way you like it." A cold voice chided Xena from behind. The warrior spun in barely concealed surprise, whipping her chakram from her belt in an instinctive move towards offence.

A stranger, the lone Amazon, stood there smiling, a smile Xena had seen too often on people driven mad by grief. She worn that smile herself.

"What do you want?" Xena asked coldly, cautiously, never taking her eyes from her opponent. The Amazon began to wheel in anticipation of a fight, sword in hand, sharp and lethal.

"You don't even know... you don't even know the damage your hatred has done." Anya smirked, humourless. "Maybe I'll fill you in as my sword punctures your lung, so you can't speak. I don’t think I want to listen to any lame excuses."

"Should I know what you’re talking about?." Xena replied, stalling, her feet moving instinctively in their dance of deadly combat. Her nerves rippled up and down her spine, spurring her on, as her brain screamed against the urge to kill.

Not here, not where Solan can see you! He can't know, he mustn't know what kind of a monster his mother is! Give him that peace...

Xena grappled with the voice as she wrestled with her own instincts for battle, the heat of her blood rising as the threat sized her up and down.

"Very good, Warrior Princess. Cool, calm as always." Anya's sarcasm dripped with contempt, the words falling from her tongue like molten lava.

"I must have...I killed someone. Someone that you loved." Xena could feel the hatred radiating at her.

Must stall, must stall! Have to get away from here...

All the elements of Xena's body whirled in chaos, her warrior’s mind fighting with the heart she knew she possessed, the heart that Gabrielle had returned to her, kept safe, warm... Anya hissed viciously, her twirling sword whipping the air.

"I've killed a lot of people." Xena continued, playing with her opponent’s eyes as they followed her around the cemetery. "As you say.." she waved her hands towards the gravestones, "...a perfect spot for me."

"Jokes Xena? Don't you laugh at me. Don’t you dare laugh at me!" Anya cried, hurling herself bodily at Xena, who sidestepped nimbly out of the way of the charge.

"I don't laugh at death, not any more." Xena hissed in return. Her throat choked slightly as she struggled to get out the words. "Who did I kill?"

Anya levelled her sword at the warrior and Xena could almost feel the coldness of steel fly from the blade, the emotional power nearly knocking her off her feet, locking her knees dangerously in place.

"Fight me, Xena, fight me and kill me. Fight me. One more death on your hands shouldn’t mean much." Anya dove again crazily with the sword, daring Xena to connect with her exposed body, to rip the sword from her hands and plunge it into her. Xena danced aside again, refusing to play the game. Never play by your opponent’s rules.

"Why do you want to die?" Xena demanded. "Maybe I'll do it, if the reason is good enough."

"Maybe my death will weigh on your conscience Xena. Maybe you’ll remember me. Maybe I’ll finally make you suffer like you’ve done to so many others." Anya spat, raising her sword in preparation for yet another pointless charge.

"That's not good enough." Xena mocked, hooking her chakram firmly to her belt. "I don’t want to kill you."

"Then you'll have to die." Anya said simply, all the manic rage draining from her face as suddenly as it had appeared. Xena squared her eyes and examined her opponent, a woman with cool, sane, white hate.

She genuinely just wants the pain of her death to sit on my hands...Or the vengeance of mine on hers.

Xena looked in anguish at Solon's grave. Anywhere but here!

Feeling instinctively for her sword she felt its absence before her hand found nothing. Only her chakram remained, heavy in her hand. She remembered with irony her words from the day before, I won't accidentally kill someone with my chakram...

With a vicious swing she grabbed the chakram and hurled it with all her strength, watching in satisfaction as it embedded itself deeply into a far-away tree. She knew it would take too long in battle to dig it out of that trunk. She couldn't get to it, and neither could the Amazon.

*   *   *

The leaves underneath Lysia’s hiding place rustled loudly, warning her as the lone Amazon warrior passed beneath her feet. The woman was so fixated on her course that she did not even bother to glance up. Lysia stared at the Amazon, at her weapons.

Confusion began to mount in the back of her mind. Had Xena seen the Amazon’s arsenal when they'd avoided this woman before? From what she'd seen of the Xena’s skills, she had to make the assumption that she had. She considered the Amazon’s weapons. The arrowheads weren't blunted in any way, neither was the sword.

Neither was the look on the Amazon's face.

That woman is riding to war, Lysia concluded grimly, and right in Xena’s direction.

"Sorry Xena, I think your orders just became null and void." Lysia muttered to herself as she dropped to the ground a safe distance behind the armed warrior. Cursing her less than silent landing, she stared anxiously around before taking cover behind a large oak. As confidant as she was in her unarmed fighting skills, Lysia was still over-cautious. She knew nothing about her opponents. Training and instincts made her distinctly wary about charging through the bushes after the armed Amazon. She knew she needed information, and she needed it now.

Stopping herself dead still, she listened to the forest.

Years before, Hippolyte had taken the young, eager, future weapons master into a strange part of the forest and made her listen to its sounds.

"You need to learn to feel the way the forest speaks to you, even in places you don't know, where you've never been before. All forests speak the same language. If you can hear that language, and learn to block out the sounds you don’t need, then sounds you would never have heard before become suddenly as loud as a temple bell..."

One by one, Lysia erased the forest sounds; the birds, the wind in the leaves, the insects, the animals creeping into their burrows. Finally she heard was she was listening for - an alien sound. Leaves crunched underneath many careless feet, and the feet were headed in the opposite direction from where she was standing.

"Gotta move..." Her cat-like feet barely touching the ground, the young Amazon broke into a sprint, whipping her mask from her belt and placing it squarely onto her head. As unarmed as she was, she knew she still had the spirits, and the element of surprise, on her side. She felt the exact direction in which she ran, knowing if she did that, she could find the path back to Xena when she found out what she needed to know.

Solari's senses twitched and she held up a hand to halt the party. Two high pitched bird calls brought the rear guard up to meet her, saluting as they approached.

"Keep an eye out for the stranger, I can feel something but I'm not sure what it could be..."

"I feel it too, like someone watching, and it's not Xena."

"...and the fact that we can sense a presence...?" Solari mused.

"I get your point. Xena would never let that happen. Or maybe it’s because this strange Amazon is one of us?" The guard suggested.

Solari shrugged. "How different can she possibly be?" She rolled her eyes and answered her own question in her mind. "I think we're about to find out." Solari glanced back at her party and was about to signal the order to continue when she sensed something wrong. Doing a quick head count she raised her left arm above her head in the signal for the party to spread out. Her Amazons reacted instantly.

The guard looked at her quizzically and Solari just shook her head. "We're one down. Our stranger is here somewhere. She’s collecting a little information by the looks of things."

"Should we try to find her?"

"No, this is a good sign. Xena's figured out that something about this game isn't quite right, and our Amazon here is trying to get some answers. If we let her get back to Xena, then Xena might be clever enough to end this ridiculous game before someone gets hurt."

"There's been no sign of Anya yet." The guard stated, betraying more anxiety than she intended. Solari understood, they were all worried about the itinerant Amazon. Her own anger towards Xena was buried deep down, out of loyalty to Gabrielle, but she knew it was there. As much as she knew her orders were to try and stop the conflict, somewhere inside her she hoped Anya would find the Warrior Princess, and some

She wasn't sure in her heart that the punishment Xena was enduring, had endured, was quite enough.

*   *   *

"OK, you don't know me, but we're playing this same game, so if you just tell me what I need to know then this knife goes back into its sheath, I run away into the forest and we meet again as possible friends when this whole silly mess is over. Agreed?"

The young Amazon with the eating knife to her jugular could do barely more than nod, Lysia's strong grip enough to discourage her from any kind of movement. "All right, now talk. Why is a vicious looking Amazon following us around with a look of death in her eyes, and weapons to back it up?"

"She's going after Xena, a grudge, when Xena attacked the Amazon village her sister got caught in it..."

"Wait a minute. Xena attacked the Amazons? I thought Gabrielle was an Amazon?"

"The queen was here for the purification ritual..."

"Queen? Did you say queen? Gabrielle?"

The captive stopped trying to explain, her eyes tinged with fear and confusion. She wasn’t the only one, Lysia shook her head, mirroring the young girl’s bewilderment.

"OK, obviously there's a lot going on around here that I don't know, and right now I don't need to know. All that's important is, what's gone wrong with the game?"

"We're trying to find Xena, to warn her, about Anya. If she finds Xena she'll try to kill her, and Xena will have to..."

Suddenly Lysia was gone. The Amazon didn't get a chance to finish her sentence, but she knew it didn't matter.

Lysia hadn't really seen Xena fight, and she hadn't seen Xena kill, but she knew a warrior when she saw one. Xena wasn't someone she knew she'd choose to fight one-on-one in any great hurry, unarmed or not. If the stupid Amazon was dumb enough to go up against Xena with a grudge and she wasn't intelligent enough to stay down when Xena threw her down, one or the other of them was gonna die.

The lone Amazon warrior had gone into the exact same direction Xena had. It was too much to hope for that they hadn't found each other by now. Lysia accepted the inevitable. Somewhere to the East, Xena had already found out the hard way that a crazed Amazon was out for blood.

*   *   *

"I don't want to fight you, not here." Xena tried to force her will into a sense of calm that she didn't feel. "Whatever grudge you have against me, whatever wrong I've done you, we can take it back to the village and do it right, by the law."

"With queen Gabrielle there to protect you? I don't think so."

"Gabrielle will do what is right." Xena replied, doubt at her own words playing in her gut.

"Queen Gabrielle will do whatever she can to protect the Warrior Princess." Anya sneered, circling menacingly with fading patience. Her fingers flexed themselves on the sword hilt, itching for a fight. Suddenly she was glad Xena had not taken her life when she just offered it, it would be so much sweeter this way.

"So, you want the satisfaction of killing an unarmed opponent?" Xena feigned her most patronising, unaffected voice. "How very honourable of you." Her mind wasn't clear enough to tell if she was succeeding.

"You? Unarmed? Not unless I chopped them off! Which doesn't sound like too bad an idea come to think of it."

"Now that would just take all the fun out of it, wouldn't it?" She flashed another worried look towards Solan's headstone, feeling her grip on control slowly fading. She clung to the hope that somehow, something would happen to allow her to avert this fight.

Solan! Help me, I can't do this!

Anya caught Xena's look of anguish, misinterpreting it as fear. She let forth an exulted chuckle and stormed forward. Despite her efforts to dodge out of the way, the sword struck Xena a glancing blow to the shoulder. Clutching the wound, Xena felt the blood run over her fingers, but she didn’t give her opponent the satisfaction of looking.

"I won't do this!" Xena screamed and rushed forward, slamming her body

weight into the Amazon, knocking the woman backwards onto a heavy gravestone. Xena recovered quickly and stepped back out of reach of the now-wildly swinging blade. "Don’t make me do this." The Warrior Princess whispered savagely.

The sound of her opponent’s voice curled up Anya's spine, helping her rage take an even better hold. "So, a spark of life from the world's greatest warrior." She spun the sword quickly in her hand and advanced again, Xena taking a step backwards with every stride Anya came towards her. She didn't dare glance behind, but Xena knew she was running out of room.

"Don't even think of running away, Xena. The second you turn around you'll feel my sword in your shoulder blades." The woman sneered, the sides of her mouth curling up in barely disguised grief, "This is no time for pretend morals. I’ve adjusted mine to reflect the best. Yours."

"I've never stabbed an enemy in the back." Xena spat.

"No, you just shovel them aside without even looking at their faces."

"I'm not like that. I'm not like that any more!" Xena screamed, rushing the Amazon with a powerful kick that drove the woman’s sword from her hands. Anya flipped neatly out of the way of Xena’s follow-up barrage and faced her, defences up.

"That's it Warrior Princess, show me what you've got." She taunted, her laughter ringing around the graveyard. Xena looked the woman up and down, her mind clearing, everything a blank, except for the instinct to fight.

"You really want to see it? I can be awfully entertaining." Xena flipped over the woman's head, landing in a fighting stance on the other side. "You want to fight me? You have to catch me!" Deftly avoiding Anya's next charge, Xena ran up the side of the nearest tree and somersaulted back behind her opponent.

"You're a coward. I always knew it." Anya taunted, but Xena just laughed bitterly at the transparent attempt to rile her.

"I'm just a whole lot smarter than you are. Don't play this game with me, you'll lose."

"This game? This game was all your idea, Xena. All your doing."

Clashing bracers the two warriors fought bitterly, one with rage, the other by instinct. Finally Xena's fist slipped through Anya's defences and the Amazon staggered back, reeling from the blow. Xena looked no less shaken, the combined impact of the blow and Anya’s words jarring at her already battered senses.

The Amazon was quick to recover. Grabbing a long bough that had fallen from a nearby tree she advanced, swinging the make-shift weapon in large murderous arcs. Ducking dexterously under the blow, Xena let her left fist fly, smashing upwards into Anya's jaw. The Amazon warrior replied with a crash as the wood came down heavily on Xena's back, forcing her to the ground. She rolled away as the second blow was struck, the bough planting itself firmly in the soft earth. From the ground, Xena kicked upwards, her foot connecting with the Amazon’s stomach, sending her spinning backwards away from her weapon. Anya shook her head to clear it from the burst of pain that stunned her mind and clouded her vision.

Xena didn't press the advantage, instead choosing to hang back to see where the Amazon would go next. She knew Anya wouldn't stay down, even though she was obviously handicapped by the effects of the last blow. Xena could feel the shallow, inevitable victory, it was only a matter of time before she wore the Amazon down.

And then what? Now Solan knows what you really are. This was your fault, this was all your fault!

Voices inside her head began to ring again, and she tried in vain to shake them off. They clung, like leeches, to her brain. Anya charged again, her eyes seeking out Xena's before her left fist crashed into Xena's palm. The Warrior caught her blow neatly, spinning the wrist painfully around until she heard a crack that meant the wrist was broken. A scream burst from the Amazon, splitting the woods with agony. Xena stepped back, the cry echoing in her ears.

Gabrielle! What is it?

I’m sorry Xena, I couldn’t do it. She’s not evil, Xena. she’s just a child!

No child is born one is born with evil in their hearts, they just become that way over time...

I killed her Xena. Everything is different now. Everything.

You lied. You gave me your word. You lied!

She tripped and shook her head, anguished voices in her mind threatening to overwhelm her. For a split second she lost track of her opponent, turning and stumbling towards Solan's grave, not seeing, not hearing.

Not here! Not while he's watching! Solon, I'm not like that any more, I'm not...

Suddenly, she looked up and saw her. The Amazon stood, sword in hand, over the grave of her only son, her only child.

"Get away from him." Xena growled, straightening to her full, menacing height.

The Amazon didn't flinch, just stood, ready to drive the sword point into the soft earth. His ashes, his essence, was lying beneath that soil.

"I said get away from him!" Xena cried out, anger rippling through her words. Anya didn't move.

"You had one son, I had one sister. Seems only fair the little brat is dead."

"You don't know what you're talking about" Xena whispered, menacingly "You don't know anything!"

"I know what turns the warrior princess into a roaring, fiery ball of hate! This!" She plunged the sword into the grave and withdrew it, staring at the muddied weapon. To Xena the soil looked like blood, dripping from a murderer's blade. With a guttural roar she slammed her body into the Amazon, the woman flying over the gravestone clear of the small grave, crashing into a boulder beyond.

The Amazon returned, laughing, unfazed. Xena sprawled over the grave, her head spinning with the endless streams of voices.

It’s your fault!

Anya watched Xena, completely unaware of the demons writhing within the warrior. She raised the sword high in the air, basking in her victory.

"Well what do you know, I won." Anya laughed, and then her eyes turned to fire as she screamed in agony. Xena watched the blade flash high in the air, saw Anya's face constrict in pain, and felt the sword fall harmlessly past her ear. The Amazon grabbed her shoulder and staggered backwards, struck by an assailant Xena couldn't see.

Flicking the knife with practiced deadliness Lysia watched as the blade struck true, slicing through the tendon that held Anya's shoulder to her neck. The sword crashed down, away from the form of Xena lying helpless beside the gravestone.

Bellowing a war cry the warrior launched herself at the flailing Amazon, pinning her securely to the ground. Using all the strength in her body to stop the squirming reflexes of the woman from kicking her away, she yanked the eating knife from the Amazon's neck. Placing the blade firmly at the woman's throat she whispered fiercely but reasonably into the Anya's ear.

"I don't know you. We don't have any quarrel except for the fact that you broke the rules of a perfectly innocent game. That could get you hurt. So I suggest you lie still and wait for your friends to arrive, or by all the Gods I'll slit your throat open and not feel the slightest qualms about it." Struggling helplessly Anya's eyes flashed hatred, but she couldn’t move under Lysia’s strong grip.

"Get away from me, this has nothing to do with you, Xena is supposed to kill me, not you. Xena!" Anya wailed pathetically against the afternoon air. The echoes mingled with Xena's silent sobbing as she stared at a small headstone, the warrior's strong body racked with pain. Xena’s hands opened and clenched, grasping at something Lysia couldn’t see.

"Xena! Xena! Answer me!" Lysia continued to struggle with her Amazon captive fiercely, eventually tiring of the sport. "Talk to me damn you, are you hurt?" Her patience gave out and she balled her fist, whacking the struggling woman soundly on the back of the head. Anya twitched and then slowly, reluctantly, fell into unconsciousness.

Dropping her opponent’s head gently to the ground, Lysia examined the wound on the back of the Amazon's neck. She ripped a piece of her skirt and held it to the knife wound to try and stop the bleeding. Satisfied that the woman was not going to die in a hurry, Lysia crawled over to Xena. The stunned look of anguish registering on Xena's face made her swallow hard. Xena snarled viciously and swung a powerful arm at Lysia, knocking away her attempt to calm the shaking warrior.

"Xena, come on! Xena snap out of it, talk to me!" Xena's eyes looked blindly forward, pupils darting back and forth as if they were chasing ghosts over Lysia's shoulder. The Amazon shuddered, feeling afraid and useless.

A crash from the bushes announced Solari's arrival, horror in her eyes as she saw the still form of Anya on the ground. Reluctant to leave the warrior’s side, Lysia stood up, holding her hands high in the air.

"She's not dead, neither of them are dead, but she's hurt." She pointed to Anya, trying to reassure Solari. "She'll need your healer in a hurry, I did what I could to stop the bleeding."

"And Xena?" Solari asked breathlessly as she raced across the clearing and dropped down beside the unconscious Amazon.

"I don't know, I can't see any wounds, at least not physically. I've never seen this before. I know it sounds strange, but she looks like she's...lost in there somewhere."

A party of twelve more Amazons came rushing into the clearing, some of them carrying bags of supplies. Directing them quickly, Solari ordered treatment for Anya. One of the women dropped to her knees and opened a medicine bag filled with herbs and bandages of different sizes. Xena lashed out blindly with her fist at an Amazon who tried to inspect her for wounds, the woman flying backwards away from the warrior.

"Don't touch her, just stay back, for your own safety." Lysia warned. Staring up helplessly at Solari, she could only think of one thing they could do. "We need to get Gabrielle here, now!"

"Wouldn't it be better if we could get Xena to the village?" Solari replied, directing the placement of a stretcher for the unconscious Amazon.

"You saw what she did, how are we supposed to move her?" Lysia snapped. "We'll just end up with even more wounded. How is that supposed to make Xena feel if...when she comes out of this?"

"I won't put the Queen in any more danger." Solari shook her head stubbornly.

"Oh will you listen to yourself? I don't know what Xena has done and I don't care. All I know is that if we don't get Gabrielle up here, then Xena might just very well go mad." Lysia stood face to face with her fellow Amazon. "I don’t know Gabrielle very well, and a damn sight less than you do. But I know something. I know that I don’t want to be the one to tell Gabrielle that Xena was on the ground looking like this, and you thought it was better not to go get her!"

Solari sighed deeply, thought for a moment, and nodded her head in reluctant agreement. She strode off towards her horse, turning at the last second to Lysia. "I can tell you this much, if Xena ever comes up with one of these little schemes again, I'll come out and hunt her down myself."

Lysia snorted. "Let's hope you get the chance to try. Hurry."

Solari nodded, vaulted up onto her chestnut stallion, and with a yell was gone.

After what felt like an eternity, Lysia lifted her head and heard hoof beats in the distance. Experience told her there were three horses, at least one of which she prayed was Gabrielle. Minutes later the familiar red-gold hair came flying into the cemetery on Xena's palomino mare. The bard jumped quickly from the saddle and landed at a sprint, falling finally at the feet of the still-mumbling warrior.

"Xena! Lysia. What happened?"

"I'm not sure. I came into the clearing just as Anya was standing there about to drive a sword into Xena. I dropped Anya with a knife, knocked her out, but Xena was just lying there, babbling your name...and some things about someone named..." She struggled to remember the sounds.

"Why weren't you with her in the beginning?" Gabrielle demanded, moving carefully towards the warrior, her face strained with tension and worry.

"She left me down the road, said something about having something to do here before she went into the village, she wouldn't say what it was." Lysia motioned towards the small headstone. "I assume it has something to do with this."

At that moment Gabrielle truly registered where they were.

"Solan. Xena was whispering Solan’s name. Wasn’t she?"

Lysia nodded. "Yeah, that was it. Solan..."

Gabrielle shivered as her eyes rested first on Solan's grave, then back into the piercing blue eyes of her beloved warrior.

"She's in there somewhere. Look, she feels you there. I just didn't know what to do..." Lysia's voice cracked and she looked away, trying to make sense of the last day and a half of her existence.

"I know that look Lysia. I call it the 'touched by the warrior princess' look, just for fun. And I've seen it a lot." Gabrielle said softly, stroking her hand lightly down Xena's cheek.

At her touch Xena's demons seemed to lessen, but she still looked around wildly, chasing shadows that only she could see in the depths of her mind.

"Xena, please, come back to me. Don't you leave me again, not like this." Gabrielle pleaded.

Lysia flushed, embarrassed, and began to inch slowly away, removing herself to give the bard and warrior their privacy.

Across the clearing the last of the Amazons were preparing to move out. Only Ephiny and Solari seemed reluctant to leave, both staring transfixed at Xena and Gabrielle. As Lysia approached, Ephiny held out an arm in warrior’s welcome. The Amazon grasped it solidly, their wrists locked.

"We've heard a lot about you, but I'm dying to hear more, about you and your village. Hippolyte's story is already legend." Ephiny tried her best at gracious hospitality.

Lysia rolled her eyes. "I think, as usual, that behind this legend, there is a rather less-than-glamorous reality."

Solari offered her own arm in welcome. "I apologise if I was short with you before, these have not been the best of circumstances for us to meet in. But I'm grateful to you for saving Anya's life."

"I'm pretty sure it wasn't me who saved her life, it was Xena. Somehow in there... she just stopped fighting."

The three looked up as they spotted Gabrielle rise and make her way across the graveyard. With frantic eyes, Gabrielle tried to make her voice sound calm.

"She made herself like this, whatever it is. I think that she gave into it, rather than take another life...especially here." Her eyes twitched nervously over Solan's grave. A frustrated sigh escaped her lips. "I'm so afraid... that there’s not much I can do. I’ll just sit with her, and see if she can bring herself out."

As night fell over the cemetery, the three Amazons set up their fire well away from Gabrielle and Xena. The two sat huddled around a small blaze Gabrielle had built, where Xena had lain since mid-afternoon. The warrior seemed unable to move, and reacted to nothing except some soothing touches from Gabrielle. The bard whispered stories to her constantly, as the sun sank sadly below the horizon, drenching them all in soft, pale moonlight.


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