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GENERAL COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: All characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction.
Any other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author (meaning Kharis belongs to me). This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
LOVE: This story depicts a loving relationship between two women, a girl, a Goddess, and anyone else who loves someone that is close to them. If you can't stand the idea that women can have a loving relationship with those that are around them or each other then please keep your closed mind where it belongs and don't bother reading this story. 'Nuff said
VIOLENCE: This is Xena we're taking about. Of course things can get violent when you are fighting with a round killing thing and it's sharp pointy counterpart.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
Kharis almost laughed out loud at the ease of which she could move throughout the village unhindered. Though the guards had been alerted none had been able to find the girl, even though many walked right past her without ever knowing it. Lightly leaping down from one of the trees, the girl strolled to the weapons hut as six guards maintained a vigil around it.
Smirking to herself, Kharis stopped a few feet from the side of the building and picked up a small pebble. Tossing it up onto the hut's roof, the girl waited in the shadows as the pebble rolled down the roof towards the back of the hut. Immediately, six Amazons jumped and raced to the source of the sound, leaving the door unprotected. Kharis quickly slipped inside and picked a suitable sword and dagger from the massive array of weapons before slipping back out into the sun's warmth.
Standing out in the open, the girl concentrated on where her sister's whereabouts were before shielding her own essence in darkness. 'Can't have her knowing where I am.' Kharis thought as she quickly picked a spot to watch the sentencing, out of the way yet close at hand if needed.
Leaping agilely into one of the closest trees Kharis began to make her way to the side of the platform, while keeping an eye out for any Amazons that might be looking her way. Melting into the shadows of the boughs Kharis finally found the perfect spot and stopped in the crook of a trunk that had split into two. Sitting there, Kharis remained calm within the smoldering mass of fury that engulfed her. She couldn't believe how much easier it was to focus when unencumbered from too many emotions.
Unexpectedly, war drums began to beat throughout the village as Amazons slowly filed back into the compound to await the arrival of the Elders and Xena. Kharis stiffened as her attention focussed on a small window off to the far right. The Queen's hut. Straining to see movement within the girl leaned forward as she finally made out her sister's shape amongst the others in the shadows. Licking her lips, she held her breathe as the door swung open and her sister was brought out by the six guards followed by Gabrielle and Ephiny.
Once again, Xena walked out unchained and strolled to the centre of the platform as Gabrielle and Ephiny took their positions as leaders of the tribe on the dais. The Elders followed shortly, filing out of the deliberation hut and onto the stage behind the Queen and Regent while Xena looked on. Grim faced, Gabrielle help up her arms for the Amazons to settle down and didn't bring them down until all had quieted.
"As Queen of this tribe I am bound by the decisions of our Elders and will accept the sentencing that they have determined for Xena, Warrior Princess," the Queen's voice rang loud and true throughout the crowd. Turning to the oldest of the Elders, Gabrielle motioned the woman forward. "What is the judgement?"
The old woman looked into the sad green eyes of her Queen before addressing the village, wishing she had never accepted the position of Elder just three short months ago. A true believer in Xena's redemption, the woman was one of the few that argued for leniency.
"The Elders have listened to all that spoke on behalf of Xena and weighed the passionate pleas. We are confronted with the knowledge that the women being judged before us is not the same woman who massacred our fellow sisters many years ago. But this can not take away the horror of what she committed and thus she is to be held accountable for her actions."
The old woman stepped forward and looked down into clouded cerulean eyes completely devoid of any emotions. "Xena of Amphipolis, the Elders have decreed that you are to be put to death by a method of your choice."
Loud voices quickly rose from the crowd as Kharis hung onto a nearby branch in a death grip. Many Amazons had initially wanted the warrior's death but after hearing the three defenders most were expecting a work sentence or banishment, never believing that the Elders would have Xena put to death. Others were exultant that justice was to be served and vocally applauded the decision starting many arguments. As the din of voices floated throughout the village, overwhelming the voice of the Queen, Xena stood stoned faced as she waited till the noise reached a zenith before yelling out her war cry while leaping into the air, flipping over her guards, and landing on the dais beside the Gabrielle and the old Elder.
A hush suddenly fell over the crowd as the magnetic power of the bronzed warrior washed over them, shocking the Amazons into silence. Xena allowed a feral smile as she held them spell bound before fixing the stoic mask many had come to know her by and turned to address the bard. 'Now the real trial begins.' she thought sadly.
"I accept the Elders decision and will abide by it. If it is my choice on how I leave this mortal existence then I ask that my death be carried out by my sister's own hands from the sword."
Kharis nearly fell out of the tree she was hiding in when she heard her sister's proclamation. 'How could Xena accept this? How could she even think that I'd oblige her ridiculous request?' Silently moving higher into the tree's boughs Kharis hovered over the assembly, not daring to breathe as she fuelled her rage even more. It was their fault. All of them for wanting to see her sister's humiliation of going through the trial and now, subsequent death.
Xena looked around the surrounding woods, hoping to see where her sister was hiding. The warrior had felt no trace of Kharis' presence since she had been knocked out but knew that the girl would not be far away.
Ephiny stepped forward and regarded her tall, imposing friend before turning her attention to her Amazons, hoping that Xena's plan would work. "Amazons, the sentence will be carried out as chosen by Xena. If her sister will not fulfil the duties assumed to her then another will be chosen to fill her place. Who amongst you will offer into that service?"
Many shouted out but one was heard above all others. "I will!" Gabrielle cried out as she locked her eyes with those of her soulmate's. Xena smiled slightly at the love conveyed through those misty greens as she nodded with her support that all would be well.
Ephiny sadly assented to the bard's request before continuing. "The Queen has chosen to be Kharis' surrogate if the girl does not step forward immediately. Guards, bring Xena's sword!"
The sound of metal sliding out of leather could be heard high up in the trees as one of the guards, who had been carrying Xena's sword all along, unsheathed the blade and, approaching the Regent, handed it over to Ephiny.
Taking the blade by the hilt, Ephiny slowly walked over to Gabrielle and placed it in the bard's hands before whispering, "Are you sure this will work?"
Gabrielle smiled sadly as she took the blade and whispered back, "It has to."
Ephiny futilely scanned the crowd for any sign of Xena's sister before motioning for the Elders to leave the dais. "Kharis! You have been chosen to fulfil your sister's request. Step forward!"
Kharis couldn't believe what was happening. Her thoughts flew in all directions as she tried to control the emotions that were quickly overwhelming her anger, trying to snuff out the evil that allowed her clarity like nothing she had even experienced before. Watching in horrid fascination, the girl observed her sister standing proud as Ephiny waited for Kharis to show herself. When the girl didn't come forth, the Regent nodded to the Queen and stepped back as Xena knelt before the bard.
Gabrielle grimaced as she grabbed her partner's sword by the hilt and leveled it against the side of Xena's neck. Wishing for the hundredth time that Xena wasn't so stubborn the bard raised the sword in an upward swing.
"Let your body carry the swing through," Xena instructed to the dismay of those that were watching. "I love you."
"I love you too," Gabrielle softly spoke as tears began to stream down her face. "Forgive me."
Many cried openly now as the Amazons paid witness to their beloved Queen's courage in ending the life of the one she loved the most. The insanity of the situation was clearly seen on Gabrielle's face. What was to transpire was no longer needed to help heal the wounds that Xena had brought upon the Nation. Forgiveness was. Forgiveness that the Queen had already granted and the Elders should have.
A lone shriek filled the air as Xena's blade travelled down towards the warrior's neck only to be suddenly stopped by Kharis' own sword. The impact of the two blades meeting recoiled through Gabrielle's arms as she dropped the sword and stepped back. Every Amazon present stood in silent shock as the sword clanged on the wooden dais, uncertain what to do when Kharis raised her own sword towards their Queen.
Flaming golden eyes ripped through the bard's soul as Kharis stepped in between the bard and her warrior, "How could you?" the girl yelled uncontrollably.
"Because you wouldn't," Gabrielle cried back. "She deserves the right to die from the hands of one she loves."
Kharis snorted as she held her own sword up to Gabrielle's neck. "You don't love her! You've betrayed her like the others have! You deserve to meet Hades at his doorstep like the rest of them!" she shouted as Gabrielle stood still.
"No Khar, she is only doing what I asked her to do," Xena suddenly said from behind the girl as the warrior stood up and towered over her smaller sister. "Out of love."
Whirling to face her sister Kharis laughed maniacally as she noticed her sister's stern face. "What love is that? To murder the one you love the most? To ask one who loves you to take your life? Don't talk to me about love, Xena," she spat viciously. "It doesn't matter. They'll all die, one way or the other. I'm not going to let this happen."
"What are you going to do Khar? Kill them all?" Xena asked as her stomach turned from hearing that phrase come from her lips once again.
"If I have to, yes."
"Then start with me first, because if you so much as lay a finger on Gabrielle or her Amazons I will rip you apart," Xena warned menacingly.
Kharis stood still, uncertain what to think or how to proceed. Her rage kept her nerves tingling on edge as she fought for some sort of release to end the bitter-sweet agony. Xena continued to glare at her as Amazons, now free from the horror of what had almost happened, began to inch forward, silently drawing weapons to help defend their Queen. Kharis felt the mood of the women around her shift and quickly glanced off the platform to see weapons drawn and Amazons almost within striking distance. A feral grin formed as she glanced back at her sister and winked before lightly leaping off the dais to confront an army of Amazons.
Xena quickly flipped her sword into her hand and summersaulted off the platform as well in between her sister and the Amazons. "Lower your weapons!" she yelled to those behind her as she faced Kharis, sword at the ready.
"Step out of the way, Xena!" Kharis snarled as she began to plan her line of attack.
"Sorry Khar but I can't do that. This is now between you and me. You're just gonna have to fight your way through me before you can have a go with the Amazons," Xena replied simply as the wolf inside screamed to be released. Quickly turning her head to check on the Amazons behind her Xena scowled as she still saw weapons drawn.
"Lower your weapons, dammit! This is between me and her. If you don't fight her she won't attack you," the warrior yelled as Amazons stood at the ready, uncertain whether to place their faith in one who they just condemned to death. A lone Amazon girl ran forward as she went to the aid of her friends.
"Mara! Stand back! She's not who she really is. Don't interfere!" Xena cried out before the girl was snatched back by Solari. "Now all of you stay back!"
"Listen to her! Stand down and lower your weapons!" Ephiny hollered from the side of the dais. "That's an order!"
One by one, Amazons lowered their weapons and stepped back as a large semi-circle was formed around Xena and Kharis. Ephiny and Gabrielle stayed on the platform and stood over the two combatants in morbid anticipation. The bard knew her soulmate would solve things without any bloodshed but she was uncertain whether Kharis could do the same. Glancing at Ephiny, Gabrielle shuddered at the Regent's soft brown eyes holding the same haunted look that was surely affixed to her own misty greens.
Silver blades twirled around ebony heads as Xena and Kharis slowly circled each other, waiting for the first to attack. Empty golden eyes held firm with clear azure orbs as Xena finally let her wolf out to play and felt the rush of power stream through her body. A small savage smile leapt to her face as she made the first move, slashing downwards towards her sister's head. The clash of metal rung through the treetops as Kharis easily deflected the blow and countered with an underhand stroke towards Xena's legs.
Lightly jumping over the whistling blade the warrior replied back with a stab to the girl's heart, which never found it's mark as Kharis leapt back. Pressing her attack, Xena followed through with another slash aimed at the girl's side. Kharis grimaced as she barely deflected the blow. Rage, initially directed at anyone other then Xena, suddenly turned towards the woman in front of her as Kharis kicked the warrior in the stomach, followed by a punch to the face. The foot hit it's mark but the hand was deflected by the hilt of Xena's sword as Xena used her free hand to punch her sister in the side of the head.
Rolling with the blow Kharis quickly brought her sword forward and around as she tried to slice through Xena's exposed side. Nearly missing the feint Xena brought her sword over to deflect as she felt a sting on her sword arm. Kharis laughed sharply as her dagger drew first blood. Xena nodded back in acknowledgement as she grabbed her chakram and used it to deflect her sister's next attack with the thigh dagger. Twisting her hand sharply, Xena caught the dagger within the chakram and flipped it free from the girl's hand.
"Nice try Khar, but it won't work this time," the warrior drawled.
Snarling at the sudden loss of her weapon Kharis flung her body forward as she stabbed at her sister's torso again, this time coming within a hair's breath of piercing Xena's breast, if not for the chakram that brushed the tip away. Using the closer proximity to her advantage Xena flung an elbow into Kharis' face, feeling the joint hit it's mark on the girl's mouth. Another elbow followed behind the first as it to made contact with Kharis' chin.
Stunned momentarily Kharis stepped back as she spat out a mouthful of blood before a snarl escaped her lips, "You'll wish you never did that."
Xena chuckled slightly as her blade twirled around her body, "I wouldn't be making any threats I couldn't carry through Khar. It makes you look amateurish."
Flaxen eyes flamed as Kharis howled in anger. Driving her sword forward, the girl quickly released a series of blows that crisscrossed as they were deflected by Xena's own blade. Both women were a flurry of attacks and parries as they circled each other, trying to gain the upper hand by finding a chink in the other's defence. It was Xena who found the first lapse and used it, slashing along Kharis' right thigh. Blood began to seep out as the thin white streak turned red as the pain shot up into the girl's consciousness. Flicking her eyes down for a second, Kharis knew that it wouldn't be long until the loss of blood would be a disadvantage, especially when fighting against Xena. Raising her sword the girl eyed the woman before her, waiting for Xena to take the next move.
Xena too eyed the wound briefly, regretting that she had to hurt her sister but knowing that it would drive the girl into a blind fury that would begin the second part of the warrior's plan. Though already enraged, Kharis was still not completely under her darkness' control and Xena knew that it would be just a mater of seconds before her sister was finally drawn down into its ultimate depths.
Xena patiently waited while her sister's eyes and face went completely blank as Death finally grabbed control. Knowing that this was the moment, Xena threw her sword and chakram down as all that watched gasped at the warrior's sudden move. Gabrielle cried out as she watched her love slowly sink to her knees and offer her head to Kharis.
Kharis snorted at her sister's sudden move and wondered what trick she was being led into. Uncertain whether to attack and end it once and for all or wait to see what Xena was going to do Kharis kept her sword at the ready, but held her stance.
"It's time Kharis," Xena softly said up to her sister as she held her reflexes under a tight reign, forcing the cords in her neck to jump out in exertion while she bowed her head. "Destroy me now and fulfil the prophecy. Do it and get it over with."
"This is a trick," the girl stated flatly.
"No, it isn't," Xena replied gently. "I love you Khar, but I know that you can't feel love anymore. I can accept that. But I won't live with that either. Keep the promise you made to me and carry this through. Do it!"
Biting her lip suddenly, Kharis fought with herself as the evil within screamed in exultant victory while, out of no where, a small voice cried in horror at what was about to happen. The battle waged for a few moments as Kharis' body stiffened, every muscle held taunt.
Seeing blood red everywhere she looked, Kharis knew that this is what she was destined to do. There was only one outcome possible and that was death. The death of Xena and then those all around her. The Guardian was to rise and lay rule over all, as was decreed by the Fates. But one small voice quietly, yet firmly, broke through the blackness that was Kharis' soul and cried out, 'Call her and end this.'
Kharis shook her head slightly as she tried to find that tiny voice again, wondering where it had come from. Looking deeply within, Kharis swam into the farthest reaches of her mind and found a tiny speck of light that continued to hold on, despite the it's weakened condition. Completely encompassed by evil the light valiantly shone as hard as it could while it cried out again, 'Call her!'
Flinching from the voice Kharis raised her sword for the final killing blow, screaming as she brought the blade down towards Xena's neck.
A white blinding light filled the village as Artemis appeared and held Kharis' blade in her small hand, resting against Xena's exposed neck. The heat singed Xena's skin as the Goddess moved the blade away from the warrior's neck and held it over her head. Muscles screamed in protest as Kharis fought to push the blade back down while Artemis held tightly.
"It is over child," the Goddess said as she wrenched the sword out of the girl's hands and flung it up and over the trees.
Kharis stepped back as the loss of her sword slowly sunk in. Looking reprehensibly at Artemis she continued to back up as the Goddess approached her until her back slammed against the hard surface of the platform. Amazons fell to their knees before their Goddess as Artemis smiled slightly and reached out to lay her palm over raven bangs while Kharis flinched from the touch.
Seeking dead golden eyes, the Goddess never moved her hand as she searched the girl's soul for the one tiny light that was almost entirely extinguished. Finding it pulsing weakly Artemis nourished it with love as the light began to push against the darkness, that held it down, and slowly filled Kharis' soul in its intensity.
Gasping at the searing pain that was threatening to overcome her, Kharis reached up to remove the hand that held her still but found her free arms grasped by bronzed hands. Sapphire eyes softened as Xena held onto her sister's arm.
"Like I said before, I love you. Just trust in that and come back to us."
Shaking her head slightly Kharis tried to ignore the warmth that was spreading throughout her limbs and sought the cold darkness that she relished. Artemis frowned as her healing touch began to lose it's hold and the evil within the girl started to regain control.
Clicking her tongue, the Goddess glanced up at her Chosen and Ephiny, indicating for them to come down. Both women quickly leapt off the dais and surrounded Kharis as Artemis motioned for Xena to let go of her sister's arms. Xena nodded slightly as she released Kharis' arms and stepped back while Gabrielle and Ephiny each grabbed one of the arms and held them down to the girl's sides.
"I can't hold on much longer," Artemis grimaced as the internal conflict was visibly affecting her.
"What can we do?" Gabrielle cried as she struggled to keep Kharis' arm down.
"We can't do anything anymore I'm afraid. It's all up to Xena now," the Goddess sighed as she willed her love with one last push and found it stagnant against the darkness in the girl's soul.
"Me?" Xena wondered perplexed.
"You have it in you a love so bright that it can overwhelm any darkness that is within your sister. You just have to feel it. Let go and finally find the light which burns within. There you will find the answer."
"I don't have a light in me that could rival Gabrielle's. She's the one you should be talking to," Xena shakingly spoke as she looked to her soulmate for guidance.
Gabrielle shook her head, "No, Xena. Artemis is right. You've always said that for every evil act there has to be an equal act of goodness; a balance that has to be maintained. Why doesn't that hold true for the darkness? You are so afraid your dark side is all consuming that you never acknowledge the possibility of there being a light that is equally strong."
"What little bit of light I may have is from you Gabrielle. You're the source that sustains me, that helps me maintain that balance. Without you, I wouldn't be who I am right now. I wouldn't have the strength to fight the darkness."
"I've never given you anything that you didn't already have within yourself. If there was no light in you then you would never have recognised it to begin with. Xena, what are you afraid of?" the bard asked gently.
Xena stood still as she tried to figure out exactly what she was afraid of. Her bard was right. There is always the yin with the yang. The darkness that laid so close to her heart had to have it's balance. 'But where was it?'
Sensing Xena's thoughts Artemis reached over with her free hand and placed her palm over the warrior's head. Closing her eyes, the Goddess looked deep within and smiled at what she knew existed.
"It is there my child. You just have to have the courage to look deeper then you've ever looked before. The light is waiting for you to open the door and release it. You've kept it hidden for too long. Set it free and save your sister."
Xena closed her eyes and, with the strength that the Goddess gave, looked deep within herself. Past the dark pool of evil, past the cage of shame and self loathing, past the wall of hatred Xena slowly sank into an abyss she feared she would never escape. As the love from her soulmate and the Goddess fortified her resolve to search on, her inner demon beseeched her to be liberated. 'Don't listen to them. It's your time now. Strike Kharis down while you have the chance and take up the mantle of Guardian. It is within our grasp. Do it now before it's too late.'
Those that could see clearly gasped at the change in the warrior princess. Once taunt with raging emotions she had quickly become drained as sky blue eyes chilled into cold empty orbs, devoid of any humanity; the bronzed, chiseled face hardened into the cold mask of death. Those that looked on silently whispered to their Goddess for salvation as each and every Amazon felt their mortality slip out of their grasp as the dark woman before them became the Horseman of War.
Artemis frowned, as the Horseman gained control over Xena; willing the woman, lying deeply within, to fight the seductive pull of evil.
"You are not needed here! Relinquish your hold and begone with you. Your time will come soon enough," the Goddess declared as the doppelganger smiled wickedly.
"Who are you to order me around, Goddess? I am beholden to no God nor mortal," the Horseman sneered as it tried to flick Artemis' hand away only to find itself motionless. Doubt flickered across steel eyes as the Horseman tried ONCE again to move but was held still under the Goddesses hand. "What do you think you are doing?"
"You will not be released until Xena has fulfilled her quest," the Goddess said sweetly, watching as her tone obviously enraged the doppelganger. "Now go before I become angry with you."
The Horseman flinched slightly as its face distorted into an incensed visage that nearly unsettled the Goddess herself in its intensity. Beads of sweat quickly formed under raven bangs as the doppelganger committed one final push for freedom; to no avail.
"You will pay for this Goddess," the Horseman seethed.
"We shall see," Artemis smiled as she felt the bard slowly reach around her and place a loving hand on the warrior's face. Gazing into eyes that frightened her to the core, Gabrielle swallowed hard as she ran her hand down one of the sculptured cheeks.
"I love you, Xena. Don't forget that," she said with as much love as she could convey.
The Horseman shuddered as it slowly lost control. Features, once harsh and unrelenting, softened as Xena heard her partner's pledge and forced herself through the nothingness to break through into light. Bathed in peace and serenity, the warrior marvelled at the force that lay dormant within her for so long.
'How could I have missed this?' Xena mused as she drew upon the power that was goodness and filled her soul in its magnificent glory. Her vision clearing, Xena took in a painful gasp of air and regarded those that were around her. An unearthly glow surrounded the warrior princess as her features softened, until she appeared no older the her bard. The healing powers of the light fulfilled the aching in her soul and for the first time, Xena was able to understand how to forgive herself.
Gabrielle's heart rejoiced at the sight of the newborn Xena. Reaching up to stroke sculptured cheeks Gabrielle marvelled at the heat that radiated off the warrior. The luminescence of Xena's bronzed skin reflected within twin pools of verdant.
"How do you feel?" Artemis asked softly, awed by the power of the warrior's light that was lying at the surface. The Gods were wrong. The prophecy was not to be feared, it was to be welcomed.
"I don't know," Xena whispered, unsure whether she could trust her own voice. Love, acceptance, and peace clearly shone on the warrior's face as she struggled to clamp down on the emotions surging through her body. Unable to control the tempest that was now free, Xena held her breath as she sought a calm within the centre of her own storm.
Finding what she needed, Xena suddenly laughed out sharply as she turned to her sister and beheld the writhing mass of hate before her. Shaking her head slightly, Xena looked towards Ephiny, chuckling at the Regent's open mouth and startled eyes.
"You can release her Eph," Xena whispered as she forced her will onto her sister. "You too Gabrielle."
A shroud of peace and love blanketed Kharis as she felt her body refuse to obey her need to escape. Fear quickly leapt into once empty, pale eyes as the girl realised that she was no longer out of control, but under control.
Ephiny nodded silently as she let go of Kharis' arm and stepped back, allowing the warrior to cross in front and stand beside the Goddess, while Gabrielle stood to the other side as she too released the girl's arm.
Anguish, reflected in azure eyes, briefly flickered across Xena's face as she stroked the darkness that had engulfed her sister. Once welcoming it like a warm blanket, the warrior recoiled from its destructive pull as she sought the one spark that was still Kharis. Finding it hidden and trapped from within Xena cried out as her sister's last shred of hope started to fade. Pushing the Goddess aside, Xena grabbed her sister's taunt body and pulled her into a deep hug as the warrior forced her love through their blood bond, willing her sister to fight.
"Don't you dare give up on me, Khar," Xena murmured into the girl's ear as love rolled over her blackened soul. "I know you're still in there so fight, fight damn you!"
Echoes, rebounding from beyond the barrier that held her, called out to Kharis as she shuddered in the dark. Once sure that she was safe within fury's embrace, Kharis now knew she was lost. Able to see all that was around her yet not be able to control any of it nearly drove the girl insane until she retired back down to where she knew she deserved to be. Alone, weak, and terrified in the dark.
The body that she once inhabited was no longer her own. It was a vessel for evil, an evil she swore would never gain control. Yet wasn't that what she did? 'I gave it entrance and now it's free' she sobbed into her hands, eyes blind in the perpetual black that she would spend the rest of eternity in. 'I deserve to die.'
'No you don't.' a voice warmly answered as Kharis cocked her head to the side, hoping that she had truly heard it.
'Who's there? Please, don't go away!' Kharis called as she struggled to control her shaking body. Memories, forever drowned in darkness, called out her as she strove to recognise the voice.
'I'll never leave you.'
'Please, I can't see you. Come closer.' The girl started to beg as her hands reached out in the dark for something, anything.
'I'm right here. Come to my voice.'
Kharis pulled back as she suddenly became fearful, 'No. This is a trick. Just like all of your tricks.'
Grasping her legs tightly to her chest Kharis tried to roll up into a tiny ball, praying that the evil controlling her body would never find her. Clenching her eyes shut, the girl slowly began to rock.
A lone voice softly chuckled as a radiant light suddenly engulfed the black. 'I'm no trick, though I have many skills.'
Shielding her eyes, from the blinding light with a hand, Kharis gasped as the spectre that was her sister floated towards her. Burying her face in shame, she silently waited for the illusion to disappear.
'Look upon me, Khar.' Xena reached out and drew her sister's face up towards her own.
'You're not real. You're just another torture. Go away and leave me alone.' the girl cried as she tried to pull her eyes away from the spectral sight before her.
'No, Khar. I'm real. I'm what you foretold. Look and see for yourself.'
A lone tear fell as Kharis looked upon her sister and moaned in sorrow, 'I'm so sorry I didn't fight back. I allowed it to happen. Please forgive me.'
A radiant smile beamed down on the tear stained face as Xena sighed in relief, 'There is nothing to forgive. I love you and always will. Trust in that. Now come, we have to bring you back into the light.'
Kharis stifled a sob as she spied fearfully beyond the light into the darkness that was being held at bay, 'How? I tried but it won't let me through. I'm not strong enough anymore.'
'You don't have to be. I'll be your strength. Just hold onto my hand and don't let go. It can't hurt you anymore, Khar. Not as long as I'm here.' Xena soothed as she held a calloused hand out. 'Come. It will be all right.'
Kharis tentatively reached up to grasp her sister's strong hand and found herself enfolded in Xena's strong arms. Tranquility flooded throughout her as the confidence of her sister's love pacified her troubled soul.
'Where do we go from here?' Kharis asked weakly.
Xena gazed upwards and smiled as the two sisters slowly rose, encircled within the light. 'Home' she whispered as the darkness retreated downwards and was finally shackled back into its cage.
Kharis inhaled sharply as she felt the heat from her sister's body move away from her. Afraid to open her eyes, the girl stood still as Xena moved away and nodded to Artemis.
"Open your eyes my child," the Goddess ordered as she smiled at Kharis.
A lone eyebrow rose as Kharis slowly opened one eye and saw the Goddess standing in between Xena and Gabrielle. Collapsing onto the ground she cried openly with relief and guilt as she felt her body finally respond to her fragile will.
Stooping forward, Artemis picked the girl up and cradled her body as she clucked in annoyance, "Don't cry my little one. You are safe and sound back here with us. There is nothing to cry about."
"No. You shouldn't have saved me. I deserve to be dead."
"Don't you dare say that!" Gabrielle said sternly as she brushed a strand of hair out of the girl's blood-shot eyes. "I won't accept that attitude coming from you."
"But its true. I could have killed you. I could have killed so many if..."
"Stop it right there! What is done is done. You didn't kill anyone so thinking of what could have happened is not going to help you understand the why."
"Your Queen is right," Artemis noted as she knelt down and positioned the girl into her lap. "Despite what you may think I know in my heart that you wouldn't have killed anyone. You're much stronger then that. Too strong to let your father's rage completely overcome you."
"No," Kharis sniffled as she tried to regain her composure while being nestled in the Goddess' arms. "I wanted to kill. I craved it. It's too strong within me to fight it."
"And that's why you need Artemis and the Amazons more then you realise," Xena remarked as she crouched down beside her sister. "It is stronger then anyone will ever understand. But that's why we have to always fight it and find those around us that will help us along the way."
Stroking damp ebony hair Xena sighed as she struggled to find the words that would soothe her sister's broken soul, "You don't know how proud I am of you. I was buried beneath rage and hatred for over ten years before someone finally showed me the way back. It took ten years of wanton slaughter before I was able to grasp that I was out of control. Lao Ma stilled my darkness for a brief time, but she couldn't save my soul because I didn't want it to be saved. You did."
"Khar, you could have broken the bonds that Artemis held you by. You had it in you. You could have freed yourself from Ephiny's and Gabrielle's grasps, but you didn't. Somewhere inside you knew that what was happening was wrong so you held back and gave us the chance to help you. I never would have. I would have kicked butt first and asked questions later."
Gabrielle chuckled as she smiled down at her soulmate's admission, "That she would have."
A lopsided smile answered the bard back as the warrior went on, "I don't have your strength to fight it. I can only temper it and pray, that with my friend's help, I can find my way back when I do slip. You have fought your darkness a few times now and have defeated it every time. With our help you will defeat it again. As the years go by you will be able to harness its power and use it for what is surely the greater good, to help defend your fellow sisters. It may be painful but it will make you stronger then you would have ever been."
Kharis nodded silently as she absorbed the knowledge and faith from her sister. Healing had begun, but the horror of what she had almost done would stay with her for many years. That she knew.
Standing up, Xena watched her sister gather the last remaining shards of self pity and sweep them away for contemplation later. Kharis finally allowed a small smile as she glanced at those hovering around her before resting her gaze on Artemis.
"I've really screwed up, haven't I?"
"No my child. You can not blame yourself for the darkness your father bestowed upon you. You can only grow from its experience and learn how to stop it from ever happening again." Artemis soothed as she helped Kharis get to her feet. "Just be strong and allow those around you to help when you need it most. Don't be to proud or stubborn. That is your downfall. Accept what others have to offer you and you will be fine. Trust me."
"I will," Kharis answered humbly as she looked towards the Elders, standing on the side of the platform. "What about them? What's going to happen to Xena?"
Artemis turned towards the group of older women and frowned, clearly displeased with them; "One of my favoured children spoke on my behalf yet you chose to disregard my feelings on this matter. What have you to say for yourselves?"
"We weighed the crimes against the testimonies and came to an unbiased conclusion, Patron Goddess," one of the Elders replied hesitantly. "When the High Priestess spoke on your behalf we assumed it was figuratively, not literally."
"You assumed wrong," Artemis reprimanded as she addressed the assembled group of Amazons. "I do not absolve those, that threaten my Amazons' lives, lightly. This child here has done nothing to the Nation that would condone such a sentence. The Destroyer of Nations did and she is dead. Let her rest. Xena, on the other hand, has and will continue to fight for the Nation's survival."
"But my Goddess, she attacked our Queen. Surely that deserves some form of punishment?" a battle-scarred Elder asked
"It does, but the punishment Xena lays upon herself is far greater then any punishment you could determine. Your own Queen has exonerated Xena with her heart. Can you not do the same?"
Artemis waited patiently while the Elders pondered their situation. To lose face in front of the Nation was unbearable but to bring the wrath of their own Artemis, by not accepting her wishes, was unthinkable.
"We will bow before your judgement Patron Goddess. If you believe that Xena is a changed women then we will stand by your decision," the Head Elder acquiesced.
"Good. That's settled," Artemis smiled brightly as she looked upon her Amazons. "Many of you harbour ill feelings towards Xena. That I can't do anything about. It is up to each and every one of you to come to terms with who and what Xena was and is. With much contemplation, you will see that my child is a true Amazon who deserves the same amount of respect you give to your fellow sisters."
Many of the Amazons nodded in agreement and offered smiles of affirmation that they accepted Xena along with both the dark and light side of their Queen's champion. Others glared at the bronzed warrior as they tried to fathom how that demon could be in such high favour with their Goddess, but held their tongues.
"Come, we must talk," Artemis said as she lead the small party away from the assembled group of Amazons towards her temple. Ephiny hung back but was dragged forward by her Queen.
"You're our family too Eph. Don't forget that," Gabrielle whispered in the Regent's ear as Ephiny walked arm in arm with the bard. Ephiny allowed a small smile as Artemis looked behind her and nodded her head in agreement to Gabrielle's statement.
"I'm not an Amazon," Xena finally spoke as the Goddess started up the steps into her temple.
"We shall see," Artemis said slyly while winking over at Kharis. Offering her hand, the Goddess walked with the girl inside directly to the main altar room before stopping and sitting on the altar's steps. "My child, you and I have a few things to discuss but that can wait for another time. For now you need your rest before the initiation."
Shaking her head slightly Kharis lowered her head and sighed before meeting Artemis' eyes, "I can't go through with it. Not now."
"Nonsense. You can and you will."
"No, Artemis. I have to know in my own heart that nothing like this will happen again. Until I do I can't risk my fellow sisters' lives," the girl explained softly. "I'm sorry but I just can't."
Artemis frowned as she looked upon the shattered girl knowing that what she said was true, despite the Goddess' misgivings. "You do realise that as an Amazon you would then be under my complete protection? Your father would no longer have any claim on you?"
"Yes, it's a chance I have to take."
Nodding her head in understanding the Goddess lightly stroked the girl's cheek, "If you believe that to be true then there is nothing I can say to change your mind. Be strong Kharis and may you find the answers you are searching for. I will always be by your side when you need me most. Never forget that."
"I won't," Kharis replied meekly.
Artemis placed a light kiss on the girl's forehead before standing up and turning towards her sister, "As for you. I expect you to be there. You have strayed from my protection long enough warrior."
"You know I have to decline," Xena stated simply.
"Why do you always insist on making things difficult?" the Goddess sighed in exasperation.
"It's one of her many skills," Gabrielle laughed as she grasped her partner's hand and gave it a light squeeze receiving a lopsided grin in return.
"That I can believe," Artemis chuckled. "I will never give up on bringing you back to where you belong Xena. Despite what you believe, you have been and always will be one of my children. One day you will realise that."
"Maybe, but don't hold your breath," Gabrielle muttered under her breath unaware that those close by her heard the comment loud and clear. Xena quirked an eyebrow but decided to let the comment pass for the moment as Ephiny tried unsuccessfully to hold in her laughter.
Artemis did neither as she chuckled and laid her hand upon her Chosen's shoulder, "Gabrielle, if I was to have breath I would have surely passed into the next realm waiting for your stubborn warrior to come to her senses. But never fear. I am patient, as are my brother and sister. We will never give up on her."
Kharis snorted as she felt a weariness darken her mood, "Ares can go suck a cyclops's..."
"Khar!" Xena snapped at her sister as an apology quickly came to her lips.
"No need Xena," Artemis said as she raised her hand to stop the warrior in mid-breath. "She needs her rest and I spoke without thought. I never meant your father."
"I know," Xena said softly before turning towards her sister. "Khar, go directly to your hut and wait for me there. We have some unfinished business."
"I'll take her," Ephiny offered suddenly as she grasped Kharis around the shoulders and lead the reluctant girl away.
Xena exhaled slowly as she shook her head in exasperation. "I don't know what I'm going to do about her."
"You'll figure it out," Gabrielle smiled as she quickly gave her partner a well deserved hug. "Do you realise it's finally over?"
"Yeah," Xena said as she gazed down into her soulmate's eyes, marvelling at how alive she felt at that precise moment.
"How do you feel?"
"I don't know. Lighter for some reason and more at peace with myself," Xena admitted despite herself. Guilt had become an old friend for the warrior, one that she didn't want to lose too quickly.
Gabrielle pushed out of Xena's arms and started walking around the bewildered warrior. "Where did you hide my Xena?" she mocked lightly. "The woman I love has never been at peace with herself."
Xena frowned slightly, trying to fathom what had exactly changed, but could only shrug in return, "I can't explain it Gabrielle. Something happened out there in the square but I'm not exactly sure what it was."
Artemis sighed as she shook her head in exasperation, "Mortals. You never comprehend what is right in front of your eyes let alone what is within your souls."
"That being?" the warrior asked in earnest.
"You have fulfilled the prophecy. Both you and Kharis have glimpsed what you will ultimately become," the Goddess stated simply.
"I won't accept that," Xena fumed suddenly.
"Xena, how can you say that?" the bard inquired.
"I have to. For Khar's sake," the warrior exclaimed.
"My child there is nothing you can do. Kharis will become what she is destined to be such as yourself. Neither of you can halt time's path," Artemis stated knowingly. "But that is neither here nor there. For the moment you both need time to heal and search for answers."
"I'm fine. It's Khar that needs the time," Xena countered as the Goddess approached her and laid a hand on her shoulder.
"No, Xena. You too need the time. You have been walking these past years as a shadow, a ghost of the person you once were before your downfall. The time for atonement has come and past. It is now time to grow and rediscover the woman that has been laid so deep within," Artemis smiled as she stroked ebony hair, seeking the peace that laid in the canter of the warrior. "With my Chosen by your side you will finally ascend your past and grasp the future that is before you. Heed my words warrior. Let the past go. It is time to move on. You are the Light."
"I can't," Xena whispered, unwilling to succumb to the serenity that surrounded her suddenly yet craving it with all her soul. 'I haven't paid enough. Haven't I?'
The Goddess sought azure eyes and nodded in affirmation to the hidden question that laid within their depths; "You can. I have faith in you. Now go and be with your sister. She is going to need you more then ever from now on. I'm afraid for her Xena. Please keep her safe. I can only do so much. It will be your influence that will turn the tide in the battle for her soul."
"But I thought Ares lost?" Gabrielle asked, concern plainly evident on her face.
"He lost this battle but there will be many more. And not with just my brother. There are other forces at work with that child, forces that even us Gods can not see clearly," Artemis spoke as she stepped back from Xena and smiled sadly at the warrior and her bard. "I will leave you two for now. Call for me when you need me the most."
"But ..." Gabrielle began as Artemis' body shimmered and suddenly melted into a million points of sparkling lights that streamed upwards, disappearing through the ceiling. "I hate it when she does that."
Xena snorted, feeling the tranquility within slowly recede back until she felt normal again, "They all have a tendency to do that don't they?"
The bard chuckled as she slipped her hand into her partner's much larger and calloused one, "I guess they do. They really do love to show off at times, though at least Artemis keeps it down to a minimum. So now what do we do?"
Xena shrugged as she walked with Gabrielle out of the temple and into the light of day. Stopping at the top of the steps, Xena inhaled deeply and reveled in the lingering warmth of the setting sun. Looking out upon the village and those that walked through it Xena smiled brightly as she felt Gabrielle squeeze her hand slightly with love.
"I have a funny feeling that things are going to get even more complicated then they were before," the warrior said happily as she squeezed her bard's hand back.
Gabrielle laughed while shaking her head in amazement, "You almost seem giddy with that thought."
"I've never been giddy, Gabrielle. I'm just excited. It feels good to be alive."
"That it does," Gabrielle agreed as she hugged her partner. "So now what?"
"Well we can stay here or..." Xena let the thought hang, knowing that it didn't need to be finished but hoping her bard felt the same way.
"I pick door number two. It's time we went back to the open road," the bard offered, knowing that the past few months of village life had been hard for the warrior to take. Xena was a woman of action. A woman who craved constant challenges whether of the mind or body. Despite everything that happened it was not enough. 'Not nearly enough.' Gabrielle grinned to herself as she too looked forward to getting back to the road and normality - at least for the two of them.
"You know how I hate it when I can't get my juices going after a while. And though it has been... stimulating, it's not the same."
"Well if it's your juices that are in need of stirring then let me lead the way. I know of something that will help you in that area," the bard smiled devilishly as she broke the hug and stepped down onto the ground.
Xena smirked as she leapt down off the steps and pulled Gabrielle close beside her, leading the bard to their hut and the future that neither thought was possible nor sure they'd ever have again.
Zeus frowned as he listened to his daughter's story, uncertain as to whether she realised the ramifications of what she was relating. The day of the portent had come and past. Only one God had witnessed it, none of the others even knowing that it had transpired, and that one wasn't concerned.
"So it is done and you have no fears? I find that hard to believe," his deep voice rumbled.
"Father, all is not what it appears. The prophecy the Fates have held over our heads is not as bad as we were lead to believe. Things have now changed, that I understand, but not in the way we thought they would. Olympus is still standing, we are all still here, our time has not come and gone," Artemis soothed knowing that her father was upset he never knew when that, which he feared the most, came to be.
"My daughter, you are still young. Those two you consider one of your own, even though both have rejected your protection. You can not be certain that nothing bad will come of this. The warnings were dire for us and, though you believe those warnings to be false, I can not sit idly by and do nothing."
"That is exactly what you must do," Artemis stated as she approached her father's throne and knelt by his feet, laying her head upon his lap. "They are your grandchildren, you should not be afraid of them. Changes have happened but we have to see how those changes will affect us. Both Xena and Kharis have tasted the fruit of revelation yet neither understand what those changes mean nor will they for some time yet."
"All the better to bring them here so that we may keep them safe when those changes do occur," Zeus countered.
"Safe or controlled?"
"Either or it doesn't matter. They should not be allowed to walk the earth to find their destiny and our downfall without our say in the matter."
Artemis sighed deeply as she tried to find the words that would comfort her father and allow her children the freedom to find their way without hindrance from any of the Gods. She knew that what they all feared was an erroneous prediction, one that had to be better understood. Understanding that the fear was stronger then any words she could say to comfort with the Goddess hugged her father's knees and smiled up at him in a hope that he would see what she knew.
Zeus looked down into his daughter's eyes and shook his head at the blind faith that she had in the two mortals, "Artemis, you know I'm right."
"No father, you are wrong. But if you believe that they will be manageable here in Olympus then by all means, bring them here. But I must warn you. If you do so you might be speeding up the process that will transform them both into what they are destined to be."
"By themselves they will stumble on seeking answers to the questions they will have. It will take time and they will be cautious with what they learn. Up here they will seek no answers, for the questions will never have been spoken. They will just be and that, dear father, is more dangerous. If you were to bring them here you might precipitate their ultimate change."
Zeus snorted in derision but held his tongue. Could his daughter be right? Could he trust her judgement and allow his grandchildren to find their way unfettered?
"I will abide by your faith, Artemis. But I warn you; they will be watched."
Artemis nodded in approval and gave him a last hug before leaping to her feet, "I was expecting that. You'll see father. You have nothing to fear. You'll see." Zeus finally allowed a small smile to wash over his daughter before she vanished.
Throwing his hand over a large golden urn on the dais Zeus concentrated on the image that played across its surface. Two woman were walking across a courtyard, smiling and nodding to those that were around them as they walked towards one of the larger huts. He frowned as the taller and darker of the two held back before finally entering the hut while her partner went in. Looking around her she allowed a feral smile as she spoke to the air before entering the hut into the welcoming embrace of her companion.
The God of Gods shuddered violently as the words of the dark woman echoed throughout the throne's room, freezing him to his core.
'Listen to Artemis, Zeus. Let us be or I will destroy you. Mark my words and be warned.'
To be continued in One Into The Light, part 4 of the Sins of a God Series
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