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Disclaimer: The characters that appear on the show Xena Warrior Princess (Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Salmoneus, & others made mention of from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Hercules, Iolaus & Autolycus) are the copyright of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. The other characters and the original story idea, are my own and I reserve the rights to them. If you like some of my original characters and would like to use them in one of your stories, that would be great, but please do not do so without my permission. This story was written for the sheer joy of creating a story that everyone could enjoy and because I am a big fan of Xena Warrior Princess, but mostly it was written for my sister, Sam, who is an even bigger fan than I am.
Content: Could be classified as a Hurt/Comfort story. Moderate language. The story centers around a war/battle and does contain what some may consider extreme violence (PG-13), but it is not described in graphic detail. There is a level of subtext in this story, but I’ve tried to be as faithful to the series as possible, so there is no more subtext than what you would see on the show.
Spoiler Warning: Takes place between "The Debt I & II" and "Maternal Instincts" episodes of Xena Warrior Princess. You may want to watch the "The Deliverer," "Gabrielle’s Hope" and "The Debt I & II" episodes if you have not already seen them, since several aspects of these episodes are directly dealt with.
Acknowledgements: This story would never have been possible without the help of my sister, Sam, whose thankless job (at least, that’s what she thinks) it was to advise me in the ways of the Xenaverse. Since I am not as well scripted as she in all those simple little quirks of Xena and Gabrielle’s, she chose to stick her nose in and nit-pick my entire story. But, if truth be told, if Ididn’t have her to nit-pick my story, to urge me on and to be there when I call late at night just to ask: "Sam, does this sound right?" "Sam, do you think Xena would do this?", I wouldn’t have a story to begin with. So, I need to take a moment here just to say: "Thanks, Sam." I would also like to thank my Dad, who is an excellent writer in his own right, for his great editing work and ideas that really pulled my story together and made it work.
I would love to hear from all Xena fans out there and am willing to take a little objective criticism, but please take into consideration that I am quite fragile and could crack under pressure. Drop me a line at email@example.com.
|Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 5(cont'd)|
By Jennifer Lawson
Part I: Xena Warrior PrincessSoulmates
i’m going hunting
i’m the hunter
i’ll bring back the goods
-- "Hunter", Bjork
Making the Monster
It was the only definition for what Xena was feeling—peaceful. ‘That's ridiculous!’ she thought. Xena, the mighty warrior, at peace? Was this some inane joke of Aphrodite’s? Possibly, but the feeling was real. Was this the inner peace that Gabrielle so often talked about? She remembered the times when Gabrielle would try to get her to listen to the ocean or listen to the sound of birds. She had seemed desperate for Xena to feel the soothing calm that came with being at peace with yourself, with what you are … and with what you were. Gabrielle would be so proud of her. She’d finally found it. At last!
She felt so light, like she was floating on a cool, calm lake. And when she opened her eyes, she found it to be true. The cool water was all around her. It flowed through her hair, over her skin. She smiled at how wonderful it was. Above her, the stars twinkled in the silent night. She looked at them in a different light for the first time and saw their true beauty. Their light was so bright and pure, like Gabrielle. As she watched, the stars seemed to shift and move until they slowly began to take the shape of Gabrielle’s smiling face. They radiated Gabrielle’s goodness and purity, bringing a smile to Xena’s lips.
"Gabrielle," she called out to her. "I’ve found it. I’ve finally found peace. It’s as wonderful as you’ve told me." Yet, Gabrielle’s face suddenly took on a sad, worried look. "Xena," she said from what seemed like a million miles away, "please come back to me."
"I’m here," she said, dreamily reaching her hand up to touch Gabrielle’s star-filled face. "I’m here, Gabrielle." But, just as her hand seemed to meet Gabrielle’s gleaming cheek, the face disappeared and the stars moved back into their places. Desperately, Xena searched the sky for her friend. "Gabrielle? Gabrielle, where are you?"
Suddenly, the brilliantly shining stars turned into blood red balls of fire. "Gabrielle!!!" she screamed. . In one swift moment, that lovely feeling of peace left her and she boiled with rage. "NOOOO!!!" she cried out, her, her voice seeming to echo from the distance. The cool, calm lake that had floated her gently on its surface, suddenly engulfed her. She sank below its surface, fighting with everything in her to get back. But, the more she fought, the lower she sank until there was nothing but blackness around her. It was as if two strong hands were dragging her down and would not let go. Her lungs screamed for air, but to no avail. Finally, she gave up, took the water into her lungs and hoped that her death would be quick. Maybe then she could feel that wonderful feeling of peace again. Her body began to turn in the water and she began to sink face down … into the open arms of Gaelen. He smiled as her lifeless body floated down to him. She wanted to scream ,scream, but her body was dead to her. She knew what he wanted, but could not find the strength to fight him. In her head, she could hear his voice telling her, "Come to me, Xena. Come to me. Together, we can find the beast that’s in your heart…."
Xena came awake with a gasp, as though she had actually been fighting for air. Realizing that she iwas still in chains, she instinctively fouights against them, but her body violently protested the sudden movement. Though she had, in her unconsciousness, managed to relax from the pummeling she had taken, now every inch of her was awash in fresh pain. It hurt like Tartarus to move or even to breathe, leaving her breath quick and raspy. New bruises were welted across her legs, arms, stomach, back and chest. Bruises and deep cuts transform Xena’s face, taking away the look of the strong, proud warrior. Her lip was swollen and bloody; bruises covered her cheeks and chin. There was a gash above her right eyebrow allowing blood to run down the side of her face.
During most of the day, Xena had gone through some of the worst pain imaginable. Barleus, whose fist struck with the force of a sledgehammer, had done most of the physical damage to her. . But, his only real strength came from the fact that Xena was chained and unable to defend herself. If he were to ever meet her on the battlefield, he would be no match for the Warrior Princess. His big fist may have hurt her, but she did not fear him. No. Gaelen was the one she feared.
Gaelen was the one who watched the whole thing, the one who ordered up the various forms of torture personally prepared for her. Yet, it wasn’t his means of physical torture that made her fear him. It was the way he tortured her mind. He seemed able to read her thoughts and dig into her memory in a way that she couldn’t fathom. . This ability of his, brought up thoughts of Alti and her powers. Xena believed Alti to be much more powerful, but Gaelen iwas still strong, nevertheless. He made her see some of her most horrible deeds, replaying them in her mind again and againrepeatedly. The good she had done he twisted, making it seem that it had been done for her own glory, to fulfill her own selfish needs. The things he accused her of were things only she or Gabrielle would know. He even knew about the lie she had told Gabrielle…the lie she had led Gabrielle to believe. That she had allowed Ming T’ien to live in shame. Gaelen was able to conjure up all the evil in Xena’s life and bring it back to her with startling reality. He wanted her to relive it. He wanted her to believe in it again. He wanted to reclaim the old Xena, perhaps a worse one, and this undoubtedly was for his own demented objective.
Through it all, though, Xena did not speak or respond to his taunts or even acknowledged her pain. She refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing her anger and her hate…or seeing that part deep inside her that somehow craved the evil that Gaelen wanted to replace within her. She felt herself wanting to succumb to that evil by breaking free of her chains and killing Barleus. She imagined the kind of satisfaction slitting his throat would have brought her. But, she was still Xena. She was still a mighty warrior. She would not allow herself to be conquered even mentally. So,, so she Xena pushed, punched and kicked those thoughts out of her mind. Instead, she remembered her dream and pondered it. She remembered that wonderful feeling of peace and she realized what it meant. ‘Gabrielle brings peace to me,’ Xena thought. ‘She is the only one who can calm the "beast" inside me.’ Gaelen invaded that dream and took Gabrielle away from her. That was when the peace disappeared and the rage had taken over. And that was when Gaelen had welcomed her with open arms.
Despite her best efforts, however, the dream kept fading away and the rage kept burning. She could feel Gaelen slowly taking control of her feelings. This could not be allowed to continue. If she had to kill herself to stop him from turning her into the monster he wanted her to be, she would. First, though, she had to find a way to save the young girl. Xena’s promise was not a thing she took lightly. However, anything she might do to help the girl escape would have to happen after dark, and from the looks of things outside, the sun was beginning to go down. The problem would be to get Autolycus’ lock-pick out of her breast platebreastplate.
Suddenly, a soft hand on her shoulder broke her from her reverie. "Gabrielle, what are you doing here?" she said frantically, surprised to be looking into Gabrielle’s tear filled eyes and trembling lips..
Gabrielle was staring down at her with tear filled eyes and trembling lips. SheGabrielle looked down at Xena’s battered face and body as tears streamed down her face. "Xena, what have they done to you?" she said, removing a cloth from her bag to wipe the blood from Xena’s face,.
Yet but Xena pulled away, her eyes filleding with terror and concern.
"Gabrielle, you shouldn’t be here. Do you know what he would do to you if he found you here? You have to leave."
"No," Gabrielle said sternly. "I came here for you and I’m not leaving without you."
"I can take care of myself, Gabrielle. If you want to help someone, help her," Xena said pointing to the girl huddled in the corner.
"Who is she?"
Surprised that Gabrielle didn’t jump to attend to the girl, Xena said, "I don’t know. I think she’s one of the nomads. Just help her, Gabrielle. Get her out of here."
"No," was the calm answer.
"You want me to rescue her just so that the two of us can be slaughtered in Phestia? I don’t think so, Xena. I put my life in danger to help you, not anyone else. Besides, she’ll be dead soon anyway. Look at her. She hasn’t eaten.," Gabrielle said nonchalantly as if she were the voice of reason.
Dumbfounded by Gabrielle’s callus words, Xena’s voice became a harsh whisper when she said, "What’s wrong with you?"
Without answering, Gabrielle stared at Xena with a blank expression. She then reached into the breast platebreastplate of Xena’s armor and pulled out Autolycus’ lock-pick and began to unlock Xena’s feet from their chains. There was something strange about the way she was acting. "Nothing’s wrong with me, Xena," Gabrielle said, her voice taking on a more serious tone. "Something’s wrong with you. If I didn’t know better, I’d believe you want to stay here."
Xena’s eyes hooded over and her lip began to curl into a sneer at Gabrielle’s accusation. "My concern is for the girl’s safety first. You know that."
Releasing the lock from Xena’s feet Gabrielle looked up, her expression pained and said, "All I know is that you left and you didn’t come back. You said you would come back and you lied to me."
"What?" Xena said, shocked. She could scarcely believe the way Gabrielle was talking. She had never told Gabrielle that she would come back. "Gabrielle, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never lied to you."
"No? What about Ming Tien?" Gabrielle said as she reached up and began unlocking the chain from Xena’s left hand.
Xena looked up at Gabrielle in shock. How could she have known? It was impossible! She began to search her mind for a time she may have told Gabrielle that Ming Tien was dead when they walked away from him. It was not a thing she wanted anyone to know. Even his evil would not allow her to condone his death. Rather than try to explain it she had allowed Gabrielle to believe they were leaving him alive, sitting on his throne. Now she was throwing it up in Xena's face. "How?" she asked in confusion. "No … Yyou couldn’t have … there’s no way."
"I’m not as stupid as you often think I am, Xena," Gabrielle said with an angry scowl. "I figured it out all by myself. He killed your precious Lao Ma, so you had to have your revenge, no matter what it cost anyone else. It didn’t matter if you left me behind or lied to me. What Xena wanted was all that mattered to you!"
"No, Gabrielle," Xena pleaded. "You’re wrong."
With an expression bordering on pitycontempt Gabrielle said, "Do you really expect me to believe you, Xena?" She unlocked the last lock on Xena’s right hand and simply allowed her to crumble to the ground with no attempt to cushion the fall. Weak as she was, Xena hadn’t the strength to hold herself up and she hit the ground with a thud. Her entire body was racked with horrible pain, but she didn’t cry out. Her head swam with dizziness,; not only from the physical pain, but also from the way Gabrielle was treating her and the cruel look in her eyes as she let her fall. . From the position she had fallen she could not look directly at Gabrielle, so she tried to shift her position, feeling an inner desperation she didn’t yet understand.
"Gabrielle," she strained to say. "Please, let me explain." DumbfoundedOverwhelmed by Gabrielle’s icy coldness, she felt a desperate need to set things straight, but the voice that answered was strangely different and seemed sad rather than cruel.
"How can you possibly explain what you’ve done, Xena?" the voice said with a whimper. Finally, she managed to shift her position on the ground and look into the face of a teary-eyed girl that was not Gabrielle. At first she didn’t recognize the girl but she seemed strangely familiar. Her youthful appearance and trembling lips had thrown Xena for a moment, but recognition came as she peered into the cold hate filled eyes of a teenage … Callisto. The child who’d just watched her parents die at the hand of Xena’s army.
"Callisto," Xena breathed in shock.
"Why? Why did you have to kill my family?" the girl said through broken sobs. Xena managed to rest herself on her elbows and looked up at the sad-faced girl. Despite all, she knew there was no way she could support herself on her legs at this point. She was at this child’s mercy, a child with a deadly, intense hatred. But, how could Callisto be here in this place and time? Could this be a dream? Was this some trick of the gods? Did Gaelen give her something to make her hallucinate?
"Callisto," she said, coughing through her pain. "Even at my worst I was never a killer of women and children. My men were acting against my orders. I never meant to harm your family. For what it’s worth, I am so sorry for what happened."
"I don’t want your apology," the child said, her tone becoming colder than Gabrielle’s had been. "Do you think it’s supposed to make me feel better? Well, it doesn’t."
Lowering her head in shame, Xena asked, "Then what do you want?"
"I want you to feel my pain," was the answer, but the voice had a much more familiar tone. Xena looked up long enough to see her old leather-clad enemy swing a kick that made contact with her face, flipping her over onto her back. Looking up she expected to see Callisto’s evil smile and a sword held high over her head, ready to deliver a deathblow. But again, it was the young Callisto standing over her with her ever present sad, lost expression. How could she be changing so quickly from one time period to another? Xena allowed her head to rest against the ground for a moment, her mind reeling, trying to figure out what was the meaning of all of this.
"I want you to feel my anger," said the voice of the older Callisto again as she slammed her foot into Xena’s stomach. Xena doubled up into a fetal position, cradling her wounded abdomen.
"I want you to feel my hate!" With a fearsome war cry, Callisto flipped into the air and brought both feet down into Xena’s left sside, cracking a rib. Despite efforts to avoid it, this time Xena cried out from the pain. Struggling for breath, Xena again looked up at the young Callisto, who now knelt beside her. Tears stung Xena’s eyes from the pain in her side and breathing was difficult at best.
"You’re a butcher, Xena," the girl said in venomous tone. "It’s in your nature. That is what you will always be. You say you don’t hurt women and children, but what do you think you’re doing when you murder husbands and fathers.? You destroy their families’ lives. You take away their happiness and hope. That is why I don’t want your apology. There’s nothing you can ever do that will make up for the horrible things you’ve done. The ‘good’ you ‘try’ to do amounts to nothing. You are still a butcher."
The words cut at Xena’s heart because they were the same inner emotions she had been fighting against for so long. If the girl was lying, if she had never done such things, perhaps she could feel differently, but everything was true. She had done all the terrible things of witch she was being accused. It sounded so true that she could never accomplish enough good to balance the scales of justice. Yet, young or older, the words were coming from Callisto and were born of an unforgiving hate. Xena strained to close her eyes and mind to these charges. She could not allow herself to dwell on them, because something deep inside believed them. The higher, moral part of herself that Hercules and Gabrielle had helped to create told her, as Gabrielle would have, that she had risen above it all. It told her that she was good and worked to help people now instead of hurt them. But, the more primal part of herself that existed in the deepest, darkest regions of her soul,soul ate Callisto’s words like candy. ‘You’re a butcher…good amounts to nothing…it’s in your nature.’
"She’s right, Xena," said a new voice outside of her mind. Xena opened her eyes to see her mother standing over her. The look on her mother’s face was not a friendly one. . Once when she had gone to defend her mother’s village from Draco and had seen her mother for the first time in many years, she had been met with theis same anger and defiance she was seeing now. It was heart rending. Was there to be no comforter for her in this ordeal?
"You know she is, don’t you?" her mother said. Xena tried to speak out the word "Mother",," but could only mouth it.
"I’m not your mother.," Cyrene quickly answered. "I gave birth to a sweet, innocent child with only love in her eyes. You are a beast, a monster. . You know in your heart, Xena, it is the only thing you can be. Why deny it? Why do you pretend to be something you are not? It was you who took my daughter and changed her into this beast I see before me, you who brought shame upon my kinsmen; and you who killed my son, Lyceus!"
Xena could scarcely believe the hatred she was seeing in her mother’s eyes. They had been through all this before. Her mother had forgiven her. Why was she bringing it up again, and with so much hatred? Something about this wasn’t right. . Cyrene’s face was red and she was shaking with anger, obviously building to some tremendous outburst. Xena could only stare at her mother in disbelief.
"I should have known long ago what you are," Cyrene said, kneeling down and leaning closer to be sure she was heard. "Atrius did. That’s why he came home so drunk that night, wanting to sacrifice you to the god of war. Oh, if I had known he was only trying to return you from where you came."
The words rang in Xena’s head like cymbals, ‘return you from where you came!’ The implication was mind boggling. Staring with wild eyes at her mother, Xena overcame her pain long enough to say, "What…what are you talking about?"
"You were never our daughter, Xena! You are the spawn of Ares!!!"
The statement had jolted her into near insanity. She wanted to scream in protest, but the pain in her side wouldn’t let her. She could only wheeze out a forceful "Noooo!"! while shaking her head in denial. Cyrene had to be lying. The thought of being the daughter of Ares was more painful than the pain in her body. Ares could not be her father!
"You are a mistake that should never have happened, Xena. Atrius was just trying to correct that mistake and I never understood … until now." Cyrene suddenly produced a dagger from behind her back. "I’ve come to finish what he started," she said with curled lips, raising the dagger high over Xena’s battered body and bringingought it down with all of her might.
Instinctively, Xena grabbed her mother’s arm and twisted the dagger from her hand. Despite the intense pain she was in, Xena was able to yank her mother over her and onto the ground beside her. Forcing herself up onto her knees over her mother, she quickly snatched the dagger from off the ground and placed it at the nape of … Gabrielle’s neck?
She stared in shocked disbelief. What had happened to her mother? Something was definitely wrong here. Her mind, always alert and rational, strained to make sense of the strange things happening, but there was no time to draw any useful conclusions. To make things worse, Gabrielle was staring up at her with the most evil eyes she had ever seen, her face twisted into a wickedly evil smile
"Go ahead, Xena." she taunted hatefully. "Kill me. Slit my throat. You know you want to. It’s what you’re good at. It’s what you love to do."
Xena sat back and stared slack jaw at the strange creature she had pinned down. She threw the dagger back to the ground and forced herself to back away from this evil version of Gabrielle, even though her side exploded in pain. "You’re not Gabrielle," she said in a breathless, raspy voice.
Gabrielle got up onto her knees and shuffled over to Xena’s side. Her voice and her expressions were soft and gentle like the Gabrielle Xena knew and loved. "Yes, I am." she said as though surprised. . "Look at me, Xena. Don’t I have her face, her eyes, her hair, her smile." She took Xena’s face between her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. "It’s me, Xena."
Xena backed away, wanting to free her face of those icy cold hands that didn’t belong to Gabrielle. Gabrielle’s eyes suddenly fill with anger and hate again. She roughly jabbed her fingers into Xena’s throbbing ribs sending searing pain throughout her body. She would have collapsed, but for Gabrielle catching her and holding her up as she gasped for air, nearly helpless. Gabrielle lifted up Xena’s face and smiled. Again her expression was sweet and gentle as she ran soft, yet cold fingers down Xena’s face, from her forehead to the edge of her jaw.
"I love you, Xena. But I hate you," she said. Gabrielle seemed to stare off as if in thought. "It’s so strange how that is. Don’t you think? I’ve suffered so much because of you that I hate you. But, I could never leave, because I love you. And I know you love me, Xena. That’s why I also know that I can make you suffer as well." " Her expression again changed from sweet innocence to horribly evil in a moment. The same hand that had softly caressed Xena’s face now tightly grasped her forehead with clamping fingers, digging into her temples. She felt the terrible pain in her head once again and screamed out in anguish. Only now it was more than just the pain. This time, her mind began to come alive with visions and memories of the past. They jumbled together and jumped about in her head like a torrential thunderstorm. The lightening flashed, the wind blew and the rain fell.
"…I will make you the destroyer of nations…" Vivid memories of Xena slicing and dicing race through her mind. She saw people running for their lives, villages burning, her sword burying itself into men’s chests, slicing across faces. She heard her warriors shouting, "…Hail Xena! Hail Xena!…Kill’em all!!! …Hail Xena! Hail Xena!…Kill’em all!!!! …" She sees herself with the Horde’s weapon of choice raised in the air. "I bet you know a lot about conquest…Don’t be ashamed of your past, Xena…As a villain you were awesome…It’s made you the great woman you are today…As a hero you are a sentimental fool…This is war!…Yes, I love it. . Pursuing the enemy…What did you expect? Glamour!…breaking down his defenses, cutting off his only path of retreat…There are no good choices, only lesser degrees of evil…and then closing for the kill…They were killed by Xena, the Warrior Princess…I’m good. . As good as you, and why not? ? You made me…She came down out of the sky in a chariot, throwing thunderbolts and breathing fire…Help me, Xena!…Tell Hades to prepare himself…You can’t just let me die, Xena!…You’ve got to take me with you and teach me everything you know…Teach me! ! Again! ! Teach me how to kill her, Xena!…Wisdom before weapons, Gabrielle. . The moment you pick up a sword, you become a target…You can’t leave me here…and the moment you kill…I killed her. . I killed her, Xena…No, Gabrielle, you couldn’t…No, I did. . I just stabbed her…Accidentally…No, I stabbed her. . Xena, I murdered her…The moment you kill, what?…Everything changes, everything…It hurts inside. . Everything’s changed, everything…A new Xena is born tonight…I’m gonna kill her, Xena!…With a new purpose in life…I’m gonna cut her open and watch her bleed!…Death…"
Xena roared like a wild animal from the anguish building inside her. The pain in her side was all but forgotten as a boiling rage was built up within her. She felt an intense hate for this Gabrielle-thing that had control of her thoughts and feelings. She wanted to kill it. Reaching up she wrenched the small hand from her head despite its attempt to maintain control. In her rage, Xena had regained her power. Growling through clenched teeth, she backhanded this thing with her other hand sending it to the ground with a shocked expression and a bloody lip. Yet the expression was temporary, blending into a snarl.
"That’s it, Xena!" the Gabrielle-thing taunted. "Feel your hate. Let it flow through your veins."
They got to their feet simultaneously. Though Xena’s legs were week and wobbly she no longer felt the pain. She could only feel the anger and hate that Gabrielle seemed to want. She looked at Gabrielle through hooded, evil eyes, her mouth curled into a snarl.
"You want to kill me, don’t you, Xena?" Gabrielle said, enjoying the reaction. She saw Xena’s snarl reshape into a wicked grin and knew she was poised to attack. "Then, come on. Attack me," she taunted, motioning her forward with her fingers.
Xena was overcome with rage and made the move to attack, but just as she did, Gabrielle made the mistake of smiling sweetly, and bringing to mind all the memories of the sweet, innocent Gabrielle she knew and loved. She stopped abruptly halting in her attack. Gabrielle’s smile faded, not sure what was happening. In a second she turned evil again. "Don’t just stand there!" she screamed. "Attack me! Attack me, Xena!"
Even Gabrielle’s hateful eyes could not invoke the hatred she desired to see in Xena’s eyes. Enraged, Gabrielle stepped up and slapped Xena dead in the face. "Attack me, Xena!" sShe screamed again. Xena stood her ground and refused to submit. Gabrielle delivered another stinging slap. "Attack me, I said!"
Xena turned the other cheek and looked away, straining to maintain her control. The rage still boiled inside, but she would not hurt Gabrielle, not even this one. Suddenly, a powerful hand grabbed her face and turned it forward. Setting her face to resist this torture, she looked back, but now into the insane face of Callisto.
"Then attack Me, Xena!"
There was no love lost for this evil creature as Xena’s rage boiled out of control. . She attacked Callisto with a vengeance knocking her to the floor and falling upon her before she could get up. They rolled around on the floor, fighting. Xena managed to get on Callisto’s back and began smashing her face into the floor and punching her in the back of the head. Callisto could not break the hold and was soon subdued. . Xena grabbed at one of the leg shackles that had bound her and wound the chain around Callisto’s neck, pulling it tight, choking off her air. She pulled tighter and felt Callisto’s windpipe crush underneath the force of the chains. Tasting victory she snarled and smiled at once, pulling the chain back in one quick, forceful jerk that snapped Callisto’s neck. Xena almost drooled at the pleasure of finally putting an end to this pathetic creature. Xena moved off of Callisto’s body and turned her over only to look down on the contorted face of … f - Gabrielle.
This was not Gabrielle, nor had it been Callisto. It could only be a cruel and hateful trick. Yet looking down at Gabrielle’s face with bulging eyes and dangling tongue tore at Xena’s heart like nothing she could ever remember. In horror, she collapsed back on the floor next to the dead body, burying her face in her arms. She couldn’t believe she had been induced to perform such a deed. After a moment she sat up and removed the chain from around thiser body’s badly bruised and misshapen neck. It looked so much like Gabrielle. In a moment of uncontrolled anguish she picked the body up and cuddled it in her arms. "No, no! ! Gabrielle, no! I’m so sorry," she cried pitifully. . Tears flooded her eyes as her anguished scream reverberated throughout the camp.
Xena’s breath caught with a start, however, when she felt the body move, hopefulness showing in her eyes. But, her hopeful delight faded when she looked down into an evil smile that broke into insane laughter. The eyes were no longer bulging. They now held an evil malice so profound that Xena dropped the body to the ground and backed away snarling. The Gabrielle-thing got up onto its knees and leaned toward her with an evil smirk. "You did it, Xena! I knew you could. Now, for the final test."
Completely stunned, Xena was unable to move. She could not even resist as Gabrielle delivered a crushing blow to Xena’s head with a force beyond Gabrielle’s capability, sending Xena to the floor unconscious. As this thing stood over Xena’s seemingly lifeless body, it began to shift and contort itself until it wore the black battle armor of a warrior. The hair shortened and a beard appeared on the face, until finally, Gaelen was standing over Xena. He twisted and turned his neck until it snapped back into place with a sickening click.
"Yes, Xena, you did it. You’re mine now." He laughed quietly to himself and left the tent. On his way to to prepare for battle, he ordered a guard to secure Xena once again in chains. In the corner of the tent, a young girl pretended to sleep. Just as Gaelen left, she opened her eyes and stared at Xena. She was very much afraid.
Salmoneus, a jug of water in one hand and empty plate in the other, sat down at the edge of a jutting rock in the back of the cave and heaved a heavy sigh. Why, why, why had Gabrielle given him this job? Sure it was better than facing a pack of warriors armed with swords intent on killing him. But, he’d just about had enough of the crying babies, whining adults and the complaining. . "I’m hungry." "When can we go home?" " They were driving him crazy!
He was tired, bushed and completely wiped out. All night and all day he had been running back and forth, back and forth. It only got worse after Salea left, saying something about going back for stragglers. He knew why she was going back and it was not stragglers. Trying to get anyone to help after that was nearly impossible, but he continued to work, harder than he’d worked in his life, trying to keep these people happy. If even one of them failed to appreciate the seriousness of this situation, or felt that hiding in this cave all day long wasn’t necessary, they could break down the morale and go running back to the village, possibly to their death. Gabrielle would kill him for certain if he let that happen, but the ungratefulness of these people was practically unbearable. All of them, Xena, himself, Gabrielle, and Salea and General Greeger were all doing their best to keep these people alive and all they could do is complain. Salmoneus had not heard a ‘thank you’, yet.
One older man walked up to Salmoneus and grabbed the jug of water from his hand. "Gimme that water," he demanded hatefully.
Salmoneus eyed him tolerantly, shaking his head and said with a sigh, "Your welcome." Presently, a little boy began walking his way. He could not have been any more than about four or five. He was looking at Salmoneus curiously. . "And what do you want? Not food I hope," he said displaying his empty plate. "Because I don’t have any."
"No. I don’t want no food. I ain’t hungry."
"Well, I hope it isn’t water, because mine just got stolen."
"Nope. I don’t want water neither."
"Look, kid, I’m tired. What do you want? Spit it out or go away."
The lad looked at him with a childish frown., "I just wanna help, Salmoneus."
"Help? How can you help?"
"I’m gonna help you fight the bad guys. I’m gonna get a sword and cut’em in half!"
Salmoneus smiled and placed his hands on the boy’s shoulders, a mite disturbed at this four-year-old wanting to kill. "Now, now, you don’t really want to do that. Do you?"
"But, bad guys like to be killed!" the lad said confidently.
Salmoneus covered a smile with his hand. ‘Kids’, he thought. "Oh, don’t I wish they did." He knew better, of course, but thinking back to some of the fights he’d seen Xena or Hercules engaged in, he nodded and said through a grin, "But, it certainly seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it?" The boy nodded his head. "What’s your name, son?"
"Kyleus. I really can help you fight the bad guys if you want."
"You really want to help me?"
"Well, before the bad guys get here, you can start by helping me hand out water and food."
Kyleus folded his arms in a stubborn stance. This was definitely not what he hand in mind. Salmoneus chuckled and ruffled the boy’s hair. "Hey, come on. War isn’t all about fighting. We have to protect the people too. Don’t you think?"
"Yeah, I guess so," he said reluctantly. "But, when the bad guys get here I’m gonna beat’em up."
"I have no doubt at all, Kyleus. Come on." " Chuckling, Salmoneus stood. As he directed the boy towards the food and water station he heard a sound from behind him. He stopped in his tracks, listened and slowly turned around.
"Did-did you hear that?" he asked with a gulp.
"It’s the bad guys! Let’s go get’em!" Kyleus cried out gleefully in a shout that carried through the rest of the cave. Suddenly, everyone was quiet. Kyleus made a break in the direction of the sound with Salmoneus grabbing at his shirt. In the darkness, beyond the reach of the torchlight, the sound became louder.
"Let go, Salmoneus! I’m gonna get’em!" Kyleus wrenched himself from Salmoneus’ grasp, picked up a stick and ran into the darkness.
"Kyleus, no!" he said moving to catch him, but stopped when he heard a short scuffle and then…"Ooowww!!!"," then "Hey, put me down!"." Out of the darkness, came a man with a beard and long sun-bleached hair, covered in moss and spider webs. He held Kyleus under his arms, a scowl creasing his face.
"Okay, who’s this brat belong to?" Greeger asked as he stepped into the light. The crowd released a heavy sigh when they saw their armored General. One woman came running up to claim Kyleus, who was smiling brightly.
"I got him, Mom! I’m big and strong like Hercules!" He lifted up the sleeve of his shirt and flexed his small biceps. "See!"
Salmoneus felt his heartbeat slowly beginning to return to normal. Relieved, he said, "Ah, General Greeger, it is good to see you!" and shook Greeger’s hand generously.
"Salmoneus," the general said, returning the gesture. Actually, he was not greeting Salmoneus with the same enthusiasm. In truth, he was not very fond of Salmoneus. He had never liked the friendship between him and Salea. . Salmoneus was vaguely aware of this, but had a way of ignoring unpleasantness. . When Salea had left earlier he knew that Greeger was the reason. And now he was here and she was there, what irony. ‘Wait a minute," Salmoneus thought. "How did he get in here?" Though he was still wearing his favorite fake smile, his voice betrayed concern as the thoughts became words. "Uh, how did you get in here?"
Pointing behind him Greeger said, "An old tunnel we built between the cave and the village a while back. We’re evacuating the rest of the villagers through it. They should be arriving shortly."
"You’re sending more people?" Salmoneus groaned.
Seeing the stressed etched on Salmoneus’ face, he added, "And a couple of soldiers to help out."
"Oh, thank the gods," Salmoneus said, then whispered, "You have no idea how difficult these people have been."
Just then a man stepped up to speak for the crowd. "Has there been an attack like we were told?" he asked.
"No. But there is a small brigade encamped outside of the village," Greeger said, drawing a murmur from the crowd. "I don’t expect the attack until nightfall. Don’t worry. We’ll be ready for them."
"Is everyone all right over there? Gabrielle, Salea," Salmoneus asked.
"They’re okay," Greeger said, leading him away to speak privately. "They’ve killed two of my soldiers so far. I won’t say their names. I don’t want it getting out right now, so keep it under your…" he looked Salmoneus up and down then added, "…toga. Actually, right now I’m worried about Xena."
"Xena? What’s wrong?"
"She hasn’t come back since she left last night. You haven’t seen her, have you?"
"Me?" he asked, his brows drooping. "No, she hasn’t come here. Do you think she could be…"
"No, I don’t," Greeger said, somewhat half hearted. "If they tried, they’re not the first. I even tried to kill her myself years ago. It’ll be a miracle of the gods if anyone succeeds in killing that woman. What I’m worried about is her changing sides on us. For all we know, she’ll be the one at the head of that army when it comes."
"Then, you don’t know Xena very well. I do. She went out there to stop them and you can be sure that she’s doing all she can."
Greeger didn’t seem very convinced, but he, of course, wanted to believe it so he said, "Well, I hope you’re right. But, I’ll believe it when I see it. Anyway, when my men get here, give them all the assistance you can. It’s possible that the army may need to use the tunnels as a means of escape later on. Help them to figure out a way to block the hole behind us, just in case anyone else were to follow us through."
"Oh, and keep an eye on that kid, before he gets himself into trouble."
"He just wants to fight the bad guys," Salmoneus laughed.
"I hope he doesn’t get the chance," Greeger said thoughtfully. "Keep him with his mother."
"Sure. What are you going to do?"
"I’ve got to get back. Get yourself ready. You’ll have fifty or more evacuees arrivingevacuees arriving soon, so make some room." With that he disappeared into the darkness.
Salmoneus sighed heavily. He was tired. He did not want to have to deal with these people anymore, and now he had more coming. Since there was no recourse, he turned back to the people and clapped his hands for attention. "Okay, everybody. We need to make some room. We’ve got lots more coming." They grumbled and complained about the situation. "Come on, show a little consideration and help me out here. If you do that, I promise next Harvest Festival I won’t even show up. How’s that?"
He hadn’t expected such a positive reaction to that, and he was a mite taken back by it, but at least it worked. They got busy making room with a lot less complaining.
Gabrielle knelt on the floor in Greeger’s house, as she held an older woman’s hand and helped her get onto the ladder. She was the last person to descend the ladder into the underground tunnel.
"Don’t worry, it’ll be okay. You’ll be safe in the caves," Gabrielle said as the woman disappeared into the hole.
Salea walked through the open door and stood beside her. "Is that the last one?" she asked.
"Yes," Gabrielle answered eyeing Salea curiously. "Are you going with them?"
"Are you?" was the testing answer.
"Xena told me that if she didn’t come back, I should go with the villagers. That I should stay with them in the caves. But, I’m staying here. It’s what Xena would do if she were here."
"Gabrielle, honey, maybe she’s right. You could get hurt or killed. I’m sure Xena is just trying to protect you."
"I know she is, but Xena can be a little over-protective at times. I’ll be fine. I know we can win this. That army will run away wishing they’d never heard of Phestia." Gabrielle smiled confidently at Salea.
Just then, the sound of someone ascending the ladder drew their attention. They watched as Greeger pulled himself up out of the hole, still covered in moss and spider webs. Having overheard them, Greeger said, "Now, that’s the kind of confidence I like to hear in my soldiers."
"I’m not exactly a soldier."
"Of course you are!" he laughed, slapping her roughly on the back. She tried to smile but actually wished he’d stop hitting her. Her shoulder still hurt from the last time.
"My, you look lovely. When’s the last time you’ve had a bath?" Salea teased.
"Bath? We don’t have time for baths," he said, removing spider webs from his hair and clothes. "We have an army to defeat. But, I promise you, sweetheart, when this is all over you can take me out to the river and give me the washin’ my mother never did."
Salea looked at Gabrielle with raised eyebrows, making Gabrielle laugh. "You’re on, big boy," she grinned. Gabrielle could see that these two were so obviously in love it was sickening, though she doubted they knew it themselves.
"So soldier, what’s the report?" Greeger asked Gabrielle, managing to tear his eyes away from Salea for a moment. She opened her mouth to tell him that not much had changed since he left and that all his men were ready, but the words never had time to escape her lips. The deep, bellowing sound of a horn signaled the first wave of attack was beginning. Greeger quickly slammed the trap door shut and threw the rug and chair back over it.
"It’s time, ladies. Are we ready?" Two serious, but worried faces were his only reply. No one was ever ready for a war.
Each of them raced towards the center of the city armed with their own weapon. The sound of cheering warriors outside the city walls grew louder and the pounding sound of hoof beats filled the square. Phestian soldiers ran this way and that, manning their battle stations. Several rows of soldiers were stationed just beyond the large gate; their first defense against Gaelen’s army should they break through. . Gabrielle looked off into the horizon and watched the sun disappear behind a row of hills. If thoughts of leaving had ever entered her mind before, it was too late to high tail it and run now.
Greeger ascended the stairs with Gabrielle and Salea close behind. They separated at the top, Gabrielle going off to the left wall and Salea going to the right wall, to help command those areas. Greeger was surprised by the look of fear on his soldiers’ faces when he reached the wall’s edge. Looking out over the wall, he and felt his blood run cold. They were facing a greater force than he had expected—on foot and on horseback. Immediately, his eyes focused on the one in the chariot. The warrior wore polished black armor with a black metal helmet to match. The fading sunlight glinted gold and orange off the black metal and Greeger swore he could see the man’s cold, black eyes peering directly out at him through that helmet. This was obviously the leader, the man named Gaelen that the warrior had announcedtold him of earlier that morning.
As he watched, Gaelen gave his first command, which Greeger could barely make out over the roaring of the massive army below him, and through the crowd of warriors came men hefting a huge battering ram. They run and smash into the heavy wooden gate with tremendous force, shaking even the walls beneath their feet. As the warriors back up for another run, Greeger commanded his archers to shoot. Following their command, the soldiers began to pick off warriors here and there along the battering ram, but the ones they shot were quickly replaced.
Gaelen’s warriors tried to scale the walls on all sides. All of these positions are manned and rigged with the traps that Greeger and Gabrielle had come up with. Gabrielle, as did Salea on her own side, helped the soldiers to fight off a barrage of warriors scaling the walls. Gabrielle beat them off with her staff while the soldiers stabbed and sliced. Despite their best efforts, warriors were beginning to make it over the walls, fighting, killing and being killed. Gabrielle decided to unleash the trap.
"Give the signal!" she shouted as an opposing warrior appeared next to her, all clad in leather with an ugly smile that showed rotten teeth. He brought his sword down but Gabrielle blocked it with her staff. They held in this position for several seconds until Gabrielle was finally able to shove him off. She chose that split second, in which the warrior was off balance, to shatter those rotten teeth with one blow from the end of her staff.
Zantus suddenly appeared and pushed the brute off the side of the wall. Turning to Gabrielle, he asked with concern, "Gabrielle, are you all right?"
"I’m fine." She turned back to the soldier she’d just spoken to, and shouted again with more force, "Give the signal to release the traps!"
He nodded and sent one flaming arrow into the air. Salea and the other commanders along the walls saw it and shouted in unison, "Release the traps!"
Along each wall, a soldier brought down a sword with all his might, slicing through a thick rope. A huge heavy log hanging from long ropes was released sending the log into a long sweeping arc that wiped out the scaling warriors like a windshield wiper. Gabrielle watched with a sick feeling in her stomach as the log hit these men, shattering their bodies. . She recalled a time when Xena had been killed by a swinging log similar to this one. Remembering it gave Gabrielle a shutter. It had taken a miracle to bring her back. Too good for her own good, Gabrielle hoped they only suffered from broken bones.
At the front, the battering ram was beginning to make headway, despite the marksman’s aim. Gaelen seemed to have an endless supply of martyrs. These men stepped over the bodies of the fallen ones to continue hammering at the gate. Greeger ran to the edge of the wall and looked out over at the gate. He could see that the heavy wooden bar holding the gate closed was beginning to split. Before long they would be smashing through that gate and there was little he could do.
Gaelen shouted another order. . Greeger and his men watched as hundreds of flaming arrows were raised into the air and released, along with a flaming ball of fire released from a catapult.
"GET DOWN!" he shouted. From within the midst of the men, the horn signaling an incoming attack was blown again. Gabrielle turned long enough to watch the flaming arrows and the one fireball flying into the city. It struck a nearby house, going off like a small bomb. . The arrows struck other structures and some of the soldiers standing just inside the gate. Buildings began to burn, lighting up the night. Gabrielle, though, had more something more immediate to contend with. More warriors began scaling the walls, intensifying the soldiers efforts to resist them. Unfortunately, their defenses were starting to grow weak. It wouldn’t be long before they surged through the city.
All Greeger could do at the moment was to continue in the first defensive, to keep shooting their arrows into the warriors below. The real fighting would begin once Gaelen and his men were inside Phestia’s walls, which he could tell wouldn’t be much longer by the split in the wooden bar. It had grown wider in only minutes. Greeger returned his attention to the crazed warriors below him and saw that Gaelen had commanded another barrage of flaming arrows and another fireball. The fiery weapons flew over their heads into the city, igniting more buildings. Greeger turned to see this city, his home now for ten years, being obliterated before his very eyes, though Gaelen’s army had not yet entered the city. He could still hear the pounding of the battering ram at the gate.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that one of Gaelen’s warriors had made it over the wall and was battling his way to the stairway. "You’ll have to go through me," he said in an undertone. Taking out his sword he faced the warrior charging in his direction. Their swords met in a clash of sparks, their clanging being heard for several minutes, Greeger, of course, getting the upper hand in the end. The warrior made one wrong move and took Greeger’s sword directly through the heart. Feeling a sudden fury, Greeger sheathed his sword and lifted the dead warrior onto his shoulder. Shouting as loud as he could above the roar below, Greeger made sure he was heard when he said, "Gaelen! This is what happens to your warrior scum when they cross my walls!" In a display of his strength, he lifted the dead body above his head and hurled it to the foot of Gaelen’s chariot.
A sudden silence surrounded the chariot and the men at the front gate. Only the sounds of the crackling of the burning buildings, the fighting behind them and the continuing pounding of the battering ram were to be heard. Gaelen looked down at the body before him, then up at Greeger. Greeger couldn’t see his face, so he couldn’t read his expression, but he got the feeling that Gaelen felt nothing at all for this man who had given his life for Gaelen’s quest. There seemed to be no anger, no rage, no emotion in the killing of one of his men.
When no response came from the forces below, Greeger’s men cheered their General’s seeming victory. It seemed to give them a greater confidence. Greeger, however, did not feel confident. They perceived remorse from this commander, but Greeger felt sure that if he could hear him he would hear laughter. As the roar of the warriors started up again, Greeger watched Gaelen lean over the edge of his chariot and speak to one of his men. As the warrior ran off to perform an unknown duty, Greeger turned his eyes back only to find Gaelen’s cold eyes staring intently back at him. This was a warrior with no heart or compassion, only a lust for blood.
They had fashioned some ingenious firebombs out of old bottles, some lamp oil and strips of clothing for wicks. He ordered his soldiers to open fire with the homemade firebombs and they began throwing them over the walls at the warriors below. The idea spread to the other soldiers along the wall until fires were blazing not only inside the city, but all around the city as well.
From her vantage pointvantagepoint on the wall, Gabrielle watched warriors fleeing from the approaching firebombs, some being blown through the air by the force of the blast. Still others ran screaming with their clothes and hair burning. Gabrielle was troubled by the look of pure hatred on the faces of Greeger’s men as they threw these firebombs upon their attackers. True, it was kill or be killed, but they seemed to feel no regret, no concern for the lives of fellow humans. She began to feel a strong sense of guilt about what she was doing. Before, it had felt right to be here fighting for the peoples’ freedom and lives. Now, all she could see was death and suffering on both sides. . Gabrielle suddenly felt nauseous and she didn’t want to be there anymore.
A loud cracking sound caught her attention and she swirled around to see the heavy wooden bar holding the gate snap. . Their defense had finally been breached. The heavy gate doors swung open, banging with tremendous force on the heavy walls. Gabrielle felt the tremor run up her spine.
To the misfortune of the attacking warriors, traps that Gabrielle had helped to engineer lay waiting for them. She watched with horror as the large vat of hot boiling tar, released by the opening of the gate, tipped over on the charging warriors below. . Even from her distance away, Gabrielle could hear their screams of pain.
The next wave of warriors charged even as their comrades were dying and writhing in pain at the foot of the gate. They suffered a fate just as terrible. Just in front of the defensive line of Phestian soldiers, a camouflaged trench had been dug. Just beneath the camouflage were razor sharp spears rigged to stand on end. The warriors, oblivious to anything save the soldiers in their path, kept charging until they fell to their deaths in the trenches. The next wave, however, knew what to expect. These warriors would be the soldiers’ real test. They were outnumbered and most probably would not last the night, but they stood their ground and faced their attackers bravely.
As Gabrielle watched General Greeger descend the stairs to help defend his home, her attention was diverted by a sound on the other side of the wall. There was a rumbling coming from deep in the woods, but she could see nothing in the dark. Dead, burning bodies still littered the ground, yet the command of one warrior caused the others to stand aside.
Zantus suddenly appeared at Gabrielle’s side. "What’s going on in the name of the Gods was that?" he asked, his, his eyes full of fear.
"I don’t know, but I have a feeling it’s not good." Gabrielle suddenly wished she had listened to Xena. How could she possibly have been so stupid to want to stay here and fight in a war of all things? What was she thinking? Deep inside, Gabrielle realized what had driven her. It was anger, pure and simple. Xena had left her holding the reigns while she went off to do her heroics. It had made her angry. So, she had felt the need to show Xena that she could be heroic, too. And now look where she was. In the middle of a war, outnumbered and about to be killed. All she’d shown Xena was how stupid she could be, and Xena wasn’t even here to see it. "Thank the gods!" she thought.
"Look!" Zantus exclaimed. "What in Tartarus is that?!"
A huge contraption was being rolled out in the small clearing that the warriors had made. It wasn’t a catapult. ItThis wasn’t the first of such weapons Gabrielle had seen, but thisat one was different. Four large wheels supported a long floor tilted on a pivot. A long steeple shaped derrick of thick wooden posts extended beyond the back of the floor. It took a dozen of Gaelen’s men, pulling on a two wheeled block, to lift the derrick into an upright position and attach it to the floor. The top of the derrick was also fitted with a large wheel supporting a rope. The rope was attached to a chain sling holding a huge boulder. With a makeshift wench, they were able to lift the bolder a foot or so above the floor and secure it. By standing on extensions at the four corners of the floor, they were able to set the derrick to swaying which caused the bolder to swing. It took several warriors applying their weight, but they began to make the big boulder swing back and forth. That’s when Gabrielle and everyone else on the wall realized what they were doing, but too late. There was no time to react.
The boulder hit the wall with such tremendous force that it was felt and heard all around the city. Greeger stopped in his fighting long enough to notice a large crack split across the section of wall Gabrielle was commanding. He hadn’t seen the contraption and didn’t know what was going on, but he knew that Gabrielle was in terrible danger. "Gabrielle!" he shouted as the butt of his sword smashed into the scull of the man he was fighting.
Those who had not been thrown from the wall by the blow from the large boulder were scrambling for the exits. The closest exit was the stairwell at the front entrance, but Gabrielle knew they would not make it in time. The boulder was once again swinging in the direction of the wall and this time it would crumble it. Zantus could see this also. He had to think fast and could see no other way out but to leap onto the straw roofs of the buildings below them. It was their only chance at survival. He grabbed Gabrielle, still clinging to her staff, and rolled both their bodies over the edge. There was no time for Gabrielle to wonder why. Before she knew it, they were crashing through the straw roof and the wall was crumbling behind them.
Greeger watched in horror as Gabrielle plummeted to her death. A deep rage built up inside him and he bellowed like a wild animal. . Suddenly, however, he heard a horse and chariot ride into his city, and turned to see the hooded, dark warrior, who called himself Gaelen, getting down from his chariot, brandishing a sword. He avoided the trenches without even looking at them and walked over the dead, his own and Greeger’s, as if they were not even there. At that moment, every one of Gaelen’s warriors backed away from Greeger. . It was as if, by his actions, Gaelen had told them ‘This one is mine.’ Greeger accepted his challenge with a battle cry and he charged forward to meet Gaelen’s sword with his own.
Several minutes passed before Gabrielle came-to inside what used to be a tavern. In fact, it was the very tavern where they’d ran into Salmoneus the night before. It was completely destroyed now, and not only from their falling through the roof, but huge chunks of what was left of the wall had fallen through as well. . It was dark here and she could barely make out her surroundings, save for the fact that she knew she was in the tavern. But, she couldn’t find Zantus, who had jumped with her in his arms. Her eyes searched the darkness, but no one was there except for the bodies that she could see here and there half-buried underneath a mound of rubble. Gabrielle wondered how many had died when the wall crumbled to the ground. Fearing that Zantus may have been among the dead, she called out for him.
"Zantus…" She" She sat up and tried to move herself, screaming as a terrible pain shot up her right leg making her collapse back on the ground.
Her scream awakened Zantus a short distance away. He felt light-headed and winced from a pain in his head. Blood oozed from a wide gash in his forehead. He heard Gabrielle again, moaning in pain. "Gabrielle, is that you?"
"Yes. Help me. I’m hurt. It’s my leg."
Zantus stood as quickly as the dizziness in his head would allow and went to Gabrielle’s side. She was bleeding from several cuts to herself as well. What looked bad was the small mound of rocks and other debris that covered her legs.
"Lie still. I’ll get you out," he said, beginning to remove the heavy rocks and debris from Gabrielle’s legs. When he was finally able to uncover them, it didn’t look good. Seeing the condition her legs were in seemed to make the pain worse. Either from the fall itself or from the falling rocks, Gabrielle’s right leg was crushed. It turned inward at an odd angle and a piece of bone stuck out from her leg where blood was flowing profusely. . "Oh gods, it hurts," she said, tears stinging her eyes.
The building began to shudder and Zantus and Gabrielle looked up to see more rocks falling from above. Zantus immediately covered Gabrielle with his own body to shield her. "Come on. We’ve got to get you out of here," he said, quickly grabbing Gabrielle’s arm and slinging it over his shoulder.
She cried out in pain as he stood her up, warm blood flowing down her leg and dripping onto the ground. She felt light-headed, either from the pain or from the loss of blood, she couldn’t be sure which. "Wait." She pointed to the ground. "My staff."
Zantus saw her staff at his feet on the ground. Since bending down and picking it up would be impossible without causing Gabrielle more pain, he decided he’d better try another way. He hooked the end of the staff with his foot, then kicked it up into the air so that Gabrielle could grab it.
"That was pretty good," she managed to say.
"I learned that working in the fields. That’s how I pick up my garden tools when my hands are full. I can’t wait to get back to that once this is all over."
"We’ll be okay, if we can make it to the tunnel," Gabrielle said, trying, trying to be reassuring. They could hear the fighting still going on outside. It seemed to be picking up momentum. Their chances of surviving out there weren‘t much more than inside the crumbling building, but it was better than nothing. The groaning of the building was getting worse and it wouldn’t be long before it completely collapsed, so Zantus moved Gabrielle and himself out of there as quickly as he could, practically picking Gabrielle up off the ground as he did so. They had cleared it just a couple of feet when the building collapsed to the ground. They turned around to see the large gap in the wall that the boulder had created and marveled at the height from which they fell. It was a miracle that either of them was still alive.
Unfortunately, they had no time to wonder at their good fortune. A battle was raging before them. Several warriors were coming their way to pick out the two wounded. They would have to fight. Gabrielle had no choice, even though she was beginning to feel weaker. She quickly placed all her weight on her left leg and used her staff to keep her balance until she had to use it.
As the first warrior came at her, Gabrielle balanced herself on her left leg and fought the oncoming attacker with her staff. Her right leg dangled in the air, causing her tremendous pain and splattering blood everywhere. Several times her right foot touched ground and sent lightening bolts of pain up her leg and through her spine. Gabrielle felt like she would pass out, but she kept her strength and defeated her enemy.
Zantus had picked up a dead soldier’s sword and left his attacker dead on the ground with his intestines exposed. He turned to aid Gabrielle, when he saw another warrior coming up from behind her. Zantus rammed his sword and dropped a warrior coming up from behind her by the sword directly into the warrior’s gut.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was watching in the distance as Greeger fought a dark-hooded warrior. They were an equal match and it seemed as if the battle between them had been going on for some time. She was understandably concerned for Greeger since a matched battle could go either way. She felt Zantus take hold of her arm. "He can take care of himself. Come on, we have to go!" Gabrielle wrapped her arm around Zantus’ shoulder once more and they headed for the entrance of the tunnel in Greeger’s home.
In the middle of battling Greeger, Gaelen suddenly sensed Gabrielle’s presence. She was nearby. He had come into the village for the specific reason of finding her and he wasn’t going to leave without her. This, however, was nearly his undoing for it let Greeger get the better of him. With one quick, heavy swipe of his sword to Gaelen’s helmeted head, Greeger knocked him to the ground and sent his helmet flying through the air. Taking the advantage, Greeger lifted his sword high into the air with the intention of slicing it directly through Gaelen’s cold heart, but Gaelen rolled out of the way just barely in time and kicked out a foot that sent Greeger flying. This time, when Gaelen got to his feet, he stood over Greeger with his sword at the base of Greeger’s throat. Greeger looked up into Gaelen’s face for the first time and saw an evil that made him shutter.
"Understand this, Greeger," Gaelen said, the look on his face deadly. This left Greeger to wonder how Gaelen knew his name, but he had no time to voice it. "You will never defeat me," Gaelen continued confidently. "I will always win."
"I wouldn’t count on that," Greeger growled.
"Oh, I would. You are a low form of life that scurries about on this planet with no purpose to your pathetic existence. That’s why I’m going to do you all a favor and exterminate every one of you." Gaelen looked up in time to see a man taking a limping Gabrielle away from his line of sight. He was running out of time. "You see, I didn’t need to take your head before I took your city, but if it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll take your head anyway." Raising Xena’s sword in an arc above Greeger, Gaelen was into his swing when something big slammed into the back of the head. For a second, the world swam and he stumbled, off balance. He could feel the blood running down the back of his neck.
Salea had thrown a stone, almost beyond her ability to lift, at Gaelen, giving Greeger the chance he needed to get back on his feet and out from the path of the sword. Gaelen knew who had thrown the stone before he even saw her. He had been too intent on his battle to concentrate on others while fighting, but now her thoughts were coming through clearly. Her name was Salea and she was Greeger’s woman. He’d already seen her in the General’s mind. She would pay for her attack on him.
Salea, already over confident, called out defiantly, "You think you’re a big warrior man?! Let’s see how you handle a woman!"
"Salea, back off! He’s mine!" Greeger yelled, having regained his sword.
Gaelen looked at Salea with pure disgust. . "You’re not a woman, Salea! You are a cheap whore!" There was, of course, nothing to be gained by insulting a woman of her station, but because he could read deep in her mind and knew that was what she really thought of herself, he used it against her to gain the upper hand.
That only succeeded in pissing Salea off, which was, of course, Gaelen’s plan in the first place. In anger, she threw another rock, but this time Gaelen caught it bare-handedbarehanded. Salea’s anger turned to sudden fearrealized that he is a formidable opponent and her anger turned to sudden fear. With no time to react, Greeger could only watch as Gaelen returned the rock to Salea with much more force than he had received it.
The rock made contact with her head, sending her to the ground, unconscious. With eyes ablaze, Greeger charged once again coming at Gaelen with his sword, but Gaelen had no more time for this. With one hand, he produced Xena’s chakram from the folds of his black cape and sent it flying in Gabrielle’s direction. The other hand was extended open-palmed in Greeger’s direction, which sent him flying backwards as if someone had just released him from a catapult. Greeger flew far enough to slam against the wall with tremendous force and slid down slipping into consciousness. Gaelen hadn’t wanted to use his power out here in the open, but he had no more time to deal with Greeger. He had other business to tend to.
Gabrielle and Zantus were just about to turn a corner down one of the city streets toward Greeger’s home. Warriors and soldiers ran this way and that, slicing and killing each other. Zantus just wanted to avoid them, but it wasn’t easy. He had to stop several times to beat off crazed warriors. One came at them, and Gabrielle hefted her staff long enough to knock him off his feet. She was lucky she was able to hold onto her staff. She was getting so weak,; her vision was beginning to blur.
"Come on, Gabrielle. We’re almost—UH!" Gabrielle looked over at Zantus in shock, not believing what she was seeing. His eyes and mouth were both opened wide in surprise and pain. He looked into her eyes and began to slowly sink to the ground.
"Zantus! ! Oh no! ! Zantus!" she cried out, her bad leg forcing her to sink to the ground with him, as his eyes became lifeless. . Gabrielle screamed in pain as her right leg hit the ground and collapsed with Zantus landing in her lap. The pain was horrendous causing her to slip in and out of consciousness for several minutes before she finally could open her eyes and keep them open. The death of this good man and her own pain brought a flood of tears to her eyes and she sobbed pitifully. When she forced herself to sit up, the sob died in her throat. Gabrielle stared down at Zantus’ back in horrified disbelief. She had assumed it was an arrow that had taken him down, but what she saw protruding from his back was not an arrow. It was the other half of Xena’s chakram. Gabrielle felt her blood run cold and a shiver run itself up her spine. Was this Xena’s doing? And if so, what could possibly be her reason? The last time she’d felt this way about Xena was when Xena had hunted her down trying to kill her daughter, Hope.
A shadow, back-lit by the roaring fires, fell across her and Zantus’ body. Gabrielle fully expected to look up and see Xena standing over her, her eyes closed to half slits, an evil sneer creasing her mouth and an expression of pleasure on her face, having made her kill. She did not expect the man who stood there, though the expression on his face was the same she had imagined on Xena’s. She felt herself go cold all over in fear of him. She had never seen a truer expression of evil on anyone’s face … except for perhaps Callisto. She didn’t exactly know why, but she somehow knew that this man, with the winding scar down his face, was Gaelen.
"Gabrielle," he said, his evil eyes flickering in the firelight. "I’ve seen so much about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you." His smile was cold, embracing only his lips, not reaching his eyes. Taking hold of the chakram wedged firmly in Zantus’ back, he lifted his dead body off Gabrielle. Using his foot to brace himself, Gaelen pulled the chakram from Zantus’ back and let the body fall to the ground. Gabrielle could only stare at the chakram and the blood that dripped from it, expecting Gaelen to use it on her next. She was frozen in fear and it seemed there was no one to help her.
Gaelen stared into her frightened eyes and smiled with pleasure. No, he would not kill her. There was so much more he could do. Simply killing her would not be enough. No. Something more was required of Gabrielle to further separate Xena from herself and he needed a willing subject. Smiling, Gaelen reached over to the body and wiped the blood off the chakram onto Zantus’ shirt, then replaced it at his waist as Xena wore it. His smile still had not wavered as he kneeled next to Gabrielle.
"Don’t be afraid, Gabrielle. I didn’t want to kill your friend, but he was about to take you away and it was the only way I could stop him. You have to understand. I only want to help you."
Shaking her head, Gabrielle whispered in a quivering voice, "I don’t believe you." Gaelen’s smile faded and Gabrielle’s felt a moment of abstract fear.
"Then, I’ll make you believe," he said, in a voice much softer than his expression. . He grabbed her broken leg in such a fearsome grip that blood gushed from the wound. Her scream resounded above all the noise of the battle as she collapsed back onto the ground, pain throbbing through her entire body. Yet, through the pain she felt an energy pass between them. It tingled and throbbed as though tiny bugs had come to life in her limbs for a few seconds and then the pain was suddenly gone like a bad dream. The next thing she knew, Gaelen had grabbed her arm and was bringing her to her feet. Gabrielle looked down at her leg and boot, still covered in blood, and flexed her foot searching for the pain. She could stand on it, support herself on it and there was no pain at all. It was healed, completely healed. She looked up into Gaelen’s face in disbelief.
"How—how did you…?" Her question trailed off.
"How I did it is not important. All you need to remember is that I did. You see, I could have killed you if I wanted to…but like I said, I only want to help you."
It was frightening to realize just how easily he could have kill her, and equally frightening that he wanted to help her. She didn’t believe it for a minute. This had something to do with Xena. This man, who had strange powers beyond what Gabrielle could understand, was carrying with him Xena’s chakram and sword. The only way anyone could take Xena’s chakram was to kill her, a thought that filled Gabrielle’s heart with a new pain and her eyes with fresh tears.
Believing now that Xena was dead, Gabrielle recalled the times Xena had told her to be strong if ever something happened to her. Yeah sure! She must face this horrid person and whatever he had in mind for her all alone and still be strong. Ha! What a laugh! "Why did you leave me Xena!", she screamed in her mind. "You should be here with me! Don’t you know I need you?" Her voice began to break, because she believed that Xena was dead; but she strained to keep a measure of forcefulness in her voice as she asked, "Then, tell me what you did to Xena. You have her chakram. There’s only one way you could have gotten it. Did you kill her?"
Gaelen brushed his knuckles across her wet cheek, leaving traces of her own blood. "Gabrielle," he said, smiling again. "I promise you that Xena is very much alive."
"You’re lying," she sobbed, fresh tears stinging her eyes. All around her, the sounds of the battle were dying out. Gaelen’s warriors were going around setting fire to all the buildings in town. They had lost. The city was gone. Their proud stance had ended in defeat. How humiliating. Now this fiend had killed Xena and was lying about it.
"I have no reason to lie to you, Gabrielle," he said reassuringly. "Your friend is alive."
"Then, how did you get her chakram?"
"You could say it’s on loan to me…for the time being."
"No!" Gabrielle exclaimed, shaking her head through her tears. "Xena would never allow anyone to use her chakram, especially someone as blood thirsty and monstrous as you!"
Getting a mite irritated with Gabrielle he said, "She didn’t have much of a choice, okay. Now, would you like to see her again or not?"
"Yes.," she said in small voice.
"Then, come with me and I’ll take you to her."
Gabrielle stooped and picked up her staff from off the ground, holding it between them. "No. I’m not going anywhere with you. You stay away from me," she said determined, backing away from him.
Gaelen was pleasantly surprised at her spunk, but equally taken back by her naivete. He turned around and lifted his arms in amazement. "Gabrielle, look around you," he said, eyeing her as one would a child. "You and your pathetic little army have lost. I have won! I took the nomads’ village and now I’ve taken Phestia. All your friends are dead!. The General and his whore are dead! ! You have no where else to go. Come with me and I will bring you to Xena." He held out one hand to his chariot, the other to Gabrielle. "My chariot awaits you, Gabrielle."
"No, I said. I don’t trust you," she answered, screaming inside at the news of her friends.
"And I don’t blame you," he said patiently. "But I give you my word that I will never harm you … if, that is, you come with me, now." Because she still hesitated, he hardened his expression and demanded, "Get into the chariot, Gabrielle, or get dragged behind it. Make your decision?."
Nervously, Gabrielle took Gaelen’s gloved hand. She had no choice. Gaelen took her staff from her other hand and gave it to one of his warriors, then he led her towards the chariot. She tried not to look at the dead on the ground, but her eyes finally found their way to Salea’s body. Blood oozed from a huge gash on her forehead. She didn’t see Greeger’s body, but she knew it had to be around here somewhere. Gabrielle felt sick to her stomach and more light-headed than she had from the pain of her broken leg. Gaelen led her onto the chariot and chained her hands to it so that she couldn’t get away.
With a thoughtful smile he said, "Huh…this reminds me of something I did to a friend of yours." He didn’t offer any elaboration, so Gabrielle didn’t ask, but she wondered if he was referring to Xena.
"Barleus!" he called to one of his men. An armored warrior ran up to the chariot. He removed his helmet and looked briefly at Gabrielle, but his eyes moved quickly to his commander. "Yes, sir!"
"I want this place burned to the ground just like the nomad’s village. If your men feel like plundering the village for their own pleasure, let them, but be quick about it. I don’t want you here all night long."
"Of course, sir! What of the dead, sir?"
"Make sure they’re all dead and leave their bodies to cook in the morning sun. Let the beasts finish off this festival."
"Yes, sir," Barleus said smiling. This would save him a lot of work.
"Oh, and Barleus, one more thing," he said smiling, turning his evil his eyes directly at Gabrielle as he spooke. "There are caves not far north of here. The families have taken refuge there." He watched Gabrielle’s eyes widen in terror, shaking her head fiercely. He could sense her emotions as the realization of what he was planning hit her. "I want you to send a small platoon with orders to kill them all," he said sadistically.
"NO! Don’t do it!" she pleaded tearfully. "There are children there! Please!!!"
Turning back to Barleus he said coldly, "You have your orders."
Barleus nodded and backed away, no expression of regret on his face. He was no better than this horrid man who now commanded his obedience. . "You can’t do this," she cried, pulling at the chains, her heart overflowing with agony. "No … please … don’t do this! ! You can’t just slaughter innocent children, it’s inhuman!"
"Yes," he said with a satisfied smile. "It is." Ignoring Gabrielle’s pleas, Gaelen turned his horses toward the open gate. That they were bouncing over dead bodies to make their exit seemed to bother Gaelen not at all. Gabrielle fell to her knees and cried. All of their fighting had been for nothing.
Barleus walked through Phestia’s square trying, unlike his commander, to avoid stepping on the bodies. Gaelen had stepped over bodies to get to that general as though he hadn’t even seen them. Barleus had not encountered a leader quite like Gaelen in all his military experience. The strange powers he seemed to have were fear inspiring. Barleus hungered to know what this man was all about but he dared not question his commander. He knew better than to do something like that. Even thinking about questioning him wasn’t a good idea. He had seen plenty evidence of Gaelen’s power to read a person’s thoughts. Besides, Gaelen was a cold-hearted bastard with no regard for any form of life save his own. Although Barleus was his second in command and the only one of his men allowed to speak to him directly, Barleus knew he held no special regard in his commander’s eyes. Gaelen would just as soon kill him as look at him. He was only useful as long as he commanded Gaelen’s army.
Thus, he dared not consider failing to following his commander’s orders to send a small platoon of warriors to kill the rest of the Phestians hiding out in the caves. He had not allowed Gabrielle’s cry of "There are children there!" to affect him. He was a hardened soldier trained to kill on command. It didn’t matter to him anyway. They had to die sooner or latereventually, if not by Gaelen’s hand then in some other way. What difference did it make if they died now? Besides, if he disobeyed a direct order from Gaelen, he would be the one to die.
Tameon, the third in command, jumped to attention when Barleus called, jumping over a few bodies to get to him. "Yes, sir!" he said in a purely perfunctory manner. He didn’t like being commanded by anyone, but had not yet worked his way up to full command as of yet. He found it humiliating that he was not allowed to speak to the Commander directly as though he was so far beneath him. However, Tameon was aware of Gaelen’s powers also. He had been thinking along these lines once during an inspection. Gaelen had stopped directly before him and leaned close to his ear, saying, "Your day will come, Tameon, if you don’t lose your head worrying about it." It had been both an assurance and a threat, causing Tameon to walk on eggshells since.
"Lord Gaelen has commanded that the rest of the villagers must die," Barleus said to him as he approached.
Surprised, Tameon asked with lifted brows, "What villagers, Sir?, Sir? There are only a few of their army left and we’ll have them down soon."
"I’ll deal with them. They are no longer your concern. You take a dozen men and find the caves to the north. . The families of these men are hiding out in them. . Lord Gaelen wants them dead before daylight." Tameon was a bit hesitant. . "Do you have a problem with that, soldier?"
"No, sir! It will be done!" he said without further hesitation.
"That’s what I wanted to hear," Barleus said, wearing a smile of warning as Tameon turned to the task at hand.
On the ground behind Barleus, Greeger watched the grim scene through barely opened his eyes. He had been conscious for some time, but was playing dead, and had heard everything. Something had to be done. He had to get to the caves first. The question was how to move without being detected. It was a difficult situation and it suddenly got worse.
Speaking loudly to the rest of his army within earshot, the leader said, "Check the bodies! Make sure they’re all dead! Lord Gaelen does not want any wounded."
One warrior turned and looked at him with surprise. "We have wounded on our side, as well, sir," he said, questioning the meaning of the order. "What of them?"
"What? Are you deaf? Gaelen wants no wounded. Kill them!"
"Sir?" the man asked, obviously distressed by the command.
"You heard me. I said kill them!"
Greeger watched from his position on the ground. The dejected warrior was standing next to one of his wounded comrades, already down and moaning in pain. By the look on his face, the warrior had no desire to carry out this command. It was senseless and repulsive to him. Greeger agreed, he would never condone the killing of wounded soldiers, enemy or otherwise. He had the feeling that, left to his own determination, this leader wouldn’t either. However, he was also under orders from one that seemed totally merciless. As a commander himself, Greeger understood what happened next though it sickened him to see it. Never allow a subordinate to question your authority or you will quickly have none. When the warrior continued hesitating to carry out the order the leader removed a small dagger from his waist and hurled it at the wounded man. Greeger closed his eyes in disgust as the dagger made contact with his forehead. The moaning stopped.
"Do you know where that dagger would be if Gaelen was here?" the leader asked the startled warrior.
"Yes, sir," he answered with a gulp.
"Now, I’d suggest you do as you were commanded," he ordered. . The warrior turned abruptly, as Barleus called out to the others, "Check them all! Leave no one alive!" Joining the effort, Barleus began checking bodies himself. Against a wall behind him he spotted the body of the General of this fare city, the man who called himself Greeger. Barleus had watched his commander make quick work of the General, but he thought he’d better check and make sure he’d finished him off…just in case.
Greeger heard the sound of the sword being drawn and waited for his moment. As the footsteps approached, he heard the sound of the sword as it sliced through the air. The sword descended, but Greeger rolled quickly to the side grabbing at a handful of rocks as he did and threw them with force into his assailant’s face. . Barleus shielded his face from the rocks in surprise, and Greeger used that chance to kick his legs out from under him. Leaping to his feet, he took Barleus’ sword from his hand. . He wanted to take his life as well, but couldn’t bring himself to kill an unarmed man even though he was the scum of the earth. So, instead, he humiliated him by knocking him unconscious with a swift kick to the face. Greeger looked up to see armored warriors coming his way yelling, "Look! The General’s still alive!" "Let’s get him!" "Kill him!"
Greeger didn’t have time to mess with these guys. He had to get to Salea and make sure she was still alive. There was no way he was going to leave her here. Unfortunately, he had no choice but to face the three warriors who came at him. As he fought one with his sword, he kicked at another, sending him sprawling. His sword met again with the first one and he shoved him back, spun around with his sword to take out the man behind him, then came back around and thrust his sword through the first one’s heart. The one he’d kicked out of his way charged at him. Greeger waited for him to get close enough, then he sidestepped and tripped him with an outstretched leg, at the same time slicing open his belly. The warrior fell to the ground dead.
At a distance, he saw Salea still sprawled on the ground with one of the warriors standing over her, ready to carry out his orders and run her through. Greeger pulled a tiny dagger from his armor and threw it at the warrior. It hit his neck, striking the jugular. Blood spewed and he fell to the ground trying unsuccessfully to scream. Moving quickly to Salea’s side before the next attack, he knelt beside her and checked for a pulse. She was still alive! He grabbed her shoulders and began to shake her.
"Salea! Wake up!" he said, frantically as the warriors drew closer. He shook her harder. "Wake up!!!" Her eyes started to blink and she squirmed, wincing at the pain in her head. He turned to look again and the warriors were almost upon them. . The rocks she’d been using to hurl at Gaelen were on the ground at Salea’s side. It was a long shot, but he was desperate,. S so he hurled the rocks with deadly precision, taking out three and sending them back against their comradscomrades. That ought to hold them for a while, he thought.
Salea was still slightly out of it, so Greeger picked her up and began running towards his only avenue of escape—the tunnel. He just hoped that the fires weren’t raging through his home at the moment. Warriors gave chase and he fled into the city streets with Salea in his arms. As he ran through the streets, several of his fellow soldiers, who were hiding out from Gaelen’s warriors, came running out when they saw their General.
"Follow me! I’ll get us out of here!"
They flanked their General to protect him, as he held the woman in his arms. They met plenty resistance along the way and by the time they got to Greeger’s home, which was starting to catch fire, many of Gaelen’s warriors were following. Greeger almost smiled when one of his men said, "Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think being holed up in your house is going to do us any good!"
But, the time wasn’t right for smiling, so he kicked the door open and tumbled in as the fire began to spread. "Just shut up and get your ass in here!" he said to the puzzled soldier as they tumbled inside. The door was slammed shut and the locking bar slipped into place just as the warriors surrounded the building. The battle began as they beat on the door and walls, breaking windows and trying to get in. Some of Greeger’s men hacked and sliced at the ones trying to climb in through the windows, while others beat at the fire that began to spread across the room. Greeger kicked at the chair and rug that covered the trap door to the tunnel. Salea chose that moment to wake up. Struggling in his arms she growled, "Put me down, you overgrown ox!"
He had a feeling she was asking for more than she could handle, but he had no time to argue. Still weak from the blow she took to her head, she almost fell. Greeger caught her before she fell and all he got for his trouble was a slap in the face.
"Hey!" he hollered, his cheek stinging. " We do not have time for this!"
"How dare you let that bastard hit me…" She got dizzy again. "…you pathetic… excuse for a man, you…", you…"
"I’ll let you know as soon as I’m sure we’re not dead!"
As Greeger knelt to open the trap door, Salea’s head began to clear and she saw for the first time where they were and what was happening. She saw the warriors trying to get into Greeger’s home and saw the fire licking at the curtains and spreading across the ceiling. She had no time to see more, for Greeger grabbed her arm and forced her into the hole. As soon as she was down, he had his men begin to follow. However, as the men descended into the hole the defenses were weakened and Gaelen’s men began making it in.
When there was just Greeger and one other soldierman left, Greeger ordered him into the hole. . The soldier was holding the door shut with his back as it splintered behind him.
"In the hole! Now!" heGreeger commanded.
Bracing the door with a chair, the soldier turned to fight a warrior who got in through the window. "You go, sir! I’ll hold them off!"
"Soldier, I said get down here now!!!" Greeger barked, but as he spoke Gaelen’s warrior ripped open the soldier’s chest and sent him to the floor just as the door burst open under the weight of several of Gaelen’s warriors. Disappearing down the hole, Greeger closed the trap door over him and locked it shut by hooking the leather strap that was used to close the trap door from the inside, to a large, bent nail. . He knew it wouldn’t hold long, but hopefully it would long enough for them to get a good head start. However, only halfway down the ladder, he felt pieces of wood striking him from above. They had already broken open the trap door.
"Run! Get to the tunnel and run!" Greeger practically slid the rest of the way down and met Salea at the bottom. One soldier was still left trying to urge Salea to follow him. Greeger grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the tunnel. "Come on!" he commanded.
"Wait!" she said scanning the clearing. "Where’s Gabrielle?!"
"She didn’t make it! We aren’t going to make it ourselves if we don’t get going!" he said forcing her to run ahead of him down the tunnel after their soldiers. The last soldier followed behind them to watch their back.
Neither the soldier nor Greeger and Salea saw the light that flashed at the entrance to the tunnel behind them. Nor do the warriors who finally make it down the ladder to chase after their quarry. What they did see was one man, clad in black leather with long, wavy dark hair and beard, standing at the entrance to an underground tunnel.
"Hello, boys!" Ares said, forcing a smile.
The warriors quaked before him lowering their weapons.
"It’s Lord Ares! ! Our victory is assured!" one of them exclaimed.
Ares began to pace, fingering his beard and eyeing the men from under hooded brows, though his words held a note of pride. "My favorite warriors assembled before me. You are already victorious!" Ares pride turned quickly to anger and it showed in his voice when he said, "You must be very proud of yourselves. You gained your victory without the god of war."
They could hear the disdain in his voice and were suddenly fearful. Some kneeled in supplication before their god.
"Lord Ares," the same man said. "We could not have been so victorious without you. You are the one to whom our thanks and praise goes."
"That was eloquently put, Tithonus, but the fact remains, you turned to a mortal for your victory. A mortal named Gaelen, who I will destroy."
With his heart in his throat, the soldier knelt and lowered his head. Fearing to offend either of his masters, the man said, "Lord Ares, Gaelen is our general and commander. You are our god. We present ourselves to you as your servants. Lead us in our victory."
"Oh, I’ll lead you," he" he said with a sneer. "I’ll lead you all…straight to Tartarus!" With that, he shot lightening bolts from his fingers to the ceiling, smashing it to smithereens. The ceiling and the building above came crashing down as Ares watched from just inside the tunnel. As he gazed upon the mangled figures beneath the rubble, he felt regret for having to kill them all. They were, after all, dedicated followers. "Take good care of my warriors, Hades," he said with a sigh and disappeared into a spectrum of light.
When Barleus regained consciousness, he sat up and touched the side of his head where Greeger had kicked him. He felt a large lump forming. Shaking his head to clear his mind, he looked up and around in time to see Greeger running off with someone in his arms. His warriors were pursuing so he scrambled to his feet and followed. By the time he was finally able to catch up, they had broken into a building that Greeger had obviously occupied and were probably, at the moment, finishing him off. Yet, as he approached, the ground literally fell out from under his feet. He had to scramble backwards to avoid falling in the large hole that formed. When the debris stopped clattering to the bottom, he peered inside carefully at a handful of Gaelen’s warriors dead beneath the rubble. . They were chasing Greeger and his left over soldiers. . He could only guess at what caused the cave-in, but, if they were dead, then that must mean that Greeger and the rest of his soldiers were dead as well. Barleus smiled. Gaelen will be pleased.
Gabrielle estimated that the village of Phestia was at least thirty to forty minutes away from Gaelen’s camp by the time they arrived. . She wondered and worried about the people hiding out in the caves. What chance did they have now? Were the warriors in there now killing them, or were they already dead? The thought of Salmoneus with a sword in his stomach made her sick. She and Xena often found him to be irritatingirritating and troublesome, but they still considered him to be aa close friend and he didn’t deserve to die like that. If Xena really was alive, as Gaelen claimed, Gabrielle did not expect her to be very proud. Not only had she failed to follow Xena’s warning, she had almost lost her life in the process. Everything had gone wrong. They’d lost…horribly.
Gabrielle sat in the chariot, her hands raised above her head, still chained. She stared off into nothing, willing herself to feel empty so that she didn’t have to feel the pain in her heart. It was useless. She was responsible for those peoples’ lives and now they would all die. Maybe not by her hand, but to Gabrielle, it was the same thing. The tears fell from her eyes unhindered.
The chariot came to a sudden halt and Gabrielle could hear the sound of several feet approaching. Gruff voices said, "Lord Gaelen." She assumed it was a greeting. In any event, Gaelen said nothing in return. He turned and released Gabrielle from her chains, then roughly helped her to her feet by a firm grip on her forearm. The fight was all gone. Gabrielle offered no resistance,; she could see no point.
Gaelen eyed her curiously and smiled. . "She doesn’t put up a fight. That’s good. I’m glad. I wouldn’t want to have to kill you…at least not yet." He turned and jerked on her arm. "This way," he said, dragging her along. Gabrielle nearly fell as she stumbled off the chariot. So intense had been the pain in her leg, she was still treating it with sensitivity and was grateful that it was no longer broken. One of two tents just ahead seemed to be their destination, as Gaelen strode toward them. Although Gabrielle was tired and defeated, she kept up with him and she didn’t forget the promise he’d made to her.
"Where’s Xena? You promised you’d take me to her."
"All in good time, my dear. All in good time. I haven’t broken my promise to you," Gaelen reassured her.
Two armed guards stood to each side of the first tent’s entrance. Gabrielle expected to be taken into this tent so she could be guarded, but instead they moved past that one and entered the one without any guards. ItThat left a strong possibility that. Xena was in the other one. She was under guard, a prisoner. Why? SheGabrielle had never known Xena to be taken unless she permitted it for a reason, and if she was, it usually didn’t last long. What was she up too? Was there a reason she had not freed herself in time to help the people of Phestia? She broke out of their prison, why not this one? Gabrielle trembled inside as a flurry of horrible ideas ran through her head. It was fruitless to allow her mind to speculate this way and she tried to push them out, but couldn’t.
Gaelen sensed Gabrielle’s worry for Xena, but he sensed nothing from Xena and that worried him. He thought of sounding an alarm, but … no, not just yet. . Whatever the reason for her silence he would discover soon enough. For now, he was more interested in Gabrielle.
Inside the tent,
The tent it was dark. He sat her on the cot, then moved around casually lighting candles but said nothing. Gabrielle’s eyes followed him around the tent warily. She could only sit and wonder what he was going to do. He hadn’t brought her here simply for her conversational ability. He wanted something, something that had to do with Xena. She was sure of it. But, the question was — what?
"When do I get to see Xena?" was Gabrielle’s persistent question.
Gaelen turned around and looked at her, but said nothing. He grabbed a chair, turned it backwards and sat down, placing his elbows on the back. His dark eyes pierced into Gabrielle’s very soul.
"You love her, don’t you?" he asked in a cold, careless voice that frightened her.
"Yes, I do," she said in just slightly more than a whisper. "She’s like a sister to me."
Gaelen looked deeply into Gabrielle’s eyes and saw another truth. "No. You are more than sisters—s
Soulmates.. I sense that about the two of you. You were meant to walk the Earth together. Do you believe that?"
"Yes," Gabrielle answered softly, an amazed expression on her face. Actually, it was a thought she had often entertained. There were times, in the wee hours of the morning as Xena slept soundly beside her, when she would wonder why they shared such a close bond. Gabrielle’s life had been so plain, so normal before she first met Xena, but after she hadn’t wanted to be anywhere else except at Xena’s side. She’d always felt it was her destiny and she still did. Deep in her heart, she’d always known that her relationship with Xena was special.. "I wouldn’t be the person I am today, if it weren’t for Xena. She has changed me in so many ways."
"For the better? Or for worse?"
"I believe the change in my life is for the better," she said defensively. "If it were for the worse I wouldn’t be with Xena."
"Oh no, of course not.," Gaelen said wryly. " I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. It’s just that…so many things have happened in your life that never would have happened, had you not left your home to travel with Xena."
"You know nothing about my life.," Gabrielle challenged.
Gaelen’s black eyes squinted and a strange ‘guess what’ smile slowly spread across his lips. His words were piercing as he said with quiet reserve, "I know more than you think."
Gabrielle felt a chill run through her as she watched Gaelen get to his feet and return the chair from where he’d gotten it. She had no idea what he meant by that comment, but it had scared her. There was something very strange about this man. ‘How did he know about the time I left home to be with Xena? Had he tortured Xena into telling him that? And how would he know the extent to which my life has changed?’ She wanted to question him but thought better of it. He probably wouldn’t answer her anyway.
"I should check on my other guest," Gaelen said to her, heading for the exit. "She’s much too quiet. Perhaps you should rest a while. It may be a long night."
"What makes you think I can sleep?"
Gaelen stopped in the doorway and looked over his shoulder, seeming annoyed. "I suggest you give it a try," he said, turning again to leave, but turned back momentarily. "I suppose I should bind you … but, no. If I happen to come back and you’re not here…" He waved his hand nonchalantly. "…I’ll kill Xena." He turned from her for the last time and left the tent.
"Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere," she said in a defeated tone. When he was gone, she laid down on the cot, but didn’t close her eyes. She refused to go to sleep. Xena was in trouble, perhaps the worse she had ever encountered. Gabrielle had to keep awake and keep her senses if she could even hope to help her.
Gaelen inquired of the guards watching the other tent, "How’s our guest? I sense a change in her."
"You’re right, sir, there has been a change. She’s acting strangely. Don’t quite know what to make of it, sir," the guard answered. This news made him uneasy, but curious. ‘What could Xena be up to?’ Gaelen parted the curtains and entered the tent. Something was amiss because he could no longer sense her thoughts or feelings. . She was once again chained to the metal posts her knees, arms dangling in chains above her head, but this time there was something different about her. Xena hands folded in her lap rockeding back and forth on her knees. . She seemed to be awake, sort of. He noticed the nomad girl watching Xena with fear in her eyes as she huddled in the corner of the tent. He moved closer, but cautiously. Xena was a crafty opponent, and may just be playing some sort of trick since he could not read her thoughts. He would not be surprised if she had unlocked the chains in his absence and was poised for an attack to have her attack at any moment just as soon as he got close. So, Gaelen inched closer to her cautiously to test her chains. He found nothing amiss except Xena herself. He was close enough
He got close enough to see that her eyes were just barely opened and that her mouth was moving slightly as if reciting some chant he could not manage to read.
"How long has she been like this?" he asked the guard who had followed him inside.
"Most of the night, sir. She started up not long after you and the rest of the men left. I think she’s gone mad."
"I do not recall asking you what you thought," Gaelen said angrily, eyeing the man from under his brows.
"No, Lord Gaelen. My apology, sir."
Gaelen thought a moment, then turned to the guard and said, ""Unchain her, then lLeave us."
"Yes, Lord Gaelen.." The guard quickly obeyed his commander’s orders, then left the tent.
Still cautious, Gaelen knelt before Xena. . Once freed of her chains, Xena remained on her knees, rocking back and forth, her hands folded in her lap. She seemed no more than an empty shell with no depth, no feeling. Her bruised and beaten face, covered in dried blood was totally void of emotion. Had she actually gone mad and lost her mind? ? Was she insane? Gaelen considered it a possibility, but doubted it. A mad person at least hasd some feelings or thoughts. Xena, on the other hand, had neither of these. For the first time since he’d come to this place, Gaelen felt fear. It was not a pleasant emotion and it made him angry, being forced to feel it.
"Xena, where are you?" he asked in a strained voice. Her only response was to rock back and forth, back and forth, chanting silently. Gaelen experienced the agony of not knowing what his opponent was thinking for the first time and could feel his fear growing inside him. It forced him to react. He grabbed Xena’s arms fiercely to stop her rocking.
"Xena? Answer me. Speak!" He shook her violently, and when no other response came, he threw her to the ground. A spark of feeling pricked at his senses and her face formed the hint of a frown. It was a vague emotion, perhaps the outer fringes of a growing rage. His warped mind was excited by the possible challenge.
Xena continued the silent chanting, but the emotion was still there. She was trying to force it back, to go back into her trance-like state. Gaelen watched her eyes roll back into her head. "Oh no, you don’t," he said with a sneer, but Xena continued to drift away. He looked around for a blunt object hoping to stun her back in to consciousness and his eye crossed the girl cowering in the corner of the tent. . With an evil eye he looked back. "If this doesn’t bring you out, nothing will." He got to his feet and moved toward the young girl, from whom he could now sense tremendous emotion. She cringed in terror as he approached and tried to force herself into a small ball as if, in doing so, she might hide.
Gaelen roughly grabbed her arm and threw her over to Xena’s side, growling in rage. The girl began to whimper. He removed Xena’s sword from his scabbard and held the point at the girl’s throat as he stood over her. Fully intending a display of his ruthless power, he raised the sword in the air sneering, "Now, Xena, let’s see if this girl’s blood will bring you back to me," and brought it down towards her heart.
With a suddenness that caught him off guard, Xena’s hands suddenly shot out and caught the blade between her palms only inches from the girl’s heart. . Gaelen stared back at Xena’s bloody face in shock. Her mouth was curled into a sneer, like he had seen earlier that evening when tormenting her mind. Only this time, the sneer was directed at him and not at what she thought was Gabrielle. With the same swiftness, Xena jerked the butt-end of her sword back into Gaelen’s face and slammed him squarely in the nose. He fell backwards onto his back, nursing his bloody nose. Xena took the handle of her sword and slowly got to her knees again.
Wiping at the blood coming from his nose, Gaelen sat up and peered into her eyes. . "I thought that might work," he said, daring to show the hint of a smile. "What are you going to do now? Kill me? Because I tried to kill that scrawny child?"
Xena stared at him through hooded eyes, but Gaelen still could sense no emotions from her, except for that lingering scent of emotion that played at his senses. Perhaps she really had gone mad and lost all feeling. If she had, he could definitely use that to his advantage.
"I won’t give you the satisfaction of killing her," Xena said, her voice a sinister whisper.
‘No such luck,’ Gaelen thought. Perhaps Xena’s good side had combated her evil side and he had been premature in thinking he had won her over since she was gathering the girl into her arms and comforting her. . The girl looked up to her for safety and looked back at Gaelen in fear. Xena stroked the back of the girl’s head to calm her.
"And how do you expect to stop me?" he asked, sarcastically.
Xena’s sneer widened and sick pleasure spread across her face as she said, "Because the satisfaction is all mine." In a flash, Xena reached out and grabbed the girl’s chin. With her hand still on the back of the girl’s head, she twisted her head around so quickly that Gaelen hadn’t any idea what had happened until he heard the pop of the girl’s neck. The girl’s body slid down Xena’s side until she landed on the ground … dead.
Though his nose still hurt and blood still poured from it, Gaelen smiled widely. He couldn’t believe it. But, it was true. Xena had just killed the girl, the same one she’d tried to protect the night before. He watched his Xena smile in return, even though he still could not sense any feeling from her beyond the spark. But, he was immensely proud of himself. He’d done it in only a day. He’d created his monster.
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