by J Falconer

Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle etc belong to MCA/Universal and Ren Pics, and anyone else who has an interest in Xena Warrior Princess, not me.

Copyright ã 2000: No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the author's express written consent. If you want to use anything, all you have to do is ask … nicely.

Violence disclaimer: This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Nothing too graphic (enter, stranger, at your riske – here there be icky bits), but readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

Love/Sex warning: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live - move along, move along, nothing for you here ...

If you like it, let me know. All comments except for nasty ones are welcome!

Major vote of thanks to my ever patient beta readers ForevaXena and Diamonddog for taking valuable time out to read this. I was just as confused about this as you were … so thankyou DD for not strangling me <BEG> Another vote of thanks goes to the ForevaXenites for giving me permission to … err … borrow bits of this <G>



"It was a dark and stormy night - " began Gabrielle, eyebrows creasing together in concentration, golden head bent.

"No it wasn’t," interrupted the warrior princess, startling blue eyes gleaming as she eyed her companion in consternation over the light of the flickering fire. "Gabrielle, you know it was the middle of the day."

Shivers travelled up and down Gabrielle’s spine at the sound of the warrior’s voice. As if her friend’s sheer presence wasn’t distracting enough, she could feel the sky blue gaze resting comfortably on her, and she knew that if she looked up, she would see the grin tugging at Xena’s mouth, the arched black eyebrow …

Not looking up, she said emphatically, "But it sounds better this way." If she looked up, the warrior would know what lay so carefully guarded in her heart, but often bubbled to the surface.

"Gabrielle," growled the warrior playfully.

Now Gabrielle did look up, and was captured by the face that she loved so deeply, the emotion borderline terrifying in its depth, completely unplatonic. Her eyes locked with the blue of Xena’s, she almost lost her train of thought, then she cleared her throat and broke the spell, pathetically grateful that she hadn’t volunteered to read the end of the story, which was quite … steamy. Not at all how the real thing had ended.

"Well …" she trailed off, sucking at her quill thoughtfully, scroll resting comfortably on her legs, letters dancing in the flickering firelight. "Oh … alright. But I don’t think ‘It was a sunny afternoon,’ has the same dramatic impact."

This was punctuated by a deep, thoughtful chew on the ratty end of the quill.

Xena watched her companion with some amusement. This was the best time for her. The dangers of the day had been overcome, camp had been set up, Argo tended to, the perimeter checked. She could sit for a few pleasant moments, and simply gaze at the face of the person she had come to love more than life itself. Of course, she had not told Gabrielle that her feelings went far beyond the platonic - the young woman certainly didn’t need to know that the warrior considered herself a horny old centaur when it came to a certain luscious young bard.

Seeing the green eyes staring openly and frankly at her was almost her undoing, and profound relief swept through her when Gabrielle looked away and broke the moment. Senses tingling, she became ultra aware of the night sounds all around them … or, rather, the lack thereof.

Almost an interruption of her internal state, she looked around in some confusion, trying to decipher the meaning of the alert that suddenly flooded through her, her danger meter clanging loudly, jarring her. When she straightened abruptly, scenting the ominously silent night air, Gabrielle looked up at her with some alarm, quill dangling forgotten in her fingertips.

"What is it?" she whispered urgently.

Xena shushed her and began to rise to her feet, and instinctively grabbed for her sword.

"Trouble," she said softly, as the thick trees began to move on a sudden soft breeze.

Xena stood, Gabrielle also rising to her feet and scooting over the warrior’s protective side. Xena’s arm slipped around her, pulling her in close, bard relishing the contact. They watched the trees as they moved with increasing unnatural fervour in the rising cold, carrion breeze. Xena was dimly aware of the smell as Gabrielle fell to her knees in the steadily rushing air, retching violently at the disgusting odour.

Chilled to the bone by the semi sentient, howling miasma of death, both warrior and bard lost their balance in its cold fury, being grabbed and hurled out of their campsite, their possessions scattered. Argo screamed in fright, swept up along with them. Gabrielle’s scrolls and quill were torn from her startled grasp, travelling the same way as the warrior’s sword, which had been carelessly whipped from the strong hand.

Though their flight was uncontrolled, the warrior was able to grasp and pull her friend in close as they were viciously hurled against a tree.

Gabrielle, shockingly woozy and semi conscious, was dimly aware of the breath exploding from Xena’s lungs at the impact. Abruptly, the turmoil ceased, leaving only a foul stench in its wake, surrounding them, caressing them with icy, uncaring, intrusively intimate fingers.

"Xena," she mumbled fuzzily, breast armour cutting into her cheek, trying to rally and get off the already moving warrior princess. The strong arms tightened around her reassuringly, and the hard surface moved, drawing them both to their feet, scent of herbal soap, leathers, and steel of Xena undercutting the foul stench of decay and high rotting flesh that encircled them.

"Son of a bacchae," murmured Xena in soft surprise as her piercing blue gaze took in the destruction lying around the remains of their campsite. "Where in Hades did that come from?" She held the recovering bard close to her, face against her chest, watching the sparks from the scattered embers of the campfire, jagged stumps of shattered trees, wreckage of limbs lying all around them in careless abandon. There was no sign of their personal possessions or Argo as the blue eyes struggled to come to terms with the suddenly decreased light level.

The obnoxious smell still rolled around them in waves, as their breath frosted in front of their faces. Gabrielle suddenly collapsed to her knees and was quickly and tidily sick again, sudden spiralling terror for Xena’s welfare fuelling her nausea.

The warrior’s eyes did not cease their restless search of the clearing as she placed a careful hand on the bard’s back.

"Gabrielle," she murmured. "Whatever that was is still here. Can you move?"

"I – I think so," stuttered Gabrielle softly.

"Good," said the warrior, helping the bard back to her feet, facing the expectant silence of their shattered campsite. Her arm stayed around the bard as she sucked in a deep breath, almost choking on the moribund fumes wafting around them. Dread of her own for Gabrielle began to seep into her, and she silenced it with a vicious inward slap, swearing to herself she would keep Gabrielle safe at all costs.

"Who are you?" demanded Xena firmly. "Where are you?"

"I am with you," responded a ringing cold voice, neither masculine nor feminine, large, loud. "It matters not who I am."

"What kind of an answer is that?" said the warrior, unable to gauge the direction the sound was coming from, realising who it was, desperately stalling for time. "Tell me who you are!"

"You know me extremely well, Princess," said the voice, tinkling with amusement, grotesquely jovial. "You released me."

For the first time in a very long time, Xena went pale. The recovering bard, watched the face of the woman she loved more than life itself, was stricken by a cold bolt of dread. "What is that … voice … talking about, Xena?" she asked flames of terror fuelled by panic.

Xena sucked in breath to answer, just as another gust of wind began. Ahead of them the ruined stand of trees parted in an O shape and two solid grey arrows, remarkable in and of themselves with their length of four feet, swept through the gap created by the foliage, straight towards them.

Finally finding something she could deal with, Xena semi relaxed, and prepared to catch the arrows. Her fingers easily closed around the one destined for Gabrielle’s gentle breast. She was not so lucky with the one aimed at her. Though her fingers clasped it easily, she yelped as the passing smooth wood tore the skin from her palm as it embedded itself deep in her chest.

Dropping the arrow she had caught, wounded hand showering blood on the upheaved ground beside her, she reached up and ineffectually clutched at the arrow piercing her strong and sometimes dark heart, regret tearing through her soul. Too shocked to scream, Gabrielle grabbed Xena, clutching her as she collapsed to the ground, blood pooling all over the young bard. She was unaware of the carrion smell slowly dispersing on the gentle night wind, air temperature returning to normal now that the disembodied voice had done its work.

"Oh no, Xena," Gabrielle moaned as the tears spilled out of her eyes and down her face.

"Gabrielle," said the warrior softly, broken, not knowing where to start saying all the things she wanted to say, now not having time to voice what was in her heart.

"I love you," was all Gabrielle could get out, wanting desperately to tell Xena how she really felt, but not having the time.

"I love you too," said Xena, voice fading. "More than you will ever know. Please come for me …"

It was the last thing she had time to say as her disobedient body went limp in the young woman’s arms.

Gabrielle felt the change and leant over, clutching the body close, rocking it. Slowly she straightened herself and looked up at the cold, uncaring sky. She screamed her pain and anguish to the vast uncaring expanse of nature.


She sat there for the longest time, grief stricken, looking down at the body of her closest friend and would be lover, memorising every facet of Xena’s features. Once alert and alive, sometimes shadowed, they were now were still and relaxed, so innocent, no longer troubled by the anguish of her life and the struggle to master her darker side.

Gradually, Gabrielle became aware of a soft glow surrounding the fallen body of her friend. The pale radiance gradually grew in intensity, cutting through the broken sobs of the bard, bathing her features in its gentle light, turning her tears to diamonds on her cheeks. The glow became as intense as the noon day sun, Gabrielle feeling no discomfort as a sphere formed over Xena’s prostrate body. It hovered for an instant, then, with blinding speed, shot forward to sink squarely into the bard, before it was ripped out of her body by an unseen force, shooting upwards into the flickering starlight of the peaceful sky.

Gabrielle’s distress transformed into a sense of wonder … and heartfelt relief. The golden light that had touched her had been Xena’s soul, her last ditch effort to try and communicate with her friend. She had felt the fiery passion of Xena’s shared, definitely unplatonic, love, deep regret that she had hidden it until it was too late. She had also felt Xena’s sinking despair that the Keeper of Souls had finally caught up with her, a wistful hope that the bard would not give up, and would be able to help her. Glimpses of unknown things swung in and out of her conscious mind – a centuries old Monk, young and strong, distant mountains, a Library, the Seer Karmen, an old promise … Gabrielle could not quite sort through the input.

Only two things were clear to her. First, Xena trusted her to bring her back from the dead, and second, she had to keep Xena’s body safe while she went and found the Seer Karmen. Resolve seeping into her, she prepared herself for action.

"Oooh boy, that’s far enough," muttered the bard to herself, as she pulled Argo to a halt by the side of the trail.

When she had left the clearing, it had been with a resolve to try and find her way to the Amazons, so she could travel to the Library that her visions had shown her. She had hoped to find out a way to retrieve the missing warrior and find out why this had happened to them.

The missing warrior.

She snorted as she thought about that. She constantly felt a nagging terror around the edges of her consciousness, but refused to entertain even a shadow of the notion that the warrior would not return to her. Looking at the supine body resting comfortably on the makeshift stretcher tied to the back of the patient warhorse only filled her with pain.

The knowledge that Xena was still alive, though in an unknown state, was all that she could hang onto when looking at the seemingly dead features. Her heart still ached for her warrior, and the possibility that they would never be able to talk, touch, hold one another, as the bard now knew they had both longed to do.

She sighed, got to her feet again, and led Argo into the forest, finding a clearing to rest for her midday break. She pulled the trail rations out of Xena’s saddlebags, not really hungry, and took a healthy swig from the canteen that had been securely bound next to it.

She picked at her food for several minutes, before sighing again, and giving up. The food was like ashes in her mouth; she did not want it.

Just as she began to clear up her things, there was a movement in the bushes off to one side. Frowning, she grabbed her quarterstaff, eyeing the bushes, senses on full alert as Xena had tried to teach her. Before any visible sign of another living being, she heard a deep man’s voice call to her.

"Put down your weapons, bard. I mean you no harm."

Gabrielle loosened her hold on the staff, but did not put it down, ready for any action. A tall man appeared, bald, and apparently of middle age. He had the grace of a scholar, well-muscled, loose robes draped around his body, showing smooth bronze skin and weathered hands.

"Who are you?" she asked, in no mood to deal with another’s problems, or their company, preferring instead the solace of her own thoughts.

"I am Kanaris," he replied, voice deep, even and soft. "You are Gabrielle."

"How do you know my name?" she asked, suspicious, ever mindful of the precious burden of her heart.

"I know of you," he said, settling himself on a smooth rock of the clearing, gesturing elegantly for her to do the same. "Please, sit."

Unwillingly, but instinctively knowing that no harm would come to her, she lowered her weapon and sat on her recently vacated rock.

"Who are you?" she asked again, struggling to come to grips with the oddness of the situation.

"I have told you who I am. I am Kanaris. I am a Monk from a place but a few hours’ journey from here. I have come looking for you." His gentle brown eyes were serene, filled with a dark wisdom of things unseen and unknowable.

"How do you know of me?" asked the bard, entranced by the monk.

His smile was soft and gentle. "I am the Keeper of the Keys. It is my business to know when the Keeper of Souls is abroad. Xena was coming to us for assistance."

Gabrielle reeled inwardly. Xena had known what was about to happen? Why hadn’t she said anything? Who was this Keeper of Souls? Before she could voice these questions, the Monk held up a hand to forestall her.

"I know you have questions, and I will answer them. But I suggest we return to the Monastery for further discussion. We are not safe out here."

The bard never knew why she trusted him, but she did. Xena had once trusted him, that much was clear, and who was she to doubt the one she loved, who had always kept her safe?

Nodding her assent, the bard got to her feet, following the lead of the Monk. She turned to grab Argo’s reins, but again the monk raised a hand to forestall her.

"It is not necessary," he said. "She will follow." Nodding slowly to the horse, he gazed deep into her eyes. Argo whickered softly, nodded her great head, and followed them.

The journey should have taken hours, Gabrielle later thought, but it didn’t. Instead, by some unknowable magic, the Monk led them at a pace faster than she and the warrior had ever travelled before, reaching their destination hours faster than they should have. At the base of a mountain, jagged peaks covered in pure white snow, the monk paused and turned to his companion.

"There," he said simply, pointing to a place on the jagged, unforgiving slope. Gabrielle paused, shielded her eyes against the bright sunlight, and allowed her gaze to travel over the vast expanse of the mountain.

"I don’t see it," she said softly, shrugging, ill at ease with the peaceful, dark man.

He smiled gently. "You will," he said. "Take my hand."

He held out a large, bronzed hand. Slowly, the bard extended her small hand, finding it engulfed by a hand which had never been raised in anger, with the callouses of a scholar. With the other hand, he firmly grabbed the reins of the warhorse.

Gabrielle felt nothing for a moment, bar the familiar aching emptiness deep inside that had sprung into being with Xena’s sudden loss. Gradually, a tingling warmth seeped into her from her palm upwards, from Kanaris. The tingling warmth became as hot as the sun, as streams of lava poured into her from the Monk. She cried out, consciousness slipping away from her, as the outside world faded into a shimmering bleed of light.

When she woke up again, she was lying on a soft, if Spartan bed, in an equally Spartan stone chamber. Above her and to the right, she became aware of the last rays of sunlight seeping in through the narrow window, dust motes moving in the air in front of her in a golden speckled dance. For a moment, she did not notice the strangeness of her surroundings, and began to search for her ever present companion.

Then suddenly it all slammed home again.

Xena was gone.

Her beloved warrior was gone.

Tears stung the corners of her eyes as her befuddled mind provided her with no more information. Mutilated soul aching, she cried out, resting her face in her hands, sobbing as though her broken heart would shatter into a million more pieces.

"Shh, rest easy bard," said a voice from beside her. A masculine hand rested on her head, soothing her, comforting her. "You are safe."

Still she cried, unable to stop, and long arms held her close in a comforting embrace. It was too much; the arms she longed to feel about her once more were not there, would probably never be there again, the ghostly fragrance of a strong, feminine warrior absent. She pushed the arms away, and with a trembling hand, wiped the tears from her eyes, willing them to depart.

The Monk, a young man, pulled back, sensing her discomfort

"The Keeper has asked that you be brought to him, when you are refreshed," he said, voice as deep and melodic as Kanaris’ had been.

Memories of the Keeper slowly returned. "I’m fine," she said, voice trembling, thick with emotion. "Let’s go."

The young man nodded, and gestured. Gabrielle stood and followed him out of the room and into the Monastery. Her eyes turned inward to her pain, she did not notice the silent monks going about their daily business with a timeless serenity; the huge stone hallways ancient and peaceful, delicate and powerful tapestries adorning the smooth stone walls.

Up and up she was led, through the labyrinth of the Monastery, to the highest towers, and the chambers of the Keeper of the Keys.

They paused for a moment before the ancient wooden door, Gabrielle now anxious to see the saviour of her half soul.

The Keeper of the Keys sat cross-legged in the centre of his octagonal chamber, eyes closed. Gabrielle’s breath caught as she saw the fallen warrior lying in the exact centre of the circle, gently touching the monk’s knees. Around him, on each of the walls, were different woodland scenes, changing as soon as the eye beholding it shifted its gaze to the next one. Floating peacefully on thin air close to the top of the chamber was a pitch black arrow, four feet in length, and a long broadsword carefully arranged at right angles to the arrow.

"Welcome," he said, opening his intense eyes, smiling slightly, gesturing for her to enter.

The monk who had led them here, bowed low, and backed respectfully out of the chamber. The door closed behind the bard with a sharp snick as the lock slid home. Surprised, she glanced behind her at the door, and when she turned back, the Keeper was standing directly in front of her. She gasped in surprise.

"Please, sit," he said, gesturing towards the floor, on the other side of the warrior to where he had been sitting.

Gabrielle nodded, and crossed to her warrior, gazing at her, silently promising to be by her side, whatever the cost.

Xena’s face was peaceful, lying as though sleeping, bronze face healthy, but robbed of all life. Despair of ever seeing the warrior animate again cut deep into the desperate bard.

"Can you help her?" Gabrielle asked, instinctively sitting as the Keeper had done, knees resting against the cold body.

"Yes," the Keeper replied. "You are the Key."

"Can you tell me what is going on here?" she asked urgently, face revealing her inner pain.

"The Keeper of Souls is abroad," he began, then was quiet for a moment. Gabrielle felt like screaming at him; Xena’s life was at stake! She was just about to speak, thinking him lost in thought.

"You know of the legend that each person is one half of a soul, and each half spends their time trying to find its other half?"

The bard’s breath caught. "Y-yes," she stammered.

"It is the Keeper of Souls that keeps them apart. When freed of its prison, it scours the world looking for souls, and when it finds them devours them, so they are forever in its Prison. When imprisoned, it merely ensures that the halves do not find one another. It is the task of the Keeper of the Keys and the Gate Keeper to ensure that the Keeper of Souls does not escape its prison."

The Keeper of the Keys paused, eyes turned inward to the past.

"But now … but now the Key to the Gate has been removed by the Gate Keeper. The Gate Keeper stands as the Gate with the Key, and has studied it for so long, that it has allowed the Keeper of Souls to Escape and walk abroad again. Neither the Key nor the Gate Keeper acknowledges each other."

"Is that why it came for us? Because we are two halves of one soul? How did it find us?" asked the bard when she had digested this information.

"The Keeper of Souls is blind in all the ways we define sight. It can see only souls, and all their various shades. We of the Monastery, do not have souls in the sense that you understand. Only the Key and the Gate Keeper have souls, so that the Keeper of Souls may know the doors to its Prison."

"How do we fight it?"

"You must first find your warrior. I can help you with this. You must fight it in its own realm."

"Why do you call me the Key?"

"You have the other half of the warrior’s soul."

Gabrielle knew it; the jagged pain she felt on the inside agreed with the Monk’s words. Nodding thoughtfully, she asked, "How can I help?"

Kanaris smiled. "Take my hands."

The monk held his hands out. Gabrielle took them.

For an instant she felt only the smooth skin and slight callouses earned from spending long hours with a quill. Then the burning sensation started, much as it had when he had taken her hands before travelling up the mountain, only now it was much more intense. Hands bathed in jets of molten fire, Gabrielle screamed in pain, as a bright light began to flow up from the prostrate warrior’s body. Gabrielle began to feel her spirit dissociate itself from her body, weight dropping away smoothly so she was lighter than a feather.

Revelling in the joyous sensation, dimly aware of the pain in her hands, she was completely unprepared for the sudden suction forwards and downwards as she was yanked out of existence. Whirling streams of colour rushed around her senses, a kaleidoscope of images, steady downwards pull unstoppable. Mind reeling, she could feel herself approaching sensory overload, and consciousness began to fade away once again.

When she came to, she did not immediately open her eyes. She was lying on a warm surface, strong arms holding her, and she allowed herself to bathe her senses in the cherished feel of the other half of her soul, who she’d never thought to see again. The fear and emptiness began trickling back into her consciousness, as she dismissed the evidence of her senses, rudely silencing the suggestion that her beloved warrior was with her. Xena was gone, and her task was to find her and some way to bring her back.

"Gabrielle?" a hesitant woman’s voice asked. "How on earth - ?"

The question was never completed as the joyful bard stumbled upright, ignoring her splitting headache, throwing her arms around the warrior and squeezing hard. There was a soft smile on the bard’s face as she breathed deeply the scent of the warrior, the wild essence that could only be Xena.

"Xena," she sighed. "I thought I’d lost you."

Xena smiled gently, defences down. At that moment, the bard looked up, desperate to see the one she thought she’d lost forever. The crystalline blue eyes were unguarded; all the emotion she normally hid stood out raw and blazing. She coloured and cleared her throat, head hanging, knowing all had been revealed to the bard.

The bard very gently brought the warrior’s face up, so they were eye level, emerald green eyes shining.

"It’s a little late for that now, don’t you think?" she asked softly. "It’s okay. We’ll talk about it later."

Xena’s smile returned. "Alright," she said softly, and held the bard.

After a few moments, she spoke again. "What are you doing here, Gabrielle?"

"The Keeper of the Keys sent me in to find you," replied the bard, meeting the pure blue of the warrior’s eyes again.

"How is Kanaris?" asked Xena.

"He’s well," Gabrielle paused, then blushed. "Now that I’ve found you, what do we do now?"

"We find the Keeper of Souls and destroy it," replied the warrior coldly, eyes turned inward, chips of blue ice. Gabrielle inwardly winced.

"What’s the Keeper of Souls? Well, I sort of know that by the title. But what’s it do, exactly?"

"It keeps souls," responded the warrior, smile tugging the corners of her mouth. The bard sighed.

"Thankyou, I know I asked for that. Why does it keep souls? And why is it after yours, exactly?"

"I helped Kanaris a long time ago," said the warrior softly. "I think he’s already told you that. The Keeper of Souls is the most destructive force known. It takes souls and Keeps them somewhere, only the Keeper of the Keys knows where. Normally it’s locked up in the same Prison where it keeps souls, and normally the Prison is empty, but when it gets out … the Prison fills up. Kanaris and I trapped it the last time it got out, and he had the Key to its Prison. It’s escaped."

"We must be in that Prison," mused the bard.

"Well, no, not exactly," said the warrior. "I’m in the Prison, but you’re not."

"Then where are we?"

"Kanaris opened the prison and let me out, but not far enough to get back into my body. So I’m meeting you halfway."

Gabrielle’s brow furrowed. She didn’t care where they met – she finally had a seemingly flesh and blood, very much alive warrior princess with her. They were together again. As though hearing the bard’s thoughts, the warrior shook her head.

"It’s not that simple. We’re here to fight it. If either one of us gets killed here, we stay dead."

Gabrielle looked up at her, alarmed. "But I don’t want you to - "

The warrior placed a finger on the bard’s lips, quieting her. "Shhh, it’s okay, I know you don’t, believe me, I don’t want to get hurt either. Don’t worry, I can look after myself. But Gabrielle, if my death means an end to that thing, then I will gladly do it."

Xena’s words were of no comfort, the bard remembered the promise the warrior had once made: Even in death, I will never leave you.

Casting all her trust in Xena, as she had always done, the bard looked deep into the eyes of the warrior, and said, "Then let’s go find that son of a bacchae."

Xena burst out laughing.

They travelled together as they had always done, but it was not for long. In the dreamscape they found themselves in, distances were not the same as the physical world. So a simple span took hours to traverse, and leagues were travelled in minutes. They travelled side by side, afraid to touch, each locked in her own thoughts, relief at finding each other outweighing almost everything else, nagging concern about the upcoming battle weighing heavily on the mind, as they sought the Keeper of Souls.

And at last, the being was found.

In a cavern familiar to the bard, a favourite haunt of her childhood.

"Gabrielle, if my death means the end of that thing, then I will gladly do it."

The words resonated through the collapsed mind of the bard. She knelt, staring, unseeing, eyes unable to penetrate the blackness of the air surrounding her. Knowing nothing, the words echoed through the bard’s mind.

"Gabrielle, if my death means the end of that thing, then I will gladly do it."

Her death.

Xena’s death.

Gabrielle knew her life would stop with the warrior’s death, and it had. She had sat there for so long on the rocky, dusty floor of the cavern, in the flickering torchlight, seeing the blood, all the blood, the warrior’s face in peaceful repose, care, love, anger, mischief erased forever from the youthful face. The once strong body, lying relaxed in death.

"Even in death, I will never leave you."

But she had.

The final battle had been so … undramatic. They had found a being of incredible powers, unstoppable, gathering followers wherever it travelled, mindless beings no longer able to think or feel for themselves, except through the power of the being.

Xena and Gabrielle had gone in to do battle, the bard’s heart in her mouth as it always was when Xena placed herself square in the face of danger. Now that fear had become a reality, and Xena was dead.

They had entered the cavern, and Xena had called for the being to show itself, drawing her sword, blue eyes chips of ice, warrior’s senses on full alert. Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning had struck the warrior, flames of energy surrounding her in pure golden glow, washing into each corner of the flickering torch lit cavern, chasing away all the shadows.

The warrior had stiffened, muscles jerking hopelessly, eyes wide with shock, and then the energy disruption had suddenly ceased.

The bard’s eyes had struggled to adjust to the suddenly lower level of lighting, tears stinging the corners of her eyes as she’d stumbled to Xena’s side. Xena had stood tall for but a moment, sword falling to her side, then dropping to the floor of the cavern in a dull ringing of steel, before she herself had slowly sank to her knees, then collapsed on the floor. Fingers inquisitive, Gabrielle had gently felt the outline of the warrior’s face, expression faltering, feeling the pain deep in her soul, knowing Xena was no more.

There were no time for words, no time to voice what lay in her heart, only silence and hopelessness. The figure, who had not moved, stared down at the bard and fallen warrior, outlines dancing in the flickering light, then continued on its business, moving past them with an insulting disregard.

Too shocked to move, Gabrielle had sat there, the head of her warrior resting comfortably in her lap, as only her dreams had ever dared show her was possible.

Gabrielle had never had the chance to tell her.

It was over.

So much time had passed, that the torches finally guttered and flickered out one by one, until Gabrielle sat in complete darkness, soul almost destroyed, aching so badly deep down that even movement was impossible. Her mind no longer functioned, unable to see past the blood of the warrior and the pain in her soul.

The will to live was no longer there, only a deep seated and unnerving longing to follow Xena.

She would do it.

Even in death I will never leave you.

Gabrielle, if my death means an end to that thing, I will do it.

But her death had not been the end of the evil.

It was only the start.



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