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>
The bard would finish what the warrior had started.
With the sole purpose of ridding the world of the evil in it, and joining her friend and would be lover once more, Gabrielle gently pressed her lips to the stone cold forehead, lingering, trying to absorb the one last vestige of the essence of a warrior she had, and still, loved so deeply, the one who had shared her life for so brief a period.
Growing old with the warrior had never been on the cards, she knew that, but somehow, deep down, she had never really believed it, thinking they would always run in the face of the devil and never be short of breath.
But it was never to be.
Xena was dead.
Her warrior was dead.
She gently placed the fallen warrior’s head in the dust.
"I will never forget," the bard said softly, eyes robbed of all life. "If my death means the end of that thing, then I will gladly do it.
Steeling herself, she knelt softly on the crying earth, and lifted the long, cold sword that had once belonged to one of the greatest warlords in all Greece. She felt it’s unfamiliar weight, swinging it experimentally, learning the weight and balance of the finely crafted weapon.
Squaring her shoulders, emerald eyes once sparkling, now devoid of emotion, she walked slowly and firmly away from the warrior, resisting the temptation to look back, every step one tortured journey from where her soul lay in ruins, slowly leaving the bleak cavern.
Once outside, she scented the wind in the blackness of the day – a cold acrid stench floating gently all around her from the ruined earth.
Where once there had been vibrant life, and innocent people going about their daily routines as they had for countless centuries, there was now twisted and blackened wreckage stretching across the landscape as far as the mind could imagine, reaching up to the inky sky in tortured poses of infinite agony. Fire, pestilence and suffering had taken their hold on the world, wiping out all within it in one vicious stroke. Nothing was visible in the impenetrable blackness, but the gentle bard who had once come from a village not far from here, knew what she would find all around her – the bloated bodies, rotting on the ground in poses of unnatural death, each and every one a testament to its tortured end, hands raised to the sky begging for a mercy that would never been be seen in the cruel face of the new master of the Earth.
Gabrielle, if my death means and end to that thing, then I will gladly do it.
But in the end, Xena’s death had meant nothing.
And now there was no way to stop it.
The bard would try.
For time immemorial, the warrior bard walked the face of the sterile earth, seeking the being that had done this to her mortal realm. She never encountered another living thing, as all had been destroyed, save herself. Day and night were no different, the inky blackness impenetrable. Far and wide she searched, offering silent prayers to the gods who had once lived and played in this, their creation. To all her questions, the immortals gave no answer, as all had been rendered to dust long before the warrior had lifted her sword to forever silence the being that had wrought so much havoc to the shattered earth.
Every day the bard’s mutilated soul remained sundered from its other half, never to be reunited. Her heart ached, and for eons she longed for the death that would put her at her rightful place at the warrior’s side, unknowing of the destruction of the Elysian Fields.
When she had travelled the entire earth, heartbroken, praying for her beloved, she returned to the cavern, and offered a prayer up to whatever gods would listen.
I must end this thing. My beloved warrior …
I hear you.
The bard was shocked – she had never heard from another soul, living, dead or immortal.
Who are you?
In her mind an image shivered. A tall, well muscled bald man, hands reverently cupping a crystal ball, young, strong, vital. I am the Seer Karmen.
The bard bowed in respect, not knowing what had produced this movement.
Well met, she heard herself say. Where is my warrior?
Abruptly, a phrase swam through her entranced mind.
Gabrielle, if my death means and end to that thing, then I will gladly do it.
Even in death, I will never leave you.
She is gone. The bard’s mind echoed misery, pain, denial, longing.
She is not gone. The Keeper of Souls is abroad.
Who is this Keeper of Souls?
It is a being unseen and unknowable. You do not need to know its nature to find it. Kneel.
Gabrielle knelt, head bowed in respect, tip of the sword she had always carried digging into the dirt, her hands comfortably resting on the hilt, as her beloved’s had once done so long ago. I am ready.
Impatience stabbed into her. She knew Xena was alive, Karmen had told her as much. The race to be reunited with the other half of her soul outweighed all other considerations. Even in death, I will never leave you, she silently promised her warrior.
So be it!
Abruptly Gabrielle found herself on her feet, floating just above the rough surface of the cavern floor, unable to penetrate the thick and uncaring blackness that lay around her. Once deep inside the cavern, her heart bled afresh as she was reunited with the mortal remains of beloved, long since turned to dust.
There was a golden glow on the cavern floor, and the warrior’s outline, at first ghostly, then shining brightly, formed on the floor. Once again, a spark of life flickered in the dead emerald green eyes. Robbed of a warrior’s love for so long, a bard’s heart sighed in relief as the beautiful face once again formed before her, giving the fallen warrior a semblance of the life she had once shone so brightly with.
What must I do?
The Keeper of Souls has her, said the seer Karmen, deep voice calm and melodic. You must free her, and all the other souls it has stolen.
How am I to do this?
You are a bard, not a warrior.
Gabrielle looked down at herself. In her hands, coated in blood, she could see the sword. She had held it for so long, it had grown to make itself a part of her. Eyes stinging with tears, forlorn once again, aching so badly for her beloved, a woman who had never left her, who she could never see again with her living eyes.
Drop the sword.
Every fibre of her soul cried out in agony, burning with longing to be close to her warrior again.
Then you can’t have her back.
Gabrielle’s small hand gripped the blade of the sword, unmindful of he cold blade cutting deep into her flesh, tearing at the sword, blood flowing freely as it finally came clear of her hand, tearing muscle and bone with its passage. Tears flowing freely from her agonized eyes, she clutched her hand and sank to her knees, soul aching so badly for her lost warrior, that she could not feel her own pain.
It is done.
With those words, the Seer Karmen left her, and she became again what she had been eons earlier: a young woman huddled in the dirt of a cavern, soul aching, heartbroken cries terrible to hear as she clutched the body of the woman she loved more than life itself. Shattered, she did not hear the approach of the Keeper of Souls, who had taken her beloved so long ago.
Gabrielle, began the cold, uncaring, inhuman voice. I have come for you.
"Take me!" she screamed, clutching Xena’s broken body. "I don’t care anymore!"
As you wish.
Abruptly, time unravelled, and they cycled back to the cavern as it had been so long ago when they had both entered it with the intention of killing the being.
Xena stood straight and tall, drawing her sword, eyes boring into the shadows clinging to the being.
"NO! XENA!" screamed the bard, relief at seeing her once again living warrior so great that the tears would not stop coming. It was a voice thick with aching loss, the agony of the separation of millennia from her ancient warrior causing her to stumble, yet still find the strength to clutch her warrior.
The blue eyes, distracted for an instant, drank in the devastated bard. The crack she had felt in her own dark soul mirrored the pain in the bard’s eyes.
"What?" she asked, surprised, sword faltering as her attention was drawn from the being.
Unthinking, unable to speak, desire to touch the warrior so strong, the bard knew no more than the tactile sense as she threw herself into the startled warrior’s arms.
Xena instinctively pulled the bard in close, sinking despair that she had lost the crucial element of surprise in the battle against the Keeper of Souls settling on her broad shoulders.
"Oh, no Gabrielle," moaned the warrior softly. "The Keeper - "
The being stared at them both, and while the warrior was distracted with the long awaited reunion with the bard, raised its hand, and both were surrounded by a pure golden glow.
"No," said the warrior, agony lancing through her body, eyes captured by the emerald green of the bard, shining bright with pure love.
"No," said the bard, cradling Xena in her arms. "Let it go."
The pain increased a thousand fold, then both stiffened in shock, collapsing to the ground in wordless agony, finally robbed of all life.
The figure continued on its business, moving past them with an insulting disregard.
Gabrielle slammed home into her body with a vicious start.
She straightened, disorientated, staring wild eyed at the shocked monk, extending her arms and looking at her hands, all around the room, taking it in as raw sensation, unable to process what she was seeing. Her eyes travelled down to the still form of the fallen warrior, and she began to sob.
Wordless agony was wrenched from her, as she covered her eyes and the tears poured forth, her cries of despair agony to behold. Wordlessly, Kanaris leant up, and pulled the broken woman into his arms, knowing the comfort he gave her was only a whisper of what it should have been.
"Gabrielle," he began. "Did you find Xena?"
"I found her," the bard got out in fits and starts. "And it killed her! IT KILLED HER!"
The scream was a pure cry of rage at being separated from her other half.
"I don’t think she’s dead," the monk began slowly, trying to calm the bard. "I think it’s just put her back in Prison."
"You saw," said the bard when she was capable of speech again. "What do we have to do to fight it?"
"You are the Key, Gabrielle," said the Keeper of the Keys slowly. "Its defeat lies within you."
The bard glared at him accusingly. "You keep saying that, but how am I the Key?"
"You share half of the warrior’s soul. She cannot defeat the Keeper without you."
"I know that by now," replied the bard.
"The Keeper of Souls escaped it’s its prison because the Key was taken. By the Gate Keeper. They alone now stand at they Gate. The Gate Keeper must Lock the Gate."
Gabrielle recoiled in shock, realisation flickering through her mind.
"How did you escape the Keeper’s Prison?" asked the Monk calmly.
Gabrielle ignored the question, focussing instead on the experience she had had in the dreamscape. Xena’s way, the way of the warrior had not defeated it; neither had the way of peace, Gabrielle’s way.
"We can’t destroy it?" she asked slowly. "You know that – you yourself are a facet of the Keeper of Souls. What do you want with me?"
"I seek to imprison it again," the Monk responded calmly, dark knowledge flashing in his eyes. "You are the Key. How did you escape the Keeper’s Prison, Gabrielle?"
To that there was no answer.
"I have to talk to Xena. Can you get her out of Prison again?"
The Monk frowned. "I am uncertain."
"Try!" the bard urged, leaning forward, emerald green eyes blazing.
Kanaris stared at her, long and deep. Gabrielle felt naked in his regard, his eyes boring into her half soul. She did not drop her gaze, gentle green gaze unwavering.
"I will try," he said finally, and slowly extended his hands.
She took them firmly, prepared this time for the burning sensation that almost destroyed her. This time she did not witness the bleeding universe, as she fainted long before them.
She again found herself in the clearing, but this time there was no warrior, and she felt sinking despair. She sank to her knees, and pondered what to do next.
A thin breeze began to weave its way across the clearing, gently stirring the bard’s golden hair, carrying a soft, familiar scent. Looking up hopefully, the bard saw the ghostly outline of the warrior against the darkness of the trees beyond. Dragging herself to her feet, the bard half stumbled over to the figure which was rapidly gaining solidity.
Lunging forward, Gabrielle caught the sagging figure of Xena, who was gently shaking her head as though to clear it. She pulled the warrior into her arms, holding her close, relishing the feel of the strong body.
"Xena," she said softly, the question clear in her voice.
"I’m okay," said the warrior slowly, softly. "What are you doing back here?"
"I have to talk to you," said the bard urgently. "Kanaris told me I escaped from the Keeper’s Prison. Is that true?"
"I don’t know," replied the warrior. "What else did he tell you?"
"He keeps telling me I’m the Key, whatever that means."
"You are the Key?" asked Xena slowly, incredulously.
"Xena," said the bard, urgency clear in her tone. "What does that mean?"
"It means exactly that – you are the Key to the Gate."
Gabrielle felt like screaming aloud in frustration. "Gods Xena, what is that supposed to mean?"
Suddenly, a cold, carrion breeze swept through the clearing.
"It means it’s too late," murmured the warrior, straightening up, holding the bard close. "Please don’t leave me Gabrielle."
"I will never leave you," said the bard, gazing up into the tortured blue eyes of the warrior, desperation and love shining clear through her eyes. Gabrielle felt herself tumbling inwardly, free falling out of control.
"Who are you?" she asked, horrified realisation seeping into her.
The warrior loved the bard with all her heart and soul. She had fought for so long to find the other half to her soul, had been content with friendship, but now found that the hidden love she had for the gentle bard was fully, passionately returned. Would this be the end?
"I am the Gate Keeper," she said softly, head hanging in conviction.
"Xena," said the bard softly, lifting the warrior’s head so they were eye to eye. "I love you with all my heart and soul. We will never be apart."
The sky blue eyes radiated a gentle warmth, revealing the seasoned warrior for what she was: a young woman deeply in love. Slowly the breeze transformed into a howling wind as the Keeper of Souls approached, destroying all in its path, but the bard and the warrior remained undisturbed as it tore at their hair and clothes. Unstoppable, they joined together for a deep and heartfelt kiss.
A deep, inhuman scream sounded from the wilderness, gradually increasing in strength and power, as the two lovers, unheeding, continued in their gentle exploration of one another.
"NOOOOOO!!!!" screamed the Keeper of Souls. "It is not to be! The Gate Keeper must never have the Key! NO!"
A million souls in torment screamed their agony to the dreamscape, howling and gnashing their teeth. An undercurrent of wild screams of joy sounded beneath it, gradually gaining in strength, untamed magic unleashed.
The wind howled, the earth quaked and blazing light shot up into the darkened sky of the dreamscape of the lovers, while they continued their reacquaintance of centuries past. When the lovers finally broke the kiss, silence covered the sky.
"The Gate has been opened," said Gabrielle softly, looking into Xena’s crystalline blue eyes, seeing all the love she had felt for centuries reflected in the pure gaze. "The souls are free."
"The Keeper of Souls will never return."
With those words, the ground beneath them began to shift, Xena whispering gentle assurances to her lover as the ground slipped away beneath their feet. The ghost of her strong arms remained around the bard as they fell away into oblivion.
Gabrielle awoke with a start, instantly aware of the jagged pain beneath her back. Alarm filled her and she sat up abruptly, looking for Xena.
Across the wreckage of their campsite, lay the still form of the warrior, seemingly with the stillness of death.
"Oh, no," moaned the bard, dragging herself to her feet, unmindful of the jagged rocks and splinters, scattered possessions, as she stumbed across to the prone figure.
"Xena," she said softly, as she struggled to roll her warrior’s body over.
"Ah," said the warrior softly, slack muscles becoming firm again, as she regained her senses. Blue eyes unfocussed, she stared up at the bard, who was slowly gaining shape before her eyes. "Gabrielle?"
The bard did not wait; it was enough. She threw herself into the warrior’s arms, crying, gently kissing her neck.
"You’re alive," she said.
"I am," said the warrior gently, holding the bard close. After the tears had raged for a while, then finally petered out, Xena gently lifted Gabrielle’s face with a long forefinger, and ducked her head, claiming the bard’s lips. Gabrielle did not hesitate, kissing her back passionately.
"Xena," she said when they broke for air, both hearts hammering. "I love you. Don’t ever do that to me again."
The warrior’s smile was answer enough as they began to kiss again.