In Sorrows Shadow
by Kathleen Wolf
COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and back story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way.
EXTREME VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of extreme violence. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
LOVE DISCLAIMER: This story depicts a love 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, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story. Please note no graphic sexual scenes are contained within the story.
NOTE: This story is the sixth in my Sorrow series and begins about a moon after the fifth story ends. I strongly recommend reading the other stories to understand what is going on in this one. You might find yourself a bit confused if you don't.
TISSUE ALERT: I'm in keeping this in just in case, cause some of the scenes contained in the story are a bit heartbreaking. So, you might want to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
SPECIAL THANKS: To Alina thank you for beta-reading and your inspiring encouragement. To Gin, thank you for all your creative and personal support, as always you are the "Answer Lady', LRH. To Cheney, thanks for loving Sorrow even more than I do, Cemdus to you LBD, always and forever.
"My Queen, you understand the danger that this journey presents?" The priestess asked quietly when they entered the large hall.
"Yes." Gabrielle stood in the middle of the room with the Regent and archer behind her.
"You who feel the need to be her companions, you also understand the danger that this journey presents?" She asked as she moved towards a large covered table at the front.
"Yes." The two Amazons answered in unison.
"Why do you all lie?" The priestess turned suddenly and spoke in a loud voice. "None of you even know where you are going. You must be honest and forthright in all the words that you speak from this point on." The three stunned Amazons nodded. "The first step is that we must shed the skin of what you want yourself to be seen as and reveal what it is you truly are." The priestess walked toward them with a dagger in her hand. Beginning with the bard, she cut the clothes from their bodies. Leaving them all standing naked and uncomfortable. Carrying the armful of clothing to the corner of the room, she tossed them into a large fireplace. "This is the first of many sacrifices, these three women will make in preparation. Shedding the façade of ornaments. May this sacrifice be accepted." Waving her hand at the heap, the three were amazed as the flames quickly engulfed the clothing and sent black smoke billowing up the chimney.
"Now I ask again, do any of you understand the danger that will be presented on this journey?" She moved back to the table.
"I know that I must seek both the questions and answers that will reveal the secret that I hide from even myself. Artemis has warned that some answers can bring horrible consequences even death." Gabrielle spoke softly, folding her arms across her cheast in an attempt to cover herself.
"The reason for the danger is that this journey will take you to a place unlike any you've ever been before. It will take you inside your very mind." The priestess walked up to the Queen and placed her finger against the bard's right temple. "You are waging a war inside. That is the pressure you feel every time you try to think of the secret. Only by bringing the conscious into the unconscious will you be able to work past the physical pain."
"If we're going into the Queen's mind, how can there be any danger? She wouldn't let anything happen to us." Ephiny asked confused.
"The unconscious self is a very unpredictable and dangerous place. The only control Gabrielle will have is in the questions she asks. The unconsciousness will give the answers regardless of the consequence to her or to her companions." The priestess massaged the bard's temple as she spoke. "That is why you must be very vigilant in the questions you do ask. The opportunity will be there for you to get answers about most anything. You must stay focused and only seek clarity on the secret. Allowing yourself to wander will have horrible repercussions."
"If were to fight in the face of danger, would it injure her?" Danu asked concerned. It was better to know just how restricted they were once the journey began.
"There will never be a need to fight things physically. Your duty as companions is to help her see what questions she must ask, help her stay focused and provide her strength when she becomes weak." The priestess removed her hand from the bard's head. "I will be bringing in my assistants, who will use special oils and blessed water to clean your physical bodies. Please use this time to focus yourselves mentally on the journey, on what strengths you hope to bring." Reaching up into Gabrielle's hair she used the dagger to cut a large lock of it off. Moving first to Danu and then to Ephiny, she took a lock of hair from each of them. "I have much to do before the next step of the cleansing can be performed. Please use this time to focus." She clapped her hands loudly. A door at the back of the hall opened and six attendants came in carrying three tables. Each Amazon was directed to lie down and two attendants worked to cleanse each of them.
'I know you're tired.' Danu thought to herself, fighting the relaxation that the cleansing was bringing. 'You have to focus. What strength can you bring?' She questioned her heart and soul. 'Love. You love her daughter with all of your heart and you love Gabrielle in the very least for giving Sorrow to you. Come on girl, you know you love her for more reasons than that. Loyalty, there's another one. You didn't even know why you wanted to come, but you knew you had too. Come on Focus." She fought to stifle a yawn. 'Focus, you normally have lots of that. I have to pretend I've got my bow. That's it, just me and my bow in the forest. Protecting the Queen.' Despite her efforts the sweet smell of the cleansing oils quickly put the archer to sleep.
'Strengths I want to bring?' Ephiny tried to concentrate on the question, distracted by the smell of the cleansing oil. 'Well normally I'd say my skills as a warrior, but apparently they won't be of much help this time. Friendship. Gabrielle and I have been through a lot, which should help me help her with these questions. By the Gods, I hate all these riddles.' Locking her jaw she swallowed the yawn back down. 'Xena would be tearing this place apart if she knew how much danger Gabrielle was putting herself in and Sorrow... I don't even want to think about what she'd do.' Trying not to think about the reactions of the two warriors, the Regent soon drifted into a deep sleep.
Gabrielle was the only one who lost her focus before she even made an attempt to get it. Breathing in the scent of the cleansing oil, she tried to figure out just what it was. 'A hint of wildflower, maybe a little like sunshine...' The bard in her tried to find the perfect description as her head lulled to one side and she dropped asleep.
"Where am I?" Gabrielle spun around in the darkness, trying to get her bearings.
"Mother!" A little reddish blond haired girl, around twelve, came bounding out of the shadows into her arms.
"Anastasia!" The bard held the child not knowing how she knew that this was her unborn daughter.
"Yes, Mother. How did you know?" The little girl pulled her head back from the bard's shoulder to look her in the eye.
"Just a feeling." She used her hand to brush a lock of the soft hair from her daughter's face. Staring into the child's eyes she tried to stop the small gasp that escaped her lips. Anastasia's right eye was the deep clear blue colour that adorned the eyes of the warrior princess, while her left eye was the brilliant green colour that graced her own.
"Funny isn't it." The girl blinked for a second when she heard the gasp. "Sorrow will say it's because I'm the best half of each of you." She giggled as she spoke. Finding the bright laughter addictive, the bard started as well. "But seriously now. You don't have to go on this journey."
"I don't?" Gabrielle's laughter stopped abruptly. "Honey, I need to find out what's wrong. I know the journey is dangerous but I must know."
"You'll know in time regardless, the secret cannot remain hidden forever. There is equal danger either way." Anastasia lowered her gaze.
"Will something happen if I do go on the journey?" She questioned when she saw the sad look on Anastasia's face.
"I don't know. Time is not mine to possess, that is Madalene's." The little girl's blinked and then began staring off into the darkness. "When I am old enough to control it, I will be able to give you these memories that you hide. I can reveal any memory to you that you desire." A dull voice spoke now. "As Madalene possess time, I will have memory."
"By the Gods." Gabrielle whispered in shock and pulled Anastasia tightly against her, more frightened then she'd ever been before. "I'm so sorry honey. Why must I hurt you all like this?" Guilt washed over her for the curse that all of her daughters seemed to bear. With the guilt came the pressure in her head, overwhelming now, her legs buckled and she dropped to her knees.
"Don't think about it now." Her daughter's whisper called to her from a distance. "There is no reason to be sorry. I think you're right to want to go on the journey. You need to find out that this is not your fault. There are other forces at work here."
Feeling the child slip from her arms, Gabrielle feared opening her eyes. A sudden need inside her gave her the strength to look. Shaking all over, she stared at the two young women who stood before her.
"It's all right Mother. The journey will be hard but you must go. This guilt will eat you alive if you don't." Madalene, looking exactly as Sorrow had described during the time crossing, stood holding her sister's hand. Anastasia was no longer a child of twelve, but an adolescent at sixteen. The two women were identical in height and a resemblance within their facial structure would easily show anyone that they were sisters. The main difference being that where a slight darkness hovered around Madalene, an equal light clung to Anastasia.
"Madalene... Anastasia?" She asked to confirm what she already knew in her heart was true.
"I love you, always." They both spoke in unison, the soft melody of the combined voices causing the bard's eyes to grow heavy and close.
Coming back into the hall, the Priestess was relieved to see that the oils had served their purpose. All three women lay sound asleep, thin white cotton sheets covering them.
"You have done well, Nicola." Artemis appeared in a flash beside the priestess.
"Thank you, Goddess." She dropped to one knee in reverence.
"Are the bracelets ready?" The Goddess moved toward the tables where the trio slept.
"Of course." Nicola moved to hand her the three braided strands, created by the combining of a portion of the lock of hair she'd taken from each woman.
"Wonderful!" She could feel the power of the tokens in her palm. "The companions that she has chosen are stronger than I first believed." Sighing, she moved to tie the band around each woman's right arm. "Now for the hard part. Are you clear on everything that must be done?" She watched Nicola nod that she did before disappearing.
"What do you think you're doing?" Xena asked irritated when she walked into the tent. Sorrow stood in the middle of the room, her wings spread out fully behind her as she extended her arms into the air.
"Stretching, what does it look like?" The Princess fluttered the wings out once before reluctantly allowing them to furrow into their hiding place within her back. Her words stopped for a moment as she took a deep breath. "Contrary to popular belief, keeping those things hidden is not the easiest thing to do for extended periods of time." She stretched her neck to one side and turned her back to the warrior.
"Really?" Xena's voice lost all of its previous annoyance as she pondered the idea. From the view of watcher, her transformation's seemed so easy.
"Yes, I wasn't intended to be in this form after all." Sorrow turned back to look at her. "It's gotten easier over time, but it took a lot of concentration at first."
"To watch you, it looks effortless." She removed her sword and dropped down onto the small bed. Double checking that she could easily reach the weapon if anything unexpected happened. Despite having the Protector only a few feet away, old habits were hard to break.
"It's easy to go from this to the Protector." Sorrow groaned as she moved to sit cross-legged on the floor. "But it's a real effort to change back. There's quite a bit more of me in that form than the human one. You should have seen me the first time I tried." The Princess shook her head and laughed.
"Tell me about it." Xena closed her eyes and waited for the story. Consciously, she realized for the first time how much she missed Gabrielle. She hoped a story, any story, would ease her loneliness for the bard. Regardless, she really was curious. Little had ever been mentioned about the time between Sorrow's banishment from Dahak's realm and when they'd discovered her existence.
"Well, when Father banished me, I luckily entered this realm in a relatively isolated area up North. I'd seen Hope and Mother, so I knew my normal form would not be acceptable." She laughed again at the thought of it. "I don't know what made me think I could do it, change myself from a demon to a human. The first time I tried to do the entire transformation all at once. Big mistake!" Sorrow's face contorted with the memory of the extreme pain.
"Too much too soon?" Xena looked over to see her wince.
"Slightly. So then I started teaching myself how to change bit by bit." Sorrow held out her right hand and allowed the claws to emerge from her fingertips. "My first success was with the claws. Then the fangs." She allowed them to come halfway down and then willed them to recede. "I was so happy the first time that I was free of them. I flew to a nearby river and spent half the day looking at my reflection. Seeing myself with out them gave me the belief that I might be able to hide it all. Actually look like a human." She smiled to herself. "The horns took a few days to master. The headaches they caused subsided over time."
"How come you didn't choose a human form more like Gabrielle's?" The warrior asked the question softly, not wanting to impart any malice through it.
"I swore I wouldn't do as Hope had, I wouldn't steal her identity." Sorrow grumbled and shook her head. "Xena, I know it's hard to believe, but it really was an accident that I ran into you two that night at the inn. I was keeping track of every rumor of your location in an attempt to avoid you."
"I'm glad you're not a very good tracker then." The warrior smiled at her.
"So am I." Sorrow smiled back. "You'd saw that he'd stabbed me didn't you?"
"Uh huh." Xena closed her eyes and nodded. "So, how long did it take you to master the rest of the transformation?" She returned to the original story gracefully.
"The only time I had even seen or touched real human flesh was when I saved Mother." Sorrow continued the tale with the warrior's prompting. "I spent weeks trying to perfect it. Making patches on my arm change first then patches on my face. No matter how hard I tried it never seemed soft enough or the right colour. So I scouted out a nearby village and..."
"You spied on them?" Xena opened her eyes and looked at her, mildly amused by the idea.
"What other choice did I have? I'd only held Mother for a moment, it wasn't really a lot of information to go on." Sorrow blushed. "Whenever I did try to integrate into humanity I had to look perfect or else someone might discover what I was." Seeing the warrior's look change from amusement to anger she lowered her eyes to avoid the glare. "I know I'm not a what, but you understand the predicament I was in. I had to work out the tiniest of details. Do you know how bizarre human hips are?" Slowly looking up she was happy to see the glare soften. "The hair seemed to be the toughest of all." She ran her hand through the thick mane unconsciously. "Until I tried to deal with my wings that is." Sighing softly, she allowed them to emerge from her back. Hoping the warrior wouldn't get angry at the display. "As you know they aren't the smallest things in the world."
"No, small is something they're not." The small breeze over her face told her that the Princess had brought the topic of discussion out of hiding again.
"At first I couldn't figure out what to do with them at all." She moaned at the memory. "Then I was wandering through the forest and I found a small caterpillar making a cocoon." Closing her eyes to remember the beauty of the little creature that had taught her so much. "I stayed there for days watching it weave that little shelter around itself. Trying to speculate what it was doing and why."
Xena listened to the Princess release a slow long breath. Thinking to herself how fascinating it must have been for Sorrow to discover just what that little creature was doing.
"Well since I had nothing better to do, I watched it. Day and night, until suddenly the cocoon started to break open and this wet little creature pushed its way out. I was horrified. I was so angry that another animal had crawled in after the little caterpillar while I wasn't looking. I was angry at myself for not protecting it." Sorrow grumbled.
"Always the protector, for all things big and small." Xena was comforted by this example of the Princess' innate goodness.
"Even though I was angry I kept watching. I almost fell down when the shriveled up little things on its back dried out and became beautiful wings." Reveling in the freedom, she stretched the wings straight back and slowly began to bring them forward. She hoped the wind wouldn't disturb Xena too much as she repeated the motion over. "I started to wonder if I could be like the moth. A demon sometimes and a human others. It was actually by accident that I found up I could bring them into my back. I could only manage to hide one or the other at first. I used to wear myself out trying to conceal the two of them. It took me a little over a moon to figure out the trick." She laughed to herself, the motion of the wings never ceasing.
"And the trick is?" Xena smiled as she asked the question.
"It'll sound so simple when I say it. It wouldn't have taken you so long to figure it out." The Princess blushed at the idea of revealing the silly little key to concealing her wings.
"Spit it out." Xena turned to face her, eyes closed, contented by the breeze that washed over her. "I have to empty all the air out of my lungs." Sorrow watched the warrior's facial expression.
"I think I knew that." She opened her eyes to look at the Princess. The beauty of the winged creature that sat so humbly in front of her almost made her want to cry. Her heart reminded itself that only through the influence of her bard could such a magnificent creature exist at all. She doubted that any other woman would've been able to create such a wonderful child with no other involvement then conception alone. "I vaguely remember that you always seem to take a deep breath once they've hidden themselves away." Sorrow blushed and nodded. "I doubt I would've thought of a solution like that at all." She answered honestly. "I would've been too busy trying to force them to think about letting it happen so gently." The small smile on Sorrow's face made admitting her own possible lacking worth it. "What did you do once you were able to fully transform?" The warrior asked, wondering what her reaction had been. If the retreat of her fangs had caused so much joy, the full transformation must have been overwhelming. "I made sure I'd mastered it all before I went back to the river. I couldn't believe what looked back at me." She closed her eyes to gaze again at the wavy reflection in the water.
"Couldn't believe how beautiful you were that is?" The warrior complimented her, lulled into a content feeling by the soft wind from the movement of the Protector's wings.
"Beautiful... no. I could still see the ugly demon hidden under the surface." Sorrow shook her head sternly at the comment. "It wasn't until I let myself move amongst humans that I realized that I wasn't that hideous, that I could move around freely in this form. It was comforting when no one formed a lynch mob to kill the monster."
"Sorrow you are never hideous, even as the Protector." Xena sleepy voice was still full of conviction. "It's the eyes, so much like Gabrielle's." Happily she fell asleep with her lover's name on her lips, no longer thinking of the battle ahead. Only dreaming of the woman who owned her body and soul.
"Xena, you were the first to believe me beautiful and I will always be in your debt for that." The Princess dropped her voice to a very low whisper when she saw the warrior's eyes close. "I'd never seen Mother's eyes till that day at the inn. I'd always thought they were an unnatural part of my demon flesh that couldn't be changed. It was the love I saw in her eyes for you that made me realize the beauty of them." Silently, she let her wings recede and moved to recline on her own bed nearby. "Mother, I promise I'll take care of her." She whispered to herself as she drifted off.
Nicola took a deep breath and signaled the drummers to begin. The low tones of the rhythmic thumping reverberated through the Priestess' cheast. Walking back to the table she picked up a large pitcher and used the words Artemis had given her to bless the wine within. Walking back toward the figures on the tables, she nodded to the others in the room and the chant began. Wordless and low, it filled the air in the hall with heaviness. Nicola went to Gabrielle first and poured the wine over the Queen's exposed feet as she recited the appropriate prayer. She continued the ritual with both companions before shuffling slowly around, enclosing them within a circle of wine on the floor.
"No one but myself must enter the circle." She reminded all of her assistants, who lowered their eyes as a sign of compliance. "Areath, bring me the next offering."
Continuing her circular shuffle, she relinquished the empty picture to the Amazon and took the basket of leaves. Allowing herself to fall under the spell of the drums and chants, the priestess moved just inside the boundary created by the wine. Reaching to take a handful of the small leaves, Nicola's movements became disjointed as a large wail escaped her just before she tossed the contents of her hand into the air. Some of the leaves landed gently on Danu's sleeping form close by, all those that landed on the floor burst into flames and sent a small puffs of thick white smoke into the air. Responding to the change in the Priestess, the cadence of the drumming increased. Handfuls after handful of leaves were tossed into the air with the same result. By the time the basket was empty, all three figures were slightly covered in leaves and the room had filled with a thin ivory fog. It was only now that the half dozen chanting Amazons moved closer to the circle and began to dance. Each woman moving in an individual pattern, that in total seemed to choreograph together with the motions of the others.
Knowing her cue, Areath moved to the very edge of the circle. Handing the Priestess the small stone bowl and falcon feather, she retrieved the now empty basket without causing a break in the dance.
Dipping the pristine feather into the thick crimson liquid within the bowl, Nicola moved in a more graceful pattern around the sleeping figures. She hovered near each of them briefly, leaving a small brushing of the red on their forehead with the feather. Then in turn she brushed the dripping feather across their left palm then their right.
Never ceasing her movement, the Priestess allowed Areath to take the bowl and feather from her.
"Light the fire!" She commanded in a loud strong voice from the safety of the circle.
Moving toward the fireplace with the torch, Areath could hardly believe that she'd been allowed not only to assist in such a rare and powerful cleansing but that it would be by her hand the scared fire was lit. Bringing the fire down to light the oil soaked wood within the fireplace; she breathed deeply when the thick smoke billowed up at her and into the room.
'Praise Artemis.' Areath said the simple thanks as she turned to realize she could no longer she the Priestess or the three sleeping figures. So far everything was going perfectly.
"Okay my love, where are you?" Solari leaned back against the wall and stared at the door. Unless she'd lost all track of time, Ephiny was supposed to meet her in the lunch hall over a candlemark ago.
She heard the shrill call from outside and ran out of the hall before anyone else could move. Scanning the sky immediately, she easily spotted the thick smoke billowing out from the trees to her right.
'The only structure down there is the ceremonial hall.' She though as she ran, reminding herself that their was no reason for anyone to be in there today. When she arrived she was surprised to see the Priestess' guards blocking the building, despite the fact that thick black smoke poured out of both open doorways. A large group of Amazons had arrived to fight the fire but were stopped in their tracks.
"What's going on here?" Solari pushed her way to the guards. "You do realize the hall is on fire!" Her voice was sarcastic.
"Yes, we are quite aware." The guard closest to her answered in an authoritative voice. "The cleansing cannot be interrupted, there is no danger as long as we don't interfere."
"Cleansing? What cleansing?" The head of the Royal guard attempted to stare the defiant Amazon down.
"The Goddess Artemis has seen fit to send our Queen, our Regent and the archer known as Danu on a journey that requires the most powerful of cleansing." The Priestess' guard stared back, knowing that her orders came from a higher power.
"What?" Solari couldn't believe the list of participants being given to her. Things had gone from bad to worse in a hurry. Not only was one of the largest building in the village seemingly being allowed to burn to the ground but now she was being told that her wife was in there. Not to mention the Queen and the Protector's fiancée. "Get out of my way!" Watching the most recent wave of smoke billow out of the doorway only a few feet away she couldn't take it anymore.
"Aunt Solari, you can't!" Madalene's forceful voice called from below, stopping the irate woman in her tracks.
"Madalene, how did you get here?" She scooped the little Princess up into her arms.
"I walked." She scrunched up her nose. "If you go in then the protection Artemis gives them will be disturbed. We have to wait until it's finished. It shouldn't take much longer."
"You're telling me that even though the building is on fire, they're safe?" Solari couldn't believe she was going to trust the word of a four-year-old. Well at least this wasn't your typical four-year-old.
"The building's not on fire silly. It's just a lot of smoke that's all." She shook her head to reinforce the point.
"You promise me that they won't be harmed as long as we don't disturb this cleansing?" Solari could hardly believe she was asking this. For some reason she believed will all her heart that if Madalene said they'd be safe then safe they would be.
"I promise." The little Princess answer was very serious.
"No one enters the building for any reason!" Solari commanded the crowd in a strong voice. Turning to one of the Royal guards in the crowd she barked more orders. "I want guards around the entire perimeter. No one within an arms length of the building."
Xena jumped when she heard the loud noise to her left. She was out of bed, sword in hand, before she realized that it was Sorrow hitting the floor that had caused the noise. The Princess was on her hands and knees coughing violently.
"What's wrong?" The warrior knelt down beside her. Sorrow tried to breathe in enough to form an answer but it only made the choking worse. Unable to control herself she fell over onto her back, every muscle taunt as she arched toward the sky.
"By the Gods!" Xena scurried away from the thick smoke that billowed out of the Princesses mouth and nose.
A momentary reprieve allowed Sorrow to draw in a deep hoarse breath before she returned to coughing out the sooty smoke in ragged heaves. Afraid of what was happening herself, she managed enough control to reach a shaking hand out towards Xena.
"What can I do?" The warrior shaking voice asked as she took Sorrow's hand, hoping somehow that she'd be able to tell her. The violent shaking of Sorrow's head told her the Princess had no idea what was going on either. Fearing the harm that was being done from fighting, more than the unknown origin of the smoke billowing out of her, Xena moved closer trying to brace her daughter down as a seizure started. "I'm going to knock you out." The warrior couldn't think of anything else except the damage Sorrow would do to herself trying futilely to calm the uncontrollable movements. "Gods forgive me." Xena prayed as she brought her hands back and slammed her fingers into the pressure points on either side of Sorrow's head to send her into unconsciousness.
"Are you sure the Princess will be able to survive this?" Nicola asked Artemis. Unable to see the Goddess through the thick smoke but able to sense her.
"Yes, all will be fine." Artemis looked up in the smoke to see the three figures floating above. "Bring me the ceremonial robes." She moved her hand and commanded the figures to return to the tables below them.
"Madalene, what's happening?" Solari reluctantly asked the only person who seemed to know what was going on. The sudden shift in wind now had a strong current of air flowing into the hall.
"Big finish." The little Princess smiled at her.
A heartbeat later the smoke cleared and Solari struggled to see what was going on inside. Fearful when her vision focused on several Amazons lying on the floor.
"We can go in now, but you can't enter the circle." Madalene warned as she struggled out of Solari's arms.
"Anything you say kid." Solari allowed herself to be led inside.
'Breathing normal, heartbeat steady, seizure stopped.' Xena went over the mental checklist before deciding to take the chance and release the pressure points that kept the Princess unconscious. She held her breath as she made the two quick strikes and waited.
"Can't breathe!" Sorrow shot up into a sitting position and clawed at her throat.
"Yes, you can. Just relax." The warrior moved behind her to support her and restrained her hands. "It's over now."
"What's over? What in Tartarus was that?" Sorrow took deep slow breaths as she asked the questions.
"I don't know." Xena voice was gentle as she released Sorrow's hands and helped her move to the bed. "I was really hoping you could explain it to me."
"I was asleep and then suddenly there was smoke everywhere. I couldn't breathe. There was no air, only thick black smoke." Sorrow tried to remember anything other than the feeling of panic that had consumed her.
"Sorrow, there is no fire here, could this mean that something is wrong at the village?" The warrior asked the words in a monotone voice, scared of the possible answers that could follow.
Closing her eyes, Sorrow reached out her mind. The look of utter shock on her face did nothing to reassure the warrior.
"I can't find any of them." Sorrow shook her head to clear the grogginess still leftover from Xena's solution to the seizure. "My head feels strange, I think that's why I can't reach anyone."
"I hope so." She reached her hands to the back of the Princess' neck. Releasing a secondary set of points in the hopes of clearing Sorrow's head more. "Any better?"
Sorrow concentrated harder, specifically trying just to reach Madalene. She hoped her young sister's power would be strong enough to help share the burden of the distant connection.
'Hi, Sorrow!' Madalene's voice floated back to her.
'Madalene, is anything wrong?' Sorrow asked the question softly, noting that no feeling of fear or pain came from her little sister.
'No, why? Is something wrong there?' The little Princess countered back. Sorrow could feel the child's mind searching around her for any emotional signs of trouble.
'No, everything here is fine. You be a good girl, I'll see you soon.' Sorrow decided to end the conversation quickly before Madalene could become suspicious.
'I will.' The last of Madalene's words snapped Sorrow's mind back into itself. 'I love you, always.'
"Madalene says everything is fine. I don't sense any trouble around her at all." She recounted the brief conversation to the warrior. "I told her everything was fine here as well."
"Good. No reason to worry your Mother." Xena stood up and rubbed her neck. The gnawing in her stomach told her this little event was much more than it seemed. "How are you feeling now?" She turned to see Sorrow sitting up.
"Fine. No residual effects at all." The Princess took a deep breath to prove what she claimed. "Thanks for knocking me out."
Xena just nodded, her thoughts busily trying to figure out what could have brought on the strange attack.
"Ephiny, are you all right?" Solari called to the Regent as she entered the hall.
"Yeah, I'm fine." She raised her hands to her head, but stopped short as she stared at the red markings on her palms.
"Mother!" Madalene let go of Solari's hand and bounded into the circle before anyone could object.
The Priestess gasped when the little Princess stepped past the boundary and towards the Queen. The cleansing would now be nullified; she sighed knowing that the entire procedure would have to be done again.
"It's all right." Madalene called to Nicola as she climbed up onto the table beside the bard. "I won't ruin all of your hard work." She smiled brightly as she was engulfed in a big hug.
"Good thing little girl or you'd be in a lot of trouble." Gabrielle laughed as she hugged her daughter.
"Praise Artemis." Nicola spoke to herself when she realized the child was right. Somehow her presence within the circle hadn't contaminated the trio. The Priestess stared at the Princess for a minute, wondering to herself just what power the little one possessed that would allow such a thing. "But no one else can enter!" Snapping back to reality, she spoke loudly to the crowd that had entered the room to investigate.
"Sorry." Ephiny looked sadly at Solari, who was as close to the barrier as she could get without crossing it.
"That's all right." The head of the Royal guard tried to remain calm. "I'm sure you can explain what's going on from there."
"Please, not in front of half the village or..." Gabrielle pleaded as she looked down at Madalene.
"As you wish, my Queen." Solari spoke the words through a tense jaw.
"Now, don't be like that." Ephiny stepped down off the table and moved as close to her as possible. "I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to tell you what was going on but it all happened very quickly." The Regent used her best pout in an attempt to win her angry lover over.
"I'm sorry." Solari took a deep breath and tried to be a bit more understanding. "You don't have to worry about what Madalene hears Gabrielle." She spoke to her Queen but kept her eyes locked with her partner's, looking for any sign of what was going on. "She knows more than the rest of us. In fact, she's the only reason I didn't storm the building when we saw all the smoke."
"Smoke?" Danu asked groggily as she sat up holding her head. The same confusion was visible on the faces of the other two involved.
"Those of us who didn't know what was going on though the hall was on fire." The sharpness in Solari's voice stung the Regent.
"At no time was the hall on fire." Nicola interjected. "I'm sorry but I'm going to have to request that this room be cleared. Any unnecessary stress will be detrimental to the journey."
"Just what is this journey you're going on anyway?" The guard ignored the priestess' request.
"It's hard to explain." Ephiny offered a weak smile. "Please, you must take care of Madalene while the three of us go."
"I can leave the guards to take care of Madalene, I want to go with you." Solari stopped herself a heartbeat before her hand broke the boundary.
"You can't go regardless. Gabrielle can only bring two companions, it's the rules." Ephiny stressed the futility of arguing.
"Whose rules?" Solari questioned, fully prepared to defy any rule.
"The rules are mine." Artemis appeared next to Nicola. "Will you go against me, Solari?"
"Of course not." The guard dropped to one knee.
"Good." Artemis smiled at her. "Now if you would be so kind as to have this hall cleared and guarded against further interruptions." She walked to Gabrielle and held her arms out for Madalene. Everyone, including the bard, was surprised when the child jumped into the embrace and wrapped her arms around Artemis' neck. "You need to go too little one." She spoke softly to the child as she walked toward the guard.
"I know, I don't mind." Madalene looked back and waved to her mother. "Bye Mother, I love you."
"I love you too, Madalene." Gabrielle called to her and blew her a kiss.
"Good girl. Off you go." Artemis handed the child to a very stunned Solari, who promptly called for the room to be cleared before reluctantly leaving herself.
"Now, how is everyone feeling?" Artemis turned to address the trio.
"My head hurts." Danu leaned back onto the table, stopping abruptly when she realized just whom she was complaining to.
"I'm afraid that is a result of your connection with Sorrow." The Goddess shook her head sadly.
"What happened to Sorrow?" The archer asked concerned.
"To survive the cleansing, I had to borrow a little of her strength for each of you." Artemis moved closer to the archer. "I assure you she is fine. The pain you feel is a result of Xena knocking her out in order to stop a seizure." Normally, she wouldn't have offered so much information. But each of the Queen's companions must be focused at the task at hand and she knew any worry the archer had for her Princess must be stifled now.
"Did you say seizure?" Danu's worry grew with each of the Goddess' words.
"A very brief one." She rolled her eyes at Danu, slightly annoyed that the Amazon wouldn't just trust her that everything was fine.
"I'm sure if Artemis says Sorrow is fine, that there's nothing to worry about." Gabrielle moved to put her arm around the archer. "Does this mean she knows what's going on?"
"No, at my request Madalene has put a block around all of you. Sorrow cannot reach you with her thoughts." Artemis smiled as she saw the anger rising in her Chosen One.
"You asked my four year old to block her sister's thoughts?" Gabrielle couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"Your four year old quite understands the importance of this journey occurring without any interruptions. Even well intentioned ones from an overprotective Protector." The Goddess stood her ground. "We both know the greater good is best served with Sorrow helping Xena fight the Roman invasion."
"Now my head hurts." The bard leaned back against one of the tables. The intense pressure returning as she tried to think of how much Madalene really understood.
"So does mine." The Regent put her hand to her temple. "Is this what you've been feeling since this morning, cause this is not pleasant."
"Good, the link was successful." Artemis smiled at Nicola. Proud that her Priestess had been able to complete such a difficult task.
"Link?" Danu questioned, feeling a change in the pain she felt.
"Part of the cleansing was to establish a bond between Gabrielle and her companions." She gestured to the bracelets that they each wore. "It allows each of you to more vividly understand what she is feeling in order to better help her deal with the discovers that she makes."
"Sorry." The bard felt very guilty for being the cause of everyone's headaches.
"It's very effective." Ephiny walked to stand next to them. Reaching out she scratched Gabrielle's right shoulder through the linen of the robe.
"Thanks." The Queen started to laugh when she realized just how sensitive the connection between them was.
"No problem, it was driving me crazy." The Regent smiled warmly at her.
"Xena, I'm fine." Sorrow sat on the edge of the small bed. "No reason why both of us should lose out on sleep. You know we're going to be up most of the night preparing for the battle."
"No more sleep for me." The warrior continued to sharpen her sword. "Feel free to catch a nap yourself. Don't worry I'll wake you when the fun starts." She looked up and smiled.
"Speaking of the fun." Sorrow closed her eyes and listened to the rhythmic sounds of the whet stone sliding against blade.
"Yes?" Letting her ebony hair fall over her face and conceal her expression, Xena continued the peaceful chore.
"Nothing." The Princess couldn't bring herself to give life to the doubts inside her. "I'm gonna go for a walk." Adjusting the straps on her armor tighter, she slipped her sword into the sheath on her back and walked silently out of the tent.
"I know, Sorrow. I know." Xena mumbled to the emptiness around her. Their carefully calculated battle plans put them far apart when the fighting started. With six legions of Roman soldiers wanting them dead, more than a few horrible futures loomed in the realm of possibility.
Weaving her way through the tents, Sorrow took deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself. It had always been this way for her, so difficult to face the destruction she'd bring until the moment was actually upon her. Only then would her instinct take over and release her from the torment of her own thoughts. Looking up, she smiled at the dark afternoon sky.
'Rain wouldn't be good.' She thought to herself as she breached the border of the camp and kept walking. By accident or instinct she found herself at the edge of the large area where the battle would most likely focus at dawn. Inhaling deeply, the sharp scent awoke something inside her. Crouching down into the short grass, she closed her eyes and listened. The lacking, the silence deafened her. Then in the distance, maybe a hundred feet out from her, the soft sound of buckling leather could be heard. Inhaling again she pinpointed the scent, fear, human fear.
'Xena, no waiting until dawn.' Sorrow sent the thought out in warning 'The Romans are here!'
"And you shall know sorrow like never before!" Moving to stand she readied her mind and reached back to draw her sword. Lifting her face to the sky she allowed the fangs to drop down through her lips as her animalistic howl rang up into the heavens.
Hundreds of soldiers, crawling through the grass, hugged the ground in fear when the howl reached their ears. A young man near the front brought his head up slightly to see the lone woman stalking up to him.
'By the Gods she's beautiful.' He thought just as Sorrow drove her sword into his heart. Humming to herself, the Princess went in search of another Roman in the grass a few feet away.
Xena had just finished when she heard the bugle calls going through the camp. The three short burst followed by a long wail chilled her to the bone. The Romans were attacking. Racing from the tent, she barked orders at everyone who wasn't moving.
"Cc... commander, what do we do with the cc... catapults?" A fresh faced young man came running up to her, obviously scared out of his wits.
"Sorrow, will take care of that!" Xena spat at him as she swung up onto Argo.
"Cc... commander?" He looked at her wide-eyed.
"What?" The sudden falling feeling in her heart made her wince.
"It was Ss...ss...sorrow who ss...ss...sounded the alarm. Ss...ss...soldier's were cc...crawling through the grass in alpha ff...field to ss...ss...surprise us." He removed his helmet and rubbed nervously at his head, hoping his speech problem wouldn't get him killed.
"Where is she now?" Xena leaned down and grabbed the stuttering man by his shirt.
"Ss...ss...she's about hh...half way into the field. Reports are ss...she's killed at least tt...twenty of them al...already." He gulped hard when he saw the dark look on the warrior's face and he struggled harder to get the words out quickly. "Mm...most of the ss...ss...soldiers ss...stayed hidden in the grass at first, but they've ss...ss...started to converge on her nn...now."
"Damn!" Xena dropped him and dug her heels into the mare's side.
Sorrow pitied each of the soldiers she found, each man trying to crawl beneath the soil in the hopes that she wouldn't find them. For some reason no call to attack had been made and the well-trained soldiers remained on their stomachs in the grass waiting. Each praying that that the rustling nearby was from the wind and not the steps of whoever was causing the horrible screams that filled the air every few heartbeats.
Rising from her knees off the latest of her prey, Sorrow looked to see the large cavalry gathering at the edge of the field. Picking up the dead man's sword, she began walking toward the riders. Her stare bored into the eyes of the lead man's horse. To the man's surprise the stallion reared and sent him sprawling onto the ground. Scrambling to his feet, it took everything in him not to turn and run. Who was this warrior who could spook his horse with just a look from five hundred feet away?
"Foot soldiers attack!" He screamed to those in the grass, raising up one hand to hold the riders back momentarily.
"Oh, I saw you." Sorrow drove her sword into the stomach of the solider that rose out of the grass just behind her. She didn't turn, able to guess the look of surprise on his face. When she had carefully stepped over him, he'd assumed she'd somehow missed him. A backward kick, freed her sword just in time to engage the others bearing down on her.
Xena rode into the field at full gallop. Her eyes scanned the large open area for the Princess. Many of her own men had come into the field to engage the foot soldiers. Not bothering with any of the smaller fights, she turned Argo and headed toward the largest portion of the battle. Somewhere in the centre of the mass of soldiers and cavalry, she knew she was sure to find Sorrow.
"Normally this wouldn't be very fair." Sorrow turned quickly to assess the number of riders that circled her. "Five against one are just the odds I like though." Taking a quick breath she waited for them to move, slowly sidestepping until she was close to a spear laying nearby. She made no move for the weapon, instead shocking them all when she embedded the borrowed Roman sword from her left hand into the ground slightly.
"Surrender and we might spare you!" One of the riders spat down as they circled her.
"Spare me?" Sorrow turned with the movements of the horses to lock eyes with the handsome speaker. "I think I'll kill you last." Moving the toe of her boot under the spear, she flipped it up to her empty hand and launched it backwards into one of the riders. "And then there was four!"
One horseman came at her from the left and another from the right. Ducking away from their swords, she reached up under the horses and with hidden slices from her claws cut the saddle straps away. The unrestrained riders fell hard from their perches.
"Should've checked your tack better." She moved to the closest man and struck him in the throat, crushing his windpipe under the pressure of her fingers. Somersaulting the short distance to the other displaced rider, she picked her dropped sword mid-motion and drove it into the injured mans cheast. "And then there were two!" She hopped up to her feet with the remaining riders bearing down on her. Cocking her head to one side she listened and smiled as the familiar war cry echoed into her ears. Not turning, she broke out into a run, distancing herself from the horsemen. Replacing her sword into the sheath on her back as she leapt over a body, she laughed and raised her arm into the air.
"Xena, what took you so long?" She asked when the warrior's latched onto her and pulled her up onto Argo. She could feel Xena growl in response and laughed again. "Turn around I have some unfinished business with those boys."
"No time for them!" Xena snapped at her, taking a quick glance to confirm the two riders were in hot pursuit.
"Have to make it then. I need a horse to get over to beta section, slow down a little." Sorrow leaned in to instruct as she moved up onto her knees behind the warrior. Having to agree with the Princess', Xena slowed Argo down enough to allow the riders to catch them.
"Be careful and call me if anything turns ugly." Sorrow called a heartbeat before she leapt into the air off Argo.
"What the?" The Roman couldn't believe when his view was blocked by the enemy warrior's face only a few inches in front of him.
"I got talent." Sorrow answered with a smile, as she brought her hands to either side of his helmet and with one quick twist snapped his neck. Prying the reigns from his dead hands, she knocked him out of the saddle and slid into it herself. "And then there was one!" She grinned when she saw the last of the riders had pulled up beside her.
"Who are you?" His hoarse voice asked as he brought his sword down towards her head.
"Sorrow!" She blocked the weapon, noting to herself the usefulness of the arm bracers she wore. Continuing the motion she drove the palm of her hand into his face and shattered the bones hidden behind his handsome flesh. "And then there were none." She mumbled to herself as she dug her heels into the horse and headed towards beta section.
Now in the thick of the fray, Xena was glad to see the lone horse racing away. The small number of men in the field were doing better than she'd expected, but she knew it wouldn't be long before the other half of this legion and another besides would come to join the fun.
Turning to her left, she saw the young man who'd met her outside her tent.
'Who gave him a sword?' She thought to herself as she jumped off of Argo and raced over to save him. Cowering on his knees in the grass, she was easily able to deflect the sword aimed at him. Two quick sword swipes later, his Roman attacker lay dead in the grass.
"Tha...thank you." He stuttered at her and moved back to stand.
"What's your name?" She asked him as she kicked an approaching solider in the cheast and brought the hilt of her sword across his jaw to knock him out.
"SS...SS...Samuel." He flinched at each of her strikes.
"I need you to do something." Xena looked around as she spoke, gauging the situation.
"Anything?" He spat the word out quickly.
"Run back to the reserve force and tell them only to enter alpha field when at least two legions have arrived. No matter what, they must wait for the second legion to engage. Got it?" Her voice was harsh to stress the importance of the command.
"GG...Got it!" He smiled at her and ran away.
"Cute kid." She remarked to herself before running back to Argo and heading towards the remainder of the cavalry.
"Sorrow?!" The captain stationed at the catapults was surprised to see her.
"Are we ready here?" Ignoring his reaction, she moved to inspect the aim of the large weapons. Content that all would impact in the middle of the two legions marching into the valley, she raised her sword and called for everyone to stand ready.
"Now!" Bringing her own sword down to cut the safety cord from the catapult, she smiled as the fiery missiles arched up into the air and returned to the ground. Scattering dead and burning Roman soldiers in their wake.
"Prepare the next volley." She screamed out the orders and was pleased by the quick response by those around her. In record time, the first five volleys fell onto the enemy.
"Turn them towards the forest!" She moved to the side of the nearest catapult and began pushing it. "Turn them now!" She barked the command louder when no one responded. Whether the men moved from the sound of her voice or from the sight of the large weapon turning under her strength alone, Sorrow didn't know. All she cared was that they listened finally and the catapults were soon in the necessary position.
"We can't fire them, we'll set the forest on fire!" The captain grabbed her by the shoulder.
"That's the plan you idiot!" She smacked his hand away. "Fire!"
Hidden amongst the trees of the forest, the legion waited patiently.
"Stay within the trees while the enemy engages the soldiers in the valley." Caesar had spoken to the men himself. "Once they are distracted, only then should you come out and kill them all!"
The destruction came out of the sky and into the forest before any of the soldiers knew what was happening. The underbrush, dry from days without rain, went up instantly around them. Foolishly, those who caught fire from the onslaught attempted to run away from the ravenous flames. The pain made them oblivious that the wind created by their movement only served to urge the inferno on.
Sorrow watched the one lone solider claw his way through the inferno into the open field. Screaming, he raked at the leather armor that was now sinking into his melting flesh. She smiled, knowing that his comrades in the valley were watching the display. She hoped the fear would still them long enough for her to give them an even grander show.
"Another volley into the trees!" She ordered and watched satisfied when her order was immediately fulfilled. Reaching into the grass, she raised Xena's standard, signaling the archers to come out of their hiding places at the edge of the valley. Closing her eyes she listened to the whistles and thought of Danu.
'My Gods what would she think if she saw me right now.' The shameful thought caused her to stop. Opening her eyes to watch the arrows cut there way through the legion, she swallowed hard. 'I'm sorry my love, but this is the last I will think of you till this is finished.' She reached to her neck, where the archer's ivory choker would normally be waiting to be fondled, annoyed by the need to leave it behind at the village.
"Return the aim to the valley!" She barked and was happy to see the men moving the catapults without a second order. "Send the last volley just before our soldiers crest the final hill." Sorrow reminded the captain as she swung up onto her stolen mount.
"Yes, sir." He saluted her as he watched her ride away. Wiping his brow, he turned to yell at the men, afraid of what suffering Sorrow herself would bring if her orders were not followed.
Xena was amazed at how patient Caesar was being. Only three-quarters of the initial attacking legion had entered the battlefield and the second legion was hanging well back. Their primary battle agenda was to only engage the enemy on the Greek side of the border. Entry into the Roman territory would only give further reason for an even greater assault. The last thing she wanted was to get the attention of Pompeii the Magnus, she had enough to deal with as it was.
The natural topography of the land made it impossible for her to see beta section, but the thick black smoke rising into the air was comforting.
'Sorrow's doing her part.' She thought as she took the last of the cavalry down. 'Time to do mine.' Urging Argo into a gallop, she focused in on a young solider who was momentarily inactive. On her first pass, she disarmed him. Turning quickly, she returned to hoist him, flailing, onto the saddle in front of her. A quick jab to the pressure point at the base of his neck brought his movements to a cease. Slowing her mare to a steady trot, she approached the yet unbleached border.
The warrior knew she had the undivided attention of the entire legion as she dismounted and dragged the paralyzed solider off of Argo and placed him on his knees facing his comrades. Knocking his helmet off, she dug her hands into his short brown hair and pulled his head back. Looking down into his frightened eyes, she hesitated.
"I'm sorry." She whispered to him and to Gabrielle as she thought of what she was planning. She was glad that the bard wasn't here to see her. The mighty Warrior Princess reliving the glory of old battles by planning to make this the worst one yet. Deep down, she felt guilty for dragging Sorrow into this as well. She'd sadly watched the darkness taking hold of the Princess and blamed herself for bringing the temptation to her. Silently she promised to make it up to the bard, it that was even possible. Hidden from view, she released the pressure point, allowing the scared man the ability to struggle against her just in time to find his throat being cut.
'This will be a year's worth of nightmare's.' She loathed her own actions as she moved back to her place atop Argo. As she backed her obedient stead away from the dead man, the legion began its march towards the border.
"Move!" The reserve captain called the order to his troops when he saw the second legion begin its march.
"Nn...no!" Samuel strong voice and raised arms stopped their movement before it began. "The Cc...commander ss... said to wait until the ss...second legion is engaged, nn...not before."
"Hold!" The captain ordered as he turned to watch the movement of the legion. A lone drop of sweat traced down his brow as he waited.
Sitting tall on the galloping horse, Sorrow circled around to the back of her foot soldiers. The saddle and various tack on the horse would show them all that the rumors of how close she had gotten with the Romans were true. More than that, it would show them how easily she had humiliated one of them by taking his horse. She went through the mass of them at a fast pace. Each line she passed cheering when they realized who rode the horse. The antsy men had watched the catapult assault from afar and thought none of them were anxious to die, they were anxious to get this started and thus over with. By the time the rumors had traveled through the ranks, Sorrow had single handedly killed half of one legion in alpha field. The thick coating of blood on her lower arms would attest to the rumors being true. Of course, according to the rumor mill, Xena was killing the other half by looks alone.
"Forward march!" She pulled up at the head of the group and barked the order out with such volume that every man would later swear that she's been standing right beside him when she yelled.
Regrouping after the catapult attack, the Roman captains were leading their enormous group of men further into the valley. As the distance between the two groups shortened, Sorrow focused in to those on horseback. She smiled when her vision landed on the silver plated cheast of Brutus hanging behind the border.
"Now I have a real goal." She mumbled to herself, judging the distance and number of men she would have to kill in order to get to Caesar's second.
Brutus stopped in mid sentence and shivered. Looking over his right shoulder to the valley, he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up and small goose bumps pimple slowly down his arm. As he saw the source of his fear crest the hill, he cringed as another volley of fiery missiles cut through his men.
"I thought she was dead?" He pointed to Sorrow in the distance and questioned a nearby solider.
"Sir, I don't know. All the runner said was that a woman was killed during the attack by twelve company." The young man stammered out.
"Did they give a description?" Brutus asked intrigued. To the best of his knowledge there were only two women participating in this battle and if Sorrow wasn't dead that only left one possibility.
"No, no description." The solider shook his head. "What should I report to Caesar?"
"Nothing, not a word about this yet." Brutus leaned down to grab him by the throat. "He is to know nothing about the death of any woman until I know for sure who it is, understand?"
"Yes sir!" The choking compliance bought him freedom from the hand that cut off his airway.
"Good, go back to and get me more information. I want you to look at her face yourself and come back to tell me what you saw." He brushed his hand at the man as an indication to go.
"We have to stay within this circle until dawn?" Danu repeated the order back to the Priestess, questioning the sentence being dealt them.
"Yes. Nothing must enter or leave the circle." Nicola's voice was stern. "Only I can move back and forth between this haven and the outside world." She walked out of the circle and over to a chair in the corner of the room.
"It won't be that bad, Danu." Ephiny was sitting on the floor leaning against a table leg. "We only got half a day left." She looked to the open doorway trying to judge the time of day by the light.
"Sorry, I don't mean to complain." The archer sat down cross- legged a few feet away from the Regent. "It's just that I'm worried about this block Madalene has put between us and Sorrow." She glanced up to Gabrielle who was curled up asleep on one of the table.
"I know, I feel it too." Ephiny put her hands on her stomach. The link between them and the Queen had given them access to the most intimate of her experiences. The strange feeling that lurked inside their abdomens was very disturbing. "I don't think even Sorrow can help with this one though." She shook her head in defeat. "This is something Gabrielle has to work out inside herself, whatever it is. I'm just glad we get the chance to help."
"Yeah, I think I'd lose my mind if she was going through this alone." Danu sighed and put her hand to her temple. "She must be dreaming about the secret." The pressure that marked any thought of the secret was familiar to them all now.
"Do you feel that lightness behind the pressure?" Ephiny asked closing her eyes. She'd been trying each time the pressure came to focus on it, hoping that somehow she might be able to work past the pain that Gabrielle couldn't.
"Yes, I feel it." Danu closed her eyes as well and concentrated. "I believe if we can just get her past the pain and to that goodness everything will work out fine."
"Sounds like a good plan." Ephiny reached out and took the archer's hand. "I know it's hard for you, worrying about Sorrow and how she'd feel about all this."
"I feel like I'm betraying her. I promised before she left that I'd call her if anything happened and I didn't when I had the chance." Danu sighed again. "If something happens to her Mother and I could have prevented it, I'll never forgive myself."
"I feel the same way, Danu." She squeezed the hand within her own. "We just have to make sure that nothing happens to her."
"Holding hands? This can't be good." Gabrielle had awoken with the sudden softening of their voices and turned to look at them.
"Everything's fine, go back to sleep." The Regent smiled and released the archer's hand.
"I was having the strangest dream again." She yawned and moved her hands to her stomach. Her breath caught when she discovered she'd grown more. "How bad is it?" She closed her eyes as she asked.
"Well, judging by what you looked like when you carried Madalene, I'd say about 6 maybe 7 months." Danu answered in a happy tone, trying not to add to the bard's shock.
"What was this strange dream of yours about?" Ephiny changed the subject quickly, hoping that if she could get the bard talking about something other than her expanding mid-drift.
"I was dreaming about Anastasia." She smiled and held the image of the child in her mind.
"Anastasia?" They both asked in unison, a chill running down both of their spines.
"Yes, why do you both looked scared to death all of a sudden." She lost the image in her mind and stared wide-eyed at them as they exchanged a nervous look.
"A child named Anastasia visited me in my dreams while we went through the cleansing." Danu volunteered first.
"Same here." Ephiny added with a strained smile.
"What did she look like?" Gabrielle probed concerned.
"Your hair colour, one eye was green like yours are..." Danu began first again.
"... the other was blue like Xena's." The Regent finished the sentence. "Gabrielle, who is she?"
"She's my daughter." The bard's hands went to her stomach.
"You mean Anastasia is the baby inside you now?" Danu asked.
"Yes. It was Madalene who first told me I was pregnant and who told me the baby's name." She shared the recent events with them. "What did she say in your dreams?" She questioned with wonder. The child had only wanted to play on her second visit. Giddy at the chance to run through wildflowers with her mother.
"She told me that on the journey I must focus on the details." Ephiny bowed her head a little as she spoke. "That I must not be concerned with stringing events together but concern myself with the importance of each moment as it stands alone."
"That's funny." Danu injected. "She told me to focus on the big picture. That I had to look at how the different moments related to one another. To see the puzzle that would be made from the individual pieces."
"What did she say to you?" The Regent asked Gabrielle shyly.
"She told me to be careful on the journey. That is was dangerous." The bard bit her lip for a moment, fearing their reaction to what she would say next. "And that as Madalene possess time, she will possess memory."
"She's to be gifted as well then?" The archer stared at her Queen with a blank expression. She let the thought wash over her slowly. 'Madalene was to possess time, Anastasia memory and Sorrow and Hope had been...' She thought to herself trying to find a connection between the sisters. 'Sorrow and Hope were different, no one can argue that. But they didn't possess anything close to Madalene's visions and ability to cross points of time or Anastasia's predicted power to manipulate memories.'
"Yes." Gabrielle answered in a pained voice. "It seems that all of my daughters are cursed." The word brought a sharp flash of pain that sliced from one temple to the other in all of their heads.
"Why would you use the word cursed?" Ephiny struggled to speak through the agony.
"Because..." The bard tried to continue the though, tried to explain her reasons for that choice of words, but the pain became blinding. "I can't!"
"Gabrielle, keep thinking about it... can you see the goodness behind the pain." Danu strained to say the words when the harder wave of agony shot through her head.
"No, what are you talking about?" She tried to focus, see what the archer was describing, but found nothing. She found nothing but the pain and the need to stop thinking about why her daughters were cursed.
"She can't see it, the pain is too blinding for her." Ephiny tried to offer insight. "She's right in the middle of all the pain, the only reason we can see it is because were outside looking in."
"What are you talking about?" Gabrielle's thoughts changed to the strangeness of the Regents suggestion and the pain immediately subsided.
"Have you ever heard the expression, you can't see the forest for the trees?" Ephiny asked rubbing her temple.
"It's like that. You're in the middle of the pain so you can't see what the bigger picture. You can't see that the pain is a part of a bigger good. You can't see the forest for the trees." She smiled at her Queen hoping her analogy had made sense.
"Maybe." Gabrielle shook her head and pulled her legs up to her bulging stomach. She felt really cold and wished Xena was there to hold her. Something in the back of her mind reminded her that the fighting would be started by now. That her warrior would be fighting for her life and for the freedom of everyone in Greece. Feeling her eyes well up she tried to blink the hot tears away. This was not a time for crying. Not while Danu and Ephiny were so closely tied to her feelings. Despite her own objections the tears broke free and she raised her hands to her face to catch them. "I miss you so much Xena and I love you." She whispered the words to herself.
"Just let her be." Danu reached out to stop the Regent from going to her. "She needs this." Defeated, Ephiny settled back and shook her head. Unable to help themselves, both companions began to cry as well. Both from the overwhelming sadness that Gabrielle felt and the sadness that lurked within each of them over the situation.
The Warrior Princess couldn't remember how long she'd been fighting. The sun had just sunk beneath the horizon and the feeling in her arms told her it could be days or maybe weeks. Her sword had gotten unbearably heavy suddenly as she fought with solider after solider. The enemy seemed unending as the mass of Romans poured into the field. Even with her abilities it was hard to keep from tripping over the many corpses hidden within the grass. Looking around she tried to judge how many men from her side were left.
'We've taken more casualties than I'd anticipated.' She thought as she moved to engage another solider. 'At least they're tiring too.' She smiled as she sliced her bloody sword into his chest.
"Cc...commander!" Samuel called as he leapt over bodies to reach her.
"Samuel?" She was surprised to see him running toward her. She'd assumed that after his initial brush with death he would've taken the opportunity to run once he'd delivered her message.
"I have nn... news from b... beta field." He scampered over to her out of breath. "SS... Sorrow's men k... killed most of the ss... soldiers in the v...v... valley and are on their way h... here to h... help."
"That's my girl!" Xena exclaimed unable to contain herself. She'd always believed that Sorrow would find a way to do the impossible. "How's the forest fire doing?"
"MM... most of the tt... third legion was caught in the ff... fire. It's ss... still b... burning." He tried to calm himself in an attempt to get the words out. He hated his inability to speak fluently, but something within this woman's eyes told him it was all right as long as he keep trying she'd wait for him to get the message out.
"Where is she now?" Xena was very worried suddenly. If the fighting was basically over and most of the Romans in the valley had been killed, it made no sense for Samuel to have been able to beat Sorrow back to alpha field. "LL... Last time I sss... saw her she was fighting nn... near the bb... border. I rr... ran here to give you tt... the gg... good nn... news." Samuel hung his head, ashamed that he had so little information. The concern the warrior felt for her second was obvious.
"Thanks Samuel, you're very brave to run through all that just to tell me." She reached out and tousled his hair. Looking to her left, she was relieved to see Sorrow's men marching into the field. You could feel the shift in strength as the Roman soldiers noticed the large force coming towards them. "Samuel, you think you got it in you to run back to beta section?" She asked feeling a new surge of energy and strength. His adamant nod made her smile. "Good, go find Sorrow and tell her she better get herself over here. I don't like my seconds slacking off." She laughed as she spoke, knowing the Princess would see both the humor and hidden message within her words. Before he could run away she grabbed him by the arm. "Be careful Samuel. Both of the fighting and Sorrow if she's focused on the fighting. Approach her with caution." The warrior let her steely blue eyes bore into him enough to cause him to gulp. Although she hated scaring him, she didn't want him getting hurt simply because he ran up to the Princess in the middle of a battle and startled her. Releasing her grip, he saluted and ran off.
Once the tide had changed in beta section, Sorrow had ordered her remaining soldiers to regroup and head to alpha field. The scouting report had said the fighting there was still very heated and the Princess hoped to give Xena all the help she could.
She'd long ago abandoned her own dull sword and had moved on through various weapons she'd found scattered among the dead. Her current weapon a large battle-ax, was not unlike the one that had removed her wings so long ago.
"Yes, Brutus I'm coming for you!" She focused her eyes through the throng of soldiers that stood to defend their leader as she buried the weapon into one man's shoulder and felt the bone underneath split. "Why don't you make this fun and at least run?" She questioned him over the man's screams. Her monologue with Caesar's second had continued from the moment she had locked eyes with him when she first entered the valley. Abandoning the ax, that refused to leave the dying man's body, she whipped her hands on her thighs to get rid of some of the excess blood and picked up a nearby sword. Twirling the weapon to gauge its weight, she jumped above another man's sword swing. Landing behind him, she pivoted to meet him face to face when he turned to find her. A sharp head butt send him unconscious into the grass.
"How many between us now Brutus?" She smiled at him as she caught a crossbow arrow aimed at her cheast and held it up for him to see. "I do hope you're keeping count." Blocking the attack of a dagger wielding Roman, she used her unnatural strength to plunge the arrow through his cheast armor. Only satisfied when once last strike sent even the feathers into his body.
Brutus watched the last of his brave soldiers fall under the brutal assault of Xena's second. He didn't know what held him there, what kept him from running. Something inside him demanded that this meeting occur, so dismounting he slowly walked to the border.
"Do not cross into Roman territory!" His loud voice warned her when she was less then fifty feet away. "You may have won this battle but do not start a war."
"I've won the battle and the war, Brutus." She walked up to the imaginary border and smiled at him. "If you're not going to give me a reason to cross this." She used the sword to carve a line into the earth. "Then why don't you be man enough to meet me on this side."
"I'm not foolish, Sorrow." The mere saying of her name made his stomach lurch. How could anyone wish to be called such a horrible name? "You'll tear me to pieces in an instant. I think you're a better fighter than Xena ever was."
"Xena is still a better warrior than I will ever be." Sorrow answered truthfully, knowing that no comparison could ever be drawn between them.
"You haven't heard?" His mouth opened into a wide gape and the little colour left in his face drained away.
"Heard what?" She snapped back.
Removing his sword, he tossed the weapon and his helmet away. Unarmed he approached the border to stand only a few feet from her line.
"Xena was killed in battle." He spoke the words quietly.
Sorrow didn't bother to call him a liar as she sent her mind out to find the warrior. She felt her knees weaken as her mind flowed out of Greece and onto the ocean without any sensation of the other mind she sought.
"How?" She turned to him and slowed her breath. Closing her mind up tight, before again trying to find Xena.
"The report said our legions overpowered her forces. She died defending the border." He took a step back from her. He shivered as he watched the darkness of the night wrap around her, engulf her with each new breath. "Sorrow, you've won here. You must provide leadership to the remainder of your men." He tried to persuade her to go to the other field and see for herself.
Unaware of her surroundings, her sword fell out of her limp hand into the grass. A heartbeat later she joined the weapon in the grass on her hands and knees.
"I've failed you Mother." Sorrow's shivering voice came from behind the mess of matted hair that hid her face from Brutus' view. "I've failed both of you. Oh, Madalene!" The sudden thought of her sister growing up without her Mommy chilled the Princess to the bone. As the rage welled up inside her she moved back to lean on her knees, turning her face up to meet Brutus' stare.
"Those eyes!" He exclaimed suddenly having gotten a good look at her face for the first time.
"They are my Mother's eyes." She answered him blankly.
"Who?" He voice wavered, already knowing the response. He doubted that anyone had ever looked into the eyes of Xena's traveling companion without having the sight of them burning into their memory forever.
"You already know." She lifted herself up to stand.
"That's impossible, she's not old enough to have a child your age." He took a step back, cursing himself for abandoning his sword.
"Run Brutus, run while you can." Her blank voice was barely audible. "Tell him I'm coming and I will have my revenge."
"Sorrow, don't be stupid. Caesar has an entire legion stationed around him. It's suicide to attack him alone." Brutus tried to reason with her, not sure why he felt sorry for her in her grief over losing the warrior.
"Run Brutus." She commanded him again, as she removed a small dagger from her boot and cut the straps that held the extra armor in place. He watched mesmerized as she stripped down to the simple leather top and skirt.
'My love, I'm so sorry.' She sent the simple message to her archer, blocking herself from any response that Danu could make.
"Sorrow?" He watched as a calm came over her suddenly.
"Run Brutus!" She howled at him as she allowed the fangs to drop down through her lips. "Tell Caesar that Sorrow is coming for him and there is no where to hide."
The display finally sent him running away from her.
'Have to warn Caesar! Have to...' The thoughts tore through his head as he ran, unable to believe the change he had witnessed.
"Xena!" Allowing the full transformation to occur she screamed the fallen warrior's name up into the sky.
Continued in Part Three...
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