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.
Xena carried the torch in one hand, her sword in the other, as she went from one body to the next. The fighting had finished ages before. Everything had come to quick and sudden ending when the Roman captains had called the last of their soldiers to retreat. The battered group had been quickly marched away from the border and deep into Roman territory. She'd immediately gone to find Sorrow, while the rest of her men returned to camp. Samuel had returned to her almost immediately to report that he couldn't find the Princess. No one knew where she was, it was if she'd disappeared. As she checked to make sure her daughter was not amongst the dead, the fear of finding her burned as bright as the forest fire that could still be seen on the horizon. She knew it was a futile task in the dark, but regardless of her aching muscles, she couldn't stop until she had answers. Staring off towards the nearby border, she tried to calm herself.
'Sorrow, where are you?' She sent out the thought again, but nothing but emptiness returned to her. The void left in her head made her uneasy.
'There is a pattern here.' She analyzed the landscape as she continued her search. 'Sorrow's technique is getting more aggressive and less efficient the closer I get to the border and why is there no one guarding the border?' She didn't get time to answer the question, footsteps behind her changed her focus in an instant.
"CC...commander?" Samuel approached her cautiously. Seeing her turn to look at him, he ventured closer. "I th...thought you'd be h...hungry so I b...brought you ss...something to eat and drink." He held up the wineskin and rations pouch. "And ss...something to cc...clean up with." He turned to show the waterskin and clothe draped over his shoulder.
"Thank you, Samuel." She motioned for him to come closer. Handing him the torch, she took the cloth and water from him first. Silently, she began cleaning the dried blood off her arms and face.
"I'm sure she's all right." The young man soft unhindered voice broke the silence as he looked into the dark sky. "I'd be just as ww...worried though if my daughter was mm...missing." His eyes darted down to the ground for a second, fearful that he'd revealed too much.
"How did you know she was my daughter?" She questioned him softly without looking at him as she cleaned bits of flesh from her armor. It seemed that he found it much easier to speak without her staring at him.
"I come from a small village near the Amazon border. Some information comes through with the traders." He felt a hot blush cover his cheeks. "When I heard her name was Sorrow, I knew she was the Amazon Princess that they talk about."
"You know much more than that, don't you Samuel?" She glanced up to see the blush.
"YY...YY...Yes! I know that ss...she's the Protector. I've nn...never t...told anyone." He looked up at her and his stuttering returned.
"I'm glad you didn't." She smiled at him, curious how he had made the connection between the Princess and the Protector. Turning her attention to see what rations he had brought, she hoped he would continue without more prompting.
"I watched the Protector defeat an army many ss...seasons ago." His watched her look at him slightly amazed and found the strength to continue. The intensity in her eyes kept his words fluid. "I was only a lad and when I'd heard an army was nearby I went to see. I went into the camp during the fighting. I was hiding behind a wagon when Sorrow finally made her way into the compound and beheaded the Commander."
"You saw that?" Xena questioned even more amazed.
"That's why I don't think you should worry." He kept his eyes locked on the dark ground, trying to imagine that he was talking to himself. Hoping the damned stuttering would stay at bay. "I'll help you look for her." Handing her back the torch, he walked to a nearby group of bodies.
She didn't ask him to leave, deciding his company would at least help her finish this ungodly task sooner then if she did it alone. How long they spent going from body to body neither of them knew.
"She was fighting alone after this." Xena reached down to inspect the fallen soldier who at first appeared to have no wounds. Until she saw the small red feather sticking out of a slight tear in his armor. "Only Sorrow could do this."
"SS...She's still fighting natural." Samuel froze when he realized the connotation of his choice of words.
"You're right." Xena took a general look around, the evidence before her played the scene out as well as if Gabrielle was there to tell the story. "She was focused on something or someone." The pattern of the dead showed the Princess only moving forward, never back or even sideways. "They were coming at her, almost as if they were protecting whatever had her focus."
"Brutus!" Samuel spat the word out as he brought the memory of the fighting in beta section back to his mind. "He spent most of his time watching the battle from there." He pointed to the position behind the border.
"Damn!" The warrior cursed and made a beeline for the border. "Sorrow, what were you doing?" She heard Samuel scurrying to catch up to her with the torch. "They made a stand against her here." Fifty feet from the border revealed the last of the bodies. "Then nothing!" Xena walked further, an uneasy feeling settling over her. This didn't make sense, if she had killed all of his guards, why wasn't Brutus' body among the dead?
"Xena, you might want to look at this." Samuel, having given her back the torch, had moved right up to the border.
"What is it?" She asked taking large steps to gap the distance between them. The firelight reflected off the abandoned sword and then the discarded armor. She swallowed a gasp back down. Picking up one of the Princesses epaulets, she ran her fingers over the cut strap that once held it in place. The warrior's only thought was the memory of tightening the strap for Sorrow only that morning.
"SS...She was on her knees hh...here." Samuel moved to show Xena what he had found. "And someone else was standing here." He went around to show the positioning. "Face to face at the border." He bent down to show the silent warrior the line in the dirt.
"She's dead." Xena felt all the air seep out of her lungs with the words. "Brutus took the body just to hurt me."
"BB...But you can't aaa...assume ss...she's dead just bb...because of that!" He challenged her. Dropping down to his knees he examined the armor. "SS...See there's blood on the outside but not on the inside. None of this is hh...hers." He held the pristine underside of the leather cheast armor up for her to see. "And the ss...straps were cut clean. SS...She wasn't sss...struggling when this was dd...done. If BB...Brutus did this to her, ss...she'd have ss...struggled."
"Then where is she? And why won't she answer me when I call her?" Xena, losing the war to keep herself calm and stoic, questioned him in a loud voice.
"I dd...don't kk....kkk....know." The poor boy stammered out the words slowly. "YY...you cc...can c....call her?"
"Samuel, I'm sorry." She dropped exhausted to sit in the grass where Sorrow had last kneeled. "Sorrow has the ability to speak to people with only her thoughts and to allow others to speak with her the same way."
"RR...Really?" He questioned after a short pause.
"Yes, really." She looked up at the bright stars above and almost cried. How dare they continue to shine while her daughter was dead? "The reason I know that she's dead is because she isn't responding to my thought calls." She studied him as he rubbed his chin, lost deep in thought.
'Xena, what are you doing?' She asked herself. 'You're sitting here telling this kid everything. You have to get a grip and decide what you're going to do next.'
"You can't reach her?" He settled down in the grass and asked without looking at her.
"No." The word snapped out of her throat before she could stop it.
"Maybe she hears you but you can't hear her?" He stared into the ground.
"She isn't hearing me." Xena tried to keep the aggression out of her voice.
"Maybe she can't hear you call her and she's been calling you and you're not hearing her either?"
The warrior locked her jaw for a second and thought about what the young man was proposing. Earlier in the day, after the seizure, Sorrow hadn't been able to reach Gabrielle or Danu, only Madalene. Who, despite the warrior's unhappiness, wouldn't need Sorrow's power to send and receive thought messages. What if the seizure had somehow stripped Sorrow of her own power and was causing the silence between them now?
"If ss...she can't reach you ss...she might be thinking the sss...same thing." He turned to look at her and gulped as he watched the torch light dance in her eyes. "Maybe she thinks you're dead." He watched the warrior continue to stare at him, her facial expression revealing none of the torment that ran through her mind. "What would you expect hh...her to do if ss...she thought you were dead?"
"Oh no, Sorrow!" The soft plea escaped her lips before she could contain it. Visions of Sorrow in her grief kneeling in the very spot where she sat. Cutting off her own armor for the freedom required to transform into the Protector. Heading off into the Roman territory to hunt down Caesar. Giving in finally to the struggle within her soul and free falling into the role her father had intended for her. It was the only answer that made sense. Only thinking the warrior dead would keep Sorrow from returning to camp to rejoin her when the fighting had ended. That or her daughter had fallen during the battle, but her heart told her the former was much more likely.
Xena could see the future playing out before her. Sorrow would seek revenge on Caesar, thinking that his blood on her hands would quench the pain inside her. But it wouldn't, the Warrior Princess knew that only too well. Left unfulfilled after the kill, Sorrow would continue on. With each death the hate within her would grow and her revenge would inevitably lay waste to all that was the Roman Empire. Gabrielle's beautiful daughter would be lost, replaced with the death lusting creature that Dahak had nurtured within her. Through her actions, Sorrow would have a new realm to command, a new Land of Suffering. A land to which she would first be Queen and later Goddess. Xena didn't doubt that in time the Princess would hunt down the Roman Gods as well for whatever small role they had played in her death.
'I have to stop her before she reaches Caesar!' The idea came to her clearly as she mapped out a new history for the world under Sorrow's rule. 'His death will be the breaking point. If I can keep her from killing him I might still be able to save her.' The warrior feared not for the fate of the world, only for the fate of her daughter's soul.
"SS...She's gone after him hasn't ss...she?" Samuel locked eyes with her and saw into her thoughts as they played behind her eyes. All Xena could do was nod. "It's been ages ss...since anyone has seen her. SS...She'd be deep in his territory by now." He watched her nod again. "You're gg...going after her aren't you?"
"Samuel, I have no choice." She stood up and whistled for Argo. Knowing the mare would've remained within earshot somewhere out in the darkness. "I need you to promise me something." She walked over and crouched down beside him.
"Anything?" He looked at her with the innocence of a child.
"First, don't let yourself get dragging in any more wars." She placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. "Find someone to love, settle down and have a family." She thought of Gabrielle and Madalene as she spoke. "Secondly, if I don't come back to find you in the camp, I need you to deliver a message to the Amazons."
"To your wife, the Queen?" He specified to let her know the extent of his knowledge and acceptance.
"Yes, to my wife." She kept herself from reacting. "Tell her I will always love her and I'm sorry I was unable to keep my promise."
"I promise." He frowned at her, fearing that he would never see her again. "To bb...both."
"You're a good man Samuel." She nodded at him stiffly and walked over to where Argo waited for her. Mounting the mare, she left him alone in the night as she headed off to find Caesar and hopefully with him her daughter.
Sorrow walked further and further into enemy territory. Wanting to feel the weight of every step that brought her closer to her goal, her wings remained hidden. Each ragged breath she took through her fangs brought the rage that steamed off her flesh down into her soul.
"The trees won't hide you, each of you will pay for your role in her death!" She hissed to them as she cocked her head to the side and listened. Under the crackling of the forest fire she could hear their careful movements. Turning to face them, she raised a spiked arm into the air and with a clawed finger pointed to each hidden solider. Breathing in deep through her nose, she smiled when their fresh fear floated over to her. "Bet you've all heard that monsters like myself are afraid of fire." She closed the distance to the forest quickly before any of her enemies could move. "But I am no ordinary monster!" Descending on the first of her prey, she buried her fangs into the valley where his throat and shoulder met. Thrashing her head to the side she ripped the flesh away and spat out the blood that had spurted into her open mouth.
"Run!" A solider to her left yelled just as she reached out and caught him in mid-step with the claws of her left hand. Casting the dying man into some nearby flames, she stealthy took after the others. Taking them down one by one from behind, her steady gate never broken as each was killed with a single quick deathblow.
Stopping suddenly, she listened to the sounds that came to her. Behind the fire, behind her breathing and her slow beating heart, there was the weeping. The sound of her mother crying alone in the night without the other half of her soul to calm her. Madalene crying and trying to hold back the sobs to show that she was a big girl. Her archer, alone somewhere, only then knowing what her strange message had meant that night. Weeping for both the loss of the Queen's champion and for her own loss. Her soul knowing that even if Sorrow was still alive, she'd never be coming home. That even her incalculable strength didn't give her the courage to face her own failure in the eyes of those she loved. Nor would it give her the strength to face Danu after what she would become on this night in order to extract her revenge.
Shaking the haunting sounds from her head, she continued through the forest. Focusing her attention to a large gathering of soldiers up ahead.
"Madalene, what's wrong?" Solari yawned as she came to the doorway. The little Princess had insisted on sleeping in her own bed and the head of the Royal Guard had opted for a chair in the main room. Somehow disturbing the other two bedrooms hadn't appealed to her. Looking down to see the small child curled up in a ball sobbing, she woke up quickly and rushed to knell by the bed. "Honey, what's wrong?"
"I don't want to do it anymore." She scampered off the bed and into the Amazon's arms.
"What don't you want to do?" Solari had figured she'd been upset about Xena being away or Gabrielle being under quarantine. Now she was completely lost.
"Everyone's trying to talk to each other and I'm the only one that can hear them. They are all so sad because I'm not letting them talk to each other." She sobbed heavily against Solari's shoulder.
"Why aren't you letting them talk to each other?" She held the Princess tighter.
"Artemis asked me too." She spoke of the Goddess in an angry voice.
"Then it must be important." Solari tried to offer a bit of comfort. "I'm sure she wouldn't have asked if she knew how upset it would make you."
"I know it's important for Mother's journey." She sniffled and sighed as she spoke. "But Sorrow and Mommy are so upset, it's making me afraid."
"Madalene, do you know where Mommy and Sorrow went?" Rocking the Princess back and forth she stared the child in the eye.
"To fight the Romans." She answered without breaking eye contact. "Are Romans bad?"
"Not all Romans." Solari was moved by her innocence. "But some bad Romans are trying to come into Greece and make people do things they don't want to. Those are the Romans Sorrow and Mommy went to fight." She tried to keep her explanation simple.
"If they're not all bad that makes it worse." Madalene buried her head as a hard sob broke from her cheast. "Sorrow's doing something very bad." The words came out broken by more sobs.
"What is Sorrow doing?" She stopped the rocking motion and wiped the tears from the child's cheeks.
"She's killing them all." A whisper came in response. "She thinks they killed Mommy, she's in a dark place. It scares me."
"Madalene..." The Amazon couldn't bring herself to ask if the warrior really was dead.
"Mommy's fine, but she thinks that Sorrow is dead. She's going to find somebody named Caesar to get the truth." The small whisper continued through silent tears.
'Sweet Artemis!' Solari cursed to herself. 'Sorrow is running around killing everything that moves because she thinks Xena is dead. Xena is risking everything to find Caesar because she thinks Sorrow is dead. Can this get any worse?'
"Nicola!" Artemis' sharp voice called the Priestess out of sleep.
"Yes my Goddess?" The startled Amazon stood up quickly.
"I'm taking them to the temple. The journey has to start now, Madalene is weakening and the block against Sorrow will go down soon." She walked into the circle and with a wave of her arm transported the three sleeping figures to the temple.
"Wake up everyone!" Artemis called them back to consciousness once they arrived in the temple.
"What the?" Ephiny sat up first and commented on their sudden change of surroundings.
"I must send you on the journey immediately, there is no time to waste. Please stand and join hands." The tenderness in her voice made them follow her instructions without question.
"Remember that you must stay focused." Bringing her hands up she walked toward Gabrielle and placed her hands on the bard's temple. "Good luck."
In unison they all fell lifeless to the floor, eyes staring blankly at the ceiling, hands still clasped together.
"You fight like children!" Sorrow turned in circles and yelled at the dismembered corpses that surrounded her. "The weakest of my father's minions could have defeated you. You don't deserve the attention of his daughter, of a Goddess!"
A small part of her was horrified when the smoky souls of the dead soldiers rose up from their bodies and cowered before her. Shaking the distraction of her own thoughts away, she held out her left hand and watched as their spirits disappeared into her palm.
"Much better." She hissed to the emptiness around her when she felt the power coursing through her veins. With her strength renewed, she broke into a run to find more victims.
"Sorrow!" Madalene terrified voice cried out her sister's name plainly before her words became a mumbled mash of broken phrases. Solari held her, listening to the rant about darkness, Romans, souls and suffering.
The Amazon warrior was at a complete loss and not knowing what else to do, stood with the screaming child still in her arms and raced towards the hall to bring her to Gabrielle. She only hoped the Queen would know what to do.
"Where are they?" She asked Nicola, who stood alone in the hall.
"Artemis transported them to the temple and has sent them on the journey." The Priestess frowned as she watched the little Princess struggling. "She knew that Madalene was growing too weak to keep the block against Sorrow any longer."
Solari turned and ran frantically toward the temple. For Madalene's sake she hoped the journey hadn't started. Without Gabrielle to calm her, the toll this continued nightmare would have on the Princess was incalculable.
"Where are we?" Gabrielle could feel the hands within each of her own and squeezed them tighter. Slowly the darkness around them receded to show that they were standing in the centre of a small room. Each wall held a door, each door a small window. Under each window a single scroll rested on a shelf, the seal on each scroll unopened.
"This is interesting." Danu removed her hand from the Queen's and walked toward the door closet to her. She peered through the window. "It's beautiful."
"What's there?" Ephiny asked.
"There's a snow covered mountain in the distance." Danu knew her description did nothing to capture the awe that the view inspired. Taking the scroll from its place beneath the window, she turned back to them. "May I?" She questioned Gabrielle who had stayed firmly rooted in the same place. All the bard could do was nod her approval, not even bothering to look at the archer.
"It says: A vision gave. Of crosses two. Blood covered snow. But is it true?" Danu read the small passage slowly.
"Riddles, perfect!" Ephiny walked to the door next to her and peered through the window. "There's a battlefield behind this one." She didn't bother to describe the horrors occurring there. Reaching down she took the scroll and read the passage. "Forged in battle. Molded by war. Is it her or the anger. You love and adore?"
"There's a village behind this one." The archer replaced the first scroll and walked to gaze through the window of the door behind her motionless Queen. "And it says..." She opened the door's scroll and recited. "The parents who loved you. There is no place like home. If you claim to love them. Then why did you roam?"
The Regent started to move to the remaining door, but Gabrielle raised a shaking hand to stop her.
"I'll do it." Finding her voice and legs again she moved to peer through the window. "There is just rocky countryside" She opened the scroll and read it to them. "Ignorance found. Innocence lost. You all pay the price. But what was the cost?"
"It looks like we are being given a choice. One door leads to the secret, the others gods only knows where." Danu moved closer to Gabrielle, frightened by the paleness of her face.
"I don't know which one to choose." The bard turned and replaced the scroll on the empty shelf. "Any of them could lead to the secret."
"If none of them seem to be a clear choice, then maybe we should focus on eliminating some of our choices until one clear one remains." Ephiny moved back to the door that hid the battlefield. "Let's start with this one." She shrugged her shoulders. "The passage seems to stem on the question of whether or not you love Xena for who she is or for her power as a warrior."
"That's good, Ephiny." Danu moved next to the Regent. "We're here to discover both questions and answers, right?" She looked hopefully at them. "If we can figure out the question that each door represents maybe we can figure out which one we are here to seek answers for."
"If that question is whether I love Xena for herself or for the warrior, the answer is simple. I love her because she is both." Gabrielle walked closer to them, suddenly conscious of Ephiny's quick movement to block the window from her view. "Let me see, please." She waited for the Regent to move out of her way and then moved up to get a good look. "By the Gods!" The horror that played behind the thin shield of wood was frightening.
"So that door is eliminated." Danu moved to door that hid the village and waited for the bard to join her and look.
"That's my home. It's Poteidia!" She exclaimed with some shock at how exact the recreation was.
"The scrolls question seems to be asking why you ever left home." Danu handed her the scroll to look at herself.
"I did love it there and I miss my parents and Lila every day." She sighed heavily as she read the passage. "I had to leave. I wasn't meant for that life. Everything changed the day I met Xena. I didn't know why at the time but nothing on earth would have kept me from following her."
"We'll eliminate that one for now. Now this one I don't understand at all." Ephiny moved across to the door that Danu had first approached. "It mentions visions, could it have something to do with Madalene's gift?" She questioned, trying to find a frame of reference for the passage.
"No, not Madalene's, the vision was given to Xena by Alti." Gabrielle looked through the window at the mountain behind.
"What was the vision about?" Danu asked concerned.
"It showed her and I being crucified in the snow by Roman soldiers. It was a vision of our deaths." Gabrielle turned her back to the window.
"The scrolls question is can the vision be true." Danu listed to the short passage replay in her mind.
"There's no way of knowing. Alti was pure evil. Whether she really pulled a moment from the future and showed it to Xena or if she conjured it up in order to hurt her no one can know." She was silently thankful that the view through the window was only of the mountain and not of their crucifixion.
"Well then it's down to a choice between that door and this one." Danu moved to the last door. "This is the most cryptic passage of them all." She made the offhanded comment without thinking.
"Danu, that's it!" Gabrielle exclaimed and moved toward the door.
"What's it?" The archer looked at her confused.
"Each of the other doors deals with questions that I ask myself all the time. I have never hidden these thoughts from myself." The bard felt the small pieces snap together in her mind. "I used to wonder if I loved Xena because of who she was, because everyone always thought I was young and infatuated with her." Ephiny bowed her head, ashamed that she had once been one of that everyone. "I still wonder sometimes what possessed me to leave my parents and follow Xena that day. The vision that Alti gave Xena haunts me all the time, but I know there is no way to know if it is true or not." Placing her hand on the door handle she took a deep breath. "This is the only question that makes no sense to me and therefore it must involve the secret that I keep hidden from myself."
"Makes sense." Danu looked to Ephiny to add her approval.
"That door it is then." The Regent walked closer as Gabrielle pushed the door open.
As she opened the door the rocky countryside fell away and nothing but blackness waited there. A swift current of air dragged Gabrielle through the opening, but not before Danu could grab her hand and be carried in with her. Quick movements brought Ephiny to the doorway just in time to grab the archer's hand and hold onto the doorway with the other.
"Hold on!" The Regent called to them as she tried to fight against the force pulling them into the darkness.
"Ephiny, let go!" Gabrielle's small voice called from somewhere down below.
"Are you sure?" She questioned, aware that her grip was slipping and it would be only moments before she'd lose her last chance at pulling them up.
"Yes." The bard's voice commanded her.
Closing her eyes, she relaxed her hand and prayed that their choice had been the right one.
"Oh no!" Solari burst into the temple to see the three lifeless bodies on the floor. Not wanting the child to see her mother in such a disturbing state, she backed out of the temple. Having no one else to turn to, she carried the distraught child to the healers hut.
"Solari, what's wrong?" Oxin met them at the door, having heard Madalene's wails.
"It's a little complicated." Solari followed the healer inside and sat down on one of the beds.
"Put her down and let me have a look at her." Oxin watched as the Amazon peeled the Princess from her shoulder and laid her on the bed. The child's flailing made it hard for the healer to examine her. "I'm going to give her a mild sedative. It should put her to sleep."
"Get away from her!" Thallia's strong voice caused both adults to jump. The frail child moved quickly between them and the Princess. "It's all right Mads, I'm here now." Crawling in behind her, Thallia hugged her close and Madalene's struggle stopped immediately. "She'll be okay now." She looked up to the stunned adults.
"How did you do that?" Solari was dumbfounded to see Madalene go from wild to tame in a heartbeat.
"Cause she knows it's me, so she knows she's safe." Thallia whispered and began stroking the Princess' hair. "You can both go back to bed. I'll take care of her from now on."
Neither of them thought to argue with the command, even though it came from a child just short of her fifth birthday.
"I have to go back to the temple." Solari mumbled to Oxin.
"I'll just be in the back, it'll be all right." The healer tried to reassure both for the guard and herself.
"You wanta talk about it?" Thallia whispered the question when the adults left. Madalene moved her small hand into her caretakers and sighed. "In a little while then. We have all the time in the world."
Having exited the forest and moved back to walk in the grassy field that ran parallel to the trees, the Princess made a steady progress towards her goal. The intervals between encounters became smaller, as more and more soldiers attacked her. None of them were denied the gruesome death they anticipated at the hand, but all were horrified when death did not offer the release promised. Death on this day led to a greatest suffering possible, as the Goddess consumed each of their souls.
Sorrow was not surprised when she crested the small hill. The large gathering of soldiers and cavalry waited patiently for her. Standing in various defensive layers in an attempt to protect a grouping of tents on the horizon. Caesar's standard flew at the doorway of the largest tent and the Princess knew she'd reached her goal. Only a few hundred soldiers stood now as the last obstacle between her and her revenge.
"And you shall know sorrow like never before!" Bringing her wings out to full span behind her she hissed the words under her breath. The trumpet calls told her that the display of her wings had served its purpose. Bringing her hands together in front of her, she bowed to the throng of soldiers. "For the glory of the Goddess, let the blood sacrifices begin." Talking flight she descended down through the barrage of arrows.
"Brutus, stop ranting and tell me what is going on!" Caesar slapped his babbling second sharply across the face.
"I'm not ranting!" Brutus snapped back, already feeling the welt raise on his cheek from the man's ring. "You have to get out of here. The soldiers will only slow her down."
"I have five hundred men out there. You expect me to believe that this one woman is going to get through that and kill me?" He laughed heartily. "This isn't even Xena you're talking about. If it was her I might actually entertain the idea."
"No, Sorrow is much worse than Xena." Brutus moved to the doorway, scared by the screams he heard. "She isn't just a woman, she's something else. Sir, you have to run."
"I run from no one!" Caesar stood tall and moved to don his armor. "It is my destiny to rule the world and nothing will keep me from my destiny."
"She will!" Brutus pointed out the door, begging him to observe the carnage first hand.
"Yah!" Xena drove Argo hard through the darkness. Sorrow had an enormous head start on her, and the warrior didn't know if the Princess was traveling by foot or by air. Her only comfort was that Caesar would still be relatively close to the border, so even if her daughter was traveling by air, she should be able to catch her.
She was surprised when her normally obedient mare reared slightly and refused to travel any further.
"What's wrong girl?" She whispered the question to the horse as she dismounted and moved forward in the inky darkness. She could hear nothing and see very little. Her senses told her that their was no one lurking in the darkness to attack her, but the area around her held the most horrible rank. Moving quickly back to her horse, she retrieved a small torch from her saddlebags and soon had a light source with which to explore.
The Warrior Princess had seen a lot of carnage in her day, most of it brought about by her own hand. But even she had never seen bodies butchered like this. Looking down to examine the slickness under her feet, her stomach lurched as her mind realized that she was walking over the shredded remains of the insides of one or more soldiers.
"Hold on Sorrow, I'm coming." She spoke the words into the darkness.
"Where are we?" Gabrielle whispered the question to herself as she fell. Happy when the darkness that surrounded them brightened and they all landed face up in the grass of a large field.
"I was really starting to think we made the wrong choice there for a moment." Danu laughed as she sat up to look around.
"Looked that way, didn't it." Ephiny jumped to her feet and surveyed the area for threats. "Only question now is where do we go from here?"
"Good question." Gabrielle added as she stood up and brushed herself off. "Which way to go?" The moment the question left her lips the ground underfoot began to shake.
"I don't like this!" The Regent moved closer to her Queen, stepping away from a large crevice that broke in the earth below her feet. They watched mesmerized as rocks sprang up from within the crevice and formed three pathways.
"Incoming!" Danu's voice hit their ears just as the archer lunged at them. Knocking them out of the way as a large wooden signpost dropped out of the sky and drove into the ground nearby. "That was close." The archer rolled off of them and helped the bard to stand again.
"A little too close." Ephiny walked over to the sign and groaned. "Oh great! More riddles."
"What does it say?" Gabrielle asked as she settled in front of the sign when the Regent moved for her. "Your choices once four. Are now only three. Now you must decide. Which path sets you free?"
"That's it?" Danu moved to look for herself. "Are we just supposed to guess or something?" She turned to look at the three identical paths.
"I don't know." The bard shook her head defeated. "We must be missing something. There must be a question here that I can ask that will give us more to go on." Turning back to the signpost she studied the message, hoping to find something new within the words. "Each path obviously leads someplace different. We have to figure out what makes each path different." She walked to examine the three paths.
"Why don't you just ask?" Ephiny suggested. "Every time you poise a question something happens. Maybe another sign will come out of the sky and try to impale us." She smiled and was happy to hear them laugh.
"What is the difference between the paths?" Gabrielle asked aloud as she moved to stand spot where the three met. The metamorphosis began with the last of her words. The rocks of the path leading to the left became dislodged from the ground as grass forced its way up through the cracks. Within moments the path was overgrown and almost indistinguishable from the field that surrounded it. At the same time the path in the centre seemed to sink into the earth slightly as the rocks became smooth and worn. The path to the right was the most disturbing of all. As large boulders fell from the sky to block the way at various intervals into the distance.
"Okay, now which one?" Gabrielle asked as she looked up to the sky and watched the three scrolls flutter down to the ground as an answer to her question.
"Now we're getting somewhere!" Danu exclaimed happily. "What does it say?" She asked anxiously as she watched the bard read the scroll for the path on the right.
"Challenges rise. Empires fall. If it wasn't for Caesar. Would you have been here at all?" The bard turned and read the passage in a soft voice.
"Would you have been where?" The archer looked around.
"Here." Ephiny snapped seeing the sudden distress on the Queen's face. "Gabrielle where is here?"
"We couldn't be there." She looked to scan the hilly horizon. She'd gone to any number of different places with Xena in order to confront Caesar. This field could be anywhere: Rome, Greece, Gaul, it didn't have to be there.
"Couldn't be where?" Ephiny walked closer and pressed the issue in a soft voice.
"Britannia." The single whispered word sliced through her soul.
"Hey, why don't we read the other scrolls before we start trying to figure out the riddles?" Danu tried to talk through the tight feeling in her cheast, unsure if the reaction was her own or coming from her link with the Queen. Trying to hide the shaking in her hands she picked up the scroll partnered with the left pathway and recited the passage aloud. "Blood on your hands. Soul in the flames. Haven't you wondered. Why you don't feel the same?" As she finished the last line, the archer cursed herself for every picking up the scroll.
"It hurts inside. Everything's changed, everything." Gabrielle recited the haunting words to herself as a feeling of drowning swept over her.
"I'll read the third." Ephiny offered, trying to stifle her own reaction to the second passage. "Betrayal and heartache. Blinded those days. Only clear vision. Who will show you the way?"
Gabrielle barely heard the Regent's words as she walked away from the paths. Hugging herself as she walked, she tried not to think. Tried her best to keep her mind stagnant against the vivid rush of memories that the word Britannia always gave her.
'I don't want to be here again, I want to go home now.' Sinking down to her knees in the grass, she sighed deeply as the thought repeated in her head.
The first hundred men were easy. The mass of bodies around her made tactics unnecessary as they offered themselves up for sacrifice by attacking her. When the area became too littered with bodies for anyone else to reach her she remained amongst the dead to feed.
"I am the one true Goddess. My word is the law." She hissed the words at the nearby corpses. "I command you to come to me now!"
Unable to resist her request, the smoky souls of the slain soldiers wailed as they rose up and into her. In an instant ever injury to Sorrow's flesh was healed and walking through the bloody mess she moved to gather more subjects.
'I only hope I'm in time.' She thought to herself as she maneuvered Argo around the largest group of bodies yet.
"Now, lets see what you're rambling about!" Caesar announced as he closed the buckle that kept his sword in place. Moving to the door of the tent, he threw back the flap and stepped out.
"By the Gods!" He looked from one side of the field to the other. Most of the carnage was concealed by the dark, but the beginning of the dawn allowed him to see more than enough. "Where is she?" He questioned Brutus, who stood shaking beside him.
"There." The second pointed and whispered, when he saw the Princess rise up to stand.
"What is she?" Caesar questioned as he watched her turn her head to spit a large piece of her last victim out of her mouth.
Her senses tuned to the breaking point, his words rang through Sorrow's ears as if she'd spoken them herself.
"I'll show you what I am!" The Goddess screamed as she flew straight up into the air and dove down to land a few feet in front of him. "This is what I am!" She hissed the words at him as she raised her arms out straight at her sides. "What once was yours is now mine." The souls of the most recently slaughtered were pulled from their bodies and dragged into her, as the two men watched horrified. Knowing the spectacle of it would keep them rooted in place, she allowed herself to transform slowly. The horns retracting into her forehead notch by notch, the spikes slipping back under the flesh of her arms and legs, and her form contorting in jagged singular actions to move back to her human shape. The greatest effect came as her skin turned from one shade to the next on its way back to its normal glowing paleness and her hair straightened back out to her beautiful thick mane almost hair by hair. Lastly, she emptied her lungs and with the slowest of motions allowed her wings to recede into her. "Declare yourself to the Goddess." She moved right up to him and placed a soft hand on his cold cheek.
"I am Caesar, Julius Caesar." He stammered the words trying to compare the beauty before him with the demon that existed before.
"It is you I have come for Julius." She caressed his face as she closed her eyes and breathed in the scent that rose from him. "I have come to fulfill your destiny. Do you know what your destiny is?"
"Yes. I am destined to rule the world." He spoke with more confidence, in an arrogant attempt to intimidate her.
"No." She shook her head at him as she rubbed her index finger across his bottom lip. "You are destined to be slaughtered by the ruler of the world." Her eyes danced as she spoke. Before he could even breathe, she allowed one claw to emerge and she used its sharpness to slice his lip open. Grabbing him, she pulled him to her and kissed him full on the lips. Allowing his gushing blood to fill her mouth. Not allowing him to feel pleasure or pain from the moment, she pulled herself back. Staring straight into his startled eyes, she bent slightly to deliver two short blows to his upper thighs. The telltale snap, of the thick bones breaking under her hands, echoed an instant before his scream. "Now don't go anywhere." She looked down at him withering before her. "I have to talk with Brutus for just a moment."
"Yes, Sorrow?" The solider didn't know where he found the strength to speak.
"I have an offer for you Brutus." She moved herself closer to him. "I can take your soul after I kill you or you can pledge it to me now. What is your choice?" The sight of him actually contemplating the offer made her laugh. "I am a Goddess and a Queen. It is my destiny to conquer this pitiful world. You wouldn't be pledging yourself to just anyone." She smiled at him and moved to press herself against him from behind. "I can bring you unimaginable pleasure or pain. Your choice."
"Brutus, kill her!" Caesar's plea broke the man from his trance.
"Answer me Brutus!" She hissed in his ear. "Do you serve Caesar or do you serve Sorrow?" Grabbing him by his hair she first forced him to look at his crippled Emperor and then dragged him to the nearest slaughtered solider. "I think the choice is pretty clear." She whispered in his ear again, happy to hear his breath quicken at the sight of what she'd done to the dead man.
"Why are you offering me this?" He asked her suddenly, catching even the Goddess off guard.
"Why?" She backed away from him and tapped her fingers against her lips as she thought. "You know something." She looked at him and smiled. "I have no idea why." She started to laugh and quickly gaped the short distance between them. "Run Brutus!" She yelled the now familiar phrase at him when her face was only a hair's width from his. "Tell all of Rome that I am coming and that there is no place to hide!" She was pleased to see him scampering away from her.
"Do you know why I broke your legs?" Content that Brutus poised no threat, she turned back to focus her attention on Caesar.
"I might." He grimaced when she dropped to sit down beside him.
"Don't play games with me Julius!" She grabbed him by the throat. Not choking him but applying enough pressure to momentarily distract him form the pain in his legs.
"Xena!" He spat the word at her.
"Good boy." She moved her hand and ran it gently through his hair. "Do you know why I would break your legs because of Xena?"
"Because you're her ally." He gurgled the words out, as he reached up to wipe some of the blood that ran from his lip down his chin away.
Cresting the hill, Xena halted Argo's approach. The emerging dawn offered just enough light to show that the valley was littered with corpses. Dismounting she moved down amongst the slaughter. Trying to get her bearings on the events that had occurred there and figure out where to go next in search of her daughter.
"Sorrow!" She whispered the revelation to herself when her eyes rested on the Princess, knelled off in the distance over a body. "I'm coming." Breaking into a run she willed herself to cover the ground between them. Hoping, praying, begging that she wasn't too late.
"Do you want to know a secret?" Sorrow leaned closer to him, allowing her breath to wash over his face. The gleam in his eyes told her that he did. "I'm not just her ally, I'm her daughter." She smiled and kissed him on the forehead. Pleased by the genuine look of shock on his face.
"Why are you telling me this?" He questioned her, his mind reeling from the admittance.
"I want you to know why it is that I kill you my dear." She pulled herself back and spoke the words in a singsong voice.
"You're going to kill me because I ordered her legs broke so long ago?" The question was an innocent one. He could understand her killing him for any number of reasons, but just for that alone seemed petty.
"I will kill you..." Sorrow's mood changed from contained insanity to rage again in a heartbeat. "Because it was men under your order who killed her."
"What?" He looked at her shocked. "No one informed me that Xena was dead."
"Brutus knew!" Moving to stand she circled him as she spoke. "Guess he didn't have time to tell you with all that was going on. Seems to me like something worth mentioning."
"Sorrow, I'm sorry." He tried to buy himself some time, desperate to move her back to the madness she was showing before and away from the rage that would kill him. "I have always admired Xena for her skill and intellect. She was the most worthy of my opponents, next to you that is."
"Next to me?" She reached down and pulled him to stand with one hand. "You dare to compare such a magnificent woman to me!" He instantly realized the error in his wording. The self-hatred this creature possessed for her own form was obvious to him now. "This has gone on long enough." The rage inside reminded her of her goal as she tossed him back to the ground. "Do you know how I am going to kill you Julius?" She held up her hands, allowing him a clear view as her claws emerged. "I'm going to gut you and the last thing you will feel is the slickness of your insides when I place them in your hands." She dropped to her knees next to him, enjoying the short panting breath that her description elicited in him. "And the moment you die, I will feed on your soul, making you mine for all eternity. And you shall know sorrow like never before." Her words lowered to a whisper as she brought her hand back for the first blow.
"SORROW...STOP!" Xena commanded as she ran through the field towards the Princess.
"Now I know I've lost my mind." Sorrow turned to study the warrior as she approached and stopped a few feet away. "I'm hallucinating that you're still alive." A small laugh turned into a frown as she spoke, telling the warrior that the Princess truly believed her a hallucination.
"Gabrielle?" The Regent watched the small woman's retreat and felt the intensity of the fear she was experiencing.
"I want to go home now." The bard called back to them in desperation. "I don't want to be here anymore. I don't want to know the secret."
The Queen never thought that such simple words could cause such a violent reaction as the ground inches away from her knees cracked open. Causing everything from that point out to the horizon to drop away and reveal inky darkness.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny screamed as her and the archer raced to catch the bard before she tumbled into the abyss. It was the Regent that reached her first and pushed the started woman back for Danu to pull from the edge. A slight miscalculation sent Ephiny over the edge and holding onto a small outcropping of rock for dear life.
"Hold on!" Danu dropped to her stomach and inched closer to the breaking edge.
"What else am I going to do?" The Regent sarcastic voice called back. "Tell Gabrielle to go back to the pathway."
"I'm not leaving you." The bard moved closer to the archer who had gotten close enough to lean over the edge and reach for the Regent.
"Gabrielle, go back to the path!" Ephiny's strained voice mimicked the feeling in her arms as she attempted to hold on with one hand and reach for Danu with the other. "The path's won't fall apart, they can't, you have to make a choice!"
"Just a few more inches." The archer tired to anchor her feet into the soil as she stretched most of her upper body over the edge. "Gotcha!" She exclaimed when they were finally able to grip each other's arms.
"Now what?" Ephiny looked up at her and laughed in desperation. It was hard to tell if the Danu was keeping her from falling or she keeping the archer from coming headlong on top of her.
'Sorrow, if I only had an ounce of your strength right now.' Danu made the silent plea to her lover as she fought to pull the Regent up. Ephiny clawed at the cliff side, using every handhold and foothold she could find to help the archer in her effort. Finally, after the greatest of struggles, Ephiny crawled up onto the grass. Instinctually they both crawled far from the edge before they bothered to catch their breath.
"Are you all right?" Gabrielle took a step away from the pathway and towards them. The action caused another piece of the world to drop off, leaving her companions again at the edge.
"Stay where you are, we'll come to you." Danu ordered as she helped Ephiny to stand.
"What's going on?" Gabrielle looked confused out into the abyss.
"When you said you wanted to go home, that you didn't care about the secret, you lost your focus." The archer tried to explain. "Artemis kept stressing that you must remain focused on the secret, now we know why."
"It just means you have to make a choice between the three paths. There is no other way." Ephiny moved to put her arm around the shaking bard.
"I almost got you killed." Gabrielle hadn't known the simple words would bring such peril.
"No harm no foul." The Regent smiled at her. "You ready to make a choice?" She nodded her head toward the pathways.
"Why don't we go through them one by one again and try to eliminate choices?" Danu moved to pick up the scroll that accompanied the centre pathway. "Betrayal and heartache. Blinded those days. Only clear vision. Who will show you the way?"
"The difference between the pathways must be important. If this one is worn it means it's well traveled." Ephiny reached down to touch one of the smooth stones.
"That would make sense. I've analyzed and reanalyzed the things that happened in Britannia so much it blinded me. That's why Solan sent Xena and I to Illusia, so that we could work through the pain and see things with clear vision." Gabrielle let the words come quickly, not wanting to think about the things she spoke of. "This path can't lead to the secret because Illusia brought all our feelings of betrayal to the surface and made us deal with them. That must be why the path is worn."
"Good, now we're down to two choices." Danu smiled. "Which one do you want to deal with next?"
"The one that mentions Caesar." Gabrielle watched the archer pick up the scroll and hand it to her. "Challenges rise. Empires fall. If it wasn't for Caesar. Would you have been here at all?"
"The path is blocked at different points making it impossible to stay on the route intended, you'd have to detour a lot in order to keep on track." The Regent studied the pathway hoping to give Gabrielle another clue to go on.
"Caesar never lets you stay on track, he always comes up with something to drag you away from what you originally planned to do." The bard tried to brainstorm the hidden meaning within the path.
"Maybe that's it!" The archer exclaimed suddenly and continued when she saw their anxious faces. "Maybe if you were to chose that path you would never reach a goal because obstacles would always be interfering with the journey. You'd loose focus of the secret."
"That makes sense." Ephiny agreed in a soft voice. "And does it matter if you were in Britannia because of Caesar or not. Why you came wouldn't change any of what happened?"
"No, it wouldn't." Gabrielle sighed at the idea of the inevitability of it all. "Then we eliminate that path. So this is the only choice?" She turned to the overgrown path on the left and picked up its scroll. "Blood on your hands. Soul in the flames. Haven't you wondered. Why you don't feel the same?"
"You know what it's about, don't you?" Ephiny asked softly. "The path is overgrown as if no one has ever walked it."
"Yes. It has to lead to the secret. Let's go!" Gabrielle tried to gather courage as she stepped onto the path. Her two companions followed close behind, very attentive now to the possibility of very sudden changes in their environment.
"Sorrow, I'm not a hallucination." Xena took a tentative step closer to her and raised her hands to show that she was unarmed. The last thing she wanted to do was startle her daughter's broken nerves into reacting without her mind's consent.
"Yes, you are." The deep frown stayed on the Princess' face as she bowed her head slightly to hide the mist of tears that had gathered in her eyes. "You were killed during the battle in alpha field, I didn't protect you." Drifting off into the consequences that her failure had brought, she sighed heavily. Seeing her momentary distraction as a chance to save himself, Caesar pulled a dagger hidden in the back of his waistband and tried to attack her. Without looking Sorrow easily blocked his movement. Twisting his arm violently, until he relinquished his hold on the weapon and let it fall uselessly into the grass. "Don't do that again!" She stared into him and caused him to shiver just with the intensity of her eyes.
"Sorrow, who told you I was dead and why did you believe them?" Xena moved another step closer. Staring at Caesar herself, trying to make him understand his best choice would be to stay still and silent.
"Brutus told me and I knew it was true when I couldn't find you." Her shoulders hunched forward as she spoke and she brought her hands up to her head. Still feeling the emptiness that filled her mind the moment her thoughts couldn't find the warrior.
"Sorrow, Brutus was lying and you couldn't reach me with your thoughts because I think the seizure you had keeps your thought communication from working." Xena talked slowly and softly. Relieved when the Princess made eye contact with her again. Another tentative step was aborted when she saw the Princess' muscles flinch in reaction to the stimulus. Xena had been in this place before, in this darkness. Regardless of the wishes of her heart or mind, Sorrow's senses and instinct were tuned to the breaking point and Xena would have to approach her with the extreme caution. She feared more for Caesar, since it was painfully obvious that Sorrow was convinced she wasn't real. A part of her wanted to let her daughter kill him, remembering the hate and pain of his betrayal. She fought the desire easily, not wanting her daughter's soul to pay the ultimate price, just to fulfill her lust for revenge.
"You're silly Xena." She laughed at the explanation. "A stupid little seizure can't hurt me I'm a Goddess."
'Oh no!' The warrior's mind reeled from her daughter's word. 'If she's running around acting out her role as the One True Goddess I might be too late to save her.'
"Sorrow, honey, why do you want to kill Caesar?" She tried a new approach, hoping to reach any light still left inside the Princess.
"Julius must die because he brought the men here who killed you. He made it so that I failed and can never go home." Sorrow did not move her eyes from the warrior's as she reached back to grab him by his hair and drag him closer to her. The claws on her free hand emerging without her consent. "With his death a new world will begin and all will tremble before the Goddess!" A dark evil voice came from within her and the shock on her face showed that even she questioned the origin of it.
"Sorrow, why do you think you can't go home?" Xena ignored the dark voice of her rage and focus on the profane sadness that was being felt by the Princess' soul.
"Mother won't love me anymore if she knows I let you die. She'll think I'm just like Hope. I don't want to be like Hope." Sorrow's words were small and childlike in their plea. Releasing her grip on Caesar, she looked down at her clawed hand and frowned as she willed the sharp weapons into hiding again.
"Gabrielle could never hate you Sorrow and she would never think you were like Hope." Xena shook her head and managed two small steps closer before she saw Sorrow's instincts react again. "She loves you Sorrow and she knows that you would never let anything happen to me. She knows you would die protecting me without thought or hesitation."
"I would." Sorrow whispered as in one fluid motion she came up off her knees to stand. "But I didn't have the chance. She'll hate me for not minding my lessons."
"What lessons?" The warrior questioned.
"To never lose sight of what I was fighting for." Sorrow took a step away from her. "The only reason I came was to protect you. I lost sight of that during the battle and you paid the price for my lack of concentration." The Princess raised a shaking hand to her face as a once repressed memory burst into her mind. "Just like those poor little boys."
"What little boys?" Xena asked quickly, hoping whatever these little clues the Princess kept giving would lead Sorrow back from the darkness that engulfed her.
"When I first started my lessons, I refused to fight. Father was so angry." She looked down at the crippled man at her feet. "His priests would steal little boys from this world and father would tell his demons to attack them. I had no choice to fight. I had to protect them. I couldn't save them at first, I just didn't have the skills." Dropping to her knees again, she reached out to run her hands through Caesar's hair. Not seeing him, only the innocent little children she'd been too clumsy to protect so long ago.
The warrior felt as if someone has struck her sharply in the stomach as the image Sorrow described filled her mind. She couldn't imagine how horrible Sorrow would have felt when she'd failed them.
"Sorrow, that's not your fault. I know you tried your best to save them, so do they." Xena pleaded with her to understand that no one could blame her for the situation her father put her in.
"Did I? Just like when I tried my best but you died regardless?" Sorrow snarled at her. "I can't tell her how I failed. I can't see the disappointment in her eyes. I can't bear to see her looking at me and wishing it was me who was dead instead of you."
"You don't know your Mother very well then." The warrior increased the intensity of her words to meet Sorrow's. "She would never blame you for letting me die or be disappointed or wish you dead instead of me. I know what you're feeling Sorrow." She changed her focus for a second, trying to draw a parallel for the Princess. "When we thought you had died during the cave in, I thought your Mother would feel the same things toward me. How could I have let her daughter die? How disappointed would she be that I can save so many but I couldn't save you?" She sunk down to her knees as well. "She never did anything but mourn you and try to help me through my grief. Not once did she ever blame me, I doubt the idea ever crossed her mind."
"That's different, she loves you more than she loves me. You're her soulmate." Sorrow smiled at her softly.
"She doesn't love one of us more Sorrow. She loves us differently." Xena shook her head. "You are her daughter and she thanks the Gods for you every single day. Thanks whatever it was that made you good despite your horrible childhood. Thanks chance for putting us all in that tavern that night." The warrior smiled at her. "There is a light in your Mother's eyes every time she speaks your name."
"She has Madalene, she doesn't need a demon like me around." Sorrow spoke of her sister without thinking and quickly brought her hands to her face as a picture of the beautiful child filed her head. "Oh, Madalene."
"Who will protect her Sorrow? How will she understand the gifts she has if you aren't there to teach her?" Xena saw the momentary futility of arguing what Gabrielle's response to her fictitious failure would be.
"She's young, she'll forget me." Sorrow eyes narrowed as she focused in on Caesar and the rage within her swelled again. "With what I do here today she'll do everything possible to forget me."
"Never!" Xena yell pulled her back from the brink. "Madalene crossed time in order to help you. She'd do anything for you." The warrior moved slowly to stand, knowing a submissive position on her knees would no longer be effective. "As you protect her, she will protect you. Even if that means she has to follow you down into this darkness. Would you let this rage fill her too? Do you want your sister seeing this? Being a part of this?" She motioned to the bloody battlefield behind her. It was a gamble to pose such a challenge to Sorrow at that moment, to call her on the unmentioned future they both knew her rage was planning.
"Xena?!" Caesar spoke for the first time. He'd been silently watching the warrior and had seen the advantage in her approach until then. Challenging Sorrow now would surely only bring his death. Which for reasons he didn't understand, Xena was obviously trying to avoid.
Sorrow didn't answer, she couldn't. The challenge had weakened the rage inside and given a shred of strength to her exhausted goodness. Shaking her head, Caesar's voice reminded her of her goal.
"I just have to kill him. You'd have wanted me to kill him for what he did to you." Sorrow pleaded with her hallucination.
"Dammit Sorrow, I'm not dead! I'm right here in front of you and I'm telling you I don't want you to kill him." Xena used every ounce of her willpower to keep herself form moving to shake the Princess into believing her.
"Why wouldn't you want me to kill him? He's hurt you so much." Sorrow's look was of pure wonderment.
"If you kill him I lose you. He's not worth that, no matter how much I hate him." Xena spoke softly. "With his death you won't be my Princess, my Sorrow, my daughter anymore. You'll be Queen of the Land of Suffering, the One True Goddess and the rage that Dahak bred inside you will engulf the world." She moved closer when she saw Sorrow's muscles relax. "You can stop it all right now, by just letting him live." A lone tear cascaded down the warrior's cheek. Feeling the situation slipping out of her fingers, she tried one last time to reach the Princess with her thoughts.
'Please Sorrow, don't leave me again. I don't think I could survive losing you for the third time.' Using every ounce of her concentration, she sent the words straight from her soul.
Sorrow's eyes widen when the warrior's voice came softly into her head. Xena could tell by her the change in her that the words had been heard and she silently thanked whatever force had made the small communication possible.
"Xena, I've been bad." The Princess' chin quivered as she pushed herself back through the grass away from Caesar. With the arrival of Xena's words in her mind, the rage lost its control and the reality of her deeds came crashing down onto her.
"It's all right." The warrior moved to hold her, seeing that the internal battle had suddenly been won with the simple admittance and no threat of the rage remained.
"Are you really not dead?" Sorrow clung to her, shaking violently.
"I'm alive, I promise." Xena held her daughter. "We're going home now, together. Everything's going to be fine." She kissed the top of Sorrow's head as she spoke.
"Xena, it hurts inside." A soft scared whisper was Sorrow's only answer. "Everything's changed, everything."
The warrior looked down, not sure for a heartbeat who it was she had in her arms. In her mind, the phrase repeated over and over. First in Sorrow's voice and then in Gabrielle's.
"A little assistance would be nice, she broke my legs you know!" Caesar rolled his eyes at their tenderness.
"You're lucky that's all she did!" Xena snapped at him. "Come on honey, let's go home." The warrior pulled the Princess up to stand and led her away. Sorrow's blank stare told her the Princess was seeing none of the carnage they walked through. Shuddering, the warrior wondered how much worse the visions that danced before her daughter's eyes were in comparison.
When they finally reached Argo, Xena mounted first and then pulled the dazed Princess up behind her.
"Hold on." The warrior reached back to bring Sorrow's arms around to encircle her waist. She kept one hand firmly over the Princess', afraid her daughter's current broken state would cause her to lose sight of even the simplest of tasks such as holding on. "Back to Greece girl." She instructed the mare who gladly obeyed.
"I wonder how far this thing is." Danu sped up to travel a few steps in front of Gabrielle.
"I'm just wondering if it leads anywhere?" The bard asked the question in an exasperated voice.
"It has too." The archer turned to look at her and didn't see the large temple that suddenly appeared only a step away. Slamming into the large wooden door, she bounced back into Gabrielle who had to help keep her from falling.
"Are you all right?" She asked the archer as she helped her to stand.
"Fine, did that just come out of no where or am I blind?" Danu laughed as she studied the large structure.
"It did appear out of no where." Ephiny confirmed, as she watched the Queen's reaction.
"This is Dahak's Temple." Gabrielle studied the building, trying to stop her hands from shaking. "Or at least this is what it looked like before it was destroyed."
"You have to remember that." Ephiny moved to look the bard in the eye. "Everything we see hear is just your memories and while they will seem very real, he can't hurt you."
"I'll try to remember that." She gave the Regent a weak smile.
'She's right. He can't hurt you ever again. Sorrow killed him.' She gave herself the little pep talk.
"Let's get this over with." The bard walked up and opened the heavy door. "It's empty!" She looked inside and reported back her observations to the other.
"No, it's not." Danu whispered as she peered over her shoulder. Off to the side, the Gabrielle from this time was huddled against a pillar crying as she stared at her blood stained hands.
Taking a deep breath, Gabrielle walked inside and moved to along the wall to the other side of the room. Her companions followed close behind.
"Xena!" Samuel called to her from the border. "I kk...knew you'd bring hh...her back alive. Are either of you hh...hurt?" He studied Sorrow, who was slumped against the warrior. Her face was hidden from his view behind her hair. The Commander's unchanging expression told him conversation between them was going to be very one sided. "I bb...brought sss...ss...supplies and sss...set tt...them up for you bb...by the rrr...river. I dd.... didn't t...think you'd want to go bb...back to cc...camp." He smiled brightly at her when he saw the relief in her face. "TT...This ww...way."
Squeezing the hands under her own a little harder, she followed him. Silently thanking him for his thoughtfulness. The last thing she'd want to have to do now would be to face the remains of the army and the last thing Sorrow needed was for anyone to see her like this. Xena sighed heavily when she heard the Princess start mumbling again in Dahak's strange language. The warrior wished she understood the dialect, knowing in her heart that the strange phrases her daughter kept repeating would offer insight into her current broken psyche.
Samuel's set up impressed the warrior. He'd apparently thought of everything, including equipment to tend to Argo. She gladly accepted his offer to take the mare nearby and care for her.
"JJ...Just ww...whistle if you nnn...need me." Samuel offered as he led Argo away.
Xena nodded that she would as he disappeared back through the trees. Seeing Sorrow start to shake, she moved quickly to start a fire.
"Just a second, I'll have you warm in no time." She spoke softly to her. Once the fire was underway she moved back to sit next to Sorrow. "Any better?"
The Princess' only response was another repetition of the untranslatable words as she drew her knees up to her cheast and started to rock back and forth.
'Okay, Mighty Warrior Princess, what's your next move?' She questioned herself.
"Sorrow, I don't understand what you're saying?" At a lost, she shifted so that she was facing the Princess, trying to draw some response out of her.
"...it hurts inside...everything's changed...everything..." Sorrow's unknown words became broken with familiar ones. "...never wash off ...never wash off..." Just as suddenly her words turned to the chant the phrase over and over as she began to scrape at her arms.
"It's just a little blood, honey. Nothing to be afraid of." Xena offered the useless comfort and held up her own hands to show the blood on her skin. "Why don't we go to the river and have a bath? We'll clean all of it off, I promise." She almost cried when she saw the small nod of acknowledgment. It gave her some hope, that no matter where the Princess had retreated to inside herself, she could still be reached. Digging through the nearby bags, she found all the necessary supplies and taking Sorrow by the hand lead her the short way to the river.
"I'd already killed Meridian." The bard's small voice filled the others in on what they'd walked into. "Xena will arrive soon."
On cue, the Warrior Princess burst into the temple and went straight to where the bloody Gabrielle lay sprawled across the steps crying.
"Even she couldn't believe that I'd chosen to kill ." The bard found her eyes cemented open, forcing her to relieve each horrible moment.
"Whose that?" Danu whispered the question when Khrafstar entered.
"I thought he was going to bring me salvation. He's the one who brought me to Dahak." She shook her head at her naiveté.
"I fulfilled her destiny. She's for Dahak." Khrafstar's loud proclamation to Xena mimicked the bard's words a heartbeat later.
Gabrielle was surprised when she felt the archer take one of her hands and the Regent the other, as they helplessly watched the other Gabrielle being dragged up onto the altar amidst Dahak's flames. Their touch gave her the strength to keep watching, despite the pleas of her heart to turn away.
"Sorrow, bring out your wings so I can wash them as well." Xena instructed her in a soft voice. Moving behind the Princess to wait for their release, her mind was filled with memories of happier times.
Running into Danu and the Princess having a picnic by the river near the village. The sight of Sorrow diving into the water with her wings at full span and the resulting wave engulfing the stunned archer had been hilarious. Sorrow had been breathtaking to watch as she rose out of the water, hovering a few feet above it, as she shook the water from her wings.
The warrior had unconsciously closed her eyes as the memory flooded over her and she was unprepared for what awaited her when she reopened them.
"Hold still, this shouldn't take long." Xena locked her jaw to keep her voice from showing the shock she felt. Lathering her hands up with soap she reached out ran and them down the wings, praying the colour in them was only blood. Stains that the soap would remove and erase forever. She fought to keep herself from crying, when despite scrubbing and more soap, the dark crimson colour refused to leave even a single feather.
Sorrow registered what the warrior was seeing. Hugging her arms tightly against herself, she started to shake. Bringing her wings out to full span, she quickly pulled the offending appendages from view.
"I've been bad." She whispered the words as the first sob through her.
"Don't say that!" Xena spoke forcefully and moved around to hold her daughter's face in her hands. "None of this was your fault. You have never been bad, never!"
'By the Gods, what happened to you out there?' The warrior questioned herself as she held her.
"Gabrielle, do you remember anything from when you were in the flames?" Ephiny yelled the question above the noise of Xena battling the Deliverer nearby.
"Nothing!" Turning to look at the Regent for a moment she understood what the Amazon meant. They must learn everything they could. "What happened while I was in the flames?" She whispered the simple question and her words brought an immediate silence into the room. Xena and the Deliverer still fought and the flames still churned around her, but no sound remained except the three of them breathing.
"Look!" Danu's voice drew their attention back to the altar.
"It's like when the fire changed to heal Sorrow." Ephiny remarked as they watched the flame change shape and revel that is was merely a screen.
Behind the covering of the flame, Dahak and his demons floated beside the entranced Gabrielle. His voice, speaking in his own strange tongue, echoed through the temple as he made gestures over the bard's stomach.
"What is he saying?" Gabrielle asked the question without prompting and dragged them closer to the altar.
"Lord Dahak, are you sure this will work?" A small spiky demon to Dahak's left questioned in a tongue that they all understood.
"Oh course I'm sure." One look from the evil Lord, sent the doubting demon down into the flames screaming. "She has given her innocence of evil to me without prompting. She is the perfect vessel in which to place my child." His evil laugh filled the room.
"Was I the only one he could have chose?" The bard asked.
"Yes, Gabrielle. Only you, always you." Dahak looked up and addressed her.
"Is this supposed to happen?" Danu looked at Ephiny who was just as shocked by the Queen's interaction with the vision before them.
"Why me?" Tightening her grip on her companions' hands, she probed further.
"Why not you?" Dahak laughed and his form began to sink back into the flames.
"You're losing focus." Ephiny pleaded. "Whatever the secret is, it's not about why you were chosen. Try something else."
"What are you doing to me?" Gabrielle's voice was strong and demanding.
"My seed would split you open like rotten fruit." His dark form became visible again as he buried his hands into the abdomen of the woman in front of him. "So I gave you a present."
"What was this present?" She took a deep breath as she asked. Nauseated by the sight of the demon burying his hands inside of her. She realized now that she had never bothered to question what is was that Dahak had done to impregnate her in the flames.
"A demon's womb, for demon children." He smiled at her as he tore her womanhood out of her and cast the organ down into the flames. They all watched horrified as he took a bloody object from one of his minions and pushed it inside her.
Continued in Part Four...
alt fic index <> homepage