Sisters Of Sorrow
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.
VIOLENCE WARNING/DISCLAIMER: This story depicts scenes of 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 Seventh in my Sorrow series and begins a few moons after the sixth 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, unless of course the idea of Gabrielle having a winged demon daughter makes perfect sense to you too.
TISSUE ALERT: Just going to leave this in forever cause I am a bad judge of the soppy stuff. So you are all forewarned to keep some tissues handy just in case.
FEEDBACK: Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
THANKS: To everyone who reads the story for being so patient for the update… I stand before Amazon tribunal before the next moon to be punished for my crimes. Hopefully I’ll have Part Five finished to use as a plea bargain by then.
Tawnie packed up the last of the animal skins from the table into a tight roll and bound it with a thick string to keep them together. It had taken them longer than she'd thought it would to dissemble the room.
'A fact greatly hindered by Gideon's need to bless everything.' She thought to herself as she turned and surveyed the hall.
Her sight lingered briefly on the two small girls playing in the centre of the room by the baby cradle. She smiled to herself at how innocent and unknowing their play was. They had no idea of the potential threat that bore down on them at this very moment and she wondered if they even registered why they’d been left here instead of being taken home.
‘Well that’s about it…’ She had almost resolved herself to being done when she caught sight of Kisinda’s large snow leopard headdress at the back of the room. 'One thing more to do.' She was anxious to find out how things were going at the border but this was one thing she couldn't neglect.
"I'm going to pack up Kisinda's headdress." The ice healer turned to the Shamaness who was still packing away the various bowls and goblets from the table only to receive a short nod.
Once the thick hide of her lover's headdress was in her hand she couldn't help but close her eyes and soak in the energy from it. The new familiarity that holding the piece brought her made her smile. She'd packed this very object more than a dozen times for the warrior, spending the time in hopeless fantasy as she tried to fulfil what little tasks she could. This time her time was spent in a new capacity, a role that though still new and fresh had its foundations within the most loyal and longstanding of loves. She lost herself in the ceremony of intricately folding the hide so that it would be ready for the journey home.
‘Home.’ She smiled to herself as she closed her eyes and pictured that last look she’d taken of their mountains at the beginning of this journey. Faces of friends and family paraded through her mind as she wondered what their reaction would be to the recent changes in her relationship with Kisinda.
‘I wonder how long we’ll be staying now that the crystal has split?’ She glanced over her shoulder towards Gideon knowing from the woman’s serious face and busy hands now was not the time to ask her. ‘Just have to quiz Kissy later.’ The thought of a later brought a slight blush to the healer’s face as she tried to busy herself in the task ahead.
"Thallia, it’s going to happen soon." Madalene leaned over the small game they had drawn in the sand of the floor when she noticed both Gideon and the ice healer was occupied. "Give me your hand."
"I'm scared Mads." The youngster's voice was too quiet for anyone to hear. "Are you sure this is how things must be?" She asked the question she'd asked many times before, even knowing the answer would be the same.
"It's okay to be scared." The Princess took the other girl’s chubby hand in her own and brought it up to the stain of Sorrow's blood on her chest. "But this will bind us together." She moved Thallia's hand back to smear the drying blood on the underside of the tunic she wore. Without hesitation she then turned around, bending down to take her sister's sleeping hand and repeat the move so that the underside of Anastasia's garment was stained as well.
"You never said Tawnie would be here." Thallia whispered turning to look at the ice healer who was busy in the far end of the room. "She won’t get hurt will she? I don’t want her to get hurt, she’s nice."
"No." Madalene tried to keep her nose from screwing up and giving away that she was not completely telling the truth. The visions she had seen, those that she did understand were too scary to totally share with her young playmate. "Just remember not to act like you know what's going on." She turned and watched the movements of the older woman at the top of the room.
“She doesn’t know you know?” Thallia reached out and held tightly onto Madalene’s hand.
“Of course not.” Mads shook her head. “Now don’t worry a lot.” She pushed the headdress off her head and laid it on the floor. “Try to rest a bit.”
“Can we get Tawnie to leave so she’s not hurt?” The brown haired girl sat down on the skin.
“Thallia, I can’t change things just because I had a spell about it.” Madalene shook her head as she knelt down beside the other child. “She’ll be okay. I promise.” The little girl put her hand over her heart.
“Okay, okay.” Thallia gave her a slight smile as she tried not to look nervous.
Sorrow reached up and wiped her brow. The hot sun was pouring down on her but she knew it was only partially to blame for the exhaustion this work brought her. It had been her request to come to this secluded spot alone to exhume the ravaged body of the young man she'd found the day of the full moon celebration. She couldn’t completely explain it, but for some reason she felt it her duty to finish this. After all she had been the one to find him and bury him the first time. It should be her that helped his bones finally come to proper rest.
'I hope your soul will find peace when you are returned to your family.' She sent her regretful thoughts to the young man's spirit as she dug further into the earth. ‘And that whoever did this too you pays for their crimes.’
Kisinda folded the last corner of the covering around the body and fastened it closed for the journey back to the village. The sound of shovelling behind her told her the Warrior Princess was already filling in the earth to close the temporary grave. The walk to the southern ridge had been silent, filled with a building anticipation of the oncoming task. So many questions loomed unanswered and the ice Shamaness couldn’t shake the feeling that things were building in the spirit world and one way or the other all of their queries would be answered.
"I still have questions I'm going to need answered regarding the ceremony." Xena made the comment in an even tone as she tried to focus her mind on something other than the grizzly work.
The situation with the Kathans for the most part was clear-cut. Gabrielle had for the time being convinced the villagers that the Nation had had nothing to do with their disappearances or murders and with any luck once the bodies were returned for proper burial the village could focus on mourning the lost of its sons while the Nation went about the business of finding their murderers. It was a task she intended on taking very personally as whoever had placed these bodies within their borders was making a direct attack against her family. The last thing she wanted was to turn a blind eye while another Alti emerged to make threats.
"I will answer them the best that I can." Kisinda turned and moved to help her with the task. Under her breath she repeated prayers of cleansing, hoping that the evil in this area of the forest could be displaced.
"The sacrifice, why did you hide it from us?" Hard blue eyes turned to the ice warrior.
"We didn't hide it." Kisinda stopped shovelling and shook her head. "Gideon discussed it with both the Queen and yourself."
"No." The warrior stopped shovelling as well as she looked up. “She didn’t.”
"After my crystal split, when the need for the ceremony became clear." Kisinda looked at her a bit confused. "Gideon went immediately to speak with the Queen. She informed me she had spoke with both of you and though you were not excited about the idea, you were appreciative of the compromise."
"She did talk to both of us but only to tell us that the ceremony needed to be held as quickly as possible." Xena stuck the tip of the shovel into the ground.
“I can’t explain the discrepancy.” The ice warrior shook her head again as she returned to shovelling. “She had originally pushed for Madalene making the traditional sacrifice but I swayed her to the suggestion of involving Sorrow.”
“And why was Sorrow involved?” Xena dug the shovel hard into the ground.
“For the exact reasons Madalene sited in the ceremony.” Kisinda tried to keep from reacting to the hardening inquisition. “Sorrow possesses a great power and for a child to be given reign over that power just by asking for it is a great sacrifice. That it was only symbolic means nothing in the judge of its weight in the ceremony.”
“I’ve done enough with magic to know that the symbolic is often more powerful than the actual.” The Warrior Princess muttered as she released a slow breath out of her nose.
Part of her wanted all of this to end. She’d done enough, seen enough of the ways of the Shamaness and it was not a life she wanted for her daughter. The pain within her was that she also knew enough to realize that if it was to be Madalene’s calling there was little she could do to stop it. It would be as unavoidable as her life as a warrior, the fates had proven that to her long ago. The only condolence was how her daughter chose to impact the world within her Shamaness role and with their careful guidance she hoped they could guarantee it to be a good one.
‘And if she’s a Shamaness, she won’t be following in your footsteps.’ The sudden soothing thought made her stop her shovelling. It was a truth that couldn’t be ignored. If her daughter followed the ways of magic, there would be danger but not at the end of a blade in combat. Perhaps with a bit of guidance Madalene could be steered to focus on the healing arts and to practice a more passive magic. Perhaps all of her fears for the future could be halted by the simple replacement of a warrior’s blade with a Shamaness’ staff.
Kisinda let the silence settle between them and concentrated on her shovelling. She too had questions to ask of the other Shamaness, as many things seemed to add up less and less.
"Kisinda, why was it so odd that Ixter interacted with Madalene?" The Warrior Princess’ voice broke through suddenly as her mind whirled on inside.
"Xena, why do you think it was so odd?" The ice warrior countered. "It isn't everyday that we're able to summon the spirit of a long dead Amazon Shamaness, but then to watch as a five year old has a conversation with her. I'm sure you can imagine our shock."
“Have you ever heard of a Shamaness named Alti?” The Warrior Princess stopped again for a moment as she looked to the shroud covered body and then back at the ice warrior. She watched Kisinda carefully as the tall woman answered.
“Of course I’ve heard of Alti.” Kisinda waved her hand over her crystal and cast the air she had captured there away. “She is a pox on the face of Amazon magic. She used the arts for her own good, her own gain.” She hesitated as she observed the Warrior Princess studying her. “Do you think this is her doing? I thought she was dead, that you’d killed her.”
“I did.” Xena was glad to hear the usual enthusiasm for her deed was replaced with a sad reverence in Kisinda’s voice. “Even though her remains haven’t been disturbed and she’s nothing but bone this has her stink, so I don’t know.” She shook her head as a silent shudder went through her. Again she looked briefly to the shrouded body behind the ice warrior.
“A powerful Shamaness such as Alti is dangerous no matter what form she is in.” Kisinda moved her hand to sweep the air away. “From the stories I have heard, the infection of her being will remain to haunt long after her death.” She stamped her foot into the earth to settle it down. “Could there be one who has taken up her cause, reawakened her evil desires?” She appraised quietly. “Did she have an apprentice? If she did it is likely that they are as corrupt as her.”
“All of the apprentices she has taken died horrible deaths to aid her spells.” Xena shuddered at the memories of dark years and unthinkable deeds. “The last time we battled…” As her words started she was not sure why she was discussing this fear with the ice warrior. She consolidated herself that it was in order to truly judge the woman’s reaction and knowledge of what was going on. “She forced a vision on me the last time we battled. A vision she claimed was the future.”
“What was the vision?” Kisinda’s question came quickly as her hand stilled in its work.
“Roman soldiers, snow, crosses…” The warrior’s voice was slow. “Gabrielle and I crucified.”
“You think this may be the beginning of her prediction?” The ice warrior leaned against her shovel.
“I don’t know. I was only showed a small piece of the scene, how it all starts is a mystery.” Xena shook her head.
“It is possible what she showed you isn’t true Xena.” Kisinda tried to offer reason. “With a blackness as hers it is easy to twist powers so that they serve your own selfish goals.”
"Kisinda, how long has Gideon been the North Shamaness?" Xena poised the question carefully knowing it was far off track from what they had been talking. For some reason all this talk of Alti was making the grating irritation within her grow more painful as if she was missing something obvious. Maybe this was what her enemy wanted, to distract her from the real threat with an imagined one.
"For two cycles." Kisinda looked at her wondering why the warrior would be questioning this. "She has been in training since childhood but her predecessor, Xellam, was a very powerful woman who lived a long life." She studied the silent warrior for a moment. "Why?"
"Let's just get back to the village and sort out the problem with the Kathans." Xena shook her head though she couldn't shake the feeling that something was going on beneath her nose. A conference with Sorrow and Gabrielle was going to be necessary. Perhaps the Princess or her bard had picked up on something that could clear this up. “Then we’ll sort all of this out.”
Gideon rearranged the placement of the bowls in front of her. She was thankful that tradition was keeping the young healer who hovered at the back of the room from asking any questions about what she was doing. She’d needed this time to mix and prepare the necessary herbs, a task that required her utmost attention.
"Tawnie, there is one more blessing I must perform before we are finished." Gideon waited until the healer had finished with Kisinda's headdress before she signalled for the woman's attention. "Please lock the door so that I can disperse the forces we've drawn together here today. We would not want them to remain fixed on the building."
"Of course." The healer nodded her head as she moved to the door and swung the plank into place. She breathed a thankful sigh of relief that they would soon be finished here and she might be able to get some news on the conflict.
"Madalene and Thallia could you stand by the cradle please." The old woman instructed the youngsters in a soft gentle voice.
Tawnie watched them do as they were told, though the slight look of apprehension on the face of the Princess made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. It was as she focused on that thought that the Shamaness began her chant.
"Forces of the forest, creatures of the hunt who flash the night sky with the pureness of their want." Gideon raised her voice and her arms above the single bowl she had placed in front of her before she reached in and stirred the contents with her hand. "Animals of prey, weak and huddled in the light to escape the talons of a higher force in the night. Who would take the warm life blood from your bodies, who would gut you clean?"
Tawnie did her best to read the Shamaness lips, though each new word she deciphered chilled her body further. She had never heard a spell like this before uttered by her warrior or the Shamaness before her and that fact alone began to send up loud warning calls in her mind.
"Come to me spirits of the forest." Gideon raised her arms again as her voice grew to a low hiss. "Young men of wanton lust, whose blood spilled in agony on your mossy floors. Come to me now and bar all who would oppose my ascension. It is I who holds your souls in suspension and you will serve me now if you desire any hope to be free again."
The room darkened despite the bright day outside as swirls of mist pushed themselves in through the cracks of the wallboards. As the fog formed into shape, men of all sizes and heritage crowed the room briefly before their forms again disappeared.
"Gideon what are you doing?" Tawnie moved forward slightly when she read the Shamaness' disturbing words and saw Anastasia’s face begin to contort in shrill cries. The appearance of the ghostly apparitions in the room forced her into full action as she moved closer to the children. "Stop this now, you're scaring the children. I’m taking them out of here."
"None can oppose me now Tawnie." Gideon lowered her eyes to meet those of the healer. "Even you!" She laughed long and hard at the small deaf blonde and momentarily held her step with the steely stare.
"I'm taking the children out of here." Tawnie repeated as she made another move towards the kids when from out of nowhere one of the men reappeared in front of her. His face was stuck in an expression of sheer agony though he moved to fulfil his master’s request.
"Bind her, she will be a fine witness." Gideon pointed a finger at the man who immediately obeyed her order.
In the blink of an eye, Tawnie crouched down and returned to a wide stance with her sias' at the ready. She deflected a sharp punch aimed at her jaw with the handle of the blade.
"By the Gods!" The healer felt her blood run cold as she attempted to follow through the block only to have her hand pass through the man in front of her as if he was only mist.
"I have chosen my minions carefully." The Shamaness flung her other hand out and another misty form reappeared. "I have spent years collecting them for this very day. Young men killed in the height of their power and prime. They are the very best warriors for my army. They need not concern themselves with any of your skills, for you cannot harm them."
"I can try." Tawnie put together a barrage of kicks and punches, all which floated through the apparition without injuring it. Every move she attempted did nothing but leave her open for the creature’s attack as he beat her down.
"I said bind her. There is much to do." Gideon's angry voice charmed the other spirit into duty as he circled with his partner around the ice healer. “Bind her and be the Generals of my unholy army. Bind her and let us begin a new era of enlightenment.”
"You'll pay for this Gideon." Tawnie did her best to deflect the doubled attack but with no chance for offence she knew she was in trouble.
She tried to hold on as cold hands encircled her and pulled her arms back into a painful wrench. Struggling against the hold proved useless as she felt her sias drop from her hands as the blood was pressed out of her fingers to leave them tingly and lifeless. The hands that held her let go suddenly as her weapons fell away and she was pushed forward towards her other attacker.
'Have to warn someone.' The thought ran true and clear through her mind as she took a sharp kick to the chest. Instead of absorbing the blow she let herself fall into it. The painful calculation was successful and resulted in her being thrown close to the door that she’d barred only moments before. A barred door that separated her from all those that could help her fight these horrible creatures.
She fought with her mind that screamed for her to protect the children. The more tactical part of her recognized that if she fell without even warning the rest of the village what was going on, the children would be at the mercy of the Shamaness. With the way Gideon was talking these unbeatable apparitions were numerous and the village would need all the warning she could give it. That was if any of them could figure out a way to fight these transparent creatures.
"Sound the alarm!” Tawnie screamed as loud as she could in the hopes that someone was close enough to hear as her hand closed around the plank that blocked the door.
"That was a mistake little girl." Gideon growled from her place at the head of the room.
The door exploded in sparks at the healer's touch and she was thrown back into the centre of the room. She skidded to a stop on her back a few feet from the children.
"Please Tawnie, don't fight. It'll be okay." Madalene kept one hand tightly around Thallia's as she stretched closer to the healer and met her own green eyes with those of the stunned woman.
"I have to protect you." Tawnie blinked at the Princess, shocked by the child’s words and the thick pained feeling that sprawled across her chest and stomach. “I have to get help.”
"It will be okay." Mads tried to reassure her as the spirit men descended again and sent her into darkness.
Within moments the healer was gagged and bound unconscious on her knees to the far wall of the hall. Her arms were raised above her head and stretched out so that it would be impossible for her to struggle against the bonds.
"Now I can begin." Gideon's grey eyes looked at the two spirit figures standing idle. "Collect your brethren and hide yourselves to protect this building. Only reveal yourself if any try to breech the area around this building. Go!" Her voice was loud as the two spirits disappeared.
Gabrielle couldn't help but feel a weighted sombreness in each of her steps as she made her way through the village back to the ceremony hall. With both her daughter and partner were off completely the most grisly of tasks she couldn’t help feeling a bit useless.
‘There will be much for you to do soon.’ She thought to herself with a small sigh. ‘Everyone won’t be as easy to explain this too as Patria, especially as we know so little.’
Danu followed beside her, the archer silent as she let the Queen regain her headspace after the horrible revelations.
"I'll feel a lot better when the children are at home." The bard commented absently. "I bet my little Xena has got Tawnie and Gideon ran in circles by now. That’s if she hasn’t made a break for it already." She laughed.
“She’s usually good about staying put when Thallia is around.” The archer laughed with her. “Something about that little girl tempers Madalene’s wild streak. Just like you with Xena.” She smiled at the bard.
“And you with Sorrow.” Gabrielle smiled back. “Maybe her little prediction is true, maybe Thallia is the one she will join with one day.”
"I have to admit Gabrielle, I am so jealous of you." Danu smiled softly as she looked down at the ground.
"Jealous of me? Why?" Gabrielle raised a curious eyebrow.
"Having two little girls, so beautiful and perfect." Danu finally looked up to catch the bard's green eyes studying her. "I know Sorrow and I have only been married a short time and there's the house construction and everything but…"
"Danu…" Gabrielle stopped their progress. "Have you talked to Sorrow about this?"
"I've tried." The archer sighed heavily. "I'm sorry this isn't the time for this. I just really wanted to tell you how much I envy you and that I'm feel so blessed to be a part of the little Princess' life."
"It's always the time Danu and both of my girls are lucky to have you in theirs." The bard put a soft hand on the archer’s arm. "We both know the truth is nothing much can be done about the Kathans' crisis until both the bodies are exhumed. So there is no time like the present and besides, there is nothing more important than my family." She smiled when the archer finally looked at her again. "So what did my daughter say?"
"Nothing." Danu sighed again. "Now wait, that's not completely fair of me.” She stopped and frowned. “I haven't completely brought the specific subject of children up with her. She’s been so busy with the house and then there was the fire and then everything else that keeps the Protector busy.” She tried not to sound too resentful of her list full of things.
“You haven’t spoke with her at all?” Gabrielle pushed knowing there was something else going on.
“I've dropped some hints." She bit her lip. "She hasn't reacted very well to any of them." She signed again. “Mostly I’ve gotten deafening silence.”
“Come sit down.” Gabrielle gently pulled the archer’s arm towards a bench just off the path. “So what have these hints been?”
“Just little things, especially regarding the house.” Danu sat down heavily pulling her bow off her shoulder to rest the tip of it on her boot. “I tried to suggest another bedroom be worked into the plans, talked about how with the way they’re building the house it will stand for our children’s children. She just goes all quiet, like she’s realized what I’m hinting at but doesn’t want to comment.”
“But you’re not sure about that are you?” The bard tried to gracefully stick up for her daughter.
“No, I don’t know what she’s thinking.” Danu shook her head.
“The one piece of wisdom I can’t stress enough is that our dear warrior’s often seem like they know what we’re hinting at but often their silence is only cause their mind is on a hundred different things but none of them is what we think it is.” Gabrielle smiled softly. “She’s been very consumed with the house, it’s all Xena and her talk about.”
“I know.” The archer played with her bow. “And I don’t want to seem so ungrateful that our house is so important but she seems to have forgotten that it doesn’t matter if we have the highest ceiling or the rarest marble for the floors, the only thing that matters is that we are together.”
“She hasn’t forgotten Danu.” The bard couldn’t help but smile. “I know it seems like it but our warriors are a funny lot. They think the best way to show us how much they love us is by doing extraordinary things, like building big houses and thinking that we need to have expensive things bought for us.” She reached out and squeezed the archer’s arm. “When all we really want is for them to tell us how they feel, even if it means sleeping out under the stars every night.”
“I knew I’d feel better if I talked with you about it.” Danu couldn’t help but smile as she felt a bit of her inner turmoil lift.
“That’s what I’m here for.” Gabrielle couldn't help smiling as she pulled the archer into an impulsive hug. "And for the record, I so cannot wait to be a grandmother. I'm not sure Xena will appreciate you two thrusting her into that role anytime soon, but she'll cope." She pulled back and was glad to see the archer grinning with her. "Secondly, the best thing you can do is talk with her about it. It’s easy to talk to me, but she’s the one you really need to open up to.” Seeing the light on the archer’s face dampen again she lowered her voice. “It's hard for her, you know that better than anyone. Things aren't so clear cut for her." A deep pang of guilt went through the bard as she voiced the admission.
"I know, sweet Artemis I know." The archer laughed tightly. “I think that’s why I’ve been so reluctant to definitely bring it up. I don’t want to seem insensitive to all of that.”
“Danu, it’s a normal conversation to have when two people are in love as much as Sorrow and you are.” Gabrielle tried to reason with the blonde. “And she knows that you would never bring up something just to hurt her but the truth is you need to talk with her about this. You need to know what she thinks.”
“I’ll talk to her as soon as all of this settles down, I promise.” Danu managed a weak smile. "We should get the Princesses." She backed away from the conversation she knew she'd started suddenly not able to bear even talking about it anymore.
Gabrielle just nodded as the archer stood up and waited for her so they could start walking again. She made a mental note in the back of her mind to have a subtle talk with her daughter.
Gideon did a slow circle around the three children dropping the mixture of foul smelling herbs she'd carefully prepared on the floor. She had never felt so powerful as she did this moment. Here on the brink of her lifetime ambition, with all her careful planning coming together it was so unbelievable to think that she was going to possess everything she had ever wanted. Her first prize being a return of all the precious years that the crux of time had stolen from her and with the return of her youth the ability to command powers unknown to even the greatest of Shamaness’.
"There is no need to be scared little ones." She finished her walk and dropped the last of the herbs in a line away from them. "You must find solace in the knowledge that you are giving blessing to the greatest power that will exist on earth. This has always been the plan and you are playing your intended roles."
"My sister will stop you." Madalene barked the harsh words at the woman as she watched the Shamaness removing the outer layer of her ceremonial robes to reveal an aged body marked with blood and paint. "I will stop you."
"You?" Gideon laughed long and hard. "You are but a child who can no more control the power she possesses then a tree can hold its leaves in the fall. You will deliver the power that you hold to me so that I can use it to its full potential. Within me it will no longer be wasted." She turned to the table and picked up a thin band of silver that she placed around her head and around it she threaded a long strip of fur pieced together from different animals. Throwing it back to trail over her hair, it hung over her bare back down to almost touch the ground. "And your sister, the mighty Protector, will be able to do nothing. Her power is wasted in that pitiful form she takes and she is too blind to embrace all that she is. Her power could rule the world but she chooses to wallow it in the common defence of this nation. She is a fool, who I will quickly crush to make the rest of the world quiver under my stare."
"It is you who will be crushed." Madalene kept one hand firmly around Thallia's and the other reached into the cradle to touch her sister.
"We will see young one, which one of us truly had the gift for prophecy." Gideon laughed again as she reached behind her to take a burning torch from its stand. "For the world as you know it will change at this moment!" Bending the flickering flame down she touched it to the herbs that ended at her feet. “Bow to me ravenous flames of destruction, purge for me all that is rightfully mine.” In a hungry movement the sparks travelled the path laid out for them, engulfing the three small children in their wake.
Gabrielle felt the world she looked at drop away as the sudden image of flames, high and searing filled her every sense. The intensity of it burned the inside of her nose and brought an instant flush to her cheeks. The gait of her step stopped instantly as she tried to back away from the fire, only to find her vision turning to see that the flames encircled her.
"Gabrielle, what's wrong?" Danu stopped her step a few after the Queen not understanding what had stopped their walk or what had caused the look of utter terror on the redhead’s face.
"The children." Gabrielle felt her mind freeze and speed up at the same moment as she realized the vision she was seeing must have been coming from her young daughter. So haphazard and powerful, the only explanation was that it was Madalene. “Fire in the hall.” Not even thinking she broke into a fast run with the archer's footfalls echoing behind her.
'Sorrow, something's wrong!' Danu sent the message out to her lover without hesitation, not sure if the Queen had alerted her daughter as well. 'Get to the Ceremonial hall now, it’s on fire!'
'On my way.' The Protector's voice came in an instant, though calm and controlled the archer picked up the nuance of fear and urgency in it.
'Hold on baby, Mother's coming.' The bard tried to throw all the mental concentration she could find into the thought as she only hoped in her terror her young daughter would have the ability to tune into her.
"I've called Sorrow." Danu informed her as they ran full out, covering the dry dusty ground in record pace. Her peripheral vision showed her that all of the women they passed saw the look of horror on their Queen's face and were quickly taking up arms to follow them.
"Tell her to call Xena." Gabrielle answer came back quickly. "The children are trapped in a fire."
'I've already told her Mother.' Sorrow's voice entered the bard's head just as a vague whistle cut the air above their heads as the winged Princess flew by.
Danu was thankful for the bow strung over her shoulder. It would only be moments before the rest of the village arrived to whatever this was, but she would be able to stand by Sorrow's side until then.
"Magnificent!" Gideon looked at the building flames and inhaled deeply through her nose. "I call on you, spirits of eternity. Cast your knowing eye on me and give me that which I desire." She reached out and placed her left hand into the beginnings of the fire line in front of her. "I pledge you this body, this soul as the vessel of that which the fire leeches from these abominations." The flames licked around her hands searing the skin to a deep red hue before the tips seemed to pierce the flesh of her palm and thin trails of blood dropped down within the heat. "My blood to their blood. My body to their bodies." Her voice cried out in both pain and ecstasy. “My age to their youth.”
'No!' Tawnie's mind screamed instantly when she came back to reality enough to see what was happening before her. She struggled with the dirty rag stuffed into her mouth only managing muffled cries against it.
"Beware of what you ask for Gideon." Madalene's voice came in an icy calm as the flames of the fire lifted the three forms off the ground and encased them in sphere of swelling heat.
"I ask for eternity!" The Shamaness threw her head back and screamed to the heavens, as her eyes grew dark and sinister. "I demand immortality." She pushed her arm further into the flames just as sharp tendrils of the sphere shot out into Madalene striking her in the stained area of her shirt above her heart. "And you will give it too me." With these words she placed her other arm into the fire.
Tawnie momentarily stopped her struggle against her bonds as she watched a continuous bolt of the crimson spell shear off and strike the Princess. In living arcs of light it travelled through her body and split to come full circle around her and pass through Thallia and Anastasia only to rejoin the original beam. The shattering wail of the infant Princess' cries even reached her broken ears and the stunned look of muted pain on the other two children's faces sent Tawnie into an immediate struggle against her bonds again.
Sorrow's feet didn’t even touch the ground as she went directly to the doors of the hall with the intent of simply shattering them open with her flight. She'd seen the same vision that unbeknownst to her had rocked into the mind of both her mother and Xena’s. As her fist smacked into the wood of the door it sent a shockwave of electrical explosion into her and her body ricocheted away from the impenetrable barrier. She was tossed across the road like a rag doll, unable to correct her flight as she slammed into a thick tree. As the mighty giant cracked under her weight, the Protector skidded into the ground.
"By the Gods!" She cursed angrily as she shook the pain that flashed through her body from her head. Continuing to curse under her breath she pushed the away the wreckage of the tree and disentangled herself from the underbrush.
"Let's try this again." Her voice came in a thick growl as long fangs emerged down through her lips in announcement of the complete transformation she was allowing to occur.
With each step her skin and her hair greyed and snarled around the horn that emerged from her forehead. In an act that only caused one disjointed footstep, her hips shifted out to incorporate her changing form as long spikes curled out from her forearms and lower legs. Tucking her wings away she tore into a hard run towards the door, claws barred and ready to shred the simple wooden planks to toothpicks.
She had never felt such a sluggish feeling in her arms as she reached the door and began to tear at the door. A combined attack with her claws and forearm spikes seemed to have no effect either. Somehow her eyes couldn't help but focus on the scene inside as again her mind was filled with her sister's perspective of fire and trauma.
'Madalene, I'm coming!' Sorrow focused what energy she could spare into the thought as the door before her began to give slightly under her onslaught. Her damage to the wood was more the equivalent of what she'd have accomplished against the hardest stone as small splinters of it tore away, where one would expect it to fall under a single stroke.
Madalene heard the multitude of voices calling to her: The soft continuous pleas that had erupted from her Mother continued on unending from that first moment the image of the fire had forced itself out of her mind and out across the land in her thoughts. The mental void coming from Xena, as the warrior did nothing but focus on closing the distance between them. Then in earnest were her sister's strong words that she was coming to put an end to this. Somewhere within it all the screams of her small sister slowly began to change from the muffled screeches of an infant responding out of instinct only to change again to the thicker screams of knowing and then to childlike pleas for Mommy.
'It's okay Anastasia.' The Princess sent the most calming thoughts she could find out to her sister in a vain attempt to stop the cries. 'It will all be over soon. You'll see. Big sister promise.'
'Mads!' Thallia's first word of panic floated through the muddled lines of thoughts. She’d been trying to stay quiet until now. Madalene had warned her that things would be like this but someone now in the middle of it all it was just too much.
'Thallia, it's okay.' Madalene held onto the other girl’s hand tightly as she felt herself grow stronger and she found it easier to block out the fear of the fire in order to concentrate on her messages. 'You just think it should hurt, but really it doesn't. Open your eyes.'
A heartbeat before she prompted Thallia, she filled her own request. The flames weaved an intricate pattern around and through them but she was right. The fire did not burn or even singe them, in fact it held no heat at all.
'I don't like it, even if it doesn't hurt.' Thallia opened her eyes reluctantly, feeling safe under Madalene's instruction even in this perilous circumstance. ‘Make this stop.’
'You look beautiful.' Madalene turned her eyes from the fire to her brown haired friend.
'Don't be silly Mads.' Thallia gave her a youthful smirk. ‘We’re in the middle of a fire spell, I’m petrified and your telling me I look beautiful.’
'I made you forget the fire for a heartbeat didn't I?' Madalene grinned back at her. ‘It’ll be over soon, I promise.’ She turned to stare at the Shamaness through the intermittent flames.
"You will be dealt soon enough." Her voice was a steely whisper as she narrowed her eyes at Gideon.
Xena ran through the trees blindly. She knew somewhere close behind the ice warrior kept her pace but she didn't care. With the blinding vision of fire and Sorrow's plea to get back to the hall, her world had ended. Her daughters were in danger, left in that danger by her own hand and naïve belief that they were safe within the walls of the village.
She didn't think of anything other than running.
"Sorrow!" Gabrielle announced her fevered arrival on the path to the Ceremonial hall with a shrill scream. “What’s going on? Where are your sisters?”
The sound of her mother's voice at the end of the path made the Protector realize just how long she'd been struggling at this task and getting no where. Angry with herself and whatever magic it was keeping her from getting inside, she released a curdling howl as she focused even more at penetrating the barrier before her.
"Back away from her now!" Danu's strong voice called the bard beside her to a stop.
The archer had stilled herself mid step, fluidly moving the bow off her shoulder and levelling it at the first of the grim and disgusting figures that had emerged from the side of the building and were stalking down on her lover. The half dozen forms dripped of blood, their faces continually contorted in pain.
The figure closest to the Princess glanced up its dark eyes at her momentarily before they turned back to focus on the Protector.
"I warned you." Danu's voice was soft and steady as she let the arrow fly. Her hand was already in her quiver and fitting another arrow as her eyes watched her missile pass through the man and strike her beloved in the back.
"Black magic." Sorrow turned to lisp the reality that had just cleared in her lover's head as she continued her onslaught on the door. The arrow in her back didn't even register in her mind.
"Sorrow, break the door down now!" Gabrielle's order came in a scared authoritative voice as she reached her hand up and urged Danu to lower her bow.
Thought the ghostly figures descended on her and hit her with a barrage of attacks, Sorrow ignored the pain they inflicted on her and focused on breaking the door down.
Tawnie tried to shake what was happening from her tear filled eyes. The cowardly part of her mind wished she'd stayed unconscious and wasn't witnessing the betrayal of nature before her.
Moment by moment, heartbeat by heartbeat, Gideon and her evil magic was sapping the children of their energy, their life, and their very youth, as with each moment the Shamaness was growing younger and more powerful.
'I have to stop this before it's too late.' She cleared the thought in her mind as she pushed away the fear in her mind and the horror of the fire bubble before her growing larger to accommodate the growing forms within it. Fighting the fogginess in her aching head she turned towards the door to see it rattle and shake on its hinges. 'Sorrow.' The name ran through her head like a mantra. If she could just get to the door, just get it open so that the Protector could enter, surely all this would end.
The problem was she had nothing with which to break the ties that bound her so tightly to the wall. Tearing her eyes again from the scene before her, she turned left and was met by the sight of the one thing that could help her. Rolled up neatly was Kisinda's headdress and on that headdress remained the sharp teeth of a snow tiger.
'I just need to reach it.' Her mind struggled against itself as she began to work on her new plan.
"I have to help her." Danu watched Sorrow’s beginning reaction to the blows being afflicted on her by the ghosts. "If only to distract them." Tossing her useless bow to the ground, she ran closer to the building.
As the archer breeched some unknown barrier around the building, three of the ghostly men disengaged their focus on Sorrow and moved to take on the newly arrived foe. She came toe to toe with the closest of her enemy, feeling somewhat more powerful as she ducked out of the reach of a punch though her excitement quickly waned as her own kick sailed useless through the air. Gabrielle stood motionless for a moment as she watched Danu’s well-timed blows pass through their enemy harmless.
Despite her attempts to keep fighting them, the petite blonde soon found herself being tossed around like a rag doll as the rest of the Amazon's arrived on the scene. Poised on the ready behind their monarch, each of them fought to understand what was going on.
Without orders to attack, Eponin and Solari breeched the ranks that huddled impatiently around the Queen and went to Danu’s aid. As they crossed the imaginary borderline, another group of figures appeared to surround them and meet the growing threat to their Shamaness’ building. Despite their skills, the elite Amazon warrior’s soon joined Danu in a hopeless fight that gave them no chances of attack and only minimal defence.
"What are they?" Ephiny came to Gabrielle's shoulder having been alerted to the crisis.
"I don't know." Gabrielle shook her head as her mind raced. "Sorrow can't break the door, she says it's magic. They must be as well. Gideon is doing something to the children. We have to get inside." Her mind rattled off fragments of thoughts and fears.
“Do I order the guards to attack?” Ephiny felt her heart sink even farther as her Queen's words registered in her head.
“It only seems to make more of them appear.” Gabrielle shook her head to the idea as she tried to think. She knew that if they did nothing but rashly react her entire army would soon be reduced to a broken and bruised mass. Driven on by the divine force of a mother’s love she focused her mind. Three of the original entities still attacked her daughter at the door and with the intervention of the others another nine had materialized. If she sent a contingent of guards into the battle who knew how many of the grisly figures would show up then. On top of the fact that there was no way to fight these creatures let alone destroy them. Arrow, blades, and even hand-to-hand combat had all proved useless. ‘But there has to be a way!’
“But…” Ephiny went to object but the frantic arrival of the Warrior Princess coming out of the tree line made her stop.
"Where are the children?" Xena barked out the question as she did a somersault to land between Eponin and the two entities that manhandled the weapons master face down into the dirt.
Content on ending this quickly she'd unsheathed her sword mid-air and swiped it into the first man’s chest. That the man did not fall, let alone seem effected as her blade passed through his body made her freeze. Her moment of hesitation gave the illusionary figure’s counterpart the chance to land a devastating right cross that sent her backwards and off her feet.
“Oh you’re going to pay for that.” Xena arched herself up and sprung back onto her feet. In a graceful arc she twirled the blade up and back to settle in the leather on her back. “Let’s try this again.” She blocked another of his punches before attempting a barrage of her own. To her dismay those that the apparition didn’t block floated through his form useless.
As the ice warrior arrived, she ignored the figures and their fighting. In a calculated rush she weaved her way through the battle and moved to where the Protector still worked hopelessly on the door. Her instinct told her to engage those who fought with her Amazon sisters, but something inside her pushed her to gain more information. She was the only one who could get precious answers before time ran out.
"In the name of all that is pure, natural and reverent show me the font of this evil." Kisinda closed her eyes as she chanted the prayer of seeing and reached out to lay her hand on the wood of the wall before her. In a flash of light and colours her vision suddenly extended through the barrier to the room within.
Gideon's long low laugh filled the room as the cycles of living shed from her body as a snake might shed its skin. Cycle by cycle the weathering of age skimmed off of her, her flesh shorn down to reveal flawless tanned beauty pulled over hardened muscle. As she seemed to turn and look at Kisinda, the ice warrior saw her now empty and soulless eyes flash to reveal a spring of pure power lust inside.
"A font of the truest power, untouched, untainted and all for my taking." The Shamaness' evil words rang out with her laughter as the line of fire from her hands glowed higher and the floating sphere of fire in the middle of the room grew brighter and bigger. "Channel for me sweet crystal of my ancestors, youth and the gifts of lineage. Repay to me all that I have given to you in servitude and obedience. Bow now at my feet to be my servant, obey this great power that is wielded by my deserving hand alone."
Kisinda tore her hand from the wall and stepped back shaking the sight inside from her head. The disorientation didn't leave her though. Instead she stopped seeing the scene inside the building as her mind flicked back to an early time, a scene she knew in her heart she'd lived before but had been taken from her.
"The blood." Madalene's voice echoed in her head as the pressure of a hand gripped tightly onto her own trying to make her listen. "There is always balance, black for white, light for dark, good for evil. Use the blood of good to balance the blood of evil. Use the blessed blade of a Shamaness in the hands of a warrior and you shall overcome."
The warrior Shamaness’ mind flicked from scene to scene: The red stained snow of the mountain as she cradled her tribe's dying Shamaness in her arms and with a shaky voice took charge of the crystal shard. The red colour of her hands as she gutted the proud snow leopard after three days of tracking the illusive beast with nothing but a short sword and the thinnest of ceremonial clothing. The pained look in Tawnie's eye as she’d spilt her own blood into the chasm at the base of the mountain binding her to the crystal and her duty. The sight of the man's body in the forest, skinned and bloodless though untouched by the animals. The trickle of the Protector's blood as Madalene had passed the needle into her skin. The young Princess secretly smearing that blood from her own costume onto those of Thallia's and Anastasia's and the drops of Gideon's blood mixing with her evil spell in order to bring her plan to fruition.
"Blood." Kisinda spoke the word to herself as the world finally came back into focus. "I need a knife!" She turned somehow locking eyes with Gabrielle in the swelling crowd. "I can stop them."
"A knife, now." The Queen repeated the harsh order.
"Here take mine." Ephiny handed over the dagger from her hip quickly and in quick hurried strides Kisinda made her way to the Regent.
"What can you do?" Gabrielle pleaded with her for an explanation.
"My blood." Kisinda unable to wait for anyone else to offer reached down and tore the knife into the hide of her skirt and soon had a piece of it free. "It is our only weapon."
"Your death won't help this." Gabrielle forcefully reached out in a panic with both hands to stop the ice warrior as she began to lower the blade to the exposed flesh over her chest below her collarbone.
"Please, not my death, just my blood." Kisinda looked deep into the bard's green eyes imploring her to listen. "It's balance. Gideon has used her blood to bind the building, mine will free it and those souls who are forced to fight for her. It is the only way to get inside to the children."
"Do it then." Gabrielle removed her hand knowing she had no skill to fight this battle and neither did her lover. In the background Xena and the other Amazon's were continually being beaten to the ground every time they got up. If it was the ice warrior’s blood that would even the odds, so be it, she had not the strength to stop this.
“Here me now…” Kisinda dropped to her knees laying the swatch of leather in front of her. “Spirits of the forest, keeper of natures gift and promise. Here me now creatures of goodness who cry at the atrocity here today. Here me Ixter, keeper of the crystal to whom the greatest betrayal has occurred.” She brought her hands up with the knife and began to tear its serrated blade into her skin. Finishing the line, she tore the blade into her skin again to make the blood flow thick and fast. “See now in me the power to break the spell of she who brings this atrocity to this soil. See in me the blood of balance, light to her dark, good to her evil. I bring this blood of sacrifice, blood of the warrior, blade of the warrior, blood of the Shamaness, blade of the Shamaness. Bring to flesh that which is spirit, bring to spirit that which is flesh so that all are equal.” As the thick cascade of blood trailed down over her body, Kisinda brought the blade down and picked up the leather smearing it will as much of her blood as she could.
“Solari, here.” Turning the ice warrior called for the attention of the closest Amazon, seeing a flick of recognition she threw the dagger. “Use this.”
Solari silently caught the blade, sizing up her opponent who suddenly seemed less willing to randomly attack her and held back for a more calculated approach.
Reaching out Kisinda pulled a handful of arrows out of Danu’s quiver and rubbed the tips into her wound. Quickly picking up the archer’s bow, she stood and launching herself up she flipped into the air and landed next to the Protector’s wife.
“Take out who you can with these.” She handed over the weapon and blood soaked arrows to the grateful archer.
Without hesitation Danu pulled back out of the fighting and slinging the bow over her shoulder momentarily, launched herself up into a nearby tree. She worked her way up the branches quickly to a good height before she balanced herself and levelled her bow at the fighting below. She first took aim at the three ghastly men who attacked her lover. The missiles came down sharply in quick succession but unlike the first time these arrows hit the mark. The creatures withered around the thin shafts before finally erupting in a cloud that dispersed into the sky.
As the unholy adversary registered the Amazon’s new weapons, another dozen of the creatures appeared in the small area between the building and the tree line.
“Kisinda, I could use a bit of that to even the score.” Xena dodged a high kick as she leapt over another man to come within an arms length of the ice warrior. She knew the other warrior would see the necessity of her action she quickly unlatched the chakram at her side and sliced it lightly into the wound on Kisinda’s chest to coat the weapon with the Shamaness’ blood.
“Anything for the cause.” Kisinda growled lightly against the slice as she finally moved the axe from her back in a controlled arc and wiped each side of the blade into her own blood to cover the shimmering silver with thick crimson. She knew she should feel some pain from the wound below her throat but years of battle had taught her there was a time for pain and in the middle of a battle was not that time. Later she would feel it, but for now the Princess’ were in danger.
Seeing that Kisinda’s idea had worked, Gabrielle bent down to pick up the blood soaked swatch of leather the Shamaness had purposely left behind.
“Everyone’s weapons now.” Gabrielle turned to Ephiny who was the first to coat her sword and head into the battle. The ranks of the Royal Guard came one at a time to do the same as the number of apparitions increased. Lastly the bard coated her own sais with the ice warrior’s blood and headed into the battle. She was glad for the first time that Tawnie had insisted she begin to wear them permanently in her boots in order to get accustomed to moving quickly with the added weight and balance.
“Now you shall find rest.” Kisinda narrowed her eyes at the nearby ghost that struck Eponin to the ground spilling blood from her lip into the dusty ground. Holding the blade before her she moved in to separate him from the injured Amazon, before she swung the axe in a short arch through him.
Tawnie kept her eyes on the floor trying to concentrate on the movements of her hands. By a miracle she’d been able to stretch far enough so she’d been able to reach the skin with her knee and drag it closer. Pushing the roll up the wall in order to untie it had been another difficult task but she’d finally managed that as well.
Now with the head of the heavy skin free, she sawed the bindings on her hands across one of the teeth. With each pass she knew she was cutting into her arms and hands as well but the pain didn’t stop her, couldn’t stop her. The constant battering on the door told her despite all the Protector’s remarkable strength and skills she was unable to break down the door. That left only her to turn the tables on Gideon’s horrendous betrayal. She was the only one who could open the door, the only one who could stop this. She only hoped it wasn’t too late for the children.
‘Break, break.’ She stopped the sawing momentarily to pull hard on the bindings, feeling them start to give she pulled harder.
As they let go she fell forward unable to brace herself with her still partially tied hands. The deep ache in her head and chest made her stop for a moment before she worked to undo the completely free her hands and then her feet.
One glance to the unfolding scene told her time was running out. The sphere of fire had tripled in size and three adult size forms could be seen inside of it. In a moment of heroic need she contemplated going after the Shamaness herself, but the more rational part of her mind again clued into the attack at the door and the existence of the Protector behind it.
A she moved towards the door, she hoped Gideon was consumed enough by the spell that she would have the door open before the Shamaness could do anything. Wedging her hands under the large wooden brace she worked to free it and opened the door just as more of Gideon’s undead army appeared to stop her.
Xena completed a sidestepped circle with her opponent, holding her chakram as a stationary weapon she watched him move.
‘Time for you to die a second time.’ Her mind seethed as she faked a left-handed attack, before switching the hand she held the chakram in and attacking him from the right. Her left hand covered now in Kisinda’s blood as it dripped down from the blade held onto his arm tightly and kept him in place as she swiped the blade down deep into his throat.
“Thank you.” The man’s voice was a hiss as his body contorted around the blade and then disappeared.
On the other side of the clearing, Kisinda hunted another foe up against the building. The second man seemed to be more aggressive and less fearful of the Shamaness and her new weapon as he attacked her and soon met with the heavy blade of her axe as his head was separated from his body and his form also disappeared.
“This is just a distraction, we have to get into the building!” Xena’s stern voice called for the ice warrior’s immediate attention. All around them Amazon’s banished weapons soaked in Kisinda’s blood and for the first time the multitude of ghastly apparitions seemed to be thinning.
“The door still won’t budge.” Sorrow howled in agony as she continued to attack the door. With each swipe she felt weaker and more sluggish but even that didn’t deter her from keeping up her onslaught on the wood.
“Let me try.” Kisinda urged the Protector back as she stood level in front of the door her bloody axe pulled back and ready to strike.
A heartbeat before she released the trigger on the weapon, the door was flung open and the bruised and beaten figure of her lover stood in the space.
“She’s killing them.” Tawnie pleaded in a maddened voice when she came face to face with Kisinda not even seeing the blade levelled at her as her body was pulled back inside at the hands of more unholy minions.
“This ends now.” Xena’s voice came from behind, as she pushed her way into the building killing those spirits that filled the doorway and attacked the ice healer. The Protector and Kisinda pushed their way in after her, leaving the remainder of the unholy army outside to be dispatched the Royal Guard.
Having weaved her way through the fighting crowd, Gabrielle was last into the room and was stunned into silence by the scene before her. Vague glimpses of her children caught between the flickering flames caused the panic within her to reach an even higher pitch as she swung her sais back down into her boots.
“Xena!” The bard’s yell sounded in the almost silent room, mixing with the breathy rhythmic sound of Gideon’s chanting and the death cries as more of the ghost men were released into true release.
“You can not stop me now!” Gideon growled as she was torn from her effort by Gabrielle’s voice.
“We’ll see about that.” Xena snarled back at her. “Release the children now.” She used the wasted words to gauge the situation.
It was difficult to see if within the fire her children were dead or still alive but regardless she had no intention of letting this continue. Gideon would pay for her crimes and if the Warrior Princess had her way it would be her hand that brought down the punishment. The screams from her lover edged on her nerves further as another ghost appeared behind her and she turned to swing her weapon into him in a crushing blow.
“Foolish warrior.” Gideon raised her hands out of the flames, taking with her balls of fire that she cupped in each palm. “You can no nothing to oppose me. I am more powerful than anything you’ve ever known. All you will do is die and with your head I will have the whole of the Amazon Nation bowing at my feet.”
“Does anyone mind if I shut her up?” Xena’s hand stood triggered with her chakram aimed at the Shamaness.
“By all means.” Sorrow stood strong beside the warrior breathing hard. Without a weapon blessed by the warrior Shamaness’ blood, even all of her unnatural strength had proved useless against the men inside the building. On Kisinda’s instruction she’d retreated to the Warrior Princess’ side and left the ice warrior to kill the rest of them. “You take her I’ll get the children.” She sidestepped over to the flames and without hesitation reached in with the intention of pulling the children out.
“Deal.” Xena spoke the word as the telltale sound of her weapon cut the air towards the Shamaness.
“You underestimate me Xena.” Gideon raised a hand and the weapon ricocheted off an invisible target sending it back at the warrior. Having to swing her arm to absorb the increased power the warrior tried to hide her surprised reaction at the blade’s return.
Any thought of secondary attack was momentarily stopped as the hall was filled with the sharp shrill notes of an animalistic howl.
“I can’t reach them.” Sorrow wailed as was forced to pull her arms out of the flames when the burning to her demon fleshed crossed even her bearable threshold of pain. She cradled the smoking limbs to her as she looked to the ice warrior begging for help.
“They can not be released from the fire until we break the spell.” Kisinda swung her axe through a line of skinned men, cutting them all in half. “Even if you could stand the pain it would kill them to pull them through it.”
“Oh Kisinda, so torn between the blade and the magic. Even now you use your gifts in such a wasteful manner. Though I applaud you for figuring out a way to fight my minions.” Gideon grinned at her manically. “How do you possibly think one as weak as you could destroy one as strong as me? Think of all your lessons Kisinda, I have been your tutor and mentor. There is nothing you know that I do not and everything I do that you cannot even fathom. You are best to run now and pray I spare you.”
“I am no longer torn between the two as I embrace them both. It is with the blade of a warrior and the blood of a Shamaness that you will be defeated Gideon.” Kisinda stood strong and twirled her axe once from hand to hand as she moved to a place next to Xena. “You claimed long ago you could see into my soul Gideon, if you truly can you should know more than anyone I have never run away from a fight in my life.”
“You are a foolish proud warrior, too weak to truly see all that the crystal could offer you.” The evil Shamaness flung a handful of fire at the Warrior Princess in retaliation.
Xena was about to react, when the blade of Kisinda’s axe appeared before her and the fire was sent back at the Shamaness who sidestepped away from it. The back wall of the hall erupted in instant flames under the onslaught.
“How do we break the spell Kisinda?” Gabrielle rushed to her daughter an instant before the Protector was going to try again to break through the ravenous flames in desperation. “How?”
“My blood on a weapon.” Kisinda instructed the Queen as she closed in on the Shamaness. “Try to cut the spell open.” Hearing the instruction the bard reached down and pulled a still bloody blade from her boot. Taking the hilt in two hands she stabbed it deep into the swirling wall of flames.
“Weak weapons and a cowards blood.” Gideon laughed again. “You think too much like a warrior, it is your innate fault Kisinda and for one last lesson I will show you the error of your ways.”
“Do your worse.” Kisinda readied her blade in front of her.
“First lesson young one.” Gideon raised her hands holding the flame as an arc between them. “Never attack directly that which you can attack from behind.” With those words the arc shot out and moved around the ice warrior taking the healer by the throat and pulling her through the air dropping her down between the two adversaries.
“Tawnie!” Kisinda heard her own sacred voice before she could stop it.
“And with all adversaries, you must make sure to have their attention.” Sending a second spike out of her arc, Gideon’s flame shot out to take the bard by the throat as well as she struggled to tear her sais into the sphere. Sorrow’s burnt hand reached out a heartbeat too late to stop her mother as Gabrielle was pulled across the room and down next to the ice healer. The rope of fire around her throat making it nearly impossible to breath but she tried in vain to struggle against it.
“Sorrow break it open, we’ll take care of her.” Xena instructed in a stern voice as she kept her place, as she moved to take a place next to Kisinda. Not hesitating the Protector put her hands around the hilt of the weapon as she pulled it out and then again buried it deep into the flames.
“Lesson two.” Gideon snarled as her arc of fire held the bard and healer in tight grips. “Attack that which is weakest in your enemy, those that they love. Say goodbye to your pets.”
“The children.” Gabrielle hissed out the scared word unconcerned for her own state and only worried for her daughters. She held her lover’s blue eyes, the only one able to see the innate fear that flowed behind the Warrior Princess’ tough exterior. “Save them first.”
“Enough of this act of martyrdom. Your children are dead.” Gideon held them in tightening grips to cut off their abilities to speak. “You can get out of this with your lives if you bow to me now. Order them to lower their weapons Queen of the Amazons.” She squeezed the bind around Gabrielle’s throat. “Tell them to lower their weapons and surrender to me.”
“The children.” The Queen pleaded again soundlessly.
‘Sorrow, we’re not dead.’ Madalene turned her head within the sphere and looked out at her sister, catching green eyes with green as she sent her thoughts through the flames. ‘We’re fine, the flames aren’t even hot in here. You need to concentrate on Gideon, you can’t release us without killing her.’
‘Madalene, are you sure?’ Sorrow stopped her assault on the barrier momentarily as her eyes studied those of her sister’s knowing something was never going to be the same after this day.
‘Save Mother! Gideon will kill her even if she does surrender the Nation.’ Madalene’s thoughts pleaded with her. ‘What’s done is done, this is how it has to be. Get behind her, split her attention.’
‘Hold on sis.’ Sorrow held the green eyes that starred out at her a moment longer before she sprang into action.
“This proud Nation would never bow to a corrupted power such as yours.” Kisinda shifted her stance as she tried to formulate a plan in her mind. Though the bloody sias had penetrated the wall of the sphere, it was not doing enough to break the spell and worst of all her beloved and the Queen were now at this monster’s mercy.
“For a stoic warrior you talk far too much.” Gideon laughed openly at her.
“For a Shamaness you know nothing about fighting.” The ice warrior felt the movement of the Protector before she even really saw it. Feeling the flinch in the body beside her she knew that Xena had also registered Sorrow’s attack and together they would back the Protector up in any way they could.
In a flash Sorrow was behind Gideon and reaching around the Shamaness she used her superior height and physical strength to force the older woman’s arms into a full nelson behind her head. The hold forced her to release her grip on the healer and the bard.
It was Gabrielle who was the first to move as the choking at her throat disappeared, pulling the injured healer with her to a safer place behind Xena and Kisinda.
Xena didn’t bother to pause for any of the ice warrior’s further advice as she charged forward and used the position her daughter had forced on the Shamaness to strike.
Gideon thrashed and fought against Sorrow’s grip, breaking free just in time to stand toe to toe with the Warrior Princess. Before she could speak Xena struck her with a hard snapping kick that spun her around and sent her to face the Protector who backhanded her, sending her to the ground.
“While you play with me your children are dying.” Gideon wiped at her bloody cheek as she turned to look at Xena.
“Break the spell now!” Enraged by her taunting the Warrior Princess reached down and picked the Shamaness up by her throat. She lifted the woman up like a rag doll until her toes hovered slightly above the ground.
Seeming to not be concerned by the restricted airflow, Gideon reached out and placed her hands in a vice like grip around Xena’s forearm. Instantly the warrior’s angry hold fell away and her knees began to buckle under her. Her eyes flashed the alarm she felt at what was going on as she was forced to lower the smaller woman to her feet again.
“I’m tapping you.” Gideon’s eyes were wild. “Just like I’m tapping your children.” She licked her lips. “And you mighty Protector.” With a vicious look she snapped her gaze around at Sorrow and an invisible force struck the Princess sending her back and out through the fiery back wall of the hall. “The rest of my followers can deal with you until I am ready to finish my spell.”
“Kisinda, what do we do?” Gabrielle placed a hand on the stationary warrior’s shoulder trying to force her into action.
“She’s taken too much power, sold too much of her soul.” The ice warrior’s eyes opened bright and focused. “She has to die.”
Kisinda spun her axe to bring the blade to the ground as she used it to lever a jump that sent her over the Shamaness’ head. As she reached the ground she snapped the handle into Gideon’s arm breaking her hold on Xena.
“You cannot defeat me Kisinda.” Gideon seethed as she was pushed away from the warrior. “You do not possess the knowledge of a Shamaness.”
“But I have always possessed the skill of a warrior.” With arms straining Kisinda swung the heavy axe behind her and sent it spinning across the room. The sound of it filled everyone’s’ ears as for an eternity it spiralled its way through the air until with a deafening bang the front blade impeded deep within the fire sphere. At that instant the flames froze and solidified into a dark red mass around the children. The sphere’s symmetry was only broken where Gabrielle’s sias still stuck out of one side and where Kisinda’s axe was impeded in the other. As everyone watched the break where the ice warrior’s axe penetrated began to split further as a slight meandering crack worked its way up and around the sphere.
Her blood soaked blade had been enough to stop the damaging effects of the incantation, but Kisinda knew this wasn’t a time to stand by dumbly to see if the sphere would crack more. With only rage and anger as her weapons she bared down on the other Shamaness.
Still down on one knee, Xena watched the impact of Kisinda’s axe as she took a couple of deep breaths trying to shake the imprisoned feeling that Gideon had shackled around her moments before. Seeing the ice warrior moving barehanded to attack Gideon, the Warrior Princess pounced up to take her own revenge.
Sorrow had barely been able to dislodge herself from large crevice she’d sunk into the dry earth with her fall before a barrage of Gideon’s ghostly creatures fell upon her.
“Get off me!” Her thick booming voice howled at the attacking figures as something in her mind snapped and she felt herself fall into a pure rage. A rage fuelled on by her inability to do any damage to the creatures.
“Sorrow, hang on.” Danu called to her lover having seen from her perch the Protector’s body explode through the back wall of the hall. On quick and sure feet, she moved her way through the tree branches to get within firing range of the back of the building.
A careful leap through the gap in the trees over the road almost ended disastrously as the dry branch she landed on began to crack but another quick dive sent her onto a more stable branch.
Crouching down on one knee, she levelled her bow and picked off a number of the figures that cowered over her lover.
As one of the arrows struck into the ghostly man above her, Sorrow put her hand around the shaft holding in within him until he disappeared.
‘It’s a little weapon but I hope this works.’ She thought to herself as she retracted her claws to make her hand more manoeuvrable and stabbed out with the small arrowhead at those above her.
Reaching back into her quiver, Danu’s hand met with nothing but emptiness. At the worst possible time she had run out of arrows. Surveying the ground it was obvious that her Amazon sisters were finally getting a firm upper hand over the creatures and in a calculated jump she returned to the ground.
“Eponin, I need a blade for Sorrow.” Danu dropped her bow and useless quiver off into the long grass under the tree as she called to the nearby woman. “She’s got about a dozen of them pinning her down around the back of the building.”
“I’m on it.” Solari dispatched the man before her and took off around the building.
“You cannot defeat me.” Gideon laughed in a low tone as she slammed Kisinda down into the thick table and under her weight it shattered into a million pieces. “You cannot kill me, I am your sister in the crystal. Would you send the Northern tribe into darkness?” The shard of crystal she spoke of swayed around the band at her neck as she hovered above Kisinda’s prone form. “Spilling your own blood was a foolish move Southern Shamaness. You are too weak to land the death blow and for that mistake you will lose your life.”
Xena was about to answer Gideon’s challenge when the shrill slice of a blade coming over her shoulder broke the air.
“You hurt my children…” Gabrielle voice was firm as she stood with her arm still extended in the forward motion that had sent the bloody sias across the room and into Gideon’s chest. “The blow is mine.”
“But…” Gideon staggered and turned to face the bard as her hands went to the tip of the blade that protruded out of her chest. “You are the weakest here, you are not even a warrior. How could you kill me?” As blood poured from the wound, spurting with each beat of her heart she slid down to the floor.
The words seemed to reverberate through the bard for a moment, before the stillness of the room was broken by Sorrow’s arrival through the broken back wall. With the death of the Shamaness the multitude of imprisoned souls that held her and Solari in battle outside the back of the building had disappeared.
“Where is she?” The Protector’s harsh voice questioned a moment before her gaze came onto the fallen Shamaness.
“Dead.” Xena spoke in an empty voice as she looked at her lover. The shake in the bard’s hand told a tale that no one else would see at that moment.
“The children.” Kisinda’s weak voice pushed as she pulled herself from the wreckage of the table. “Sorrow, you’re the only one with the strength to break the sphere.”
Continued in Part Five…