Father of All Evil

Part VII

"My lord." A servant bowed politely before the large golden throne, carefully staying away from the royal guard that was flanking both sides of the throne. 
"The spy you send out is here, Great King."
"Send him in." 

The tall spy entered the throne hall, falling to his knee before his ruler. "Great Xerxes."
A small grey haired man hopped off the throne, straightening his robes as he stood. "You failed?"
The spy dropped his head even lower in shame. "The assassination attempts were unsuccessful, my king."
"Then why aren't you dead?" Xerxes hissed, looking down on the man. "You have failed me."
"I've come to inform you about a woman that travels with them."
Brown eyes intensified. "A woman?" The king asked suspiciously. 
The spy nodded, not looking up. "She is a great warrior, my lord. She does things normally referred to as impossible. I've spoken to the Greek mercenary at Granicus and he said she's named…"
"Xena." Xerxes finished for him in a growl. He fell back in his chair and slammed his fist on the elbow-rest, the sound echoing through the large hall. "Always Xena!"

At the same moment the doors were pushed open and Memnon strode in, followed hastily by some of the servants, trying to keep him away from the room. The royal guard immediately raised their weapons, circling their king. 
Xerxes waved his hand at the soldiers, who immediately stepped back to their spots. Then he turned to the Greek mercenary, who stood behind the still kneeling spy, his helmet clasped under his head, traces of blood still seen on his armour. "You've returned from the battle at Granicus?"
Memnon grinned. "Your two failures in the north just found out why exactly Xena is nicknamed the Warrior Princess."
The fist impacted with wood once more. Brown eyes flashed, then settled on the kneeling figure. "Spy?" The man looked up at him. "Go kill yourself."
The mans stood with a nod. "Yes, my lord." And with that he strode out of the room. 

Memnon chuckled as he watched the spy walk out of the hall. "Gods, I wish my men would obey me like that…"
The king's eyes flashed to the mercenary's. "Give me a reason not to kill you for your failure."
Memnon scratched his jaw. "Well, first off it would be highly unpleasant for me." Xerxes lifted his hands to wave his guards forward, but Memnon quickly lifted his hands. "But…" He hastily added. "But, more importantly, we are united in our hatred for this woman. I had nothing to do with the decisions made by my superiors. I'm a mere mercenary, you know this. I simply obey commands."
Xerxes eyed him for a moment. "Go on."
"I promise you her head."
A high laugh escaped the king, before he stood, taking the few steps off the platform on which his throne was placed. "And what makes you think you can succeed where others have failed so miserably?"
"I have brains." Memnon stated. "Unlike your two stooges up north."
Another laugh as Xerxes walked closer to him. "Don't concern yourself with them. They've failed, and will be dealt with accordingly." The king circled him, watching the mercenary calmly. "You pose an interesting suggestion." He cast his eyes skyward studying the swirling golden patterns on the ceiling. "I hate Xena. No, no… hate is not strong enough…" Xerxes searched for the right word. 
"Detest?" Memnon helpfully supplied. 
"Xena has gotten in the way of every plan I have ever made. She ruined my chance at Athens…" Xerxes paced around, apparently in thought. "I've had quite pleasant dreams about watching her die…" He mused, then turned to the mercenary again. "I'd really like for those dream to become reality."
"They will be." 
The Great King chuckled. "Very well. I will give you one chance, Memnon." Xerxes stated, lifting a finger. "And I do mean ONE. You bring me her head, or I'll have yours, is that understood?"
"Loud and clearly." Memnon grinned cheerfully. 
"Very well." Xerxes took the few steps back to his throne and settled down. "Take command of my army, camped near the east. Go and prepare them for… Well, what ever you have in mind. I will be with you within a few days."
The mercenary frowned. "You'll be coming with us…?"
Xerxes eyed him. 
Memnon rolled his eyes. "Will you be coming with us, oh Great King?"
"Yes." Xerxes smiled at him. "If Xena is to die, I want to be there to see it happen."
The mercenary nodded. "Very well. I will see you shortly then, my lord." Memnon bowed before turning and walking out of the throne hall.

Xena scanned the area quietly, but didn't pick up anything threatening. The wound on Argo's flank was only a small gash, but she'd decided to walk beside the mare anyway, not wanting to cause the animal any more pain. Chilon trotted along beside her cheerfully, glad to be rid of the leather armour. Meanwhile Gabrielle was talking to the messenger Telamon, who was enthusiastically talking about his hometown, waving his hands around for emphasis. 

They'd divided the army again. Parmenios had taken a group west, Alaran had taken one east and they were heading further south, each group securing as many of the villages as they could reach. They'd already passed a few smaller towns, the inhabitants cheering gratefully as they rode in. Xena smiled and took a deep breath of the clean summer air. It had lifted her spirits, and had certainly lifted Gabrielle's. The bard had been very silent after they'd left the river Granicus, but the stillness had dissipated with every new town. The next village was Pergamon, Telamon's home, and the messenger had grown more vibrant with every step they took. 

"I'm sure you will like it, Gabrielle." Telamon smiled widely. "The area here is s beautiful. Those woods there provide a nice shelter from the heat and there is a wonderful spring. The children go there all the time in the summer. My daughter…" He stopped, shaking his head at the memory of the child, that was taken by the Persians over a year ago. "My daughter used to go there often." He managed a smile for the bard, who was giving him a sympathetic look.
Gabrielle just nodded back quietly.

The edges of the village came into view as the sun started to set and change color. It wasn't quite the world capital Telamon had pictured for them, but from the short distance it seemed to be quite a nice little village. It reminded Xena slightly of Amfipolis. The men and women in the fields looked up as they road in, then came running over, greeting them happily. Xena smiled as Alexander was surrounded by people, who covered him in flowers. The young king seemed happy and content, finally having fulfilled at least part of his father's prophesies. A young boy ran ahead of them, into the village, yelling loudly that the army was here. 

Beside her Gabrielle hopped off her horse as they walked through the gate and into the town. A woman's voice yelled out and then hurdled forward, tossing herself in Telamon's arms. The man hugged her tightly. The bard smiled at the pair, then looked at the village. It had been warn down by years filled with raids, but it still had a sense of peacefulness lingering over it… or maybe it had just now found this sense of peacefulness again… People rushed at her, handing her small gifts and flowers, taking her hands in theirs. She smiled at them and thanked them all. 
A look at Xena showed the warrior was being ambushed by men and women as well and she was having a tough time keeping her instincts from reacting and sending a few innocent peasants flying across the townsquare. Gabrielle grinned, then walked toward the warrior, handing Chilon to one of the peasant boys, who proudly took the reigns from her. 

Xena looked around and rolled her eyes at the bard, the last of her adoring public finally having moved on to other soldiers. 
Gabrielle chuckled. "Too many people, huh?"
"Yeah." Xena let out in a sigh, lifting one of the flowers she'd been given, twisting it between her fingers. "And all this praising stuff isn't really me."
Gabrielle picked a string of daisies handed to her by on of the smaller village children and placed it on the warior's head. "Oh, I don't know... Looks quite nice on ya." She grinned as the warrior scowled at her. 
Xena shook her head, then stilled, before cocking her head and listening quietly. "More horses." She finally stated in a response to the bards questioning glare. 
"Persians?" Gabrielle asked in alarm, looking back to where she'd left her staff, attached to Chilon's side. 
"Can't be." Xena shook her head. "They've fallen back much further than this."

They waited for a few moments, then Alaran cantered into the village square, pulling his horse back. Moments later more men started to drip into the village. 

Alaran hopped off his horse, saluting Xena and Gabrielle cheerfully. "Good day, chiefs." He regarded Xena's atire, then smirked. "Nice daisies, Warrior Princess." 
Xena shot him an icy look, grabing the flowers off her head. 
"You got back quickly…" Gabrielle stated, smothering a grin. 
"Oh, I've got good news." Alaran smiled brightly, tapping his chest again as Alexander came sauntering up. "We rode east for a while and then we found this big palace building. We circled it for a while, but apparently it was abandoned. They left in a big hurry, cause they forgot to take lots and lots of stuff." A grin. "We are gonna have a BIG feast tonight."
"Feast?" Gabrielle's eyes twinkled. "Really?"
"We've got loads of food, gold, you name it."
"Heh." The bard chortled happily, getting a chuckle out of the warrior. 

More soldiers rode in, these riding slower, circling around several loaded wagons. They were covered with food, jewellery and weapons. The last cart was filled with people, who's eyes lightened as they entered the village. 
"This is great." Alex said enthusiastically, patting Alaran on the back as he walked towards the wagons. 
Gabrielle smiled after the two and at the delighted villagers around them. Her eyes fell on Telamon, who was laughing happily. Then he suddenly went silent, staring. Gabrielle followed his gaze to a small girl that had just stepped off the wagon. She was maybe 14 years old, dressed in tattered clothing and with dishevelled dark locks. They stared at each other in disbelief for a moment, then the girl rushed forward an fell into the man's embrace. Telamon closed his eyes and kissed the top of his daughter's head tenderly. 

Gabrielle looked up at the warrior towering over her, who was watching the spectacle with a smile. She closed her eyes, then wrapped an arm around her friend's waist, leaning against the warrior's shoulder. "That just makes it all worth it, doesn't it?"
Xena looked down on the blonde head, then wrapped an arm around the bard's shoulders, pulling her a little closer with a smile. "Yeah, it does."

They set up camp on an open plain a little south of Pergamon. Parmenios returned a little after sunset and Alex called a meeting to discuss their gains and losses of the day.
"I left a few soldiers in the western villages to protect them from raids and stuff. Some of the guys needed a break anyway." Parmenios informed them finally, leaning back in his chair. "They're all small villages. There's nothing to get there, really. So I don't expect Xerxes to move heaven and
earth to get them back under his control."
"Agreed." Alexander nodded, pacing around the table of sitting lieutenants as he usually did. "So this means that everything north of here is ours now, right?"
"Not counting Brittania, yeah." Xena chuckled. "I don't think we have to worry about Xerxes taking those villages back too much either. It'd mean splitting up his army for one and I don't think he wants to do that, no matter how much he may outnumber us."
"Where do you think he is now?" Alex asked the warrior, leaning his hands on the back of his chair. "Judging on what you know of him."
Xena shrugged. "The man is insane, he could be anywhere. He'll be somewhere near safety however. Even in Athens he never went into battle himself, always staying on some hilltop or behind his troops and out of harms way. I think we can be pretty sure he's somewhere near here." She pointed to a
region of the map a little farther south and near the coast. "I think he'll want to stay near Tyre so he can hide there if push comes to shove."
"Isn't Tyre that city that's impossible to take?" Esta asked, leaning her elbows on the table and her chin on her folded hands.
Parmenios nodded in answer. "It's this island fortress, well fortified, loaded with soldiers. It's never been defeated."
"There's a first time for everything." Alexander murmured, looking ahead of him pensively. "Anyway, our next move will be to strike a smaller town to the south-east. My scouts told me it's wealthy and has lots of resources. Most of the Persian's withdrew from there, so I don't expect much
resistance. After that I want to head for Tyre." Alex seated himself and leaned forward, letting his eyes scan over his lieutenant. "The scouts haven't spotted any sign of the Persian army in a radius of 40 miles. I want to be on full alert however. If we do get attacked and Xerxes is with them."
He leaned back. "I want him alive. Understood?" Nods went around the table. "Good. I want everyone to be ready at sunrise tomorrow morning. Dismissed." He stood and so did the others, saluting him before leaving the room.

"Xena, Gabrielle." Both women stopped, letting the others walk out the tent before them. Alex motioned them closer. "I need to talk to you both." 
"Sure." Xena shrugged and walked closer, dropping back into her chair, then watched as Gabrielle settled beside her. 
"Well..." Alex seemed at a loss for words for a moment, then leaned forward. "I... need to talk to you about any godly interference we might encounter."
Xena took a breath, sparing a glance at Gabrielle before nodding slowly. "I can't tell you too much about that Alex. I didn't even know about Angra until a month or so ago."
"Are you gonna go after him," Alex asked quietly. "Or do you want me to send some people, or...? I mean, I don't wanna push you or anything, but I need to take this into account. You know..."
"I know.." Xena answered calmly. "I'll go after him..."
"We." Gabrielle corrected quietly.
"But." Xena went on, seeming to ignore the comment. "I think it's best to continue on to Tyre first. There'll be a stand off there between our forces and Xerxes. We'll have a permanent camp there, you can spare me then... As long as Angra doesn't mix himself in the battle I'd rather ignore him."
"OK." Alex nodded pensively. "I guess your right. I'm sorry I brought this up, but I..."
"It's OK." Xena stated, then stood. "Now, if that's all, I'm gonna turn in for the night. it's been a hectic day."
"I'll say." Alexander muttered, then stood as well. "Good night to both of you. I'll see you early in the morning?"
"You bet." Xena stated before turning and walking out of the tent. Gabrielle just nodded then hastily followed the warrior out.

Xena sighed as she heard the rushed footsteps catch up.
"Don't you dare shut me out of this." Gabrielle's voice hissed as they made their way towards their tent.
"I'm not going to discuss this now, Gabrielle." The warrior stated, pushing aside the tentflap before walking inside. 
"Oh yes you are." Gabrielle retorted, raising her voice a little now that they were out of the open. "Xena, look at me." She grabbed hold of the warrior's shoulder and pulled her to a halt.
Xena spun around, her icy eyes meeting fiery green once.
"You're not going to leave me behind." Gabrielle snapped. "We've had this discussion a zillion times now."
"Yes, and every time I caved in and you got hurt." Xena shot back. "Well, not this time, Gabrielle. Not again."
"You left me with Najara, and look how that turned out." 
"This is not Najara." Xena tossed up her hands. "This is Dahak times three. Do you realise that?"
"Of course I realise that!" Gabrielle cried in desperation. "But I'm not going to run anymore, Xena. I'm not gonna hide from this again. And I'm not going to let you take the blows."
Xena let out a breath and turned away. "Look, I'm not going to have this discussion with you now. I'm tired, my back hurts and I have to get up early tomorrow." A sigh, then she turned back and met the bard's eyes. "Can we just drop this now. Please?"
Gabrielle looked at the tired expression for a moment, then nodded softly. "OK. But this discussion isn't over."
Xena wisely refrained from comment and turned to her saddlebags, pulling out a sleepshirt before she started to strip off her armour. 

Fingers touched her back and Gabrielle stepped closer, studying the knifewound. "This is not looking good, Xena."
The warrior dropped her head and closed her eyes for a moment. " I know. It's been bugging me ever since I got up this afternoon."
"You should've told me." The bard accused gently, reaching for their herbkit.
"Wouldn't have done any good. 's Not like we could've stopped." Xena murmured, as she settled down on her bedroll.
"We could have." Gabrielle stated before dropping down beside her and starting to remove the old stitching. She felt Xena wince as she pulled the threads from the red, swollen skin. "I'm going to have to clean this out. It's gonna hurt."
"I know." The warrior resigned herself to her fate. "Just get it over with."
Gabrielle dipped a clean cloth into some cleansing fluid, then gently started cleaning out the wound. The muscles in the warrior's back tensed, but Xena didn't say a word and stayed still until the wound was treated and restitched.
"You OK?" Gabrielle asked gently, tucking her quarrel with the warrior away for the moment and softly touching her shoulder.
"Yeah." Xena stated , patting her hand and giving her a smile over her shoulder. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." The bard stood and placed the herbs and rags back where they belonged before slipping into a sleepshirt herself and crawling into her bedroll beside the warrior. "Just tell me if it hurts next time, OK? Before it's looking red and ugly."
"I'll try." Xena stated, lying on her side to take her weight off the wound. "I know that's not what you want to hear, but it's the best I can do."
"I know." Gabrielle said quietly, pushing a hair out of the warrior's face and managing a smile for her. "Let's just get some sleep, huh?"
Xena just nodded before closing her eyes.

It was dark. Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, trying to make out where she was going. In the distance she could hear screaming, the clattering of metal on metal. Her head shot up. Xena's battlecry. She walked faster and faster, then ran, holding her hands in front of her to keep from bumping into
things. But the darkness seemed endless. Xena's voice sounded again, just as far away as it had been before. "Gabrielle!"
"Xena!" She yelled back, running as fast as she could, ignoring the cuts and scratches the walls were causing.
Laughter echoed around her, loud, menacing. Familiar laughter, and she cringed as the memories of Dahak danced before her. Then suddenly flames shot op, lighting up the area she was in. "You can't stop me, Gabrielle. It's too late." A dark voice came from above her, all around her. It send chills down her spine as she realised who it belonged to. In spite of the flames around her she was cold, shivering.
Through the flames she spotted movement. It was Memnon, walking closer towards a silent figure, lying beaten on the ground. "No! Xena, get up!" She tried to jump through the flames, but they surrounded her like a wall, impenetrable. "Xena!"
Memnon lifted his sword above his head and chuckled. That same laughter surrounded her again, growing louder and louder. "You're too late." The mocking voice informed her, then continued his laughing until it encompassed her world, making everything blurry except for Xena and the sword's edge sinking deeper and deeper… 

"Gabrielle? Hey?"
Gabrielle gasped for air, sitting up straight. Her eyes turned to Xena, who was giving her a worried look. She tentatively reached out and touched the warrior's cheek, ensuring herself that she was real, then she fell back on her bedroll, closing her eyes and letting out a deep breath.
"Are you all right?" Xena asked, shuffling closer and gently wiping the sweat off the bard's forehead. "That was some nightmare you had there." A pause as she watched Gabrielle's exhausted expression. "Or, was it...?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't know. It was..." She took another deep breath, the opened her eyes again, staring up at the tentfabric above her pensively. "It was different than the one before. Darker. More viscious..." The bard shook her head. "Colder."
Xena watched her friend quietly for a moment. "What was it about?"
Gabrielle let out a breath, then green eyes slowly turned towards her. "Angra."

"Have you noticed that I always seem to end up dead in your visions?" Xena sighed, staring up at the tent fabric quietly. "Do you think it's a sign?"
The bard leaned her chin on her folded hands. "I don't know. If it is, I don't know what to make of it. With that dream about the ambush, up in the hills… Everything was so clear, I saw every detail, that's why I remembered it when we got there… But this…." She shook her head. "I can't make anything out of this… All I know is that it was dark and that it was inside someplace…"
Xena took a breath, then watched her friend stare ahead of her in thought, thousands of emotions flicking across her face at once. The warrior let out a breath, then gently touched Gabrielle's shoulder. "Why don't we drop this for the time being, huh?"
Green eyes turned to her and the bard shook her head. "Xena, I can't drop this… if this is a sign, then…"
"Look..." The warrior interrupted her. "If this is one of those premonitions of yours, it includes Memnon. And Memnon is still days away, we won't meet him until the next battle. He's a loyal mercenary, he'd have gone back to Xerxes and rejoined the army near Tyre…" Xena stared into her friends eyes. "We have time, OK?" 
Gabrielle nodded weakly, still not too happy about everything.. 
"All right, let's just try and get some more sleep before dawn…" Xena settled back down in her bedroll, then patted her own shoulder and watched Gabrielle shift closer and pillow her head there. The warrior closed her eyes, wrapping her arm around the bard. 
A moment of silence, then Gabrielle's voice drifted up. "Xena?"
"I'm scared…"
Xena looked down at the blond head. "Don't be… It's gonna be all right."
The bard's head tilted up and green eyes stared up at her. "How do you know?"
"I have many skills." The warrior grinned in response, which brought a tiny smile to the bard's face "That's better." Xena smiled herself, ruffling the bard's hair. "Just get some sleep now, OK?"
Gabrielle settled down again, wrapping an arm around the warrior 's waist tightly. "Xena?"
"Promise you'll be careful?"
"I'll be careful." Xena stated simply, closing her eyes again and letting her body sink into slumber once again. "I'm not going to die anytime soon Gabrielle, I promise."
"Good." Gabrielle managed, her own tired body demanding sleep as well. So she caved in to the exhaustion, the steady heartbeat against her ear keeping the bad dreams at bay.

The sun was shining brightly that morning as the army moved east. They'd left their campsite early that day, but the temperature had risen with every candlemark, making travelling more uncomfortable with every step that they took. 
"I know it's a necessity, but at moments like these I just really, really hate armoury." Gabrielle sighed, pacing along beside a heavily breathing Chilon. 
Esta, who was walking next to her, chuckled. "You sidekicks, you're just not used to anything." She grinned at the outraged look on the bard's face. "And you shouldn't complain at all, you're not even wearing half of the stuff I'm wearing." The Athenian stated, indicating her fully armoured body. 
Gabrielle sighed. "Trust me, compared to what I normally wear, this is a lot."
"What do you normally wear, then?" 
"Amazon outfit." Gabrielle commented, wiping away a trickle of sweat that was sliding down the side of her face. 
"Amazon?" Esta asked, intrigued. "How'd you get hold of that?"
"I'm sort of their queen."
The Athenian commander blinked. "Excuse me? YOU are an amazon queen?"
"Hey, don't act like that's so astonishing. I can manage with their weapons just fine and feathers look rather good on me, if I do say so myself."
Esta laughed. "I bet they do… It's just not everyday you find out that the friend of your childhood hero is actually an amazon queen, you know?" A short pause. "So what are they like?"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Amazon's? They're wacky, mostly." She grinned as Esta laughed. "They love to dance and play drums and beat each other to a pulp." Gabrielle smiled as she patted Chilon's neck absently. "Don't get me wrong, I love them and most are really good friends of mine. But to be honest, I make a lousy amazon… I'm not aggressive enough, I guess..."
"And still you travel around with miss "too-tough-for-my-leathers" up there. How's that?"
The bard chuckled. "She's not like that at all."
"Well, then she's got me fooled…" The Athenian muttered, staring at the warrior seated on her horse and riding beside Alexander. "What is she like then?"
Gabrielle considered this for a moment. "Xena….Xena's nice… and caring. And she has a great sense of humor… I mean, of course she's strong and she fights a lot, and she's always trying to hide if she's in pain… Like right now for instance…"
Esta shot her a look, then looked back up at Xena, who seemed to be doing pretty well. "What do you mean?"
"She's tired, she's warm and her back hurts." Gabrielle deducted simply, looking at her friend. "Actually, I'd better go and tell her to rest for a moment." She then stated, before pulling herself onto Chilon's back. "See you later Esta."
Esta stared at her, then back at Xena, then back at the bard's receding form… "Right." She muttered, then watched Gabrielle ride of with a shake of her head.

Xena turned her head to watch Gabrielle ride up next to her. "Hi. How are you holding up?"
"I was just coming up here to ask you that question." Gabrielle stated, then leaned in closer. "How's your back?" She asked softly, not to alarm any of the soldiers riding along around them. 
Xena sighed. "It hurts a little. I really hope this next town doesn't pose too much of a problem." 
"Me too." Gabrielle agreed, shooting a concerned look at her friend. "If you want to stop, just say so, OK? I'll create some sort of diversion for you, if you want me to…"
Xena managed a smile for her, but shook her head. "Thanks, but no… I'll be OK… And besides, we're not that far from Badkar. I think I can manage for another few moments." The warrior pulled in a breath, then let it out. "It's too bad it's so hot though. That's not making things any better."
"Yeah, I know." Gabrielle sighed herself. "I was just telling Esta how much I miss my amazon getup…" 
Xena chuckled. "I bet you do." The warrior stared into the distance for a moment. "There it is."
Gabrielle narrowed her eyes, staring against the sunlight. "Where?" 
"There." Xena pointed to a dot on the horizon. "That's Badkar. I think we might get lucky, I don't see any armies or defences or anything…."
"Neither do I, but for an entirely different reason." 
Xena chuckled. "Come on, let's go tell Alex and get this army ready."

"Parmenios! Halys!" Both lieutenants looked up, then turned their horses ad came trotting over. 
"Yes, oh great king?" Parmenios asked with a short bow, getting a look from Alex. 
"Get your battalions of cavalry ready. I want to ride down there myself and lay down my terms. Tell Ptolemaios to move up the other forces when we leave so the townsfolk can take a good look at our manpower."
"Got it." Parmenios nodded, then turned back, yelling out orders, followed by Halys.

Alex watched them go, then motioned Xena and Gabrielle closer. "How are you feeling?" He asked the warrior. "And the bare truth please, no "don't worry about me, I'm fine." "
Gabrielle chuckled. "I think he knows you a bit too well, Xena."
Xena rolled her eyes at the two, then tossed up her hands. "It hurts, but I'll be fine. Really."
Alex watched her for another moment, then nodded. "OK, I want you two to ride up there with me, but I don't want you to take any risks if things go wrong. Understood?" 
The warrior sighed but nodded. "Yeah yeah… Let's just get going…" 
"You got it." Alex grinned then turned. "You guys ready?" He called out to Parmenios and Halys, who both nodded. "All right, move out!"

Above the gates of the citadel stood an older man, dressed in fine Persian robes, his arms crossed. "Alexander, king of Macadonia. Why have you come to Badkar, citadel of Persia and under rule of the Great King. You realise that if you defy this city the fury of Xerxes will be upon you?"
"I realise that quite well." Alex trotted a little closer to the city gates, guiding the restless stallion he was riding. "Being the leader of a city as this one, you are probably a wise man… You know who I am, you know the manpower I hold, you know what we've done at Granicus… Admit defeat to me now, and no one in your city will be hurt."
The ruler of Badkar shook his head. "My Lord has ordered me to stand up against you and hold this city as long as is possible. Though I would like to end this meeting without bloodshed, I'm afraid I can not…"
"Your lord is a fool if he things…" Alex's sentence stopped abruptly as a black shape suddenly dove in front of him. 
Xena body thudded to the ground, an arrow clenched in her left hand. She stood, dusting herself off before looking up at the city's king, who was staring a her in complete astonishment. Without taking her eyes from his she snapped the arrow between her fingers. "You wanna try that again?" 
"Bu.. I…." The king stuttered, glancing at the archer who blinked back at him. 
Xena turned back to Alexander, who was trying to wipe a grin off his face. "Could we please just attack now, king Alexander. The troops are longing for another good battle, and you can see this man will not reason with you. We could take this place in a mater of minutes with our catapults…"
"We could…" Alex drawled, settling back in his saddle and frowning his brow. 
"Catapults?" The ruler of Badkar hissed to the lieutenant standing by his side. "You didn't say anything about catapults!"
"Oh we have quite a few of those actually." Alexander cheerfully informed him. "A few dozen or so… But if your lord ordered you to fight us off… Well…" The king shrugged, then turned his horse around. "Come on Xena, let's get the troops ready for battle…"
"Right behind ya…" The warrior stated, tossing up the arrowhead and catching it again. "Oh wait." She turned and held the weapon up to the archer. "This is yours right? Here…" With a flick of her wrist she send the point flying and it thudded in the archers shoulder armour, just next to his neck. 
She smiled at him, the whistled and watched Argo trot up to her, launching herself into a flip and landing inn the saddle. 
"Wait!" The voice of the king of Badkar squeaked. "Maybe… maybe we can make a deal…"
Alex grinned, then slowly turned his horse around. " A deal?"
"Yeah… You…You promise no one will get hurt here, right?"
Alexander watched him calmly, raising an eyebrow. 
"Well, yes, all right then…" The king of Badkar straightened. "Open the gates. We surrender to Alexander the Great."
"Wise choice." Alex smiled as a roar went up among his men and a sigh of relief was almost audible from behind the gates. "Parmenios! Take the city. No one will be harmed."
"You got it boss." Par grinned back, then ordered his troops forward. 
Alex turned and watched Xena trot closer. "You are absolutely brilliant."
"I can be very persuasive if I want to be." Xena stated simply, smirking. 
"Thanks for catching that arrow for me. That was close…"
"Nah… I had it covered." The warrior waved him off. 
Horses hooves came closer and Gabrielle pulled Chilon back beside them, shaking her head at her friend. "I thought you said you were gonna take it easy?"
"Just caught a little arrow." Xena shrugged, then winced.
Gabrielle shook her head, giving the warrior a look. "What happened?"
"I think I might have pulled some stitching…"
The bard sighed. "Let's go inside, I'll stitch it up… again…" She stated, before pushing Chilon forward towards the citygates.
Xena grinned, then followed obediently. 

"Alex!" Halys rode closer. "Jackpot!" 
Alexander chuckled. "Told you this was a nice city…"
"We've got loads of food, gold, clothes weapons, metal… And there's a infirmary a little out of town where they have stashes of herbs and medication… Ptolemaios says it'd be perfect to set up a hospice there, put the wounded there to heal…"
"Excellent." Alex's eyes twinkled. "This is turning out better then I thought. Xena, Gabrielle? Check out this hospice for me, OK?" Alex gave the warrior a meaningful look. 
Gabrielle nodded, then tugged on Xena's leathers. "Let's go."
"Yeah yeah." The warrior muttered, then rode on behind the bard . 

A Persian soldier pulled his horse back roughly and jumped off bowing to his commander. "It is done, general. The city is taken."
Memnon grinned at him, then let his eyes drift to the horizon, watching the army of Alexander move into the citadel. "Perfect."

"Ugh." Gabrielle shook her head at the warrior's back. "How can you even be standing up, right now?"
"Used to it." Xena murmured, closing her eyes as Gabrielle gently removed the broken stitching. They'd found a quiet spot in the corner of the large stone building which Xena suspected had been a healingtemple once, and Gabrielle had insisted the warrior would sit and take care of her wound before she did anything else.
"I don't think I could ever get used to something like this…" Gabrielle muttered, focusing on her work.
"Didn't have much of a choice before. If I wasn't looking 100% non stop people would start talking, leading to disarray in the army and some of my lieutenants trying to take advantage of the situation…" 
Gabrielle sighed. "But it's not like that anymore Xena. You have nothing to prove here."
"No..:" Xena paused for a moment, ordering her thoughts. "But here, I'm an icon. You, me, Alex, we're part of what keeps moral up, what keeps these people going against all the odds… If someone figures out I've got a hole in my back the size of mount Olympus, it'd not be good…"
Gabrielle let out a breath. "I know." She admitted. "But you have to let this rest Xena, even if it's just for a day, or even just a few candlemarks…" She gently pulled on the tread, closing the wound. "Why don't you stay here…"
The warrior shook her head. "Gabrielle…"
"No, just hear me out here… You could pretend to help set up this place… You're a good healer Xena, you could make yourself quite useful here, but you wouldn't be riding in this hot weather and you wouldn't have to help set up camp or anything really physical, you know?"
The warrior considered this for a moment, then nodded reluctantly. "I guess it couldn't hurt…" She relented. "There's a lake about a half a day's march away. If you and Alex ride the army up there and make camp, I could stay here, set this place up, then join you tomorrow morning…"
"That'd be perfect…" Gabrielle patted her friend on the back. "You're all done. This bit of stitching should last you for another day or so…"
Xena chuckled. "Maybe…" She stood, then turned and watched the bard stand up as well. "I'll have a talk with Alex, see if he agrees."
"Agree on what?" The young king asked as he poked his head around the corner. 
"Xena wants to stick around here for the day, set up the hospice." Gabrielle informed him, giving him a meaningful look. 
Alex frowned. "You not doing so good?"
"Nah, it's OK." The warrior shrugged it off. "But Gabrielle is right, my back needs a bit of rest to heal. This'll give me the perfect opportunity to do so without alarming anybody… You can lead the army up to that campspot I pointed out, near the lake…"
"Oh yeah, lake…" Alex smiled dreamily. "Cold water, I can't wait…"
Xena chuckled. "You can spend the night there, then I can join you in the morning."
"Sounds like a plan to me…" Alex agreed. "All right then. Gabrielle, we'll leave as soon as possible, I want to make it to this lake as fast as I possibly can. Meet ya outside, OK?"
"All right." Gabrielle nodded. "Be there in a bit."
"Perfect." Alex turned to Xena and took the warrior's arm. "You take it easy OK? If you're not feeling up to it tomorrow, we'll wait around longer for you, just see what time you feel like joining us."
Xena chuckled. "I'll be there tomorrow, Alex, just enjoy that lake while it lasts."
Alex laughed, then turned and headed outside.

"Guess I have to set up my tent by myself tonight huh?"
Xena grinned at the bard. "Guess so… But you can do it, I have faith." She pulled the bard into a hug. "Take care OK. Don't run into any ambushes."
"Me? Never…" Gabrielle smiled into the warrior's shoulder, then pulled back. "Let your back heal…"
"Don't you worry about me…" The warrior shooed her out. "Now you go on. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, see you tomorrow." Gabrielle smiled at her, then turned and walked out the door. 

"I'm glad you could talk her into staying." Alex commented after they'd got the army moving again. 
Gabrielle nodded. "So am I… She wasn't looking too good, I'm glad she agreed…" A pause as the bard considered her words. "But that wasn't the only reason I wanted her to stay…"
"It's not?" 
"No…" Gabrielle took a breath. "I head another dream, Alex… I don't know if it was some sort of vision, it was really blurry, but Xena died and…"
"And you're trying to keep her away from the battlefield…" Alex smiled as the bard nodded. "Won't work though, she'll be back first thing tomorrow…"
Gabrielle let out a breath.. "I know… Well, at least she can get some rest now, so that wound can heal… We can handle things after that…"
"Of course." Alex nodded, remaining quiet for a few paces. "I want you to take the night off, OK? In fact, everybody's got the night off. No training, no nothing… Let's just have a moment to relax before the tyranny of the Warrior Princess falls upon us again huh?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Great idea. I think everybody could use a bit of a break. Especially if it involves a lake and some good food."
Alex grinned. "All yours chief. Just don't eat all the food, OK?"
"I don't each that much…" Gabrielle objected. "Do I?"
"Well…" Alex wiggled his hands. 
"Tch…" Gabrielle slapped his arm lightly giving him a look. "You've been listening to Xena too much…" 
Alexander laughed. "Nah, if I'd listen to her I'd have nothing but praise about you, I'm sure…" A movement caught the king's eye and he watched Halys canter closer. "Any news?"
The lieutenant shook her head. "Nope, the road is clear up to the campspot. No sign of trouble. Want me to get some more scouts and check out the whole area around there?"
"Do that." Alexander agreed. "You're in command of those people Halys. I'll see you when we reach the lake and I'll expect a full report, OK?"
"You got it." Halys nodded at the two commanders, then rode off. 

Gabrielle watched her for a moment, then turned back to watch the dust drift up on the sandy road ahead of them. "She's a good soldier."
"Halys? Yeah…" Alex nodded, closing his eyes and wiping the sweat off his forehead. "She's dependable. The army, it's her life…"
"She's lonely though…"
"Yeah… I remember her friend vaguely…" Alex muttered. "They were really close. After she got killed… Well, Halys turned very bitter…"
Gabrielle nodded. "Fighting does that… Sometimes… Sometimes I wonder if this is right, you know? Gabrielle paused a moment. "I mean, Xena once told me that humans are the only species that willingly kill one another… Sometimes I wonder why…"
Alex considered this for a moment. "What did Xena say?" 
"She said it's because we want power and we're willing to do everything to get it…"
Alex nodded, taking this in. "Do you think that's what I want here? Power?"
Gabrielle sighed, settling back in her saddle. "No, that's not your main reason." She turned to look into his brown eyes. "You want vengeance."
Alex turned away, staring at the dust the hooves of his horse were kicking up. 
"That and you want to live up to an image your father set for you…" Gabrielle fumbled with her reigns. "It's tough to live up to expectations Alex. And you have to ask yourself how far you're willing to go…"
The young king closed his eyes for a moment. "That's hard sometimes Gabrielle… You have no idea how hard… When every time you close your eyes there's his voice, ringing through your head, telling you to do better, be better,…" He looked up. "Maybe I am taking this too far… But yesterday, when I rode into Pergamon and all those other villages… It felt good, you know… So yes, maybe I'm doing this for the wrong reasons, and maybe after everything is over, I still won't feel I accomplished what he wanted of me… But at least, along the way at some point, I did something good…" 
Gabrielle watched him for a moment, then smiled. "That's a good feeling, isn't it?"
Alex looked at her, then smiled back. "Yeah…Yeah it is…" 

They marched on for candlemarks, moving slowly because of the increasing heat. 
The bard turned around to see Ptolemaios walk closer to her, bowing slightly as he fell into pace beside her. "Hi."
"I was wondering…" The Egyptian diverted his eyes for a moment. "Xena seemed quite tired… Is she OK?"
Gabrielle smiled. "You're very perceptive."
"I am a healer." Ptolemaios retorted, disregarding the compliment. "She's wounded then?"
The bard nodded. "Yeah. But don't spread that news around, OK? She'll be fine, she just needed bit of a break, so I told her to stay behind, rest for a few candlemarks."
"Of course." Ptolemaios nodded. "Word of this will not leave my lips, I swear…" The Egyptian regarded her for another moment, then smiled. "You do not seem used to this weather."
Gabrielle chuckled. "I'm not, I'm afraid… I mean, I'm used to a bit if heat, but this…" She shook her head. "It's just so bad there's no shade… It's all so dry here…"
"The farther south you get the dryer it is. Egypt is no more then a desert, except for the Nile region of course… I look forward to this lake though, all this travelling gets tiresome."
Gabrielle shrugged. "I like travelling, but normally we don't have to get anywhere, you know? We can just travel at our own speed."
"I guess that would be more pleasant, yes…" Ptolemaios nodded, then watched as Chilon's ears suddenly perked up and the horse raised his head, snorting. "He smells the water."
"Finally." Gabrielle sighed, then let go of the horses reigns. "You go boy, get something to drink, OK?"
The stallion neighed, then took off, cantering further south happily. 
"He is well trained." Ptolemaios stated, watching the horse go. "He listens well to you… Me, I have never been one for horses …"
"Believe it or not, I wasn't for the longest time." Gabrielle chuckled. "But me and Chilon, we get along… And it sure beats walking sometimes…" The bard took another deep breath, sensing the water herself now, the slight humidity in the air… She looked forwards and now picked up the sparkle of water in the distance. "Look."
Ptolemaios followed her gaze. "Quite a large lake it is…It will do the men good…"
"It'll do me good." Gabrielle grinned, then looked back as a clattering of hooves approached then raced past as Alexander came galloping by. "Nice cold water, here I come!"
"Alex! Be careful… Don't…" Gabrielle watched the young king hop off his horse and jump straight into the water, armour and all. "…dive right in…" Gabrielle shook her head, then took off after the king. "Ptolemaios!"
"Right here." The Egyptian yelled back, following her pace easily. 
Gabrielle hastily ran to the edge of the water, quickly spotting Alexander's shivering body, drawing in deep gasps of air. She reached over and grabbed onto his collar, dragging him out of the water. "You're an idiot, Alex." 
"I…" The king drew in another breath. "I can't move…"
"You went from being in a surrounding that is extremely warm to one that is quite cold, my king. The body does not handle this well…" Ptolemaios explained, walking over to the quietly standing Chilon and pulling a blanket from the horses pack. "Here…" He wrapped it around the young king's body. 
Alexander cast a regretful glance at Gabrielle, who was shaking her head at him, disapprovingly. "Sorry… That was a bit rash…" A cough. "I won't do it again.."
"I sure hope not." Gabrielle muttered. Then wrapped an arm around the king's shoulders and helped him sit up. "Let's get you in a tent someplace… Alaran!"
"Yes chief?" The man in question asked as he came trotting up and hopped of his horse. 
"Get Alex tent set up. I need to get him inside and warmed up."
"Shouldn't be too hard around here. But I'm on it…" Alaran ran off, leaving his horse at the water's edge.

Luckily, it hadn't taken them long to get the infirmary set up. The wounded had been brought in and cared for by the healers that had stayed behind and had now all found a spot to rest. Most of the soldiers that had remained with her she'd sent out to scout the perimeter, more to keep them occupied then anything else. Xena leaned back against the wall she was resting against, taking a deep breath of the cooling air. Her back still hurt, but the few candlemarks of rest were taking it's effect and she could feel the wound was healing. It's feel a lot better in the morning… Maybe she could…

A sudden stirring of the air caught her attention and she stood hastily, wincing as her back argued with the sudden movement. "Micheal!" 
The soldier came running up, saluting as he stopped by her side. "Chief?"
"Something's wrong…" The warrior eyes darted from one direction to the next. "Get the guys ready, I think…"
The door launched open and one of the scouts dragged himself into the room. His face was bloodied, a huge gash across his forehead, and there was an arrow sticking from his back. "Xena." He managed between breaths, in a voice nothing more then a whisper as she dropped by his side. "It's the Persians, they're coming."
"Correction." A dark voice chuckled. "We're here…"
Xena straightened slowly, locking her eyes with the man standing calmly in the door. "Memnon…"
"Surprise!" The mercenary laughed, then stepped further into the room, soldiers filing in behind him. He turned to look over his shoulder. "Kill everything that breathes."
Xena unsheathed her sword, firmly grasping it in both hands. "You'll have to go through me to get to them." 
Memnon chuckled, leaning his bloodied sword on his shoulder. "You know, I was hoping you'd say that." He stated, before launching forward with a roar, followed by Persian soldiers, swarming into the room. 

Gabrielle splashed some water on her face. She'd gotten Alexander into his tent, and had left Ptolemaios to attend to the king, while she took care of the army. She turned and watched the camp they had just set up. Darkness was falling and campfires had been made, lighting up the sky. The soldiers had grouped together, trading stories of victory. 
A shrill cry made her look up as a falcon sped through the darkness, from the direction they had come from. It circled above the camp for a moment, swooping down and circling between the tents. "What's up with him?" Gabrielle wondered out loud, watching the animal soar over the head of the soldiers, then suddenly turn and head toward her, increasing speed. "What the…" The bird cried out again, then extending it's claws forward, as if catching his pray and grabbed onto to her outstretched arm. 

Flying, falling… It was her dream in fast forward, darkness around her, that evil laughter, but now sounding far away. Xena's voice. "You'll have to go through me to get to them."
She turned a corner and suddenly realised where she was. 
Another voice and she focused on the face from her vision, grinning evilly. "I was hoping you'd say that."

She fell backwards and with a shock came back to the present. The bird cried out again, brown eyes gazing into hers, then flew off, heading in the direction of Badkar. 
"Gabrielle!" Esta's voice sounded as the Athenian commander came running up, followed by several soldiers. "Hey, are you OK?"
"No…" Gabrielle managed, staring into the nothing deafly, her eyes staring ahead in horror.
Esta stepped closer, watching the red streaks across the bard's arm where the bird's claw had dug into her skin. "That stupid bird…"
"No..." Gabriele murmured again, then pushed herself up. "Esta get the army ready."
Esta blinked. "Excuse me?"
Gabrielle had already taken off and was dodging soldiers as she ran towards Alexander's tent. "We have to go back!" She yelled over her shoulder. "The Persian's circled around us. They're attacking Badkar!"

Parmenios walked up to the Athenian, who was staring into the nothing. "What is she talking about? How could she possibly know…"
"She knows." Esta stated, then tugged on the lieutenant's tunic. "Move Par, we have to get back there a.s.a.p. … I just hope we're not too late…"

The king attempted to push himself up, but was struck by a coughing fit and fell back down. "What?"
"The vision. It was Badkar." Gabrielle breathed heavily, dropping down beside him. "We have to go back. Xena…"
"What vi…" Alex started, then stopped abruptly. "The Persians? Attacking Badkar?"
Gabrielle nodded hastily, then tugged on his sleeve. "We have to go, now!"
"I'll be right…" Alexander swung his legs out of the bed and attempted to stand, but the dizziness got the better of him and he fell back, his legs weak. He took a deep breath, then opened his eyes again. "I can't Gabrielle, I won't be any good to you like this." He reached out a hand and touched the bard's shoulder. "Go. Lead my army."
Gabrielle stared at him for a moment, then nodded, taking off without another word.

"Gabrielle!" Parmenios pushed his horse forward and managed to catch up to the speeding Chilon. "You're going too fast, Gab, the others can't keep up."
"Tough luck."
Parmenios shook his head. "Gabrielle, come to reason, please! You're slaving these guys off, it's dark, the horses are tired. What if that vision was just because of the heat or…"
Green eyes shot towards him. "If you say one more word I'm going to kick you off that horse." Parmenios blinked at her. 
"So shut up and don't waste your energy on talking…" The bard stared a ahead of her, then let out a breath. "Par, you lead this army to Badkar… I'll meet you there." And with that she spurred Chilon on and shot away, the horse breathing heavily as he picked up speed, leaving Parmenios in a trail of
darkness and dust.

As the infirmary grew bigger with every clatter of Chilon's hooves, the signs of struggle became more evident. Stone rubble, the many hoove and footprints scattered around the building... Gabrielle pulled Chilon to a halt, grabbing onto her staff before jumping off. Everything was silent. There were no sounds of battle, no cries, no nothing… Gabrielle's eyes darted around as she slowly stepped towards the building. The entrance was blocked by several bodies, piled up on top of each other, hands strained in a desperate attempt to escape… The bard closed her eyes, trying to ignore
the memories of when she'd seen these men last.

Inside was worse. Blood… so much blood… "Xena!" She ran, searching through every room. "Xena!" She couldn't be… She had to be…
A gurgling sound made her look up and she followed the sound into the room where'd she'd seen the warrior last. "Xena!"
"Sorry to dissapoint you." A strangled voice managed, then the man chuckled. "Memnon…" Gabrielle staggered back, shaking the visions out of her head. The mercenary had fallen on the floor, his hands bading in blood, clenching onto the sword that had been pushed into his stomach. Xena's sword.
"This is what you get for serving the great King of Persia for five years." The mercenary coughed, wiping some blood from the corner of his mouth before grinning up at her. "It was worth it though, watching her die."
"No…" Gabrielle shook her head. "No, you lie…"
Memnon managed a chuckle. "Why lie when the truth is so much fun?" He reached out and grabbed a bloodied dagger from the stone floor, lifting it up to her. "See this?" He smiled at her. "This is the dagger I stuck in her back."
"No…" Gabrielle stared at the dagger in disbelief.
"Yes." Memnon hissed. "'t Was too bad she has such good reflexes and pushed this thing in my gut." The mercenary pointed at the swordhilt, then gasped for another breath. "But then Xerxes came in and finished the job for me…" He made a slashing motion with his hands, as if holding a sword. "Slash… off with her head."
"No!" Green eyes flashed up at him. "Stop it!"
"I can tell you all about how she fell to the floor, how she cried out in pain, how she…" The mercenary's words stopped short as the blade in his stomach twisted. His eyes widened then met Gabrielle's as the bard grabbed onto the hilt firmly and pulled it out, the blood spilling out of the gaping wound.
"Die." The bard slowly accentuated the word.
Memnon glanced at his bloodcovered hands, then smiled broadly up at her. "You were too late, Gabrielle." He stated, before closing his eyes and falling back against the stone floor, motionless.

Footsteps echoed behind her, then faltered. Alaran gazed at the bloody sword clenched in the bard's hands. "That's…" A breath. "I'm so sorry Gabrielle…"
Gabrielle's wide eyes were focused on the bloodied hilt of Xena's sword. "She's not dead."
Alaran let out a breath. "Xena is a great warrior, Gabrielle, but look around…" He indicated the still bodies, the blood… "No one could have survived this… And she wouldn't have run, that's not her style…" 
Green eyes looked up at him in despair. "She can't be dead. If she was I'd know…" She closed her eyes letting out a breath. "I... I'd feel it…"
Alaran looked over his shoulder staring at the other lieutenants helplessly. Finally Parmenios stepped forward. "We should… we should head back… If the Persian army is about they'll go after Alexander next…" The lieutenant glanced at Gabrielle.
The bard swallowed, covering her face in her hands to think, then she nodded. "You go."
"Go. Don't wait up for me…" The bard stated before turning and walking towards the back door. 
"Gabrielle…" Alaran made an attempt to follow, but a hand on his shoulder held him back. 
"Don't." Halys stated. "Let her go…"
The lieutenant turned to her and lowered his voice. "Halys, Xena is dead and she's got a sword… What if she…?"
Halys shook her head. "Just let her handle things… She'll do whatever she has to do…" She turned back towards Parmenios. "You should take some of the army back, Par. I'll stay here, bury the dead… wait for Gabrielle…"
Parmenios bit his lip, then nodded. " All right."
"You people all are nuts!" Esta's voice shut up. "I don't care what you think, I'm going after her… Xena wouldn't have wanted this…" She gave the men and women around her a look, then pushed away and ran towards the door. 

She pushed Chilon into a gallop then let go of the reigns, letting the horse find it's own way across the rugged landscape. She pressed a handpalm against an eye, trying to push back her emotions, her other hand still grasping onto the warrior's sword. The steady gait of Chilon's hooves ordered her thoughts. Xena being alive was… near to impossible… Gabrielle took a shaky breath. This couldn't be happening… It couldn't be…
Chilon neighed, then changed direction suddenly, breaking Gabrielle from her thoughts harshly as the sudden movement almost tossed her from the horse. A familiar snort came from the darkness, then a Palomino mare trotted closer, rearing as she spotted the dark stallion. 
"Argo!" Gabrielle let herself slide of the stallions back, tossing Xena's sword on the ground, and ran towards the mare, wrapping her arms around the horses neck. She breathed in Xena's lingering smell and a sob escaped her, then another as she broke down, pushing her face in the mare's thick neck. "She can't be dead Argo, not again…" Her knees gave way and she fell to the ground. "You promised you wouldn't die! You promised!" She yelled at the sky, tears streaking across her face. "You can't leave me…" She stared ahead of her mutely, metal blinking in the moonlight, Xena's sword tempting her. It would be so easy to just… Gabrielle took a breath, then crawled towards the metal, reaching out…

A shrill cry filled the air and made her look up to see a falcon sear down sharply, landing on the swordhilt. 
"Get away!" Gabrielle waved her hand at him. "What do you want?!"
The bird cocked his head at her. "To help."
Gabrielle staggered back against Argo's legs. "What…?"
"No." The falcon stated, then hopped to the ground. "Who…" He spread out his wings then slowly grew, his feathers turning to skin, his wings to arms… Moments later the bird was gone and before her stood a young dark haired man, a slight glow drifting around him. 
Gabrielle stared at him in disbelief… "Wh…" The face struck her as familiar and suddenly she realised who stood before her. "Mithras?"
He managed a smile for her, bowing slightly. "Yes, Chosen. We finally meet, but I wish it could have been under different circumstances."
"Cho… Finally meet..? But…" The bards head was spinning, the overload of visions, words and memories making her dizzy. 
Mithras regarded her for a moment. "I confused you. I apologise. I should have realised I…" He stopped, then stepped closer, kneeling down beside her. "I need to show you something." With that he reached out and slowly touched her cheek. 

A shock surged though her body, then she was flying again. An island in the distance, growing larger and larger with every passing moment. It was well fortified, no way in, covered with soldiers… But nobody seemed to notice her and she flew in unseen, soaring down into the fortress. A left turn and she flew towards a closed door. She tried to stop but couldn't and closed her eyes in defeat. A tingle passed through her and the next moment she had passed though the wood, and was flying down stairs. Quick turns left and right. A hallway, rows of doors. She flew on all the way to the end, then sharply turned passing though another door… 
The small room was dark, filthy. Sounds came from the darkness and she stepped closer slowly, looking down at her body as she realised she had changed back into human form. Another few steps. Chains rattled as a dark shape, strapped to the wall, stirred. 
Gabrielle stepped closer, then reached out touching the figure's cheek. 
A dark head shot up and bright blue eyes stared directly into hers.

Gabrielle gasped for breath as she was pulled back into her reality. She blinked, then stared up at Mithras with wide eyes. "She's alive…"



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