Father of All Evil

Part IX

"I don't think I like this traveling by night much…" Gabrielle muttered, peering ahead, trying to make out the road swirling before them. There was no moon that night and all around them was complete darkness. "I don't like not seeing where I'm going. It's a bit creepy."
Xena shrugged. "Just let Chilon find the way. Horses have better night vision."
"I know, but I just wanna see for myself, you know? I hate being out of control…" A snicker came from beside her and Gabrielle gave her companion a look, unseen in the darkness. "And no tacky comments from you, Warrior Princess..."
Xena chuckled, leaning back in the saddle a little. "Didn't say a word…"
"But you were going to…" Gabrielle grumbled, letting Chilon's reigns slide through her fingers as the horse let his head sink a little lower. She heard Chilon snort, the horse enjoying the cool night air and the slow pace they were walking at. Gabrielle had insisted they'd take it slow, so they had, in spite of Xena's grumbling, cantering short bits before dropping back to a trot or a steady pace. It bugged her that the moon wasn't there for her to judge the time by. The silence was eerie and it made her uncomfortable. "How's your back?"
"'s All right." Came the response from beside her. "I hardly feel it really…"
"Right." Gabrielle muttered unconvinced. 
"Really." Xena assured her. "Pain is subjective, you know, and right now I'm comparing this with what I felt like yesterday, so… A shrug. "Don't feel a thing…" 
"Subjective my butt. When something hurts it hurts, Xena."
The warrior chuckled. "Well, it hurts less anyway…" She extended her senses and listened to the scurrying sounds of night animals around them. An owl hooted softly in the distance. "Won't be long until the sun comes up…"
"How do you know that?" The bard's slightly annoyed voice came out of the darkness. 
Xena grinned. "Do you really wanna know?" 
A sigh was her response. "I guess not." 
Another moment of silence then another sound came from the bard, this time Xena identified it as a yawn. "Tired?" The warrior asked, reaching out into the dark until she felt Gabrielle's shoulder and to give it a gentle squeeze. 
"Just a little." Gabrielle managed, stifling another yawn. "I guess not sleeping for two nights and then trying to make up for it with a few candle marks doesn't quite cut it, huh?"
"Nuhuh…" Xena agreed with a smile. "You wanna stop, make camp?"
"Nope, I need to get into this night rhythm and we need to keep moving.."
Xena rolled her eyes at the woman beside her. "Gabrielle…"
"Oh, don't you 'Gabrielle' me…" Came the muttered reply. "You know as well as I do that the sooner we get to this Angra the less time he'll have to… power up, or whatever it is he does… We can't afford to waste time…" The bard closed her eyes for a moment. "Let's just keep going for a while, OK?"

The warrior considered her arguments. It was true that it was better for them to ride as long as possible, definitely since they weren't going too fast in an attempt to take the strain of her still aching back… On the other hand… "Hey Gabrielle?" 
"Have you got a good hold on Chilon's reigns right now, so he couldn't just race off if something scared him?"
"Uhm…" Gabrielle frowned at the question, then regarded her barely visible hands, taking in the reigns slightly so she could feel the leather vibrating slightly as Chilon chewed on his mouthpiece. "Yeah…" 
"Good…" Xena's voice sounded, then there was a sudden rush of air before a body settled in behind her, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Hi."
"Freaking mother of…" Gabrielle hastily took a breath, slightly adjusting her hold on the reigns as Chilon shifted nervously. "You could've warned me about that!"
Xena snickered. "Now, what would be the fun in that?"
"Brat." Gabrielle sighed, then leaned back slightly, closing her eyes. "You are supposed to take it easy…"
The warrior smiled, then moved her hands forward, prying the reigns from the bard's grip. "And you're saying I'm not? It was just a bit of horse leaping, Gabrielle. You were doing that… What? A week after I met you?"
The bard chuckled. "True…"
"See." Xena took both reigns in one hand, then wrapped the other around the bard securely. "Get some sleep."
"Xena…" Came the half hearted protest. 
"Yes?" The warrior asked sweetly, leaning her head on the bard's. 
Gabrielle suppressed another yawn "S'posed to stay up."
"Prob'ly can't even sleep on a horse anyway…" Gabrielle muttered, squirming a bit closer to her backrest. "Moving too much…"
"Of course…" Xena agreed amiably, then smirked as she heard the woman's breathing deepen almost instantly. She gently kissed the top of the bard's head. "You are so predictable, my friend."
A soft murmur was her reply as Gabrielle stirred, then covered the warrior's hand with her own, the bard letting out a content sigh as she leaned back again. 

A small gush of wind blew Xena's hair back slightly, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath of the cold air. She'd almost lost this… She looked down at the blond head, pillowed against her chest. How could she ever have allowed this woman to be hurt the way she had been? How could she ever had been the cause of that hurt? Xena let out a tired breath, letting her eyes scan the darkness around them. They'd talked about everything, had told one another a thousand times that they weren't blaming each other… Xena shook her head softly. But forgiving Gabrielle had never even been an issue, had it? Betrayal was never something that Xena had ever taken lightly, but Gabrielle… Gabrielle had been so easy to forgive… The bard couldn't even be blamed for most that happened, she had only reacted on her maternal instincts, trying to protect the child that her best friend was trying to kill… If she'd only tried to talk to the bard then, tried to explain... 

Forgiving herself, that was the hard part. Even after all this time, she wasn't a shred closer to putting the choices she'd made back then behind her. 

And now here they were, going up against the father of the demon that had started the rift in their relationship. And again she was faced with similar choices and she had to decide what would be the best course of action to take… No, that was a lie, she'd already decided, the moment she'd known it was Angra they were up against… "He's not gonna hurt you again." She whispered softly. "I promise you, Gabrielle, never again." 

Sunlight coloured her eyelids in bright shades of red. Gabrielle blinked dazedly, for a moment considering her sitting position and the trees on her left and right walking in the opposite direction. Her brain stopped. Walking trees? She rubbed some sleep out of her eyes, then regarded the dark bobbing head in front of her as Chilon let out a snort. "Phew…"
"Huh?" A voice burred beside her. "Phew what?"
"Nothing." Gabrielle muttered, stretching and popping some bones back into place. "Just thought we were being attacked by vengeful trees there for a moment…"
"Right…" Xena drawled. "We really have to work on that imagination of yours, Gabrielle."
Her friend chuckled, looking up at Xena over her shoulder. "It's a bard thing..."
"Fortunately for me…" The warrior muttered, then covered her mouth as she yawned, before looking up and judging the set of the sun. "Might start making camp in a bit…"
"How long did I sleep?" Gabrielle muttered, closing her eyes against the bright sunlight.
"Few candlemarks." Xena murmured, scanning the landscape around them until she spotted a bunch of trees clustered together, providing a nice patch of shade to hide away from the quickly rising temperatures. She tugged on Chilon's reigns, leading them off the path. "C'mon Argo." She called to the mare, who pulled a few leafs of a nearby tree, before following behind the stallion and his two riders, chewing contentedly.

She pulled Chilon to a halt near their campspot, then released the bard and watched her hop off the stallions back, before she herself swung a leg over Chilon's flanks and slid off, hitting the earth with a soft thud. "I'll just
give Argo a brushdown, then I'll see if I can catch something…"
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at her. "Don't be ridiculous, I've got enough trail rations for today…" The bard argued gently, before stepping closer and wrapping an arm around the warrior. "You look tired. I'm sorry I fell asleep
on you."
"You falling asleep was the point." Xena smiled, ruffling the bard's hair, before unclipping Chilon's saddlebags. "Let's just get these horses settled, eat and take a nap, OK?"
"You got it." Gabrielle grinned. "But you can unsaddle Chilon. I think he's mad at you for letting him carry the both of us."
Chilon snorted, turning a dark brown eye and peering at the warrior.
Xena grinned as she loosened the girth, pulling off the heavy saddle. "Sorry boy. What if I give you an apple to make it up to you, huh?"
The stallion nuzzled her armour. 
The warrior chuckled, fishing the piece of fruit out of their saddlebags and holding it up to the horse's waiting lips. "So easily bribed."
"Don't even say that he's like me in any way, warrior, or I'm gonna spray this water all over your face." Gabrielle warned,waving their waterskin at her friend dangerously .
Xena blinked at her innocently. "I wasn't going to say anything like that…" A pause. "But now that you mention it…"

A spray of water soared in her direction and she could just duck out of the way, causing the water to splash past her and straight into Chilon's face. 
The horse shook his head vigorously, scattering droplets all around. Slowly he turned his head to look at his attacker, who was clasping a hand over her mouth, her body shaking with laughter. Water slowly dripped down his manes as brown eyes regarded her. Gabrielle was sure that, if the horse had been able to, he would've raised an eyebrow at her. Argo neighed softy, watching the whole spectacle in amusement, until the stallion focused his attention on the mare, taking a few threatening steps into her direction. Argo took this as her cue and hastily took off, Chilon following close behind.

Gabrielle laughed as she watched the two animals race after each other, then looked at the warrior, who had started to roll out their bedrolls. "They really like each other…"
"Horses follow after their keepers, you know." Xena shot her a charming smile as she sat down on her own bedroll and pulled their saddlebags closer. 
"You're just saying that so I don't soak you too."
"Yes. Is it working?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Yup."
"Good." Xena grinned, breaking off a piece of the bread she'd dug out of the bags and tossing it towards the bard, who was strolling closer, the waterskin tossed over her shoulder.
"Thanks." Gabrielle mumbled as she caught the piece in one hand, settling down beside the warrior and handing her the water. "Do you want me to build a fire?"
"Nah..." Xena shook her head, looking up at the trees and calculating how the spots of shade would shift as the sun traversed the sky during the day. "I'll do it. You can cook…"
"OK." Gabrielle settled back, taking another bite of the bread and closing her eyes, listening as Xena got up, and started scurrying around their campsite, collecting twigs and sticks.

It didn't take the warrior long to get the fire going and Gabrielle decided to get up and chop some of the vegetables she'd taken along. She fished a dagger out of her boot and started to chop up an onion, dropping it into the pot filled with water Xena had placed at the edge of the fire. The warrior was now sitting cross legged next to the fire, absently poking at the blackening wood with a stick. Gabrielle regarded her for a moment, picking up a carrot and starting to chop it into pieces. "What's up?"
Blue eyes gazed up, then the warrior managed a smile. "Nothing… Just…. There's just a lot on my mind right now…"
"There's a lot on your mind?" Gabrielle raised an eyebrow at her. "Hey, I'm the One who's gonna destroy evil here, you know? You're just my trusty sidekick…"
Xena chuckled in spite of herself, tossing the stick she had been holding onto on the fire as well. Gabrielle was trying to lighten the mood, trying to keep their minds off bad memories. And she decided that was probably for
the best, for the moment anyway. "Now there's a change. Xena: Warrior Sidekick."
Gabrielle grinned. "Sounds just fine to me…"
"Hmm." Xena grumbled good naturedly, lying back on her bedroll and watching the rays of sunshine beam through the leafs. "Hey, weren't you supposed to contact that god of yours when we left?"
The bard snapped her fingers. "Darn, forgot about that…" She wiped her hand clean on her tunic, then fished the pendant away from her collar and closed her hand over it.
Xena watched as the metal glowed a dull white for a short moment, which faded as Gabrielle released her hold. "Let me guess: Your own, personal god hotline, right?"
Gabrielle chuckled. "Yup. Came with a manual: How to reach your devine being in three easy steps."
Xena grinned, reaching over and stirring in the soup as Gabrielle deposited another load of vegetables in the mixture. "Aw, leek…" The warrior made a face. "Gabrielle, you know I hate leek…"
"Of course I know." The bard flashed an evil grin at the warrior, who sagged back on her bedroll in defeat. "Heh…" She chortled, then jerked back as a splash of water was squirted down her neck. "Xena!"
"Hey, you started it!" The warrior replied, holding the waterskin in front of her defensively.
"Did not! That's a double dose of leek for you, warrior princess!" Another squirt of water was her reply. "OK, that's it!" Gabrielle scrambled up, making a dive for her friend.

Mithras watched the spectacle in amusement, crossing his arms and slightly shaking his head. "Children will be children…" 
Blue eyes looked up as soon as he started his sentence, taking the warrior's attention away from her brawl with his Chosen and paying for it instantly as Gabrielle dove forward, catching the warrior around the waist and taking them down.
"Gotcha!" The bard chortled triumphantly, landing on top of the warrior.
"Uhm… Gabrielle…?"
"Don't try begging this time, Xena, you're not gonna get out of this one…"
The warrior jerked her head in the Persian god's direction. "We've got company…"
Mithras chuckled as he saw his Chosen's back tense, then watched as her head slowly turned in his direction. He wiggled his fingers at her with a smirk. The bard winced, then hastily got up, ignoring the warrior still lying flat
on her back and walking over to him. 
"Hi… " Gabrielle scratched her neck, slightly embarrassed. "That's probably not the formal welcome you're used to, huh?"
The God of Justice laughed. "I don't care much for formal, Chosen." He patted her shoulder. "It's quite all right…" He looked up, giving the warrior, who was sauntering closer, a grin. "You seem to be doing much better, warrior…"
Xena chucked. "As long as your Chosen isn't trying to strangle me, sure."
"Shut it." Gabrielle hissed under her breath.
"I didn't quite catch that, Miss Amazon Queen, what was that again?"

Mithras watched the banter with a tolerant smile, then cleared his throat, needing to get their attention since he didn't have that much time before he would have to return to his father. "So…" He sat down crossed legged, then glanced up at Gabrielle, who seated herself across from him, while Xena walked over to the large cookingpot near the fire, stirring its contents gently. "You called?"
Gabrielle nodded, dropping her eyes a little and drawing some circles in the sand with the heel of her boot. "Yeah… I think we could use a bit of info on what we're up against…"
"Of course…" Mithras inclined his head. "I'll tell you everything I know…" He stopped for a moment, considering where to start. "The temple you're traveling towards is another two day ride north east. Tomorrow you'll get a first glimpse of the summits of dark mountains. These mountains are the way to what you would call the underworld."
"Tartarus or Elysia?" Xena asked, filling one of the bowls with soup and handing it to Gabrielle, who gave her a smile as she took it. 
"Both. Kind of…" Mithras answered. "The mountains are sort of a… a waitingroom. When someone dies in Persia, their body belongs to Angra, it is unclean, evil."
Both women nodded.
"But the person is not the body, but is what you would call a soul. We call it an essence. Each is born with a pure white essence, but it changes colour through life. Every bad deed makes it darker, every good one lighter…" He
leaned his elbows on his knees, folding his hands. "Angra feeds on the light. His goal is to make good people bad. Every time a bad deed is done and light is lost from someone's essence, he draws it in and consumes it and that makes him stronger." A sigh. "Somehow Angra found out how to draw light from a soul without it actually having done bad. He sucks it out of them, like a parasite, destroying their good essence. When he found the entrance to our underworld, where souls are waiting to be judged, he discovered so many good essences, had so much light to feed on… His strength was unparalleled to anything we had faced before and we were unable to push him back and remain in control."
Gabrielle took this in for a moment. "So he can only suck this… essence… out of dead souls?"
"In theory he is able to draw it from the living as well, only he will not try such a thing soon. You see, to draw the essence from a mortal, he would have to enter their body and become part of them. In such a state a part of
him would become mortal as well and he could be wounded. I doubt he will place himself in such a dangerous position if he has a choice." 
Xena swallowed down a spoonful of soup. "So, what will kill him?" She decided to get straight to the point.
Mithras shook his head. "Nothing can kill him…"
Blue eyes widened. "Excuse me? Than what exactly are we doing here?"
"Without darkness, we would not know light. Without evil, we would not see good." The Persian God looked at her tolerantly. "There is a balance in the world, Xena, and our task, as gods, is to keep this balance tipped in our
favour. When we destroy evil, this world will cease to exist and will be transformed into another one all together. It is not time for that yet." He smiled at her. "You are here, because we need help shifting the scale. Angra
needs to be made small once more, so we can control him instead of fear him as we do now."
"So, what can we do to make him small?" Gabrielle asked, placing her now empty bowl beside her.
Mithras looked at her for a moment, giving her an apologetic look. "I do not know…"
"You don't know?" Xena raised an eyebrow at him, not liking where this conversation was going.
"No, I do not… I know of gods who have wounded Angra, but they are gods and have powers you do not have. No mortal has ever faced Angra before…"
"Great…" Xena muttered.
"Hercules and Iolaus fought Dahak and destroyed him…" Gabrielle murmured, her mind searching for possibilities.
"Yes, but at this time your friend was possessed, Chosen. And Dahak, though very powerful, does not compare to Angra. Dahak was only a sliver from Angra 's evil essence."
"Great…" Xena repeated dourly.
"All I know is what our scriptures say, Chosen, that you will defeat evil when it is most powerful."
Gabrielle scratched her neck. "Well, your belief is very reassuring, but a battle plan would be really nice, you know?"
"I know, Chosen, and I am sorry." Mithras shook his head. "Before we had weapons that could hold Angra at bay, but with our strength fading, they have become useless to us. Otherwise I would hand them to you without a second thought…"
"I know." Gabrielle gave him a smile. "This is not your fault." 
"I only wish I could help you more…" He looked at her for a moment, then took a breath. "Gabrielle…" Green eyes shot up to his, surprised at his use of her name. "I can't ask this of you. You are a good soul, and my job is to protect the good from evil. This goes against everything I stand for and I just want you to know… You don't have to do this…"
Gabrielle cocked her head at him, regarding him with interest. "If I don't do this you'll die…"
He nodded calmly. "Yes. And believe me, I do not wish to be the cause of my father's downfall… But as keeper of Justice, I know that the means do not always justify the cause…"
"But sometimes they do." Gabrielle stared into the flames absently, then turned to look at Xena. "Maybe you should…"
"Hey, just because you're supposed to be the hero doesn't mean you get to ditch the sidekick." The warrior pointed a finger at her, getting a tiny smile out of the bard, before moving closer and settling down beside her,
wrapping an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. "Don't even try…" 
Gabrielle looked up at her for a moment, then leaned against the warrior peacefully. "At least you know how annoying that is now… Just remember that next time, OK?"

Mithras watched them with interest for a moment. Even though the warrior's essence had been several shades darker than his Chosen's when they'd sat apart, now he could not distinguish where the bard's essence stopped and Xena's started. Fascinating.

He realised he was staring and hastily stood, giving them a short bow. "I must return to my father's palace now. I will call a meeting of the gods, and we will discuss this matter, see if we can think of something for you… I
will ask my father if he knows anything more, but I doubt he has kept anything hidden from me." He looked at them, taking a few steps closer, kneeling down beside them. "You are both taking high risks to help us. That will not be forgotten. I swear to you, the debt we owe you both will be repaid." A brief smile and then he pushed off, shape shifting in an instant, before soaring up the morning sky.

Xena let her eyes followed him until he disappeared from view, before she looked down at the blond head tucked against her shoulder. "So…"
Gabrielle let out a breath, closing her eyes. "Nice mess this is, huh?"
The warrior pulled her a bit closer. "Just another minor obstacle." 
"Some minor obstacle…" The bard muttered, rubbing her eyes tiredly. "I don't know if I can jump this high, Xe…"
"Of course you can…" The warrior gave her a gentle squeeze. "And if you can't I'll just carry you over this one…" She smiled as Gabrielle looked up at her with hooded eyes, gently stroking a lock of blond hair behind an ear. "Let's just get some rest first, OK? We'll think clearer in the morning…"
The bard gave her a faint nod, lying down on her bedroll and rolling onto her side, watching as Xena settled down herself, folding her hands under her head and staring up. "Hey Xena?"
"Thank you…"
Blue eyes met hers and smiled. "That's what sidekicks are for, right?"
Gabrielle chuckled softly, reaching out and grabbing onto one of the warrior's hands, intertwining their fingers. "You make a pretty good sidekick, Warrior Princess."
Xena flashed her a grin. "I have many skills."

Dark… Very dark and silent, eerily silent… Gabrielle glanced around nervously, wishing she had her staff with her.
"Well hello, Gabrielle…"
The voice send shivers down her spine, and she spun around, trying to see where the voice was coming from. But it wasn't coming from one specific place, it echoed all around in this darkness… "What do you want?" She asked, looking up.
"To rule the known world and have ultimate power." A chuckle. "But for now I'll just settle for overtaking Persia… You gotta start somewhere, you know?"
Gabrielle slowly circled the area she was in. "This is a dream."
"Nightmare." The voice cheerfully corrected. "Or actually, no… it's more like…" He searched for a word. "Like a warning…"

Suddenly flames shot up, lighting up the room she was in. She gasped for air, immediately recognising the place, the cold stone surroundings, the people standing huddled around an altar. Kraftstar. "No…" She croaked, as she saw herself, the dagger…
"Bye bye, blood innocence…" The voice chuckled wickedly as she watched herself push the dagger into Meridian's heart.
"No…" Gabrielle hid her face in her hands, not wanting to see the rest. She immediately pulled them back though, as she felt a warm liquid spread across her face. Blood… Her hands were covered in it.
"Well, that was quite bad, wasn't it? But this was worse, right?" The flames flashed up around her, lifting her into the air. Gabrielle squirmed, trying desperately to get away. "It is painful, isn't it, Gabrielle? But it got you such a wonderful little girl… Your spitting image, wouldn't you say?" Another laugh, then the flames receded, leaving her stumbling on the floor, clenching onto her stomach to stop the burning pain. She crumbled, wrapping her arms around herself, pushing back tears.

It was silent again, and the flames had receded fully, the room turning completely dark once more. "I could answer your question, you know?" Angra's voice burred slowly. "The question you have been asking yourself all this time… Could you have saved her?"
"I don't care what you have to say." Gabrielle managed, then swallowed. "I won't believe a word."
"You couldn't have."
Gabrielle glanced up suspiciously. She hadn't expected that, she had expected him to taunt her with the knowledge she would have been able to.
"You know why not?" The voice continued, falling into a whisper, that was still loud enough to echo across the room. "Because I took her essence before she was born and extracted all the goodness I could find… Did you know her essence was actually quite light at first?"
Gabrielle stared up in disbelief. "You killed her…"
"No no no, I killed the part of her that was you, that's all…" The voice informed her cheerfully. "And it all worked out so nicely didn't it? You protecting her so viciously. I have to say, I loved how you tricked Xena
into thinking you'd killed her. You have to know, from that moment on, I was your biggest fan... The deceit, it was brilliant… It touched me, really…"
"Shut up…" Gabrielle pressed her hands to her ears, trying to block out the sounds.
"And it was so nice of you to lead my sweet granddaughter right to Solan. Xena having a son, that just came in sooooo handy…"
"Shut up!"
Evil laughter rang through the darkness, the sounds growing loader and loader, pumping into her brain. "I've killed your daughter, I've killed Xena's son… I look forward to personally killing Xena herself…"

She shot up, a raspy breath entering her lungs. The sunlight peered in streaks around her, the temperature having risen to an uncomfortable heat. She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand, glancing down at Xena, who for some reason was still asleep, in spite of her sudden movements. She let out a breath, settling back down in her bedroll and closing her eyes. Maybe it had just been a nightmare… She shook her head. No, it had been too clear, too vivid… She reached out, gently rearranging Xena's scattered locks. Gabrielle closed her eyes and sighed. She was in way over her head this time. The cart she was on was speeding towards nowhere fast, and she had no hold on the reigns to stop the horses. And the worst thing of it was, she was dragging Xena along with her…

"You should've woken me up…" Xena crossed her arms. 
Gabrielle let out a breath, stomping on the embers of their fire, leaving only the moonlight to illuminate them. 
"You should've woken me." Xena insisted stubbornly, then turned and lengthened the stirrups on Argo's saddle with rough gestures. 
Gabrielle shook her head, gathering up their stuff. "You're being ridiculous."
"I am not." Xena snapped back, her temper rising. "We discussed you having dreams and you promised me you'd tell me about them."
"I never promised I'd tell you the moment after I woke up."
"Well, excuse me for wanting to know what the god who destroyed our lives whispered in your ear." The warrior muttered angrily.
Gabrielle tossed up her hands in defeat. "What would be the point of keeping the both of us up?"
"There's no point, but…"
"Exactly." Gabrielle interrupted, harshly shoving some of their stuff back in the saddlebags. "And I saw no need in dragging you out of your well needed sleep, while I'd already slept at your expense, just to tell you Angra was gonna kill you to get to me…" 

Silence behind her. Gabrielle closed her eyes and bit her lip, knowing she'd said too much, gone too far. 
"Do you really think I care about that, even in the slightest?" Xena's voice sounded behind her, quietly now. 
The bard took a breath, then turned, seeing hurt blue eyes stare at her. She looked down at the sand, shaking her head. "You don't… But I do…" 

Footsteps slowly got closer, then arms wrapped around her and she fell into them, closing her eyes. Tears welled up, and she tried to repress them, but found she couldn't.
"I'm sorry." The warrior whispered, kissing the top of her head. "I'm so sorry, Gabrielle."
"Not y…you're f…fault." The bard managed between sobs as she buried her head into the leatherclad shoulder. "Should've w…woken you…"
Xena let out a breath, closing her eyes. "It's OK… If I'd been in your shoes I probably wouldn't have either…" She pulled back cupping the bard's head in both hands, forcing eyecontact. "But please don't think you can't wake me because I'll be upset with you or something, OK? Certainly not for something so insignificant as the two of us getting into danger."
Gabrielle smiled through her tears, then closed her eyes as Xena dried her cheek with the back of her hand. "Love you."
The warrior kissed the bard's forehead. "Love you too. Sorry I snapped."
" 's OK. I'm used to it." Gabrielle replied, then chuckled, as she felt a poke against her ribs. "Just kidding."
"You'd better be." Xena's voice rumbled dangerously into her ear, then the warrior chuckled, tickling the bard's side and forcing a laugh out of her, before wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Do you wanna stay here for a while? Get some rest?"
Gabrielle shook her head. "Nah, I think we should just get going. I… I don't think I could sleep anyway… I'm afraid he'll…" She stopped, taking in another shaky breath. 
"I know…" Xena rubbed her shoulder gently. She glanced up and studied their campsite. "I guess we're about done here…"
"Yeah." Gabrielle patted her side, then unwound herself from the warrior's embrace, straightening her tunic. "I don't have to get all dressed up tonight, right?"
"Nah." Xena shook her head, attaching her saddlebags to Argo's saddle. "Just make sure you won't get cold, it'll be chilly tonight."
"Yes mom." Gabrielle grinned, the warrior rolling her eyes at her as she folded the flap over the bag with all her armour and weapons in it, leaving her only in her tunic, the two daggers still in her boots, just in case. 
Behind her, Xena pulled herself into the saddle. There was a moment of silence, then the warrior cleared her throat. "You uhm… You wanna ride double?"
The bard looked back at her, then simply tied a knot in Chilon's reigns and walked over, extending a hand and allowing herself to be pulled up. She settled behind the warrior, wrapping her arms tightly around Xena's waist and resting her head against a leatherclad shoulder. "I'm not hurting you, am I?" Gabrielle murmured, considering the wounds that were still present on Xena's back. 
"Never." Xena smiled in response, closing her hand over the bard's.

Chilon watched his rider switch sides and neighed in amusement, sticking his tongue out at Argo, who let out a deep sigh in response. This got a laugh from both warrior and bard, before Xena pushed the mare forward, Chilon trotting along cheerfully. 

"Hmm…" Gabrielle blinked, then straightened in the saddle, tightening her hold on the reigns. "I'm awake…"
"Well, you are now…" Xena chuckled, watching the bard lean back in Chilon's saddle. They'd decided that they needed to make good time today and Xena had reluctantly admitted it'd be better if Gabrielle would ride on Chilon, so they could gallop full speed for a while, since they had some moonlight tonight to guide them along the way. Gabrielle had tried to sleep while they were riding double, but she hadn't managed to really dose off, before her fear of nightmares poked her awake again. The sleepiness was getting to her though, and the bard had nearly fallen off her horse twice now." You sure you don't want me to climb up there with you?"
Gabrielle shook her head, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Chilon'd never forgive you." 
Xena chuckled. "He'll live…"
"Let me just keep riding for a little longer, until the sun comes up or something." Gabrielle decided reluctantly. 
"Won't be too long now." Xena agreed, letting her eyes roam across their surroundings. The first rays were actually already trying to lighten up the eastern sky, but large, dark mountains kept them from reaching out. The light rose up though, circling the mountains and casting them in shadows. 
"That's it, right?" Gabrielle asked quietly. "That's where we're going?"
Xena nodded, her eyes searching the face of the mountain, seeing if she could spot the temple Mithras mentioned. "Yeah, I think so…"

They rode on for another candlemark or so, until the sun was actually peeking over the summits. This seemed to have no effect on the darkness of the mountains, however, the side still remaining pitch black. Xena tore her eyes away from the blackness, focusing on a spot a up ahead, a small oasis it seemed, with a waterhole and a bunch of trees to provide cover. "Come on…" She steered Argo towards it, pointing the spot out as Gabrielle looked up at her. 
"Oeh." Gabrielle grinned happily. "I spy with my little eye and the colour is bllllllue."
Xena chuckled, then pulled Argo to a halt and hopped off the mare's back, quickly relieving the horse from her tackle, before giving her a pat and sending her off to drink. Chilon soon followed behind, as did Gabrielle. The latter decide not to just plunge her face into the water and slurp, but dunked their waterbag into the cool liquid, drinking a few sips, before walking over and handing the water to the warrior. 
"Thanks." Xena smiled, before taking a big gulp, closing her eyes. "Hmmm, I needed that…" She looked at Gabrielle, who was starting to roll out their bedrolls. "Why don't you go and take a swim. I'll fix this up…"
Green eyes peeked up at her. "You sure?"
"Would I offer if I wasn't?"
"Good point." Gabrielle muttered, then stood, pulling a towel from one of their saddlebags. "You gonna join me?"
"I'll set up camp first. I'll clean up later."
"OK." Gabrielle nodded, giving Xena a friendly pat on the side as a thank you before walking of to the water. 

The warrior looked at her for a moment, then turned to the tasks at hand, into setting up camp and starting a small fire to cook on. When the wood finally burned, she picked up the cooking pot and walked over to the waterside, where Gabrielle had started a waterfight with both the horses. "Hey, stop soaking my horse, bard."
"She started it!" Gabrielle stated indignantly, pointing a finger at the innocently blinking mare. "I was just giving her a pat and she shoved me straight into the water." 
Xena chuckled, stroking Argo's neck. "Good girl." 
"Nah!" Gabrielle turned pleadingly to her own horse. "Get her, Chilon!"
The stallion ,who was up to his knees in the water took this as his cue and reared, then plunged his front hooves back down, sending a spray of water up and over the warrior. 

Xena wiped her soaked hair out of her face, then simply watched as the bard dissolved into helpless laughter. "Funny, very funny." She looked at Argo. "You could've at least warned me."
The mare shook the water out of her manes, sending another spray of droplets over the warrior, before giving Xena a nudge towards the water. "Now, don't you start." Xena pointed an accusing finger at the mare, then walked over and lifted up Gabrielle's towel, drying off her face. "I hope you're happy." She muttered as she heard Gabrielle wade out of the water.
"Quite." The bard chuckled, then took the towel from her, wrapping it around her body. 
Xena lifted their cookingpot up by its handle, then joined the bard on her way to their campfire. "It's a good thing I needed a shower anyway."
"Right…" Gabrielle drawled, obviously unimpressed by the threat, thumping down on her bedroll and fishing a clean tunic out of her saddlebag. 
The warrior walked over to the fire, putting the pot down and then stripping out of her leathers, hanging them on a branch in the sun to dry. She pulled on a clean shift, then started to rummage through her herbkit, fishing out some herbs and tossing them in the water. She added some of the dried meat they'd taken and a sparse amount of veggies, stirring the mixture until it boiled. 
Gabrielle squeezed a last bit of water out of her hair, wrapping the towel around her shoulders to keep the water from staining her tunic. "Broth a la Xena, huh?"
The warrior smirked up at her, dipping a bowl into her creation before handing it to Gabrielle. "Traditional family recipe."
The bard stared at her bowl suspiciously, then spooned up a bit and swallowed. "Hey, this ain't half bad…"
"Ye of little faith." Xena chuckled. "It's the only thing I ate for the longest time when I first started travelling. I had loads of time to perfect it."
Gabrielle swallowed another spoonful. "Well, it's great… You can cook more often from now on…" She paused for a moment, considering what she'd just said, stirring her soup pensively. 
Xena saw the bard sink away into worries and scuttled over, wrapping her arm around Gabrielle's shoulders. "I'll give you the recipe, next time you can cook it."
Green eyes looked up at her, managing a reluctant smile. "Trying to get out of under your chores, Warrior Princess?" She chastised her with a small grin, before leaning against the warrior, spooning up another bit of her diner. "How's your back?"
She felt Xena shrug. "Pretty much OK."
"Want me to but some crème on it?"
The warrior considered this for a moment, then realised it couldn't hurt and nodded. She turned her back to the bard, who put her now empty bowl down and reached for the jar of salve she'd taken along. Xena stripped the fabric from her back, exposing the still raw skin to Gabrielle's touch. "How does it look?"
"Better." Gabrielle stated, suppressing a yawn, then went to work, spreading the crème across the warrior's back. "Healing quite fast…" She managed, before another yawn forced its way up. 
"I think your godfriend gave me a bit of a healingboost or something." Xena stated, waiting for the bard to finish, before turning back around to face drowsy green eyes. "Why don't you settle down? I'll just clean up camp a little, and get the horses settled, then I'll join you, OK?"
"Hmmm…" Gabrielle muttered, rubbing her eyes tiredly. Then she nodded weakly, lying back on her bedroll and looking up at the sky, which was slightly turning brighter shades of blue. "Xena?" She mumbled, sleep forcing her eyelids closed. 
"Yeah?" Xena's voice sounded from nearby, the warrior rummaging around their saddlebags. 
"If it looks like I'm having a nightmare… Could you wake me up?"
Footsteps stepped closer and she heard Xena kneel down beside her. She smiled as the covers were tucked up around her tightly. "Just sleep." The warrior's voice sounded soothingly, as fingers stroked back some locks of hair. Gabrielle slowly let herself sink into slumber, settled by her friend's presence. The sounds around her went blurry, the last thing she heard being Xena's low voice whispering from nearby. "I'm not gonna let him hurt you, Gabrielle, I promise."

Xena watched her friend silently, studying the shadows flicking across the bard's face as the wind toyed with the leafs that were providing cover. She waited a few more moments, until she was sure the herbs she'd put into Gabrielle's dinner had taken effect, then she leaned forward, gently kissing the bard's forehead. "Forgive me." She whispered, closing her eyes and breathing in Gabrielle's familiar scent for a moment longer, before she straightened and got up, walking to the tree where she'd left her leathers. 

Moments later she clipped her swords across her back, straightening her leathers before walking over to the now saddled Argo, who was watching her rider curiously. She gave the mare a pat on her neck, then spared a last glance for Gabrielle, before mounting and giving Argo a gentle nudge,  steering them north east. 

Gabrielle grudgingly forced herself out of a dreamless sleep, her body still tired. "Wh…"
"Wake up, Chosen." 
The bard's brain kicked in and she pried her eyes open, finding concerned brown ones looking back at her. "Mit… Bu…" She sat up, letting her gaze flick across the camp. Chilon, tied to a tree nearby, Argo's absence, Xena's empty bedroll. "No…" Gabrielle scrambled to her feet, seeing the hooveprints in the sand, leading away from their campspot. A thought occurred to her and she picked up the bowl she'd left beside the campfire the night before, letting a finger slide against the inside of the bowl, tiny flakes of dried herbs sticking to her fingers. "Damn it!" Angrily she threw the wooden bowl away, watching it slam into a nearby tree and shatter into pieces. "Damn her!"
"She's gone, Chosen." Mithras managed quietly, watching the shattered wood thud to the ground. 
"Gee, really." Gabrielle muttered sarcastically, then she turned to face him, staring at him intently. "How long ago? Do you know?"
"I saw her riding a few candlemarks up ahead." Mithras stated. "I'm sorry, I did not notice she'd gone until just now. I came as fast as I could."
The bard took a breath to calm herself, rubbing the side of her face in an attempt to clear her mind. "Not your fault… Thank you for waking me."
The God of Justice inclined his head towards her in quiet acknowledgement. 
"All right." Gabrielle took a breath, then hastily gathered some of their things and stuffed them into a saddlebag. "Chilon is faster than Argo is, and he got more rest… Maybe we can catch up…" She walked over to the stallion, who indignantly motioned his head towards the reigns that tied him to a strong branch. "Don't worry, Chi, we'll get her for this." Chilon snorted, nodding in agreement, as Gabrielle freed him, then placed a saddle on his back, sparing a glance for Mithras as she tightened the girth. "Could you go to her? Slow her down?"
Mithras looked doubtful for a moment, then nodded. "But only for a short while. We are close to Angra's territory here…." He watched the bard nod, then mount, grabbing onto the reigns. The young god walked closer, touching her knee. "Be careful, Gabrielle."
His chosen managed a brief smile, then she pushed Chilon forward, the stallion taking off at full speed, following in Argo's hoofprints.

A shrill cry sounded above her, and Xena took a breath, ignoring the bird that was circling above her. 
"Go away!" She called up, not slowing down. 
The falcon flew lower, soaring beside her, matching Argo's pace without much effort. "This is her task to fulfill, warrior. She is the chosen."
"She could be the daughter of Zeus, for all I care." Xena muttered. 
"She does not wish you to do this."
"I know that." Blue eyes focused on him now. "But she did not wish to be forced to kill either, or give birth to the daughter of Dahak, or to be nearly kill…" A shaky breath. "…nearly killed by her best friend…" Xena turned back to face the road up ahead, staring at the foot of the mountain, which could now be seen in the distance. "Now, stop trying to stall me, head back to that cloud you live on and go be useless there."
A moment of silence beside her, then the bird soared up, straight towards the sun, disappearing from view.

"She will not listen." The falcon settled on Gabrielle's shoulder, his claws digging into to thick fabric of her tunic for some balance.
The bard blew out a breath, the sun burning brightly on her head. "How much of a lead?"
"Quite a bit. But you are gaining on her." 
"Good." Gabrielle spared a moment to wipe the sweat off her forehead, before it could drip into her eyes. She looked up at the mountains, seeing the shadows they were throwing across the landscape get closer with every thud of Chilon's hooves. "If you've come up with any great plans to waste Angra, this would be a nice time to mention them to me…"

Darkness had settled around her completely, in spite of the fact that it could be no later than noon. Xena pulled Argo to a halt near the foot of the mountain and hopped off, staring up at the steep surface. Far up, covered in wisps of mist, she could spot a large stone building sticking out of the rock face on a small plateau. The warrior turned back to Argo, who was restlessly looking around her, not too pleased with her surroundings. "It's OK, girl." Xena patted her neck, digging a long rope from inside her saddlebags, before removing Argo's saddle. "You'll be out of here in a bit." She pulled the reigns over the mare's head. 
Big brown eyes looked at her questioningly. Xena managed a smile, giving the mare a quick hug. "Good bye, Argo. Get away from here, OK?" Argo snorted, giving the warrior a nudge in the side. 
"Go." Xena insisted, giving her a gently shove, then turning away from the mare, heading toward the cliff face. 

She picked up a small rock and tied it to the end of her rope, to give it some extra weight. Glancing up, Xena spotted an outcropping not too far off. She swung the rope around for a bit, judging the distance, then let go, watching the small stone twist the rope tightly around the rock wall, securing it. She checked the rope, pulling at it a bit, before hanging on it with her full weight. She tightened her muscles, then slowly started to work her way up. 
A few steps, then she felt the rope slip a bit, small stones falling down and bouncing off on her head. She held completely still for a moment, sparing a glance upwards to see the rope was starting to slide off its hold. Firmly she wrapped her hands around the rope, then pushed off, launching herself up and reaching for the handhold as the rope slipped off the outcropping, falling down. "Great." Xena muttered, dangling from the rock face with one hand, her eyes tracking up to the several meters she still had to go. "It would be nice if they build temples on the ground floor, just to make things easy for a change..." 

Slowly but steadily she managed to work her way up. Her back complained, muscles that weren't healed completely not enjoying the strenuous activity at all. But she ignored the pain, climbing on until finally she felt her hand reach a flat surface above her. With a last push she managed to lift her torso onto the plateau, then pulled her legs up as well. She sat quietly, catching her breath for a moment. 

The view was surreal, really. She could see the sun shining brightly, partially clouded by the small bits of mist drifting around her. The sun was lighting up the area she'd traveled through, she could see the path she'd rode on. But around her everything was black, the sunlight in the distance only giving a fraction of light so she could see the outline of her surroundings. One of those outlines was a massive round, stone building to her right. 

Xena closed her eyes for a moment, taking a breath to steady herself. Then she pushed herself to her feet, straightening and balling her hands into fists. "Come on, warrior princess. Time to settle this once and for all…" 

Slowly she stepped closer heading for the large wooden door that she spotted as she got closer. She could hear voices, very soft wailing, seeming to come from inside the rocks. A few more paces, then she reached the door, placing both hands against the wood and pushing it open. 

The door opened with a creak, hinges that had not been used in ages protesting loudly. Xena stood in the doorway for a moment, letting her eyes flick across her surroundings. The temple was silent, except for the crackling of the flames from torches attached to several of the stone walls. She could still hear the soft crying of voices, which seemed to be coming from a large deep crevice in the far wall. In front of that far wall was an altar, a fire burning in its centre. Except from that, the room was bare, noting but stone floors and walls, all undecorated, dull gray. 

"My my, a visitor. How nice..." 
Xena's eyes shot around the room, trying to locate where the sound was coming from, her hand reaching for her sword on pure instinct, unsheathing the weapon. The scratching of the metal echoed through the room, bouncing off the stone walls.
A chuckle sounded. "Oh yeah, that's gonna do you loads of good, mortal."
"Show yourself, you bastard." Xena hissed, circling slowly, trying to keep an eye on every corner of the room.

The flames on the altar soared up, going from yellow, to red, to a dark blue. "Forgive me my manners." The deep voice burred. Then dark fumes erupted from the flames, sidling out and slowly piling up into a human shape. The smoke slowly changed colour and form, transforming in a strong looking body, its features obscured by a wide, dark red habit, two thick black stripes crossing at the front, a large hood pulled over his head. It reminded the warrior of what Hope was wearing, when Gabrielle … 

Xena pushed back a wave of nausea at the memory. She focussed on him, peering straight under the thick hood, but she could see nothing but darkness.
"Welcome to my humble home." The cloaked figure lifted his hands, which were dark black as well. Xena noticed she could see straight through them, the hands seeming no more than mere smoke. "Allow me to introduce myself. Some call me Lord of the Darkness, others call me the Father of All Evil…" A chuckle. "…but you can call me Angra."
Xena narrowed her eyes at him, her hands tightening on her swordhilt. "Some call me The Destroyer of Nations, others call me the Warrior Princes… But you can call me angry." She growled, then jumped forward, lunging out, plunging her sword straight into her tormentor's stomach. 

And passing straight through, through the robe, through the blackness and tumbling on the ground on the other side, falling to her knees. 
Laughter drifted up around her. "Oh, that was funny!" Angra chuckled, crossing his arms over his chest in amusement. "Wanna try that again?"

Xena scrambled to her feet, unhooking her chakram and whirling it toward him. But the metal seemed to shift through thin air, meeting no resistance whatsoever as it passed straight through the Lord of Darkness, embedding itself between two stones in the opposite wall. 

Angra laughed again, then swiped his hand at her negligently. A wave of smoke shot toward her, hitting her straight in the chest and blowing her back with such force she was simply lifted off her feet. She was slammed against a stone wall harshly, thudding to the ground as the force receded. She drew in some air, her breath coming in heavy rasps and she could taste the salty, warm liquid in her mouth as she coughed up some blood.

"Xena, Xena…" Angra shook his head, taking a few paces closer. "I had really hoped you would provide a bit more of a challenge, you know? Live up to your reputation just a fraction… You know, if you'd come to Persia back in those good old days, I would have made you my protégé… It would have been you, not Xerxes… We could have ruled the world together, Xena…"
Blue eyes filled with hatred glanced up at him menacingly.
"These last few years have left you weak. It's so sad to see that beautiful dark side of yours wasted… The day you decided to fight for good…" The Father of All Evil sighed, lifting a hand to where his heart would be, if he had had one. "I cried for days, really. All the blood that was left unspilled, all the cities that could have been destroyed… Shame shame shame… Don't you agree?"
"Piss off." The warrior's voice rasped.
The hooded face tilted pensively. "Now, that wasn't nice…" Empty hands tensed and raised and Xena felt herself lifted off the ground. "This'll hurt me a lot more than it'll hurt you…" Angra considered that statement for another moment. "Actually, no, that isn't true… It'll hurt you way more…" 

It was like hands grabbed onto her and shoved her across the stone floor. The rough texture scratched at her skin, until the stones that formed the steps up to the altar got in the way. Her skull felt like it was about to explode and she reached for her head to feel a warm liquid stick to her fingers. 

"This is so disappointing." Angra muttered with a shake of his head. "You know, you are supposed to at least stay alive until your precious girlfriend shows up, Xena… Really, you should show just a bit more effort. It won't be too much longer, I promise. My daughter in law is nearly here."
Xena swallowed, trying to get to her feet, but the dizziness and the pain searing through her head and body would not allow it. "No…" She managed, her hand somehow reaching for the dagger tucked in her boot and she launched it towards him with a last bit of energy. 

"Oh please…" Angra sighed, reaching out and catching the weapon before it could pass through him. "I thought we'd already done the weaponry thing." The Lord of Darkness flipped the dagger up and caught it again. "I'm sorry Xena, but you're not half as much fun as I thought you'd be… I'm afraid we're just gonna have to cut this little conversation short." He took a few steps closer, then swiped back his hood. Where his face should have been was nothing but smoke. Angra twirled the dagger around in his hands confidently. "Now, do you have any particular figure you wanna be tormented by for the rest of your eternity? Hmm? How about this one…" The black smoke swirled and reshaped, then turned into Krafstar's hated face, a devilish snarl crossing his lips. "No? Or maybe this one..." The face changed and turned into Callisto's. "But personally, I think you'll like this one best…" More smoke shifted and then there was the mature Hope, green eyes darkened in hatred, standing mere inches from her, the dagger raised in her left hand. "Good bye, Xena." She said, in a voice so similar to Gabrielle's. "It's been fun, really…"

"No!" Gabrielle ran in, seeing the cloaked figure bending over Xena's still shape. The warrior's blue eyes immediately shot towards her, looking at her so hopelessly it made the bard's heart cringe.
The figure stood, then turned and smiled at her charmingly. "Well, hi mommy."
The bard staggered back, the blood draining from her face in mere moments. "H… Hope?"
"Nope, not quite… Related though…" The tone of Hope's high pitched laughter sank and sank, until it became a sound she'd heard only days before. 
"Angra…" Gabrielle breathed, watching as Hope's face dissolved into smoke. 
"Oh, she's much smarter than you, Xena. I didn't even have to introduce myself to her." The Lord of Darkness stated to the fallen warrior, before turning to the bard. "So… We finally meet. Always a pleasure to meet in-laws. You wanna have a cup of tea and chat, or shall we just get straight to the destroying stuff? "
Gabrielle swallowed, pushing back emotions. "Let her go. Leave her out of this…" She managed, motioning towards Xena. 
"Well, I could do that, theoretically…" Angra drawled slowly. "But then again, that would be 'nice', and I am the Father of All Evil, so that sorta goes against my nature... So, I'm sorry, no can do, my dear daughter." He took a few paces back, circling the warrior, who looked up at him with hooded blue eyes. "And, after all, you were the one that killed my granddaughter… Three times… And my great-grandson, lest we forget…" A shake of the dark head. "No Gabrielle, you deserve my special VIP treatment… And my buddy Xena and I, we're gonna make matters so very… shall we say… interesting for you." He looked up at her as he stood behind Xena, still clasping onto the dagger. "Mithras told you about how I can draw essence from living mortals, didn't he?"
Green eyes stared at him, then widened in alarm. 
"Let me just give you a little demonstration, OK?" 

The sound of metal clattering to the ground, as the dagger hit the stone floor. The red habit he'd been wearing sagged to the ground as Angra lost his semi solid form, returning to a state of black fumes. He drifted above Xena for a moment, then dove down, entering the warrior's body. 

"No!" Gabrielle ran forward, but it was already too late. Xena's body jerked a few times, her eyes closing, then she relaxed. A moment, then unseen forces seemed to drag the warrior to her feet. 
"Xena?" Gabrielle asked hesitantly, taking another step closer so she was mere inches from the warrior. 
The warrior's eyelids opened, but instead of bright blue her eyes were pitch black. The bard stumbled back a few paces back. 
"No, not quite…" It was Xena's voice, mixed with Angra's dark tones. "But she's still in here. Her essence is actually whiter than I thought." Angra stated, staring down at his new body with interest. The scratches and wounds closed as the dark eyes flicked over them. He lifted both hands and wiggled Xena's fingers, chuckling. "Solidness… It's been a while…" Black eyes tracked up and met green ones, raging with a thousand of different emotions all at once, from pure hatred, to utter fear. "So, there you have it, Gabby… You can either let me turn your lovely friend into a perfect vessel for pure evil… Or you can kill us…" White teeth bared into a feral grin. "The death of your best friend, or total annihilation of the known world... Take your pick, Chosen."

Gabrielle stared ahead of her helplessly for a moment, her mind spinning around chaotically.
Xena crossed her arms, impatiently tapping a booted foot on the stone tiles. “Now, Gab, we don’t have all day you know… I have places to go, and people to kill. Time’s a wasting here… ”
Green eyes looked up, then she took a few steps closer, locking eyes with the warrior. “C’mon Xena, you have to fight him!”
“Oh, she’s trying, honey.” Angra grinned charmingly. “But warrior princesses just can’t seem to live up to all powerful gods of darkness and destruction… Strange though it is…” Angra expelled a breath, flexing some muscle. “All right… Lets just give you a bit of an incentive, shall we?” Angra produced a charming smile, then pushed off, Xena’s body pulling into a flip, launching over the bard’s head and landing behind her. Before Gabrielle could turn, an elbow impacted with the back of her skull with such force she was blown across the room, smacking against the wall harshly. 

“Oh this is so much fun!” Angra chortled happily. “Xena, your body rules,
sister. I’m keeping ya…”
Gabrielle hastily scrambled to her feet, her fingers closing around the dagger hilt in her boot. She unsheathed the weapon, lifting it up to face dark eyes staring back at her in amusement.
“Well well, Gabby. I didn’t know you had it in ya… I’m impressed, really…” A chuckle. “Then again, you did betray your best friend quite some times before, didn’t ya? Chin, hiding Hope… And you did push her off a cliff once…”
“Shut up!” Gabrielle hissed, balancing the weapon in her hand.
Angra sighed, shaking his head. “Kids these days… No manners whatsoever… Really disappointing…” Xena’s arms spread, making the warrior into an easy target, hands motioning her forward. “C’mon. Do it then… I promise I won't jump outta here just before you push a knife through her heart, really...”
The bard’s breathing came in heavy rasps, her eyes focused intently on her target.

“Do it, Chosen!” It was Mithras, standing near the dooropening.
Xena’s laughter echoed through the hall. “Oh, goody, a visit from the God of Justice… How nice of you to come and watch the show, Mithras. I’m honoured, really… ”
“You have to, Chosen.” The young Persian god pleaded, looking at Gabrielle, ignoring Xena completely. “Finish it!”
A dark chuckle. “Now, Mithras, my boy… I never knew you were the aggressive type… I like. You sure you don’t wanna join me? The job comes with some great benefits, ya know? Good pay and some blood spilled every day, that’s my motto…”
“Gabrielle, do it! Kill her!”

“No!” The bard’s voice shot up as she lowered the dagger, her eyes flicking from one to the other. “I won’t kill her, I can’t!”
“Hah!” Angra did a little victory dance. “Picked the wrong Chosen there, buster.”
“Gabrielle…” Brown eyes turned pleadingly to the bard. “Realise what you’re doing…”

But Gabrielle seemed to ignore the God of Justice, walking towards Xena’s form. “I’ve got a business deal for you…”
A dark eyebrow raised. “Really? Do you now? And what might that be?”
“We switch… You let Xena go and promise to never harm her again…” A pause as Gabrielle stepped even closer, coming face to face with her opponent. “…and you can take my body instead…”

“Chosen, no!” Mithras voice shot up, but he was ignored by both other parties.

Another dark eyebrow raised, a charming smile spreading across the warrior’s face. “Intriguing offer…” Angra crossed his arms, circling the bard, considering. “I would have to ditch this great body, that would be a shame… But then again I do get to take over Mithras’ Chosen, who has loads more light to feed on…” A chuckle as the Lord of Darkness faced her, extending a hand. “You got yourself a deal, my dear.”
Gabrielle looked up into the black eyes, then nodded, taking Xena’s hand in

A shock seared through her as Angra dragged himself out of Xena’s body and
into Gabrielle’s via their linked hands. The force was too much for Xena’s weakened state and she staggered back, falling to the ground in complete exhaustion.

Angra lifted a hand to his neck, popping some bones back into place. “Oeh, now this is nice…” He whistled under his breath, studying his new surroundings, then looked up, seeing Xena’s shattered form trying desperately to get up to her feet. “Just stay down, Xena. I’ll deal with you later…”
Blue eyes looked up at him. “Gabrielle…” Was the weak response, the warrior pulling herself up by sheer will alone.

Angra ignored her, turning to Mithras, who was staring at the whole scene in disbelief. “Now, my boy… It’s time we finish this once and for all…”

I agree…

Angra hastily took a few steps back, his eyes darting across the room, trying to locate where Gabrielle’s voice was coming from. “What the…”

A chuckle rang through his head, then he felt a burning on his chest. Looking down, he saw a light glow was eminating from a pendant hanging around the Chosen’s neck. Black eyes shot up at Mithras, who’s face was slowly creasing into a grin. “No…”
The god of justice laughed, then drew back his hand, opening his palm, where
a ball of light appeared. The young god aimed, then launched the light forward, watching it hit the glowing pendant, shattering in rays of bright white, that wrapped themselves around his Chosen’s body, capturing Angra’s essence.

“Not now! Not now I'm this close...” Angra struggled, trying desperately to crawl out of the bard, but found himself pinned in pace. He felt Gabrielle’s arm move without his consent, her fingers tightening around the daggerhilt that was still in her hand. “No!” He struglled, trying to regain control over the limb.

Pay backs are a bitch, aren’t they?

And with that Gabrielle forced the blade into her heart. The forcefield dissolved from around her instantly as the ground shook beneath their feet, walls shivering as a loud cry of pain filled the air. The flame on the altar shivered, then started to dwindle, sucking Angra’s essence out of Gabrielle’s body. The fire grew smaller and smaller, until it extinguished completely, leaving only burning embers, expelling a no more than an angry red glow.

The bard fell to the ground, grabbing for her chest as the echoes of Angra’s
screams faded, the blood staining her light tunic a deep crimson...


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