Summary: Gabrielle's untold experience during “The Deliverer.”
Chapter 1: Disturbance
Gabrielle awoke flailing. Clawing at the bedroll that had bunched up around her throat, she threw the covering off entirely on her way to sitting up.
The sardonic remark that had been bubbling in Xena’s mouth died on her tongue when her friend’s labored breaths turned to sobs. “Gabrielle? Gabrielle, what is it?”
Shaking her head, the bard slumped her face onto her knees and wrapped her arms around them. Tears dripped along her thighs and absorbed into her skirt.
“Gabrielle, what is it?” Xena asked once more, sitting up slowly so as not to startle the distraught blonde. A brief internal debate ended with her uncomfortably laying an arm over the girl’s shoulders. Physical affection still not her strong suit, she was never sure how to initiate it in such moments. She sighed when her friend flinched with a small gasp and curled tighter into herself. So, Xena lightly pushed her instead. “Hey, don’t blame me. I told you I shouldn’t be doing the cooking. You may have won a bet for once in our lives, but is this really a reward?” the dark-haired woman asked with a warm chuckle.
The bard sniffled and gave her friend a wan smile. “Yeah, no more cooking for you. I change my prize to that,” she said as she rested her temple on Xena’s shoulder.
“Works for me,” the warrior answered as she tried a second time to enfold the bard in comfort. Her spirits rose when Gabrielle snuggled closer to her. “I have a theory,” Xena announced a moment later.
“You?” the strawberry-blonde asked in a bid at her usual humor.
“Yeah, me. You’ll never guess what it is either.”
“What is it?”
“I think… that cheese is not a dinner food. That’s what’s been giving you these strange dreams.”
Gabrielle sighed though she tried to keep up her smile. “I told you, Xena. I have the gift of prophecy.”
“Is that so? Then how come whenever you pick where we set up camp or a watering spring, we go astray?”
“Because I’m not interpreting the signs,” she mumbled.
“And what are the signs?”
“I don’t know…”
Conversation dropped away then. The two friends sat side by side before the dying embers of their campfire. One looked inward, the other ever looking outward, watching, always watching. Neither one saw a thing.
Every few days for weeks on end, the same dream had been plaguing the young girl. In it, she stood in a circle of faceless people. The figure beside her, she could see no more clearly than the rest but was familiar to her somehow.
Like a friend, or maybe something more. Someone for whom her feelings extended beyond friendship, perhaps.
But it wasn’t Xena.
Gabrielle turned her head to admire, as ever, the warrior’s profile. A pale blue eye contrasted boldly with the dark orange sparks reflected on its surface; a proud cheekbone too stood at odds against the flames; raven locks of hair encircled the protrusion. Without thinking, Gabrielle reached out to smooth a few strands into place and so clear her view of the face she loved so much.
One jump set off another. “S-sorry!” she breathed while Xena muttered, “Hey!”
“Got you back,” the smaller of the pair said in a tired singsong before returning the push she had received.
“For what?” Xena tried to complain. Hearing the emerging smile in her dear friend’s voice made it difficult for her to truly be annoyed, however.
“Scaring me a moment ago,” Gabrielle responded in that low, husky tone she sometimes took on and that her companion enjoyed to no end.
“This is the thanks I get for trying to be comforting?” In a fit of feigned pique, Xena retracted her arm to cross it with the other. “Well, you won’t catch me doing that again!”
“Yes, I will,” Gabrielle answered in soft contentment.
A pause drew out between the pair.
“Yes, you will,” Xena grumbled back. “…But don’t go telling anyone.”
The blonde made a sound between a snort and a puff of air. She loved Xena’s childish side, finding the times it came out to play such a joy for some unplaceable reason. Perhaps it had to do with that side of Xena being something she only ever let Gabrielle see.
Her hero kept up the act as she keeled over, stiff spine to the bard and hard arms still crossed.
“Thank you, Xena,” Gabrielle whispered before lying back down beside her.
“Hmph,” was the only answer the woman gave. Still, she allowed semi-hesitant hands to turn her over. Xena smiled when a soft forehead pressed against her arm. The warrior lifted her opposite hand to ruffle the girl’s silken hair. “Good night, little one.”
“Good night, Xena.”
“Why don’t you try stabbing the one with the knife?” she asked seemingly out of nowhere in the morning.
Gabrielle snapped her head up to look Xena in the eyes. “What?” she asked, blinking as if clearing her vision would clear her mind.
“In your dream. That’s the only thing you haven’t tried, isn’t it?”
The bard shrugged half-heartedly.
“It’s true. You’ve watched the guy get stabbed, gotten stabbed yourself trying to run away, given the knife to him only to get yourself slashed in two when the girl takes up a sword instead; all that. At least keep hold of the knife so no one can use it against you.”
“I never said it was a man and a woman.” I didn’t know it was a man and a woman, Gabrielle thought to herself.
“It’s obvious; that’s the energy coming off them.”
Xena’s brow furrowed, and she looked back at Gabrielle just as intensely as Gabrielle was staring at her. “You told me.”
“No, I…” Gabrielle cocked her head to the side. It wasn’t the first time that she had gotten the feeling that her friend was psychic. Nor was it the first time that she and Xena had seemed to be able to read each other’s minds. No, it’s more than that. We clarify each other’s thoughts, brought a tiny smile to the girl’s lips. Then her own eyebrows furrowed, and she frowned. “I couldn’t stab anyone, Xena. It’s not in me.”
“It’s in everyone, Gabrielle.”
The bard shivered. Such was not her friend’s usual response by a long shot, quite the opposite, in fact. It sometimes seemed that Xena prized her companion’s blood innocence even more than the owner herself did.
“I’d want you to stab her if you were in that situation!” the warrior muttered as she looked down and got back to packing up their things. Through private pondering of her friend’s predicament, she had come to a reluctant realization: She would rather the girl be a living killer than a dead innocent, even in real life.
Gabrielle’s jaw dropped so hard, she actually took a step back to save her toes. I’m dreaming again.
“You’re not dreaming.”
A hot flash followed by a cold tingle washed over her for the innumerable time. “I-”
“Listen, Gabrielle, there’s something wrong with those people. I think they’re so blurry because the light you can find even in the darkest soul is not in them; they’re a danger to you!” Once more, the woman approached the girl to put an arm around her. She sighed when her friend did not return the gesture.
Nor did Gabrielle lift her head.
Still, Xena did not sense rejection from the blonde. “It’s just a dream, little one. We both know you’d never stab someone. I don’t doubt that for a second! But since we are talking about a dream, you can do things you wouldn’t normally do. Maybe this one is plaguing you so because you aren’t really facing it. Defeat the dream so it will go away.”
Gabrielle dug the end of her staff deeper into the ashes and twisted it harder. “Maybe you’re right…”
“Oh, wouldn’t that be the day?” The warrior put her hands on her hips and cocked one. Her right eyebrow followed suit.
Gabrielle’s mask-like smile could not get off the ground. “Yeah.”
Xena didn’t smile back.
Gabrielle scrambled bolt upright in a cold sweat yet again.
Xena groaned. “It’s worth a try, isn’t it? Then maybe we’ll both get some sleep,” came out more pointedly than intended.
The girl dropped her chin to her chest. “I’m sorry,” she whispered forlornly.
“Come ’ere.” Not waiting for a response, the warrior pulled the shaking bard onto herself.
Gabrielle snuggled even closer to her. “Th-”
“You’re welcome, little one.” Xena bent the arm under her friend and stroked her hair until her breathing eased.
Gabrielle fell asleep in record time. She did not awaken prematurely either.
Maybe you’re right…
Chapter 2: Deception
Gabrielle froze when she saw him.
The thin man looked so helpless staggering with his arms outstretched and hands tied in place. He cried out when he fell to his knees.
But Xena had kept walking.
I’m sorry, green-blue eyes told the prisoner, hoping to impart some measure of comfort upon him as their owner followed her hero with her mouth shut.
The words he spoke next would change Gabrielle’s life forever.
The bard leaned nearer to the man whose cause Xena had unilaterally pledged herself and Gabrielle to moments ago. “This one god of yours, does he have a name?”
“Yes, but we aren’t permitted to speak it…”
Gabrielle listened closely to the soft voice she was quickly growing fond of; the man’s peaceful presence reminded her of Perdicas. Too, he shared a common interest with Gabrielle that few other people in her life understood.
Her parents had never cared for the whys and hows of the world, nor did her sister Lila. The rest of their town was the same, with the village elders believing such things to be beyond a girl and so refusing to speak with Gabrielle about them. The only other person in Potadeia who wondered the way she did, Seraphin, had been too young for Gabrielle to share the burdens of her mind. Even Xena, her dearest friend in all the world, had no interest in philosophy.
Thoughts of the warrior had Gabrielle quickly wrapping up her conversation with Khrafstar. Xena had already mocked her musings and even whacked her once that day, and Gabrielle did not want to repeat the experience. Her gaze darted around for the woman who was bound to reappear at any moment.
“Okay,” Gabrielle assented upon Xena ordering her back below deck and then walking away from her without a backward glance. With a rueful shake of her head, the girl trudged down the steps. “You’re still mad at me.”
“About what?” that caramel voice asked her from the darkness when she got to the bottom.
“Oh! Sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” Avoiding her new friend’s gaze, the strawberry blonde blushed and said no more.
A shy smile glowed briefly in the torchlight before ducking back into the shadows. “Forgive me. It is not my place to pry, but you look so sad.” Consolingly, Khrafstar squeezed the bard’s arm. He turned over his own when he told her, “I just wish I could help you feel better like you’ve helped me. This trick you taught me is amazing! Thank you, Gabrielle.”
The girl could not help but smile at receiving genuine gratitude for the first time in a long time. “It’s n- I’m glad. Xena taught me.” Mild melancholy once more tinged her expression.
“She seems to have taught you many things.” Khrafstar’s tone gave off the impression that he did not think the evaluation to be positive.
Green-blue eyes lifted to search his questioningly.
“Some of her lessons trouble you,” the priest said in a way that was not a question but pressed his listener for an answer.
A pause drew out between the pair.
“Hey, are you hungry? There has to be something to eat on this ship, right?” Gabrielle tried to recapture some of her usual energy, swiveling her hips and lifting her arms in a grand gesture.
The man took a moment to stare deep into Gabrielle in the way she had thought only Xena could. “Famished,” he said at last. “But I hope they have something other than meat. I cannot abide by any sort of killing, even if it’s of an animal.” His lips curved when the bard spun away from him to avoid swooning at his feet.
“You must be careful, Gabrielle,” Khrafstar warned her hours later, staying hand still holding onto her upper arm.
Spots of shame burned in the bard’s cheeks. “I; I’m sorry… You must think me-”
“A spirited young girl.” The man allowed his visage to darken with anger. “I saw how that guard put his hands on you when we were captured—the one behind us meant to strike you!—and now Caesar-”
“I’m fine,” Gabrielle said quickly, casting the piece of apple the Roman had forced on her into the dirt.
Khrafstar responded to her obvious discomfort by changing the subject in her stead. “You said Xena would save us? You have great faith in her.”
“Even though her ways might lead you into- Hm…”
“Khrafstar, do you have faith in your god?”
Bright hair that shone in the firelight dipped down and jolted back up long after the crickets stopped chirping.
A male voice chuckled. “Rest now, Gabrielle.” It headed off her apology with, “It’s alright. We can talk more in the morning.”
Green-blue eyes looked longingly and doubtfully at the single bedroll by their feet. Uneasily, they flitted up to Khrafstar and then off into the distance.
The man smiled. “You take the bed. I’ll keep watch.”
“Gabrielle, you are exhausted. I’m not. Besides, I want to stay up and pray.”
“You’re sure?” the blonde asked even as she slid from the bench to her knees on the floor.
“Good night, Gabrielle.”
The girl smiled sleepily though her heart suddenly panged for Xena. “Good night,” she told both of her friends before lowering her eyelids over unshed tears.
“Well, that was quite the adventure, wasn’t it?” broke the tense silence the warrior had once again left in her wake.
Gabrielle turned toward Khrafstar, wondering if he was teasing her. “Yes, it was,” she agreed without inflection.
“Your Xena has quite a dramatic flair.”
Trying to laugh, she allowed, “Y-yeah. We have to work on our timing.”
“I wonder how long she was underfoot. It’s good she didn’t dally longer. A second more, and your legs might have been broken!”
The girl swallowed hard at hearing more of her doubts reflected back to her. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly until she could assert, “Xena would never let that happen.”
Hesitating for full effect before he came out with it, the priest argued, “Xena let you be crucified, Gabrielle. She allowed you to be captured and did not come looking for you. Instead, she went to the site of our execution ahead of us and waited there. …How incredible that she hid while we were being tied to those crosses and then lifted upon them!” he exclaimed in bewilderment.
“That- Xena-” But Gabrielle did not have an answer for the well-masked accusation, not one she could make peace with, anyway. She winced when Khrafstar spoke more of her mind for her.
“But perhaps our rescue was not her primary concern…” Amber eyes peered into hers as Khrafstar gently took her hand into his. “Perhaps we were mere props in her drama with Caesar. You are much more than a prop, Gabrielle.”
Wanting little more and little less than to be enveloped in the man’s warmth, Gabrielle felt the muscles of her shoulder harden. She smiled a bit misty-eyed when the man freed her with obvious reluctance. So, she sent her hand back to caress his cheek. “Khrafstar, you don’t know Xena like I do. She-”
“Is blinded by her hatred of Caesar. He is all she let you both talk about just now!” Her friend laid a hand over hers, holding it to his face with the emotion in his eyes rather than the strength of his arm. “Not once did she ask after your wellbeing or apologize for neglecting you. She even made you feel like you had to apologize to her when you did nothing wrong!”
“But I did do something wrong! I got myself captured- and I…” I disappointed her… I’m always slowing her down and getting in the way of her plans, pressed against the backs of her teeth. Chest tightening to the point of pain, the bard cried, “But Xena loves me!”
“Enough to put you first? To not put your danger herself? Gabrielle, the woman freed you from a cross by throwing daggers at you and knocking the wind out of you! She might have broken your legs herself, making you fall like that without untying your ankles. Then she left you gasping in the dirt!”
Gabrielle yanked her hand back as if burned and did not try to fill the gaping loss left in its place. “Caesar threw a spear at us! Xena saved us from him!”
“And once she had stopped it, what prevented her from going to you then? She taunted a man who had already lost rather than tend to you! I helped you up. Because I was not hurt. Boadicea’s army was able to get me down from my cross without all that …drama, and they are not even my friends!”
Flaring indignation gave Gabrielle strength to which she clung. “You mean Boadicea’s army who hid right alongside Xena? The one that left you hanging same as me to fight the Romans? At least Xena-”
Khrafstar held up his hands in surrender. “Forgive me. I …simply worry that your faith in her is misplaced, that she does not have your best interests at heart-”
“You don’t know her!” Frustrated by her dwindling reserve, the girl threw out a harsh rebuke in order to regain it. “Me either for that matter!”
The priest did not answer her in kind. “You are right. Forgive me. I can only comment on what I have seen. …But what I have seen concerns me greatly! I don’t like to see the people I care about mistreated. …Forgive me.”
“Xena doesn’t mistreat me,” sounded weak even to the girl’s own ears.
“And somehow, I have yet to see her treat you well,” she pretended not to hear at all.
“I’m sorry,” the pair said at the same time.
“No, I am the only one who should apologize,” the man said more firmly. “I spoke out of place. Worse, I upset you, and I regret that deeply.”
“You…” Gabrielle searched for the right words, “were just being a good friend.”
“I was trying to be,” Khrafstar said as he turned the girl’s face to his. “You are someone who is becoming dear to me, and I-”
“Thank you,” the bard intervened as she wrapped a hand around the man’s wrist and looked away from him once more. “Xena and I talked…” she offered after a moment.
Gabrielle smiled at her friend’s curly hair. “I think your god heard you. Xena told me that his temple has not been damaged. Too, our next course of action is to liberate it!”
Khrafstar beamed so brightly and looked at Gabrielle with such affection that she again had to join him in his happiness. “Truly, all my prayers have been answered.”
Chapter 3: Defilement
The sense of foreboding that had been licking at Gabrielle’s sides and mind since she entered the temple intensified. Scattered bits of darkness gathered into a haze that dulled her vision but sharpened her hearing the more the priestess spoke.
Her friend turned to her to offer her reassurance just in time, just as he often did. “It’s changed a lot!” he said to let her know he was with her.
Gabrielle tried to smile.
“But first, the door must be opened. The path of his arrival must be sanctified in blood. Pure blood. Innocent blood.”
Familiar satanic chanting assaulted the bard from all sides all at once. With it came brute grips that tore something precious from her for the untold time. Too, they drained her physical strength and mental clarity.
Dizziness revisiting her, Gabrielle twisted helplessly within an unclean grasp. “Let go of me!” In her peripheral vision, she saw a blur get tied to the altar of her nightmares. This can't be happening. It’s not real!
The bound figure screamed her name.
Color drained from the girl’s cheeks. He has a face! It’s Khrafstar. He’s-
“Defeat the dream so it will go away,” came to her across the span of space and time.
No! she sent back. Even in a dream, I cannot kill someone!
“You’re not dreaming.”
A ceremonial dagger, held aloft, glinted in the candlelight.
By the gods! She’s really going to stab him!
“I’d want you to stab her if you were in that situation!”
I- Inflicting as little damage as possible, Gabrielle stamped on the foot of each person holding her and elbowed them away one after the other. I can do this! she thought as she made a frantic leap onto the raised platform at the center of the temple’s main hall. Throwing out a hand to ward off the dagger, she caught it and hit Meridian once to fend her off too.
“At least keep hold of the knife so no one can use it against you.”
I will! I’ll free Khrafstar, and then we can get out of here! No one has to die!
Turning and evading the sword herself, Gabrielle knew that her new friend was still in danger. She had only freed one of his hands.
Hurry! Punch Meridian again and then-
The world ended.
Khrafstar, how could you? Gabrielle thought a second that seemed a lifetime later. She grabbed the man’s hand and yanked the knife out of Meridian’s waist as if the reversal of the action would undo it.
The woman smiled at her.
I-I did it! I saved her! Gabrielle tried with all her heart to believe even though she knew it was not true. Oh no! Fumbling numbly, she tried to ease the woman to the ground.
But the priestess fell too fast and slow to be helped. In the span of another eternal second, Meridian lay dead upon the floor.
Gabrielle instinctually tried to impart comfort to her by squeezing her hand.
That’s when she saw her own, covered in blood.
And it held the knife.
The world ended once more.
Dancing flames reflected in blood hypnotized her. The crimson liquid showed Gabrielle her past, present, and future and how they had all been ripped from her by her own hand.
Khrafstar gently took the weapon from the shaken girl.
Green-blue eyes snapped into focus. S-so it is in his hand. He did stab her…
But even through her confusion, she could see that her hands were the ones covered in blood, not his.
What did it mean?
“Thank you, Gabrielle…” The priest continued speaking, but the bard did not comprehend a word of his speech.
And yet, she understood each one perfectly. They all fit together in ways that made grammatical sense but could not be further from the truth. Little sounds of loss and pleading protest fell from her lips. No, no…
A terrible cry rent the world in two, and Gabrielle could not draw air into her lungs.
It was her own breath that had done it. Her life brought death.
And that which she had clung to as a lifeline, that which she had thought would be safest with her, had wrought irreparable destruction.
A second invisible dagger plunged into Gabrielle, doubling her over and almost making her collapse.
She tried to block out the sounds of her own scream but could not bring herself to let the stain upon her soul touch her anywhere else.
Khrafstar tilted the blade of the dagger up in front of the joining of his legs.
His congregation pressed in around them.
The chanting ceased.
In its absence, Gabrielle could breathe, but not. Think, but not.
Her body would not move of its own volition.
Many more hands than had restrained her lifetimes ago fell upon her. They were not rough, but they were hard. Six on each of her arms and legs and four under either of her sides lifted her onto the altar, minus the one that clamped over her mouth.
Khrafstar stood apart from the others.
Who would want to touch me? she wondered even as the sixteen hooded figures around her traced the outlines of her small frame with their palms and bared it with their fingers.
Half of the hands fell away from her. But two each held down every one of her limbs while the other eight tied her to the rough-hewn stone blocks beneath her.
They’re going to kill me! hit Gabrielle in a bolt of panic. Then she relaxed. So be it. Green-blue eyes slipped shut.
But the hands did nothing more to her. Having sheared and bound their true sacrificial lamb to the altar, Dahak’s followers fell back into their circle, took up their decorative rope, and began chanting once more.
So Khrafstar alone will kill me, Gabrielle’s lingering detachment gripped her in the hands’ stead. No! and This is right, warred within her soul. Let it be, the bard tried to still herself.
A cold touch to her cheek fluttered her eyes open. Khrafstar smiled down upon her, having poked her with the handle of the dagger.
The young girl sniffled when their eyes met. P-please, she voicelessly implored her friend, make it quick. Just end this, please. …Please don’t hurt me! she wanted and didn’t want to beg him.
“Oh, my dear, sweet child,” Khrafstar intoned in the warm way of his that held that new edge of teasing in it. “I will hurt you, and it will not be over quickly. There’s still much more to go, little one.”
Little one. The name Cyrene sometimes called her daughter and which Xena sometimes called her companion. Xena! Gabrielle sobbed. Please help me! If you really can read my mind, then hear me now! Pl- No. Staring past the priest, ocean eyes found Meridian. No, don’t come, Xena. Stay away. Save yourself from my shame. Those eyes closed in defeat just as they had on the cross.
“Such bravery, such sweetness,” Khrafstar complimented her in that mildly mocking way of his. His hand cupped her face as he had mimed doing shortly after taking the dagger from her.
Gabrielle cried out and flinched from his touch. It burned like fire. Drowning in shame and far past it, she choked, “Please! Don’t! Please, don’t!” She knew what he intended to do to her in an instant. B-but you’re my friend. …A-and I care for you. Please! I was trying to save you!
Smirking, Khrafstar turned away from her and restored the dagger to its chest.
Gabrielle’s breath caught in her own. Throat constricting to its tightest yet and mouth working uselessly, she begged for the opposite. No! Stab me! Stab me like I- Not- Plea- Don-
Deftly, Khrafstar leapt up onto the altar and knelt between parted legs.
The chanting around them grew louder, more intimidating, and more insistent.
“You have more innocence to give, Gabrielle.” Khrafstar lay his palms on her quivering thighs.
Gabrielle screamed as he burned her flesh without leaving a mark on it.
Following the path her tears had traveled several nights prior, Khrafstar dragged his hands up toward her hips.
The belated realization that she was no longer wearing a skirt nor any other scrap of clothing spurred Gabrielle’s mouth into action. “No! K-Khrafstar, you’re wrong! I’m not a virgin!” It wasn’t what she meant to say, but perhaps it could save her.
The admission gave the man pause. Sitting back on his heels and releasing the girl, he licked his lips. Amusement bubbled up within him. “You’re not?” he asked, his voice dripping with disbelief. Drool fell from his lips and sizzled Gabrielle’s fair skin.
“Aah! I’m not! I-I; I was married! I’ve been with my husband!” She didn’t know why she felt compelled to keep talking but hoped that the truth would somehow set her free. “We made love to each other! …Y-you’re too late.”
Khrafstar’s smile widened, deepened, and darkened. “Did you do it many times?” he asked to tease and test her.
Tears spilled down the sides of the girl’s face with a shake of her head. “No,” she forced out past the painful lump in her throat. “Just the once on our wedding night…” The impulse to fight the grief that threatened to consume her gave way to welcoming it, praying that it would take her before Khrafstar could.
“Oh, little lamb. The one god chose you perfectly.”
Shock broke through the haze and did away with the rest of the color in Gabrielle’s face. “Wh-what do you mean? I- have no more innocence to offer either one of you!”
“Oh, but you do. Holy matrimony does not count, little one. You are still as pure as freshly fallen snow,” Khrafstar reassured her in a manner that only increased her helpless terror. “Yes,” he drawled as he laid his right hand on the center of her bare chest, slapping his other hand over the joining of her legs a second later.
Gabrielle screamed in soundless pain for she could not breathe.
“You have been touched, but not like this. Ah, and you have felt vengeful hatred but not succumbed to it!” Khrafstar noted too as he saw into her heart— memories of Perdicas, Callisto, and Xena— and plundered it. “Yes!” he groaned again, rutting against his own heels. “No matter what, your goodness has always won out. Every part of your being and each decision you have ever made overflows with innocent love. You know nothing of darkness and evil.” His irises ignited with hellfire, and his voice dropped multiple octaves. “But that will change, Gabrielle. I do not love you. Soon, I will take everything from you. What I do to you will tear at your very soul, swallow your light whole. Your purity will be mine! Then we will present it to the great Dahak!”
The chant amplified to even greater heights and disorienting impact.
Gabrielle wailed a wordless cry.
Khrafstar hauled her hips onto his lap. His palms retraced her old trail of tears.
The sacrificial lamb fell silent as her battered heart broke at last. As if from Pandora’s box, her emotions fled from their ruined container. Her thoughts scattered from the scene of the crime too.
The priest swiftly pulled up his robe and the tunic under it. He wore no undergarments.
Gabrielle’s bare buttocks fell onto his thighs. Her chest heaved at the scalding contact. She arched her back as Khrafstar had done upon being tied down, but the ropes binding her ankles to the altar did not allow her to separate her body from his.
Khrafstar spread his legs abruptly, wrenching her wide open.
Then he set her alight with flames invisible to earthly eyes.
Chapter 4: Desecration
Pain like Gabrielle had never known burned her from within and without. Each powerful thrust from above and below her, all around her, ripped her apart and added to the unbearable heat charring her innermost being.
Khrafstar was not taking her in the way she had expected. His path deviated from the one Perdicas had followed to make them one.
The fact made Gabrielle both glad and sick.
Think and not. Feel and not.
Her frantic eyes saw everything and nothing as they darted between faces she could finally see in perfect clarity.
Not one helped her. Nor did they mock her.
The gathered onlookers did not defend her or curse her attacker. They simply watched and listened without missing a note of their Hellish song.
Gabrielle’s gladness fled. Unlike Pandora and the rest of the world, not even hope was left to her.
On and on, the assault continued. It seemed to have no end, and Gabrielle could not remember when it began.
Somewhere in the midst of it, the lesser followers of Dahak dropped the rope of rejoining and swarmed around her a second time. Many stroked her hair or face, her limbs or abdomen. Others seized upon her curves. Mouths alternated with the hands. Petting, squeezing, scratching, pinching, licking, kissing, suckling, nibbling, each cultist took a piece of the sacrifice for their own. They gave of themselves to her in return, for they too did not wear undergarments. While they corrupted the girl’s outsides, spreading their perverse pleasure over her skin, their leader worked to force himself inside of her through every possible avenue.
Khrafstar inserted his fingers into her ears to penetrate her mind. With his gaze, he broke through the pupils of her eyes to show her his true form and laughed at her surging fear. Smoke issued from his nose and mouth and pervaded into hers. Her airway seared from within while the scent of ashes filled her nostrils and acridity shrouded her tongue. Each one of her pores got infiltrated by darkness until it pulsated in her veins.
But still Gabrielle’s torture was not complete.
The demon tearing her in two pressed the elongating nails of his index fingers to her nipples and then skewered them to stimulate the milk ducts and glands behind them. “For what’s to come,” he murmured as he dipped a single silver claw into her navel to stir her innards too.
When the sacrifice unlocked her bulging jaw to shriek, several human fingers delved into her mouth. Black air plunged after them and disintegrated her meager breakfast within her belly. It also met the tip of its origin there, setting the organ off. Gabrielle gagged but could not vomit. Her heartbeat weakened further while her blood pressure dropped to almost nothing.
Thus, Khrafstar inhaled deeply, pulling his smoke back into himself. He also called off his fellow disciples. Then he waited. His face hovered over Gabrielle’s as he leered at her with glowing, paralyzing eyes and serrated, gleaming teeth. Deep, resonant chuckles rumbled from his chest and shook her to her core. The lingering scent and taste of him sickened her even more than that of her own cinders did. His crushing, blisteringly hot palms kneaded her breasts in time with the reprising evil melody.
Brimstone no longer melted Gabrielle’s lungs and brain, nor scorched her skin and internal passageways. And yet, she wished for its immaterial presence to reverse course. With each stuttered gasp of clean air she took, the more she felt and comprehended what was being done to her. That which she had not been able to perceive in her dream revealed itself to her with such lucidity that she could not bear it. But the girl could not close her eyes or cover her ears; her olfactory receptors and tastebuds could not be turned off any more than her nerve endings could.
The one consolation she had was that the supernatural smoke had removed the cultists’ poison. Maybe that means it’s over? Gabrielle’s spirits rose higher when Khrafstar withdrew his flaccid appendage from her body too.
Then he spoke to her. “You must be parched,” the monster teased. “Drink now.”
The omnipotent chant reached its crescendo as Khrafstar hit his third climax. With each wave that flooded his prey’s birth canal, sections of the ring of singers became incorporeal.
Newfound stillness squelched their voices.
Gabrielle’s was long gone.
“It is finished!” the priest called out as the last spurt of his seed contaminated her; his fellow disciples began to dissipate like smoke. “Spread the word that today the prophecy has been realized!” Then Khrafstar lay upon the girl to catch his breath, seeming to draw it from her singed lungs. He nuzzled the wet cheek beside his own and whispered into the ear connected to it after several long minutes. “You are the chosen one, Gabrielle. Great is your reward! It is written.” A second, more solid swell of brimstone emanated from his mouth as he spoke, wound itself into a noose around her neck.
The repeated threat to keep still and quiet continued to be needless.
Gabrielle did not try to move or make a sound but rather stared blankly up at the ceiling as she had been doing for an immeasurable span of time. A solitary sob made her shudder and then go still when Khrafstar pulled out of her for good.
The emptiness lasted only a moment.
Khrafstar pushed a smoldering finger into each of her tattered orifices in one movement. The narrow trickle of blood coming from between her legs stopped.
She did not thank him or even acknowledge what he had done.
“Blessed vessel,” he whispered as he caressed her sun-colored hair, “you glow with the fire of the one god, Gabrielle.” With the tenderness of a lover, he undid her bindings. He even pressed a soft kiss to the inside of each wrist and ankle as the ropes fell away.
Gabrielle gasped back to life and blinked up at him in confusion when he breathed hard into her mouth.
That too only existed for the length of a heartbeat.
Unquenchable hands descended on her supine figure once more, thus she mentally fled at once. Soft palms spiritually branded every last inch of her until there was no part of her they had not claimed. Khrafstar’s greedy eyes drank in the flush his calescent touch had wrought; his insatiable hunger for the sacrifice spiked yet again, and he ran his mouth over the expanse of her damp, reddened flesh as well. Certain parts of it, he gave special attention to until he could divest the girl of her one remaining shred of dignity. Then he drove his tongue deep inside of her to lap at it.
Horror like Gabrielle had never known washed over her. Rocked by shocks and aftershocks of physical pleasure, she panted for breath she could not draw. Her pulverized heart showed her Perdicas trying his best to bring her to such a state, only for his efforts to result in minor disappointment and embarrassment for the couple. A second time, her initial reaction of fending off reminiscence of her late husband shifted to pursuing the diversion.
\\The newlyweds hadn’t held the lack of success against each other. Neither one of them had truly expected her to find release her first time, especially since she had never explored for it on her own. Too, they thought they had all the time in the world to learn what would get her there, together.
Gabrielle hadn’t even given it much thought before Perdicas made it his mission. She had been satisfied by fulfilling him, and moreover, grateful that their joining had not hurt her.
Her wonderful husband had been as unfailingly gentle with her as ever throughout their lovemaking. Taking his time, Perdicas eased her into the act and moved with great care during it. He did not seek his own climax, though he achieved it, but focused on making his wife first feel relaxed and later good. Everything he did, he did with her understanding and consent. He accommodated her nonverbal signals at all times. And he, much more than she, rejoiced to discover no blood on their bed in the end. Doubting her chastity never crossed his mind. Nor did he attempt to force her body to follow his over the peak.
Instead, Perdicas had laid down beside Gabrielle at the first sign she wanted to stop trying and pulled her into his arms. Then he kissed her, pressing his lips to hers with reverence. He thanked and praised her, telling her how much he cherished her and how honored he was to be with her. Somehow, he loved her more than ever despite what she secretly took as shortcomings on her part, which in turn made her love him more.
Then disaster struck, much like it was doing in her present day.//
Corrosive shame stole over the devastated widow; the noose the demon had spoken over her drew tighter. Gabrielle could not breathe but also did not want to, begged her beloved to forgive her and not turn her away when she met him in Hades.
Khrafstar’s treachery had reached its full measure. He had taken an innocent’s own body from her. His methods even made it his ally, turned it against her too. Someone she thought of as a friend, one she betrayed herself and her convictions to save, had repaid her by maiming her mind, soul, and spirit, used all of her best qualities and abilities against her. He had even stolen her aspirations.
All Gabrielle was and had hoped to be had been sacrificed on that altar. How could she who had prided herself on being adept at reading people trust anyone ever again, least of all herself, after being so deeply deceived? How could the battling bard of Potadeia use her hard-won combat skills to defend herself or anyone else when doing so resulted in such horrific consequences, or even speak when the violation of her mouth made her want to never open it again? What could she write with hands that would be forever bloodied and tied to Hell? How could she find her way out the darkness when no light remained in her or anything around her?
There was little more that could happen to her, unless-
Even greater wretchedness slammed over the sacrifice. Would she bear the monster a child, when she had not been able to do so for her husband? No, that will never happen! It can’t! Tears cascaded into the girl’s mucked hair, burst forth as if from a dam in their attempt to cleanse her. In an instant, she knew the effort was no good. I’ll never be clean again. Wounded ocean eyes followed the cloaked figure as he moved around her to sift his silver claw through her burnished tresses and dissolve all trace of his parish from them. Why won’t you just kill me? she despaired. Please…
Lifting her from the altar and smiling at the small pool of virginal blood and other fluids left behind, Khrafstar set Gabrielle on her feet behind a pillar at the corner of the platform.
The broken girl could not stand, so the one who had shattered her braced her cringing form against himself with an arm across her back.
His opposite hand swooped down to grope her behind. The second hand soon joined the first and smeared the girl’s exposed flesh with her own blood. Blunting fingernails outlined where their owner had ravaged and pleasured her.
Gabrielle hiccuped a sob at the sensation, feeling bile and acid churn within her belly in response to it. Her muscles gave out entirely, and she slumped against the monster.
“I have defiled you in every way, Gabrielle. And you let me do it. Not once did you resist me. …You even enjoyed it!” Retrieving her clothing from the vase beside them and redressing her in it, Khrafstar gave the bard a sweet kiss to her lips. Against them, he whispered, “Xena will no longer love you if she learns of this.” Then his hands released her as violently as his thighs had parted hers.
Gabrielle fell to her knees on the cold hard floor, weeping anew. Her own hands went to straighten her clothing as if nothing had ever disturbed it but pulled up short; they were still stained. She could not even dry her tears. How- That is when she realized that she no longer felt any pain. What-
A shadow cast itself over her.
Another piercing shriek tore itself from her chest. “NO!” Again, she tried to shield herself with the blood of an innocent and hated herself for it. Her arms fell limply to her sides at once.
The beast crouching in front of her cupped her face between his palms and wiped her tears with his thumbs before stealing a final kiss from her. “Or she will ‘love’ you as I have,” he decreed with a derisive laugh. Then he stood and turned his back on his prey.
Uncontrollably, the girl heaved with the outpouring of her woe. But her frenzy abated with each step the monster took away from her, her recollections seeming to go with him.
“Look what you’ve done!” he indicted her moments later. Setting Meridian on the altar in Gabrielle’s place and thus baptizing the priestess with the blood of the true sacrifice, Khrafstar shouted, “Murderer!” before stalking out of the chamber.
Disembodied voices repeated the word over and over to Gabrielle, setting it to the same tune she had been forced to listen to for hours. The chant echoed ever louder until it seemed like the temple itself was accusing her and demanding her death.
The altar chanted loudest of all.
A dark spirit rose from it.
Meridian’s ghost walked to and through Gabrielle to join the circle of transparent hooded figures as their song crested.
Gabrielle did not scream or try to run away.
Instead, her own voice joined the chorus until she lost consciousness.
“Go now. Spread the word that today the prophecy has been realized!” Khrafstar’s honeyed voice whispered in her ear from afar and startled her awake.
The bard cried softly but moved to obey.
Free choice was no longer hers. It had not been for several lifetimes.
Chapter 5: Dissolution
Crawling on hands and knees, the young girl paused when she found her path blocked. Where had she been going? Had she been going somewhere? Was she retreating from something or chasing another? Had she ever not been alone?
A fragile mind cleared some as Gabrielle clambered onto her friend. “Mer- …Meridian,” was all she could say at first. And all she knew was that she had killed the priestess. She did not know the circumstances that prompted the unforgivable crime, just that she had committed it. Her guilt alone broke free of the jumble of her thoughts.
Murderer hissed into her ear once more and burned like rope around her neck.
But Xena refused to hear it.
I stabbed her! Isn’t that what you wanted? Gabrielle searched beloved blue eyes for support, approval, and understanding that she immediately hoped she would never find. Shame weighed on her heavier than a stone block from the altar beside them would.
Or maybe like something else.
But he was her friend.
But he hated her.
He had punished her!
Gabrielle gasped and cried out as she twisted away from him, desperate to escape her nightmare but knowing deep within her shredded soul that any attempt would be futile. No, no, no… Please! No more! Please! No! a chant of her own started up in her mind as she tried to retreat into blankness before the demon could pounce on her a second time.
Don’t let him, Xena. Please don’t let him!
As if in answer to her unvoiced prayer, Gabrielle felt the warrior draw her sword. The many hands that had held her still and mute fell to the floor under that shining blade, her beacon of hope. Xena… she murmured the name of her hero without breathing.
A spark of light rose within her chest and chased away the darkness pressing in on her, growing ever brighter the more she put her faith in her friend.
Then the altar caught fire.
Fire flowed like water down the platform steps toward the one it wanted to consume, cursed chanting following closely.
Unreality swept over Gabrielle like a fever. The body that no longer felt like her own barely cooperated with her sluggish will.
A tendril of flame grabbed hold of her along the double rope burn around her right ankle with the lash of a whip. Reawakened pain brought clarity to a fractured mind.
Gabrielle screamed and begged Xena for help. Panic billowed inside of her the closer she got to raging heatthat so reminded her of Khrafstar’s touch.
The altar exploded with the magnitude of her distress.
Hollowed, Gabrielle fell still and silent even as she was dragged the last few feet toward what was sure to be a horrific death.
Or had she died before ever reaching the temple? she wondered as her floating body got forced into the same position in which Caesar’s men had crucified her, and not how she had been bound by the cult. Maybe I lost my life on that hill this morning, and this is just a repeat of that awful dream…
It had been such a ludicrous rescue.
And Gabrielle could be happy if it didn’t happen.
If she died on her cross, then Xena had not allowed it to be put on it. Meridian was still alive! And Khrafstar never hurt her. The first priest of the one god was still her fast friend and even crush. Please let it be, Gabrielle tried with all her heart to manifest even though she knew it was not true.
Theflames cradling her gave precedent to ones swirling around her. Too, they began to feel like hot hands caressing every inch of her skin.
Green-blue eyes roved over the ceiling in hopes of locating the gateway through which their owner had broken away from her body while the cult took possession over it.
Gabrielle’s back arched sharply just as it had upon the altar. Not again! Gods, please!
I am here, an unfamiliar voice reassured her.
The young girl weakly gasped. Wh-who are you?
I am the one god. Do not be afraid. I have chosen you and bestowed my favor upon you. As if to prove his assertion, the scorching temperature enveloping the girl dropped to a comfortable warmth. It was never my will that you be harmed. I brought you into myself to protect you. The outside world cannot mark you here. Look now. Dahaklicked the blood from her hands. I make all things clean. In me, all impurities are burned away. His soundless voice became even more tender after a pause. If you wish it, my child, then I will remove the befoulment from the rest of your body too. And I can ease your pain. But I will not trespass against you like that false prophet did and led my errant flock to do. The decision is yours.
Gabrielle hesitated. Her higher mind told her that the god was deceiving her as Khrafstar had, subverting holy scripture in her favor, but the rest of her craved purification more than anything. And hadn’t he already done it? When he washed her of Meridian’s blood, the feeling hadn’t been painful or repulsive. P-please… make me clean.
Radiant light broke out in her mind. It shall be done. Dahak scanned the girl’s tense frame with a featherlight touch, eradicating the rest of the dried blood and saliva from her skin along the way. Blazing wrath emanated from him in a flash. That charlatan wounded you severely! His tone softened when Gabrielle gasped in terror. Oh, my precious child, there is no way to rid you of his influence without pain. Do you understand?
Tears welled in Gabrielle’s inner eye, and the spiritual noose still around her throat constricted her airway with greater force. I… Please-
I can restore you, dear one, if only you will allow it.
S-so be it.
Dahak’s flames entered her then. Under cover of cleaning her out, they fired the kiln of her womb from both sides to prepare it for conception.
Gabrielle grunted and threw her head back in breathless anguish.
I must draw out the poison, young one. Hold on.
Rebound from the focused beams of fire filled every bit of space within her caverns. Each internal injury Khrafstar had inflicted upon her ignited; the splatter of his essence sizzled until it evaporated from the swollen ridges of her insides. Additional flames wound around her chest area to begin passing specialized milk into her breasts and to enable them to produce more of the tailored sustenance on their own.
By the gods, this- No, don’t fight the pain. Relax so it will pass, the girl recited her mother’s old advice to herself.She gasped and then choked, convulsing, when a devil spike speared past her cervix to implant the god’s seed within her uterus. Not comprehending the meaning of the twinge but still afraid of it, she cried out, Wh-what are you doing? Khrafstar didn’t- H-he couldn’t-
Ssh. Hush now. My work in you is almost complete.
Please… Nausea rose in Gabrielle in a great wave. With no recourse against the terrible agony and emotional turmoil threatening to detonate her same as it had the altar, the living sacrifice detached from her body yet again. Thus, she felt the combatants below her draw each other’s blood before retreating from them too.
Dahak captured her drifting consciousness and confined it to her physical form. He used her breath against her in another major way. Fire rather than smoke hurtled into her nose and mouth, roasting not only her respiratory and cardiovascular systems, but her digestive tract as well. Quickening their natural processes with his unlimited thermal energy, the god infiltrated every cell Gabrielle possessed.
But still she did not die.
Blinded by the scorching of her eyes and deafened by the roaring in her ears, the girl turned to her hero for help.
Time passed differently beyond her prison. The images she caught showed Xena and The Deliverer alternately moving at warp speed or in slow motion.
Gabrielle did not know if the discrepancy stemmed from the flames or her own dwindling powers of observation. She did know that her situation was dire and so reached out in spirit for her friend. No! Please! she called with every bit of will left to her. Xena, leave him! Me, help me! Look at me! For once! …How long will you leave me here?
The warrior grinned at the monster Khrafstar had revealed himself to be. “Well, that answers one question. You can get hurt. You get pretty mad, too.”
Unanswered once more, heartbroken by her hero’s preference for taunting a foe over caring for her, Gabrielle sent out her most desperate, evocative plea. Xena. Xena, please help me. A sob caught in her throat. Please; this god, I think he’s… taking me too. Oh, please stop him!
Foul chuckles struck her in a full-bodied blow. She cannot help you, girl. For now, now you are truly mine. You invited me in, and forevermore, I will be a part of you. I am in every part of you!
The only effect his chosen one’s resulting cries had on the god was to remind him that he needed her to be amenable to his child in order to keep it safe until it could devour her whole and then set out to fulfill its father’s will. Thus, he lifted the vast majority of pain coursing through the girl as promised. No more are you sullied, Dahak told her in the kindly voice he had used with her earlier. Rest assured; the one responsible will be punished. He will not hurt you or anyone else again.
Gabrielle did not respond as she fell deeper into despondency and disorientation. Never again would she be a whole person. Though her body had been refined to unblemished state, her soul and spirit were blackened beyond recognition. Even old scars, seemingly erased by the god’s power, had simply been transplanted onto her metaphysical being. She would always be of two or more minds from that day forward. Her sense of self had been badly damaged, and purity, innocence, and light might never be hers again. The loss of her goodness would come later, time and again, in ever more devastating ways each time she lost a little bit more of it.
Leaving her dangling in semi-consciousness, Dahak returned his attention to other matters.
His faithless disciple, his very own Moses, had failed him in the end. By taking Gabrielle for himself, before an audience no less, Khrafstar bred doubts against his god’s lineage, Dahak’s ability to procreate without proxy. Too, the priest’s conceit from destroying the girl so completely had him blundering through his altercation with Xena.
No, you fool! It is not my will that Xena goes! Dahak had admonished him near the start of the fight. I desire her blood! Cover the sacrifice in it to consecrate her to me. Make her watch as you slit the warrior woman’s throat! The god corrected his priest more times before deeming him a lost cause.
Yes. His Deliverer, freshly tossed into his master, would not in fact deliver the prophesied child into the world. He could not protect it or give Gabrielle the necessary prenatal care to ensure it took after its father rather than its mother. Nor had Khrafstar extinguished the threat that Xena’s existence posed to it. The only thing he had done right was to lure Gabrielle into the ceremony. And even that success might yet be wasted.
Master! the vanquished demon screamed. Your plans can still work out! Don’t you see? Gabrielle will think that the child is mine! And she can convince Xena of the same! It’s one of her gifts! …Master, please! I did not defeat the warrior woman, but she can protect your child in my place! Gabrielle’s goodness will not allow the child to be harmed!
My child will be born in days and be fully grown in mere moons. There will be no doubt that she is not mortal.
Neither am I! I threw Xena across the temple without touching her! All I did to Gabrielle- I transformed before their very eyes! They will-
We shall see. But first you will suffer the consequences of your disobedience! Dahak withdrew his presence from the temple in order to deal with his servant. He considered immolating Gabrielle entirely, trying again with another vessel and Deliverer, and so removed his hands from the sacrifice to let her fall into him too.
But Xena caught the girl.
Dahak laughed and brought his temple down on the humans to see what they would do next. I should induct her into my order, he thought vaguely before moving on his disgraced Deliverer with a vengeance.
The priest’s howls could not drown out what Gabrielle said to Xena moments later.
“It hurts inside.”
Careful, girl, Dahak growled within her head.
Gabrielle winced at the painful invasion. Then her thoughts floundered.
The god showed her one of the memories Khrafstar had pilfered from her heart.
She saw Xena’s answer to her question about what it was like to kill someone for the first time and parroted it back to the warrior, trying and failing to keep the desolation out of her voice.
I am with you always, Dahak hissed, batting aside her weak protests and refutations. Who do you think sent you those ‘signs,’ little one?he all but spat in her mind’s eye. You will never be free from me even in your dreams.
Gabrielle clung to her hero as she began to cry disconsolately.
Return to the Academy