Disclaimer: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and any other characters or text mentioned from the original series are owned by Renaissance Pictures, Studio USA or whoever's in vogue today. No copyright infringement is intended. This is fan fiction just for fun. Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. Some of the characters may be theirs but the story is mine. Copyright Jul, 2001. Rev. 1a. Dec, 2001
Warning: Rated as adult material for violence and a loving relationship between two consenting adults. If you are easily offended please read something else.
Constructive comments and criticisms, good or bad are accepted. No Flames please.
Warning: If you haven't seen 'The Last Battleground: A Friend in Need' STOP! This story contains spoilers!
Email me at: email@example.com
Second Chance -Through the Eyes of Love
Gabrielle woke suddenly, as the image of a lonely figure, standing on the empty deck of a ship, faded from her mind. She lay rigid, helpless, shivering, and staring into the darkened room with wide frightened eyes, her heart pounding loud in her ears, her breath coming in gasps, and her hair plastered to her sweat soaked body. Only her long training under Xena's guidance and her momentary paralysis prevented her from screaming her fear. For a moment she was confused at the sudden change, then overwhelmingly relieved. Parts of the dream flashed before her eyes again and she knew it was no dream, but a vision and her relief turned to fear again. The stunning reality told her she had been in a trance, something she had done before but never for so long a time. She had seen everything that would happen in the next two days. She knew every detail of their fates, as seen mostly through Xena's eyes. Xena was going to die. She would kill Yodoshi. Because Xena and not Ghost Killer would end up killing Yodoshi, Xena would choose to stay dead to avenge the forty thousand souls of Higuchi. Gabrielle would fail in her mission to return Xena to life, because Xena would prevent her from doing so. Her soulmate would be gone and she would be alone.
Gabrielle lay as if paralyzed, unable to move, in sheer panic. She couldn't let that happen! Her mind was a chaos of panicked thoughts, interspersed with vivid visions from her dream. She couldn't think of anything except that she would lose Xena.
I will always love you, Gabrielle… She's alive! I can't take that… it's difficult to explain. You're dead! You must find her body, burn it, and take the ashes to the Fountain of Strength by sundown of the second day. Give me her head! No, Gabrielle. No. No. I have to stay dead. That's not right! I'll always be with you.
Repeatedly Xena's life played out in her mind's eye until she wanted to scream, but she lay silently staring into the darkness, with tears streaming from her eyes. Slowly she managed to gain control using the techniques Xena had taught her. She concentrated hard on calming her heart and breathing and bringing her chaotic thoughts under control. She had to find a way, there had to be a way. Xena had said to her many times, 'there are always options, Gabrielle.' She went over and over the dream, in her mind's eye and when the room began to lighten with the predawn brightness she knew what she had to do. She could not let Xena die. No matter what else happened she had to keep Xena alive.
She turned her head and lovingly looked at her beautiful soulmate in the predawn light. She smiled as a single tear dropped from her eye, and reached to pushed her hair back to clearly etch her lovely face in her mind and harden her resolve. She couldn't lose her. I love you, Xena. Please forgive me for what I must do, she thought. Then she closed her eyes and groaned, rolling over onto Xena, as if asleep.
Xena startled awake as Gabrielle rolled over on her. She looked down at the little blond and smiled, love shining from her eyes and softening the sadness on her face.
It started with that look. Gabrielle could see herself, in her mind's eye as Xena looked down at her. She turned to her and opened her eyes. It was like she was living the day over again, this time through her own eyes instead of Xena's, but she had hardened her heart and resolve so was able to make it through the nightmare of living part of this most fateful day over again. The disorientation of living the day through her own eyes, in reality, and Xena's eyes, in her mind was frightening, for she often found herself talking to herself while at the same time looking at Xena and talking with her voice!
Xena brushed her hair back and smiled at her. "Good morning, sleepyhead. Time to get up. We have a busy day ahead."
The spoken words were like an echo in her mind as each word, each motion, each emotion played back in her mind as it happened. She wanted to scream, but instead she smiled and stretched and spoke her part as if she were in a play she had memorized.
They went about their daily tasks and she walked through the day as if she were on a wire, guided by someone else, each word, each gesture put exactly in it's place, exactly when required.
She stood high on the wall overlooking the misty hills and valleys below, Xena by her side.
"Can you hear them?" Xena asked softly.
"I thought I heard a horse," she replied.
"Listen not just to the sounds, but to what's behind the sounds," Xena said.
She concentrated as she had in the dream and could hear them marching, hear the sounds of many horses, the creak of leather armor and the clank of metal, as the dream became reality.
"How many of them are there?" she asked, looking out at the white mists below that hid so many.
"At least three armies are gathering," Xena replied.
Gabrielle turned to her. "I'll warn the others." She turned and left, quickly locating the leaders and passing on the information, while Xena's meeting with Ghost Killer played over in her mind, then she turned back to begin her deception.
She cringed in fear as, in her mind, Ghost Killer said, "…only another ghost can get close enough to trap a spirit as mighty as Yodoshi." She was in time to watch, in fascinated horror, as Xena's expression and eyes hardened with her decision. Xena nodded to Ghost Killer and turned away.
Gabrielle waited until Xena was out of hearing, then she stepped out of the shadows. "Ghost Killer," she said, "we need to talk."
He walked to her and she took him into the shadows so they would be unseen.
After talking to Ghost killer she went about her duties hardly paying attention as the day played out before her and she played her part. Finally the time was near and in her mind Xena knelt in the temple, as she made her way to change their destiny.
"I know what I must do, but I'm afraid what is done this day, might not be undone," Xena said in sadness, in Gabrielle's mind.
Gabrielle turned the corner exactly on cue and entered the temple.
"Xena, the militia is ready," she paused. "Why aren't you ready?" she spoke her lines forcing herself to remain calm.
"Xena turned to her but stayed where she was. "Gabrielle, come here," she said, speaking softly. "Come here. Give me your hands." She took Gabrielle's hands and as Gabrielle knelt in front of her, she pressed her fingers into her own throat. "Feel the surge of blood under the skin," she said, her voice still soft.
"Xena, you don't have to do this. I understand why you never wanted to teach me the pinch," Gabrielle said.
"No. No, today, more than ever, I want you to know what I know." She pressed Gabrielle's fingers into her neck again then pushed hard. She went limp, holding on to Gabrielle's arms; blood trickled from her nose. A look of pure love brightened her face and eyes and softened her voice. "Gabrielle, if I only had thirty seconds to live, this is how I would want to spend them; looking into your eyes."
"Stop this!" she pleaded. "Stop it!"
"Always remember I love you," Xena said, then pressed Gabrielle's fingers into her neck and released the pinch. She coughed and leaned against Gabrielle for a moment.
"Xena, why are you doing this right now? I don't understand," she said in a pleading, frightened tone.
Xena looked back up at her and smiled. "There's nothing to understand. I just wanted you to know everything I know. Come on. We've got a battle to win." Xena started to rise.
"Xena?' Gabrielle said softly.
Xena looked into her eyes and saw deep sadness. "What is it Gabrielle?"
"I'm sorry, Xena," she said, with a quiver in her voice.
"For what, Gabriel…."
Gabrielle's finger struck her neck and she went limp and Gabrielle caught her. "I will always love you too, Xena. Forever."
Gabrielle gently lay her down, tears running from her eyes, but a look of determination set hard in place.
"Guards!" she shouted and four men came into the room. One carrying rope, two others carrying chains, and a third carrying a small bottle and a cloth.
"What are you doing, Gabrielle?" Xena asked, in a panic.
"Bind her!" Gabrielle said as she turned Xena over and pulled her hands behind her back.
"Gabrielle! Stop this!" Xena said.
Two warriors quickly bound her hands and feet then Gabrielle turned her back over and held a damp cloth over her face for a short time then released the pinch, returning the cloth to her face. Xena squirmed around trying to free her face from the awful smell but Gabrielle held the cloth firmly in place until Xena's struggles weakened, then removed the cloth and looked into her eyes.
"I'm sorry, Xena," she whispered so only Xena could hear. "I can't let you do what you're are planning."
Xena felt extremely weak but her mind was still clear.
"Gabrielle, stop this. I have to…"
"No, I won't let you. I know what will happen and I can't let you go through with it."
"No, Gabrielle! I…"
Gabrielle pressed her fingers to Xena's lips. "Please be quiet, my love. I don't have much time and I have some things to tell you. When you are released go with Sujimo, he will take you to me. When we meet again you must follow my instructions exactly or our mission to release the forty thousand souls will fail. Sujimo will ask a promise of you before releasing you. I have to go, Xena. I love you." She leaned down and kissed her soulmate gently on the lips, then sat back on her knees and picked up the bottle and cloth. She dampened the cloth again then turned back to Xena. "Remember, my love. You must do as I ask if we are to be together again." She lowered the cloth over Xena's face again and spoke to the guards. "Chain her."
"No, Gabrielle, no!" Xena said struggling frantically, but she was already too weak to do anything and the drug soon took her into deep sleep.
Gabrielle sat back looking down at her soulmate as the men gently wrapped her in several layers of chain, locking each one. She brushed her hair back and kissed her again. "Goodbye, my love. If this works we will be together again soon." With one last look she stood, looking to the guards.
"Sujimo, keep her here until the sun is an hour past noon, then tell her what I instructed you to say, release her, then take her to the pool."
Sujimo bowed to her. "I will do as you have instructed, Gabrielle."
"Thank you, my friend." She turned to the door. "Ghost Killer!" she said, and he entered, looking at her with concerned eyes.
"I have great concern for you, Gabrielle. Are you sure you can do this?"
"I will do what I have to. You just get to the Fountain of Strength and do as I asked. Be ready."
He bowed to her. "I prey that you know what you are doing, Gabrielle, but after hearing of your vision I can think of no other way."
"Then get started, with your escort. Mount Fuji is a long trip. If you start now you should be there in time," she said.
He bowed to her again. "I will see you there then." He turned from her and left.
For an instant Gabrielle felt guilty about deceiving Ghost Killer, telling him that, not only would he die, but Xena would die as well, without killing Yodoshi. She looked down at Xena again, and any regrets faded away. She stooped and picked up the sacred katana, replacing her own. She lay hers down beside Xena, and gently caressed her cheek, then stood and left the temple.
She had made her plans just as Xena had and now it was time to see if she was indeed the warrior Xena said she was. She still harbored her own doubts but she also believed Xena would not lie to her about something like that. While her armies moved to intercept the nonexistent warriors she had sent them after; she prepared herself for the battle of her life, for the most important thing in her life. She must not fail in her goals.
She closed her eyes and listened with every fiber of her being, not only to the sounds around her, but what was behind the sounds. A picture of the advancing armies came into her mind. She heard the marching warriors, by the hundreds, the sound of horses and their warriors, the creak of their leather, and the metallic clink of metal. She heard the groan and creak of loaded carts and pinpointed the wagon as a wheel splashed into a deep mud hole and shattered, rocking the heavily laden cart enough to dislodge several large earthen jars. She heard them tumble against each other and crash over the side of the wagon, dropping one by one, to the ground and shattering, splashing the volatile liquid over the muddy ground and the side of the cart. In the distance heavy drums began to keep a slow cadence to mark the beginning of the coming battle. It was time to begin.
Gabrielle did not have the chakram, because she knew without doubt that she could not control it while Xena lived. Instead she had built a small fire and, as the last jar shattered in the distance, she quickly launched three flaming arrows towards the target, then took cover behind a large boulder. Even so, the shock wave knocked her to the ground and she felt an intense wave of heat wash past her, setting several nearby fires, followed by a tremendous explosion.
She came off the ground, gathered her bow and the two heavily loaded quivers, and raced to her next destination. She raced up a partially fallen tree and flipped into the branches of a nearby tree. Time seemed to slow for her and every detail of everything around her was starkly clear to her, as if the world were moving in slow motion around her. As the warriors raced towards her she cut them down with a flurry of arrows fired as rapidly as she could draw her bow, each one unerringly finding its target and dropping the warriors in their tracks. When the arrows were gone, she came out of the trees and ran to her next objective as the heavy drums picked up speed in her ears.
The heavy drums stopped suddenly and she heard the creak and scrape as hundreds of bows were pulled, then the rush of wind, as racing black clouds of arrows swarmed towards her and landed around her, coming from all directions. She caught several and dodged many but she couldn't get them all. There were too many. An arrow struck her in the chest and skidded off her armor as another struck her in the back, also glancing away. Then she caught two arrows, dodging aside from a third, but not far enough. The arrow went through her shoulder at her neck and stuck in the tree behind her, pinning her.
She screamed, more in frustration than pain, as her growing battle frenzy blocked most of the pain. She reached up and snapped the shaft and pulled away from the tree. Another arrow went into her left leg and she dropped to the ground as two more struck her chest armor and glanced away. She snapped the shaft, got to her feet and headed for the wagon, arrows chasing her and whizzing by very close to her weaving body. In her mind she saw every step and every action as Xena limped to the overturned wagon, the dream laid over the reality before her. She dodged around the wagon as dozens of arrows thudded into the wood behind her, then they were coming towards her, thudding into the wagon all around her. One struck her in the right shoulder and another in the left while three more struck her full in the chest knocking her back against the wagon; all but one glanced off her armor. That one cut through her armor and into her left arm, but the armor prevented it from going very deep. She pulled it out and stood, as another struck her in the right thigh. She snapped it off and pulled the sacred katana.
"For you, Xena!" she screamed, and started towards the line of warriors, running towards her in what seemed like slow motion to her. A dozen more arrows were released at her, at short range, most hitting her armor, but two of them found her soft flesh below her armor bending her double while a third went deep into her chest where no armor covered her. With hardly a pause she pulled one from her stomach and broke off the other deeply imbedded one, then snapped off the one in her chest. As she stood back up another arrow went into her chest on her left side, just under her collarbone. She snapped it off and then she was among them. The sacred katana arced back and forth in a blinding blur, claiming the lives of every warrior that came within striking distance. She screamed her warrior's name, as her battle cry, seeing her in her minds eye. She had no time to think, she just acted and she cut through them at incredible speed while they seemed to move in slow motion. She could anticipate their every move and took out the greatest threat in each case before moving on. The blows that landed and the blades that cut her were only the ones that she had to accept to stop the deadly ones first. Soon she was covered in blood, most of it from the warriors dying around her but some of it her own, and still she fought on with undiminished strength and speed. Then suddenly she was clear of the swarm of warriors, their samurai leader standing before her with his katana ready to swing. She waited, but it was so very hard not to cut him down; to wait while his slow motion swing sent his blade through her neck.
Akemi knelt before her instrument gently stroking the strings. She felt a disturbance and looked up just as the sacred katana returned to its resting place. She turned to the sliding door as it opened, her heart full of joyful expectancy, but instead of seeing Xena enter, a beautiful green eyed blond stepped naked into the teahouse and was quickly wrapped in scarlet robes. Akemi's heart sank. She had failed. Xena had not returned with the sacred katana.
The blond looked down at herself and smiled then looked back up.
"Akemi?" she asked, softly.
Akemi bowed slightly, puzzled that this stranger should know her. "Yes. Who are you?"
"My name is Gabrielle," she said as she came forward and knelt in front of Akemi.
"Do I know you?" Akemi asked studying her features.
"No, but I have come in place of Xena." Gabrielle said.
"Why did Xena not come herself?" Akemi asked. "She is the only one…"
"No, Akemi. Xena would have failed." Gabrielle said.
"How could you know?" Akemi asked.
"I had a vision. Xena would have failed, but with her help, and yours, I have a chance."
The gentle tinkling of bells told Gabrielle what was to come as the three women bowed to the floor.
"We must talk later." Gabrielle said, then turned to await her new master.
Xena's eyes snapped open and locked on the man just moving away from her. Her muscles automatically reacted and she tried to grab him, but found she couldn't move. She heard chains rattle and remembered.
"Gabrielle!" she screamed, her dry throat protesting and emitting only a croaking cry.
"Xena, please calm yourself." Sujimo said. He stood over her holding a waterskin but afraid yet to approach her.
"Let me loose! Where's Gabrielle?" she said struggling futilely against the chains.
"Gabrielle has gone to lead our warriors against the enemy. A great battle has been in progress for some time."
"Cut me loose!" she growled in her most menacing voice, her features contorted in rage.
"I have been forbidden to remove your chains, until you promise to abide by Gabrielle's commands," Sujimo said. "Please. We have little time before we must leave to do her bidding."
Xena struggled a moment longer, knowing it was futile but needing an outlet for her rage and fear, then she settled down and glared at Sujimo.
"You must promise me that you will follow Gabrielle's instructions, Xena. Only then am I permitted to release you." He knelt next to her and held the waterskin where she could drink.
Xena stared at him for a moment in complete frustration. She had never felt so desperate or so helpless in her life. Finally she leaned forward and took a drink from the waterskin.
"Okay," she said calmly, "let me up."
"I must have your word, Xena," he said.
She growled deep in her throat, then said, "I promise."
"What do you promise, Xena?" he said and waited.
She studied him a moment, then sighed. "I promise to follow Gabrielle's instructions."
"Thank you, Xena. He motioned to another guard, who knelt and began unlocking her chains.
When the chains were released and the ropes cut he extended his hand and helped her into a sitting position, giving her the waterskin again. "When you are ready, we will leave," he said.
When she had finished drinking she dropped the waterskin and grabbed her samurai armor and the katana Gabrielle had left her, then stood.
"I'm ready," she said, "take me to Gabrielle, now!"
Sujimo bowed to her and turned to the door. She followed him into the afternoon sun.
Gabrielle and Akemi sat on the raised walkway, back to back, casting flower petals into the waters beneath them, talking quietly. Gabrielle told Akemi of her plans to help eliminate Yodoshi.
"You are watched, Gabrielle," Akemi said softly.
"I know, Akemi," she said, "I have foreseen that too. She is going to help us. I will be back soon." She gathered her feet under her and ran into the tea house, taking the sacred katana, then running out the back door and into the forest. She was amazed at how fast she could run, but she could also sense that she was being followed and smiled.
"Why have you stopped, Sujimo?" Xena asked.
They were deep in the forest beside a small pool of water with stepping stones across it.
"Gabrielle will meet you on the other side of this pool, in the little clearing. It is your destiny to meet her, not mine. My job is done," he said, bowing to her and backing away.
She turned to the rocks crossing the pool, and lightly but slowly crossed over, listening for any sound. She heard nothing but the trickle of water into the pool and the normal sounds of nature. She stepped cautiously back onto solid ground just as Gabrielle ran towards her through another opening, and stopped in front of her.
"Gabrielle!" she exclaimed and pulled her into a tight hug.
"Xena." Gabrielle whispered, holding her tightly.
Xena pushed her away and looked at her in confusion. "What are you doing here, Gabrielle? What's with the robes? Where's your armor?"
"Xena, I… it's um… hard to explain," Gabrielle said, her face saddening.
The color drained from Xena's features and she sagged as tears sprang into her eyes. Gabrielle caught her, looking deep into her tear filled eyes.
"No, Gabrielle. You can't be dead!" she moaned in a shaky voice.
"I'm sorry, Xena. There is no other way. I'm all right, really."
Xena sagged against her as her legs collapsed and Gabrielle helped her to sit down.
"No, Gabrielle! It wasn't supposed to be you! It was supposed to be me!" she cried in anguish, holding on to her frantically.
"Xena. No. It has to be me. I saw what happened. You failed Xena. I saw it."
"No, Gabrielle! No!"
"Yes, Xena," Gabrielle said a little harshly, shaking her. "I saw it! You failed, but I know what happens and I have a chance, where you didn't, but I need your help to get out of this one. I need you badly. Please, just listen to me."
Gabrielle placed her fingers on Xena's lips. "Just listen, Xena, please." She waited a moment, her heart torn by the pain she saw in her soulmate's eyes. "Please."
"All right," Xena said in a tiny voice.
Gabrielle took a deep breath and sighed. "Wait."
In a blur she turned and pushed the sacred katana through the body of the woman following her. She screamed and flashed into a bright light then was gone. Gabrielle reached down and picked up the ankle bells, putting them inside her robes, then turned back to a surprised Xena.
"I was being followed by Yodoshi's spy," Gabrielle said smiling. "Now I have a way of summoning him." She knelt back down in front of Xena. "I have something you must do for me, Xena. You must do it quickly or I am lost."
"Anything, Gabrielle. I will do anything to help you," Xena said.
"Good. You must find my body and burn it."
She held up her hands. "Let me finish," she said in a firm tone.
"All right," Xena said, tears dropping from her eyes again.
"Find my body. Burn it, then take the ashes to Mount Fuji. The Fountain of Strength is near the top, so you will have to hurry to get there in time. If I don't return to life by sunset tomorrow I will not be able to return. When we meet there, place my ashes in the waters of the Fountain of Strength. I will then be able to return to you."
Xena searched her eyes. "You promise me?" she said in a whisper. "Promise me you will return to me?"
"I promise," Gabrielle said.
Xena smiled weakly. "Then I'd better get started."
"One more thing, Xena," Gabrielle said as they stood.
"What's that?" Xena asked.
"Take the sacred katana to Mount Fuji with you. I will need it there." She handed it to Xena.
Xena looked at her doubtfully. "Are you sure you don't need it here?" she asked.
"I'm sure I need it on Mount Fuji." Gabrielle stepped forward and grasped the warrior by the cheeks and pulled her down into a tender kiss. She stepped back and smiled. "For luck. Go now. Hurry," she said and turned away to return to the teahouse, to prepare for her time to act.
Xena watched her disappear in fear that she would never see her again, then turned, crossed the pool and disappeared into the forest.
She left her horse at the edge of the forest and made her way into the compound. As the two guards passed her, in the rain sodden gloom of early evening, she stepped in behind them. They sensed something and started to turn but it was already too late. Xena struck before they were fully turned and they both slumped to the ground. She moved through the night like a shadow, making no sound, looking for Gabrielle's body. Lightening flashed and her heart froze at the horror before her. Her soulmate's naked headless body swung by the wrists in the rain sodden wind, arrows piercing her flesh. Xena dropped to her knees in front of her body, the rain pounding mercilessly at her face.
"No!!!!" she screamed into the night as the lightening flashed again and the body swung before her. "No!!!!" she buried her face in her shaking hands and sobbed uncontrollably.
She sensed the presence moving silently towards her and was instantly standing, facing the menace, the katana sliding into her hand without conscious thought.
A samurai warrior stood before her, his katana already drawn. He was smiling cruelly at her.
"Xena!" I was disappointed you sent your little friend against me, until I saw her fight. Then I knew, she was as great as the stories say you are, and I reveled in the thrill of defeating her. It is my greatest honor to have shortened her life. It will be an even greater honor to shorten yours. Your head shall take its place beside hers."
"I saw how you defeated her, on my way here!" Xena snarled. "You outnumbered her a thousand to one! You're not a great samurai, not even a good one. You couldn't have killed her unless she wanted you to!"
As she spoke they circled each other, their katanas at the ready, waiting to strike.
"You are a fool Xena. You should never have come here. Your death will strengthen my rule in the province. No one will dare defy me after I defeat you!"
Her senses were on full alert, listening to the sounds and what caused the sounds. She knew before he did when he would strike. She sensed his weight shift and she countered before his blade moved. She drove him into the mud and he dropped his katana.
He stayed on hands and knees waiting for the fatal blow from the katana he could feel at his neck.
"It was my greatest achievement to shorten your friend's life. If I cannot do the same to you please allow me an honorable death by striking my head from my body in one clean stroke," he asked, then moved his hair exposing his bare neck to her.
"You're a fake. You don't deserve an honorable death. Better you live with your shame, I think," she said and struck him a blow to the head with the hilt of her sword, knocking him unconscious.
She stood in the drizzling rain, the sacred katana at the ready, and looked to his army, lined up around her. They bowed to her then opened a path to his house. There on a small rain drenched table, just outside the entrance, she found Gabrielle's head. The agony of finding her soulmate in such a manner was almost unbearable. She gently placed her head in the small bag then returned to the wooden scaffold, hardly able to see through her tears and the rain. She cut Gabrielle's body down and broke off the arrows then gently wrapped her body and lay it over the saddle of her horse. Then she climbed into the saddle and walked the horse out through the main gates to the bows of the samurai warrior's soldiers.
She headed immediately towards Mount Fuji and rode until she was past the storm and into relatively dry forest. There she prepared a pyre and gently laid her soulmate's body on the logs. The haunting song she sang, while the pyre burned would be forever engraved in the memory of anyone within hearing of her voice. When the fire had cooled she gathered the ashes into the little urn then returned to her horse. She put her horse into a gallop and kept him there for as long as she dared. She must not fail Gabrielle.
Gabrielle looked to Akemi. "You understand what you have to do?"
"Yes, Gabrielle. We will not fail you, but you must know your trap will not stop him, even though the monk has prepared your weapons," she said.
"I know Akemi, but it may help to weaken him. Even a little could make all the difference."
Gabrielle took Akemi's soft hands in her own. "Thank you, Akemi. I will not forget you."
"I will not forget you either, Gabrielle," Akemi said, gently squeezing her hands. "I hope your plan works. Take good care of Xena. May you both live long and happy lives."
"Thank you Akemi. I'm sure we will meet again someday." She dropped her hands and stepped back. "Goodbye, Akemi."
The teahouse seemed to fade away and she was suddenly on Mount Fuji.
"Ghost Killer!" she shouted, then started to panic when there was no answer. "Ghost Killer!"
"Here, Gabrielle!" he said as he came out of the nearby trees.
She ran to him and hugged him. "You made it!"
"Yes, Gabrielle. We made it," he said, smiling at her.
"Did you get it?" she asked excitedly.
He held up a small jar and she reverently took it with slightly shaking hands. "How long will it last?" she asked him as she pulled the stopper.
"I'm not sure, but I think it will last until your energy is depleted in a battle and you need more. Hopefully it will be enough," he said. "Drink it down quickly before anything can go wrong!"
She put the bottle to her lips and drained more than half of it. It tasted just like cool clear spring water, nothing more. Suddenly a shiver ran thorough her very soul. She faded then returned, standing before him in her samurai armor.
He smiled. "It worked, Gabrielle. You are no longer under Yodoshi's control, but a true ghost. You can now fight him, but you must not kill him!"
She smiled looking down at herself. "I understand. Just be there when I need you," she said.
"I will be there. Just hold his attention long enough for me to get to him," he answered.
"What about the rest of the plan?" she asked.
"The other jar of water is hidden behind that rock, next to the fountain."
"Did you block the control so he can't turn the fountain on?" she asked.
"Yes, and the fountain has been dried, as you requested."
"Good. Then we wait," Gabrielle said. She turned back to face the fountain, seating herself on a rock ledge, while Ghost Killer disappeared back into the trees.
Xena had traded horses twice and made good time to Mount Fuji. She rode into the little valley below the summit, then heard the arrow coming. She flipped off the horse, landing on her feet, her katana automatically sliding into her hand, as her horse screamed and dropped with an arrow through its neck.
The samurai warrior stood a short distance away, his katana in his hand. "Good of you to stop and burn your little friend, Xena. It gave me a chance to get ahead of you. I will not allow you to return her to life! I demand you show me respect and fight me honorably!"
Xena's lip curled as she returned her katana to the scabbard. "I'll give you the same amount of respect you gave my friend!" she growled and tossed her chakram. It glanced off a stone ledge then sliced through his skull, bounced off another ledge, returning to her. He stood a moment, in shock, then his eyes glazed, his katana dropped, and he fell, lifeless to the ground.
She turned and Gabrielle stood there in full armor.
"Gabrielle!" she cried and ran to her, wrapping her in her arms.
Gabrielle laughed and pushed away from her. "Xena, you made it!"
"Of course I made it! You had doubts?" she asked, as she removed the sacred katana and passed it to her.
"No. No, I just didn't expect you so soon," Gabrielle said softly as she attached the scabbard to her belt.
"Well, I'm here, now let's get to this Fountain of Strength," Xena said, taking her arm.
"No, Xena. No. Not yet," Gabrielle said. "You have to hide. Yodoshi hasn't been here yet."
"No, Xena. Listen!" she said, gripping her arms firmly. Xena remained silent so she went on. "If Yodoshi knows you are here he can use you against me. You must hide, now."
"Now, Xena! Do as I say!" she shouted, in anger.
Xena was stunned at her tone, but could hear her fear under her anger and see it in her eyes. She dropped her eyes then looked back up at her, "All right, Gabrielle. I'll stay out of the way. Just finish this so we can be together again."
"All right, but stay hidden, no matter what happens, promise," Gabrielle said.
"I promise, Gabrielle. Just finish this and come back to me," she whispered as her forehead dropped to touch Gabrielle's.
Gabrielle smiled and gave her a quick kiss. "Just you be waiting," she said, then turned her around and smacked her on the backside. "Go. Out of sight. Quickly."
Xena broke into a jog for the trees and disappeared into them.
Okay Yodoshi, let's get this over with. She thought, as she walked back towards the fountain and returned to her rock to wait.
Akemi and Ayako prepared themselves and the trap. Finally they were ready.
"I'm afraid, Akemi," Ayako said.
Akemi took her hands. "So am I, but we must be brave. I would rather lose my soul to him, trying to stop him, than to live here forced to help him capture souls forever. It's a chance for all of us to be free."
Ayako nodded. "I know, but I'm still scared."
Akemi smiled at her. "Come, let us do what we must, and be frightened together."
They went to their places and Akemi stomped her foot to set the tiny bells ringing, then they dropped to their knees and bowed their heads to the floor, holding a tight hand clasp between them for mutual support.
They didn't have long to wait. The door blew in and a roaring tornado entered the room, then coalesced into Yodoshi. "Where are these souls?" he roared, then saw that no one was there, except two of his slaves.
Where's Miyuki? Where's my new whore, Gabrielle?" he roared.
Akemi pulled the trip wire and a dozen arrows came through the parchment walls from all directions, cutting into his body and passing through, leaving gaping wounds through him. He roared in pain and anger.
"You dare defy me! My own daughter!" he roared in rage. He blew an icy wind across them freezing them solid then sucked their souls into captivity with all the others.
He spun into a tornado again and rocketed through the roof in a flaming column, roaring his anger and pain.
She saw and heard him coming as a roaring fiery trail across the sky. The fire landed near the fountain and exploded, then coalesced into Yodoshi. Gouts of fire appeared and disappeared in his body and he strode to the fountain, pulling his sword. He reached to the golden disk, with the tip of his sword, only to find it blocked.
He roared his anger, stabbing at the obstacle in the keyhole.
Gabrielle got to her feet, swallowing the rest of the water in her jar, then pulling the sacred katana. "You're too late Yodoshi! It's blocked forever!" she shouted.
He whirled on her and laughed. "Come to me, little whore!" he beckoned.
She laughed at him and he roared his rage at her defiance.
"I'm not one of your little whores, Yodoshi. I'm your destroyer!"
He rocketed towards her in a ball of flame and she did the same, meeting him half way. Fire exploded over Mount Fuji, at their collision and they climbed high above the Fountain of Strength on a column of flame, then they were fighting high above the peak. Their swords flew and fire showered down over the peak. She cut him badly and he roared and sped away from her. She descended in a fountain of flame, until she touched the ground then returned to her own image, listening all around her for his next attack. She could hear Ghost Killer's heavy breathing and pounding heart as he waited for his chance to strike and Xena's even breathing, but fast beating heart, betraying her anxiety. All else was quiet. She shut out the sounds she could identify, even the sounds of her soulmate, though they comforted her.
She waited utterly silent, utterly still.
A faint sighing of the wind and she turned, ducking his sword, her own katana cutting deep into his arm, as he flew by. He skidded to a halt and turned to her, attacking in a rage, their blades flying in a blur. She fell back before his rage, closer and closer to the trees, then seemed to get her second wind as she stopped him and they circled until his back was to the trees.
"Time for you to join the others, little whore!" he roared at her and swung his blade in a mighty arc to take her head off. She ducked beneath it and her katana went into his chest as he overbalanced and stumbled towards her, impaling himself."
"No!!!!" Xena screamed, as he dropped to his knees.
Gabrielle was stunned. She had killed him! She was lost!
She felt Ghost Killer's rushing presence and heard him scream, "Out of the way, Gabrielle!"
Reflexively she was already moving and his sword raced by, cutting through her arm, then into Yodoshi's neck.
He dropped to the ground and his head rolled away, releasing the souls as Gabrielle dropped to her knees.
The souls swirled around her in glowing colors. One of them swirled up in front of her, laughing. "You have redeemed us, Gabrielle! You and Ghost Killer have redeemed us all!" Akemi said. They swirled around her and Ghost Killer in a rainbow of colors that became a pillar of scintillating colors rising into the sky, and then they were gone.
Xena dropped down in front of her, in a panic. "Gabrielle, we have to hurry! The sun is almost down!" She was frantic because Gabrielle seemed to be fading and her wounds were still evident. Her left arm hung by a thread and she held it to her with her right.
"I... can't... make it, Xena," she said in a faint voice.
"Damn you, Gabrielle! You promised me! Don't you give up now!" Xena screamed at her, pulling her to her feet. When Gabrielle collapsed Xena carried her the rest of the way to the fountain.
It was empty. Xena's heart sank. "Gabrielle!" she screamed in her face, but she didn't respond.
"Xena!" Ghost Killer called to her.
She looked up to see him crawling towards her. Yodoshi's sword had penetrated his side. "Behind you! Behind the rock! A small bottle!" he said.
She left Gabrielle slumped over the dry fountain and found the bottle.
"Pour the water on the ashes, Xena!" he said, collapsing to the ground.
She set the bottle down and carefully opened the jar, glancing over her shoulder. The sun was sliding behind the peaks. With shaking hands she set the ashes in the fountain and pulled the stopper from the bottle. She carefully poured the water over the ashes. Nothing happened. She frantically turned to look at the sun and as she moved aside the last rays of the setting sun fell on the water and ashes. A blinding flash of light knocked her away from the fountain. She scrambled to her feet trying to clear her vision. When it finally cleared she was in time to see the last little corner of the sun slide behind the mountain.
She looked frantically around. Gabrielle was laying on her back fully ten paces away from the fountain.
"Gabrielle!" she screamed and raced to her, dropping down beside her and gently pulling her into her lap. "Gabrielle, speak to me!" she pleaded.
Gabrielle jerked and her eyes flew open. "Xena!" she said, sounding frightened.
"I'm here, Gabrielle! I'm right here," she said caressing her cheek.
Gabrielle looked up at her and her eyes finally seemed to see her. "Am I dead?" she asked.
Xena lifted her and crushed her in a tight hug. "No! You did it, Gabrielle! You did it!" Xena cried in relief, hugging her tightly.
They both stood at the wheel as the ship left the dock, waving to the thousands of people who were cheering them and waving goodbye. The people of Higuchi had celebrated their heroes for nearly a week, giving them no rest. Both of them felt like they had consumed enough food and drink to last a lifetime. Their staunchest supporter had been Ghost Killer, though he had to be carried in a chair everywhere he went, due to his injuries. For a week they had tried to get away and for a week they had been ignored and taken to more festivities. The people of Higuchi begged them to stay but were finally convinced to let them leave, but only after promising they would return in two years. When they were ready to leave they were taken to the docks and presented with many fine gifts, including clothes, armor, weapons, matching golden war-horses, silver inlayed saddles and tack, and more gold than they could ever use. Most of the things they gratefully accepted, unable to refuse and insult their benefactors, then convinced the people to hold it for them, since they needed to travel light. After endless presents and speeches they were finally taken to their ship only to find that it was their ship, crew and all and being loaded with many of their gifts! They tried to refuse, but failed, as had happened with everything else, and now were setting to sea with a ship laden with more treasures than either of them had any desire or use for, and a crew of six good seaman to do their bidding.
When they were out of sight of the land they turned to look forward and Xena captured Gabrielle between herself and the wheel, looking over her shoulder and letting the wind blow her hair back.
"Gabrielle, what are we going to do with all this junk?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle shrugged. "Use some of it, get rid of the rest."
"You mean just dump it somewhere?" Xena asked.
"No. Let's just not worry about it. In two years we will be back in Higuchi. By then it will just be our stuff, instead of presents. We can use it to help the needy or something. Until then, let's just take it one day at a time, as we usually do."
"Good idea. My head hurts just thinking about all this stuff," Xena said.
Gabrielle sighed in contentment as she placed her hands over Xena's, on the wheel. "You know, I think I'm actually going to like this voyage," she said.
"Yeah," Xena said. "We'll take the long way."
"To where?" Gabrielle asked.
"Who cares, as long as we're together. Maybe Egypt. They probably still need a girl with a chakram," Xena said.
"Yeah," Gabrielle turned around and put her arms around Xena. "Speaking of together, we need to check out our cabin."
"Why? Are you tired?" Xena asked?
"No," Gabrielle said, looking up into Xena's sparkling blue eyes, with a slight smile on her face.
"Well, what's the rush? A cabin's a cabin, right?" she said, her eyes scanning the horizon.
"Yeah, I guess," Gabrielle said. She was silent studying Xena's face. After a short time she reached up and thumped her on the chin.
"Ouch! Hey! What was that for?" Xena complained.
"If you're gonna be that dense, you can't be the Captain. I'm taking over," Gabrielle said smiling.
"What? What are you talking about, Gabrielle?" she asked.
"Think about it, Xena," Gabrielle answered softly. She watched her eyes and chuckled when comprehension finally dawned.
"Oh," Xena said, looking sheepish.
"You've just been demoted, Captain," Gabrielle said, grinning.
"Aye, aye, Captain," Xena said, grinning back at her.
"To your quarters and no guff!" Gabrielle said.
Xena looked up and whistled then waved one of the men over. She handed him the wheel. "I'll be in my quarters, if you need me," she said.
"What? Oh, yeah," she said, at the look in Gabrielle's eyes. She turned back to the sailor giving him a threatening look. "Don't disturb me," she said.
"That's better," Gabrielle said. "Come along." She took Xena's hand and led her to the door, opened it and pushed her inside, planted her boot in her backside, then followed her in and closed the door.
"Hey! What was that for?" Xena complained loudly, her voice muffled by the closed door.
"Just to get your attention. Come here."
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