Dust flew in her eyes, forcing Gabrielle to close them. She dug her hands into Argos mane, leaning against the mares strong neck as they raced down the path, not really sure where she was going. When her vision cleared, Gabrielle chanced a glance behind her, unable to see anyone following.
She didnt sense anyone near and pulled back on Argos reigns, slowing her to a walk. The poor horse had built up a lather and Gabrielle gently patted her neck. "Thanks girl."
Argo snorted, nodding her head a few times. When her nostrils flare and her ears perked forward, Gabrielle brought her to a stop.
"What is it?" She was looking around, now able to sense someone near. She reached out and realized that whoever it was, was not her enemy. "Hello?"
"Gabrielle?" The voice was Eves and she was coming around a bend in the path. The dark-haired woman appeared moments later, rushing toward horse and rider.
Gabrielle leaped out of the saddle, barely keeping her footing when Eve gave her a fierce hug. "Whoa! Whats going on?"
"I was worried. We found your camp saw the blood... we werent sure."
"We?" Gabrielle looked around her to see Virgil ambling toward them. "Virgil!" She embraced her young friend. "What brings you two out here?"
Virgil offered her Xenas urn. "We heard you were looking for this."
She took it, cradling the urn against her chest. "How " she stopped, noticing the look on Virgils face. "Joxer."
"Yeah." The young man looked at the urn. "He came to me in Amphipolis and said to bring this to you."
"Thanks." Gabrielle carefully placed the urn in the saddlebag, her eyes checking down the path, just in case.
Eve followed her gaze. "Gabrielle, whats wrong?"
"Its hard to explain," she said. "Lets find a place to camp. Argo needs to rest."
She stepped back from the viewing pool and frowned. "I have to help them."
"You have to choose, first." The goddess crossed her arms and watched the tall, dark-haired woman pace back and forth. "Its not so hard, ya know. Be immortal, or go back to being mortal, or stay dead. Pick."
"It is not that easy, Aphrodite!" Ice-blue eyes flashed in anger at the goddess casual tone. "There are consequences "
"Ha! Consequences! Now you think about consequences?" Aphrodite strode over to the viewing pool, waved her hand across the water, and then stepped back. "Wanna see consequences?"
Cautiously, Xena returned to the viewing pool, peering into the black water until a very familiar image appeared.
The sun had already set, leaving just a tinge of orange hues behind it. Gabrielle was leaning against the Fountain of Strength, Xenas urn firmly clasped in her hands. Her voice was strangled and thick with emotion, "Xena."
Her gaze was set on the disappearing sun, tears streaking down her cheeks. With a strength that she obviously didnt feel, Gabrielle pushed away from the fountain, not daring to look back as she made her way down the mountain.
Xena watched as her soulmate paused beside the Samurai General who had killed her. Gabrielle gently felt for a pulse in the mans neck and grimaced when she did not find one. She slowly stood, tucked the urn closer to her body, and continued walking.
"She feels bad for killing him," Xena remarked. "Even though he killed me."
"She has a compassionate heart, Xena. Killing is hard for her, regardless of the reason."
Xena nodded, her attention drawn back to the pool as the scene changed.
Gabrielle was standing at the railing of a ship, silently watching another sunset. The absence of land led Xena to believe that this was about halfway through Gabrielles journey back to Greece.
"Im going to take you to Amphipolis, Xena. Just like I promised you. But I just dont think I can do this alone. I dont know how to be without you. It isnt like any of those brief times we were apartnot even when you went in search of Grin Hilda. I always knew that we would be together again that I would see you. Touch you. Now " she choked back a sob. "Now, my life is empty. My heart is heavy, my mind is reeling, and my soul is shattered. But if there is a way, I swear that I will find it. Ill bring you back, my friend. I promise."
She looked at the urn, so carefully cradled in her hands. A single tear fell from her eye and splashed upon the shiny, polished surface. "I love you, Xena. Forever." Slowly, the bard turned from the rail and made her way back to her cabin.
Black water slowly replaced the image.
Unchecked tears fell from Xenas eyes as she leaned against the pool. Her head lowered, she closed her eyes. "Shes not going to give up until she finds a way to bring me back."
"No, shes not." The goddess of love turned Xena so that their eyes met. "But you can do something about that. You can choose."
"But is it a choice I can live with? Condemning those souls?" she asked, for once considering the consequences of her decision.
"I cant answer that one, Warrior Babe." Aphrodite pointed toward an archway behind them.
Filled with a brilliant white light, Xena was unable to see into what was surely an entrance. "What is that?"
"Not what, but where. And you wont know until you go through it."
Xena stepped up to the archway, still unable to see the other side. "Why are you doing this, Aphrodite?"
"Because I cant stand to see Gabrielle in pain. Shes the only mortal I ever cared about." She paused before meeting Xenas curious gaze. "Shes my friend."
A smile edged its way to the corners of Xenas mouth. "Yeah. She does that to people."
"I know." She indicated the archway. "Through there youll find the answers you need to help you choose. I cant help you any more, Xena. Youre on your own. But remember, the choice you make has consequences. Okay?"
Xena nodded once, then stepped into the light.
Gabrielle sat across the fire from her companions, her arms wrapped around her bent legs, chin resting on her knees. She stared across the flames at the young couple; a smile crossing her face when she realized just how close their bedrolls had been placed.
After hearing about Hercules, both Virgil and Eve had eagerly offered to help rescue him. But Gabrielle knew that she would not be using either of them. There was no way she was going to risk their lives. She had dragged Hercules on this mission and she would be the one to fix it. She covered her mouth with the back of her hand, realizing how like Xena she sounded. Always ready to solve the worlds problems, alone.
Gabrielle lifted her gaze skyward, noting a familiar cluster of stars. "I still say it looks like a bear," she whispered. "Xena, I know you can hear me. Please, I need your help."
She had felt her soulmates presence, she was sure of it, yet no response came. Then another presence touched her senses and immediately she was on her feet, careful not to awaken her companions. If he was here, she didnt want them to know.
Sais clasped tightly in her hands, she made her way through the woods, toward the road.
He was standing there, beside his horse, his hands casually clasped behind his back. "Hello Gabrielle."
"Hercules." She stepped onto the road, warily looking around, making sure they were alone. "Why are you here?"
His laugh was light and not like anything Gabrielle had ever heard before. "Oh, I think you know why Im here."
He started toward her, but the bard held her ground. "Hercules wait! Youre not thinking clearly. That woman,"
"Owns my soul, Gabrielle." He held his hands out in front of himself, "And she asked me to bring you to her. I have to do what she asks."
"Dont make me fight you, please." She pleaded, slowly moving back and away from her camp.
"Just do what I tell you and there wont be any fighting." Hercules moved with a swiftness that startled her. He grabbed her right arm, ducking the blow from her left, and wrenching the right arm behind Gabrielles back. She lost her grip on the weapon in that hand, but managed to strike him in the head with the other one.
Dazed, Hercules released his hold enough for her to pull free. She scrambled away from him to re-group. She did not want to hurt her friend, but realized she was out of options. "Im sorry," she whispered.
He raised his head just in time to see the small woman flying at him, her boots connecting with his chest and sending him backwards and into a tree. He was stunned, but remained on his feet. Gabrielle jabbed his midsection several times with the sai, but to no avail. The rock solid flesh was not even bruised.
Hercules grabbed the sai from Gabrielle and tossed it to the ground. "No more games." His hand clamped down on her bicep and he dragged her toward his horse.
"Hercules " Gabrielle tried to pull away, but quickly realized the futility in it. Instead, she went back to the one thing that had never failed her. Talking. "Please, you have to listen to me. I dont know yet what shes done to you, Hercules, but you have to fight it! Were friends. I know you dont want to hurt me."
He paused to consider her words and for a moment, Gabrielle thought she had gotten through to him. But the hero shook his head; his eyes clouded over with whatever power that woman possessed.
"No, I dont want to hurt you, Gabrielle. Im just here to take you back to Lillith."
"What does Lillith want with me?"
"Dont know." There was just a hint of confusion in his voice.
Gabrielle pushed on, realizing that her words were affecting him. "Please, dont do this."
Was that regret she saw in his expression? "Its too late." He grasped her right arm, pulling her close.
Gabrielle tried to meet his eyes, but he looked away. "I wont fight you anymore," she said.
"But I will."
They both turned to find Eve standing behind them. Gabrielle held up her free hand. "No. I dont want him hurt. Hes under a spell."
"A spell I can break, Gabrielle." Eve sought eye contact with the legendary hero, her gaze never wavering from his almost gray eyes.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"My name," she took a few steps closer, never loosing eye contact, "is Eve."
Hercules shook his head, unable to break away from the womans intense gaze. There was something about her eyes. "We have to go."
Eve was almost within reaching distance and sensed his nervousness. "Please, dont go."
"I have to. Lillith is expecting us."
"Thats why she sent me." Eve took one last step forward.
"Lillith sent you?"
"Yes." Eve placed her palm flat against Hercules chest, directly above his heart. She could see the dark swirls working their way around the beating organ, filling it with hate. Her eyes closed as she uttered the words she hoped would save the man who had freed her mothers heart so many years ago. "In the name of Eli, and all the powers of Heaven, I command this evil be cast out!"
A brilliant white light enveloped Hercules and Gabrielle, seconds before their bodies were flung into the air.
Mist swirled and trailed each footstep as she moved across the wooden bridge. The teahouse was eerily quiet, beckoning her to enter. Xena hesitated only a moment before stepping through the doorway.
"Im here, Xena." Akemi, dressed in her traditional white robes, was standing beside the bathing tub. Her finger lazily traced circles in the dark water.
"Why am I here?" Xena demanded, walking toward her.
"You summoned me." Dark eyes looked up from behind thick lashes, beckoning Xena closer
Xena leaned forward, following Akemis gaze to the water. An image of Gabrielle appeared and the warrior prepared herself for the pain of another vision.
"No!" Gabrielle was running along a beach, the chakram in one hand and her sai in the other. Near the waters edge lay the body of a man. The bard threw herself to her knees beside him, dropping her weapons to cradle his head in her lap. "No!"
Xena flinched at the pain of that single word. Tears sprang to her eyes when she realized the man Gabrielle was holding was Hercules. "It cant be."
Akemi reached out to wipe the tears from Xenas cheek. "This has not yet happened."
"What? Youre telling me this is the future?"
"One possible future, yes. The future is not written, Xena." Akemi passed her hand over the water, allowing the scene to continue.
Gabrielle rose to her feet, her stomach stained with her friends blood, her hand clenched around her weapons again. "Show yourself!" She screamed. "Fight me!"
"Oh, my little Queen has lost her friend." Velasca appeared in front of Gabrielle, a satisfied smile on her face.
How in Tartarus had she escaped the lava? Xenas knuckles whitened from her grip on the edge of the tub as she continued to watch.
Gabrielle launched the chakram so fast that Velasca had no time to react. The weapon was imbedded squarely in Velascas chest, causing the Goddess of Chaos to stumble back a few steps. Her arms pin wheeled for balance as she screamed, "You bitch!"
Like a woman possessed, Gabrielle launched herself at Velasca, taking them both to the ground as she did. Velasca used their momentum to roll to the left, pinning Gabrielle beneath her. She pulled the chakram from her chest, watching as the wound healed itself. "Bad move, my Queen."
"Rot in Tartarus, Velasca." Gabrielle tried to dislodge herself, but did not have the strength. The fight was lost and the bard knew it. She lifted her chin, exposing her neck to her adversary. "Go on."
Velasca pressed the razor sharp edge of the weapon to Gabrielles tender flesh. "Ive waited a lifetime for this moment."
Gabrielle closed her eyes and waited for her chance to finally join her soulmate.
Velasca swiped the blade below Gabrielles chin, cleanly severing her head. The Goddess got to her feet, casually wiping the blood from her prize.
Xena fell to her knees beside the bathing tub and retched at the site of her lovers headless corpse. "Gabrielle " she nearly choked on the word, trying desperately to regain her composure. "Tell me tell me this hasnt happened."
A light touch on her shoulder made the warrior look up into Akemis compassionate gaze. "You can stop this."
"How?" she asked, willing to do anything to save Gabrielle.
"You must live."
"I cant. Those souls "
"Have been redeemed." Akemi helped Xena to her feet.
"But you said that I must stay dead for them to find peace." Xena pulled away from her, taking several steps away from the tub.
"Their deaths were accidental, Xena. You were responsible for them, but you never intended for them to die. You redeemed us all when you destroyed Yodoshi."
"You lied." The words came out in a harsh whisper. Xena narrowed ice blue eyes at the young woman who had once held her heart. "You lied."
"Yes, I lied." Akemi reached toward her, but Xena pulled away. Angry tears clouded Akemis vision.
"I wanted you to stay with me in Japa, but you didnt! You wouldnt leave her!"
"Of course not!" Xena shook her head, her anger growing with each word. "Akemi, shes my soulmate. I love her."
"You loved me once."
The truth of that hit Xena like a slap in the face. "And you betrayed that love betrayed my trust. Now Im dead "
"No youre not." Akemis voice was so soft that Xena almost didnt hear her."
"What do you mean?"
"Youre body was killed, Xena. But your soul is immortal. Aphrodite gave you a choice."
Xena nodded, understanding and accepting the truth. Without another word, the warrior started out of the teahouse and toward the archway.
"Xena wait!" Akemi watched her stop, but Xena did not turn around. "I love you. Im sorry."
Xena closed her eyes for a moment, shoving aside the hurt of those words. Ice blue eyes fixed on the solid white archway as strong, steady steps took her toward her destiny.
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