Xena, Gabrielle and any other characters featured in the actual TV series are copyrighted to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures; just borrowing for this story. The rest of the story and other characters are mine. Please contact me before using any of my stuff. Thanks.
SERIES DISCLAIMER: Even though you may want to read Sophia's Family, Sophia's Choice, Sins of the Father series and the Beginning Again Series to better understand these characters and the world that they live in, it is not necessary to understand this story.
SPOILERS: The Hope arc including "Family Affair" and "Successor".
TIMELINE DISCLAIMER: This story takes place about three years after X&G get married, about 8 months after “Penance”.
SUBTEXT: Xena and Gabrielle are in love, but nothing too graphic happens in this part of the story.
This story depicts scenes of physical violence and even death. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
Zeus looked down from Mt. Olympus at the dimensional doorway that stood in a clearing surrounded by heavy woods. Even though the portal was smaller than a pea, the King of the Gods knew that within weeks the portal would grow large, and there was nothing he or the other gods could do. The God of Thunder sighed and closed his eyes.
Hera walked into the Hall of the Gods, ignoring the pure white marble that adorned every inch of the walls, floor and columns. Instead she focused on her husband and shook her head. For days she watched as Zeus carefully monitored the portal. "Zeus, you have to tell the children."
Zeus spun around, "No, there must be something I can do."
Hera walked over to her husband and placed a gentle hand upon his shoulder, her normally cold ice-blue eyes becoming softer. "You know what the prophecy states."
"I know it all too well Hera. I had hoped that my first interpretation was correct." He turned his back to the Queen of the Gods and watched as the portal grew ever so slowly. "But it wasn't. And now it has come to this." He paused as he thought about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In all of eternity, the gods and their families have never been so close to one another, and now they may be ripped apart at the seams. "I may be the King of the Gods, but how do I tell my family the truth?"
"I don't know, but you have to tell them." She pointed to the portal. "He will destroy everything that we ever loved and created." Hera reached out and grabbed Zeus' hand. "We will tell them together. And maybe we can find a way out of this prophecy."
"Do you have any idea what this is about?"
The Goddess of the Hunt shook her head in response to Poseidon’s inquiry. "It must be something important though. He hasn't called us together in a long time."
"He hasn't had a need to call us." The God of the Seas glanced at his nephew, Ares. "It seems that we all have been behaving ourselves." It was then that the King and Queen of the gods appeared before their golden thrones. The other gods raced to their small silver thrones and waited for Zeus to speak.
As he sat on his throne, Zeus could feel the eyes of his children and family watching him. In the total silence, Zeus glanced over the assembly. "My family, I have something to tell you. As you know, we are not the only gods. And at times, we have had conflicts with the others. But I'm afraid we are about to have the hardest battle yet." Zeus looked over at his Queen. Hera gave him a small nod and squeezed his hand. "Dahok is coming."
"Again?" Ares smirked. "So how is he doing it this time? What dead person did he possess? Or did he impregnate someone else?"
Hera's ice-blue eyes stared down at her son. "Ares, this is no laughing matter. Dahok has found a way into this world, and we can't stop him this time."
Poseidon looked at his sister-in-law, alarm screaming from his eyes. "What are you saying Hera?"
"She is saying that we Gods cannot do anything about this." Zeus glanced at the other gods and waited until their eyes were on him. "I need to let the Fates tell you the rest." Zeus nodded at Hermes, and the winged-footed god instantly disappeared.
Within a matter of seconds, the Moirai appeared in the center of the white hall. All three wore similar brown cloaks and the same unemotional expressions on their faces, but each represented a different aspect of human time and life. The young girl, barely a teenager was Clotho-- the Fate of spinning the beginnings of a person’s life. Lachesis who was in charge of the challenges and changes all human life endured; looked like a middle-aged adult woman, while Atropos favored a very old woman, her hair silver grey and her flesh wrinkly. She was in charge of cutting the life string— thus ending his or hers life. All three eyed the gods as the gods watched them in silence, giving the three Fates their undivided attention. Even to the powerful gods, the Fates were beings who deserved the utmost respect and honor.
Clotho spoke first. "Almost three decades ago we received a prophecy. On that very night a child was born who unknowingly held the fate of the world in her hands...."
Lachesis continued. "....The time has come for the child to make a choice. Because of her actions, Dahok gained a foothold into this world. As Zeus has already told you, Dahok is now opening a portal into our world and will destroy it. She has the power to destroy the demon, if she so chooses. If the child makes the right choice, Dahok will be destroyed, but at a great cost. The child is the key; the key must be willing to die."
"So, we find this person, tell them that the world will be destroyed if Dahok gets through, make them a hero and that person dies. Sounds easy enough."
Atropos spoke. "Nothing is as easy as it seems Ares. The proper weapon must be secured."
Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalworking spoke up. "Whatever it is, I can make it."
Clotho shook her head. "This weapon is a dagger, a dagger as black and as cold as Dahok's heart. The dagger is located in the heart of a lava pit in his realm. And once more, immortal hands cannot reach it. The key is the only one who can get it."
Athena eyed the three Fates. "Obviously, we cannot do anything until we find this person. So who is it?"
Lachesis spoke. "A child of the light, a child of Love..."
"Oh please." Aphrodite rolled her eyes. "Will you three stop with your cryptic talk and give us a straight answer? Who is it?"
Zeus looked at Apollo with regret in his eyes and voice. "Gabrielle is the child of prophecy spoken in the scroll."
Gasps were quickly followed with utter silence. Apollo looked at his father. Zeus lowered his head. "No," the Sun God whispered, "not my child."
Hera glanced at her step-son. "Unfortunately it is true Apollo. Zeus and I have racked our minds trying to find a way to break this prophecy. But the dimensional doorway is opening. It won't be long until Dahok comes through that doorway."
"How much time do we have?" Athena asked.
Zeus looked up with concern in his eyes. "If the rate stays the same, we have a moon at the most."
"Then there is time for us to find another way. Fates, I need the scroll that contains the prophecy." She turned to Apollo. "I'll make sure that my best sages are working on this. There must be a way around this prophecy."
Apollo nodded. "I want a copy also. The more people we have working on this, the better our odds are."
The others nodded and requested their copies. Ares looked at Apollo. "Nothing like a crisis to bring us together, huh?" He walked up to his half-brother and gripped his shoulder in silent support.
Hera looked at the gathering and saw the look of determination in all their eyes. "You all have a week. If one of us cannot come up with an alternative solution, then we must tell Gabrielle."
Ares nodded. "You heard her people, we got one week. Let's do this."
Sophia stared at her reflection in the looking glass. "Impressive to say the least. Look out people, the wolf is on the loose." She glanced over her oiled black leathers and her red-silk lined black cape. As she ran her hands through her recently cropped ebony hair, she smiled. "It may be Dionysus' party, but I'll be the main event."
Sparkle and glitter filled the room as Aphrodite made her appearance. Sophia turned around and looked at her aunt. "You're here early."
"The party's canceled and you have an assignment to complete."
It was then that Sophia saw the seriousness on the goddess' face. "What's going on?"
Aphrodite handed Sophia the scroll. "Read this. I need you to come up with as many different interpretations as possible."
"You'll know as soon as you read it."
Sophia scanned the scroll until a word caught her eye: Deok. "Dahok" she whispered as her eyes raced back to the top of the page. She began to read the scroll out loud:
Time and time again
the great evil will appear
Taking different forms
The door will be opened
The door's key
will be cloaked
A child of light
An instrument of love
Darkness could not abide
A child will come
linking the two worlds
in an unholy alliance
the key that opened
can seal if Key chooses Death
Love's Sacrifice will be made
Dahok's Flames engulf the key
Spilt Darkness overtakes Life
Light and love will conquer
One life for all
If Key chooses Life
Death overtakes world
"Okay, so this is about Dahok. So what? This prophecy has already come true more than years ago."
"What do you mean?"
Sophia glanced down at the scroll. "Like many prophecies, a numeric value of some kind is present. Just off the top of my head, the number three seems important. The scroll seems to deal with three principal players: the Demon Dahok, Hope and the Destroyer. Of course Dahok is the darkness, Destroyer is the child that links both realms, and Hope is the key." When Sophia looked up at the goddess, she saw the confusion in her face. The guardian decided to further explain. "The key is a person cloaked as a child of light and love. What better way to cloak yourself than to look exactly like your mother; who is exactly those things. When Ares and Hope had a child together, that child linked both realities. When Gabby pushed Hope down the pit, everyone thought that she had died. But when she returned, she tried to take over Gabby's life, again cloaking herself. But by doing so, she sealed her fate. Xena discovered the truth of course, found the real Gabrielle, and the two of them destroyed both Hope and the Destroyer." The Guardian smiled. "Not bad for a quick glance, huh?" Sophia quickly wiped the smile from her face when she saw sadness shadowing the goddess' face.
"I wish that was true pookie, but we have learned differently." Aphrodite took the scroll from Sophia. "Dahok is opening a doorway from his dimension into ours."
"Hope wasn't the key. Gabrielle is."
Sophia shook her head in disbelief. "No, you’re wrong."
"Sophia, all the gods are working on this. But so far, we haven't come up with any other interpretation of this prophecy."
Sophia pointed to the scroll. "There has to be another person."
"Who else do you know that Dahok ripped the innocence from?"
"There has to be someone else."
Aphrodite opened the scroll. "The door's key will be cloaked, born a child of light, an instrument of love, darkness could not abide. And the key that opened will seal the door and love's Sacrifice will be made as Dahok's Flames engulf the key; spilt darkness overtakes Life..."
"I know what it says Aphrodite."
"Then you know the truth."
"It is a cryptic prophecy; it can be interpreted several ways."
"That is why I'm giving this to you. All the gods, including your father, have their best people working on this. And you are the best that I have."
The Guardian looked down at the scroll. "How much time do I have?"
"The gods are to meet again in one week. If we don't have a solid solution by then, we tell Gabrielle."
Sophia shook her head. In her mind, she saw the most important times in her, and she realized that Gabrielle and Xena were always a part of them. "So if I don't come up with something Gabrielle has to die? What do you think my sister is going to do when she hears about this?"
"Gabrielle does have a choice. She could say no."
"And what are the chances of that happening?" Sophia swiped her hand through her sable hair. "You know that Gabrielle won't sacrifice the greater good. There is no choice for her." Sophia reached out and grabbed the scroll. "I'm going to my room. I don't want to be disturbed for any reason. Send food and water and leave it outside my door. After five days, come and get me."
"But you have seven."
The Guardian stared intensely at the goddess. "If I can't find a solution in five days, then I want to be there for my family. Amazonia is two days ride from here."
"You have until the Sun's zenith on the seventh day. I'll take you to them."
Sophia nodded and rushed to her quarters with the scroll in hand.
Sophia and Aphrodite looked towards the borders of Amazonia. Sophia blinked back the tears as she prepared herself for what was coming.
Even without using her immortal powers, Aphrodite knew that her Guardian's heart was breaking. "Sophia," she tilted the woman's chin until their eyes met, "you did your best."
"But it wasn't good enough." Sophia cast her eyes toward her saddlebag that contained the scroll. "You would think that with all the gods and their sages, we would have found something." She looked back at the goddess. "Thanks for taking me to see the gods and for convincing them that I should break the news first. No telling what my sister would have done if she found all the Olympians in her hut."
"Knowing Xena, some of us would be wearing her chakram."
Sophia glanced and noticed the border patrol heading their way. "I guess it is time."
Aphrodite nodded and in a burst of light and glitter disappeared. Sophia sighed as she raised her arms over her head. "Hey guys."
"Sophia." Eponin wrapped her arms around her friend. "Long time no see. What brings you here?"
"I wanted to be with my family."
Eponin sensed that something was wrong. "Is everything all right?"
"I need to see them, that's all."
The Weapons Master knew something was up, but she also knew that she would find out in time. "Fine, I will escort you to their hut and you can wait there." Eponin motioned for the others to return to their duties and then guided the Guardian to the hut.
As she walked through the village, memories flooded Sophia's mind: Lila's rite, Xena and Gabrielle's wedding, and the unification of the Northern and Southern Tribes. Sophia quickly wiped a tear from her eye, hoping that no one noticed.
Eponin opened the hut's door and escorted Sophia inside. "Let me know if you need anything. They should be here soon." The Weapons Master exited, closing the door behind her.
Sophia scanned the hut, noticing the wall dedicated to the Queens of Amazonia. Each Queen had their weapon placed on the wall. She walked over to the wall, touching the area that would hold Gabrielle's weapon of choice after her death.
Not wanting to think about it, the Guardian turned and walked over to the pair of floor to ceiling cabinets made from cedar wood. She ran her hands over the intricate coil patterns, remembering the day that Xena had presented them to Gabrielle on their second anniversary. The cabinets were now home to Gabrielle's scrolls. *So many stories. And yet she still has so many stories that are yet to be told.* No matter how hard she tried, Sophia couldn't stop thinking about what she had to do. Sophia slammed her hand against one of the shelves. "Damn it!"
"What's wrong Sophia?" Xena looked at her half-sister with concern.
Sophia turned and gave a fake smile, realizing too late that she had an audience. "Nothing, just thinking about an assignment, that's all."
"So that's what's bothering you. Eponin said you were upset about something. You want to talk about it?"
"No, not yet." The Guardian walked over to Xena and gave her a hug. "I've rather think about something else for a while. Hey, where's Gabby?"
"She is still at a council meeting. She should be here soon." The Warrior Princess walked over to the table. "You want something to drink?"
"Sure." Sophia took the mug of port that the Warrior Princess offered. "Well since she isn't here just yet, that will give us time to catch up." The two women sat down at the table. "So what's been going on around here? How's the union going?"
"Actual that is going really well. Both tribes have adjusted well since Najara's death." A big booming smile appeared on the Warrior's face. "In fact things are going so well that..." A smile appeared on the Warrior’s face. “How do you feel about being called Aunt Sophie?"
Sophia's jaw nearly hit the table as panic filled her eyes. "Gabrielle isn't pregnant, is she?"
"Whoa, slow down Sophia. Neither one of us is pregnant; we are just talking about using the gift that Hera gave us. We wanted to wait until things settled down around here. What is wrong with you?" Hurt reflected in Xena's eyes. "I thought that you would be happy about this."
"I'm sorry Xena. I jumped to conclusions." She gently placed her hand over Xena's. "You know that I would be the happiest person alive if you two had kids. *If circumstances were different.*
Xena narrowed her eyes. "I feel a 'But' coming."
Sophia was saved by the opening of the front door. Gabrielle, Queen of the newly united Amazon Nation, strolled inside with her sister Lila closely on her heels, both women laughing. “Did you see the look on Chilipa’s face after you suggested…oh hi Sophia. What brings you here?”
Sophia lifted herself from the seat, and pulled Gabrielle into a fierce bear hug, barely being able to hold back the tears.
Gabrielle looked over her friend's shoulder to her wife, communicating with her telepathically. *What's wrong with Sophia?*
*I don't know Gabrielle, but something is wrong. Maybe she'll tell you.*
Gabrielle pulled herself away from the hug and looked at Sophia. "What's wrong Sophia?"
"Gabby, you need to sit down. You too Lila." The Bard walked over and sat next to her soul-mate, while Lila sat on the other side of Gabrielle.
The Warrior Princess stared intently at her half-sister. "Okay Sophia, what's up?"
Her voice was barely a whisper. "The gods are coming. Here. All of them. Probably tonight."
The only sign that showed that Xena was troubled was the tightening of her jaw. Even though she was related to the gods both by blood and marriage, she still did not like having them in their lives. "What's the game this time?"
"They're coming because of a prophecy." She looked straight at the Queen. "The prophecy has to do with Gabrielle."
Xena glanced at her consort, then back at Sophia. "What prophecy?"
Sophia recited the prophecy out loud. Gabrielle gasped when Dahok’s name came from Sophia’s lips. “Not again,” she whispered. Xena reached out and held the Queen’s hand, giving her comfort.
When she had finished, Sophia could see the fear and confusion in all their eyes. "Every one of the gods had their best sages Gabrielle is the key in the prophecy."
Lila stood up. "They're wrong."
"Lila, I've been working on this too. And I wanted to believe otherwise, but I can't..."
"How dare you!" Xena stood up; her cobalt eyes were aflame with anger. "You are my sister, and you come into our home with this garbage."
Gabrielle grabbed Xena's hand. "Please calm down, this won't get us anywhere." She turned her attention to Sophia. "How do you know I'm the key?"
"When I first received the scroll, I thought the key was Hope. After all, she was cloaked in your likeness, and for a time pretended to be you. And the Destroyer was a child of both Dahok's dimension and ours, through Ares. And since Hope kept proclaiming that she came to usher in a new era, with Dahok as King, it was not hard to think that she was the key. However, that theory leaves some very large holes."
"Like what?" Xena hoped that the information would lead her to a plan.
"The Fates received this prophecy on the day that Gabby was born. Plus, Gabrielle is the only one who can get the weapon that will destroy Dahok. Only a mortal who can withstand the heat of a lava pit can get to it. There is one more thing." She eyed the Amazon Queen. "Dahok is opening a dimensional doorway even as we speak. And it is opening much faster than we anticipated. Dahok will be able to come through within a few days at the most."
"If I am the key, why would he take the chance of coming?"
"If he has figured out that you are the key, he believes that you died when you and Hope fell. But it's more probable he made the same mistake that Zeus did, he misinterpreted the prophecy. He saw you as an innocent, someone he could manipulate and use for his selfish desire. He had no idea that you were Apollo's daughter-- a child of light; and that by impregnating you; he made Hope the child that linked both worlds. Without that knowledge, it is understandable why he was so quick to cut a deal with Ares. He needed Ares to help create the child that would link both worlds. He had no idea he had done it himself. If he believed that Hope was the key, with her dead and no chance of her coming back again, he is in the clear."
Xena could not believe what she was hearing. "Do you have this scroll with you?" When Sophia nodded, she reached out her hand, "Let me see it."
Sophia walked over to her saddlebag and brought out the scroll. Xena took the scroll, opened it and began to study it. "You said the Fates gave the gods this."
"Then we are going to the Fates."
The three women rode until they were just outside of Amazonia's borders. Sophia looked at her two companions. Gabrielle rode in complete silence while Xena had a look of sheer determination in her face. "Xena, it is going to take us at least four days to get there. Why don't you let me contact Aphrodite?"
"No, I have someone else in mind." Xena looked up towards the heavens. "Ares, your daughter calls you forth."
In a show of light and smoke, the God of War appeared. "Hello ladies." He walked over the small band. "Let me guess, Sophia has already told you."
"Yes, now I want you to take us to the Fates."
"Xena, we have already questioned them about the prophecy."
"Then the gods did not ask the right questions. You know as well as I that whatever the Fates say can't be taken at face value. We want to talk to them ourselves."
Ares sighed. "Fine, I'll take you there. And Gabrielle,” he turned his attention to the bard, "I know that we have had our differences in the past, but I truly do hope that Xena is right."
Gabrielle looked at the god and saw the sincerity on his face. "Thank you."
Ares nodded and within the blink of an eye, all four stood outside of the Fate's Cavern. Xena turned to Ares. "You stay outside, we can handle this alone." She and the others walked toward the opening.
Ares watched as Gabrielle and Sophia disappeared into the cave. It was then that he saw his elder daughter turn back to him. "Thanks," she stated before she too disappeared.
The three friends made their way down the long, dark and twisted tunnel until they entered the Fates' chambers. The three Fates stood in a semi-circle facing the Loom that threaded the Lines of Life. "Fates," Xena said, "we need to talk."
The Fates all turned toward their visitors. In their typical staggered pattern of speech they said, "We knew...you would come...to us."
"Then you know why we are here."
"Yes. Your past ...is haunting your present... and may destroy the future."
"May destroy the future? So Gabrielle may not be the key."
"She is the key Warrior Princess... That is in the past, it cannot be changed...Neither can the present."
"It is the future that we are concern with Fates." The Warrior Princess looked at Sophia. "Let me see the scroll again."
Sophia unrolled the scroll. "Xena, the prophecy is like a timeline, dealing with both the past and the future."
"Most of the lines are about my past."
"That's right, but the last ten are about the future." Xena took the opened scroll and studied it closer. "It is true, we can't change the past, but we can change the future. There is always more than one interpretation to these things." Suddenly Xena looked up at the Fates, with a gleam in her eye. She knew it was risky, but it was the only hope she had. "Tell me Fates, does Gabrielle have to die?"
"She has to make a choice...all lives for one or...one life for all....Only the key can destroy...only the key can make the choice."
Xena smiled when she realized that they didn't answer her question. "Thanks for your time." The Warrior Princess turned and walked out, with determination flowing from every pore. She knew what she had to do, and nothing was going to stop her.
Gabrielle looked up at Xena and recognized the grin. She watched her love leave, wondering just what Xena was up to. She looked over at Sophia. The Guardian shrugged, being just as confused as Gabrielle. Sophia looked at the last ten lines again. It was then that it hit her. "Gabrielle," she looked at her sister-in-law, "Xena is planning on sacrificing herself."
Sophia began to read out loud. "The key will close the door and Love's sacrifice will be made. The flames will engulf the key as spilt darkness takes life." She returned her gaze to Gabrielle, "Love's Sacrifice. She thinks that as Dahok is busy engulfing you with flames she can take on the spilt darkness, whatever that means."
Gabrielle raced out of the cavern. She finally caught up with the Warrior Princess at the entrance of the cave. The petite Queen grabbed her soul-mate by the wrist, causing the warrior to turn around. "You can't do this!"
Xena looked down at her wife. "You are not going to die. I won't let you." She began walking away.
"Xena if you think I'm going to let you sacrifice yourself for me think again. Besides the fact that I won't let you, you are not the key."
The Warrior Princess spun around. "If you think I'm going to stand around while the gods take you to your death, you're crazy."
Gabrielle slowly walked up to her soul mate, never once taking her eyes off of her. "Xena, it is my decision. You heard what the Fates said, one life for all. After all that you have taught me about the greater good, you think I can turn my back on the world now? My life isn't worth the entire world."
"It is to me." As tears streamed down her face, Xena embraced her wife. "Don't you know," she whispered, "that if you die, Celeste might as well come and get me too? I can't live without you."
"Don't you think I feel the same way? If you die, where would that leave me? Besides, you are a lot stronger than you realize."
"Only because I have you."
Gabrielle pulled away just enough to look into those cerulean eyes. "Do you remember what you told me when I was dying from that poison arrow in Thessalya? Not even death could separate us. And it won't. Not now, not ever. You will always have me." She leaned her head against Xena's shoulder. "Promise me that you won't come."
"No, don't ask that. We are at our strongest, at our best when we are together. I'm not going to let you face this alone. I'm going to be by your side. And there is nothing you can do about it."
*Oh yes there is.* As Gabrielle contemplated, Xena pulled away and looked at her, whispering, "Don't think about it."
"Using your powers on me."
"How did you know..."
"I know you."
"You sure do." They looked at each other and embraced again, realizing that this might be the last time they would ever do this. They were concentrating on each other so much, that they did not notice that two pairs of eyes were watching them.
Sophia looked at the Fates. *There must be another solution.* "Fates, show me Gabrielle's timeline." Without hesitation, the lifeline of her friend glowed. Sophia saw how at different periods, the line grew lighter or darker as it can into contact with other lifelines. The lifelines ran along side each other, all except for one exception. There was one line that intertwined with the bard's own. The two lines were wrapped so tightly that they looked like one line. "Let me guess, that one belongs to my sister." She smiled until she realized just how tightly they were wrapped together. "Fates, how can you cut one line without destroying the other?" When the Fates did not answer, the Guardian turned to face them. "Tell me, how you going to cut only one line?" Again, no answer.
Sophia ran out of the cave and daylight streamed into her eyes, she saw Gabrielle and Xena, whispering and holding on to one another, drawing strength from each other. It was then she realized the truth. "They can't." Tears flowed down from the Guardian's eyes as she felt the intense love flowing between her best friends.
Ares watched with interest the interchange between Gabrielle and Xena. Even though he could not hear the words, he could tell that they were intense. He then saw Sophia exiting from the cave. In a flash of light, he was by Sophia's side.
Ares watched as Sophia tried to hide the tears from him. "What did you find out?"
"Um, what we expected." She turned her line of vision upon the bard and the warrior. "Gabrielle is the key. She is the only one who can destroy Dahok."
"This means she has to die and Xena will not let that happen without a fight."
"You can't blame her. I wouldn't expect anything less."
Ares turned to his youngest daughter. "That is why you have to follow Xena every step of the way. You have to make sure that Xena doesn't interfere. Gabrielle has to do what she needs to do."
She turned towards him. "Ares, you are asking me to make sure that Gabrielle dies?"
"Yes." He looked at Sophia, and could see the anger in her eyes. "I know you think I'm being insensitive..."
"To say the least..."
"But you must remember that the whole world is at stake. Would you sacrifice the world, just to save one life?"
"No. This time you are right." She looked back at her family as the two walked slowly towards them. "Gabrielle has to do what she must. And I promise you that I won't let Xena do anything to stop her." She cocked her head towards the god. "So what do we do now?"
"I take you three back to the village and we wait there."
Lila stood in the middle of her hut and shook her head. "I don't want it." Lila backed away from the scroll that Gabrielle tried to hand her, "I don't want the Rite of Caste."
"Lila, please. Don't make this harder than it needs to be. You are next in line for the throne."
"I won't need this because you're coming back. You guys always find a way out of these types of jams."
Gabrielle smiled weakly. "We did, didn't we? But just in case," she laid the scroll down on the table.
Lila stared at the scroll. "You're not planning on coming back, are you?" She stood, waiting for an answer. But Gabrielle's silence said it all. As tears began to form in her eyes, Lila engulfed her sister in an embrace. "I'm not saying goodbye."
Gabrielle returned the hug. "Hey, everything will be all right." After a few moments, she pulled away from the Princess and wiped her eyes. "I better get back to Xena."
Lila nodded and watched as her sister left the hut.
Sophia sat on a chair, watching as Xena paced back and forth. "Xena, you need..."
"You don't know what I need."
Sophia stood up and grabbed her sister by the arm. "YOU NEED to support Gabrielle in this. She has enough on her mind, she doesn't need to be worried about what you are planning to do."
The Warrior Princess snatched her arm away. "My wife is planning on dying. So I'm sorry if I am not the picture perfect example of wifely support right now."
Sophia sighed. "I understand. But we need to focus and coordinate our actions once we cross the portal. Since the gods can't cross over, that leaves you, Gabrielle and me to go through the portal."
"Because I'm not going to let you two face this alone. You guys don't know what you are walking into. It could be a breeze, or you might have to fight tooth and nail all the way. Another warrior couldn't hurt."
Xena looked away and stared at the bookcases. "We only have been married for three years." She looked at her sister. "I had our whole lives planned out. By this time next year, we would have been parents. She would continue to rule the Amazons, and I would continue to train the future warriors and help the neighboring villages. About fifteen years from now, she would focus on writing and I would focus on my numerous aches and pains. Then once we were full of years, we would fall asleep in each others' arms and wake up in the fields." She glanced back at the scroll laden bookcases. "So much for dreams."
The Guardian took a step towards Xena. "When two people who share the same soul come together, it is the most wonderful and beautiful thing. You two have something so special and nothing; nothing will be able to destroy the bond that you two have as soul mates. Right now, both you and Gabby need to remember that fact. When she gets here, I want you to tell Gabby just how much you love her. And then tell her again and again and again. If you can, tell her about your dreams, make her a part of them here and now. And tell her again how much you love her. Okay?"
Xena smiled and nodded. "Nice plan. Now do you have a plan to get us out of this mess?"
"Trust me, I'm working on it." She walked over towards the door. "I'll see you later."
Xena sat down at the table and closed her eyes as her mind went over the now memorized scroll. *There has to be a way.* Then it clicked. *But will Sophia agree to it?* Before she could answer the question, the door opened and in walked her wife. She noticed the trail of tears on Gabrielle's face. Xena walked over to her wife and pulled her into her arms. "You okay?"
"It was a lot harder than I expected it to be. Lila refused the Rite."
"You should have let me come with you."
"I had to do this on my own. I wanted to tell her and to prepare her. But I realized that I'm not even prepared myself. There is so much...," sobs choked back her words.
Xena strengthen her embrace. "I know. There is so much I need to tell you." She leaned her head on top of the Bard's as she continued to speak. "I never knew the true power of love until you came into my life and taught me how to open my heart to it. No one has been able to touch my heart as you have and no one ever will. You are everything to me. I just wish I could let you see that."
Gabrielle looked at her wife. "I do see it every single day. Don't ever doubt that. Since the first day that you told me that you loved me, you have shown me just how true your love is. I have no regrets about the life we shared."
"No, we share. We share."
Gabrielle gave a weak smile. Not wanting to spend their last moments alone in disagreement, she slowly nodded. "We share."
As they continued to hold each other, a knock came from the door. Xena looked at Gabrielle. The Bard grabbed her hand and nodded. The both of them faced the door. "Come in."
Sophia opened the door and walked in. Following her was Hermes, the messenger of the gods.
Gabrielle looked around. "Where are the others?"
Sophia answered. "There’s a situation..."
Xena narrowed her eyes. "What type of situation?" After all they had been through, Xena didn't want them walking into another problem.
Hermes sighed. "It's your father-in-law."
Apollo stood outside of the portal, his bow drawn and aimed at its targets. "You are going to have to come through me first."
Poseidon shook his head. "Apollo, be reasonable. There's no way you can get us all." The Sea God looked at the others. Aphrodite, Athena, Zeus, Hera, Artemis, and Dionysus stood next to him, all of them watching Apollo closely. "Besides, we don't know if Gabrielle is going to do it."
Apollo sneered. "As if she has a choice. My daughter has always put the good of others before herself. Why should this time be any different? But I swear to you all, I will tear off all your heads before I let my child be sacrificed."
"That is Gabrielle's decision. Do you think that any of us wants this to happen? Gabrielle opened the door; she must be the one to close it."
"She was tricked!"
Artemis looked at her twin, tears rolling down her cheeks. She had shared his heartbreak when his son died and now she would have to share that heartbreak again. "It doesn't matter if Dahok tricked her, Gabrielle is still the key." She glanced at the arrow and bow. "Tell me Apollo, are you going to shoot your own daughter when she walks into the portal? Because that is the only way you are going to stop her."
Apollo's shoulder slumped as his resolve broke. He knew that there was nothing he could do to stop his daughter. He lowered his bow and arrow.
Within seconds, Ares, Sophia, Hermes, Gabrielle and Xena appeared. The five could feel the tension in the air as they saw Apollo standing in front of the portal facing the other gods.
Gabrielle walked slowly towards the Sun God. "Dad?"
Apollo smiled down at her. "If you don't mind, I like a word alone with my daughter." The other gods turned their backs and dispersed, giving the two some privacy.
Xena grabbed Sophia by the arm. "We need to talk." The Guardian nodded and followed Xena to a nearby tree. "Don't get in my way."
"Xena, I more than anyone else here knows how much you love her."
"Then you understand."
"I understand your desire. But if you haven't notice, everyone here loves her. Take a look around, no one is happy about this. But we know what must be done for the greater good."
Xena looked around and noticed the somber and sad faces of the gods. She knew that Sophia was right, but that fact didn't change her mind. "She is the other half of my soul. You can't stop me."
"So what are you going to do?"
"I can't tell you yet. But I will need your help." Xena held up her hand when she saw Sophia opening her mouth. "Before you say anything, I need for you to promise me something."
"What is it?" Sophia watched as the intensity grew in Xena's eyes.
"Take care of Gabrielle."
"Listen to me. When she and Hope fell into the lava pit, I didn't think twice. I crossed over into the land of the dead, and I had no intention of returning. I had to be with her. But she is stronger. When I had died, she kept her promise to me, she was able to go on; something always kept her going; whether it was protecting the Amazons from Velasca or protecting a village from slavers. She is strong. I need you to remind her of that." Xena took a deep breath and slowly exhaled. “I trust you with the most precious thing in my life. Don't let me down."
Sophia looked down and noticed the bracelet that Xena had made for her a few years ago. The bracelet was made from three straps of leather. The green and blue straps laid next to each other as a brown strap wrapped around the other two, holding them together. The bracelet was a symbol of the unique connection that the three women shared together. The Guardian had worn it proudly ever since she received it. Sophia grasped Xena's forearm. "I'll always look out for her, you have my word."
"You don't have to do this." Apollo gently caressed his daughter's face.
"Yes I do."
"We have fought the Titans, the Cyclops, and others. I don't see why we can't fight him."
"If I choose my life, he wins and I can't let that happen."
The God of Light pulled his daughter into his arms. "All those years ago, when I left you and your mother, I thought I would never again feel as much pain as I did that day. But I was wrong. Just when I've have you in my life, I have to let go again." He looked into Gabrielle's misty green eyes. "You just say the word, and we are out of here."
"Promise me something."
Hoping that she would take him up on his offer, he answered. "Anything."
"Take care of Xena for me."
Apollo embraced Gabrielle again, kissed her on top of her head and sighed. "As you wish." Apollo looked up and noticed Zeus coming towards them. "Zeus is coming."
"I guess it is time." Gabrielle turned and faced her grandfather. Within moments, Xena and Sophia were there by her side.
The King of the gods looked at the trio. His heart swelled with both pride and sadness, knowing that one of them would not return. "Gabrielle, I want you to know that if there was another way..."
"Save it Zeus," Xena interrupted. "Don't tell us how sorry you are or what has to be done. We know. Let's get this over with."
Zeus stared at the Warrior Princess. "You never did have any respect for us, not that I blame you." He returned his attention to his youngest grand-daughter. "Do you know what to do?"
"Go in, find the dagger, use it on Dahok and destroy him."
Zeus nodded. The King of the gods reached out with his hand and caressed Gabrielle's face. "Be successful." He and the gods watched as the three women walked through the portal.
As the three stepped through the seam, they noticed that they were walking through a tunnel made up of dazzling bolts of light and whirling winds. The tunnel was barely tall enough for Xena to stand straight and it was only wide enough for them to walk in a line. When they came to the end of the tunnel all they saw was sheer blackness, no light, and no path to follow-- nothing but the cold darkness.
Xena pulled out her sword and stuck the blade into the darkness. She and the others watched as the blade was instantly swallowed by the blackness, only to reappear as Xena pulled the sword back. Xena pulled and pushed the blade, feeling around for any sudden drops. Finding none, she turned to the others. "I guess we continue."
Each one entered the darkness, and each was blinded by it. "Xena?"
"I'm right in front of you Gabrielle."
The Amazon Queen reached out and let out a breath of relief as her hand came upon Xena's back.
The Warrior Princess reached around and took Gabrielle's hand. "Everyone stay close. Sophia, can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear. I'm behind Gabrielle, I think."
"Okay. Let's go."
As the three friends entered deeper into the darkness, a chill began to surface, clinging to their skin and working its way inward. Gabrielle recognized the chill, only one time before she had felt it:
She closed her eyes, feeling the flames as they lifted her over the pit. The flames licked at her skin, but instead of a burning sensation, all she felt was sensations of cold. And even though she couldn't move an inch as fear and flame held her in place, she could hear the sounds of battle as Xena fought with Khasafar.
Then she was falling. It was at that moment she found her voice again as she screamed. The next thing she remembered was Xena cradling her and the sheer coldness that invaded her body and spirit.
Xena felt the chill as it passed through her love's hand. "Everyone stop." She pulled Gabrielle closer. "Is everything okay?" she softly asked.
Even without seeing her face, Xena could hear that something was wrong. "Gabrielle."
The bard sighed. "It's the cold. It brought back a memory." She paused before continuing. "Britannia."
Xena embraced her wife and held her tightly. *Britannia, the place where the nightmare began. I couldn't protect you then, but I will now.*
Sophia stared straight ahead, not seeing a thing. When the moments of silence grew unbearable, she called out. "Xena? Gabrielle?"
"We're right here." Xena loosened her embrace, but kept Gabrielle close to her side. "Ready?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Ready."
"Let's do this."
Artemis stood and watched her brother as he stared helplessly at the portal entrance as if in a trance. Even though she loved her Chosen One and niece, the goddess knew that she could never fully understand the pain her twin was enduring at this moment. She slowly walked over to her twin. "Apollo..." The goddess opened her mouth, but nothing else came out. Every word seemed to stick in her throat.
Apollo eyed his twin sister. When he finally spoke, it was in a very controlled manner. "We are gods. We have all the power in the world. And yet, some things are beyond our control. With all the privileges, I finally realized what curse we carry." He turned away from Artemis and stared at the portal once more. "We will always outlive our children. If we are lucky, we'll see them live long and prosperous lives. But we will always lose them. And there is nothing we can do about that." The Sun god walked away from his sister, wanting to be alone.
Ares watched the scene unfold before his eyes. He walked up to Artemis. "How is he doing?"
"What do you care?"
"My children are in there as well Artemis. I can understand what he is going through, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."
Artemis glanced at her half-brother and saw the sincerity in his eyes. "I'm sorry Ares. Maybe you can talk to him."
The God of War nodded and walked up to his half-brother. "You know, you should be proud."
"What?" The sound of Ares' voice broke the Sun God's attention.
"Your daughter. You should be very proud of her. I've never known her to back down from a battle. True, she didn't fight her battles in conventional ways, but she still came out on top. You've done well with her."
Apollo smiled at the War God's words. Even though he and Ares had rarely seen eye to eye, he knew that Ares was trying. "You've haven't done so bad with your own."
Ares shook his head. "There is no way you can compare figs and dates. You have a relationship with yours. And you can be rest assured that your daughter is doing this for you as much as she is for the world or the greater good." Ares' voice grew softer. "Mine however see me as a necessary nuisance; someone they have to put up with. Your daughter has truly forgiven you and loves you. Mine....let's just say that mine still prefers calling me by my first name or by title. You are truly lucky Apollo."
As Apollo listened to Ares' words, he could have sworn he saw a flash of pain and guilt in the god's eyes. "Let me give you some advice Ares. I had to fight to build a relationship with my daughter. You have to do that also. And you have a much longer road then I did, but trust me, the fight will be worth it. Build a bridge with your two daughters Ares, before it is too late. If you don't, you will have all of eternity to regret it."
The bone-chilling darkness finally gave way to blistering heat. Gabrielle looked around at the boiling pools of lava and fire that were surrounded by massive rock formations and the various caves and tunnels that lined the wall ahead. "I guess this is the place."
Sophia wiped the sweat from her brow. "Yes, but there is no one here. We could be walking into a trap."
Xena looked at Sophia. "I don't think so. If what you said is true, Dahok thinks he is in the clear. There is no need for guards since Hope is dead and the key is the only one who can get the dagger. Finding the dagger is a little more complicated."
"Okay then, so which pool? There has to be dozens of them."
Xena looked around at the pools and rock formations. Finally, one caught her attention. "See that." She pointed to her left, "Those formations made a complete circle. I bet you that those formations surround a pool. And from the size of the formations, it is probably the largest pool here. My guess is that the dagger is in there."
The three crossed over the land bridges until they came to the bottom of the formation. Gabrielle pointed to a crack from where lava was flowing. "Looks like you were right Xena." She turned to her two companions and saw how the heat had affected them. Both of them had hair sticking to their flushed faces and sweat was pouring from them. She herself was unaffected by the tremendous heat. "You two stay here. Besides, I doubt if you can get any closer to the lava."
Concern flowed from Xena's expression. "You be careful."
"I will. You two stay out of trouble."
Sophia snickered. "Trouble? Us?"
Gabrielle shook her head and began climbing the formation. *Just don't look down.*
Xena and Sophia watched as the bard made her way up. "I hope she remembers not to look down."
"I take it that she still has her fear of heights."
Xena nodded, as she continued to watch her wife. When she saw Gabrielle safely reach the summit, she turned to her sister. "Now we wait."
"I hate waiting."
When Gabrielle looked over the summit, she was much relived to find the surface of the pool was only 45 hand lengths down from the summit. "Well, Gabrielle this is it. You said you wanted to change the world for the better. Here is your chance." When she finally made her way to the surface she stared at the molten rock and the waves of heat that rushed away from it. She took a deep breath and then dived into the lava pool.
As she swam through the orange liquid, she noticed the lack of activity. The only things in the pool beside her were the bubbles of gases making their way to the surface. Then she saw it.
The dagger was pure black and was located near the center of the pool. Gabrielle looked over, beside and under the dagger. It seemed to be suspended in the pool by an unknown and unseen force. She waved her hands all around the weapon, but found nothing.
Gabrielle decided to chance it and reached for the dagger. As soon as her fingers brushed against it, she pulled her hand away. The dagger was so cold, it burned. *What now?* She looked around, but found nothing. So she grabbed the end of her sleeve, wrapped it around her right hand and proceeded to pick up the knife.
She swam up, broke through to the surface and started to swim towards the rocky shoreline from whence she entered. She stopped and thought about the two who waited for her return. She knew Xena was planning on interfering in some shape or fashion. “I can’t let you do it Xena.” She looked once more to the summit, turned around and swam in the opposite direction.
"She's been gone for more than a candlemark." Sophia looked over at her sister. "Maybe we should go up there."
"We wouldn’t make it halfway up before the heat overtakes us. We have to be patient. Gabrielle will get the dagger."
"I know. I just hate waiting around. Besides, how do we know that Gabrielle isn't in trouble?"
"One, nothing can survive inside a lava pool. So we don't need to worry about monsters attacking Gabrielle inside the pool. Two, Gabrielle knows to look for traps and she knows how to avoid them. Three, when Gabrielle gets a thought inside her head, there is nothing, nothing that can stop her."
"And right now, she wants to get the dagger."
Xena nodded. "She has to be the most stubborn person I know."
"Well, she is one of two that I know." Sophia glared at the Warrior Princess. "But I'm not sure who is more pig-headed, you or her." Sophia tone became serious. "Are you still planning on interfering?"
"If she is still planning on sacrificing her life, then yes. I told you Sophia, I'm not going to let her die."
"Listen to me Xena. Gabrielle needs you. You two are true soul mates. What I'm trying to say is that death itself can't separate you two from each other."
A small smile lifted the corners of Xena's mouth. "You know, that is what Gabrielle said when we came out of the Fates' cave."
"Listen to your wife. She is a smart lady." The Guardian walked up to her sister. "You cannot interfere Xena."
"You can't stop me."
"You want to bet?" The Guardian watched as Xena stepped up to her. "Before you blow your top, let me tell you why. You don't meet the qualifications. You are not a child of light. You have not rejected the darkness; it is a part of you and is as natural to you as breathing and fighting. That is who you are and you can't change that."
"I have a solution for that."
"Really?" Curiosity got the best of Sophia. "So how are you getting around that detail?"
"You are going to help me."
"I am? How?"
"By taking my darkness." Xena watched as her sister shook her head. "Listen, you have that power. You can take all my darkness, thereby making me a being of light. Then I save Gabrielle."
"And I become a raving lunatic."
"Only until you get back to Ares." She placed her hand on Sophia's shoulder. "Remember your promise to me."
Sophia's eyes narrowed. "That, Xena, was a low blow. I promised to take care of Gabrielle after your death, not to help you to yours. Besides, there is another reason why I can't let you do this." She prepared herself for the blow she knew Xena would throw. "I promised Ares that I wouldn't let you sacrifice yourself."
Xena growled, "You what?"
"You heard me."
"So how are going to keep your promise to me and to Ares?" When the Guardian didn't answer, she continued. "Well, it looks like you are going to have to choose-- Him or me."
"It is not that simple."
"Yes it is. Him or me. Your choice." Xena took a step toward the Guardian. "Now."
Sophia’s jaw tightened in anger and frustration. “I don’t believe you. You are asking me to choose between you and Ares?”
Xena looked at her sister, her gaze softening. “You’re right. I shouldn’t ask you to choose between Ares and me.” Xena placed her hand on the Guardian’s shoulder and lightly gripped it. I’m asking you to choose Gabrielle.”
Confusion covered Sophia’s features. “What?”
“You have always loved her. Don’t deny it. You want her to live just as much as I do.”
“I never denied that. But we can’t deny that she is the key. There’s nothing you or I can do about that.”
Unshed tears formed in Xena’s eyes. “She is my wife. I will do whatever it takes to save her, protect her. You are my sister. You will take my darkness. You will be there for her after I’m gone.” Xena turned and began to walk away from her half-sister.
“Xena!” The warrior stopped but did not turn around. Sophia sighed. "Xena, there is no choice. You know I'll help you in anyway that I can." She stuck out her arm, offering it to Xena.
Xena looked at her sister and without saying a word; she grasped the Guardian's forearm, knowing that Sophia would be true to her word.
Gabrielle reached the bottom of the formation. She looked at the many land bridges and caverns in front of her. *Which way?* Gabrielle closed her eyes and focused her thoughts towards the cavern on the far right. "No one’s there.” She turned her attention to the next one. "There are two people in the next and five more two caverns down."
The strain in Gabrielle's face appeared as she tried to concentrate on the fourth cavern. Gabrielle's knees buckled. “I guess I should have developed that particular skill more, huh?" Knowing it would be easier to deal with 2 enemies instead of 5, she placed dagger within her right boot, next to her sai and headed for that cavern.
Xena narrowed her eyes as a tiny twitch filled her body.
“What’s wrong Xena?”
“It’s Gabrielle.” Xena started to head up the formation, but stopped. “She wouldn’t…”
Xena started to run around the base of the formation. “She went after Dahok without us.”
Sophia caught up with the Warrior. “How do you know?”
“I get this feeling whenever Gabrielle’s in trouble. Call it a sixth sense. Besides, I felt her mind touch mine.”
“If she took off Dahok without us, why would she contact you?”
“She didn’t mean for it to happen. Gabrielle must have lost control for a split second.”
By the time they reached the other side of the formation, there was no trace of Gabrielle. Both women looked at all the caverns.
“Which one?” Sophia watched her sibling as Xena slowly walked forward.
The Warrior Princess narrowed her eyes as she focused. “This way.” She took off into a cavern.
Sophia shook her head, amazed at the connection between The Bard and the Warrior.
Gabrielle walked through the passageway until she could sense the presence of one of the guards. She quickly hid in a niche in the cavern wall. As the guard walked passed her, she took control of his mind.
*Come here now.* The guard stopped, turned to his left, and walked until he was standing right in front of her.
“I need to know how to get to Dahok.”
The guard stared blankly at her. “There are many ways to get to the Master’s inner sanctum.”
“I don’t need to know all the ways. I want the straightest route to get to him from here.”
“Keep going down this corridor about 75 paces. This corridor splits into two. Stay to the right. About 35 paces, the corridor will open into a large cavern. At the back of the cavern, you will find a door. That door leads to the Master.”
“Thank you. Now turn right and walk back 5 paces.” The guard did as he was told. “Turn left.” Seeing that he was back in his original position, she had one more set of instructions for the guard. “You will count to 30 and then you will continue your guard duty as if nothing has happen. If anyone should ask you, you never saw me.” Gabrielle turned and walked down the corridor. She took control of the 2nd guard’s mind, and also instructed him to act as if nothing had happened. She then continued down the passageway.
Sophia stood on one side of cavern wall and Xena stood on the other. They stood there and watched the guarding pattern of the two soldiers. The two black leather clad solders would past each other, and after 20 paces would turn and temporary disappeared from each other's view, only to turn right again and head towards each other again.
When one of the guards disappeared from view, Sophia looked over at Xena and waited for the signal. The Warrior Princess nodded. *Showtime.*
The Guardian silently walked behind the unsuspecting soldier and then placed him in a choke hold, effectively blocking his ability to both breath and scream. She quickly pulled the unconscious form towards her sister.
The other guard turned right and headed toward the other soldier. As soon as he made his pass, Xena, dressed as the other soldier, pressed the nerves of his neck with lightening reflexes. "You have thirty seconds to live if I don't release you. Tell me what I want, and I'll let you go. Where is Dahok?"
As blood flowed his nose, the soldier realized he better answer. "In his inner sanctum, in the center cavern."
“What’s the fastest way there?”
“There is a secret walkway about 10 paces back. The doorway to the inner sanctum is also hidden as the back wall of the cavern.
"How many guards does he have?"
"No one is allowed in his sanctum. But his fifteen best soldiers guard the entrance. You'll never make it."
"Don't be so sure about that. Have anyone else come down this corridor?" She saw confusion in his eyes. “A petite blond with a dagger?” The guard shook his head. “I never saw her.” Xena's fingers quickly guided over his neck, and the soldier quickly gulped down huge qualities of air. Before he could say or do anything else, she punched his jaw, sending him into unconsciousness.
“Do you think he was telling the truth?”
“Not about everything. Gabrielle’s been here.” She turned around and double-backed 10 paces.
Sophia followed her sister. “How do you know that?”
“He looked confused when I first asked him about Gabrielle. Plus I never told him it was a ‘her’ we were looking for.” She pressed on several of the stalagmites. “Come on!” She urged as she tried to find the one that would lead to the hidden doorway. Finally one gave way. As it moved, a secret panel opened. She quickly glanced at the Guardian. “Let’s go.”
Following the first guard’s directions, she finally made it to the end of the corridor. She hid among the stalagmites as she looked into the cavern the corridor opened into. She could barely spot the door to Dahok’s inner chamber. But standing between herself and her goal were 15 guards. *Too many to use my powers on.* She pulled out her pair of sais from her boots. *Xena would have enjoyed this.* It was then she heard a small noise behind her. She quickly turned around as a panel opened. Out from the panel stepped Xena and Sophia. Gabrielle shook her head in utter amazement.
Sophia smiled as they made their way to the Bard. “Trying to start the party without us?”
Gabrielle looked at her wife. She could see hurt, anger, fear and love coming from Xena’s eyes as the Warrior reached out and hugged her close.
“Why are you always scaring me like this? Do I have to put a leash on you?”
Gabrielle pulled back. “I was trying to protect you. I’m not sorry for what I did. I started this, I have to end it.”
“Not by yourself.” Xena looked at her wife, glanced into the large cavern, saw the guards, and looked back at Gabrielle. “So you were going to take them all on?”
A small smile crept on Gabrielle’s lips. “That was the plan.”
“Was the plan?”
“Yeah. Now the plan is for you to take the big ones and I take the small ones.”
Sophia looked at the guards. “Hey, I want my fair share too.”
Xena shook her head in relief. "Now remember, we stick together. We hit Dahok's guards hard and fast, and then the THREE of us will go after Dahok." The Warrior Princess eyed her wife. "Understand?"
Gabrielle sighed and nodded. "Let's go."
"Hello boys." The fifteen guards eyed the Warrior Princess as she came into view. "Want to have some fun?"
The biggest of the soldiers turned to the one of his right. "Tell Dahok we have visitors." The soldier turned, but before he could take his first step, a knife sliced threw the air and into his throat. Sophia stepped out from the shadows. "I hate it when they decide to do this the hard way. It would be so much easier if you guys will let us pass. But no, now we have to fight."
"Attack!!!" The thirteen guards ran towards the Warrior Princess and the Guardian, while their leader ran towards the inner Sanctum entrance. As he reached for the door, he found that he couldn't move.
"Can't have you ruin our surprise can we?" Gabrielle walked until she stood in front of the large man.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I really don't have time for this. Just go to sleep, okay?" The soldier quickly closed his eyes and began to snore. "The bigger they are, the louder they snore." As the Bard looked around and saw that Xena and Sophia had things well under control, she bent down and pulled the black dagger from her boot. Gabrielle concentrated her focus on Sophia. *Guardian.*
Sophia drove her fist into a soldier's jaw. *Who's that?* She almost threw up her mental blocks until she recognized the voice. *Gabby?*
*Keep Xena here. Tell her that I love her.* With that Gabrielle walked through the doorway leading to Dahok.
Sophia watched as her friend disappeared from sight. *Xena is not going to be happy about this.* Before she could say anything, a soldier had managed to hit her in the stomach.
She looked around at the rocky surroundings of the inner sanctum. Drops of fire and lava slowly fell from the walls, as if the walls were crying. Gabrielle walked to the center of the sanctum and scanned the area once more. "I know you're in here." Suddenly, she felt a cold hand on her back. She quickly turned and jumped back. "Don't touch me."
"Well look who's here." First a shadow appeared and then lava and flames rose from the floor, covering the shadow. The lava and flames retreated; leaving behind a man with snow white skin, blood red lips, hair as yellow as the sun, and eyes as black as onyx. "I almost thought that you were her, but Hope was always more affectionate than you." Dahok eyed the woman. "Let me guess. You have finally come to your senses Gabrielle and you are here to take your rightful place at my side."
"I came to stop you."
The demon laughed. "You can't stop me, no one can. The prophecy has already been fulfilled. But if you are determined to fight me, then know that I'll have to kill you. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. Family shouldn't fight like this."
"We are not family."
"How quickly you forget. We shared a daughter." He watched as her eyes burned in anger. "Don't give me that look. She was as much yours as she was mine. However, she was my little girl. Too bad she had to die." He grinned an evil smile. "I never did thank Xena for that, did I?"
"What do you mean?"
"Thanks to Xena, Hope is dead. And she was the only one who could stop me for she was the only one who could get the dagger. You see, our daughter was becoming a little too ambitious for my liking. And when she chose to come back, when she chose life, well, let's just say that she sealed her fate. I knew that it would be a matter of time before Xena found her, and destroyed her; thereby clearing the road for my return."
"If that is true, why did you wait? That was more than five years ago."
"I had to be sure that Hope was dead. Our child was always the impatient type: couldn't wait to be born, couldn't wait to grow up, and couldn’t wait to come back; couldn’t wait for anything really. I figured that if she hasn't come back by now, she never will."
"And now you think you can simply waltz into the world and destroy it?"
"Don't think of it as destruction. Think of it as a new era, one without rules or restraints; no other gods but me."
"You're going to have to get pass me first."
Dahok smirked and then laughed. "You? You are nothing more than a flea."
"A flea that keeps on coming back. You never did ask me how I survived the fall into the pit." Gabrielle pulled her hands from the sleeves of her robe, revealing the dagger.
Dahok's eyes grew with shock. "How did you get that? No one can survive that lava pit except for..." The demon looked at the woman, confusing clouding his eyes. "Hope?"
Gabrielle gave a twisted smile. "No. You see Hope inherited a lot more from me than her good looks. She inherited some of my abilities as well. And all this time, you thought she was your little girl."
"But you're human."
"Half human. Half-god. Specifically, Apollo." Her smile became huge as she saw the recognition in Dahok's face.
"NOOOO!" In fear, anger and frustration, Dahok let loose with flames and fireballs. But nothing was stopping Gabrielle's advancement. Dahok knew he had only one chance. He needed for her to come closer, so he could knock the dagger out of her hand.
But Gabrielle stopped her advancement well short of arm's reach. "Any final words?"
"Know this, Gabrielle. I know the prophecy. If I die, so do you." He smiled as she took her eyes off of him, giving him the chance to attack.
Gabrielle glanced down at the dagger, hoping that Dahok would take the bait. She smiled as she saw the demon running full throttle at her. She threw the dagger and heard the sickening sound as the blade sunk deeply into his chest.
Dahok stopped dead in his tracks and looked at the hilt sticking out of his chest. He looked up and stumbled his way towards the bard. "So be it."
She watched as the darkness engulfed the blade and headed towards her. Even before the darkness touched her skin, she could feel the burning cold. Gabrielle closed her eyes and waited for the darkness to come.
Xena ran her sword through another soldier. She quickly glanced around and noticed that Gabrielle was no where to be seen. "Where's Gabrielle?" she screamed at the Guardian.
Sophia quickly threw an elbow and her opponent, breaking his nose and sending him to the land of unconsciousness. "She went after Dahok."
"I told her we need to stick together." Xena quickly disposed of the next three guards, knocking the last one out with the hilt of her sword. "Sophia, it's time."
"Right." Sophia took the black leather glove off of her right hand. "Xena, this will be my last chance to tell you this. I was very lucky to have you as my friend and my sister." She reached around, grabbed Xena's neck and touched their foreheads together. "I'll keep my promise. You ready?"
Xena braced herself, waiting for her darkness to be stripped from her. Instead, her head exploded in pain as a feeling of invasion filled her very existence.
Before Xena could react; Sophia head butted the Warrior, knocking her unconscious. After stumbling a couple of steps, she checked on Xena. "Sorry sis, but I have to let Gabrielle do her part." She looked up at the doorway and ran through the entrance to the inner chamber.
As she entered inside, she saw the dagger sailed out of Gabrielle's hand, hitting its target with deadly accuracy. After that, everything seemed to move in slow-motion for the Guardian.
Sophia ran and shoved Gabrielle out of the way. She screamed out in pain as the darkness ate away at her flesh-- her mind racing with images and words from the past:
The truth is your mother kidnapped you and never let your father know that you existed. Athena was afraid that you would find out who you really are: a child of chaos, of violence, and of bloody war. You want to know who your father is, child. I'll tell you. You're looking at him.
If it were up to you, Ares, I would wallow in the darkness. But I can't. The light that my family gave me has overcome that darkness.
Your destiny lies on the path of the warrior, a warrior of the heart.
I stop believing a long time ago, but every time I thought that I should quit being a Guardian, I would remember Gabrielle & Xena, and the love that they share. Just thinking about them gave me hope that love would win. But that hope is gone.
I didn't come here to fight you Sophia. Damn it, what's wrong with you? What's wrong with me? Why nothing dear father, just showing off the family traits.
When you rejected me and the chance to be at my side, I was a bit upset. But then you added insult to injury by becoming a guardian of love once again. Do you know what it is like to know that your own flesh and blood hates everything that you stand for and chooses the other side?
I'm a Guardian, it is my destiny. And if that means I get to make sure that the love of my life is happy and safe with her true soul-mate, then so be it.
Dahok smiled. In a weak voice he stated, "I guess someone has chosen life after all." However, the smile disappeared from his face as he noticed a glowing light shining from the woman's wounds.
Sophia gave a faint smile before the light engulfed both her and Dahok; blinding Gabrielle. "Goodbye."
Atropos stood by with the scissors at Gabrielle's life string. "It is time."
"Wait," Lachesis grabbed her sister's hand, "look."
The three sisters watched as another string became alive and wrapped itself around Gabrielle and Xena's life strings, bringing itself to an end. "It.... is.... done."
Xena rubbed her sore head and slowly rose to her feet. It was then she heard the blood-curdling scream coming from the next room. As she ran through the doorway, the bright light flashed, causing her to cover her eyes with her arm. "No! Gabrielle!" Xena ran through the doorway, praying that she wasn't too late.
"No!" Gabrielle screamed as she shielded her eyes from the bright light that emanated from Sophia's being. Just as quickly as it appeared, the light disappeared. Once her eyes readjusted, she looked over to where Dahok was standing. Nothing but ashes marked the spot where the demon once stood. She slowly cut her eyes towards Sophia, fearing what she would find.
Sophia was still on her feet, but bleeding profusely. As she toppled over, she realized that someone had caught her and slowly lowered her to ground, and another person was by her side holding her hand. She forced her eyes to focus on the two most important people in her life.
Gabrielle looked down at her friend as she cradled Sophia’s head in her lap. She looked up at Xena, the question shining from her eyes.
Xena shook her head, and then applied pressure points, hoping to ease Sophia's pain as she crossed over.
Sophia, knowing that her time was short, grabbed her sister's hand and with a weak voice, she gave Xena a request. "Give Ares my darkness… and take care of her."
Silent tears rolled down the warrior’s cheek. "You know I will."
Sophia looked up at Gabrielle. Sophia realized that even if she had all the time in the world at her disposal, it still wouldn't be enough for her to tell Gabrielle just how she felt. Words weren't her specialty, but she hoped that her actions throughout her life told the truth.
Gabrielle brought her friend's hand up to her cheek, smiling through her tears. "Always looking out for me?"
Sophia gave her a faint smile. With her last breath, she stated the simple truth, “Never stopped loving you, you know?"
Gabrielle nodded. “I know.” She bent over a placed a tender kiss on her friend’s lips. Gabrielle knew at once her childhood friend was gone. The Bard wailed out her anguish as she continued to cradle the Guardian’s head.
Smoke and fire shot out of the portal. Apollo ran to the portal with the other gods following closely behind. They watch helplessly as the portal faded away, leaving a giant wall of smoke. "They did it." As the smoke rose, they saw shadowy figures of two people.
Apollo shuts his eyes. He didn't open them again until he heard Artemis' shout of happiness, "Look!" Apollo opened his eyes as Gabrielle and Xena came into view. Apollo rushed to his daughter and hugged her fiercely. "You're alive!"
Gabrielle pulled away as her tears began to flow. It was then Apollo noticed the make shift litter. The Sun God took two steps backwards, before looking over at Athena and Ares.
"Where is my daughter?" Athena eyed the litter and slowly made her way towards it. "No, no, NO!" The goddess ran to the lifeless form and grasped her daughter's body.
Ares stood back, his muscles taunt as he stared at the litter. Pain ripped through him, and for the first time in his existence, he felt lost.
Xena looked at the god with tears in her eyes. "Ares..."
He raised his hands, immediately silencing his daughter. He took a couple of steps backwards, never taking his eyes off his dead child. As his mind started to process the reality of the situation, a raging scream ripped from his lips.
Apollo ran over to Ares' side, but before he could get there, the God of War vanished.
Ares angrily glared at the Fates. "How dare you cut my daughter's string!" He wanted to make them hurt, but he knew that there was nothing he could do to harm them. "You said Gabrielle was the key."
Lachesis calmly answered, "She is the key."
"Then how, why is my daughter dead?"
Atropos responded. "We have something to show you. Maybe you will understand." All the Fates pointed to the life strings of Xena, Gabrielle and Sophia. "Gabrielle is the child of light, she is the key...."
"I know that already!"
"Xena loved Gabrielle. Their lifelines reflect their love and special bond. Cut one, destroy the other. Sacrifice one, the other will follow....For light and love to conquer, both would have to be sacrificed. Two hearts yet one soul. Love and Light would conquer, but only one life was required. One that embodied both qualities."
"What are you saying?"
"Sophia was Athena's daughter. Wisdom is the light of humankind....You darkness she did inherit but she rejected it.....she embraced love, not for herself, but for the greater good.... Born a child of light, became an instrument of love, darkness could not abide.... Even though she was not the key, she could be the sacrifice, Love and Light's Sacrifice."
All three Fates eyed the Ares and pointed to Sophia's life string. "We did not cut her string....Her string ended on its own....We had nothing to do with it....Your daughter made the choice....her life for her friends. Her life for all."
Everyone stood in the moonlight and listened as Xena sang as she never sang before. Every note, every word was filled with the pain and sorrow that was present at this moment. She had sung the dirge before, but now it was different. Sophia, her friend and sister died fulfilling the promises she had made. And she knew she wasn't alone in her pain. Everyone around shared the same grief and they all knew that the world had lost not only a hero and Guardian, but a friend. Even the forest creatures dared not to utter a sound in respect to the fallen Guardian.
Athena stood, her eyes staring blankly at the pyre. Soon she would have to light it. Soon she would have to watch the flames consume her daughter's body. All too soon, the song ended and Athena knew the time had come. She slowly picked up the lit torch and started to walk to the pyre. Once she reached it, she looked at her only child for the last time. She was dressed in her favorite red and black leathers, with her bracelet and two necklace pendants in place. *She looks like she's sleeping. Only if that was true.*
She tried to move her hand, but found that she couldn't. It was then that Ares appeared by her side. He placed his hand over hers and looked at his half-sister. Each of them saw that the other shared the same pain; and all the battles and hateful words they exchanged did not seem to matter. "She was my daughter too." Ares looked at Sophia. "I know that you can hear me. I want you to know that I'm proud of you. A long time ago, I told you that I had nothing to do with love. I hope you knew that I was lying; because I loved you. Goodbye, my daughter." Both gods lowered their joined hands and lit the pyre, saying a final farewell to the child that they shared.
Sophia looked down at the gathering and especially at the God of War. "You know, I once told him that I would rather die than have anything to do with him. I think that at one point we truly hated each other. And now, he said the words that I didn't even realized I've been waiting to hear." She turned her attention to Michael, chief archangel for the Light. "I've left so much unsaid, not only to him, but everyone."
Michael smirked. "I think they all know how much you love them." He walked up to her and placed his hand on her shoulder. "You gave your life. There is no greater love than that. And that's why you are going to make a perfect guardian angel."
Sophia looked down at the white and gold garment that clothed her body. "I still think the clothing could stand to be spruced up a tad; maybe black leather and silver adornments? And how come you get a sword and I don't?"
Michael shook his head. "You guard, not fight. And speaking of guarding, I need to tell you your assignment. Are you ready?"
Sophia gazed at her family. *Goodbye. Think about me often. And take care of one another.* "Yes, I'm ready. So who am I guarding?"
"For now, you are going to help carry souls across. But later..." The two angels walked into the light and into eternity.
THE ENDReturn to the Academy