“VELASCA!”  Gabrielle screams as the first rays of dawn begin to color the skies orange. She stands in the center of the village square. The queen’s mask covers her face but does nothing to impede her voice as she screams. “VELASCA!”

 From a safe distance in the woods the old  woman watches with confusion. “ What? There is still at least an hour before the sun rises past the trees. Does she want to die?”

 <so it seems. but she wants to die on her terms. not yours.>

 “ I give her and her people time. And she  rebukes me again without even realizing it!” the old woman curses the blonde queen under her breath.

<patience. it will all be ours soon.>

 “Velasca! Show yourself. We’ll not wait for you! Come on!”  Gabrielle shouts as loud as she can. They will not wait around like animals to be slaughtered. They will meet this great evil on their terms. She takes in all around her. No others are visible. All leaf litter, branches and any other detritus has been removed from the square. She looks up to see the sagging canopy.

 “Velasca! What’s the matter? Are you afraid?” Gabrielle calls out.

 A disembodied voice screams in rage , “GABRIELLE!” Flame erupts several feet before her and Velasca appears.

 “ There you are ,” Gabrielle says almost conversationally. “ I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up.”

 The marble white eyes of Velasca blaze with hate as she growls her response. “ Do you want to die so badly Gabrielle?”

 “ I’m not the one who is going to die today,” Gabrielle retorts.

 Velasca looks around and sees no one else. She chuckles. “What? Everyone else run away in fear? Not even your new playmate is around.”  She walks slowly up to the upstart queen. “ How does it feel to be all alone?”

 “ I wouldn’t know.”  She raises her mask up. At that moment Amazons rear up from all around from behind crates, barrels and buildings. Gabrielle drops flat to the ground as spears, arrows and cross bow bolts shoot from every direction to imbed themselves in Velasca’s flesh. She jerks with each impact but shows no pain at all. When the last spear , thrown by Tara, hits Velasca in the throat and causes her to become unbalanced ,Gabrielle darts away from Velasca . She watches the goddess regain her balance then look around her more enraged than when she arrived.

 Gabrielle knows what will happen next. They did the same thing to Callisto years ago. It hadn’t done anything to her either but that was hardly the point anyway. The point is to push Velasca’s rage until she is senseless with it. She leaps behind a tree screaming , “To cover!”

 The mad goddess spins around so fast she becomes a living whirlwind. Spears , arrows and bolts are thrown in all directions at supernatural speed. Gabrielle feels some thud into the tree she is seeking cover from. “ You are all insane. You can’t kill me! I’m a god!” Velasca screams.

 Gabrielle spins out from around the tree pulling the chakrum loose from her belt as she does so. The goddess is casting about for a target when she sees Gabrielle. “ Heads up,” she says as she slings the circular weapon high overhead towards the canopy they spent all night making. The sharp edge of the chakrum severs the key rope holding everything in places. Velasca stares up and screams inhumanly as a ton or more of logs fall down upon her. The chakrum rebounds off a tree then off a nearby hut before returning to Gabrielle’s hand.

 It seems to take an inordinate amount of time for the debris to fall. When it is done the goddess is buried. “ Now!” she shouts. Dozens of Amazons run from hiding to toss clay jars at the pile of logs. Each jar shatters and oil spills out. Then like an assembly line the Amazons start to pile more jars of oil on and around the pile. Gabrielle holds up a hand and all the Amazons take cover once more. She closes her hand into a fist and keeps it raised over her head. She looks to her right to be sure she is where she needs to be, she prays she hasn’t miscalculated. All the trees used to make the canopy were from the edge of the village. She has many standing by with buckets of water in case any of the huts catch fire. She glances back towards the queen’s hut. She hopes…

 The thought dies as she sees the pile of logs shifting. She keeps her fist closed and waits. A hand pushes through the rubble. Then the top of the pile rises up. She keeps her fist closed still.  Velasca’s head appears . Then her upper body as she stands in the wooden debris. “ What exactly did you hope to do?”

 Gabrielle opens her hand.

  From her vantage point high up in a tree behind the queen’s hut , Harrika draws back the flaming arrow. “ Burn bitch.” She looses the arrow.

 The arrow strikes the pile and sets it ablaze. This time Gabrielle can hear Velasca screaming. Though in pain or rage she doesn’t know. The fire engulfing the goddess flares hotter and brighter. Gabrielle  falls to her right into the covered hole dug the previous night to protect her. She lands hard on her back just as all the oil and wood explodes. Flaming debris sails over the hole she lies in. She tries hard not to think about how similar the hole is to a grave.

 Jumping to her feet , Gabrielle sees that several huts have been touched by the flying wood and are catching fire. “The water! Now!” she cries. She turns to look at where Velasca was and sees only a charred patch of earth. She knows it is too much to think it has finished the goddess but it will give them time to prepare.

  Young girls and children rush from huts carrying buckets of water and tossing them on the flames. Refilling them with water from the barrels they quickly get the flames under control. Tara , her arm still in its sling, rushes out to join her queen. “ I don’t see her,”  she states.

 “ It’s only temporary,” Gabrielle replies. “ We have to be ready.”

 Several others run up to meet them. “ We don’t see her. What now?” one of them asks.

 “First get all the young back into the huts,” Gabrielle says. Several warriors gather the children and get them inside.

 “ Gabrielle,” Tara says pointing towards the blackened section of earth. Streaming of blue, green and red trail from everywhere to converge on a single spot. The energy begins to coalesce into a  human shape. Then what seemed nearly insubstantial becomes solid and tangible.

 Velasca can’t help but laugh. “ You ‘re just prolonging the inevitable.”

 “ Run!” Gabrielle screams. She , Tara and five other Amazons who had been nearby  tear off in opposite directions.

 Velasca watches with glee as all seven of the fools run towards different huts. As if they can escape. She holds her hands up above her head inches apart and wills the flame to form. A white hot fireball appears and she shouts out, “So you want to play with fire?”

 Gabrielle grinds to  a halt before the hut she is running for and stops. “ Ready!” she screams.

 Velasca doesn’t hear her and she opens her hands to release seven blazing balls of fire.

 All seven Amazons reach into the dirt and pull out huge polished shields. Velasca’s fireballs rebound off the bronze shields and arc back towards her. She is utterly stunned when her own fire hits her.

 Gabrielle looks at Velasca and finds that the goddess is between her and the queen’s hut. Right where she needs her to be. “ Go!” she yells.

 Velasca just has the flames put out when all seven women collide with her. Her footing isn’t good and she starts to slide and fall back from the onslaught. Gabrielle , Tara and the others push with all their mortal might. Gabrielle can see the spot they are pushing her towards. They are nearly within range and she prepares to give the signal. But suddenly they are all thrown back as Velasca swings her arm around to sweep them away.

 As she finishes the swing she seizes the throat of the Amazon whose shoulder she had injured the other day. “ I remember you.  What is your name?”

 Tara shows no fear. “ Tara. I am the queen’s champion.”

 “Queen’s champion,” Velasca says  with contempt.  She finds where Gabrielle has fallen. “ I think I’ll break this one too Gabrielle.” She grabs Tara by the leg and holds her up over her head.

 Gabrielle looks up from where she is laying to hear Velasca’s words and to see what she is about to do.

“ No,”  she says in a low tone. She will not witness this again. Velasca has done enough. She will not watch this monster continue to destroy those she cares for. Inside of her something snaps. “ No!”  For years all the grief and pain and rage and fear has been building. And in all that time she has been suppressing it. Pushing it down to a place in her soul where she dares not go. Into a heart of darkness that has been filled to bursting. It explodes in an inhuman cry as she launches herself at Velasca .

 Her shoulder collides with the goddess and they all fall in a tumble of arms and legs. Gabrielle comes to her feet on the far side of Velasca and draws the sword from behind her back. She savagely kicks the bewildered goddess in the head with enough force that it might well have killed any normal foe. “ Get up!” she screams . Tara, getting to her feet and seeing the enraged beast before her that was until moments ago her queen, dashes away from her to help the others up.

 “ I said get up!” Gabrielle screams slamming her foot into the guts of Velasca. She feels a satisfaction from the give she feels knowing that were this a human , she would be dead from the rupturing of her internal organs after a long excruciating ordeal of pain.

 Velasca rises to her feet. She has grown tired of this . She extends her hand forward intent to destroy Gabrielle once and for all. But with preternatural speed , the blonde ducks under as a bolt of lightning erupts from her hand. Gabrielle drops to one knee and slashes open Velasca’s stomach. She whirls about then brings the blade across Velasca’s back. The goddess is befuddled and just stands there for a moment as her body deals with the irritation that would be a death blow to anyone else. Gabrielle stands and slams her foot into the back of Velasca’s knees. The goddess drops down allowing Gabrielle to grab her hair and draw her head back. She slits Velasca’s throat with the blade and pushes her forward. Black ichor like she saw when she had cut Ares with the chakrum pools underneath the goddess’s prone form.

 “ What …she…how…” the old woman watching from the forest edge stutters.

  <I would not have thought Gabrielle capable of such strength or such darkness. It seems she and Xena are more alike than I ever realized.>

 Velasca extends out a hand and a sword skitters from somewhere to her grasp. “ You realize this is all pointless,” she mutters pulling herself up and feeling the wounds healing. 

 Gabrielle drives her foot into Velasca’s side and screams , “On your feet when you speak to your queen!”

 Velasca rolls onto her back. She kicks up into a standing position. “ This better?” she asks as she lays eyes on Gabrielle. Expecting to see a determined set of eyes or a fearful expression staring back at her , she is shocked to see Gabrielle smiling like a lunatic. Her eyes ablaze with rage and madness.

 “ Much better,” Gabrielle agrees with a sneer as she slams her blade against Velasca’s.  She repeatedly hits at the blade Velasca wields and laughs at the perplexed look on her opponent’s face.

 “ In Antiope’s name,” Lunara says as she watches their young queen attack the goddess.

 “ Gabrielle?” Tara mutters as if unsure this is her friend and queen.

 From her tree top perch Harrika watches in awe as her queen goes toe to toe with a goddess.

 The queen and the goddess hammer their swords into each other with abandon. One driven by revenge and ego. The other fueled by rage and passion. Their sword hilts lock and they meet each other’s gaze.

 “ I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Have you had this locked inside you all this time? “ Velasca asks.

 “Yes!” Gabrielle spits her answer then throws her head forward to collide with Velasca’s.

  The goddess rocks back. Gabrielle slams the pommel of her sword into Velasca’s face. She smiles as the marble white eyes roll about in her head. She kicks Velasca in the gut then slams her sword down upon her head. The goddess staggers back but lunges forward. Gabrielle sidesteps then crashes her elbow into the side of Velasca’s head and follows that by driving her sword’s pommel into Velasca’s face once more. She sweeps her legs out from under her and screaming for all to hear drives the point of her sword into Velasca with such force that it goes all the way through her and embeds itself in the earth. She pulls the chakrum loose then drives it into Velasca’s face. The weapon cleaves the goddess’s face from her right temple to the left side of her mouth. Finally she gets to hear the scream of pain from Velasca she has been wanting so badly. It fills her with a dark joy to inflict such pain upon this monster.

  She jerks the weapon free and kicks her in the head repeatedly punctuating each blow with, “Pathetic. Stupid. Useless. Bitch.”  She pulls her sword loose then stands back. “ On your feet, you bastard. I want to hear you scream again.” With sword in one hand and chakrum in the other she waits. It takes several seconds for the damage done to Velasca to heal. “I’m waiting!” Gabrielle screams. She sees Velasca’s body contorting in pain as it heals itself.    

Velasca stands and screams in rage. She swings her sword but Gabrielle meets it and bats the blade away. The dance of blades begins anew as they block and parry one another. As it goes on they scream manically with each blow of their weapons. Gabrielle finds an opening as Velasca lunges for her. She moves the sword aside then uses the chakrum to cut the goddess open from her groin to her neck. Velasca staggers back and stares in disbelief. She never dreamed that Gabrielle would be capable of this. This is hardly the little girl that hid behind Xena and Callisto all those years ago.

 Gabrielle takes a step back to admire her handiwork and feels her back hit something. She glances back to find the railing of the queen’s hut. She throws both weapons into the ground . She grabs the railing and uses it to pivot in the air and slam both feet into Velasca’s bleeding chest. The goddess sails back a few yards and lands hard on her back. She hisses in pain as the wounds heal.

 Gabrielle picks up her weapons. “ Stand up Velasca. I’m not done yet.”

 Velasca indeed stands up. “My my Gabrielle. Who would’ve thought you could do this. Xena would be proud.”

 At the mention of the warrior princess’s name all the rage, the madness, the darkness drops away like water on a stone. The sword falls from her hand and the chakrum stays in her grip only due to its circular form hanging from her fingers. “ Xena,”  she says . She remembers all the times her friend had dissuaded her giving into violence. What would Xena think of her now? The fear begins to seep back into her soul. 

{She would be proud of you for standing up to Velasca. Proud of you for defending those you love no matter the cost to yourself.  As I am proud of you}.

 “ Ephiny…” Gabrielle gasps as she hears the voice of her long dead friend. With those words , she is broken from her shock and sees that she is right where she needs to be. Thank you , she says in her heart.

 Velasca takes Gabrielle’s immobility for some kind of shock.  “I knew you didn’t have  it in you. Amazon queen indeed.”  She steps forward.

 Gabrielle rears back her arm and letting out a war cry so like Xena’s it shocks her , she  hurls the chakrum at Velasca. The goddess telegraphs the move and ducks under the weapon. Gabrielle watches as it sails past Velasca towards a tree on the far side of the village.

 “Is that all? A shout and throwing Xena’s toy?  I’m going to take great joy in killing you Gabrielle,” Velasca says . She brings her sword back over her head.

 The chakrum impacts the tree and splits into its two component weapons, each of which veers off in opposite directions from each other.

 Gabrielle drops to her knees before the advancing goddess

 “ Going to beg like a dog now. Afraid to die, are you? “ Velasca drones on as she stalks closer, raising the sword higher.

 The two chakrum pieces ricochet off the surrounding trees circling the village. Each divining a semicircular path that will bring them back together at a certain point.

 Gabrielle looks into Velasca’s eyes and extends her arms out straight to either side of her. For a moment she remembers her arms this way on the cross.  “I’ve been dead before. I don’t  fear it.”

 “ Then die!” Velasca bellows bringing the sword down.

 The chakrum pieces arrive in Gabrielle’s outstretched hands. She takes no notice of the pain they cause cutting into her flesh as she brings them together over her head. Velasca’s sword strikes the weapons and her attack is halted.

 “ Now,” Gabrielle says in a monotone voice.

 Brunnhilda  pushes up on the wooden planks that have concealed her hiding place in the shallow pit a few yards in front of the queen’s hut and rises to her feet. She draws back the gleaming hammer then with all her strength she drives the weapon  down onto Velasca’s back. The goddess screams in genuine agony as the hammer shatters the vertebrae between her shoulder blades. Her legs cease to function and she drops to her knees.

 Gabrielle reconnects the two chakrum pieces and replaces the weapon on her belt. She picks up her sword and sheathes it as well. Brunnhilda steps back from Velasca. The goddess moans in pain as she sees the tall blonde make her way to stand next to Gabrielle. There is a huge hammer in her hands which she hands to the queen.

 Amazons come from everywhere suddenly. Women, girls and even children step forth from their huts. Velasca stares at them and wants them to die but finds she is in too much pain to concentrate . Lunara watches from the porch of the healer’s hut. She feels just a small margin of sorrow for Velasca. She had grown up with Velasca.  But the amount of blood, Amazon blood,  the woman has spilled can never be forgiven. She walks back into the hut to check on Varia and Calida.   

  “ But…I’m a god…” Velasca mutters still unable to feel her legs or tap her powers.

 Gabrielle holds up the hammer. “ This is the hammer of Hephaestus. Forged by a god. To kill a god.”

 Velasca begins screaming curses and obscenities as Amazons gather around her.

 Gabrielle raises the hammer high.

 “No,” the old woman mutters under her breath. “ This is impossible. How can she have lost? She‘s a god! Gabrielle is just …just…”

 <It doesn’t matter what she is,> the voice tells her. <she has foiled our plans. we have to go.>

 “This cannot be. I won’t allow her to win again.”

 <we have to flee you fool. you are old and feeble. and I’m sure I have the strength to fight. so unless you want to die…> the voice trails off as the sound of Velasca’s screaming is cut short by a loud, wet impact.

 Velasca’s lifeless body slumps to the ground soundlessly. Brunnhilda is about to say something when the earth begins to vibrate. Trees shake and leaves fall. The huts in the village rattle on their meager foundations. Shocked and alarmed by the earthquake , several Amazons fall to the ground.

 “ What?” Tara begins.

 “ A god has died,” Gabrielle answers her unfinished question. “ The earth seems to be responding. The same thing happened when Hercules killed Zeus. Xena even told me the earth shook when Callisto died.”

 The quake continues to rattle buildings, trees and Amazons for several more seconds before ceasing.

 “Is it over?” Brunnhilda asks.

 Tara looks down at the corpse of Velasca. She controls the urge to spit on the former Amazon’s body. “ It has to be,” she says.

 The hammer slips from Gabrielle’s grasp and she falls to her knees in exhaustion. “Gabrielle!” Brunnhilda exclaims, catching her before she falls completely. She can see the deep , gasping breaths Gabrielle is taking. Her eyes seemed a little unfocused and she is trembling. “ Gabrielle. What’s wrong? Are you all right?”

 Gabrielle tries to speak but her mouth just moves in silence. She has never felt this tired, in body and spirit. She wants to fall asleep but feels afraid to. Her eyes dart around to try and take in her surroundings. She can see the others watching her. Can feel Tara's worried eyes on her. Can feel Bru’s arms around her. She takes strength from that and tries with all her will to push herself away from unconsciousness. Her eyes open fully again. But as they do she sees the old woman leaning on her staff in the edge of the  woods. She is shuffling about trying to go deeper into the forest. Her voice still refuses to work so she points towards where she sees the woman. Brunnhilda and Tara both turn their attention to where she indicates.

 “ It’s that hag,” Brunnhilda says seeing the old woman moving through the trees.

 “ Seize her!”  Tara screams.  A dozen Amazons run at full speed into the forest to retrieve her.

 Gabrielle watches her sisters nearly tackle the stranger in their zeal to get her. She turns her eyes to Brunnhilda. She tries to speak again but is too sapped of strength to make her mouth form words. Brunnhilda meets her eyes and can see the fatigue in them. She brushes the queen’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. “ It’s okay Gabrielle. Velasca is dead. We’re all right. You can rest now.”

 A hint of a smile crosses her face then Gabrielle allows sleep to take her.


 Gabrielle opens her eyes from a dreamless sleep. Through the windows the daylight is fading into shades of red , orange and pink. On the side board lie a platter of grapes, apples and olives  and a goblet of water. Leaning against the bed is the hammer of Hephaestus . She ignores the food and picks up the weapon. As she touches it she recalls that day on the beach when the gods had come to kill Eve and had themselves died. She remembers Xena sending the god of the forge’s hammer  back at him and the weapon hitting him squarely in his chest. She closes her eyes and recalls how Aphrodite’s was wearing black the next time she saw her. In mourning for her husband. She opens her eyes and looks at the hammer  again. She had never known Hephaestus. But to have been the love of the goddess of love , he must have been something special. Of them all she can only say she truly misses Aphrodite. Among the Olympians she only considered the goddess of love worthy of her friendship. She misses her more than she thought.

   Her stomach growls like a caged beast and she realizes that she has not eaten in over a day. Setting the hammer reverently on the bed by her , she begins to devourer the food.

 Brunnhilda enters just as she is gulping down the last of the water. She spies the empty plate. “ They weren’t kidding about that monster appetite of yours, were they?”  She smiles as she sits on the edge of the bed. “ You could have left me one grape , you know.”

 Gabrielle is glad for that bit of humor but knows it may be fleeting. The downturn of her smile doesn’t go unnoticed. “ You won,” Brunnhilda tells her. She reaches out to lay her hand over Gabrielle’s.

 “ Xena said the same thing after Helicon,” she replies. “ And I feel the same way now as I did then. That I’ve lost a little bit more of myself. Lost one more piece of my soul to the darkness inside me. You were in Bacchus’s cave. You saw what happened. Through love I not only redeemed Hope but I was transfigured. For a few fleeting moments I regained the light of an archangel.”

 “ Which you gave up to save me,” Brunnhilda reminds her. She squeezes Gabrielle’s hand. “ I didn’t think it was possible  for someone to love me enough to do that.”

 “ You became an eternal flame for me. You loved me enough to do that. Don’t sell yourself short. What you did to protect me was so beautiful I can’t put it into words. And I’ve tried. Ruined at least three perfectly good scrolls trying to.

 “ But don’t you see? How can I do something as selfless as that to save you and Hope but then give into the darkness within me as I did here? What I did out there was…was… “ she trails off.

 “ Wrong?”

 “ Yes. I can’t be both these things.”

 “ What? You mean you can’t show a selfless love one moment and then kill the next?”

 Gabrielle starts to agree but then sees exactly where the conversation is going.

 “ Xena did,” Brunnhilda states. “ Or are your scrolls full of fiction? I believe I remember reading in one of them that you told Xena she wasn’t whole without her darkness. That without it she wasn’t the woman you knew.”

 Gabrielle groans. “It’s different. Xena never wanted me to become a warrior.”

 “ But you are a warrior,” Brunnhilda says. “ And as a  warrior myself trust me when I say that there is always a dark part of you that waits for release. A dark part of you that plots revenge. A dark part that sees the worst in people. A dark part that wants to kill. That wants to be judge , jury and executioner. But that isn’t all a warrior is. If it was I would not be able to love you like I do. I would never have been able to sacrifice myself as I did to protect you from Odin. You have to accept that part of you. Just as I do. Just as Xena did.”

 She stares into Brunnhilda’s eyes and tries not to become lost in them. She smiles again. “ So this is what Xena felt like whenever I gave her those little speeches.”

Brunnhilda nods. “ Guess this means you’ve come full circle.”

 “So it seems.” She lays her free hand over Brunnhilda’s .  “Thank you.”

 Brunnhilda places her other over Gabrielle’s. The two women stare at each for a moment before leaning closer.

 “ Ahem!” a voice from the door draws their attention. They both turn annoyed eyes onto Tara. “ Sorry,” the Amazon apologizes with all the sincerity of a tree stump. “ Glad to see you are finally awake my queen.”

 “ Finally?” Gabrielle turns to Brunnhilda.

 “ You’ve been unconscious since yesterday,” she informs the queen. “ Lunara looked you over and said it would be best not to wake you. She said she’d never seen someone so exhausted.”

 Gabrielle’s eyes widen. “ The old woman?” she inquires.

 “ She is secure,” Tara says.  “ But she won’t talk to any of us. Says she’ll only talk to you Gabrielle. And…”

 “ And what?” Gabrielle asks.

 “ I’m not sure how to put this my queen. But no one wants to get near her. Harrika was going to take that staff from her when she was imprisoned. But as soon as she got three feet from her , she doubled over in pain. Liasha tried as well but she got as close as Harrika then she went down like someone had hit her. She even had a gash on her forehead. Then she started yelling for you. Since then no one will go into the hut.”

 “ What is she?” Brunnhilda asks. “ Some kind of witch?”

 “ Have someone sent to her. Have her escorted to me. I’ll meet her in the throne room. I want the two of you there with me.” Gabrielle climbs off the bed and begins to dress in her Amazon leathers.

 “ But…” Tara starts.

 “ Just open the door and tell her where to go. Have Harrika guard her from a distance with a bow. If she tries to run…” Gabrielle pauses as she puts on her sword and chakrum. Can she really say the next words. She may be responsible for everything that has happened, Gabrielle thinks. She slides the queen’s mask onto her head .  She looks at the hammer and picks it up as well, settling it on her shoulder. Then turns to face the two women.“ …kill her.”


 Gabrielle sits upon the throne with the queen’s mask hiding her face from view as the old woman enters the hut. Brunnhilda stands to one side of the throne and Tara on the other. Many other Amazons stand at the back of the throne room. No one makes a move as she walks into the middle of the room, her staff banging loudly as it hits the floor.

 Gabrielle is glad the mask hides the look of contempt and hate on her face. This woman is the cause of their suffering. She doesn’t quite know how but she is sure of it. From behind the mask she asks again, “Who are you?”

 “ You are not the girl I remember,” the old woman says in response. “ The Gabrielle I knew could never have given in to such violence and rage.”

 Gabrielle lifts the mask and stands to her feet. “ I asked you a question , old woman!”

 “ You have slain a god,” the old woman says. The sound and tone of the statement reveals that she views Gabrielle’s victory over Velasca as some heinous act. “ You must be proud. Now you can join the ranks of Hercules and Xena.”

 “ She asked you your name!” Brunnhilda exclaims taking a step forward. “ Now answer her!”

 The old woman turns eyes, though sunken with age but  burning with hate nonetheless, onto Brunnhilda. “ So you are the one who has taken Xena’s place in Gabrielle’s heart. I wonder . Have you taken the warrior princess’s place in other ways as well?” She looks to Gabrielle seeking confirmation. The Amazon queen’s eyes dart to Brunnhilda and the old woman has her answer. She chuckles but there is no humor in the sound. “ I tried to take you away from it all, Gabrielle. I would’ve given you a life free from the slaughter that Xena led you too. But you refused me. Twice. I have sworn to make you suffer for what you have done. As so I shall.”

 The old woman moves with a speed none gathered think possible. She reaches into her gray robes and draws something forth.  The old woman hurls something towards Brunnhilda . Gabrielle reacts without thinking. She reaches out to catch the dagger before it can reach Brunnhilda’s throat. But though a far better warrior than she was many years ago she is still not the equal of Xena. And it is only Xena who could seize a dagger in mid flight. The dagger hits Gabrielle’s palm with enough force to penetrate several inches and come out the other side. She cries out in pain. There is a collective gasp from all present. Brunnhilda stares at the back of Gabrielle’s hand with the point of a blade sticking out just an inch or so from her throat. Tara marvels at the abilities of both the attacker and defender of  Brunnhilda.

 But none are as shocked as Gabrielle as she stares at the weapon embedded in her hand. It is a short bladed dagger from which several spikes radiate from a knuckle guard in a claw like fashion. Now she knows who this woman is. She turns to the old woman and spits out her name, “ Najara!”

 The old woman smiles a nearly toothless grin. “ Don’t sound surprised Gabrielle. Xena didn’t kill me after all. Were you hoping I would never awaken to seek vengeance.”

 “Vengeance?” Gabrielle chokes. “ You summoned Velasca.”  Gabrielle can hardly believe it. She knew Najara to be unbalanced and perhaps even insane. She never believed the woman capable of  wanting revenge on this scale. Then her mind becomes clouded with rage again. A rage that burns through her soul life hell fire. “ You turned loose that monster on my people! You …you…” she can no longer form words. Now she only wants to act. She pulls the dagger from her hand and rushes towards Najara. She seizes the old woman by her robes and slams her to the floor.  “ Why?”  she screams into Najara’s face.

 “ You and Xena stole thirty years of my life. You stole my youth. You took everything from me.”

 “ And that justifies trying to exterminate my people? “

 “ Your people? Please Gabrielle. You are a peasant girl.”

 “ I am queen of the Amazons!”  Gabrielle screams. She raises the dagger over her head. She doesn’t care that she is about to murder a defenseless woman. She just wants retribution for the deaths of her sisters.

“ And you are a dead woman!”

 Her wrist is seized by another. She tries to pull loose but can’t. “ Gabrielle,”  Brunnhilda’s voice speaks softly into her ear. “ You’ve won. Velasca is dead. Your people are safe. Killing this woman in cold blood will not make things any different.”

 Gabrielle looks back over her shoulder into Brunnhilda’s eyes. Her eyes are pleading with her not to do this. Not to take this road from which she has fought all her life to stay off. She can feel her body trembling with the need to drive the dagger into Najara for the deaths of the Amazons.

 “ I can’t let you do this,” Brunnhilda says grasping Gabrielle’s wrist tighter and then trying to wrestle the dagger from her grip with her other hand.

 Gabrielle’s mind flashes back to years ago when Xena had pulled back the cover on a bed in Chin and she had said those words to her warrior princess. She lets loose her grip on the weapon and Brunnhilda takes it from her. Najara forgotten , she continues to stare into Brunnhilda’s eyes until another voice catches her attention.

  “My queen,” Harrika says in a stammering voice.

 Gabrielle looks to Harrika and sees her pointing behind them. She turns her gaze and is stunned to see the staff that Najara has been using to walk with is standing of its own accord. All Amazon eyes go to the staff as well. She can hear Najara giggling.

 She stands with Brunnhilda at her side and stares at it. The staff is a crooked and twisted piece of wood. Whatever rests atop it is by no means over the staff’s center of gravity, if it even had one. There is no way the thing could have been balanced to stay up right. Gabrielle looks at the cloth covering that has garnered her attention every time she has seen it. She steps closer and with a snatch pulls the cloth off.

 She stares with disbelief at a skull that has been pieced together like some hideous jigsaw puzzle. The artifact is not complete , still missing pebble sized chunks and most of its teeth. A yellowish resin is present  in small drops here and there. The jaw is bound in place with narrow pieces of cord. She looks transfixed at the skull mounted on the staff. She shakes her head to deny in her mind what she knows in heart is true. 

 <hello Gabrielle,>  a voice roars about the room.

 Gabrielle responds to the voice through clenched teeth. “ Alti.”


   IN PART 6

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