Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.


This story depicts scenes of violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hope Full attempts to explain some things that have not been explained thus far in the Xenaverse, especially in the episode Family Affair. There are some spoilers for other Seasons of Xena as well, but nothing big. This story is Book Two of Hope Full. By the way, this entire story is my look at what I thought was truly going on with our favorite bard in Season Four of X:WP. You’ll see what I mean. ;-)

Please feed the Bards; all comments, burnt or otherwise are appreciated.



By WLMcCord (Bill the Semi Bard) (c) 1999 (Revised 8-22-2000)

Book Two: The Bound Bard

Chapter One: Reunion with Terror

Gabrielle walked along rigidly. Birds sang in the familiar trees, and the scents in her nose all spoke of home, but she paid no attention. Her steps were measured and she looked neither to right nor left. Poteidaia, she thought, I'm almost there. I've lost my pack and my food and almost my life, but I managed to escape from those robbers on the road last night and now I'm almost ... home.

What she would do when she reached her home was another thing. Xena ... Xena would not be there and the bard had no idea where to find her. She had paid her last few dinars trying to send messages to the warrior, assuring her that she was still alive after the ordeal at Dahak's temple; but to no avail.

"I'm dead to her," the thought ran over and over in her head. "I fell into that damned pit with Hope and I'm dead to her. What will Xena do now without me? Please gods, she doesn't ... revert to evil."

"I've gotta find her ... I've gotta. Please sweet Artemis, goddess of the amazons, help me find Xena..." her green eyes filled with tears, "...she needs me ... and by the gods, I need her..."

There was a sudden flurry of motion in front of her and Gabrielle gasped as a vision of death itself burst through the bushes with a raised sword and killing snarl fixed on grim lips. The dark clad warrior woman with wild hair stared eye to eye with the terrified bard for a moment before striking. It was Xena.

"Oh, Zeus," the thought flashed through Gabrielle's mind, "I'm too late. She's snapped and I'm gonna be one of her victims."

Then as she watched unable to even speak, the killing snarl changed, the sword wavered. The warrior's expression flashed from recognition through uncertainty, to wild hope, to doubt, back to hope mixed with disbelief and ended finally with joy and acceptance.

"Gabrielle?" Her words were choked. "Gabri ... is it ... you?" The sword fell from her hand with a clang on the ground. Open-handed, defenseless, she approached with trembling steps.

They embraced and slowly rocked back and forth sobbing, "It's you. It IS you," into one another’s hair. It was Xena who first pulled back from the embrace. Cupped the bard's face and looked deep into Gabrielle's eyes. Her voice was strangled as she fought to breathe.

"I searched for you ... I searched for you ... I was af-fraid..." Her voice trailed away and she could not speak. Tears ran unnoticed down her cheeks.

"Dead. You thought I was dead," Gabrielle finished with a sob. "What else could you think...?"

"I coulda had faith," Xena choked with a trembling smile, "you would have ... I should've known you'd survive..."

"How could you? I didn't know that I was gonna survive..." the bard turned her wet face to the sky for a moment, then looked back. Her expression was that of a lost child. "I'm not sure that I have really..."

Xena kneeled down before her, taking the bard's hand in both of hers. "What happened to you? Where have you been?"

"I don't remember much ... I remember falling..." Gabrielle shuddered, brushing an involuntary tear from her face. Xena kissed her hand trying to comfort her as a tear slid down her own cheek.

The bard squeezed her hand and continued raggedly. "Oh, and there was the fire and th-the rocks ... I remember Hope ... screaming when she died ... Then I guess I blacked out. I woke up in a hospice and apparently I'd been there for a long time and ... and I sent word to you..."

They looked at each other and their eyes spoke volumes. I thought you were dead. How could you know I wasn't? I should have known. I'm alive and I've found you. Now that we're together, I'll never let you go again.

Finally Xena swallowed; she looked down, then back up into Gabrielle's eyes. "I-I don't know how ... to tell you this..." she said, her voice raw with emotion. Gabrielle stared at her, eyes widening as she realized the impossibility that the warrior was hinting at.

"Hope's ... a-alive?" Her voice cracked with disbelief.

Xena just looked at her, saying nothing. Then she nodded once, almost imperceptibly.

Gabrielle stared into space. "By the gods..." she murmured softly. "She's ... alive. How is that possible..."

"I don't know," grunted the Warrior Princess, "you said you saw her die, but she is VERY much alive. Her son too..."

The bard hid her face in her hands. "After everything ... we went through ... she ... she's still alive."

"Yeah," Xena said shortly. "I'm sorry..."

"Wait a minute," Gabrielle gulped; her head came up and there was a look of panic on her face. "You ... you were ready to attack me." She blinked rapidly. "You thought I was Hope!" She felt her heart begin to pound. "Th-Then that mean's ... she's HERE? At ... at Poteidaia?"

Xena nodded grimly. "With your family," she said, biting off the words. "They think she's ... you."

It was too much; Gabrielle screamed then; a wordless, echoing scream of horror and fear. She bounded to her feet and flew past the surprised Warrior. She began running in the direction of her home heedless of anything but one thought. Her family; get to her family!

"EeeEEEeee-Yip!" A sudden flurry of somersaults put the Warrior Princess in front of her as the bard ran blindly towards her. Xena leaped forward and grabbed her friend around the waist. Their heads cracked painfully together with the momentum and they fell down with Xena on top.

"Let me go," the bard shrieked, struggling against her big friend. "I'll kill her if she's hurt them. I'll kill her!"

"No, ya don't! I gotcha! Yer not goin' anywhere," said the warrior calmly holding her down. "Focus, Gabrielle! FOCUS! Listen to me!"

Gabrielle struggled for a moment but Xena held her firmly. Her body relaxed suddenly and she took a deep breath. She looked up at the warrior, her green eyes haunted. "Talk," she whispered.


Chapter Two: What I Did Last Summer…

Xena gazed down at her friend for a moment, then nodded and rolled off of the bard and sat next to her on the ground. The petite strawberry blond remained lying on her back, breathing slowly; watching the raven-haired woman.

"Hope has been masquerading as you for some time now. As far as I can figure, she's been here since a couple of weeks after you two ... fell into Dahak's pit." The Warrior Princess swallowed and pain shown in her eyes for a moment. Gabrielle remained where she was, regarding her, just breathing.

"She must have birthed that monster she and Ares conceived shortly after she got out of the pit..." Xena grimaced. She pulled a tuft of grass up from beside her and began separating it slowly, blade by blade. "For some reason, maybe revenge, maybe curiosity about your family, she decided to bring the Destroyer here to Poteidaia. She hid it somewhere outside of town while she stayed with ... your family. She seems to have come here and just been waiting for something ... maybe my arrival."

Gabrielle blinked rapidly, but said nothing; she watched Xena.

"Anyhow, after you ... died, I went hunting for the god Hades, to find you. I-I had to know why you did ... what you did for me." Xena closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them she looked straight at the bard. She swallowed. "Hades said you were not with him and we figured since you had joined the Amazons that you must be in their land of the dead and ... and he has no control of that..."

At mention of the Amazons, the bard stopped breathing. She looked at Xena and her face was stricken. "By the gods..." she whispered brokenly. "Xena ... that means you and I ... the Elysian Fields … we ... we can never … oh, gods, no!"

"Yeah," the warrior whispered. She smiled lopsidedly. "It doesn't matter Gabrielle, we both know I'm not going to the Elysian Fields when I die ... it's Tartarus for me, crucified for eternity; I've seen it, remember?"

"NO!" Gabrielle flung herself on Xena and buried her face in the warrior's shoulder. After a moment she spoke, her voice muffled. "No. We're gonna change that, dammit. We'll work together; with my help you're gonna do enough good to even out the balance ... Hades won't dare condemn you to Tartarus, you'll see."

Xena held the smaller woman away and smiled tenderly at her. "I know you believe that and I love you for it, but even if it works out; you'll still be in the Amazon Eternity ... Hades gets me, the Amazon's get you, no matter which way it goes."

"Oh, Xena..." Gabrielle choked. Her green eyes filled with unshed tears.

"Hush." Xena hugged the bard to her, then drew back. "All this doesn't matter now ... we've got other fish to fry. We'll figure that out when we get to it, okay?"

"O-Okay..." the bard sniffled; she pulled back her coppery hair and wiped at her eyes. "So, Xena ... where were you all this time? Why did you only just now come to Poteidaia to look for me?"

The Warrior Princess looked uncomfortable. "Well, I thought you were dead and in the Amazon Afterlife, so I went north to ... to use my magical knowledge of the northern Amazon tribes to follow you into ... death."

Gabrielle frowned. She took Xena's hands in hers. "Death? Xena ... does that mean what ... what it sounds like?"

The warrior looked away and a tear slid down her cheek but her voice was steady. "I left my body and entered the Amazon Lands of the Dead as a-a spirit. I was going to follow you into their eternity and once I had done that, there would be no going back..."

The small woman shook her head wordlessly. She reached to Xena's cheek and with her thumb wiped away the tear. The big warrior took her friend's hand and kissed the palm.

"So, since you are here, obviously you didn't do that after all," the bard said slowly; she turned one corner of her mouth up in a wry smile. "What happened to stop you?"

"Well, I was about to go, but then I-I thought I heard your voice calling me." The warrior looked bewildered. "It was so real. It stopped me. I talked to you just like you were there. I said that I heard you and I wanted to see you more than anything because you were my light, but then I realized that ... that you had given me my own light and that there was something else I had to do first ... something you would want me to do, so I told you..."

"...You told me you loved me..." Gabrielle interrupted with a whisper. "You were wearing an animal skin headpiece with strange symbols and deer antlers ... and you were crying."

Xena stared at her. "How could you know that," she stammered.

"I saw it all in a dream I had at the hospice when I called your name." The bard gulped. "It was the night my memory finally came back."

The two stared at each other for a moment, then Gabrielle smiled weakly. "So what was the thing you said you had to do first before finding me?"

The big warrior looked uncomfortable. "Long ago I helped a witch named Alti to take the power of the northern Amazons. To restore their power I had to ... to kill Alti. While doing that I saw a vision of ... you." Xena looked unconsciously at her hands and shivered; Gabrielle raised an eyebrow but didn't interrupt. "Anyway, from that I knew you were alive, so afterwards I headed back as fast as I could. I found Joxer there at what was left of Dahak's temple and we came here..."

"So, what did you see in the vision..." the bard asked curiously.

Xena got to her feet with decision and pulled the smaller woman up. "Time enough for that later. We gotta get back to your family. Lila's bound to be back there by now and the fact that there are two of you is gonna take some explaining as it is. Let’s get going."

"By the gods, you're right." Gabrielle groaned. "I almost forgot in the midst of all this; come on." Arm in arm they started through the woods towards her family's farm.


Chapter Three: Pretending Hope…

As they went Xena quickly filled her friend in on how she and Joxer had come to Poteidaia and had at first mistaken Hope for Gabrielle at the market. She then told of the first encounter with the Destroyer in her family’s barn and the aftermath when Xena had realized that her worst enemy was masquerading as her best friend. Finally she related how Hope had tried to kill Lila at the old bridge to distract the Warrior Princess so that she could get away to meet the Destroyer.

"So, what are we gonna do when we get there," gulped the bard, tripping over a root. "How are we gonna handle this?"

"I've been thinking about that," the warrior said. "We need to get the Destroyer back into your family's barn like it was the first time when I thought Hope was you; then we need a diversion. Something to distract it so that I can get a clear shot with my chakram..." she stopped suddenly and took her friend by the arm.

"You," she hissed.

"Me?" The bard glanced involuntarily behind herself then back. "What do you ... oh, no! Y-You want me to pretend to be ... Hope?"

"Yeah," the warrior said curtly.

"You've gotta be kidding," the bard gulped. "It'll never work..."

Xena grinned savagely. "But don't you get it, Gabrielle? It's perfect! Hope's been pretending to be you all this time. Now the shoe is on the other foot! Neither she or that beast even know you are alive!"

"Xena, I don't know about this..."

"The Destroyer will have no reason to suspect you're not Hope. While you distract it, I'll get a clean shot..." Xena's blue eyes were ice cold and the bard shivered in spite of herself, "...and one is all I'll need."

"But, Xena," Gabrielle protested. "I've never even seen this thing yet. S-Suppose I freeze, or make some mistake and it isn't fooled? Then what?"

The warrior grinned. "You can handle yourself for a couple of seconds ... just pretend you're onstage telling a story."

"Very funny," the petite woman snapped. "I'm not laughing here, Xena. I'm serious and I'm scared..."

Xena arched an eyebrow. "So do you have a better plan?"

"No! I'm still scared, but we'll do it your way. Let's go."

She began quickly walking again. The further they went, the faster she moved until they were almost trotting.

Finally Xena spoke up. "Gabrielle, slow down!"

"Xena," the bard gasped, "we're almost there!" Indeed the family farm was just ahead through the trees. The two were approaching from behind the barn; beyond it on the other side was the house.

"Look," the warrior said sharply. "You'll blow the plan if you don't get focused. You lose your head and we are history!"

Gabrielle raised her face to the sky and clasped her hands together. "The thought of Hope with my family ... I mean, if she were to hurt them..."

"She won't," the Warrior Princess spoke with authority. "Now that she knows I'm onto her, she'll use your family as leverage. As long as she needs them they're safe; you know that."

"I DON'T know that," the bard said worriedly as they came up to the barn. "Xena, you keep expecting Hope to act logically; I can't afford to."

There was a small door into the structure and the two friends entered after listening to make sure no one was inside. They went through the barn to the front and peered cautiously around the doorjamb at the house. The families chicken flock was pecking its' hungry way across the farmyard between the house and the barn, but there were no humans in sight.

The Warrior Princess spoke quietly. "Okay, you stay here. I'll go in and see if Hope is here; it wouldn't do for her to see you. If she's not, I'll explain things to your parents and sister and you can come in; otherwise you may have to stay here until dark."

"All right," Gabrielle said crossly. "Just go on, will'ya? Seems like everybody gets to see my family before I do; even Joxer."

"Gabrielle..." the warrior said softly.

The bard sighed. "I know, I know. I'm sorry, just go on, huh? I'll be all right."

"I know you will; I'll hurry." Xena laid a hand on her shoulder. "By the way, did I say it's good to have you back?"

The petite woman smiled and hugged her friend. "No, but I gathered as much. Thanks."

"You're welcome," Xena said affectionately. "Try to keep out of sight, huh?" She turned and strode out of the barn towards the house.


Chapter Four: The Best Laid Plans…

Gabrielle waited, pacing nervously back and forth in the straw, breathing the familiar smells of the farmyard. Every few minutes she would go to the door, peek around it and peer across the yard to the house. Her house, so near yet so far.

"Come on, Xena," she thought. "I want to see mom and dad ... and Lila. You said that Hope almost killed her at that damned bridge. I want her to know it wasn't me that caused it."

Maybe she should go in now. Xena had not come running back, so Hope must not be there. Certainly it should be all right. Xena must have told her family by now what the score was; about Hope fooling them and Gabrielle waiting to come in. How long could that take for Gaia's sake? Her lips pressed into a thin line.

"That's it," she thought. "I've had it. Here I come Xena, ready or not."

Gabrielle had just started out the door, when Xena came around the house from the front. Even from there the Warrior Princess looked beaten down, discouraged. The bard stopped, then backed up and hid behind the door again.

Xena came jogging across the yard to the barn, looking behind her every few steps. Inside the door, she looked around wearily. "Gabrielle?" She spoke softly, sounding unhappy.

"I'm here. What took so long? Can I go in now..." her voice caught. "Xena, what is it?"

"It's Hope," the warrior grunted. "She's got Joxer tied up someplace waiting for that damned monster of hers. I've gotta go find him, or it's all over for him."

"What? By the gods, Xena, lets go! We've gotta save him."

"No, listen Gabrielle." The warrior placed both hands on the bard's shoulders. "While I free Joxer, you've gotta stay here and be ready for when I lure that beast in here. Yer our only hope of fooling it long enough for me to get in a killing strike."

"All right," the strawberry-blond bard groaned. "Wait a minute; how do you know this about Joxer?"

"Hope's in the house," the Warrior Princess said reluctantly. "She told me."

"What?" The young woman yelped. "She's in there? You TALKED to her? Why didn't you take her out then..."

"For Zeus' sake, don't you think I wanted to?" Xena growled. "But your family was all there too ... and they were protecting her from me."

"What? Why?"

Xena looked disgusted. "She was all bruised like she had been beaten up and she was blaming it on me. Told them I did it to teach her a lesson because she had been clumsy enough to endanger Lila at the bridge." She shook her head. "Hope's clever all right. She must have done it all to herself so she could keep me away from them. She even has Lila back on her side now."

"But surely you could have gotten past them..."

"Sure I could have, but you remember her power to move things with her mind? She had those swords your dad kept on the wall floating in mid air behind your mom and dad and ready to strike them if I tried anything."

"Damn her," Gabrielle cried wrathfully. "They must'a been scared to death by swords floating around!"

"No. None of them saw it, not even Lila." Xena was grim, "Hope had the swords hovering behind them while they were all looking at me. I could see them, but your folks never did. She as much as dared me to attack her; said any blood spilled would be my fault…"

The petite woman groaned with frustration.

The warrior shook her head ruefully. "Your little Hope is good, I gotta give her that; she had them furious at me. You know your father was ready to take me on with an ax?" Xena grinned in spite of herself. "I guess your mother and Lila would have used their fingernails on me."

"Oh, gods, Xena," the bard choked. "It's all coming apart. What are we going to do now..."

The Warrior Princess glanced over her shoulder to the house, then back to her friend. "Look, Gabrielle. You are still our hole card. Hope still doesn't know you are alive. The plan is still good. You stay put here and let me bring that monster of hers in here. We'll deal with it first ... then her."

"But, how will you get it here? You don't know where it is..."

"Simple. I'll backtrack her to its lair. She has Joxer there, so she was there earlier. Once I find the lair, I'll free him and lure it here."

"Lure it how?" The young woman was worried.

"That's easy," Xena grinned humorlessly. "It doesn't like me already. Once I find it I'll stick my tongue out at it and then run like Tartarus all the way here!"

"And what about Hope?"

The Warrior Princess smiled without mercy. "Without Callisto, or Ares, or the Destroyer to back her up and without your family as hostages, Hope can be gotten to. Its just a matter of timing to get your family away from her." As she spoke, the warrior was checking her weapons.

"Anyway, Hope's not the problem; her damned monster is. I'll get it in here and start fighting it, and then you'll come out of hiding and be its mommy. You call it towards you ... and I'll take the shot and kill it; end of story."

"And what if I can't distract it away from you?" The bard’s voice was toneless.

"Your little grandson hates light." Xena’s grin was feral. "Make sure this oil lamp is lit and ready before I lure it in here ... then if your ruse fails to move it towards you, try to force it back with the light so I can get in a chakram throw. If I can hit it right, the Destroyer will be history!"

The Warrior Princess stuck her sword back in the sheath. "Be back in a while. Stay out of sight and everything will be all right." Her eyes narrowed as the emotionless fighting expression came over her face; she turned to leave.

"Xena," the bard gulped.

She turned back. "Yeah?" Her voice and face were hard; all business.

Gabrielle took Xena's hand and held it against her chest over her heart for a moment. "Please, just ... be careful."

The warrior's battle mask softened for a moment as she touched the bard's cheek with the back of her hand. "Yeah," she said again in a different tone of voice. She turned and went swiftly away.


Chapter Five: The Waiting At The Barn…

Inside the barn, Gabrielle looked at the lamp sitting on the barrel for the tenth time. It was a typical light source made of thin black iron beaten into a cylinder shape. There were various holes like a latticework to let light to shine through and air to feed the fire. A hinged door opened in the front of it to allow access to light the small olive oil reservoir in the bottom or to let out more light when needed. It had a u-shaped iron handle on the back for holding it up and a curved wire handle on top for carrying. The lamp weighed perhaps ten pounds, got hot, smokey, leaked easily and was cumbersome to use. In other words, it was state of the art for a tough, bright, portable lamp and anyone lucky enough to own one outside of Athens was proud.

It was growing near dark and Xena had been gone two hours. The bard had fidgeted away the time since the warrior had left between peering worriedly at the house through the door, muttering stories to herself, pacing back and forth through the straw and fiddling with the oil lamp.

She opened the small door in the lamp and checked it again. It was still full of oil from the last time she had checked it; which was still full from when she had filled it. She cursed softly and closed the lamp door again. She debated with herself whether to light it yet. She pulled back her hair and went over to the space behind the barrels where she had chosen to hide. Yep, it was still there.

Gabrielle went over to the door and looked out; in the farmyard the chickens still clucked and scratched. No one had come out of the house the whole time. It seemed awfully quiet. She assured herself that everything was fine and that the silence was good. She found herself at the barrel again, beginning to open the lamp door.

"Dammit," she said softly. In a stroke of decision, she lit the lamp. "Let it burn," she thought wildly.

She heard a noise from the house and darted to the door; peered cautiously around it. Her mother had come out on the back porch with a bowl. As the bard watched, her mother dumped the contents of the bowl on the ground, then stood staring out at the farmyard for a moment. Even over the distance, her face looked care worn and worried. She wiped at her eyes and a sob escaped her; then she turned heavily and went back in the house.

Gabrielle was torn; what could it mean? Why was her mother crying? Hecuba had never cried in front of her family that the bard could remember. Something must really be wrong. Almost before she knew it, Gabrielle found herself out of the barn and moving toward the house. She had to know what was going on in there.

"But let's not be stupid, Gab," she thought grimly. "Go to a back window like the one to your old room and see if you can hear something. It might be important for Xena to know what's happening in there and she'll be back any time, so you have to hurry."

Accordingly she crept up to the window into the room that she and her sister had shared for so many years and peered cautiously in. The room was empty of humans and she could hear a few muffled voices from the main part of the house. Strain as she might, she could not make out what was being said.

"Well," she thought, "I've gone this far..."


Chapter Six: A Tale of Two Sisters…

Before she had time to think it over, Gabrielle climbed quickly through the open window. Doing so reminded her of the many times she had climbed in and out of the very same window when she was younger. Nights when the restless young woman's mind would not shut off. When she just had to get off by herself and walk in the woods and fields of Poteidaia, listening to the peaceful night sounds and breathing the damp night air. Sometimes she would go skinny dipping in the lake, floating on her back and feeling the cool water rippling over her nakedness and the fish nibbling her body. Other times she would just lie in the soft grass looking up at the stars and make up stories for herself like her Uncle Morros had done.

She shook off the memories. Perhaps she could hear more from the door. She had just started forward when she heard quick footsteps approaching and the door began to open. She crouched quickly down behind the bed nearest the window and silently cursed her foolhardiness for being here. Looking past the dust rabbits under the beds, she saw her sister's boots come bustling in the door and stop by the other bed.

The cover began to move as Lila pulled it off the bed; from the sounds, Gabrielle could tell she was beginning to fold it up. Without further thought, she got noiselessly up from behind the bed and moved towards her sister.

Lila held up the blanket and shook it out, then lowered it to fold. She jumped with surprise to see Gabrielle moving towards her from the window when the blanket came down.

"Gabrielle, you scared me," she gulped, half in anger. "I told you I was gonna get more cloth for bandages."

The bard ran noiselessly on tiptoe past her surprised sister and quickly but carefully closed the door to the rest of the house. Then she rushed to Lila and grabbed her.

"Shhhst," she hissed, placing her fingers over Lila's wondering lips. "Don't say anything..." The bard found she was suddenly breathing hard and trembling. She gasped in air and whispered. "Look! I-It's me! It's Gabrielle!" Her green eyes were wide as they stared into her sister's face and she panted.

"Just ... I want you to listen to me..." she stopped and had to breathe. "I know that THING in there looks like me ... b-but it's not!" She glanced at the door and lowered her voice even further. "She ... she wants to kill us all!"

"Wha-What?" Lila started to stammer, but Gabrielle grabbed the back of her head and pushed her fingers hard against her sister's mouth.

"No! Shhh! Listen..." She could not seem to get enough air and panted through her mouth and Lila's eyes were wide and scared behind Gabrielle's hand.

The bard racked her brain for proof of who she was, staring at the ceiling for a moment. Then she spoke. "R-Remember ... remember when we were kids ... we got lost in the snow ... and I promised that I would give you my Solstice gift if you would just keep walking till we found help ... a-and I kept my word, d'you remember? I gave you that rag doll."

The bard looked into her sister's eyes, which were staring at her as if she had lost her mind. Had she failed? "D-Don't you remember?" Her voice was forlorn.

For a long moment, Lila gazed at her, then slowly nodded. Gabrielle released a ragged breath she hadn't known she was holding and slowly lowered her fingers from her sister's mouth. They stared at each other for a moment, then Lila turned her head and gave the door into the other room a venomous look. When she turned back to her sister they embraced and hugged as if their lives depended upon it. When she pulled back her face was tight.

"Oh, Gabby-el," she whispered, fear causing her to fall into the way she had spoken as a child before she could pronounce her big sister's name properly. "What're we gonna do?"

Gabrielle picked up the blanket. "Take this cloth out there ... act like nothing's wrong." She grimaced, then continued. "Tell mom and dad that you need help with some medicines and bring them in here..." she breathed heavily as Lila nodded, looking scared but determined.

"Be careful," the bard whispered as Lila turned to the door. "Hope is very smart." Her sister nodded again, straightened her shoulders and went out closing the door quietly behind her.

Gabrielle found herself shaking with reaction. "That was a stupid thing to say," she thought crazily. "Lila doesn’t know who Hope is." She took a deep breath and glanced around the familiar room where she had spent so many hours as both a child and an adult. She spied something on the dresser and moved towards it. Could it be? Yes! It was the old rag doll; her solstice gift. The one she had given Lila all those years ago for continuing to walk through the snow even though her short legs were aching and her cheeks and hands were stinging with cold. Even though she had wanted to lie down and rest for just a little while, Lila had wanted that rag doll more. And she had gotten it.

The bard picked it up and looked at it. It was faded and worn in places where young Lila had enjoyed chewing on it, but still intact for all of that. As she looked at it, Gabrielle seemed to notice movement in front of her. She glanced up, but it was only her reflection in the mirror on the wall. She looked down at the doll again but almost dropped it with shock as a voice spoke, cruel and rasping. "Hello, mother."


Chapter Seven: The Mother and Child Reunion…

Gabrielle gaped back at the mirror and found that she was not looking at herself after all, but a reflection of her daughter. The bard spun around and found to her horror that Hope was standing behind her. The daughter of Dahak was dressed exactly the same as her and they were as alike as peas in a pod with three exceptions. Unlike her mother, Hope had bruises on her right shoulder, a deep scratch on her right knee and her face was bloodied around her right eye and lower lip.

"Well," said Hope. "It's turned into quite the family reunion, hasn't it?" She took Lila's rag doll from Gabrielle's nerveless fingers, turned her back and walked to the bed. She glanced at the open door as she went and it swung shut with a thump and locked by itself at her thought.

She sat on the bed with the doll in her hands and looked thoughtfully up at her stunned mother. "What is it now," she said calmly, "four generations of us?"

Gabrielle's lungs seemed to empty of their own free will, the breath whooshing out as if someone had punched her in the stomach.

Hope paid no attention, looked pensively at the ceiling. "Let's see, there's your parents, there's you ... there's me ... and my pride, my joy..." She looked back at Gabrielle with a fierce smile. "Your grandson, mother ... the Destroyer."

The bard gasped in air and the words tumbled out of her mouth of their own volition. "Hope! Why aren't you dead?"

"Well, it's certainly not for your lack of trying, is it?" Hope spoke the words as if she were asking someone to pass the meat course. "The truth is, I could say the same thing about you..." she looked at the doll in her lap. She stretched out its arms and continued, "if I cared ... which I don't."

"I saw the fire that covered you..." Gabrielle said with awe, "No one s-survives that..."

"No one but me." Hope looked smug. "Dahak's flame, rising to save me ... but then I've always been daddy's little girl, haven't I?"

"Always..." Gabrielle whispered almost inaudibly.

"Is that why you never loved me?" The daughter of Dahak spoke in an uncaring manner, but the intensity with which she watched her mother belied the tone of the words.

"I loved you, Hope," the bard said in a lost voice, "I just had to stop you..."

Hope looked out from under her eyebrows at her mother. "For Xena?" She sounded almost jealous.

"No..." Gabrielle whispered harshly. "For us all!"

Hope opened her mouth to retort, but at that moment there was a bellowing roar outside; the sound of an angry animal enraged to bloodlust closing upon its prey. Both women looked towards the window and agonized thought flashed through Gabrielle's mind. Xena! By the gods, what a fool I am! It's here and she needs me! NOW!

The bard flung herself across the room before Hope could react and using the sill, vaulted out of the window. She landed running towards the barn cursing herself for getting distracted. The sun had gone down while she dallied with Hope and Xena needed her now to play the part of the monster's mother; perhaps the only thing that could save the warrior.

Behind her in the bedroom, her daughter sat with the rag doll and muttered venomously. "Bye-bye, mommy!"

Her hands on the doll convulsed and there was a ripping noise as old seams split and the head popped off. Hope watched without interest as sawdust bled out of her aunt's doll into a little pile on the floor. There was another bellow from somewhere outside and her face twitched in a horrible parody of a smile. "Guess I'd better go join the picnic before the food's all gone..." She dropped the drained body of the doll on the floor and went unhurriedly towards the barn.


Chapter Eight: Horror’s End Beginning

Panting with fear and exertion, Gabrielle plunged into the open door of the barn and stopped. There was an acrid musky smell in the air that she could not identify and it was dark inside, but she could see enough. There was the shing of steel as Xena drew her sword and an earth shuddering roar from a charging shadowy hulk covered with spines on it's back like a hedgehog. It stood at least seven feet tall on two bent legs and had bluish scaly skin; it must be the Destroyer. The bard saw the flash of the sword as her friend tried to swing it down at the nightmare shape coming at her.

Gabrielle heard the Warrior Princess grunt as the charging bulk catapulted into her and shoved her back against the wall. In horror the bard saw her friend struggle as she was shoved up the wall and her feet were lifted from the floor. Her sword was pinned and she could do nothing to defend herself as the growling monster lowered it's head to rip out her throat.

As the teeth in the awful mouth came close the helpless warrior snarled in a last futile show of defiance. "BITE ME," she hissed.

Gabrielle screamed then, one word without thinking. "WAIT!"

Surprisingly enough, the monster stopped and turned its head towards her with a questioning snarl. It looked at her over its spiny shoulder and the growl tapered off into a questioning noise. It really thinks I'm Hope, the bard thought with astonishment. Till this moment, she hadn't really imagined that the plan could work.

"Let's do it, together," she continued, unconsciously speaking in a parody of her daughter's slow rasping voice as she moved forward into the barn.

The monster shape turned towards her then, dropping the woman warrior. Xena slid down the rough wall, landing in a breathless and stunned heap on the floor of the barn. The creature paid her no mind, but lumbered towards the blond bard, arms outstretched as if to rend her.

Gabrielle was petrified at the sight of it and the closer it came, the more the funky acrid smell increased. Now she could identify a carrion stench of rotting meat on its hot breath too. Its face was a twisted parody of humanity and ape, with bulging frogeyes and crooked fangs. It breathed heavily as it shambled up to her and then made a burbling sound in its throat, which the horrified bard identified as the word "Mama" twisted and mumbled past fangs and drooling lips.

Something of her fear and disgust must have showed on her face, for the creature drew back with a bubbling frightened moan. The reaction of an infant when it has done something wrong and a parent shows dissatisfaction.

"A baby," she thought as wonder wrestled with her fright. "It's a big baby looking for mother's approval."

Behind it, she saw Xena back against the wall; the Warrior Princess was getting unsteadily to her feet. She had to keep it busy so that it wouldn't notice the warrior. Stretching past her fear, Gabrielle reached towards the Destroyer; touched and gripped it's twisted and gnarled hands. They were rough and scaly, hot and dry and on the wrist joint of each was a two-foot long spike of bone curving downwards like a scimitar. Humid carrion breath washed over her like the wind from a busy slaughterhouse.

Steeling herself, she pulled the hands gently and the monster came closer as if to embrace her, grunting and sighing almost as if in ecstasy at her touch. The bard put her hands on its hard horny chest and up onto its shoulders as it clumsily embraced her. The Destroyer was moaning and drooling on her and Gabrielle was gasping and biting her lips to keep from screaming aloud at the awfulness of the spiked and ugly thing looming over her.

Just as she thought she could stand no more, the young woman saw a movement above the monster's back, heard Xena's battle cry and the meat-ax sound of her sword striking flesh. The Destroyer threw its arms up and arched its back with a bubbling scream that was part angry roar, part shriek of pain. Gabrielle leaped backwards from it as the massive head lowered again and on its parody of a face was a look of shock and betrayal.

It roared like a volcanic eruption and swung one hideous scimitar wrist spike in a blow that would surely have decapitated the bard if she had not ducked. She ran sideways past it to where Xena was struggling to her feet after having been knocked backwards by the shock of stabbing it. Her sword was stuck deep into its back and it reached with futility behind itself trying to reach the horrible eighteen inches of steel fang that was biting it. It roared at the top of its lungs and the very air seemed to quiver. The bard and the warrior retreated as it reeled about bellowing and trying to reach the sword in the middle of its back.

Beside Xena, Gabrielle watched the stumbling monster that was her grandson, half in horror and half in guilt at the part she had played. "It's really just ... a baby," she thought almost sadly.

At that moment there was a scream of dismay and anger from the barn door. It was Hope; the daughter of Dahak and Gabrielle ran forward to her suffering child.

"NOOOOO," she screamed as she came. It was a mistake. To the pain blinded monster, it must have seemed as if its betrayer was returning to gloat. As she rushed up to her son, the Destroyer struck out in rage and the arm spike plunged deep down through her shoulder and buried itself to its full two-foot deadly length. It transfixed Hope like a butterfly on a pin and dark heart's blood ran down her back in a torrent.

Gabrielle's daughter gasped and shuddered, making terrible choking noises as her mouth opened and closed but no words came out. The Destroyer saw it's mother's face at the end of the wrist spike and a sort of bewildered noise came from it. Then it looked over its shoulder to where the bard and the warrior were standing some distance away. As it caught sight of them, it loosed its bubbling roar. Then the massive head swung back to look at its mother again.

Hope's eyes were dark with dying and a trickle of blood ran from her mouth. The monster's eyes widened, as it finally seemed to realize what had happened. A keening wail of desolation came from the Destroyer and it cradled Hope to it's chest sobbing the garbled word "Mama" over and over in an agony of loss and despair.

With what had to be the last of her strength the daughter of Dahak embraced her son and laid her head lovingly on its spiked shoulder. Her eyes were wide and deep as they stared at Gabrielle and the bard felt an electric shock go through her. She started to step forward, but was stopped by Xena's hand on her arm. Nostrils flaring, eyes wide, she stared at her dying daughter held close in the grip of her dying grandson.


Chapter Nine: Death Has a Sting…

As she watched the horrible scene feeling sick, Gabrielle thought she heard something; a faint, whispering as if a … voice. "Mother..." Was that Hope she heard? The bard looked at Xena, but the warrior was watching the swaying Destroyer and seemed to have noticed nothing. She looked back at Hope and her grandson and again felt that electric tingle as she caught her daughter's eyes and a current seemed to flow between them.

"Mother??" The questioning voice rang like a bell in her mind. It seemed to be closer now, traveling on the current between her daughter and her. She stared at Hope's eyes and saw them widen suddenly and she felt her own eyes go wide in shock as well. Then her daughter's eyes closed.

"MOTHER!!" The voice was overwhelming now. In a daze, Gabrielle heard the voice all around her; in her mind! She saw the dying Destroyer collapsing to the ground. It pulled her daughter's body with it down into death with a final groan and suddenly she swayed. A roaring voice seemed to fill her mind and a dark bubbling current swept through her and the current was somehow her daughter ... was somehow, Hope!

"Hello, mother! I'm back and I'm better than ever." The hateful voice of her daughter surrounded her and filled her very being.

Gabrielle opened her mouth to say, "What's going on?" but different words came plaintively out of her mouth. "By the gods, Xena. Do you realize? We've just killed off two generations of my family at once."

"Yeah, thank Zeus." Xena looked at the bard and her blue eyes were worried. "Uh, sorry. Gabrielle? Are you all right? You look pale."

In rising horror Gabrielle felt her mouth open and heard her lips speaking words she had not planned. "Yeah, I'm okay I guess ... I'm just, tired. It's been a long day."

"I can't disagree with you there," groaned the warrior woman, feeling her chest. There was a bruise starting where the Destroyer had struck her. Cautiously she stretched her muscles and winced. "I thought I was a goner for certain. By the way," she said sharply. "Where in Tartarus were you? I thought the plan was for you to stay here till I got back so you could distract it. You only just got here in time you know."

Gabrielle tried to answer, but again found her mouth opening and saying words without her volition. "I was, uh, checking out the house. I thought I could ... maybe get my parents away from Hope..."

"And did you?"

"No, Hope was too smart for me." Confused and frightened, Gabrielle felt a bubbling laugh inside her head and silent mind-words followed. "Oh, this is fun, mommy!"

Then the bard’s spoken voice continued, still without Gabrielle’s willing it. "I couldn't get them alone, Xena. When I heard the roaring I came back as quick as I could. I'm sorry..."

"It's all right," said the warrior. "It worked out, but it was touch and go for a while. That thing was smart and that's for sure. It threw a water skin at the lamp when I tried to use it, then it blocked my chakram throw with a door. When it charged all I had was my sword and when my swing missed, it had me."

"Yes," said Gabrielle's voice, "and then I … arrived ... and your plan worked just like … like you said it would."

And inside of Gabrielle, the bubbling evil voice continued, "...and because of it, everything was spoiled and my son and I both died, damn you to Tartarus, mother!"

"Hope?" The bard’s thought was sick with terror. "Is ... is that YOU doing this to me? Where are you," she thought fearfully, although she dreaded the answer.

"Oh, yes, mommy dear," came the black and chuckling thought filling her mind. "It's me doing it all right. Your little Hope's body may be dead, but I've found a NEW home now and I think I'm going to be QUITE comfortable here ... inside of ... YOU!"


Chapter Ten: Fetters of the Mind

It was an hour before dawn. The windmill spun slowly in the light pre-morning breeze, creaking for want of oil. Gabrielle sat on the bench in the farmyard looking wan and tired. Xena walked up and sat beside her, looking equally tired. The Warrior Princess picked at a scab on her hand.

Gabrielle's family had come out after the fight in the barn had finally quieted down. It had taken a long time for the explanations to sink in about who Hope had been. How it had not been Gabrielle who had been with them for the last month eating, talking, living and smiling at them. They had gazed with horror at the two bodies and at last believed the impossible. Herodotus and Hecuba had apologized for their treatment of Xena and Lila had thanked the Warrior Princess again for saving her at the bridge.

Gabrielle's father had hitched up his horse to get the bodies out of the barn and away from the house for the night. Together they dragged Hope and the Destroyer out to the field and covered them with a tarp for burning in the morning. Finally the exhausted family had gone to bed to rest uneasy with their new and frightening knowledge of the world.

Gabrielle too had learned something new and frightening as she sat somewhere deep inside of her own body and Hope's spirit sat somehow on top of her and controlled everything, running her body, speaking through her mouth and making her every move.

The two who were three sat there silently, just breathing in the early morning air. The bard was unmoving, but inside her was a far different story. Gabrielle strained in every way she could think of, trying to make her body move, speak, blink, scream, but nothing worked.

"Xena," she tried to say. "Xena, help me! Hope isn't dead! She's inside me and has control of me! Xena, please..." but her raging thoughts never became words.

Hope watched her mother's every inner struggle, alternating between laughing and taunting her. "Relax into it, mommy! I'm in control here, not you. You can't get past me; I AM a half-god you know. Just settle back and enjoy the ride!"

"No," the bard thought furiously, "leave me, Hope! I will get free soon and kick you out. Leave now and save yourself."

"No can do, mommy. If I leave, this time I die ... Father’s flames aren’t anywhere around and I've got no place to go since you killed my body, but I think I'm gonna like it here!" The dark thoughts chuckled around like bubbles in a dirty fish tank. "Besides I owe both you and Xena SO much and yer gonna find out that paybacks are a real witch!"

"Hope, you can't possibly keep this up," the bard's thoughts were desperate. "Xena will notice sooner or later if you have me act differently and figure out what’s going on; then she will get rid of you."

"You think so? Not before I kill her. You think Xena's so smart? Okay, watch this, mother..." bubbled the dark voice inside her. "Your wonderful Warrior Princess is so dumb, she won't even get it when I tell her the absolute truth."

"It's over..." Hope spoke through Gabrielle's mouth, sounding tired. Xena grunted and kept picking at the scab on her hand.

"Or ... is it?" Her voice sounded lost, and the warrior gazed at her questioningly and Hope stood up and walked a few feet away. Helpless to interfere, Gabrielle watched in torment as Hope turned her to face her friend, wringing her hands and looking pensive.

"Xena, do you ever get the feeling that sometimes, nothing's really over? You know? It just keeps coming back around..." Hope touched herself on the abdomen with both hands pointed inward. "But it's wearing a different face ... it's the same underneath. You know what I mean?"

Xena spoke wearily from the bench. "Sure. I was trapped in a cycle of violence and hatred and no matter how I tried to break free, something always pulled me back..." Her voice softened, "until you."

"Xena..." Hope spoke tenderly, laughing inside.

"No, it's true. You talk about trying to find your way, but to me ... you are my way." The warrior looked at the ground, almost shyly.

"I told you, mom," chuckled that inner voice. "Is she dense or what? She hasn’t got a clue that I’m here and I even as much as told her! Listen to this." Gabrielle watched helplessly as she heard her voice speak to her best friend.

"Oh, Xena. How can I be 'your way', when I'm lost myself?" From Gabrielle's unique perspective the words sounded mocking, but Xena apparently noticed nothing strange about them.

It broke Gabrielle's heart to see the desolate look this bald statement caused to appear on the big warrior's face. She felt Hope's savage joy well up bubbling around her as it became apparent how much the words hurt Xena.

"Oh, mother," came the dark and joyful thought, "this is going to be SO much fun! This is even better than having my son kill her! I’ll drive her absolutely crazy with guilt before I stick a knife in her eye while she’s asleep!"


Chapter Eleven: The Horror of Hope…

As the horror of Hope’s words and the awfulness of her situation struck home, Gabrielle became enraged. She tried to push, kick, scream her way loose, force her way to the surface of her body past the bonds by which her daughter held her fast inside herself.

"Xena, oh, Xena," she tried to cry out. "Don't listen to her! She's not me! I'm here! I'm inside! I'm trying to get loose! Xeeennnaaaa!" The words remained only thoughts however, never reaching her lips.

"No, no, mother dear," bubbled the inner darkness scathingly, "stop trying to joggle my elbow, or I'll shut you down so completely you won't even be able to hear what's going on out here."

Outside, Xena looking at the ground spoke quietly, almost shyly. "Gabrielle ... I'm searching for answers too. But how we look doesn't matter," she turned her open face to the bard, "as long as we look for them together, you and me."

Gabrielle felt awed by the vulnerability and trust Xena was showing. By the gods, the big warrior was almost begging the bard to stay with her; as if she thought her friend would leave now that they had found each other again. Gabrielle's heart filled with both love and shame at the same time. Love for what her friend was sharing with her, shame at knowing that Xena had no idea who she was truly speaking to.

Inside, Hope laughed mockingly at her enemy; outside, she allowed a loving smile to show on her mother's face.

To her continued shame and rage, Gabrielle saw herself sit down beside the dark haired woman and lay her head on the muscled shoulder. Steal an arm around the warrior's waist. From the corner of her eye she saw a contentment come over Xena's weary face.

"How's that, mother dear," snickered her daughter. "That's just what you'd do, isn't it?"

Gabrielle screamed silently inside. "Damn you, Hope! Let me go!" She raved at her inwardly chuckling daughter to no avail. "XENA! Can't you tell it's not me beside you? It's not ME, Xena! IT'S NOT ME! Wake up, dammit!"

Outside, Xena laid her head on top of the bard's red-gold hair. "Well, I guess we have a job ahead of us yet," she sighed. "We're gonna have to dispose of your ... I mean the ... bodies soon. They ... should be burned as soon as possible before they get too ... you know..." she trailed off uncomfortably.

Inside Gabrielle, it was Hope's thoughts that now bellowed silently. "That was my son, damn you; my pride and joy! He was hardly more than a baby!" She seethed. "Bad enough you killed me, but you killed my baby as well! Murderer! Oh, you'll pay for this, Warrior Princess! You'll pay and pay and pay..."

Xena went on, noticing none of this inner turmoil. "Gabrielle ... I just want to say ... I-I know Hope had to be destroyed, but I know you felt that she was truly your daughter and for that I'm sorry."

Hope's dark thoughts flooded through Gabrielle like a squid's ink in water. "Oh, no, Xena. You only think you're sorry now, but you'll BE sorry all right. Before this is through I'll make you sorry you were ever born." The blackness now spun towards Gabrielle. "And you'll be right here the whole time to enjoy the ride, mother dear, because I owe you big-time too."

It was too much; Gabrielle's incoherent thoughts raged and spun about incessantly. "Damn you, Hope! Damn you-Damn you-Damn YOUUUU! I hate you-I HATE YOU! Let me go-let me go-LET ME GOOOOOOO!"

If ++ Ei@J1фAޗPEEEP}֢1sw-9c;2[8Ús?hԞQ8!g*OTcqL5FW>Ƞ`#/PsixT,z; s6rϸ rau&5Az~v@i[v+1Pg=TY<`6#7~OqwOso2eyKHxHObF^Kbn_ȧuVU⵶B fyAzUhJъP`_**Ҟqu[ZƦ7^6JT[9O.;* (\^3)EiK9 F'0PϰHݖxE |xE Box 500 Beeton, ON L0G 1A0 CANADA. http://www.mindworkshop.com This comment will not appear in files created with a registered version.;an="2" COLOR="#000000" FACE="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif">All kinds of women-in-bondage photos."Go to sleep, mommy. I'll wake you up when we get to the good part!"

As the last of the vanishing light in her mind faded out like a dying star, Gabrielle's final thought was a mere whisper that she clung to like death.

"Xena ... I love ... you."

Then the blackness closed completely around her and she knew nothing more.

Continued in Hope Full, Book Three: Devi’s, Demons and Deceits

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