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by John Syverud
Disclaimer: This story contains low level violence. If you are offended
by this please read another story.
Under the looming shadow of her dark past, Xena drove Argo like the wind. Through dark hills and valleys she rode as blackness took her like an evil skin, pulsing in her mind, tainting her thoughts. Raped by guilt, her mind was naked to her evil side. It writhed in torment as many dark thoughts struggled for voice. They pressed ominously on her, frightening her and tempting her with their dark taste. They made Xena shiver, and in her fear drive Argo faster. The enduring light in her soul slowly waned as evil spread its shadow over it. Slowly the night was enfolding her like a shroud.
As Xena passed through the night and darkness spread over her mind, Gabrielle would penetrate the storm of her thoughts, a gentle voice of peace amidst many angry ones. When Xena saw her face, she would close her eyes and hide herself in her own darkness, but could not turn her heart away from Gabrielle. Before her eyes hung Gabrielle's face, somber and frightened, as Xena left her alone in the night.
It clouded Xena's face over in pain to think of the grief she had caused Gabrielle. Gabrielle had been Xena's friend when no one else would. She had placed her faith in Xena, and through her darkest times had loved her. She carried Xena's disgrace on her shoulders. Gabrielle was what gave Xena hope each new day. Xena thought of Gabrielle's smiling face and caring eyes, and her darkened heart lit up with love. She closed her eyes and rested in the sanctuary of Gabrielle's face as darkness briefly lifted from her troubled soul.
As Xena reveled in her peace, a stab of pain wounded her heart, stirring her from Gabrielle's face back into the grim darkness of the starless, moonless, night. Her dark thoughts returned. Even as she loved and longed for Gabrielle, Xena feared her. Xena realized as she drove Argo on that, more than Gabrielle, she feared herself. In her mind there pulsed a grim duress to see if Phillius was still alive. In her heart Xena knew that she was fleeing Gabrielle. Xena left the path and headed into the forest, where Phillius was camped.
After leading Argo through the underbrush for awhile, Xena tethered her to a tree and disappeared in the sleeping forest. In the dead, still, silence of night, the voices of soldiers were heard calling out. Xena crept silently through the shadowy forest lest she wake the trees. The trees, tall and silent regarded her austerely, their empty faces condemning her every move. They stood blindly to her, gravely denying her place among them. They judged her every step, they hated her touch. They looked on her as they did the soldiers that had invaded their peace. Tall and grim, the trees were like the placid faces of her own people after she led their sons into battle against Cortes, and returned them to their mothers, dead.
As Xena stole through the forest, the soldiers voices, harsh and laughing, were heard more clearly. In the still night, sound carried as though in a vacuum. Xena crept through the trees, a shadowy silhouette, until she came to a clearing. Through the foliage, Xena spied a busy campsite. Many dim profiles of soldiers stood in the clearing, outlined by the dim glow of a few burning fires. Many tents stood in the clearing. The tallest one, trimmed in purple silk and animal pelts, and mounted with a coat of arms, Xena knew must belong to the commander. In the black silent shade she lay and waited. At some time in the eternity of the shiftless night Xena saw exit from the tent a figure from out of her past. Phillius.
Xena's eyes spread wide and the darkness laying siege to her soul intensified. Every face, every name, she ever had wronged appeared in her eyes. Xena fell on her hands as peace slipped away like smoke through her fingers. All light left Xena's face. A dull silence fell upon her, deeper than before. It thrummed in her ears like the hum of the dead. A pall was on Xena's eyes. She felt the pain of Phillius' crimes pressing on her soul. Xena felt ill. She looked to the sky.
The empty, starless, night hung ominously above her like a black skin woven of the threads of her soul. It violated the shadowy cradle of her mind and plucked at the threads closest to her heart. Sacred memories interred deeply in Xena's soul stirred from sleep as she looked somberly at the starless night sky. It seemed to her to belong to the dark shadows haunting her. Xena's thoughts darkened. This black night her eyes had seen before, and its memory awakened a sleeping shadow deeply in her heart subsumed. As the dull hum in her mind swelled and became a soft, deliberate, murmur, Xena closed her eyes.
When Xena opened her eyes she wore a different skin and her heart was in the past. The same dead night sky hung over her. Woven in the empty silence like black silken threads was a gentle whisper. Xena's eyes blackened, and fell from the sky. Lyceus lay before her, dying in the lonely, desolate shadows of night. His body, dark and still, bleed upon the desolate earth. All light left Xena's face as a shadow of anguish as deep as the night spread over her body, darkening her soul.
The soft murmur of Lyceus' breaths was, in Xena's ears, like fingers tracing faces in the earth. The sound awakened dark old feelings in Xena that had rested in her since the night Lyceus had died. They pulled cruelly at the threads of her bleeding mind, unraveling from memory her darkest emotions. Xena's eyes bleed tears of lament. She embraced Lyceus, lifting him from the ground and cradling his dying body in her arms. Sorrow fell like tears upon her soul as death's pallid mask slowly darkened Lyceus' face. Blackness fell over her eyes.
When Xena opened her eyes, Lyceus was gone. The tall monolithic shadows of trees stood somberly over her. She was alone, bowed in mourning under the black skin of night. Where Lyceus had lay dying, the ground was dark and empty, like Xena's heart. Woven in the silence of the night was the gentle whisper of her own breaths. Her face was sullen, and her eyes lost in sorrow. Lyceus had been but a shadow wearing his face, a sinister lie risen from memory to claim the light in her soul. Xena trembled on the ground in silence, afraid to stir lest more evil shadows rise from her mind. As time passed beneath the starless night, Xena's anguish lifted, and a dark, ominous, calm, settled upon her like black feathers. All was silent.
Suddenly agony seized Xena. Xena gasped and bent over violently as her darkest feelings arose from within her soul. She felt herself being pulled apart as her heart began to slip painfully away into evil. Her head pulsed black with darkness. Wicked old emotions washed over her eyes and painted her feelings in their colors. Xena felt like a spiritless mask seeing the world through someone else's eyes. It felt to Xena like her heart was being violated.
Xena was a tortured instrument, which sang a perverse sound. She tasted again the sinister triumph she had known standing in the blood of the innocent, glorying in human suffering. She tasted of seething hatred, and of a terrible grief silenced only by vengeance. The old Xena was taking her soul. As evil spread over Xena's heart, the last bright part of her soul cried out. Dark thoughts and hopelessness strummed sullenly in Xena's mind like lyre cords plucked by dead fingers.
Xena was as afraid and alone as the night Lyceus had died. Lost in the silent forest with no light to guide her or give her hope Xena felt, more than ever, trapped in a vacuum. Without hope, she was as weak and vulnerable to the evil in her heart as an infant lost in the night. The night pressed on her its skin, enfolding her in its dead, carnal presence. Evil old desires rose in her heart and began to overwhelm her resolve. Trembling, Xena looked up into the night, trying to see through the darkness a light of hope.
"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered.
Blackness fell over her eyes. Her body was lit up in dark agony as her tainted emotions cried out. In the light of Gabrielle's virtue, Xena cast shadows of disgrace that bowed her head. As long as Xena loved Gabrielle, she would see her shadows and feel guilt for the crimes of her past. If she embraced her dark side and descended into the blind sleep of evil, her guilt would bow her no more. In darkness alone could she hide from her pain. The lull of evil beckoned her. As darkness drew her further in, a silent prayer was on her lips. She tried to see Gabrielle's smiling face in the night, but darkness was deep between them. It was like looking for a star in an empty sky.
"Gabrielle..." Xena whispered.
Xena knew that she could step into darkness at any time. The marker in memory that always had kept her from crossing into evil had fallen, and all her shadows were free. As she danced on the edge of her dark side her skin crawled with evil temptations. All that held her from the abyss was what hurt her the most to think of: Gabrielle. Xena's pain intensified and whispered through her shuddering body like death. Agony overwhelmed her resolve. Xena stepped into evil.
Xena arched her back and let darkness enter her body. It lingered on her skin in pools of shadows that bled deep into her heart. It violated her soul like a sweet infection, a black nectar on her lips that tasted of dark ecstasy and empty peace. As her soul was lit in darkness, Xena sighed. Evil was a dream that masked in darkness the true colors of her spirit. The threads of her spirit that lit her soul were lost in the shadows that loomed in the silence. Spiritless, Xena's eyes were empty vessels, her body a dark husk. In the dark womb of her soul, her spirit was a sleeping fetus. Xena drew her sword and watched it shimmer in the distant torchlight.
Xena heard marching in her mind. It was the march of the past. She was leading her army out of Amphipolis, her sword raised over her head to the heavens as her soldiers marched through the land. In the night, she saw men dying under her sword. She saw the dark glory of the Warrior Princess as she conquered the land. As thoughts rose through the darkness of her dream of the desolation she had wrought by her own hands, Xena felt pleasure. She grinned, then gasped sharply, sickly. Through the lull of her dark content called Gabrielle's voice.
Xena's eyes spread wide. In the dawn, she saw mothers and children standing among the dead. She saw an infant lying before the boots of her marching soldiers. She saw her own face in the eyes of the dead, and felt remorse. Her soldiers became a gauntlet around her. There was a price to waking from darkness. In the light she had to live with the shadows of her past. She had to face Gabrielle. She saw the dark faces of her army. She saw herself running a gauntlet of swords. In the shadowy cradle of her soul, her sleeping spirit woke from its dream. Her sword fell from her hands.
Xena arched forward and vomited on the ground. She retched as long as long as her eyes were palled by darkness and she felt evil poisoning her heart. Her spirit passed the fallen marker in her soul as it crossed back into goodness. Slowly, the shadows that had taken her drained away into the night. The light in her soul awakened. Trembling, Xena lay down on the ground. She had allowed herself to slip into darkness to escape her pain, but through her dark bliss, Gabrielle had called to her and led her back into the light. Her body was cleansed, but her heart and mind still were assailed. Xena closed her eyes and wearily let her head drop down to the soft forest floor.
"Gabrielle" Xena whispered, and fell asleep.
A pure light lit up the darkness. Like a star, it wandered in peace through the night. On Gabrielle's face the warm light softly glowed as her guiding hand touched stars to the candles. Her hair was radiant like a golden crown of light as halos of light lit up the darkness in a silent prayer of hope. Beneath the gentle glow of the candlelight, Gabrielle's supple face was a mask of darkness. Shadows lay in the furrows of her eyes and in her dark lips. Behind her eyes were tears, and beneath her lips a scream.
Gabrielle's face was dark and brooding. In her heart was a deep sorrow that drew shadows from the darkness to her trembling body. She was alone and without hope in the darkness, like a lost little girl over which shadows of fear and anger loomed. She wanted to lash out at the world and cower in her mothers arms. Xena had left her. Gabrielle wanted this night to be a dream she could wake from. In the dark valley of shadows where she dwelled, the light that masks our faces and hearts is lifted to reveal the dark secrets that lie beneath. In her sorrow, her eyes saw how close to darkness we walk, how close our shadows follow.
Life had been a hopeful dream for Gabrielle, a dawn with hope on the horizon. Now it was dusk, and there were only shadows. Gabrielle knew, as she stared at the dancing candlelight with sad, empty, eyes, that when she looked to the horizon, she never again would see it with the same hope. The darkness of this night would always be in her heart. As her hope waned in the darkness, Gabrielle longed to embraced in the gentle peace of the candlelight. She wanted to be inside the light, and sleep in the blue eye of its heart. Gabrielle longed for Xena.
Gabrielle looked at Lara. Lara was ashen and was trembling like death was upon her. Her eyes were dark and empty. Tides of shadows swelled and receded from her sullen face. Her body was like some sacred temple over which storms of light and dark fought. Fear and anguish held her in shadows. In the depths of her eyes was light. Gabrielle saw Xena in Lara's eyes. She saw that Lara needed a shoulder to lean on more than she did. She walked to Lara's bedside and forgot her own anguish as she tried to comfort her.
"Hey, it's ok. I wasn't going to leave you alone in the dark." said Gabrielle gently.
Lara looked wanly up at Gabrielle. When she spoke it seemed almost as if she were alone, reciting her thoughts to the shadows. Her voice was cold and haunted.
"I thought they had come. When the candles went out, and I heard your friend cry out, I thought his soldiers had come. I thought you were dead, and the longer the lights were out, the surer I was that I was dead. I thought the night had taken me." whispered Lara.
"Well it didn't. Nothings going to happen to you. The night won't take you as long as I'm here." said Gabrielle, looking with care on Lara as she sat down at her bedside.
Lara's lips rose up on her teeth in a sad, melancholy smile. She let out a small, lifeless, laugh. Her eyes stared up, childlike, into Gabrielle's gentle eyes. She spoke softly.
"I feel like a child, so scared of the dark. When I was little, my mother would leave a candle burning for me at my bedside in the night. When that wasn't enough to chase the shadows away she'd stay with me, sitting where I could see her in the candlelight, until I fell asleep. I was so afraid that I would wake in the morning and find her gone. In this light, you look a little like my mother...My mother's dead, though. My family is dead. All the faces I've known and loved all my life are gone. Taken by the night. In this light, I can see their faces in you, and their spirits...When I look at you, I want to believe that you're someone who can tell me that that everything's all right, that there's nothing be afraid of in the dark. I want to know that you still will be here when dawn comes." said Lara. Her eyes were lost in Gabrielle's face.
Gabrielle's face was soft and gentle as she listened to her words. Her eyes were deep glowing pools of emotion. Lara's words touched her heart and awakened the bright light of her spirit. She put a hand on Lara's shoulder and spoke softly. Her voice was no louder than a whisper, but was as bright and strong as the flames of candlelight that lit the room.
"You can believe in me. I can be your family. I can be your friend." said Gabrielle.
"I'd like that." said Lara, smiling.
A silence as delicate as the silken threads of a spiders web settled upon the two women. Darkness filled the silence. In the darkness, the candles shined brighter. Gabrielle no longer felt alone. A grace in Lara had touched her heart and awakened her spirit. The warmth she felt towards her brought words to her lips.
"I'm Gabrielle." .
"Gabrielle?...You're a warrior?"
"Oh! No, I'm really not much of a warrior. I'm pretty good with this staff, but I'm better with a story." said Gabrielle, smiling. Her face lit up as she smiled. Light danced in her green eyes.
"A bard! I knew there was a passion in you, that in your heart there was no love for blood! Being a warrior wasn't my calling either." said Lara, sitting up on her elbows. There was life in her voice. Gabrielle saw that light had returned to her face and her eyes had awakened.
"Really? You seem pretty good at it to me." said Gabrielle, somewhat doubtfully.
Lara cast down her eyes, and her face was solemn. When she spoke, sadness was in her voice.
"I'm sorry I tried to kill you. Violence doesn't make me happy. I was scared. I didn't want to kill you, but I didn't want to die, either...It's like fate has put a sword in my hand with death on either side of the blade. One end will kill all the world, the other end will kill me. If I don't live by the sword, then I will die by the sword. I can't run from violence, I can't hide from fate. The day will come when I must choose to fight or die. I don't want this life. Either way, I'll visit Hades. Either way, my life is robbed. I want my old life back."
"I guess your passion isn't for blood either." said Gabrielle quietly, solemnly bowing her head.
"No. Music is my love. I play the lyre. I don't know what made me draw a sword. I tell myself I was defending my people, that I was fighting for a noble cause. But then I look on this desolation, and wonder why they all are dead. No matter where I go, this desolation always will follow me, to remind me of what I did." Her eyes dimmed. A dreary silence followed her words. Light and shadows danced together over her face.
"What about your friend? Surely she's a warrior." said Lara, her face brightening. The light in her eyes awakened as her spirit rose again.
"Oh, Xena's the warrior among us." said Gabrielle, her face sullen as she thought again of how Xena had left her.
Lara's smile faded and her face began to pale. Her eyes palled over. Shadows danced furiously over her body. She lay down as they pressed upon her. The dead lull in her voice returned.
"Xena...I've heard that Xena was a vengeful warlord!"
Gabrielle's face darkened. Xena never defended herself from the scorn people held against her for her past. The guilt and ignominy on her good heart prevented her from doing so. It was always Gabrielle who stepped forward and defended Xena. She answered Lara carefully.
"She was, but she's changed her ways. Now she helps people."
Lara's face twisted darkly in consternation. Memories of Phillius and the devastation he had brought to her village still were fresh in her mind. They aroused dark feelings in her heart that made her burn with anger. With the strength of fury, she sat up again. Above the lull in her voice rose anger.
"Changed her ways? But how could someone who has traveled so far down the path of evil, done so many awful things as she has, change?"
Gabrielle hesitated. As little as she knew about Xena's past, she found little difficulty in talking about her. Gabrielle knew, more than anyone, who Xena in her heart was. It made her happy to think of that Xena. It was what she knew about Xena in her own heart that brought words to her lips.
"Through all the things Xena did, there always was a thread of conscience, of compassion running in her heart, waiting to be plucked. One day she realized that she'd betrayed everything she ever believed in, and since then she has traveled a path of redemption. That thread is now a very strong part of her. I know it hurts Xena deeply to look back on her sins and think of the misery she's caused. It hurts me too, to think that Xena ever could have been different, but I love Xena. I trust Xena. Xena is not the same person now that she was at one time."
"So you believe that someone like Phillius can be changed? That beneath the skin of that heartless monster that slaughtered my people and burned my village there lies a conscience? You believe there is something good in him to be redeemed?" spoke Lara. The lull in her voice lay dead beneath her anger. The candles danced furiously over her face. The grace in Lara's heart that had touched Gabrielle disappeared in the darkness that rose from the depths of her heart. As she rose up, out of the candlelight, her face became a mask of shadows. Her body darkened and seemed to lengthen into a tall, looming, shadow. She became a body of anger, vicious and terrifying, before Gabrielle. She became Phillius.
Gabrielle was frightened of Lara. She was frightened of the dark face that she had unmasked. She saw no light in the shadows of Lara's face. Gabrielle feared for Lara. She feared the light in Lara's heart was lost in the depths of her own anger. She feared that the good person she cared for might die in the darkness of her own shadow. Lara was two faces, light and dark, each struggling to assert themselves. This was a dangerous time for her, when anger could destroy the goodness in her heart.
"Well...That's usually not the way it works out." hesitated Gabrielle, as she thought of the countless warlords she and Xena had vanquished.
"But if Xena can be given a chance at redemption, shouldn't others deserve the same chance? If there is good in Xena, there must be good in everyone. But what I don't see, I can't believe in. I know Xena left you, and I know Phillius is an evil man!" said Lara, viciously. Her anger spilled freely from out of her heart like poison.
Gabrielle drew away from Lara. Darkness flushed her face. Her words hurt Gabrielle deeply, stabbing at the wound that lay closest to her heart. Black waves of pain swept over her heart as she struggled to contain her tears of fear and sorrow. Her faith in Xena had become her foundation. Lara's words made Gabrielle uncomfortable in her faith. She already was feeling unsure of what she believed in, of who Xena was. When Xena had left her this night, Gabrielle had seen a face of Xena she never had seen before. It was weak and without grace, like some of the scornful, thankless, peasants she had fought to save. Without her faith in Xena, what did she have? Gabrielle answered Lara impatiently.
"I don't know! ...I don't know. It's easy, its comforting, to see people only in terms of good and evil. It makes us more secure in our own convictions, but it's never that simple. Xena is not that simple! There are more shades to a soul than that. I don't know if every person who ever has lived in evil can change, but I believe that the sins of the past can be separated from the person. Sometimes, good people are simply led astray."
Gabrielle hesitated. Lara looked expectantly at Gabrielle, waiting, her anger lingering in the shadows of her face. Tears rose on Gabrielle's eyes. Sadness spilled into her face, and her voice began to waver. She sighed and bowed her head in sorrow. A tear ran down her face. In the depths of sorrow, her heart was strong. Gabrielle spoke heavily.
"The point is, I know Xena did change, and the world is all the better for it. I don't know who Xena is anymore, though. I don't what my faith is in anymore. This village, this destruction, this night...It's all brought out the worst in her, in all of us. I can see it in her eyes and yours. This night has broken her. She feels guilt for what happened here, but I don't know why. I just hope Xena cares enough about what she has in goodness to endure the pain of her guilt, and to never cross back into evil. Xena made a mistake at one time, one she's carried on her back all her life. Please, don't make the same mistake she did. Don't give in to anger, or it will dominate your life, and you will become everything you ever feared and despised."
Lara's anger faded in the light of Gabrielle's convictions. Light returned to her face. She took Gabrielle's hand.
"I'm sorry...I didn't...I don't know what got into me. You're right. This night has brought out the worst in us...Hey, can you tell me a happy story?" asked Lara, her voice softening.
Gabrielle sniffed and smiled. She looked up and saw that the shadows had left Lara's face, and smiled through her tears. Color returned to her face, and her eyes lit up.
"Sure. I think I can. Here is the story of Potideia, and the redemption of the Warrior Princess. Here is the story of my friend..."
comments? suggestions? (I'd love a replacement name for Lara or Grasmoth. Not very much from out of the "golden age of myth" are they?) Criticism is welcome, just don't write me just for the hell of flaming me.
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