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Editor's Choice Award

COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: The following fiction centers on the characters of Xena and Gabrielle. These and most all related characters are property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. All other accounts, descriptions, dialogue and extraneous characterizations are sole property of the author. You may copy this for personal use...yaí know...to line the birdcage...catbox and such...but may not copy for sale. Try it and Iím sending Vectra to find you...youíll see the warning in that later. If you feel compelled to use any part of this...just ask me. Iím a nice grrl...really.

SEX DISCLAIMER: Well, of course thereís sex in this...itís about Xena and Gabrielle...for Gilaís sake! There is a somewhat-not-left-too-much-to-your-imagination account of intimacy between two consenting adult women. They happen to be in love with one another...so deal with it. If you canít...then ye may just mosey on outta here!! You got that...oh...and you should really be over 18 to peruse this material. Pleeease...I wouldnít do well in prison.

NOT MY USUAL GENRE DISCLAIMER: Youíre wondering what the Hades that means. If youíve read anything else Iíve posted, you know how fond I am of lighthearted and snappy repartee dialogue...and storyline. This ainít one of those. So if your expectations are to be laughing through this...DING!!!...KEEP MOVING TO THE EXIT!! Iím afraid most of the humor will be found in the disclaimers. <gotta release some of that tension somehow>

VIOLENCE DISCLAIMER: Segueing from the previous disclaimer...letís discuss the violence factor. Now...donít yaí think with a title like <Trangressions> there MIGHT be a wee bit of violence? Thereís ALOT of violence in this thing. In fact itís violent from front to back with a high degree of what I have coined... ICK FACTORS. Thereís graphic description of the results of sharp thingees intersecting flesh...flowing blood...and emerging entrails. There is also a reference to rape...but not a graphic account. Yep...lots of ICK. BE WARNED!! So much...I considered posting under a different name...cuz you know how folks categorized you by your last posted work. But what the hey...itís part of me...so there! So, if you are very ICK sensitive, hit the door running. Now how many of you are left??? Oh...good...I see a few hands. Please proceed to the next disclaimer counter.

PAIN AND SUFFERING DISCLAIMER: This story seeks an answer to the questions..."What event could happen to you that would be so horrific...so life altering...that it would change the very fabric of your existence? Could you find redemption from a place devoid of emotion that you voluntarily entered? Is love the connection or would even itís light be consumed in the depth of despair?"

If any of these concepts push your emotional buttons, donít read this. Iím telling yaí it ainít a happy tale. Ok...anyone left? I see one hand in the corner. Poor soul. Hmmm...you might as well just go ahead and jump right in. Iíll be waiting on the other side for ya with milk and Oreos.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: I wish to thank my friends...you know who you are...for putting up with me through this process. At times it hasnít been easy for any of us. A special thanks to WISHES for allowing me the use of one of her haunting poems at the beginning. So, without further disclaimer, I release Trangressions to the readership. Any comments...threats...etc. can be directed to Vryblueyz@aol.com.


TRANSGRESSIONS
by BLUE
Vryblueyz@aol.com


Rage

Rage begets rage,
Itís only generative power.
What love turns sweet,
Rage turns sour.

Rage repeats
What it is given.
Love creates
New forms and rhythms.

Rage returns
To haunt its creator.
Love goes forth
And becomes even greater.

Wishes


CHAPTER ONE

The early morning light had just begun to seep into the chamber. The two sleeping forms were wrapped tightly around one another. A mane of raven hair was all that was visible. The larger woman completely covered her companion. She held her in an embrace both protective and loving. The smaller woman stirred.

"Xena...uh...roll over, ok?" The warrior remained still, much to the bardís discomfort. She pushed on the pallet in an effort to dislodge her lover. "Xena...Iíve got to...go...." She continued to wriggle free. "...ugh...Iíve gotta pee, Xena. Roll over!"

The bard climbed from under the sleeping warrior. As she finally extricated herself, Xena rolled over. Gabrielle just looked at the still dozing woman. "Gods...I bet if I were a bloodthirsty bandit, you would have moved." She turned to find the chamberpot.

"Yeah, but it wouldnít have been as much fun." Xenaís eyes were still closed, but a smile was on her face.

Gabrielle looked up from her position. " You were awake all along. Oooh...youíre going to pay for that! Uh...just as soon as I get finished."

Xena opened her eyes and stared at the naked form rising from the pot. As the bard fluidly returned to the pallet, she caressed every line and curve of Gabrielleís body, memorizing the texture of her skin, the balance in her step. Xena held the blanket open, inviting her in. The coolness of her skin sent a message straight to Xenaís core. She ran a hand over Gabrielleís breast arousing the bard. Her nipples went erect at the first touch of Xenaís hand. Xena cupped her breast and gently applied pressure to the nipple. Gabrielleís eyes closed and a low moan escaped her lips.

"Oh...Xena...please make love to me." The bardís own hands were exploring the muscled arm of her lover, nails digging into flesh.

Xena lustily gazed into the deep green of Gabrielleís eyes. "Isnít there some ritual law that prevents me from doing that until after the ceremony today?"

Xena gently placed her lips to the bardís nipple, sending a shiver coursing through Gabrielleís body. Slowly, her tongue traced the pink circle. Gabrielle took a sharp intake of breath and held it.

The bard groaned. " Iím sure we could make an exception. I wonít tell...if you donít." She could feel the wetness beginning to make its presence known. She needed Xena to touch her...now!

Xena nipped the erect flesh. " Gabrielle, I know you and being Ďquietí about this isnít something you can do. Everyone will know we have skirted the tradition."

Gabrielle took the warriorís hand and moved it between her legs. " I promise to be quiet....please, Xena." The warrior was more than happy to comply with her request. Pleasuring Gabrielle was very high on Xenaís list.

"Hmmmm....whatís this? I thought you dried yourself...but this feels different. Oh yes...very different." Gabrielle placed her leg up and over Xenaís hip. The warrior had complete access to Gabrielleís opening and could feel the heat within her. Xenaís own heat was rising. Her mouth continued torturing the swollen nipple and her fingers visited a like performance on the bardís erect clit. Gabrielleís hips were rocking into Xenaís hand, pleading...no...begging. The warrior slipped two fingers into that delicious, wet cavern and began a rhythmic probing.

Gabrielle tightened her grip on Xenaís arm. The warrior would have a bruise when this was over. Gabrielle wanted Xena to move her to the brink over and over, but her body had another agenda. " Gods.... Xena...I canít hold it!"

Xena felt the expansion inside Gabrielle and knew she was about to climax. She whispered lustily into the bardís ear. "Then donít hold it, Gabrielle. Let me have you.... please." When Xena uttered Ďpleaseí, that was the trigger for Gabrielle. She totally gave herself in a gushing torrent of fluid and pulsing contractions. So much for subtlety, Gabrielleís vocal release filled the chamber.

Xena held her tightly, the bardís face buried beneath her chin. She stroked the golden hair of her lover, awed by the sheer beauty of this woman. "I knew you couldnít be quiet. Now the whole village knows of our infraction. Hmmm....Iíll have to think of something for your atonement, my expressive bard."

Gabrielle was quietly crying, still gripping Xena.

Xena lifted Gabrielleís face. "Are you all right? I was just kidding about making you atone...well, sorta." Xena sometimes felt very helpless when Gabrielle went into this place. The phenomenon always amazed her.

"Uh-huh...Iím fine...no...make that wonderful. I love you, Xena." She placed a kiss on the warriorís cheek.

Xena wrapped her arms around her love. "And I love you, Gabrielle...." She hesitated for a moment, "...but what makes you cry so?"

Gabrielle looked into her steel blue eyes. "I canít explain it. Itís just at that moment I am so connected to you...my body...my heart...my soul. I no longer have a sense of being separate. It feels so complete. If I could stay in that place forever, I would. But sometimes I think what if itís the last time. That thought plagues me, Xena, because someday it will be the last time. Losing you would tear me apart."

Xena ran a hand over Gabrielleís face, wiping the remaining tears from her cheek. She hadnít expected such a heavy conversation so early. " I am awed by your love for me, Gabrielle. I feel very unworthy, but I thank the gods that I have that love. The thought of living without you, my love is just too painful to consider. You are my joy...my happiness...my rapture. I plan on being with you for a very long time. Our life together is just beginning. Today we will be joined and I promise to be with you forever." She placed her lips over Gabrielleís, tasting the sweetness of her mouth. Drawing back slightly, Xena whispered in her ear, "Now, I hate for you to be the only one to ignore Ďtraditioní...." She took Gabrielleís hand and placed it over her breast. ".... make me scream, Gabrielle."

A pounding on the chamber door rudely disturbed their intimacy. "Xena! Gabrielle! Hurry...the village is under attack!!"

The lovers reluctantly disentangled themselves. Ephiny was already down the corridor warning the others when Xena threw open the door. She hadnít the time to dress in her armor and wore only her leathers. She grabbed the nearest Amazon in the hall. "Whatís going on? Who is attacking us? Where?"

The archer spoke as she moved toward the exit. "A raiding party just outside the north gate." She was gone before expounding on the event. Xena turned to Gabrielle, who was running from the chamber, staff in hand. They exited the sleeping compound to see Amazons rallying to the attack. Ephiny was on her way out the gate with a contingent of warriors and archers. Xena ran to join them. Gabrielle fell in behind her.

Xena stopped and halted Gabrielleís movement. "You arenít going anywhere. Let Ephiny and me take care of this. It wonít take long, I promise. Besides, you still have to make me scream." There was a twinkle in her blue eyes. She gave the bard a quick kiss and disappeared through the gate. Gabrielle hardly had time to protest. The gate was closed and barricaded. Amazons took up a defensive position along the catwalk. She could hear the sounds of distress and fighting echoing from the dense forest. She silently asked Artemis to protect her sisters and her love.

Her guard interrupted her prayer. "Queen Gabrielle, we must take cover." Captain Debo dragged Gabrielle to the covered safety of the nearest structure. She could sense the anxiety in her Queen. She tried to offer reassuring words. " Queen Gabrielle, Xena will be all right...and so will Ephiny. The attackers arenít very smart. They practically announced their presence. Our Amazon sisters will make short work of them."

Gabrielle snapped her head around. "What did you say? What do you mean they Ďannouncedí their presence?"

"They walked right up on the perimeter guard.... no cover...nothing. Really stupid."

The color drained from Gabrielleís face, her heart racing. "Oh...gods.... itís a trap! We have to warn them!" She tore toward the gate screaming. "OPEN THE GATE! ITíS A TRAP!"

Eponin intercepted the frantic woman, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Gabrielle! We canít go out there. If itís a trap, Xena and Ephiny will see it. Get a hold of yourself. Itíll be all right. You have to believe that." Gabrielleís eyes filled with tears and fear. She wouldnít verbally express her greatest fear. Instead, she nodded. Eponin placed her arms around her friend and led her off the compound floor.

The Amazon party entered the forest. The raiding party had fallen back into the dense underbrush. Their path of retreat was clearly marked by broken branches and trampled foliage. A child could follow this trail. Thatís what bothered Xena.

"Ephiny, I donít like the feel of this. Somethingís not right. It smells of a trap. But why?"

Ephiny cautiously eyed the proximity, " I agree, but what could they want? And who sent them?"

"I donít know, but I think we should go back to the compound. Whoever they are, theyíve overplayed their hand for now." Xena stood and motioned for the Amazons to group for a return to the village.

They had no sooner turned to leave than the attack commenced. The warrior nearest Xena fell with an arrow through her heart. Men dropped out of the trees and sprang from the brush. The fight was engaged. Xena took on the nearest thug and quickly ran him through. Ephiny and her sisters were handily thrashing their quarry. The men seemed more bent on defending as opposed to attacking. It was very unnerving. Xenaís attention was centered on three swordsmen. They parried and danced around her. She unleashed her chakram and sliced the carotid of the nearest man. He fell to the ground, grasping his neck. He would bleed to death in a few minutes. The remaining two attacked from the side. They had effectively turned her toward a tall stand of conifers. Xena was completely focused on dispatching this slime. There was a glint in her eye and a cruel smile on her lips. The first man went down under her sword. The second slashed at her feet, sending the warrior into the air. She landed behind him and closed to apply the deathblow. He slowly turned and a smile of knowing crossed his face. Almost as an acknowledgment of his fate, he lowered his sword, awaiting sentence. Xena raised her sword over her head, preparing to end his miserable life. She never heard the arrow leave the bowstring. As the projectile found itís mark, a look of surprise lit her face. She fell forward.

Ephiny watched in horror as Xena lurched over, an arrow piercing her heart, from the back. She let a scream loose and ran the kneeling man through. On cue, the raiders stopped fighting and fled into the forest, leaving the archer behind. The Amazons were in shock and let them run. They roughly subdued the assassin, holding him to the ground. There would be no quick death for this coward.

Ephiny dropped to Xenaís side, the realization already sinking in. "Oh...gods...nooo! Xena, look at me...please! Nooo...please...Artemis...donít let this happen!" Ephiny held her friendís head and rocked to and fro, trying to will Xena to life, anguish filling her heart. The arrow had done its work. She was gone. The warrior had been dead before she hit the ground.


CHAPTER TWO

The abrupt quietness from the forest signaled the end of the skirmish. Amazons on the wall relaxed slightly, peering toward the trees for their sisters. Gabrielle, Eponin and Debo moved quickly to open the gate. Fear and anxiety were sitting in Gabrielleís gut. Her heart was hurting...a real, palatable sensation. Her greatest suffering was about to be realized. She saw the Amazon contingent emerge from the forest. Two of the warriors were pushing one of the raiders before them. He was bleeding and exuding utter contempt for his captors. Two more carrying the warrior who had died at Xenaís side followed them. Her lover screamed and bolted from the wall. Ephiny and Xena were nowhere to be seen. The look of the entering warriors told Gabrielle that something had gone horribly wrong. They said nothing, and had the appearance of women in deep grief. She looked at Eponin and grabbed her for support.

At the forest edge a figure appeared, carrying a fallen comrade in her arms. Ephiny slowly walked toward the gate. She could see Gabrielle and heard the plaintive wail from her soul.

"NOOOOO!!!!!! XEEEEENA!!!" She broke into a run, Eponin close behind. She was hysterical by the time she neared the pair. "Oh...gods...please...noooo!!!!" She was caressing Xenaís still features, wiping the dark trickling blood from her nose and mouth. The warrior was already cool to the touch. Gabrielle continued to try to rouse her lover from death. " Xena, please donít leave me. You promised youíd be with me forever. I need for you to be with me....please......." Racking sobs halted her speech. Eponin looked at Ephiny and saw her abject sorrow mirrored in her eyes. In a move of pure emotion and love, Gabrielle gathered Xena in her arms and buried her head into the warriorís neck. She turned and carried her into the compound. Eponin and Ephiny supported each other and followed.

The silence was deafening. The unthinkable had happened and there were no words to express it. Gabrielle tried, softly talking to the form in her arms. "Itís ok, Xena, Iím going to take care of you. I promise Iíll never leave you. I love you, always." The bard whispered words that were meant for just the two of them. Saras, her assistants and Gabrielleís guard, Debo, quietly followed. Her skill as a healer was soon to be needed.... for the living. They disappeared into the Queenís chamber.

Eponin quietly spoke to a shaken Ephiny. "It was a trap then, just like Gabrielle suspected?"

"Yes, but we saw it too late. It was more than that.... it was an assassination, Eponin. Xena was the target from the start. But why? Who sent them?" The pain in her voice threatened to stop this discourse. "I have to find out who orchestrated this act. I wonít rest until I do. They will pay with their life, I swear it." The tears were flowing from both women as they held one another.


The prisoner was tightly bound, but seemed unconcerned that his life was at stake. In fact, he appeared very calm, smugly resigned to his fate. The large, muscled guard stared at him with hatred. If it werenít for the fact they needed information, she would delight in slitting his throat. ĎThat would come soon enoughí, she thought.

Her internal amusement was interrupted by his voice. "Hey, bitch! You think I can have some water? Even a condemned man gets a last request. Or maybe your kind donít live by any normal code." That last part puzzled Vectra.

"What do you mean by Ďyour kindí? ĎKindí of what?" She was close to kicking the shit out of him.

He spat in her direction. " Iím not talking to you...you.... abomination of nature. Iím only talking to the head slut. Tell her I have a message she needs to heed."

Vectra had heard enough from this puke. She lifted a cup of water from the pail, took a long drink and poured the rest on the ground. She then shut him up with a fist across the face. The interrogation wouldnít begin until the ceremony for Xena and the other Amazon Janna was complete. It would give her a day or so to work him over. She didnít think Ephiny would mind...and certainly not Queen Gabrielle.


Gabrielle laid Xenaís body on their bed; the blankets still rumpled from the early morningís passion. She sat, holding her hand, words forming in her mind and heart but refusing to be uttered. In some way, if she didnít say them then reality could be delayed. Saras stood nearby, letting Gabrielle begin the process of grief. It was important for her to make the decision of acceptance.

So many thoughts were going through Gabrielleís head...so many Ďifsí.... so many things they had never done.... so many touches remembered.... so many opportunities lost...so much passion. ĎIfí she had only gone with Xena...then maybe.... She quietly held the warriorís cold hand to her warm cheek, tears cascading. She ran her hand over the pale bruise on Xenaís arm, replaying the morningís scene in her mind. Touching it sent a knife into her heart. She knew there would be no miraculous resurrection this time.... no ambrosia.... no bargaining with Hades.... no reprieve...this was final.

Calmly, Gabrielle spoke to her soulmate, brushing the warriorís hair from her face, "Xena, I know you can hear me. Iím going to find who is responsible for this. My soul wonít rest until I do. I know you are in the Elysian fields, and I will see you again. It is our destiny to be together and I wonít let a little thing like death keeps us apart. I have to let you go, my love, just for a while. I will always be in that magnificent heart of yours...and you have mine for all time. I so love you." Gabrielle leaned over and kissed Xenaís lips. She then stood and looked at Saras. "Prepare her, Saras, for the final honor." Gabrielle left the chamber and purposefully headed toward the temple of Artemis, anger building within her. As she crossed the compound floor, the preparations for a ceremony of mourning were already underway.


CHAPTER THREE

Gabrielle entered the temple. It was empty. The priestess had removed herself, giving Gabrielle privacy. She had not come to plead for intercession. The bard was filled with a paralyzing fear and fathomless sorrow. She had asked Artemis to protect her love and the goddess had allowed Xena to be taken from her. Gabrielle was angry and had decided to take matters into her own hands. Unfortunately, she still needed Artemis for this one last task. She was not going to be denied. Standing erect, she commanded the appearance of the goddess.

"Artemis!" she boomed, "Show yourself!"

The goddess appeared before her favored. Even in her rage state, Gabrielleís pain and anguish clung to her like morning dew to the blades of grass. It had replaced her skin and breathed a life of itís own. Its purchase on the bard was evident to the goddess.

"I am here, Gabrielle. What is it you desire?"

Gabrielle stared angrily at her protector. In a tone mixed with scathing sarcasm and pain, she replied. "What I desire is Xenaís life restored! Why did you allow this...." the words caught in her throat, ".... to happen!? Why didnít you protect her? I want an answer."

Artemis felt so for her chosenís agony. "Gabrielle, even the gods cannot control the Fates. It was out of my hands.... it was Xenaís time..."

The bard cut her off. In sheer desperation, she cried, "No! I refuse to believe this. It was not time for her to leave." She was overcome with tears, her voice faltering somewhat. " It canít be time.... not yet...."

Artemis wanted to console her, but the bardís anger was building a wall. She had to allow Gabrielle to make her decision. "What is it that you really want, Gabrielle?"

"I want focus for what I must do." she responded, gaining some control.

"And what is it you must do, Gabrielle? Seek revenge? It is not inside you, nor will it bring Xena back. But you are my chosen, and I will grant you what you desire."

Gabrielle raised her head and gazed into the eyes of the goddess. Her new Ďskiní prickled...searching for outward expression. "You are wrong. It is very much within me. I want this pain silenced so I can act on my need.... my need to find who did this to Xena."

The tremor in her voice set off an alarm within Artemis. There was something darkly different in her inflection. The goddess wanted to diffuse this situation. She stated the obvious, "My child, you have the guilty party held prisoner in your very camp. You need not ask this."

The bard stood erect and stared Artemis directly in the eye. She was very deliberate in her address, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Her request was exact as a blade across subtle skin. " I want the party who sent these men. I desire the source of this cowardly act.... no...I demand it! I will find them Artemis.... with or without your assistance. Iím asking you for relief from the distraction of grief long enough to do it. Will you help me?"

Artemis felt the soul shattering pain inside Gabrielle riding beneath her ire. It was large as the Mount of Olympus itself. She was suffering so. The goddess cradled her face in warm hands. "I will grant your request, Gabrielle. It will be so after you have said goodbye to the warrior. But be warned, my child, to live without emotion is very damaging. Your sorrow and pain will continue to live and seek release. Without a proper avenue, it will become a fiery lava stream trapped beneath fragile basalt. Once fractured, the flow will explode.... unchecked, consuming everything in itís path. It will not discern friend or foe. You will be inviting a darkness that even I cannot control." Artemis paused to allow Gabrielle to rescind her request. It was not forthcoming. Sadly, she acquiesced, " It shall be, Gabrielle. Go now and express your sorrow and cry your tears."

Without a further word, Gabrielle rose and left the temple and her goddess. As Artemis dissolved, her voice echoed in Gabrielleís ears and heart. "I will be here for you, Gabrielle. All you have to do is ask."


The sun had almost set. Saras and her aides had been preparing the bodies of Xena and Janna for the Amazon rite of passage. Two pyres had been constructed in the spot where the joining would have occurred. The flowers for the joining ceremony still adorned the podium. No one had thought to remove them. Gabrielle dressed in the ceremonial garb of Queen and prepared to say her private goodbye to Xena. She entered the chamber to view her lover for one last time. Xena was laid in her sarcophagus, dressed in full leathers and armor. Her sword and chakram were safely nestled with her. Gabrielle approached the open coffin and just stared at the love of her life. Even in death, she was beautiful. Gabrielleís eyes were full and her throat constricted with sorrow. She pulled a silver ring from a pouch.

Gabrielle spoke her joining vows with her goodbye. She took Xenaís hand in her own, slipping the ring on her finger. "This ring is a symbol of the eternal nature of our love. Itís perfect circle a poor representation of my endless devotion. You are what is the very best in me...I feel your love in a touch...a word...a kiss...a look. The very essence that is me is eternally linked with you. We are one life...one love...one destiny. I am yours for all time. No man or woman will ever have my heart again, for I cannot give to another what is yours alone. I live for the day when I will die and can hold you in my arms again. I so completely love you, Xena. Goodbye, my heart...my soul." She kissed the warriorís lips for the last time and walked from the chamber.

Ephiny was waiting outside and escorted Gabrielle to the podium. Once seated, she looked out upon her Amazon sisters. They were connected by a singular event and the sheer emotion of that danced around her. She motioned for the ceremony to commence.

The dirge began and the two coffins were carried to the pyres. Eponin and her friends supported Jannaís lover. She was trying to maintain control, but seeing her loverís coffin caved in that resolve. She was sobbing. Gabrielle looked at her through mist-covered eyes and nodded...mouthing; "Itís ok." The bard neither wanted nor asked for consolation. She wanted to feel the absolute agony of this experience. Gabrielle knew it might well be her last tactile connection with Xena.

The Queen raised her hand for the fires to be lit. The dry tinder caught and the flames quickly licked their way to the sarcophagi. The blaze intensified and the outline of the pyres was engulfed. The conflagration was complete. The sheer temperature of the inferno would soon reduce the pyres to ashes. Gabrielle watched as the phlogiston did its work. The hotter the holocaust, the less she felt. As the pyres reduced, her anguish became anesthetized and coldness had taken residence within her. Artemis had kept her promise. Now Gabrielle would keep hers.


The entire village solemnly watched as the pyres raged and then subsided. One by one, they abandoned the compound area.... lovers.... friends.... loners. Finally, the only ones remaining were the Royal Guard, Gabrielle and Ephiny. Gabrielle watched as the pyres smoldered. Her mind was turning her options. Ephiny quietly intruded on her Queenís silence.

"Gabrielle, is there anything I can do for you?" She placed a hand on her friendís shoulder. The bard stiffened slightly.

Calmly, she turned to Eph, "Yes, I know that Xenaís sword and chakram survived the flames. I want them retrieved. I will take them to Amphipolis and bury them with her ashes. I think she would have wanted that." Gabrielle still hadnít taken her eyes from the darkened areas on the compound floor.

"Of course, Gabrielle, Iíll see to it. When do you want to depart?"

"I have something to do first, Ephiny. Something I promised Xena." She turned and faced her friend. There was coldness in her eyes that unnerved Ephiny. "Where is the prisoner?" Sarcastically, she asked, " Heís still alive I hope?"

Ephiny was somewhat taken aback by the lack of emotion in Gabrielleís voice. "Yes...um...the prisoner is in the detention hut. Heís very much alive although Vectra has had a go at him." She expected Gabrielle to voice her displeasure at any form of violence, but none was forthcoming.

"Good. I want to talk to him.... now." She stood and left the podium heading for the detention chamber. Ephiny had to rush to catch her. She placed a hand on her shoulder and halted her egress.

"Gabrielle, whatís going on? This isnít like you. For Athenaís sake, weíve both just lost the person closest to us. You donít have to do this. Heís not going anywhere. It can wait." It was more of a plea than statement of fact.

Gabrielle glared at her. "No! You are wrong...it does have to be now. Iím not going to allow the party responsible for this to go unpunished. Now, either help me or get the Hades out of my way! Itís your choice." She waited for an answer, looking through ice green eyes.

In Ephinyís mind, she excused Gabrielleís odd behavior. The sudden loss of loved ones was certain to have many strange effects on all of them. Gabrielle would be no exception. She decided to just go with the flow at the moment. She proceeded past Gabrielle. "Ok, Gabrielle, letís question the bastard."

They entered the hut and found Vectra about to backhand the bound prisoner. She was imposing even by Amazon standards. The warrior stood nearly six feet and was very muscular. Her flowing mane of blond hair and light blue eyes softened her hard physical features. She was quite an enigma. She was in mid swing when they entered. She barely stopped from assaulting him. The sight of her Queen and Ephiny was humbling. "Forgive me, Queen Gabrielle." She was bowed in respect and backed away from the man.

Gabrielle acknowledged her apology and positioned herself directly in front of him. His face was bloody from the Ďattentioní Vectra had been giving him. The Queen eyed him coldly. Her question was simple and direct. "Who sent you?"

The prisoner mistook the question for a Ďrequestí. "And who are you, little girl? Iím not talking to anyone except the head whore." Vectra started toward the man, fire in her eyes. Ephiny stopped her and moved to do the deed herself. Gabrielle held her hand up to stop both of them. She looked in his eyes and very quietly said, " Iím the Ďhead whoreí. Youíll talk to me.... now !" Gabrielle laid the side of his head open with a well-placed kick.

She squatted in front of the stunned man. Grabbing his face in her hand, she repeated the question. " Now, Iíll ask you again, who sent you? And you do understand that I have no qualms about killing you myself?" The man silently nodded, his blood covering Gabrielleís hand. She released his head with a sharp snap, nonchalantly wiping the blood on the front of his tunic.

Ephiny watched in shock. She knew Gabrielle was in torment, but she had never seen her like this. Something very vital had shifted in her. Even Vectra was eyeing her carefully.

She returned her attention to the prisoner. "Now, letís chat, shall we?" Gabrielle snapped her fingers at Vectra and held out her hand. "Give me your dagger, Vectra." The warrior complied and placed the blade in the Queenís palm.

Ephiny didnít like the look of this. "Gabrielle.... what are you doing?"

Her eyes never left the tense man in front of her. In a voice that rang hollow, she responded, "Why, Ephiny, Iím just getting some answers. As long as he answers, I wonít cut him." She made a point of waving the blade in front of his face. "That sound fair to you...pig?" He nodded.

"Now just so you know Iím serious..." She laid the blade across his cheek slicing him from ear to chin. Bright red blood spurted, covering the front of Gabrielleís ceremonial top and sending a pattern across her face and neck. She never flinched. "Now, talk!"

The sight of his blood spilling on the floor was a definite attitude adjuster. The prisoner screamed in pain and fear. It wasnít the plea of a seasoned thug. He was clearly scared. "All right...please...pleaseee.... donít cut me again! Iíll tell you what you what to know." He was practically crying. Gabrielle motioned for a bandage to stem the flow. ĎNo sense in him dying just yetí, she mused.

The prisoner began to submit to the Queenís request. "We were sent by the Priestess Alexxus, spiritual leader of XíTian. She wanted to send a message to all that would engage in the sordid practices of your kind. Xena was targeted as an example...a strike at one of the most prominent offenders. It is her...our desire to eradicate your type of pestilence from our existence." Talking about his priestess and her lofty, self-righteous dogma reinstilled some of his loathing. There was something else riding beneath the surface, but she couldnít put her finger on it. It hardly mattered.

Gabrielle was unmoved by his personal hatred.... she had enough of her own. "Where is this.... priestess?" She was fingering the tip of the blade seductively.

He didnít need to be prodded for an answer. "In the north. She has an enclave there, near my village. Her temple is in a mountain cavern." In a move of self-preservation, he offered to bargain. "Youíll never find it without a guide. Itís well hidden and with the others gone, Iím the only one who can lead you there. You need me." He felt quite good about his chances for survival with that statement. He was very wrong.

Gabrielle stood and returned the bloody dagger to Vectra. Ephiny let out an audible sigh of relief. Seeing Gabrielle like this was nerve wracking. She still had a very bad feeling coiled in her gut. The Queen stood at the doorway and looked down at the pathetic mess on the floor.

"You are very mistaken about me needing you. I have a lifetime to find your priestess...and I will find her. She has taken my life from me and I will return the favor." Gabrielle turned and prepared to leave the room.

Vectra posed the oblivious question to Gabrielle. "What shall we do with him, my Queen?"

In a voice totally devoid of compassion, she passed sentence, "Slit his throat and throw him out to rot." Without further interaction, Gabrielle casually strolled out of the room.

Ephiny and Vectra looked at one another, stunned. Eph pulled Vectra aside. "Do NOT touch him until I come back. You understand me? I donít care what Gabrielle just said. There is something very amiss here. Iím going to clear this up. Just keep him quiet...by whatever means necessary. But I need him to be able to travel." Vectra nodded and looked for a nice gag for her friend. Ephiny bolted from the room to catch up with Gabrielle.

She caught her on the compound floor. She needed some answers...and needed them now. "Gabrielle...wait up!" The bardís pace slowed. Ephiny approached her friend and started probing. "I think you should reconsider the prisonerís sentence. He could assist us in locating Alexxus quickly." Ephiny tried to remind Gabrielle of their common connection. "You forget, Gabrielle, Xena was my friend too. I have also sworn to avenge her death. Please rethink this decision." She let her argument sink in.

As casually as she had pronounced sentence, she changed her mind. "Fine, weíll take him with us. But when we find Alexxus, she is mine, Ephiny. I want that clearly understood. Vectra can have the prisoner. She seems to have formed a very special bond with him." As her words hung in the air, Gabrielle let loose a dark chuckle. It was as if she were sharing a private joke with an invisible playmate. It sent a chill over Ephiny and she was left standing alone on the compound floor.

The Regent turned to carry the reprieve to the prisoner. This hardness in Gabrielle was frightening. She had never seen such coldness...even in Xena. It was as if Gabrielleís soul had died. And perhaps it had. Ephiny wondered if killing Alexxus would free Gabrielle. She had serious doubts. This whole affair was a mess. Xena gone, Gabrielle wanting to take a life by violence, the hatred of a madwoman visited upon her sisters. What could have possibly motivated Alexxus to perpetrate such a malicious deed? Perhaps the bound prisoner could provide some answers. She intended to find out.


CHAPTER FOUR

Saras was waiting in the Queenís chamber when Gabrielle arrived. There was much to do for the bard to begin healing, but Saras was unsure if Gabrielle wanted to heal. The Queen walked through the door to find the healer patiently waiting.

"Saras, what do you want?" Gabrielle was moving about the chamber collecting her personal belongings.

"I think we need to talk, my Queen. What you are doing isnít normal or healthy." There was a real concern in the old womanís voice.

Gabrielle continued gathering her clothes. She retorted sarcastically, " And just what part of all this would you consider normal? Iím doing what I have to right now. I promised Xena. You have nothing to say in this matter."

Saras let the remark roll off her. "I beg to differ...I have a lot to say about this. Your health...physical and emotional is my business. You may opt not to take my advice, but it is my right to offer it."

Gabrielle let out a loud sigh and ceased her activity. "All right, say what you have to and then get out." She sat in a chair away from the roomís pallet. She couldnít go near it right now.

Saras addressed the woman, not the Queen. "Gabrielle, you have suffered the cruelest of fate, the loss of your mate. Keeping the grief and sorrow walled inside you is harmful. It will eventually destroy you from the inside out. From what I have observed, it has already started. You wonít be honoring Xenaís memory by continuing on this course."

She neared the silent bard and placed a hand on her shoulder. There was deadness vibrating from her very core. To Saras it felt evil and threatened to draw the very life from her. Instinctively, she removed her hand. The healer stood away from Gabrielle, looking into a face she no longer knew. The fear was crawling on her skin like biting ants.

"Who are you? You are not the Gabrielle I know. What has happened to you?"

Dead eyes scanned the nervous features of Saras. " That Gabrielle is dead...along with all she loved. I have one sole purpose in life.... to find and kill the priestess who caused all this. I donít know why youíre so shocked. What did you think Iíd do.... crawl into a hole and hide? I have the rest of my empty life to live this nightmare. If Iím lucky, Iíll be slain in this process along with Alexxus. Personally, I canít think of a better way to Ďhonorí Xenaís memory. Now if you will pardon me, I have a journey to prepare for."

Gabrielle returned to her business, leaving Saras with no audience. The conversation was over. The healer left the chamber, shaken, but not defeated. There was more than one way to resolve this. She needed to confer with Artemis.


Ephiny re-entered the detention hut. Vectra had gagged the prisoner, and looked rather pleased herself. The man had a very resolved look about him. And why not...he was bound...gagged...cut...and bleeding... not a bad dayís work for an Amazon.

"Vectra, ungag him and go get Saras. We need him healthy for this trip. Oh...and bring some food." She didnít have to repeat the orders. Vectra was very loyal to Ephiny and obeyed without question. She hurried from the room. Ephiny looked at the man and decided to untie him. She was in no danger of him harming her. She stooped to loosen the leather ties around his wrist. As he rubbed his wrists and flexed his fingers, he posed the first question.

"Arenít you afraid Iíll escape?"

"No, somehow you donít strike me as the type with a true death wish. Besides, how far do you think youíd get?" The question didnít warrant an answer. "We are not barbarians, you know. In spite of what your priestess thinks. What is your name?" She handed him a cup of water.

He thirstily drained the cup and handed it to her for another. "My name is Ramus, and our priestess could care less about you being barbarians. Itís your choice of life she finds so abhorrent. Itís not natural and it leads to other depravities."

Ephiny rankled at the very idea that someone would pass judgment on whom she chose to love. The thought that Xena was killed for loving Gabrielle was just so wrong. She needed more information from him, so her anger and disgust would have to wait.

"And because she took it upon herself to decide what is Ďnormalí, she has condemned all other expressions of love and compassion? That doesnít make good sense. You believe and follow this thinking?"

There was an intense hatred in his eyes. " Yes I do...if it werenít for your kind...then...." His voice faltered and his composure wavered. ".... my daughter would still be alive."

Ephiny could see the pain in his eyes beneath the loathing. There was more to this just as she thought. "What happened to your daughter?" She gave him time to compose his thoughts.

"It was one summer ago. Our village, Crymeria, was prosperous and quiet. All I wanted was to raise my daughter...watch her grow into a woman...take a husband...have children and revel in my grandchildren. All that ended when Ďsheí came to our village." The intensity in his voice was evident.

"Who came to your village?"

"Why, the warrior princess, Xena. She said she was there to help us, but took a Ďlikingí to my daughter. The warrior made no pretense of what she was and took to flaunting her affection openly. My daughter was too scared to resist. The warrior wanted to take her from the village. I pleaded with her not to do this to my Katherine. She was so young. The warrior laughed at me and said she would Ďtakeí whatever she wanted, and she wanted Katherine. The day came when Xena left. She forcibly took my daughter. I gathered a few men and followed them..." Ramus was having a hard time recalling this horrible event. Ephiny could feel the absolute anguish in his words.

He continued, "We caught up with them in the forest. Xena was waiting, astride her mount. On the ground was my beautiful Katherine. Her neck had been broken and she was naked. Xena had taken her pleasure and then coldly killed her. The warrior just laughed and rode off. I vowed to avenge her death.... and I have honored my vow." He paused to look into Ephinyís unbelieving eyes. "So, you see, there is nothing worse you can do to me. Itís one of the reasons I was chosen for this mission."

So much of this was wrong. But how could Ephiny convince him otherwise. She needed information on Alexxus. " Iím sorry, Ramus, but I can assure you that the warrior who came to your village was an impostor. The Xena you killed here has been with her mate for the last two years. You have made a horrible mistake. And you have compounded that mistake by taking the lover of our Queen. Your grief and hatred has played into the hands of a very deranged mind. What did this ĎXenaí of yours look like?"

"She was tall...dark hair...and intense eyes. You canít convince me I was mistaken. I will always remember what the warrior looked like. It was the same woman I wasnít wrong..."

Ephiny cut him off. "Because if you were wrong, then you have taken an innocent life. And you are wrong, Ramus. Our Xena did not kill your daughter." She allowed his self-doubt to wash over him before continuing. "Tell me about Alexxus. How did she get involved in this?"

He swallowed hard, sweat breaking out on his forehead. " It was soon after Katherine died. She just appeared in our village with her followers. She knew all that had happened and told us if we were willing to devote ourselves to worship of her god, there was a way to avenge her death and rid the world of others like Xena. Her execution would serve two purposes...revenge and a warning. We gladly offered ourselves.... anything to extract closure and peace. We embraced the worship of XíTain, her god. We built a temple deep in the mountain near the village and have followed her every command."

"What does this priestess of yours look like?" A simple question, she thought.

"I...I...donít know. She is always shrouded in veils. No one has really ever seen her face. It didnít seem necessary. She knew so much about our remote village and lives. We never questioned her. She has a group of private attendees that are not of our village. They are always surrounding her. Iíve never been closer than a few meters to her."

Ephiny was shaking her head in disbelief. This man was blindly following the whims of a monster. It was very apparent she had to be stopped. The reasons behind her hatred of Xena had fueled this mission. But how did she know Xena and more importantly, what had Xena done to her? She had to tell Gabrielle all this. The bard was operating out of a very dangerous place. It could very well get her killed. Ephiny had lost one friend to ignorance; she wasnít going to lose another one. Vectra escorting the healer into the room interrupted her thought processes.

"Saras, tend his injuries. I need him in shape to travel. I donít think he will give you any trouble." She stood and prepared to leave and find Gabrielle. She also needed to finalize the contingent for the journey. It would not be an easy endeavor...all would volunteer. There were a few she counted on but the rest would be by careful choice. She instructed Vectra before leaving. " I want you make sure he is fed and taken care of. I need you at my side for this journey. After youíve tended him, Iíll send relief for you. You will need your rest, Vectra. We will have more than one adversary to deal with. And they all arenít in that village." As the Regent left the room an uneasy feeling was forming in her gut. She hadnít thought of Gabrielle as an adversary until now. It did not sit well with her.


CHAPTER FIVE

Gabrielle was about to leave the Queenís chamber. She looked around the room that just hours ago had been filled with passion and love. There was nothing here for her now. She would sleep in other quarters. She closed the door and walked down the hall.

Ephiny met her as she rounded the corner. They stood, face to face, friend to friend, woman to woman. Both were still filled with pain...Ephís on the surface, raw and exposed...Gabrielleís smothered, waiting final release. There were real decisions to be made and Ephiny needed her Queen for that.

"Gabrielle, we need to confer about this journey. There are things you need to know. Please, come with me." Ephiny led her into her own quarters. Gabrielle followed her into the room, carrying her belongings. She aimlessly wandered about the space looking bored and disinterested. Ephiny spoke, shaking her out of the daze. "Please sit, Gabrielle."

Letting out a sigh, Gabrielle found the nearest seat. She had no intention of staying and questioned her friend in an irritated voice. "What is it, Ephiny?"

"Iíve been talking with the prisoner. His name is Ramus..."

The bard cut into her speech. "I donít care what his name is. Heís dead as far as Iím concerned. They all are. Thereís nothing he can say to change my mind.... nor you. So, if this is some sort of plea for me to reconsider, forget it!" She rose to leave.

Ephiny had just about had all she could take. She snapped. " Sweet Athena, Gabrielle! Stop fighting me! Iím not your enemy. But we do have one. And itís not Ramus. Itís Alexxus. Now, sit down and hear me out!"

The bard turned and glared at her friend. In a non-conciliatory tone, she shot back, "Tell me something I donít know Ephiny. Whatís your point?"

"The point is this, Gabrielle. This Alexxus probably masqueraded as Xena a while back and killed the daughter of Ramus. She had a very public, shameless affair with her. When she left, she forced the girl to go with her. This impostor violated her and then broke her neck. She then reappeared in the village as some sort of oracle and priestess. She manipulated these grief-stricken people into believing that ĎXenaí should pay for her deed. She got them to bow to some god Iíve never heard of, XíTain, and planned the execution of Xena, as a warning. Whoever this is, they had very personal score to settle with Xena." Ephiny wasnít sure if this was penetrating Gabrielleís shield.

"Well, Iíd say she succeeded in her revenge...for now. If it is the same woman, how could the villagers not know it?"

"According to Ramus, none of them have seen her face. Sheís always covered and is surrounded by Ďattendantsí. Itís the same person, Gabrielle, Iíd stake my life on it. She must be unmasked and stopped. She is planting some very dangerous seeds with her doctrine. This goes beyond the life of one warrior...one friend.... one lover. Do you understand what Iím saying?" She had to get through.

"I understand she has to be eliminated. Yes.... I understand that very well. But you see Iím only concerned with one warrior.... one friend....one lover." Gabrielle pushed past her and exited the room. Ephiny was left pondering who was going to be more dangerous...Alexxus or Gabrielle.


Ephiny was up late into the night. She wanted loyal, battle experienced warriors with her and Gabrielle. The contingent shouldnít be too large but large enough to take care of the priestesses guards. She refused to lose another Amazon to this evil. At least the element of surprise might be on their side. Thereís no way she could know one of the raiders had survived. Ephiny knew she couldnít underestimate her opponent. She was very thorough in covering her tracks. She had sent Ramus on a suicide mission. How tidy. His death would further fuel the mass hatred she was incubating. This had been a very intricate plan from the beginning. The fact that it had taken nearly a year to execute attested to her patience. No....this woman was not to be dismissed. Ephiny fully planned to run her through herself, in spite of Gabrielleís wishes. The final insult to all this would be if Gabrielle willingly took a life. That was not going to happen. There was already enough sorrow in the Amazon nation.

The knock on her door startled the Regent. Eponin walked in carrying a bundle in her arms.

"I was looking for Gabrielle, but sheís not in the Queenís chamber. These are Xenaís sword and chakram, as she requested. Do you know where she is?"

"I think sheís taken a room away from the Queenís chamber.... she just canít stay there right now." She needed an ear and Eponin was close and willing. " Can you stay for a while? I need to talk to a sane person right now."

Eponin placed the armaments aside and took her friend in her arms. They stood for a long while, alternating support and sharing tears. Ephiny broke the quietness.

"This is a royal mess, and I donít know if I can keep Gabrielle from doing something stupid. She is hell bent on killing Alexxus. Iím not sure I can stop her, Ep. Iím afraid for her and for all of us. I canít concentrate on the task at hand if Iím worried about Gabrielleís quest for vengeance. She will die Eponin. What has happened to her? Itís like she doesnít feel anything except hatred...not even deep sadness for Xenaís loss." Ephiny was looking for some answers.

"I know youíre concerned, Eph, but Gabrielle has had the one great love of her life ripped from her. There wasnít any time to hold Xena, to say good-bye, to tell her that she loved her one last time. Itís all so unfinished for Gabrielle, and she is trapped in that horror. She canít find any closure and killing her murderer is that rationalization. Thereís no way to stop her if thatís really her wish. You would have to kill her, Ephiny."

"Oh, gods, donít say that. There has to be another way to keep her from falling into that abyss. I just want this to be over. We all have such anguish to resolve."

The two warriors let the silence fold around them. Soon there would be no time for quiet reflection. The evil they were about to confront was beyond their comprehension.


Chapters 6 - 10