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By Rob Lent
Disclaimer: These characters are the property of MCA/Universal, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Disclaimer: This story contains threats of violence, spoilers for Sacrifice II, and Joxer.
Xena and Joxer sat stunned before the pit of Dahok. They looked at each other, not knowing what to say to ease the other's pain.
Just moments ago, Joxer was filled with pride that he had been able to be a part of Xena's plan. Now, Hope was gone. But so was Gabrielle. The price was just too high for him to bear. Joxer looked at the dagger that Xena still held in her hand. Xena too turned to look at it. They both knew that they still had once chance left. Xena strode out of the temple, and Joxer trotted behind.
The two wandered the countryside, visiting every temple they could find. Xena stood before the altar at each temple, and screamed at the top of her lungs for the gods to give Gabrielle back to her. Each time, there was no answer. "It that is the way you want to play, fine!" yelled Xena. She knocked over statues, and slashed the tapestries with the hind's blood dagger.
Joxer said "Ummm, Xena, they say that you can catch more flies with honey than -" when Xena cut him off. She said "Joxer, these are the Gods. This is the only language they can understand." She held the dagger before her. "The gods are too cowardly to face me, now that I carry the dagger." Joxer replied "b-b-but Xena, they don't seem to be giving back Gabrielle either." "Then one by one, the temples will fall - and when there are no more temples, the gods themselves will fall." Xena strode out, with her eyes on fire.
Eventually, they came upon a temple dedicated to Hades. It was a somber place where worshippers meditated on their dead loved ones. Always a a quiet peaceful place. Until Xena came.
Xena chased out the worshippers, destroyed the offerings that they had left. Just as she was aiming her chakrum at the centerpeice of the altar, there was a flash behind her. Xena turned to see Hades standing there looking frustrated.
Hades said "Xena, I understand your anger. These worshippers only wish to communicate with their loved ones. Do not take this out on them." Ares appeared on the other side of the temple. "He's right, you know. There are other ways to solve this. I could get Gabbrielle back for you. I think that we could work out an exchange." Xena's eyes narrowed. She spat on the floor of the temple. Hades looked shocked and said "my temple...." Xena turned to Ares. "The only deal I am willing to make is that I get Gabrielle back. In exchange, I don't kill you."
Ares laughed "You'll have to make up your mind just what it is you want." Hades added "Give me the dagger, it will be safe with me." Ares laughed even louder. "Xena, at least you know me. Never trust anyone who you don't know so imtimately."
Joxer whispered to Xena, "Maybe we should make the trade. It is worth it to get Gabrielle back." Xena grabbed him and said "Don't you EVER say that! Gabrielle would never forgive me. This is the ONLY way it can be." She tightened her grip on the dagger. Ares and Hades faces grew tighter. They knew now that Xena was serious. They had both seen the results of Xena's rage, and did not want to be on the recieving end of it.
"Let's not be hasty!" Hades said. "There is one way. But one of you will have to sacrifice their lives." Xena stepped forward. So did Joxer. Xena turned to him and said "No, Joxer, it has to be me. Gabrielle gave her life for me, now it is my turn." Joxer shook his head. "That is exactly why it should be me. Don't erase her sacrifice." Xena was about to speak, when Hades touched Joxer, and he dropped to the ground, dead.
Xena started to raise the dagger when Hades vanished. Ares said "Quite a sacrifice. I'm touched. Hades neglected to mention that part of the deal was that Joxer would have to spend eternity in Tartarus." With that, Ares vanished too.
Xena knelt stunned over Joxer. She knew that Joxer didn't deserve to die, much less go to Tartarus. He should have had a long life, followed by Eternity in the Elysian fields. The gods would have to pay, but it would have to wait.
* * *
Gabrielle sat peacefully in the Elyisan fields. It was beautiful, the birds were singing, and her loved ones were all around.
Just then Joxer appeared before her. She smiled when she saw him, but then her smile turned to dismay. "Joxer? You mean.... you died too?" Joxer nodded and said "I was given a choice. I chose to take your place." Gabrielle shook him and said "No! This isn't right! Go back!" Joxer held her in his arms and said "No. I couldn't even if I wanted to. The deal is done." Gabrielle sat down on the ground, and took Joxer's hands in hers. "I wish you hadn't done this. But the Elysian fields are wonderful. I'm so sorry."
Joxer said "Yes, they are wonderful. But I won't be staying. I was just given this chance to say goodbye." Gabrielle looked up and said "What do you mean, you aren't - " and grabbed him forcefully by the shoulders. "What sort of deal did you make?!" she screamed at him. Joxer looked to the ground. "Eternity in Tartarus." Gabrielle just sat their stunned. This wasn't Joxer's rightful fate. Joxer said "You have to go now, Gabrielle." Gabrielle started to refuse, but she felt herself being pulled away. Joxer felt himself slipping away to Tartarus. Gabrielle grabbed ahold of him and would not let go.
Joxer said "Don't do this, Gabrielle!" "I'm not going to let you go to Tartarus, and that is final!" Storm clouds began to grow over the Elysian Fields for the first time as two forces tried to pull the two apart. Persephone appeared in a flash before them. "I can't have this disturbance in the Elysian Fields! These souls deserve peace!" Gabrielle glared at her and said "Get used to it." Souls that had known nothing but peace in these fields ran and hid for shelter.
Persephone stood their with her arms on her hips, and thought for a moment. "I can make a deal." Gabrielle laughed bitterly. "I've seen the kinds of deals the Gods make." Persephone said "This is a fair one. Gabrielle, you must walk out of the Elysian Fields to the world above. Joxer may follow you. But if you look back before you reach the surface, Joxer goes straight to Tartarus."
Gabrielle looked to Joxer and he said "I'm willing to take the chance." Persephone pointed the way, and vanished. Joxer followed Gabrielle silently. They walked for hours in silence. Gabrielle was tempted to look back, but she knew the stakes. If Persephone was lying, it would make no difference if she looked back. But if she were telling the truth, she could not look back. Finally, the stood before a gateway. Gabrielle took a deep breath, and stepped through.
* * *
Xena was preparing Joxer's body for a funeral pyre. Gabrielle walked up to Xena and put her arm around her. Xena cried out "Gabrielle!" and they embraced tightly. Then Xena remembered Joxer. She started to tell Gabrielle about Joxer, but Gabrielle said "I know. He met me in the Elyisian fields before he was supposed to go to Tartarus." Xena frowned and said "supposed?" When Joxer sat up, struggling with the shround that Xena had wrapped him in. Xena and Gabrrielle quickly relived Joxer of his burden.
Just then, Ares and Hades appeared. Ares put his hand to his chest, and said mockingly "touching, how touching. Now, about the dagger." Gabrielle said to Xena "Don't give it to him. No matter what the cost." Xena stood up, and held the dagger at the ready. "My original offer stands. You will NEVER have this dagger!" Ares and Hades raised their hands and backed slowly away.
Joxer shook his head and said "Gabrielle is right. There just isn't a way to settle this with neither side having it." Ares said in a surprisingly squeaky voice "Wait! There is a way! Hephestus could destroy it!" Xena thought for a moment, and then said "I will consider it." Ares said "We - we can go now!" Xena said "I can't trust you to take us there. I will have to walk. And think. A lot." Hades said "I can take us there, I am as interested in keeping the dagger out of Ares' hands as much as you are." Xena nodded, and in a flash, they all stood before the forge of Hephestus.
Hephestus looked up, and held his hand out for the dagger. Xena shook her head. She plunged the dagger into the molten metal of the forge. She pored out the molten metal, took Hephestus' hammer, and struck it as hard as she could. The room was lit like the sun for an instant, then was as black as Tartarus, and then, slowly all returned to normal. Where the liquid metal had been, only a dagger shaped impression was left.
Xena dropped the hammer. Ares looked relieved, yet frustrated. "Next time, Xena." he said and then vanished. Hades faded away, and Hephestus turned back to his work.
Xena, Joxer and Gabrielle walked out of the forge into the night.
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