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No Price too High
"Isn't it beautiful Xena? Just look how the spring rains have turned all the hills green." mused Gabrielle, not really expecting an answer. " Yeah, its nice," replied Xena "but if we stand around looking at the scenery we'll never reach Lete in time to meet Hercules and Iolaus. The festival is only two days away."
Gabrielle strode along next to her friend. " We haven't been able to attend a spring festival in years because of all the troubles we've been through. Maybe peace is finally coming to the land." said Gabrielle. Xena didn't respond. She hoped her companion was right, but--. Anyway no sense spoiling Gabrielle's joy with vague foreboding. The pair pressed on into the lengthening shadows.
Next morning both women rose just before dawn. "We're a little low on food, but I know of a small village just off the main path. We can reach it before noon and get fresh supplies" said Xena.
A few hours later after they had turned off the main road Xena suddenly stopped and got the look the Gabrielle knew all too well. "What's wrong Xena?" Gabrielle whispered, her finger tightening on her staff.
"I've got a bad feeling something terrible has happened! Stay here while I go scout ahead." said Xena as she moved quickly forward. Gabrielle knew two things. There was going to be trouble, and not to even bother to argue about being left behind.
Gabrielle waited for what seemed like hours, even though she knew her friend had been gone only a few minutes. Then she saw Xena running down the path toward her. Even at this distance there was no mistaking that the Warrior Princess was distressed.
"Xena," cried Gabrielle " what's wrong?" "The whole village has been destroyed!. Everything has been reduced to ashes!" gasped Xena as she raced to Gabrielle's side. Gabrielle felt a chill race up her spine as she looked at Xena's worried expression. "What about the villagers?" Gabrielle said with dread in her voice.
"Everybody has been incinerated." whispered Xena. "OH NO!" cried Gabrielle. "Why would anyone do that? WHY?".
Xena wished she could have spared her friend such anguish. Even though they didn't know a single person in the village, to Gabrielle it would be as if her own family had been killed.
Xena placed her arm around Gabrielle's shoulder. "I don't know why," she said " but I'm afraid the who is obvious. Those people where killed by magic! A normal fire would have never done so much damage. It was as if everything and everybody were consumed from the inside out.!"
Gabrielle, fighting back tears, blurted out "The Gods are behind this! Sounds like the work of--" "Ares!" Xena said finishing Gabrielle's thought. "Yeah it does look like that bastards' work all right!"
Xena's words had barely left her lips when from a shower of twinkling lights Ares, the god of war, appeared before the two women. Instantly the Warrior Princess had her sword drawn, while Gabrielle moved to the right-- her staff at the ready.
"You girls have hurt me to the quick!" said Ares "To accuse me of such despicable behavior when you know what a wonderful guy I am."
" Yeah-- right you evil--" screamed Gabrielle, but before she could finish Xena cut in. " No wait Gabrielle. Ares may be one of the biggest slimes in all creation, but it isn't his style to do the killing personally. He'd rather sit back and egg on human armies to do his dirty work." Turning to the black garbed god she asked, "All right Ares what do you really want from us besides our charming company?"
"Xena, you always get right to it. That's why we were such a great team." Ares said with a big smirk. " The Great Evil is close at hand and one of his minions is responsible for all of the death and destruction."
"Dahak!" cried Gabrielle "Not again! Why don't you and the rest the gods put a stop to this horror?"
"Gabrielle" interjected Xena " you should know by now the gods are both petty and cowardly. Work together? Impossible! Not until Dahak is ready to destroy Mt. Olympus itself- then it'll be too late."
"Xena you're pressing your luck!" growled Ares "HA!" laughed Xena " You need us, or you wouldn't be here. Save the threats and get to the point!"
Ares glared at the two women then finally he spoke. "There is a ruined temple not far from here- high in the mountains. There you'll find Dahak's sorcerer-priest Vaal. He is alone, but he wields the evil power of his master with such cunning no one has been able to challenge him. Every day he grows stronger and every day the dominion of Dahak increases. Soon this entire area will be a wasteland." Then as suddenly as he appeared Ares vanished, his mocking laughter slowly fading on the wind.
Gabrielle turned to Xena, "What are we supposed to do?" Xena paused for a moment, then said "Ares is a rotten excuse for a god, but he's no fool. He knows we'll have to try and destroy Vaal. If we do then Ares delays the final confrontation with Dahak. If we don't then we're dead and Ares is rid of two thorns in his side."
"Just great" moaned Gabrielle "we might as well get this over with." Xena shook her head "Not so fast. Take Argo and ride to Lete. Find Hercules and Iolaus, tell them everything and meet me here as soon as you can. I'm going to scout out the temple so we'll have at least an idea what we're up against."
Gabrielle mounted Argo and leaned toward Xena. "Don't do anything foolish--please wait until the three of us return. We're going to need all the help we can get."
Xena touched Gabrielle gently on her cheek. "I'll restrain myself. You be careful too. If Vaal can destroy whole villages by magic there's no telling how strong his powers are.
Now go!" Xena watched as Gabrielle rode from view and then began her trek toward an uncertain future.
Xena avoided the direct route to the ruins, preferring to go use a shortcut through the mountains. Unfortunately a high pass was blocked by a rock slide and caused her considerable delay. Instead of arriving that night she approached the outskirts of temple near noon of the second day. Silently she crept into position to view Vaals' lair. Suddenly her heart was gripped by the icy hand of fear. Just outside the temple entrance stood--
Her mind raced. Gabrielle never got to Lete! She's been captured or--. No time for stealth or common sense now. Xena unsheathed her sword and leapt at full speed for the dark and forbidding doorway.
As she plunged into the dank and foul smelling interior she screamed "Gabrielle!" but only silence answered back. Her eyes quickly adjusted to darkness. She could see the outline of the old altar ahead illuminated from behind by a faint red glow.
Xena flipped through the air and landed squarely on top of the altar. A gaping hole was
carved in the floor on the other side. Without any hesitation Xena dropped down into the
pit. Hitting the ground after several feet, Xena looked into a passageway which led to
a large chamber.
Sword and chakram in hand, Xena quickly moved to the torchlit chamber. At the far end was Vaal. He was dressed in blood red robes and sat upon a throne composed of human skulls. His face was a mask of evil, drawn and leathery with eyes more serpentlike than human.Then Xena saw something even more terrible than Vaal's visage. Suspended several feet in the air was an iron cage and inside was the battered and bruised body of Gabrielle.
Xena drew back her arm to throw her chakram to kill Vaal, but before she could send her disc of death on its way Vaal gestured with a claw-like hand. Instantly Xena was immobilized by an evil spell.
Vaal rose and in a hissing voice spoke. "Fool! You think you can defeat the Great God
Dahak! Never! You will remain in that state as long as I wish. Able to see, hear and think
but not act. Fear not, your friend is not dead, but she is the worse for wear because she
tried to resist my powers when I transported her here."
Vaal scuttled across the floor until he was almost next to Xena, then he continued "If it
was up to me you two would be ashes now, but the Master desires otherwise. Now listen
carefully. Swear allegiance to Mighty Dahak and your friend will be released. Fail to do so
and you'll be sent from here unharmed, but your friend will remain caged for all time. She
will be granted eternal life and eternal torture. If you think this is an idle threat remember
the village you saw. They did not bend to the Master's will and were destroyed. So is the
fate of all who oppose Dahak."
Vaal moved back slightly ."I will release you now, but if you value your friends' life you
had better stay your hand." With a wave of a boney finger the evil conjurer freed Xena.
Xena fought every instinct to kill and slowly lowered her weapon. "I'll never submit- I'll
find some way to destroy you and free Gabrielle! " Vaal grinned " I knew you'd be like that
and since I don't feel like being on guard all the time I've made other arrangements."
"What?" asked Xena, hate flashing from her eyes. Vaal pointed up to the still unconscious
form of Gabrielle " I've entwined myself astrally with that creature. If I die, she die's. So
now I can do the Master's bidding in peace."
Vaal raised both arms and said "Now go and you may not return until you stand before
the temple door to become the servant of Dahak!" Xena suddenly found herself laying on
the ground outside next to Argo. She got to her feet and tried several times to enter the
ruin, but each time she was thrown back by some invisible force.
Finally Xena mounted Argo and began to ride away. The voice of Vaal boomed from what seemed like everywhere. "Flee Xena! Remember your friend won't die, but if you wish to end her pain you must submit. Flee now --but you'll be back!"
Xena rode on day and night without food or rest until at last she reached the town of Lete. After searching for what seemed like hours she finally found Iolaus at an inn.
As soon as Iolaus saw Xena he knew something was terribly wrong. "Where's Hercules?"
asked Xena. "He stopped to see a friend a few leagues back. He told me to go ahead
so I wouldn't miss any of the festival." replied Iolaus " What's wrong? Where's Gabrielle?"
Iolaus' expression grew steadily more serious as Xena related her tale of horror, but when
she revealed her plan his face turned grim. "Xena, you can't really be planning that!"
Xena looked deep into his eyes and said "I have no choice. Just do as I ask and find Hercules." Iolaus saw she was in earnest. "But what if it doesn't work?" he asked.
Xena was quiet for a moment then replied "Then this is good-bye Iolaus. Would you do two things for me?" "Anything " he said.
"Tell Hercules not to blame himself if things go wrong. It's my idea and I'll accept the consequences. Also take care of Argo. I'll need to get a fresh mount anyway and--"
Xena's voice trailed off. "Argo will be there when you get back and so will the big guy."
said Iolaus attempting to put on a brave front. Xena placed her hand on Iolaus' hand and
quietly said "I hope you forgive me for any pain I've caused you in the past." Iolaus looked
at Xena and choking back emotion said " As far as I'm concerned that wasn't you." Iolas leaned forward and lightly kissed Xena on her cheek. "No matter what happens, I'll never forget you."
Days later Xena was back at the temple of evil. She tethered her horse then removed her sword and chakram, leaving them hanging from the saddlehorn. Slowly she walked to the entrance and yelled "Vaal! You win! I'm here to meet my destiny." She could feel the hot wind blow past her and the magical spell was lifted and the doorway was open again.
This time she moved like a condemned prisoner on her way to execution. Soon she was back before the unspeakable Vaal. Gabrielle was awake this time, but just barely and by the soft moans Xena knew that Vaal was true to his word about torture.
Xena stood erect and spoke in a resigned tone. "I'm here as you commanded. I'll take an oath to Dahak-- so release Gabrielle."
Vaal sneered "You two will make excellent servants of the Master. Those enemies I don't wish to destroy by magic you will have the honor to kill by the sword." With that Vaal muttered some incantation and Gabrielle's cage vanished, the half dead girl dropping at Xena's feet. Xena immediately kneeled down to hold her friend up.
Vaal laughed "Yes Xena, help her up. She must be with you when you swear the oath. As an ex-wife of Mighty Dahak she can instruct you on how to pleasure the Master.
Xena stroked Gabrielle's hair "Gabrielle- You know I love you." Gabrielle looked at Xena and could see a single tear forming. Despite the pain she suddenly felt at peace.
Everything was crystal clear. Gabrielle slowly pressed her lips to Xena's "And I love you--
Do It! " she whispered.
In a twinkling of an eye Xena pulled out her concealed dagger. With the speed and skill of a great warrior the blade found its mark. Gabrielle looked one last time at her friend, gave a slight gasp and then she was gone.
Holding Gabrielle's body tightly Xena began to slowly rock back and forth. As she began to sing a funeral dirge she looked at the lifeless body of Vaal slumped on his throne of skulls, a puzzled and surprised look on face.
When the dirge was done Xena carried her friend to the horse and gently hoisted her into the saddle. Holding Gabrielle with one hand and the reins in the other Xena rode away to her meeting with Hercules and Iolaus.
As hour after hour passed Xena kept drifting back to all the memories of her relationship with Gabrielle, laughter and tears, agony and ecstasy. There never had been enough time. Strange, she mused, despite all the dangers they had faced she never had thought Gabrielle would die. That shouldn't be-- it should be me.
After what seemed like an eternity of sorrow Xena finally arrived at her destination. The cave loomed up ahead and waiting in front of it was Hercules and Iolaus.
Hercules took Gabrielle from Xena and placed reverently on the ground. He then held Xena in his powerful arms. "I'm so sorry Xena. I'll do what I can, but--" "I know you will," interrupted Xena "At least Vaal is dead and Dahak has been stopped for now."
Hercules turned and approached the cave. "Hades! " he shouted "I need you!" Within a few moments smoke began to belch from the cave mouth then Hades appeared riding his chariot. Stopping by Hercules he said "I know why you summoned me and I must warn you this is the last favor I can do."
Hercules nodded his head in agreement, then motioned Xena to come to his side. Hades
studied the Warrior Princess for some time before asking "Xena, what is your wish?" "Restore Gabrielle's life." she replied.
"I was afraid you would ask that. Because Gabrielle has already crossed over in the underworld I can only restore her life if you are willing to pay the price." replied Hades.
Xena answered without hesitation " No price is too high! Take anything I have! Take the heart from my breast if you must but let Gabrielle live!"
Hercules spoke up " Hades, Iolaus and I are also willing to do whatever you demand to restore Gabrielle!"
Hades dismounted from his chariot and turned to Hercules " I know you two would, but only Xena can help her friend since she was the one who killed her." He then turned to Xena " I wish I didn't have to do this but I'm bound by certain rules I dare not break."
" That's OK. Just tell me what I must do." said Xena. "Gabrielle's life-force is gone."answered Hades. "She can only return if you share your life with her. So for each day you live and each day Gabrielle lives it will cost you two days of your allotted time. Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Xena " and I agree." "Then go to your friend and hold her close to you." instructed Hades. Xena walked to Gabrielle's body and held her as she had back at the temple. Hades made a gesture and both women were engulfed in swirling orbs of golden light. Then Hades said "It is done" and rode back into the cave.
Xena felt very tired, but that was quickly forgotten when she saw Gabrielle's eyes begin to open. Xena's iron will finally crumbled and tears of joy began to streak down her cheeks. Gabrielle was coming around now. "What happened? I had the strangest dream. I thought I had died and--" she stopped in midsentence. She then realized Hercules and Iolaus were there also. "Oh No! It was no dream!" Gabrielle cried out " I remember now!
Hades told me what you were going to do! You shouldn't have! I'm not--" "Shhsh," said Xena as she placed two fingers over Gabrielle's lips. " What is done is done. I would have given all my days for you.Without your light in the world life wouldn't be worth living anyway. So be still and rest. It's the most beautiful spring day ever and we have a lot of living to do."