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Something So Strong

By John Dorsey

Based on characters and situations created by Robert Tapert and Sam Raimi

Copyright 1997 by John Dorsey

Xena: Warrior Princess and all characters, as well as certain dialogue, are the sole property of Universal. The author intends no copyright infringement through the writing of this fan fiction.

Disclaimer: This story has some violence in it. However, it is not described in graphic detail. I think most people should find it acceptable.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

 

 

 

The two lovers held each other in front of the templeís altar. They stared into each otherís eyes in a way perhaps no two ever had before. He was hers, and she was his. The candles burning before them could not match the burning passion in their hearts. Soon they would be one, and their union would last for all eternity.

Suddenly, the woman blinked. She looked around, confused.

"Whatís going on?"

"A love so deep few have ever known it."

"What?"

"A love so deep... few have ever known it."

They were then interrupted by another man, a warlord. "There you are!" He pushed the man aside, and then, on his knees, vowed to the woman that he would change his evil ways in an effort to win her eternal love. He then left through the door where he had entered, leaving the two a little bewildered. When the man looked once again into the eyes of his beloved, he saw the passion in her eyes had been extinguished, so easily, like a candle in the wind. She was no longer his. And their union would never be. They then realized the presence of another.

"Well... you canít win Ďem all."

 

* * *

 

Joxer walked slowly through the thick foliage. He was not on a trail, simply moving east following the directions he had been given. The village he was looking for could not be much farther. Xena and Gabrielle were probably not more than two days ahead of him. But he was not looking to catch up.

Joxer was in a period of mourning. Only a few weeks earlier, he had found the love of his life. Only a few hours later, he had lost her. Her love for him had dissolved with the wave of Cupidís hand. Cupid could do nothing for Joxer, however. He vaguely remembered a voice from that moment, a voice that seemed to have been camouflaged. Forget it. Heís for real...

He then came to a clearing. It was a beautiful view. Three large, green rolling hills spread across the landscape. Horses danced across the plain, and the sun shone warmly behind a picture perfect sky. Joxer stopped to contemplate, and whispered the only word that held any meaning for him now.

"Gabrielle..."

She was the one. The one he had been so blind to. After everything they had been through, he had finally realized that he loved her more than life itself.

Joxer mused about his life and how it had so drastically changed in not much more than a year. He had set out to be a warrior. He had wanted to be bloodthirsty, to be ruthless. He approached Xena and Gabrielle, mistakenly believing Xena was still that kind of warrior. After they rejected him, he tried to join Callistoís army, and she eventually ordered him to murder her hostage, Gabrielle.

Joxer could remember it like it was yesterday. He remembered holding the knife in front of Gabrielle. The terrified look in her eyes made him realize for the first time the type of person he really was, not a ruthless warrior, but a man who wanted to be a hero, to fight for a better world. He dropped the knife and almost died for it, but Xena saved the day.

There had been a number of adventures with Xena and Gabrielle. He had never felt anything but friendship for Gabrielle before, but when Cupidís arrow struck her, something else struck him. Cupid eventually cured Gabrielle, but Joxer was in love for real... forever.

It was all so hopeless. How could she ever feel anything for him? In her eyes, he was little more than a fool. Tears began to swell, but he held them back, as if someone could see him and laugh. He remembered sitting with Gabrielle around the campfire that night. Her words had cut through him like a knife. Can you imagine the two of us in love? Kind of makes you laugh just to think about it.

"Ha... ha," Joxer said softly. He supposed it was kind of funny. Perhaps this was Aphroditeís cruel joke, payback for his destroying one of her temples. It didnít matter anymore.

He reached the town of Venascan an hour later. It looked like any other town he had seen... simple and boring. It was perhaps these places that inspired him to be a warrior. He enjoyed traveling and couldnít bear to be stuck in one place for long.

There were not many people around that day. After getting something to eat, Joxer decided to move one when he saw a colorful tent set up across the street. A sign before it read, "Discover Your Fortune."

Curious, he walked over to the tent. Throughout his life, he had never believed much in fortunes, but then again it was only in the past year that he had discovered things that seemed beyond all belief, from the Bacchae to the power of Aphrodite. An old woman suddenly appeared from inside. She motioned to him.

"Come here, young man. I can tell you things about yourself."

Joxer hesitated. "I... I donít know. Maybe I better..."

"Donít go," she said, and the force in her voice somehow made kept Joxer where he stood. Although she was old, there was something about her that was very strong... and very powerful. "Please, come in. I can see you have your doubts. But if I cannot convince you otherwise, I will charge you nothing."

"Well, if you put it that way..." Joxer moved forward and tripped on a peg holding the tent down. He fell forward on his chest. "Oof!" He looked up, expecting to see annoyance on her face, but her expression remained pleasant. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," Joxer replied with embarrassment. He entered the tent, removing his helmet. There was a small table in the center with a red cloth over it. He kneeled on one side and she on the opposite. "Hmmm... what shall we talk about first?" She eyed him for a moment. "Why not... the one you love?"

Joxer leaned forward as she began to speak.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

Ares kicked over the table, his voice howling in a rage. He had kept his frustrations inside for a long time, but now he was in a mood to vent. Time and time again Xena had defeated him, most recently saving the life of his wretched half-brother, Hercules. Framing Hercules for the murder of the Golden Hind had been brilliant, but he had badly miscalculated by bringing Xena into the mix.

Ares sat down on the throne in his temple, leaning back. He was getting of bored of this little duel. Xena betrayed him when she left his side, and no one else had ever gotten away with that. Not only had she gotten away with it, but she was proving herself to be more resourceful than he had ever anticipated. It was like a great game of chess. Ares had to admit he enjoyed a worthy opponent. But he did not enjoy losing. And he was not a good sport.

A cloud of smoke puffed in front of him, revealing the figure of Stryfe. "Hello, your magnificent malevolence."

Ares did not hide his irritation. "Just shut up and tell me what you found out... about the prophecy."

"Well, it goes something like this. Someday, probably a millennia or two from now, you and another spirit will be locked in a battle which will determine the fate of the entire world. As for who will win, I donít know. But if I was a betting man, I would put my dinars on my favorite uncle, the number one master of disaster, the-"

Ares stood up. "A battle? With who?"

Stryfe started to look very small. "Who? On, nobody... no one you would have to worry about..."

"Who?"

"Oh... only... Xena."

"XENA!!!!!" Ares was losing control again. Stryfe started to back away.

"On, donít worry, Uncle Ares, sheís only a woman... and sheís only beaten you... what.... ten, twelve times? Her winning streakís gotta end sooner or later."

"Are you saying you think she would win?"

"Uhhhhh.... probably not."

"Probably... not?" Ares was about to strangle him. But instead he turned away. He had been dedicated to turning Xena back to his side, but it was beginning to look more and more like she had become too much of a goody-two-shoes to fall for it. Now it appeared that she would one day have a chance to defeat him once and for all... to end all his dreams of conquest and destruction. He would not let that happen. He had no doubt he could defeat her in a one-on-one battle, but, then again, there was her resourcefulness...

"Uncle," Stryfe said very timidly. "What do you think we should do?"

Ares sat back down in his chair. "I think Iíve tolerated Xena long enough... trying to bring her back to me. I think itís time I... get rid of her... throw her away."

Stryfe smiled. "You mean kill her."

Ares smiled in return. "No, no, no... This battle will supposedly take place a few millennia from now, correct? Sheíll already be dead by then. Killing her wouldnít solve the problem. Itís her soul we need to deal with."

"Uh, uncle," Stryfe said, "Iím no expert in the metaphysics of the afterlife, but I do know that the soul is eternal. You canít destroy Xenaís soul."

"Not destroy... remove."

"Remove?"

"Yes," Ares stood up and walked toward the window. "Trust me, my dear Stryfe. Death for Xena would be far too merciful. Sheís going to learn that the price for betraying Ares is something far, far worse."

Stryfe began to grin. Ares could not help but do the same as he contemplated the full horror of his revenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joxer stared at the woman. "You said... the one I love?"

"Of course."

Joxer let out a hearty laugh. "In love? Me? Never! Why, the very thought is just... just..." The old woman smiled gently. "Gee... youíre pretty good at this stuff."

"Thatís what Iím usually told."

"How, uh, how did you know?"

Her smile widened. "Iím afraid your eyes betray you."

"My... eyes?"

"Yes. The look in your eyes... that is the look of a man in love. In all my years of prophecy, I must have seen it a thousand times at least." She place a candle on the table and lit it. "Does she know?"

"Uh, no... she doesnít." Joxer hoped his eyes didnít betray the embarrassment he was feeling at the moment.

"Perhaps you should tell her."

"I donít think so." Joxer briefly seriously considered ending the conversation, but instead went ahead and let his heart pour out. "Look, this woman... sheís... sheís beautiful, and kind, and loving... Me... Iím really just a goofball."

"You are wrong." She reached out and touched his hands, holding them gently. "I sense in you a man who is both noble and true, whose outward appearance is merely a fassod disguising the gallant warrior within. You have had many great adventures... and there are a great many more to come. And as for your love..."

"Look," Joxer interrupted, pulling his hands away. "Iím not so sure I want to hear this."

The woman smiled again. It was so gentle and disarming that Joxer couldnít help but feel better. "You are afraid of what I will say. You fear that she will never be yours."

Joxer gulped. "Will... she?" He felt despair beginning to return.

The woman paused for a moment, looking upwards. "That is not for me to know. Even though it may be damning to my profession to admit it, I must say that there are many, many things that can never be foretold... that are simply not set in stone. The gods only meddle in our affairs on their own whims. They donít plan every aspect of our lives. Our futures are largely ours to make..."

"Yes... I know." Joxer had heard something like this before. "Look, I appreciate everything, but-"

The womanís voice came out so strong, it stopped him before he could move. "Joxer..." (She knew his name!) "Iím sorry that I cannot tell you more, but I can tell you this. If you truly love Gabrielle, you must have faith in her, and you must have faith in yourself. You must stand by her and protect her and always be prepared to sacrifice yourself for her. And even then... one day... you will have to tell her how you feel."

"Tell her?!" Joxer let out a small laugh, mostly out of despair. "Look... I know how she feels. She feels absolutely nothing for me. Iím little more than a fool to her..."

"I donít believe that." Her voice once again stopped Joxer cold. There was something in it that was very soothing. "I simply cannot believe that is true. You are a very special man, Joxer. I didnít need my psychic abilities to know that." She paused for a moment. "Many people have a hard time admitting their true feelings. And even then, they often hide them out of fear. You must always remember that. If she needs time, then you must give her time. You will have to decide for yourself when the moment is right to tell her your true feelings. But you must never lose faith in her, or in your love for her."

"Do you know if she could ever-"

"I do not know." She smiled again. "It is not written. You future with her, if there is one, will be of your own making."

Joxer looked at the ground, and then met her gaze again. "Can you tell me where she is?"

The old woman closed her eyes and held her hands together, as if in prayer. She sat motionless for a while, then suddenly winced. She held her hands to her face in agony. Joxer stood up.

"Are you all right?!"

"Fine... Iím fine." She paused, trying to catch her breath. Then she looked up at him with a new expression... fear. "Joxer, she is in danger."

"What?"

"I sense danger. Gabrielle and her companion are walking into a trap."

Joxer felt his heart leap into his throat. "What... Whatís wrong? Whatís going to happen?"

"Iím not sure. I canít see. Gabrielle is south of here. She is only a day away... but you donít have much time. You must not let her or her companion touch the idol."

"The idol?"

"I wish I could tell you more... but all I know is that they must not touch the idol, or they will..."

"Die?" Joxer felt his fear rising.

"No... something... something worse. I donít know, but itís something worse. You must go... now."

"How much do I owe you?" Joxer fumbled through his pouch.

"Nothing. Please... go to the one you love."

Joxer stared at her for a moment. "I will. And thank you."

"Your welcome." Joxer took one last look at her smile, and he was glad it was the last image of her he saw before he turned and left. He then stopped and looked into the distant mountains.

"Iím coming, Gabrielle." Then he began to run.

The old woman watched him as he disappeared into the forest. She had not seen a love that strong in a long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

 

 

 

 

The dreams have begun...

I walk down a long path. I am alone. The sky is quickly becoming dark, but it is not the evening.

It is him.

Ares created me. The god of war molded me in his own image... a flawless jewel created to journey throughout the world, sprawling his name in fire and blood across the land. The world would be ours. I would rule it, and he would rule me.

But the jewel was not flawless. Hercules turned me in a new direction... setting me free from Aresí tight and cold grip. But have I truly escaped? Will I ever be safe from his dark embrace?

I feel him coming. I start to run. He gains on me. I stumble, trip, and fall. His laughter echoes in my head. Turning around, I see him bearing down on me. I begin to scream as I hear his words...

"Itís payback time, Xena."

 

* * *

 

 

24 hours later.

"Alalalalalalalalalalalalala!"

The barbarian saw a form flip over his head. He turned and a fist met him squarely in the face, knocking him unconscious. The other barbarians then surrounded the warrior, who revealed a circular shaped disc. They paused and watched carefully, not knowing what the object was. With careful aim, the object was thrown. Spinning with deadly force, the disc bounced off one man, and then another, and then another, knocking each down. The disc finally rebounded off an oak and the warrior caught it with apparent ease. There was no one left to fight.

"Xena!"

The warrior princess turned and placed the chakram on her belt. Running through the forest, Gabrielle had finally caught up with her and was almost out of breath. "You shouldnít have gone so far ahead... but by the looks of everything, you really didnít need me."

"No, they didnít put up much of a fight. But thereíll be more of them. Theyíre not going to give up the idol that easily."

"Do you think what the villagers said about it is true... that it has magical properties?"

"No... it is made out of pure gold, though. And Iím sure thatís why these barbarians took it. My main concern is dish out some punishment to this tribe, and hopefully theyíll leave the village alone. Returning the idol will just be an added bonus to make the villagers happy."

Gabrielle studied the unconscious bodies around them. "Well, if these guys are any indication about how well they can fight, this shouldnít take long at all. Looks like we shouldnít have too much to worry about."

"Yeah, looks that way." But it doesnít feel that way.

Xena had a nagging feeling about this whole mission. Maybe it was just because the dreams, or the nightmares had started a few days ago. They felt like some horrible premonition of something to come, and it frightened her a great deal. She hadnít told Gabrielle about it, and she didnít plan to. All she knew is that she wanted to finish this mission as soon as possible.

"There they are!" came from a distance.

Xena and Gabrielle turned and saw more men running turn them. They both raised their weapons, and the battle began anew.

 

Ares and Stryfe watched at the battle through a magical portal.

Ares smiled. "This... is perfect. That idol Xena is after is just what I need."

Stryfe looked at him. "What are you going to do?"

"I made a little deal with Zeus. Opening portals to other dimensions is normally not allowed, but in return for a huge price heís going to let me do it just this once."

Stryfe began to bounce up and down with excitement. "Youíre going to send Xena to another dimension!"

"Exactly. When she and the little brat get close enough, I will cast the spell. If Xena or Gabrielle touch the idol, both will be disappear in the blink of an eye. With Xena in alternate plane of existence, her soul will never be able to combat me as the prophecy has foretold. And once sheís gone, thereís no way sheís ever coming back."

"Where exactly are you sending her?"

Ares watched Xena cut through another barbarian. "To her worst nightmare."

 

Joxer was running as fast as he could at this point. Hours earlier, he had stumbled upon the village that Xena and Gabrielle were aiding, and they gave him directions to the barbarians camp. He couldnít fail now. Somehow, he knew... he just knew that he was almost out of time.

"Gabrielle... hang on."

 

The barbarians camp was not very large. It consisted entirely of tents surrounding a large stone shrine. At the base of the shrine was a golden idol. Several guards stood around the idol. The barbarians believed it had power, and they were determined to defend it to the last.

Suddenly, the idol began to glow. There was something eerie about it, something that felt evil. The men gasped, and fear soon overtook them. They scattered in all directions, running with no intention of every coming back. When the last of them had disappeared into the foliage, the glow disappeared and the idol stood defenseless... waiting.

The barbarians were falling left and right. They had the numbers, but were among the worst warriors Xena had every encountered. It was almost like fighting an army of Joxers. Even Gabrielle was having little trouble as she knocked another man down with a quick back thrust from her staff.

"This is too easy..." Xena whispered under her breath. But they had almost made it to the camp. She wanted to get this over with. "Come on, Gabrielle!"

They both started to run.

 

"Here they come!" Stryfe shouted with glee.

"I think itís time to cast the spell." Ares raised his hands.

"Uh, uncle..."

"It is done. When either of them touch it, they will both be history. Nothing can stop it now." He sat down on his throne.

"Uncle..."

"What?"

Stryfeís face looked worried. "Can I ask you something? What would happen if... letís say... someone else touched the idol first?"

"Then my plan would be ruined. But I used the idol to scare away the barbarians at the camp. As for the rest, I allowed Xena to beat them easily. Thereís no one left."

"I wouldnít be so sure about that... Look..."

Ares stared into the portal, and then his face filled with fear.

 

Xena and Gabrielle entered the clearing and stared at the deserted camp.

Gabrielle looked around carefully. "Where is everybody? Did we beat all of them?"

"I find that hard to believe. Look! Thereís the idol."

They stared at the golden idol laying on a shrine in the center of the camp.

Gabrielle smiled. "Well, letís go get it."

"Strange," Xena said as they walked forward, still with weapons drawn. "Iím surprised they left it unguarded. Well, no time to worry about it now."

"Hurry!" Ares shouted. "Touch the idol!"

Xena walked to the base of the altar and stopped. "Pretty," she mused, and then reached out her hand.

"XENA!!!" came from a figure emerging from the woods.

The warrior princess and the bard both turned to look. "Oh, no..." they said simultaneously.

"Oh, no..." Ares buried his head in his hands.

Joxer was running and almost out of breath. "Donít touch the idol!!!" He ran past Xena and Gabrielle, placing himself between them and the altar.

"Joxer!" Xena snapped. "What are you doing?"

"Look..." he said, trying to catch his breath. "I know... this may sound crazy... but... you canít touch the idol... Itís a trap..."

"How did he know?" Stryfe complained. He glanced warily at Ares, who, with clenched fists, looked like he was about to murder someone.

"A trap?" Xena began to think. Could this have something to do with her dreams? "What do you mean?"

Joxer looked frightened. "I canít say. I donít know. All I know is that if you touch the idol... something very bad is going to happen..."

"Joxer, thatís crazy." Gabrielle was annoyed. "Have you lost your mind?" Joxer couldnít find any more words as he stared at the woman he loved. Gabrielle moved forward. "Or are you just trying to be the hero and hog all the glory for yourself? Get out of the way."

"NO!!!"

Gabrielle stopped dead in her tracks. Joxer started to move backwards.

Ares let out a small sigh. "If that idiot touches the idol, Iím going to be seriously pissed." Stryfe looked away and thought perhaps he should prepare to teleport.

"I wonít let you, Gabrielle. Youíve got to trust me on this one..." He continued to walk backwards, inching closer to the idol.

"No..." Ares seethed.

"Joxer, wait," Xena pleaded.

"Donít worry", Joxer answered as he continued to move backwards. "Iím Joxer..."

"Please donít..." Ares whispered.

"Joxer the mighty..."

"Please stop..." Ares prayed.

"Joxer!" Xena and Gabrielle yelled in unison.

"Joxer the magnifice--" And then he tripped on a rock and went careening backwards. "WHOA-OA-OA!"

Joxerís back crashed into the idol and there was a quick, blinding flash of light. Then both he and the idol were gone.

Ares stared at the ground, and then glanced up. "Now I am seriously pissed."

Stryfe teleported away.

Xena and Gabrielle stared at where Joxer and the idol had been, trying to comprehend what had happened.

"Joxer..." Xena whispered. "What happened to Joxer?"

They glanced around looking for an answer, but none came.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

 

 

 

 

Joxer fell on his back. "Ooooooh....."

The idol was underneath him, and landing on it had hurt. He rolled over, and then noticed it was raining.

"Rain? How could it be... raining?" He looked around. "Xena? Gabrielle?" There was no one in sight. Joxer did not recognize his surroundings. He was lying on a muddy road somewhere in a dense forest. The rain was pouring hard, and he was already soaked. He stood up and picked up the idol. After glancing at it briefly with little interest, he placed it in his pouch and started to walk.

"I did it," Joxer said to himself. "I saved them." Then it dawned on him that he would have to face whatever had been in store for them. He gulped. "I think Iím in trouble."

The night was black, and the trees surrounding him were dead. There was something in the air that felt... evil. He then noticed a wooden sign. It was old and withered, and looked as if it was about to fall over. It pointed down the road. Joxer walked to up to it and read the word, "Poteidaia". He walked off in the direction it pointed.

A few miles down the road he came to the town. Joxer felt awful as his entire body was wet and muddy. He just wanted to find some shelter. A feeling of fear overcame him as he reached the outskirts of the village. It did not look like a friendly place. Several of the houses were burnt out husks. There were many men and soldiers laughing and drinking in the street. Joxer noticed two fistfights going simultaneously in the crowd. He had an almost overwhelming urge to turn around, but he didnít want to spend the night in the storm. Joxer headed for a tavern.

It was not any more attractive inside. Joxer could barely move through all the bodies that surrounded him. The stench in the air was almost nauseating. He finally made it to the bar and got a drink. Then a huge, bald man in bearskins bumped into him.

"Are you going to apologize for that?"

Joxer looked blankly at him. "You bumped into me." He immediately regretted his words when he saw how intoxicated the man was.

The man grabbed him. "Oh, I did, did I?" The room fell silent.

"Hey!" Joxer yelled. "You better be careful. I am Joxer the Magnificent, ally of Xena!"

"Xena?!!!" came from several of the patrons. "HA HA HA HA!" The room erupted in laughter.

The man picked Joxer up. "Oh, so Xenaís gonna save you now, is she?" He threw Joxer over his head where he crashed through a nearby table.

"Ooooooh", Joxer grumbled. This is not my day. He stood to his feet and unsheathed his sword. The patrons formed a circle around both of them, eager to see blood spilled.

The man walked forward. "Stay back," Joxer warned.

"Youíve got me shakiní, pip-squeak."

He lunged forward and blocked Joxerís swing, smashing him into a pillar. He then picked up the flailing warrior and threw him across the room again where he crashed through yet another table. Joxer struggled to his feet. If not for his armor, he would have surely blacked out by now. He began to swing his sword wildly as the burly man closed in. On the third swing, he cut a rope which held a chandelier. The man looked up see the object come crashing down on top of him. When Joxer turned around, he saw the man unconscious on the floor with the chandelier on top of him.

Stumbling like a drunk, Joxer sheathed his sword and proclaimed, "Another victory for... Joxer... the... Mighty...." And he fell to the floor.

 

"Hey, wake up."

Joxer felt himself coming to.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah... Yeah... Iím fine." He was helped to his feet. Joxer looked at the bearded villager with curly, brown hair who stood before him. His clothes looked rather old and dirty. "Who are you?"

"Iím Jacob. I saw that fight, Joxer. No one thought you had a chance." He smiled.

"Well, I have a tendency to surprise people."

"I can see that. So, you say youíre an ally of Xena?"

Joxer gave his best friendly grin. "Yes, she and I go way back. Weíve had many adventures. Iíve saved her life more than a few times. You wouldnít happen to know where she is, would you? I really need to find her."

"Yes, I can take you to her if you like."

"Please."

Jacob patted him on the back. "Letís go."

As they left the tavern, they were joined by several of Jacobís friend who introduced themselves. Joxer couldnít help take one look back at the town before they left.

"Thatís one scary place."

"Yes," Jacob sighed. "Poteidaia is one wretched town. Nothing but soldiers and criminals who drink and pillage and kill. Iím surprised youíre traveling alone. Why are you here, anyway?"

"Well," Joxer said, "Itís not easy for me to explain."

Jacob looked at him and smiled. "Iím sure it isnít. But you will." Then a quick fist to the jaw sent Joxer careening back into darkness. He never even saw it coming.

 

Voices.

"Itís impossible. Everyone knows heís dead."

"Can you be sure about this."

"He must be some kind of spy, trying to infiltrate our camp. I made sure no one followed us."

Where am I?

"What do we do with him?"

"If it was up to me, Iíd say kill him now. But weíll wait."

This is a very bad day.

"Wake up!" Joxer felt himself being shaken. His head was pounding. He looked up to see Jacob and several others standing around him, some of them women. They were in a cave. Something seemed very desolate about the place. The people were dressed mostly in rags, their faces dirty. They looked at him with the eyes of zombies. He began to feel very afraid.

"Whatís your name?" Jacob demanded.

"Joxer..."

"Donít lie. Tell me the truth."

"Jacob... donít," one woman grabbed him. "Letís wait on this."

The man pulled out a knife. "I want answers now."

"Hold!" cried a voice from the back. "Donít do anything! Sheís here!"

The group of people moved to each side of the cave, opening a path in the middle. A woman appeared and walked forward slowly. Joxer gazed at the woman, who looked to be his own age. Her clothes were rags, and there was a hood over her head. A belt was clamped around her waist, holding a sheathed sword. As she moved closer, she pulled back her hood, revealing her face. It was dirty. Her red hair was messy, knotted in several places. She stared at him, a look of stunned disbelief on her face. Her voice was choked.

"J-Joxer?"

Joxer stared at the woman, and uttered the only word he could.

"Gabrielle..."

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

 

 

 

"Xena, weíve got to do something!"

"I agree with you, Gabrielle, but we donít have anything to go on at the moment. He may have simply teleported somewhere... or maybe not."

Xena and Gabrielle had just left the village they had been aiding against the barbarian attacks. They had hoped to find out more about the idol, but there was nothing of substance that the people could tell them. They all believed that the idol had some dormant power hidden inside it and that it was destined to one day help defeat a great evil, but that was it. The villagers were glad that the barbarian threat was gone, but they were still disappointed that the idol had not been returned.

"Well, what do we do now?!"

"I DONíT KNOW!!!"

Xena had yelled louder than she meant to. She watched Gabrielle plunk herself down on a large rock in despair.

"Look, Iím sorry, Xena. Itís just that... I feel so guilty about what happened. If I wouldíve stopped and listened to what Joxer was trying to tell us, he wouldnít have backed up and fallen into that idol and he wouldnít be..." She couldnít finish.

Xena placed her hand on the bardís shoulder. "Gabrielle, you canít blame yourself for what happened."

"But I do," she looked at Xena as tears swelled in her eyes. "He may be dead, Xena."

Xena was slowly sinking into despair herself. She let out a sigh. "Maybe." Xena was aware of Joxerís true feelings for Gabrielle. It was truly rare for Gabrielle to display anything but hostility towards him. Xena still couldnít get over the irony of how the situation with Cupidís arrows a few weeks earlier had played out.

Gabrielle stared into the distance. "He helped save our lives a few times. When Callisto captured both of us, and then when he played the lyre to scare off the Bacchae. Remember that?"

"How could I forget?" Neither could help but smile at the image of Joxer strumming the lyre.

Gabrielle then spoke with the determination that Xena had come to cherish from her. "Weíve got to save him."

"We will."

As they gazed at the sun setting in the distance, Xena wondered how they had ever grown to love such a fool.

* * *

Joxerís mouth hung open. It couldnít be true. But despite her desolate, dirty appearance, there was no mistaking the woman who stood before him. It was Gabrielle.

"Joxer..." she gasped. Then she shook her head and started to back away. "No... no... it canít be you." It was as if she was looking at a ghost.

"Gabrielle!" Joxer pleaded. "Itís me... Joxer. What happened to you? Whatís going on?" He rose to his feet.

Jacob was still brandishing his knife. "Heís an impostor! I say we kill him!" Others shouted in agreement.

"No!" Gabrielleís voice silenced the group. "At least... not yet. I know it canít be but... he seems so... so..."

"Gabrielle..." Joxer pleaded and started to walk toward her. He tripped on his own feet and plummeted to the ground. "Oof!"

"...so much like Joxer", Gabrielle finished. She smiled a little. "He appears to be harmless enough. I want to talk to him... alone."

Jacob walked over to her. "Iím not sure thatís a good idea."

"I can take care of myself." With that, Jacob and the others walked off.

Gabrielle eyed him for a moment as he raised himself up. "Joxer... It is you, isnít it?" She gave him a hug, tears coming to her eyes. "Itís like some kind of miracle."

Joxer felt very confused and frustrated. He wasnít sure what bewildered him more: her appearance or her signs of affection towards him. "Gabrielle, youíve got to tell me whatís going on? What happened to you? And whereís Xena?"

"Xena?" A look of puzzlement came from her face. "You donít remember?"

"Remember what?"

Her eyes suddenly turned to stone. "Joxer...," she said emotionlessly, "Xenaís dead."

 

The storm had briefly taken a pause. Two figures left the cave and walked across the dark hills nearby. They stopped before a small, stone grave. Joxer read the inscription. HERE LIES XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS. That was all.

"No... No... How can this be?"

"You tell me." Gabrielle then took him by the hand and led him to another grave. The inscription read: HERE LIES JOXER THE MIGHTY. Joxer gasped. But nothing could prepare him for what he would read next. HUSBAND OF GABRIELLE OF POTEIDAIA.

He wheeled around to face her. "Husband?"

"Yes."

She slowly pulled him to her, and their lips met. They held each other for a long time, neither letting go.

On the hill, Joxer told Gabrielle his story: Cupidís arrows, his falling in love with her, the old woman who foretold of a trap, and his crashing into the idol teleporting him here. It all sounded so crazy, but it wasnít nearly as crazy as all this. He could tell by the look in her eyes that she believed him. He also saw something else there... disappointment.

Gabrielle turned away and looked at the blackness of the night. "If this is all true, then youíre not the Joxer that I fell in love with and married."

"No... but Iím still Joxer."

She turned and faced him. "Yes," Gabrielle smiled slightly. "You are." Then the smile was gone. "If you fell into a trap set for Xena, then it all makes sense."

"What does?" Joxer felt desperate for answers at this point. "What is this place?"

Gabrielle gazed away again. "Simply put... this is Xenaís worst nightmare."

 

As they reentered the cave, Gabrielle told him the story.

"After Callisto killed Perdicus, she was captured by Xena, you, and I, and we brought her to justice."

"Brought her... to justice?" Joxer was already lost.

"Yes."

"You mean... Callisto didnít drown in quicksand?"

"She almost did, but Xena saved her life, like she did before."

That was it, then, Joxer thought. That was where everything changed. In my world, Xena let Callisto die in the quicksand. In this world, she didnít. "What happened next?"

"Callisto eventually escaped, as you might guess. Ares led her on a quest where she obtained a powerful book of magic. Using the book, she obtained powers that made her... invincible. She set out to torture Xena. She did it by destroying everything she could. First, she destroyed Xenaís hometown and everyone in it, including her mother. Next, she came here, to my hometown, Poteidaia, and killed everyone, including my mother, father, and sister. Then she went after Hercules and Isolaus. They didnít have a chance. After that, she destroyed the Amazon nation. Callisto stayed one step ahead of Xena, knowing how much it would tear her apart to see so much destruction by a person she felt responsible for creating. Eventually, Callisto let Xena catch up with her."

"And..."

"Callisto killed her."

Gabrielleís voice seemed cold, as if her emotions had been turned off long ago to keep out the pain. "Callisto killed her quickly, but I watched her die slowly. The guilt Xena felt from all that destruction... it tore her apart inside. I watched her heart fill up with hate and lust for revenge. She became so desperate to kill Callisto. It wasnít long before I found myself looking at a total stranger. Callisto didnít just take Xenaís body... she took her soul."

Joxer couldnít believe what he was hearing. "Gabrielle, Iím... Iím... Iím sorry. But... what about you? How did you survive?"

"I escaped. But I think Callisto let me go. Letting me live in this sick, new world sheís created is probably her ultimate revenge on Xena."

"So... Callisto rules this world?"

"Yes. After killing Xena, she continued to destroy many cities and kingdoms. Eventually, she allowed everyone to surrender, but sheís left this world a flaming ruin. The sun never shines. Itís always dark out. As you can see, the trees are all dead or dying. Thereís always a storm brewing. Thereís always rain, thunder, lighting... It eases up from time to time, but never completely goes away. Callistoís magic did this."

"Gabrielle..." Joxer felt uncomfortable. "What about... us?"

"After Xena died, I came back here to Poteidaia to try and salvage whatever I could. You... or, the Joxer of this world, eventually found me and we gathered up survivors from other towns. Joxer discovered this cave. Itís so large with so many tunnels that weíve been able to use it as a base of operations. Joxer matured so fast during that time. He was still a bit of a goofball, but he found strength for the both of us. Because of him, I was able to carry on."

Gabrielle raised her hand to Joxerís face. "Eventually we fell in love... and were married."

Joxer raised his hand to touch hers. "How did he die?"

Gabrielle turned away... as if she suddenly couldnít bear to look at him. "We were happy... as happy as two people could be under the circumstances. But we both wanted to defeat Callisto, to take back our world. He went out on a mission. Soon I received a message that he was returning. I went to town to meet him that day, but he was late. Eventually, I saw him enter the outskirts of the village. I started to run toward him. Thatís when Callistoís soldiers appeared. There were at least thirty of them. He didnít have a chance. Jacob grabbed me and held me back. And all I could do... was watch him die."

Joxer noticed that her face was emotionless. It was frightening.

Gabrielle spoke again. "Come with me. Itís getting late, and I have to help put the children to bed." They walked through a tunnel to another portion of the cave. Joxer was in shock over so many things. But what shocked him most of all was that this Gabrielle was in love with him.

Joxer was appalled at the conditions he saw. Many of the children were crying. All of them looked hungry. After getting them ready, Gabrielle was about to leave when one of them said, "Can you please tell us a story?"

Gabrielle stared at her. "Iím sorry... I donít tell stories." And then she left. Joxer stood there for a moment in disbelief. Then he went after her. He caught up with her in another portion of the cave. They were alone.

"Gabrielle!" he whirled her around. "What do you mean you donít tell stories? Being a bard is your passion in life."

Her glare was ice. "Not anymore."

"Since when?!"

"Since the day you died!" she yelled in his face.

Joxer paused. "What about your scrolls?"

"Theyíre gone. They burned up... along with everything else in this world."

Joxer turned away from her, determination setting in across his face. "Look, I donít know how, but weíre going to beat Callisto."

"Callisto?" Gabrielleís mouth hung open.

"Yes. We can do it, Gabrielle. I know we can."

"No... weíre not fighting Callisto. We donít have a chance. If Xena couldnít defeat her, what chance do we have?"

"Gabrielle..."

"Joxer, listen to me! You may not be the man that I married... but I still love you." She put her arms around him and kissed him. Then she slowly pulled herself away. "I couldnít bear to see you killed again. Iíll help you find a way to get back to your own time, but..."

"No!"

"Joxer, this world is dead. Thereís nothing left to fight for. All we can do is try and survive."

The warrior stared at her. "The Gabrielle I knew would never believe that."

Anger illuminated her eyes. "Well, I guess Iím not the Gabrielle you knew." She then stormed away.

Joxer sat down, trying to take in everything. It was all so overwhelming. Then he noticed something against the far wall. The object, with a furry pelt known as a merkin attached to the end of it, was instantly recognizable to him.

It was Gabrielleís Amazon staff. And it was broken in two.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

 

 

 

"Xena, what do we do now?"

"I donít know, Gabrielle. Joxer fell into a trap that was meant for us. I think we may have to accept the possibility that he could be dead."

"No..." Gabrielle was flabbergasted. "How can you give up?"

Xenaís voice was angry. "Iím NOT giving up, Gabrielle. All I know is that weíve run out of options. The best thing to at this point may be to wait. Whoever set this trap may eventually come to us."

A voice came from behind them. "Oh, youíre so right, Xena."

Xena and Gabrielle whirled around to face the visitor.

"Then again... you always are." It was Ares, standing with his arms folded.

Xena drew her sword. "Ares... So youíre behind all this."

"Yes," he replied casually. "It was the perfect plan. And the perfect idiot managed to screw it all up."

"What did you do with Joxer?" Gabrielle demanded, her staff in hand.

"What I meant to do with you two," Ares answered. He began to pace, not taking his eyes off of them. "To get rid of you both once and for all... I cast a spell on the idol... One of you touches it and POOF!!! Youíre both lost forever in another dimension. But then the idiot came along. You know the rest."

Xena was prepared for a fight. "So why are you here?"

Ares turned his back to them and eyed the scenery. "To offer a deal."

"What are you talking about?"

He turned to face them. "As it turns out, I cannot again force anyone to go to another dimension against their will... Law of Zeus, you understand.... but I have recently become aware that I can do it if... if I have their permission."

Xena lowered her sword. "And why would I give you that?"

Ares walked towards her, his eyes cold and dark. "Hereís the deal. You give me permission to send you where I had intended, and Iíll give you a fair chance to rescue the idiot and come back."

Xena could hardly contain her contempt. "This is obviously another trap."

"Obviously..." Ares answered, "But thatís never stopped you before, now, has it? I will teleport you to the place where the idiot landed, and then youíll have 24 hours to find him and get back to that exact spot where you both arrived. If you make it in time, a portal will open which will bring you both back here. If not... too bad."

"Will you swear by Zeus not to pull a double-cross?"

Ares smiled and raised his arms outward. "I swear... by Zeus... I will hold to the terms of the deal."

Lightning struck behind him.

"I canít break my word now. So... whatís it gonna be, Xena? I donít have all day."

Xena stared at him for a moment. To Gabrielle it seemed like an eternity.

"Do it."

"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled.

Xena turned to her. "Stay here, Gabrielle. Iíll find Joxer and bring him back. Thereís no need risking both of us."

"But I want to go with you."

"Sorry," Ares interrupted, "but this offer is for Xena only. You ready, Xena?"

"Do it."

"Good." Ares raised his arm towards her. "Oh, and by the way, Xena..." His smiled widened. "Nice knowing you." A bolt fired from Ares hand and struck Xena. In a quick blinding flash, she disappeared just as Joxer had.

"Xena..." Gabriel couldnít deny the fear that she felt.

Ares looked at her. "Sorry I didnít give you a chance to say good-bye, but you should expect that... from the god of war."

Gabrielle wanted to smash him across the face with her staff, but she knew it would be a futile gesture. "Sheíll be back."

Ares smiled again. "No, she wonít."

"You swore by Zeus to hold to your part of the bargain."

"Yes, and I will. But, somehow, I doubt it will ever come to that. You donít know where I sent her and the idiot."

"Where are they?"

"Let me put it to you like this, little girl. Even if Xena isnít dead within the next 24 hours, she will still decide to stay there of her own free will."

Gabrielle continued to stare at him, wondering what danger Xena could be headed for.

"Have a nice day." Then Ares disappeared.

And Gabrielle was left standing in the middle of nowhere feeling very helpless and very, very alone.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

 

It all happened so fast. There was no feeling or sensation of being teleported. And now here she was.

Xena surveyed her surroundings. It didnít look or feel right. The sky was dark. The trees around her were dead, twisted, and ugly. And it felt very, very cold. She spotted a sign not far off. She walked over to it and looked at it closely. Poteidaia. Gabrielleís hometown!

A sense of alarm took over. Something was wrong. Xena had been to Gabrielleís hometown before and its surroundings had never looked like this. She needed answers. But that wasnít all. There was something else.

The sky was black, but it didnít look natural. It felt like the darkness had been put there by someone, as absurd as that seemed. There was something in the air that was foul, and it felt like it was affecting her, invading her mind. She started to feel anger, hate... but towards what? She didnít know. The only thing she knew for sure was that she wanted to find Joxer and get out of this awful place. As she quickly headed toward Poteidaia, there was a feeling of dread that she would not like what was waiting there.

 

The torches in the enormous ancient room burned brightly. The fire danced an eternal dance; it would never disappear from this world. The stone walls were lit by torches, although not very well. Its occupant, sitting in an large wooden chair, did not mind; she seemed to feel most at home in darkness. It was all very fitting. Her life had been dark. Her innocence had been smothered at a very young age. Her soul was lost forever. But she didnít really want it, anyway.

Callisto rested on her throne. Her hands were dead weight on the wooden chairsí arms. Her head was tilted slightly, and she stared into space as if in a comatose state. How long had she been sitting in this exact position? Days? Weeks? Months? Did it really matter? Did anything matter anymore? A guard came in to make a report, one of an endless number. As usual, she did not look at or acknowledge him. When he finished speaking, she simply lifted her left hand and waved him away before resting it back where it was before.

"Xena..." she said, staring at nothing with empty eyes. "Why did I have to kill you so quickly? I dedicated my whole life to torturing you, and now youíre gone. I destroyed you. I lit the whole world on fire in your honor. So why does it feel like you won?"

She continued to stare blankly, for hours. Then there was a jolt, as if something had suddenly struck her. Her head straightened. She closed her eyes. She could feel something... a presence. It was someone... someone she knew...

Her eyes opened. There was a fire in them now. Suddenly, life drifted back into her face. It could not be true, but it was. There was no question. Callisto looked up to the heavens with a smile of gratitude, like a small child receiving a big birthday present. She then straightened her gaze and almost came to tears from her joy.

"Hello, Xena.... So good to see you again."

Callisto began to laugh, as if she would never stop. Her laughter continued seemingly forever, echoing madness throughout the chamber.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

 

 

Xena was in shock. This could not be Poteidaia! The town looked as if an army had devastated it. Whatever had happened, it had only been partially rebuilt afterwards. Gabrielleís house was burned down, as were many others. There was no sign of her family anywhere.

The feeling of dread kept getting stronger and stronger. If Ares had planned all this, she knew she was in trouble. He would do anything he could to make her suffer. Xena had a feeling things were only going to get worse. She had to find Joxer and soon.

There was no luck at the tavern. No one would talk to her. Some had laughed when she said she was Xena. They ignored her either out of arrogance or fear; it seemed more the latter, as if aiding her in any way might bring down some terrible wrath upon themselves. No matter how intimidating Xena was, there was definitely something they were afraid of more than her. And she was afraid she might eventually find out what it was.

She would not sleep at the tavern. She didnít trust anyone there. They all had looked at her with suspicious eyes. Instead, she went into the forest and found a patch of grass to lie down on. Ares hadnít bothered to send any of her supplies with her. Perhaps she would have more luck in the morning.

When she woke up the next day, she was shivering. It was cool, but that wasnít what was bothering her. She had dreamed...

She was standing back at the spot where Ares had transported her, the sign for Poteidaia close by. But the sky seemed darker, the trees more twisted and rotted. Something in the air felt disturbing.

"Xena... Oh, Xena..."

She looked around desperately, trying to find where it was coming from. That voice... so familiar, yet she couldnít place it. It was both haunting and hungry.

"You can never escape me, Xena. I know where you are. Thereís nowhere for you to hide now. Iím coming for you... your friends... and thereís nothing you can do to stop me."

"Wh-Whoís there?" Xena demanded, her voice quivering. She couldnít understand why, but she was shaking with fear.

"You know who I am, Xena. Your time is running out. You wonít get off so easy this time..."

Then the laughter began. It continued on and on, getting louder and louder to the point where it was unbearable. Xena put her hands on her ears trying to block out the sound, but it was too loud. Her skull was pounding in agony, and she fell to her knees. Sensing something behind her, she turned around to see-

And it was over. The voice... no matter how she tried, she couldnít remember what it sounded like. Was it male or female? Could it have been Ares? No... it was someone else.

Xena stood up and headed back to Poteidaia. Time was running out. She had to find Joxer in 10 hours or... She didnít want to think about the possibility of spending the rest of her life in this dark dimension.

 

It was almost noon. Joxer felt miserable and tired. He didnít sleep well the previous night. He doubted that anyone could on this world. It was as if there was something in the air that turn your dreams inside out, that made you terrified to close your eyes. He didnít want to spend another night on this world, but he had no idea what to do.

Joxer picked up the pieces of the broken Amazon staff nearby. He seriously doubted there even was a way back home. Should he even try? After all, it was here that Gabrielle loved him. But she was so different. Her voice seemed so cold, the sparkling shine he remembered in her young eyes was gone, replaced with something that was so foreign, it disturbed him a great deal.

Gabrielle then entered the room, and he dropped the staff. They looked at each other for a moment, not knowing what to say.

"Gabrielle!" came from nearby. It was Jacob. He stopped in front of her. "You wonít believe this."

"What is it?"

"I just received word is that there is a woman who arrived at Poteidaia early last night who calls herself Xena."

"Xena?" Gabrielle was in shock.

Joxer rushed over. "Xena? Sheís here?"

"All I know is that she says sheís Xena. And sheís looking for a man named Joxer."

"Itís her!" Joxer felt relief. "Sheís come to find me!" His relief dwindled when he remembered the predicament he was in.

"It could be a trap," Jacob warned.

"Itís not," Joxer insisted. "Letís go!"

Gabrielle looked at a suspicious Jacob. "Iíve got to go see for myself. I think it really is her." She and Joxer ran off as fast as they could.

 

Xena was desperate. Virtually no one in town would talk to her. They all seemed suspicious, afraid, or both. She had managed to find out that there werenít any towns nearby that had not been destroyed, but no one would tell her what had caused this nightmare. It was already late in the afternoon, and if she didnít find Joxer in just a few hours, sheíd have to leave without him.

Her thoughts were interrupted when ten soldiers walked up to her. They did not look friendly.

"Are you the one who claims to be Xena?" a big, burly captain asked.

She eyed him carefully and then gave him a slight smile. "Iíll tell you what. Iíll answer your question if youíll answer mine. What happened to this town?"

Unfortunately, the man already knew the answer to his question. "Your under arrest!" he barked.

"On what charge?"

"By order of the queen!"

"And who might she be?"

He stared at her momentarily. "Youíll find out soon enough. Take her!"

Xena pulled out her sword and the battle began.

 

Joxer and Gabrielle reached the outskirts of Poteidaia. Joxer cleared the side of a house when he saw a fight. There were a number of soldiers... and they were fighting...

"Xena!!!" he yelled. He drew his sword and kept running. Gabrielle stopped behind him, her face in shock.

Xena spotted Joxer. "Joxer!" She leaped backwards high into the air to get some breathing room from the soldiers. She landed and pulled out her chakram. She threw it and, seconds later, four men were down. She soon took out two more after Joxer joined the fray.

Xena clashed swords with another soldier when she was a woman running towards her. She looked wretched, but Xena recognized her immediately.

"Gabrielle?"

It was all the distraction the soldiers needed. One of them struck Xena in the back of her head with the butt of his sword. She collapsed to the ground, struggling to move. The guard raised his sword for the killing blow.

"No!"

Gabrielleís sword cut through the manís chest and he fell backwards. She pulled it out and went after the other three. With Joxer as a distraction, she struck another guard from behind, instantly killing him. Another rushed her quickly, and she caught him in the chest. The last stared at her a moment and was about to retreat when she charged him. Seconds later, he fell to the ground.

Xena and Joxer were watching in disbelief. Gabrielle stood over the manís body, no emotion showing on her face. She then dropped her sword and ran to Xena who was still on the ground.

"Xena," Gabrielle said as she hugged her best friend, tears rolling down her face. "Itís really you. I canít believe itís really you."

"Gabrielle..." Xena stammered. "What... Whatís going on? How did you... I- IĎm confused." She looked desperately to Joxer. "Joxer?"

Joxer managed a small smile. "Itís a long story, Xena." His smile disappeared as he eyed Gabrielleís sword. There was a great deal of blood dripping off the blade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

 

 

 

On their way back to the hidden camp, Joxer slowly told Xena the entire story. Gabrielle said nothing. She simply stared painfully into the distance. Xena gasped as Joxer told her the tale of Callistoís triumph, the destruction of so many kingdoms, and the death of this worldís warrior princess.

By the time they reached the camp, Xena was shaking with sobs. Gabrielle put her arms around her as she collapsed on her knees.

"No, no, no...." Xena let out. "Itís my fault... all of this is my fault."

Gabrielle looked into her eyes. "No, it isnít, Xena."

Xena stared at Gabrielle as if she were a stranger, tears still rolling down her face. "Whatís happened to you, Gabrielle? You killed those men. You swore you would never kill."

"That was a long time ago, Xena. Everything has changed now."

"Whereís your staff?"

"You need a sword if you want to survive in this world." Gabrielle paused. "Xena, this is not your fault. Itís Callistoís fault."

Xena slowly got to her feet. She looked off into the distance, her stare cold and dark. "Callisto..." she seethed under her breath. "I will kill you for this..."

"No, Xena!" Gabrielle shouted. "Itís happening all over again. Just as I was afraid it would. Youíre letting your hate take over, just like the other Xena did. She was dead long before Callisto killed her. I wonít let that happen again."

Xena turned to meet Gabrielleís gaze, her face still dark. "What about you, Gabrielle? Havenít you let the same thing happen to you?"

"No," Gabrielle choked out. "I donít feel hate. I really donít feel anything, anymore."

Xena paused for a moment. "Then the Gabrielle I knew is dead as well."

Gabrielle closed her eyes, as if they could betray the hurt she felt. She turned away.

Xena turned to Joxer. Her voice was low, and she didnít look at him directly, "Joxer, weíve only got a few hours before itís too late. Iíll take you back to the portal which will get you home."

"What about you?" Joxer asked.

"Iím staying."

"No!" Gabrielle screamed. "I wonít let you do this, Xena. I wonít watch you die, again. I wonít. The other Xena didnít have a chance against Callisto, and neither do you."

"I have to try."

"Even if you do beat her," Joxer said, "how will you get home? Her castleís too far away for you to get there and back in time."

"Iíll have to find another way home."

"Xena..." Gabrielle spoke softly. "I wonít watch you die, again. If you fight Callisto, youíll do it without me." Then she turned away and walked into the cave.

The warrior princess watched her disappear and then looked into the dark sky. Joxer walked up behind her.

"Xena... If youíre staying... then Iím staying, too." Xena looked at him, her face still pained. Then, overcome with emotion, she grabbed her chakram off her belt and screamed as she threw it with all her force into the base of a tree in the distance. Joxer looked at this stranger and wondered again if they would ever escape this hell they had stepped into.

 

The people of the cave were overjoyed to see Xena. They hailed her as they would a savior. She tried to appear confident and assured them she would help them as best as she could.

"Is that really, Xena?" Jacob asked incredulously, eyeing her from a distance.

"Thatís Xena, all right." Gabrielle answered.

"You donít seem so happy to see her."

"Iím happy to see her. Iím just scared for what happens when Callisto finds her." She then walked off.

"Can anyone tell me exactly where Callistoís castle is?" Xena asked, not wanting to ask Gabrielle.

"Itís several days north of here," answered an old man. "My nameís Antipas. I was once a great magician, but ever since Callisto conquered the world, my powers wonít work. Itís too bad, I could have transported you there in a heartbeat." He then gave her more specific directions.

"Thanks," Xena answered. She turned and noticed a broken staff lying against the wall. It was Gabrielleís. Xena picked the pieces up and stared at them for a long time. She then left the cave and looked at the darkening sky. Joxer walked up to her.

"Weíll leave for Callistoís castle in the morning."

"Iím ready," he answered.

"I wish I could say the same." And she walked off.

An hour passed, and the 24 hours had expired. Xena stood on a hill, staring at her grave. She was feeling very angry and hateful, and it wasnít just because of what Callisto had done to this world. She had a knawing feeling that there was something else, something that was penetrating her mind and turning her emotions inside out. There was a strike of lightning in the distance. She started thinking about her dream the previous night, trying to recall the words. That voice...

I know where you are.

It was no longer camouflaged.

Thereís nowhere for you to hide now.

Suddenly it was completely clear.

Iím coming for you...

Xenaís face suddenly froze with fear. She then headed back to the cave, running all the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

 

 

 

"Joxer!" Xena shouted as she moved through all the people.

Joxer was alarmed at her tone. "What is it?

"Get your things. Weíre leaving now."

Xena made her way to Gabrielle and Jacob. "Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle looked at her blankly. "What is it?"

"Iím leaving. And I strongly suggest you and everyone else do the same. Itís not safe here anymore."

"What are you talking about?" Jacob demanded.

"Iím sorry I didnít realize it sooner, but Iíve put you all in great danger by coming here. Callisto knows Iím here."

"How?" Gabrielle asked.

"I donít know. She just does. Youíve got to trust me."

"Trust you?" said Jacob angrily. He grabbed her shoulders. "You said you would help us, and know youíre saying that you may get us all killed?"

"Please," Xena pleaded desperately, "Youíve all got to get out of here."

"Jacob!" came from nearby. A man had just entered the cave and was running. "Callistoís forces are coming! Theyíre almost here!"

"No..." Xena gasped.

People began to panic, scattering in all directions. Gabrielle and Xena were knocked over.

Joxer ran over to them. "What are we going to do?"

"Whatever we can," Xena replied, getting to her feet. "Weíve got to get outside and give these people a chance to escape." The three then ran out of the cave with everyone else.

"I donít see them yet," Gabrielle said, looking around.

"No, but we will soon." Xena answered. "Letís take a look from the top of the hill." When they got there, they saw armed men on horses riding towards the cave. "The question is: Whereís Callisto?"

Xena felt a whisper in her ear. It was the voice of doom.

"Hello, Xena... Iíve missed you."

Xena whirled around to find Callisto standing there, grinning, only inches away. Xena instinctively swung a right hand, but Callisto ducked and then did a backward flip high into the air. When she landed, she was still grinning. "Gee, even the idiotís back. Itís going to be just like old times."

Joxer and Gabrielle were still recovering from their shock. Xena lunged forward, swinging wildly. Callisto stayed defensive, dodging every punch. Xena then managed to grab Callistoís shoulders and caught her with a head butt. Callisto looked dazed for a moment before smiling again. "You go, girl!" She then surprised Xena with a quick kick to the chest, knocking her backwards to the ground.

Callisto simply stood there. "Now, I know youíre not the Xena I knew and loved, but I guess beggers canít be choosers." She drew her sword. "Iíve never killed anyone twice."

Xena drew hers as well. "Stay back", she said to Joxer and Gabrielle, who also had their weapons drawn. "Let me deal with her." Xena knew she needed to stay focused and calm, but it was an incredible struggle. The hate and anger she felt were almost overwhelming.

Gabrielle looked behind her and saw Callistoís men approaching the cave and going after its fleeing inhabitants. They were all in trouble.

Callistoís grin was frozen on her face. "Really, Xena, youíre going to need all the help you can get. Iíve got the power of a god, you know." They both moved forward. "Oh, by the way, how do you like the way Iíve redecorated this little world? Itís all in your honor."

That did it. Xena screamed and ran forward. She had no words for Callisto. She had nothing but rage. Their swords clashed. One opening is all I need, Xena thought, and Callistoís dead.

Xena swung with all her strength. Callisto fought defensively, blocking each blow with little apparent effort, her grin still frozen. She backed away, and they circled each other. Itís her powers, Xena realized. Sheís toying with me,.

"I really hope you can give me more of a challenge than the other Xena did. I killed her so fast. Iím gonna make sure you die real slow."

Sheís completely insane, Xena thought. She could kill me right now if she wanted to. Zeus help us all...

Callisto raised her sword again, still grinning like a demon. "Tell me something, Xena. If the other you couldnít defeat me, what chance do you have?"

Callisto let out a high pitch scream and charged forward. Taking offensive for the first time, she surprised Xena with her strength, forcing her backwards as she deflected each blow. Xena then used a leg sweep, knocking Callisto to the ground. She raised her sword for the killing blow, and brought the blade down.

Callisto, lying on the ground, opened her hand and a flash of light blinded Xenaís eyes. She dropped her sword and screamed as she covered her eyes with her hands.

Callisto climbed to her feet like a jaguar ready to pounce. "Too easy..." she smiled. Joxer charged her with his sword and she knocked him to the ground with a smack of her hand.

"Joxer!" Gabrielle ran forward and Callisto knocked her down as well.

She then gave Xena a quick thrust kick that sent her flying backwards into an oak. She slumped to the ground unconscious.

"Far too easy," Callisto finished. She stared at the three unconscious bodies around her, then picked up her sword. She walked over to Xenaís lying form and raised her sword high above her head, and then thrust the blade at Xenaís throat with all her might...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

 

 

 

 

It was early morning. The sky was still dark, as it always was. Joxer let out a moan. He groggily dragged himself up into a sitting position. His head was pounding. What had happened? He suddenly remembered the battle with Callisto and getting knocked down. Fear suddenly overtook him. He struggled to his feet. He was in the same place where the battle had occurred. But Gabrielle was nowhere to be seen. And Xena?

He saw Xenaís form lying in front of an old oak. He quickly ran to her, kneeling down.

"Xena?"

She was alive. Hurt, but alive. Her eyes fluttered.

"Xena, can you hear me?"

"J-Joxer?" she slowly sat up. "What happened?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. Callistoís gone. And so is Gabrielle."

He helped her to her feet. They walked around, finding bodies of the inhabitants of the cave, but most of the people were unaccounted for. Joxer stared at Jacobís dead form in front of the caveís mouth. "What happened with Callisto?"

"She beat me."

"Why didnít she kill you?"

"Good question. And Iíll bet I know the answer."

 

Callisto sat on the big wooden chair that served as her throne. Gabrielle was to her right, lying on the floor in chains. Gabrielle looked around the enormous stone room. It did not look regal. It looked more like the mouth of hell. Its darkness scared her almost as much as Callisto.

"You like it?" Callisto smiled at her. "Darkness always brings out my true personality." She stared at one of the torches around her throneís platform. "As does fire."

"Youíre sick," Gabrielle said bitterly.

Callisto nodded. "You know, youíre right. Iím the sick chick. But weíve got Xena to thank for that, now, donít we?" Her wicked grin sent shudders up Gabrielleís spine. "Youíre probably wondering why youíre here. Simply put, youíre the bait."

"What happened last night? Did Xena beat you?"

Callisto laughed out her reply. "Oh, no, no, no, silly girl. I crushed her rather easily. Then I stood over her with my sword, and brought down my blade and..." She paused. "And then I stopped. I realized... Xenaís getting off too easy here. I wanna really make her suffer. Make her suffer almost as much as I have."

"Youíre not getting any sympathy from me."

"Nor do I want any." Callisto stood up and walked around the room. "Iíve got you and most of your little tribe locked up here, and that should be more than enough to bring Xena to me. This is where the final battle will take place. This is where I will finally destroy her once and for all. And then..." Her smile faded. Callisto stood there for a moment, with a different expression: dread.

Then she looked at Gabrielle and grinned again. "Did you really think you and your pathetic friends could hide from me?" She walked towards her. "Iíve known about you and your little cave party for quite some time."

Gabrielle looked at her incredulously. "And you didnít kill me? Why?"

"Why bother?" Callisto shrugged, kneeling down towards her. "Why fight an enemy if theyíve got no fight in them. Youíve been nothing but a walking shell ever since I did away with hubby number two."

Gabrielle screamed with all her rage. She struggled to get up, but couldnít. She glared with hate at Callisto.

"Thatís the spirit. Thereís hope for you yet." She rose up and walked away. "Itíll take Xena and the idiot several days to get here. She doesnít have magic like me. She canít defeat me. But you know what? Thereís something about this place... something Xena doesnít know. Even if she does defeat me..." Callisto mused as she sat back on her throne, "I will still win." With that, Callisto began to laugh. It continued on, almost endlessly. To Gabrielle, it was the most maddening sound she had ever heard.

 

It was late in the evening. Xena and Joxer had made camp and were sitting around a fire. They had been walking the entire day. Joxer looked warily at Xena, who was cold and distant. She looked like she was in agony.

"Xena..." Joxer began.

Xena stood up. "I not in the mood to talk right now, Joxer." She walked away and pulled out her sword.

She thought back to a village they had passed. It had been burned to the ground. There were a few people living among the charred ruins. There were children. They had looked at her with blank faces. It almost seemed as if they looked at her with blame, as if they knew...

I caused this, Xena thought. I started this. Iím the one. My fault my fault my fault my fault... It was more than she could bear. Xena held up her sword, looked at it for a moment, then screamed and swung it repeatedly at a huge oak. Joxer watched her stab the tree, his mouth open.

"Callisto!" Xena screamed and hurled the sword with all her might. It struck the oak, embedded in the wood. Joxer ran to her.

"Xena, stop it."

Xena collapsed to her knees, tears streaming down her face. She spoke softly, but with malice, between her sobs. "Iím gonna kill her, Joxer. Iím gonna kill her..."

Joxer put his hand on her shoulder, not knowing what else to do. He glanced away and wondered if Xena would ever be the same again.

"Iím gonna kill her..."

 

The next morning, they set out again. Joxer could tell Xena hadnít slept much.

"Wonít Callisto have an army waiting for us?" Joxer asked. If he could get her talking, it might do her some good.

Xena said nothing for a long moment, and Joxer thought she was going to ignore him. Then she answered. "Probably."

"What will we do?"

"Nothing. I expect them to let us walk right through."

"Right... through?"

"Yes. If Callisto simply wanted me dead, she would have killed me when she beat me the other night. She must want one more battle to take place between the two of us."

Joxer swallowed hard as he looked into her cold, dark eyes. She was beginning to remind him of Gabrielle. "Can you beat her?"

"As long as she uses her powers, I donít have a chance. Iím going to have to convince her to give me a fair fight. And then... I wait for her to make a mistake. When she does... I will put an end to her once and for all."

"What if she wonít give you a fair fight?" Joxer asked.

Xena glanced at him for the first time. Her face looked evil. "Then weíre dead."

 

The journey continued on. They occasionally passed soldiers on the way, but were ignored by all of them. Xena had been right. But Joxer was more scared of Xenaís behavior than he let on. Obviously, she felt responsible for what Callisto has done, but that alone couldnít possibly account for such a radical change in her personality. As time wore on, Joxer became convinced that there was something else. Something was slowly transforming her into a cold-hearted monster. She grew worse and worse as they neared Callistoís castle. Then they finally arrived. It was the afternoon, but the sky was black as midnight.

As they approached the castle gate, Xena spoke to him once.

 

"Joxer, I suggest you stay here. If you get in trouble, I wonít help you. All I want is Callisto dead."

Joxer glanced over at her. This was not the Xena he knew. It was the Xena of old, the worshipper of Ares, the warrior of death that he hoped he would never see.

"Iím coming," he gulped. Xena didnít answer. She simply walked forward. He didnít see what use he would be, but he felt like there was something pushing him on.

Neither could hear it, but the idol in Joxerís pouch began to hum.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13

 

 

 

 

The castle gate opened, and the Xena and Joxer walked right through. There was a large army waiting for them. Xena casually walked up to one of the soldiers and said, "Take me to Callisto." He nodded and they began to walk toward the huge gray castle looming before them. Joxer moved forward, but he was grabbed by several soldiers.

"Xena! Help!"

Xena didnít even look back. Joxer wasnít surprised. He was dragged off towards the castle and didnít bother to struggle.

The castle was enormously large enough that one could easily get lost in it. But there was nothing regal about it. Soon they all came to a huge door, which opened by itself. The group entered, but Joxer was held outside. He could still see inside, though. "Gabrielle!" he yelled.

Xena saw Callisto sitting on her throne and Gabrielle on the ground to her right, in chains. Joxer sensed something was wrong. There was something about the room that was... He couldnít figure it out.

"Xena...," Callisto smiled. "I was almost afraid youíd gotten lost."

Xena stared at her with nothing but hate. "Tell your men to leave us."

Callisto looked at the captain of the guard. "You heard the warrior princess." The soldiers turned and left, closing the door behind them. Joxer was taken down the hall, wondering what could possibly save them now. The idol in his pouch continued to hum.

Callisto stood up. "This is it, Xena. The final battle. You and me, one on one, to the death."

Xena continued to glare at her for a moment. Then she spoke.

"No."

Shock hit Callisto like a hammer. "What?"

"I wonít fight you, Callisto."

"Really? I find that a little hard to believe. Unless youíre afraid."

"Itís not that Iím afraid. Iím simply not a fool." Xena began to pace in front of her. "I donít have a chance against you, Callisto. At least not as long as you use your powers. We both know that. I wonít be some toy for your amusement. If you want to have this glorious final battle, youíve going to have to give me a chance to win. Youíve going to have to fight me without your powers."

"Why should I?" Callisto asked incredulously. "If you wonít fight me, Iíll simply strike you down where you stand." She pointed her arm towards her.

Xena opened her arms wide. "Be my guest."

Callisto held her pose for a moment, then walked over to Gabrielle. She pulled out a blade and held it to Gabrielleís throat. Callistoís smile was gone. "If you wonít fight me, Iíll kill her."

Xena then pulled out a blade and held it to her own throat. "Go ahead. But if you kill her, then Iíll kill myself. And then what will you do?"

Callisto tried to look confident. "Youíre bluffing."

Xena held the blade still. "Try me."

Callisto continued to stare at her, beginning to look scared.

"No powers, Callisto." Xena seethed. "If you want to fight me, itís got to be fair. Unless youíre the one whoís afraid."

Callisto pushed Gabrielle away. "No! Iím not afraid of you. Iíve never been afraid of you!"

Then her face was calm. She slowly walked toward Xena, smiling. "You know, killing you with my powers would probably be too boring. If you gave you a chance to win, it would make things a lot more fun."

She stretched her arms outward, and lowered her head. Then she raised it, feeling a little disoriented as she got her bearings.

"Itís done," Callisto proclaimed. "Iíve shut my powers up inside of me. I canít use them... for now." She unsheathed her sword. "Come on, Xena... Kill me... if you can."

Xena unsheathed her own sword and screamed as she lunged at Callisto. There were no more words. There was nothing but blood red rage. The final battle had begun.

A dozen guards led Joxer down a long stairway to the castleís dungeon. Joxer could recognize the people in the cells from Gabrielleís camp.

One soldier got in his face. "You can join the others, you pathetic fool." Suddenly, the man winced. He put his hands on his head in agony. Screaming, he doubled over to the floor. Then another guard cried out and fell to the ground. The others suddenly did the same. In moments, Joxer was standing by himself, bewildered.

"What... happened?" He never thought about the idol resting in his pouch.

 

It was an even match. Unlike their previous encounter, Xena was able to hold her own against Callisto as their swords clashed back and forth. Callisto relished in the pure rage she saw in Xenaís eyes. A quick kick from knocked Callisto on her back. Xena raised her sword and dove forward with the killing blow. Callisto rolled and Xena barely missed her mark.

Callisto got to her feet and paced in front of her. "Come on, Xena... I dare you to kill me." Xena screamed again with even more rage as she charged her prey.

 

Joxer had freed most of the people from their cells when he heard someone call his name. He turned and saw Antipas, the old man who was once a magician, in one of the cells. He ran to the man and unlocked the door. Its occupants spilled out. Antipas went to Joxer.

"Listen to me! Itís a trap! Xenaís walking into a trap!"

Fear filled Joxerís eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Itís all part of Callistoís plan," Antipas answered. "That throne room is the center of her magic. It is strongest there. Has Xena been acting different since she came to this dimension?"

"Yes!" said Joxer. "Itís like sheís becoming..."

"Evil," Antipas finished.

"Thatís it."

"Joxer," Antipas continued. "Callistoís magic has spread anger and hatred into the minds of almost everyone who lives in this world. Its greatest effect is on people who are evil... or people who used to be evil."

"Like Xena," Joxer finished. "Thatís why sheís changing."

"Yes," Antipas continued. "But her magic is strongest in the throne room. So strong, in fact, that anyone who commits the ultimate act of evil while inside that room will be forever transformed into an inhuman monster incapable of redemption. And the ultimate act of evil is..."

"Murder..." Joxer concluded. "So if Xena was to kill Callisto while inside that room..."

"Then she will revert to her former evil self for all time. And that, perhaps, would be Callistoís ultimate revenge."

"Oh my god..." Joxer was beginning to panic. "Iíve got to stop her." He began to run with the others up the stairs. Then a horrifying thought occurred to him. I canít let Xena kill Callisto. But if she doesnít kill Callisto... then Callisto will kill us all.

Joxer kept moving as he pondered the situation. Still unheard by him, the idol in his pouch began to hum louder.

Callisto knocked Xena backward with a quick lunge of her sword.

"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled in desperation. She was still trying to break free of her chains, but it was no use. She saw what was happening to Xena. And she didnít like it at all.

Another lunge sent Xenaís sword flying out of her hand. Callisto raised her own weapon in an arc and brought it down with all her might. Xena ducked and Callistoís sword smashed against a stone pillar. Callisto followed her swinging wildly. The warrior princess backed away, dodging every strike.

A quick thrust kick knocked Callisto backward, and her sword fell to the ground. Xena dove onto Callisto, and it became a catfight. Xena landed several punches on Callistoís face before she was pushed off. Callisto rose and then Xena reeled from a series of punches and kicks. Iíll let her think sheís getting the best of me, Xena thought. And then she will die.

Joxer was almost to the top of the stairs when guards appeared and began to attack the escaping prisoners. Joxer drew his sword, hoping he could stop them. Then suddenly, the guards winced in agony and fell to the ground like the others had. Joxer still couldnít understand it. As he headed down the hallway that led to the throne room, he began to notice a vague humming sound, but he had no idea where it was coming from.

Callisto grabbed a long torch and began to twirl it like a staff. She swung several times at Xena, who smiled as she dodged every attack. Callisto then threw the torch with all her might at the warrior princess. Xena caught it with both hands, turned it around, and threw it back at her.

Callisto screamed as the flame grazed her right arm. Seeing an opening, Xena lunged forward and pelted her with several punches and kicks. Callisto was caught off-guard, and she began to fall back. Almost... Xena thought. Iíve almost got her...

Joxer finally reached the door to the throne room, but it wouldnít open. He pulled as hard as he could, but it wouldnít budge. The humming sound was getting louder now, and it felt like it was coming from inside his head. He began to pull with every ounce of adrenaline he could muster. One word was echoing through his mind now. Gabrielle...

Callistoís face was bleeding badly as she stood and absorbed each of Xenaís blows. Whatís going on? Gabrielle wondered. Callisto seems to be letting Xena win.

"Fall..." Xena commanded under her breath as she landed another blow to her enemyís head. "Fall..." She then hit her with a thrust kick to the head, and Callisto collapsed on her back.

Xena kneeled over her and drew her knife.

"Do it..." Callisto whispered. And then she began to smile underneath the crimson red that was her face.

"Come on," Joxer pleaded as the muscles in his arm felt they were about to burst.

"Xena, no!" Gabrielle yelled. She didnít know why, but she felt like there was something seriously wrong.

Xena grabbed Callistoís hair and raised the knife upwards. She smiled. Nothing could stop her now.

Then the door burst open and Joxer entered. Suddenly, a sound exploded inside Xenaís brain. She felt dazed, disoriented. It was a humming sound.

"Do it, Xena," Callisto pleaded. "Do it..." There was a desperation in her voice.

"Xena!" Joxer yelled. He dove onto Xena grabbing the knife. The warrior princess was too dazed to resist. Xena shook her head. Her mind felt clearer now, her anger diminishing. It now seemed like her mind had been invaded by something. She had to get control.

"Please, Xena," Callisto begged. "K-Kill me."

Joxer grabbed Xena by her shoulders. "If you kill Callisto, youíll revert to your old self forever. Itís the dark magic of this place. You canít kill her, Xena."

Xena glanced down at Callisto. Callisto struggled to move. "Kill me, Xena. Please... youíve got to kill me."

Xena hit a pressure point on Callistoís shoulder. "That wonít kill you. Itíll just keep you from going anywhere."

"Joxer!" Gabrielle shouted.

"Gabrielle!" Joxer ran to her and hugged her. "Thank god youíre all right."

Xena walked over and cut Gabrielle free from her chains. The two friends hugged. "Iím glad youíre okay," Gabrielle said softly as tears fell from her eyes.

"Thanks to Joxer," Xena replied.

"Well," Joxer said, "what do we do now?"

A voice came from behind them. "Oh, Xena..."

They whirled around to see Callisto on her feet, her face a crimson red.

"Iím baaaa-aaaack."

Electricity exploded from her fingers and struck the three of them with Xena taking the brunt of it. They all fell to the ground.

"And so are my powers."

Xena could barely move. Her body was in agony. She was helpless now.

Callisto walked over to her and gave her a well-placed kick in the chest. Her face was sad. Her voice was whimpering. "Why, Xena? Why couldnít you do it? I gave you a chance to put me out of my misery. I wanted you to put me out of my misery. But no... You couldnít even do that. You must like to see me suffer. In that case..." She gave Xena another kick. "Iím going to really make you suffer."

Callisto raised her arms in the air and a large portal appeared in the room. Xena was slowly struggling to get up.

"See the portal, Xena?" Callisto asked. "It goes to your own dimension. I think Iíll check it out. Imagine... I could destroy your hometown. I could destroy your whole world. I could kill your Gabrielle. Maybe Iíll even track down the other Callisto. The two of us together, thereís no telling what we could do. This could keep me from being bored... at least for awhile. And I think Iíll just leave you here to rot in this hellhole. Youíll have lots of fun here." She began to walk toward the portal.

"No..." Xena seethed. With strength she never dreamed she possessed, she got to her feet and dove at Callisto, knocking her down from behind.

"I knew that would bring you around," Callisto smiled, her demonic red face was almost shining. "But youíre no match for me now." A single blow knocked Xena over. Callisto got up and pulled Xena to her feet. She grabbed the warrior princess by the neck with her right hand.

"Then again, maybe I will put you out of your misery. The one favor you couldnít do for me..." She lifted her up in the air by the throat with one hand. "Good-bye, Xena."

Xena felt Callistoís hand squeezing the life out of her body. She struggled, but to no avail. It was over. Gabrielle, Iím sorry...

 

 

Joxer could barely move, but there was a sound in his head that wouldnít go away. Somehow it seemed to be pressing him to do something. He tried to think. The idol get the idol grab the idol use the idol take the idol shine the light-

He looked up to see Callisto lifting Xena by the throat into the air. "Good-bye, Xena." Without realizing exactly what he was doing, Joxer reached into his pouch and pulled out the idol. He held it up high over his head.

Then it happened. A flash of light burst from the idol. Callisto screamed, dropping Xena and holding her hands over her eyes, which were smoking. She continued screaming in agony, blinded by the flash. But no one else was.

Xena suddenly felt revitalized, her wounds completely healed. She got to her feet, in shock over what happened. The same flash that had blinded Callisto had somehow healed her. Gabrielle and Joxer had both recovered as well. It was the idol. The villagers that owned it had been right about its power.

Callisto was blind but not finished. Electric bolts shot out of her hand just to the left of Xena. A good portion of the stone wall shattered upon impact. Xena pushed Gabrielle down to the floor, afraid to say anything. The portal had disappeared. The creature they now gazed at wasnít really Callisto anymore. It was a raging animal. And it wanted them all dead.

Callisto screamed as she fired another round of electric bolts. Another wall shattered nearby them. "Quiet," Xena whispered to Gabrielle. Neither was sure the ceiling would hold if Callisto kept destroying the walls. Joxer hid behind a pillar.

Iíve got to beat her without killing her, Xena thought. This isnít going to be easy.

Xena ran to the left. Callisto heard movement and screamed as she fired again. Xena ducked just in time and another portion of the wall behind her collapsed from the bolt. She then silently flipped into the air and kicked Callisto squarely in the jaw, knocking her down. As Callisto struggled to her feet, Xena hit her with a series of blows from behind. Callisto looked like she was faltering, but then a backhand blow caught Xena offguard and she fell over. Callisto was too powerful. Xena struggled to get up, but there was not enough time. She saw approaching death as Callisto stood over her, pointing her hand in her direction.

At that moment, Joxer plunged his sword into Callistoís side. She let out a deep scream, then, like a dancer finishing her act, she slowly raised her hands above her and fired a pair of electric bolts into the ceiling.

Huge sections of the ceiling collapsed from the bolts. "No!" Xena shouted. She scrambled to her feet and dove away from the falling debris. She turned her head to see a huge chunk of stone bury Callisto, plummeting through the floor itself.

Moments later, Joxer and Gabrielle ran over to her. They were okay. "Xena," Gabrielle said, tears rolling down her eyes. "You did it."

Xena managed a smile. "No..." She looked at Joxer. "We did it."

She reached out to both of their hands and held them. No one let go. The three of them sat there for a long time. Finally, the nightmare was over.

 

They left the castle to see the dark sky starting to clear. Slowly, but surely, the blackness faded away until the sky was a clear blue and the sun shone magnificently upon them. It was the most fantastic sight they had ever seen.

Callistoís army had disbanded immediately after her death. The soldiers had been controlled by some sort of spell. With her death, all of her dark magic was gone. All around the world, her armies were dispersing. Callistoís entire empire had, so easily, collapsed.

Several hundred people from Gabrielleís camp were cheering the three heroes as they made their way out onto the plain.

Gabrielle stepped forward. "Hear me, my people. Callisto is dead. Her magic is gone now, and our world is FREE!" Another cheer spilled out from the people. They rushed forward and congratulated the heroes. It was the happiest ending that any of them could have hoped for. Almost.

Joxer looked at Xena. "The only thing left now is... how do we get home?"

"I donít know."

"Joxer!" It was Antipas. "Now that Callistoís magic is gone, my own magic has returned. If you want, I can reopen the portal that will take you back to your own reality."

"Hey, thatís great, Antipas," Joxer replied, and glanced over at Gabrielle. "But Iíve got some thinking to do."

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

 

 

 

 

Several hours later, Xena sat on a hill overlooking the castle. She stared out into the sky. It was early evening, but it was a natural darkness that was filling the sky, not the twisted, artificial blackness that had been crafted by Callisto. Despite the beautiful view, she was not at peace.

Xena couldnít get Callistoís final words out of her mind. Sure, tricking her into murder was part of her plan for revenge, but there was something else. Xena believed that Callisto had truly wanted to die, to be put out of her misery. Perhaps after all this time, she finally realized how empty her life had become from all her endless hate and lust for revenge. In the end, she hadnít just tried to kill them by bringing down the ceiling. She had committed suicide. Xena wondered what the Callisto of her own world would think if she knew of the lessons that her counterpart here had learned.

Xena couldnít help but think of the lessons she herself had learned. She had come so close, so perilously close, to losing herself to her dark side forever. She had let Joxer be taken away, and he easily could have been killed. Callistoís magic had been involved in her transformation, but Xena knew her own inner nature had contributed to it as well. It was so easy to lose herself to hate. She had once believed she had that part of her under control. Now she knew better. The potential for evil would forever exist within her. She would have to guard herself carefully to make sure she never gave in to it again.

And, despite their victory, Xena still felt like she had lost. For everything Callisto did to this world, Iím to blame. Iím to blame...

"Xena."

The warrior princess turned around to see Joxer, grasping the idol in his hand. "How are you?" he asked.

"Not so good, Joxer." He sat down next to her. Joxer remembered the time when he had been depressed, feeling worthless as a warrior. Xena had sat down beside him and cheered him up, giving him the confidence and inspiration to go on. He hoped that he could now repay that debt.

"You still feel guilty, donít you?"

"Yes."

Joxer looked at her for a moment. "Xena... how many alternate realties do you think there are out there? The number is probably infinite. Are you going to hold yourself responsible for everything that the Xena of each does?"

Xena said nothing, continuing to stare out into the distance.

Joxer continued. "The Xena of this world lived her own life, made her own decisions. You had nothing to do with it. She was the one responsible for killing this Callistoís family. Not you. If any blame is to fall, it falls on the shoulders of the Xena of this world, not yours."

Xena turned and looked at him. After a moment, she said, "Joxer, tell me something..."

"What?"

"How did I get so lucky as to have such a great warrior for a friend?" She smiled at him.

He smiled back. "Well, I am Joxer the Mighty..."

"Yeah," Xena replied. "You are." She gave him a hug, something she had never done before. With his words, the guilt she had been feeling was finally gone. It felt like a great weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

Xena watched Gabrielle tending to some children in the distance. "What about her? She loves you."

Joxer eyed Gabrielle. "I know."

"You can always stay. I would miss you, though. And so would Gabrielle. Donít ever tell her I told you that, though."

Joxer continued to watch Gabrielle. "I care for her... but sheís not... sheís not..."

"...sheís not the Gabrielle youíre in love with." Xena finished. "I figured that out for myself. Come on. I think itís time for us to say good-bye."

Moments later, with Antipas standing by, Xena gave Gabrielle a hug. Both were crying.

"I canít believe Iím going to lose you again," Gabrielle choked.

"No, Gabrielle," Xena said, "Just say my name and Iíll be with you. I promise. Good-bye, Gabrielle."

Gabrielle turned to see Joxer approaching her.

"Gabrielle, Iím-"

"Youíre leaving. I know. Youíre in love with her. I wonít try to fight that."

She gave him a hug. Joxer knew she was right. He could not love this Gabrielle, at least not the way he loved the Gabrielle of his own world.

"Give her time, Joxer," she said. "She will love you. I believe she will."

He kissed her gently. "Good-bye, Gabrielle." He then moved toward Xena.

"Antipas," Xena said. "Weíre ready. You said you could send us back to the point right after I had left."

"Yes. It will be almost like you were never gone." Antipas raised his hands, recited a spell, and a large oval portal appeared before them. After quickly waving to Gabrielle, they simply walked through and then were gone. Seconds later, the portal disappeared.

Antipas looked at Gabrielle. She was staring at where the portal had been. "Are you all right?" he asked.

"I donít know..." was all she could say. She then collapsed on her knees, stared out into the dawning twilight, and once again grieved the loss of the two people who meant more to her than anything else in the world.

 

* * *

Several months passed. New kingdoms had formed and were forming still. There was some anarchy, but it was preferable to the unholy peace they had lived under before. Gabrielle had helped her people rebuild much of Poteidaia, and it now looked to her much like it had when she was a young girl.

Gabrielle walked along a path outside the road. She was fondling a long wooden staff that she had been carving for several weeks. It was not the same as her Amazon staff which she had purposely broken after choosing to wield a sword, but after placing its original merkin on the staffís end, it looked very much like an old friend.

Gabrielle began to practice her old moves with the staff, remembering far more than she had suspected. She would soon leave Poteidaia and journey out into this brave new world, searching for adventure, just like she had done once before after meeting Xena. She had discarded her sword into a river. She didnít need it anymore. Gabrielle knew she could never again be the pure innocent that had once traveled the country with Xena, but she could still return to that Gabrielleís ideals. She would not kill again.

Gabrielle would continue to fight for good, for a better world. Perhaps she could find love again. But, most of all, she would do what she could to honor the memories of Xena and Joxer until that fateful day when she would be with them once again in the Alysian fields.

As she walked down the path, Gabrielle noticed a group of children huddled together playing. She approached them and kneeled down with her staff. "Hello there, little ones."

"Gabrielle," said the boy she knew as Thomas. "Can you tell us a story?"

Gabrielle stared at him. Then she looked up into the sky and took a deep breath. Slowly, for the first time in what seemed to have been ages, she began to speak. "There was once... a beautiful... magnificent... warrior... who journeyed across the land... doing incredible deeds of good and wonder and kindness... Her name... was Xena..."

As she continued the tale, Gabrielle was barely aware of the tears of joy that were strolling down her face.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

 

 

 

"Have a nice day." Then Ares disappeared.

And Gabrielle was left standing in the middle of nowhere feeling very helpless and very, very alone.

She stood there for a minute, wondering what to do next. All she could really do now was wait... and hope. Suddenly, there was a flash of light, and a large oval portal appeared. Seconds later, Xena walked right out of it!

"Xena!" Gabrielle ran to her and hugged her. "What happened? You just left. What about Joxer?"

In answer to her question, Joxer walked out of the portal, which then disappeared.

"Joxer!" Gabrielle shouted. "Xena found you pretty quickly."

"Yeah," Joxer smiled. "She did." He and Xena had decided they wouldnít tell Gabrielle about their adventure. They didnít want her to know what had become of her other self, or the horror they had experienced in that alternate reality.

"Well," Gabrielle said, looking at Joxer. "Iím glad youíre all right."

Joxer looked into this Gabrielleís eyes and saw there the lovely innocence that the other Gabrielle had been missing. He thought he loved her even more now, if that was possible.

"It was a lot easier than I thought it would be," Xena smiled.

"Who wouldíve figured?" Gabrielle added.

* * *

"I donít believe it!" Ares yelled. "She did it to me again."

Stryfe thought maybe he should teleport again.

"Amazing..." Ares added, calming down. He began to look amused.

"I canít believe she found Joxer so easily," Stryfe said.

"She didnít."

"What do you mean?"

"It wasnít my magic that brought them back," Ares said. "If it was, I would have known it. My guess is that they were in that alternate reality for longer than a day, and then found some other means to bring them back to this point in the timestream."

"What do we do now?" Stryfe asked timidly.

Ares sat back on his throne. "For now... nothing. This cosmic final battle between Xena and I is a few thousand years away. Iíd say Iíve got plenty of time until then to figure out how to deal with her. Perhaps itís not too late to bring her back to my side after all."

"Youíre changing your mind?" his nephew questioned.

"I sense, Stryfe, that finding Joxer was not an easy task for Xena. I sense she was severely tested, and her dark side exposed for the powerful force that it truly is. Believe me, Xena may suspect, but she will never truly realize just how powerful that side of her is... until itís too late."

The God of War sat back. "And when that time comes... she will once again be mine." And with that, Are began to laugh.

* * *

The old woman rested on a chair outside her tent. Business was slow today, giving her much time to think and ponder. She mused over the events of her life, the many people she had encountered, the fortunes she had predicted. It had been a good life, and she had met such a vast array of people, from the most benevolent soldier to the most wretched criminal. Despite all the memories she had to reminisce about, she couldnít seem to take her mind off the noble warrior she had recently met. He had had the look in his eyes. Only love could show itself so clearly and with such strength.

The woman felt bad that she could not have told him more about his future, particularly about his future with Gabrielle. But the signs were not always clear. Oneís destiny was not always so easy to see. Although, for this fortune teller, it did not always need to be.

Throughout her years, she had learned other ways to read peoplesí destinies. She had encountered precious few who had that look in their eyes. Using her psychic abilities, she had watched them throughout their lifeís journeys. She had watched them struggle, grow, and succeed. This man would clearly be one of these.

Joxer was probably was not aware of how powerful his feelings were. For he possessed a love that would not falter. Perhaps in time he would learn to care for another, but she knew a love that strong would not easily be denied. Whatever his fate, the old woman would use her abilities to watch his adventures, his trials, and his victories. She smiled as she pondered the future that she, in her heart, believed he was destined for.

* * *

The three adventurers walked down the long path.

"Hereís the idol, Xena." Joxer handed the stone that had saved them over to her.

"Iíll make sure the village gets it back. Are you heading off?"

"Yíknow, maybe I could stick around for awhile. You never know when you might need a real warrior to save your neck." Feeling truly happy for the first time since their run-in with Draco, Joxer began to sing. "Joxer the Mighty, He roams through the countryside-"

"Joxer!" Gabrielle interrupted with an exasperated look on her face. "Please! How even Cupidís arrow was able to make me fall in love with you, Iíll never know."

With those words, Joxerís heart sank. Xena gave a sympathetic look back at him.

"Well," Joxer said, keeping his voice up. "I realize Iíve got to get home now. Iíve got a lot of things to do. Bye, everyone."

"Bye, Joxer," Xena said.

Gabrielle quickly said, "Bye." Then she glanced away.

Joxer turned and walked off. He now realized he had been kidding himself. The Gabrielle of that other world had lived through different events, different circumstances. This Gabrielle could not, would not love him. Not now. Not ever. As he plodded on, he made sure he kept his back to Xena and Gabrielle, for he did not wish them to see the tears that were destined to fall.

The warrior princess and bard continued on the path.

"You could have been a little easier on him," Xena said.

"Please," Gabrielle said. "You know the effect that Joxer has on me."

But Xena didnít. Gabrielle quickly glanced back at Joxer. She was actually a bit disappointed to see him leave. There seemed to be something about him that she was finding... attractive? She shook her head, and the feeling subsided. Gabrielle felt relieved. Then a horrifying thought struck her.

What if Cupidís arrow had some permanent effect on her? No, Gabrielle thought. That was not possible. It simply could not be true.

Could it?

 

 

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Wow! I canít believe how long that story went. If you actually took the time to go through the whole thing, I want to say thank you. The story was a blast to write, and I hope you enjoyed it. A Comedy of Eros is my favorite Xena episode, and (as you probably figured out by now) I am a bit intrigued with the Joxer-Gabrielle love "thing". I think itís a great storyline and couldnít resist writing a follow-up to the episode. Yet, since it is unlikely that the two of them will hook up anytime soon (if ever), and since I suspect a large number of people would not want to see such a thing happen, I wrote a story that is open-ended, meaning that Joxer and Gabrielle are not necessarily destined for each other. You can interpret it either way you like.

I would love to hear comments. You can e-mail me at hart@blast.net. (Come on, if you took the time to read this entire story, you can take a few extra minutes to send me an e-mail, canít you?)


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