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Disclaimers: This story uses the characters Xena and Gabrielle (and related hangers-on) without permission from MCA/Universal. This story revisits the episode The Bitter Suite. As such, it is a horror story.
"Unnnff!!" Gabrielle involuntarily groans as she falls to the ground. She was wounded in so many places that she was beyond fear, beyond pain. Must get up, she thinks as she commands torn ligaments and muscles to set her upright. If I have to die, I want to look her in the eye.
Gabrielle reaches her full height, her right hip screaming at her as the ball of her legbone scrapes inside its cracked socket. She brings her eyes up to her attacker. Or one of her eyes, anyway. Her left eye was filling with darkness and distractedly, the bard realizes that it is filling with blood. But still she looks, to see the face of the monster that did this to her, to see her reaction. And despite all she has been through, the bard almost gasps in surprise.
Xena smiles at her.
No.... Gabrielle quivers, wanting to give in to despair. Xena was going to kill her. Murder her. It was over, her life was over, and for what? How many years ago was it, when she had first met the Warrior Princess? Xena had changed, she told herself then. She was no longer the brutal warlord everyone feared her to be. She was different. Xena had reformed. And who better to help her on her journey than she? With her stories of courage, and compassion, the bard knew she could help heal the wounds that the hardened warrior carried within her.
And so their journey together had begun. Sometimes Xena's journey had taken a few steps back, maybe off to the side, yet with every adventure, she redeemed herself more and more in the bard's eyes. Until this year. Until everything changed. Until the warlord re-emerged. The warlord. The one who wanted to kill her baby, the one who wanted to kill her now.
And Gabrielle looked into those deep blue eyes, those eyes that had captivated her so many times, to see only blackness. Xena grinned at her. Not a grin of satisfaction, of triumph, or even vengeance. Gabrielle was looking straight into the soul of a wolf. The wolf had its prey. The wolf had only to pounce. The prey had nowhere to run, nowhere to go. And the wolf smiled.
Something snapped within the mind of the battered bard. She felt rage. Rage she had not felt since Callisto had murdered her husband. Had tricked her later in Xena's body. As Xena had tricked her. I spent the best years of my life with you... Helping you... Nurturing you... Believing in you... Hoping and praying that you would never again become that thing you were before I met you. Now here you are. All my hopes, all my love, it was nothing! I am nothing! I am nothing because of you! You did this to me! You took everything I have, and spit in my face!!
Gabrielle commanded her hand to curl into a fist. It did so slowly, its three broken fingers screaming out white-hot protest. The pain would have fainted a lesser person, but Gabrielle refused to waver. I wasted my life trying to reform you, to understand you, all for nothing!
"I hate you!!!!!!" the scream tears from the bard's chest, as she bolts towards her tormentor.
Her voice so stuns the Warrior Princess that it distracts her, slowing her reaction for a moment. And a moment is all the battered bard needs, as she throws her shoulder into Xena's chest and sends them both tumbling off the cliff.
And then, save for the distant rumble of the crashing surf, all is silent.
"Sweet Artemis, no!!" Ephiny swears, spurring her horse ever faster towards the arching cliff. Even as she and her warriors close, she knows they are too late. She knows what she saw.
The Interim Queen of the Amazons yanks her horse's bridle with uncustomary force, and wheels off her mount's side to break into a full run. Ephiny slows abruptly, and stops at the edge of the cliff, to peer off into the space below. Dozens of hoofbeats thunder behind her, but she doesn't notice.
Someone draws up beside her. A hand touches her shoulder. "Ephiny?" the voice asks.
"Send word back to the nation, Eponin." the Interim Queen commands, painfully cradling her throbbing arm-splint. "Send word that Artemis' Chosen One, the Amazon Queen, is dead."
The Goddess in question draws her new bowstring back, pleased at its bounce. This string could fire a thousand arrows before fraying, she muses. I wonder what worthy warrior... the Goddess looks up sharply, her gaze already beyond the chamber. "Gabri-"
"-elle." she finishes, her bootheels sinking into the sand. Her eyes settle on her Chosen One.
Artemis hugs her bow to her as she steps over the Warrior Princess' body, and walks the ten steps necessary to reach what used to be her companion. Gabrielle's skin was a bluish pallor, and her broken limbs were splayed unnaturally in all directions. Shattered bones jutted out of her skin in several places, and the Goddess saw that her lifeblood had already pulsed out of her and darkened the sand. She crouched before the broken woman. Every bone in her body was broken, the Goddess noticed, using her divine gaze to see through the mortal. "Oh my sweet..." she began.
"Xena." A voice finished behind her. Artemis blinked down watering eyes, as she spun in the sand at the sound of the voice, a voice she recognized.
Ares was cradling Xena's head in his lap. Spent trails of blood from her ears, nose, and mouth marked where her life had fled from her. "I can't let you die... Not yet!" the God of War nearly sobs, then corrects himself with a grimace. "I do now... What must be done..." Ares' hands begin glowing, as he wills his power to surface.
The thunderbolt slams into his chest so hard, Ares nearly faints from shock. Instead, he summons his strength to look down at his chest. But where a smoking hole should be, the feathered flight of an arrow projects from his left breast. Ares looks up, just in time to see Artemis taking aim at him again.
"Artemis, wai-" he cries out, just before the arrow strikes him in the throat. Ares falls over on the sand.
The Goddess blinks away tears of rage as she stands up, lowering her bow as she walks over to the twitching god. My power is improving, she muses in satisfaction. He is taking longer to get up this time.
Ares angrily reaches up and tears out both arrows, flinging them to the surf. His wounds congealing as if they never existed, the God of War flips himself up in one motion to face his fellow deity.
"How dare you, Ares!" Artemis seethes, closing the distance between them. "How dare you kill my Chosen One!"
"Me? Why do you always blame me?" Ares hotly responds. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe the girl killed Xena?"
"You must be jesting." the Goddess replies, forcing herself to smile. "You really mean to tell me that your ultimate fighter was slain by a mere storyteller? You may fool yourself, Ares, but you don't fool me."
"No... I mean..." Ares gulps, losing his thought as he looks down again at Xena's broken remains. In his millennia of existence, he had seen countless dead bodies. The aftermath of war, famine, strife. He smiles at the last reason. Yet none had ever bothered him, until now. Especially now.
"Look, I don't know who's to blame..." Ares growls, crouching down at the blood-spattered head again. "All I know is I can't countenance her non-existence!"
Artemis watches in shock as Ares places his glowing hands around Xena's head. He then begins invoking the Words of Power, the decrees necessary to restore a mortal's life without Hades' consent. He must be mad with grief to squander his own life force, Artemis shakes her head in wonder. Then she is surprised again as Ares breaks contact.
"Changed your mind?" the Goddess asks.
"No, I... I was blocked."
"What? How?" Artemis asks.
"Illusia." Ares sighs in relief. "They're in Illusia. Hades must have sent them there."
Artemis' face floods with happiness. "But, that's wonderful! They'll return in only minutes. And fully restored to health, too."
"Looks like just another one of her close calls." Ares wonders to himself, getting up. "I guess the Fates were right about her." Then he shudders, and Artemis, too.
"Father." he says simply. "He's calling a council on the darkness that awaits us. We'd better not keep him waiting."
"No hard feelings?" the Goddess says by way of apology, holding out her hand.
"Always." Ares sneers, looking down at Xena for a lingering moment before vanishing.
"Jerk." Artemis mutters. Off in the distance, she spies her maidens slowly making their way down jagged slopes to reach their fallen Queen.
"Sleep well, Gabrielle." Artemis coos at her body, and then looks down at Xena. "I know you are in good hands." and she vanishes as well.
"We're home." Gabrielle observes, hearing the seagulls, smelling the salt air.
"At last." Xena smiles tightly at the bard. She finally felt herself again. It was a relief, but... wait a minute. Everything was not alright. What had she done? What had she done to Gabrielle?! Xena remembered with startling clarity the things she had done only this morning. To Ephiny, and to... Her expression changes.
"Xena?" Gabrielle asks. "What's wrong?" She was puzzled as to Xena's expression, which was curled in pain, and now changed into full horror. It was then that the bard felt her body changing.
"No..." Xena whispers as the bard's appearance changes before her eyes. A matte of abrasions and splinters appeared along the bard's right shoulder. She began stooping over. A huge goose egg appeared over her left eye. Her lower lip cut in two, and began bleeding.
"Gods no... No!" Xena repeats, taking in the surprised expression on Gabrielle's face. All of the wounds she had given her before Illusia were reappearing! Wounds that I inflicted, Xena thinks to herself. She knew it was impossible, but she also knew she couldn't lie to herself. She remembered it all. She did these things to Gabrielle.
A huge cut opened up along Gabrielle's cheekbone under her right eye. The half-inch flap of skin seemed to magically flip up as it was carved open again, and then it dropped down, oozing welts of blood. Cuts and splinters began appearing all over the younger woman's body, and Xena lowered her gaze. But even then there was no respite. Xena watched steam hiss from Gabrielle's ankles, as bloody welts of twisted skin knotted up in clumps where Xena had dragged her by.
"Oh gods, no!" Xena cries in disbelief, tears welling up in her eyes. "I'm sorry Gabrielle, I'm sorry! Oh Zeus, believe me, I'm so sorry!!"
Gabrielle tried to nod some encouragement to the warrior, to tell her it was alright. But her eye clouded over again, and she felt the world spin away from her as all her injuries made their presence known.
"NOW!!!" Ephiny cries from behind Xena, and the warrior whirls instinctively.
A net drops around Xena, and draws her tight. Hooks woven into the net begin tearing at her flesh, as Amazons surround her on all sides.
"Pin her down!!" Ephiny commands. "Keep her arms pinned down!"
Xena keels over, as hard elbows and knees bite down on her. With a mighty heave, she could cast them all aside, and free herself. But through the netting, she could see the fallen bard, could see the blood all over her body. Blood that she had brought forth. Xena closed her eyes, whispered a silent prayer for Gabrielle, and released herself to her fate, as rope was tightly wrapped around the netting, trussing her up like a hog.
"Xena!" Gabrielle shouts as she awakes with a start. She grits her teeth at the unexpected pain of speaking, and lays her head down gingerly on the pillow again. Don't do that again, she tells herself. "Xena?" she calls again, quietly this time.
Beads at a doorway rattle, and the Amazon Queen turns her head to see. An aged Amazon woman enters, and walks up to her bed. Gabrielle smiles at her in recognition.
"Shush, your Majesty." the healer coos, putting her hand on Gabrielle's forehead. "She won't hurt you anymore. I promise."
"Idrine..." Gabrielle forces the words out. "What's... going on? Where am I?"
"You are in the Queen's bedchamber. Your bed, as it were." Idrine replies quietly. "You are my patient. And your fever's gone down, I see. Good. Very good."
"Where she can't reach you." Idrine whispers. "She is being held for her trial."
"Trial?" Gabrielle asks, confused. "What trial?"
"For attempted murder of the Queen, of course."
"Me?" Gabrielle wonders aloud, trying to sit up. "Arghhh!"
"There there.... Don't move..." the healer soothes, putting her hand on the bard's good shoulder. "You took quite a pounding, and your body needs time to mend."
"How... How bad?" the bard asks, shuddering as chills play across her injured regions.
"Well, let's see..." Idrine ruminates as she walks over to her medicine cabinet. "She gave you a concussion, a broken nose, a cracked cheekbone, some broken fingers, four broken ribs, a fractured hip, and, oh my, two swollen ankles."
Idrine put her hand to her chest, as if the litany had taken her breath. "I thought you might be bleeding on the inside, but since you've survived the past four days, I think you'll pull through."
"That's right, your Majesty." the healer smiles. "But you're out of the woods, now."
Gabrielle blinked both of her eyes. She could see again in her other eye, and guessed the blood had drained away.
"What's going to happen to Xena?"
"She'll have her day in court."
"And?" the bard prompts.
"Well..." the healer trails off, as she draws back her patient's sheet. "It's best not to think of that right now. It's time to change your dressings and apply some poultice. I must ask you to be strong, my Queen. Are you ready?"
Gabrielle nods her head uncertainly, as Idrine reaches for the bandage on her chest.
The scream from within the chamber makes the guards outside cringe in sympathy. One of them mouths a prayer to Artemis for their fallen Queen.
Xena stares at the bars across from her as she sits in her cell. She was very familiar with this jail. She had been here before. Seven years ago, when King Agraias had ruled here, to be exact. Since then, the Amazons had reclaimed their ancestral territory, and this was their jail now. Her jail, too. She stares down at her nibbled-on food. The food actually wasn't that bad. It had improved from her last time here. She just didn't have an appetite for eating, right now. Maybe ever.
Xena flinches as something changes... in front of her. She blinks slowly. "Hello, Ares."
Across the cell, Ares fades into existence. He looks as confident as ever, as handsome as ever. And why not, he is a god.
"I was just slumming around, and thought I'd drop in." the God of War dryly notes, looking around. "Boy, your accommodations sure could use some improvement. Mind telling me what's going on?"
"I'm awaiting trial."
"Trial?" his eyebrows raise.
"For assaulting Gabrielle." Xena says tonelessly. "I'm going to be executed."
"You? You caused that?" Ares motions off to the wall. "I knew the bard was annoying, but really."
"How can you say this to me?!" Xena goes livid. "You wanted us apart all along! It was you!"
"True," Ares relents, shrugging, "but I no longer find her to be that irritating a blond... uh, strawberry-blond, you know?"
Xena motions at him for silence, causing the god to roll his eyes with disdain. He turns to see what she is referring to.
"I don't care! I am your Queen, and I command you to let me see her!" a voice argues hotly beyond the iron door of the cellblock.
The door creaks open, and two figures walk through. One was helping the other.
"I can do this myself!" the crouching figure growls, leaning on her staff. She begins to move forward.
Clack. Skish. Clack. Skish. Clack. Skish. Clack. Skish.
Xena watches in growing horror as Gabrielle hobbles towards her cell. Each step sent lances of pain through the bard's face, but still she continued. Both her hands were wrapped around her fighting staff, and Xena noticed her knuckles were white.
Gabrielle looked at Xena sitting by herself in her cell. The pain on the warrior's face was evident. Good, she thinks to herself. But not so good. With a supreme effort, Gabrielle closes the distance until she reaches the cell door.
"Leave us." she commands.
The Amazon Queen's escort dallies for a moment, and then exits, with a quick glance at Xena.
The iron door clangs behind her.
"Are you alright?" Gabrielle manages.
Xena's eyes well up with tears. She slowly gets up off her cot and, walking past Ares, stands before her bard.
"No." Xena mumbles, barely able to look at the bard's face through her welling tears. "Can I... Can I help you? Oh Gods..."
Gabrielle shifts her weight from her staff, to lean against the cell bars. The change in position hurt so much it almost caused her to bite her tongue, but she held firm. "My nose itches."
Xena manages to smile and cry at the same time, as she reaches up to the bard's nose and scratches it as gently as she can. Then she removes her hand as if the contact burned her, and lowers her gaze to the floor.
"Please go." Xena says thickly, her voice catching uncharacteristically. "I don't want you to see me. Before the trial."
"I had to."
"What do you want to know?" Xena says wretchedly, turning away. "That I'm a monster?"
"Don't say that."
"It's true." Xena responds. "I'm a horror. I deserve what they're going to do to me."
Silence hangs uncomfortably between them for several moments. Gabrielle waits until she can gather the words.
"Why did you do it?" she asks.
"Why did I try to kill you?" Xena completes for her. "Why did I try to kill you again in Illusia? I... don't know. I was filled with anger. With madness. It was like when I was cursed by the Furies before, remember?"
"I remember." Gabrielle responds. It seemed a lifetime ago.
"But this was me." Xena continues, self-loathing in her voice. "I wanted to kill you, to end my pain with your life. And now, I don't know why." Xena turns away, confused.
"Xena." Gabrielle begins, scratching at her hip brace. "Just before you tried to throw me off the cliff, you cried 'Vengeance'."
Xena winces tears out of her eyes at the word. At the time, she felt she was avenging Solan's death. But now... "I blamed you for his death. I focused all my anger on you. I realize now it was Hope and Callisto who were responsible. Once they learned of his existence, my son was fated to die. As I had always feared."
Gabrielle listened to her uncharacteristic sobs for long moments. At the funeral for Hope and Solan, Xena's face had been a mask of coldness, of emptiness. She shed no tears for her only son. But now she cried for her. Gabrielle didn't know if she should be relieved, or feel even sadder. She decided to change the subject.
"I... have something to share with you, too. A secret." the bard announces, tears forming in her eyes as well.
"When you went to Ch'in without me, I made a deal with Ares. I asked him to send me ahead of you."
Xena manages a laugh, the first in days. "You did? Oh, my resourceful bar... Uh, well. I always wondered how you got there ahead of me. But what was the deal?"
"That she would owe me a favor in times to come." Ares announces, appearing fully.
The bard's eyes widen in surprise as she sees the God of War appear in Xena's cell. Xena whirls on him, her eyes filled with menace.
"You! You were there! On the mountaintop. You told me to kill her!"
"Pardon me?" the God of War asks in confusion. What was she talking about now?
"You told me to take vengeance for Solan. You told me to kill Gabrielle!"
"Xena, I think your horse kicked you in the head." Ares smoothly intones. "I haven't seen you since Aphrodite enchanted your bard's scroll, remember?"
"But.. But... That wasn't you?" Xena says softly.
"Is there an echo in here? Trust me." Ares intones with disdain, hanging his thumbs on his vest. "Why would I extract a favor from your little sidekick, only to turn around and ask you to kill her?"
"It wasn't you. It was someone else." Xena slowly realizes.
"I may be many things, but I'm not stupid." Ares smugly asserts. "I've known for years that killing-" he made a motioning signal with his fingers "your bard would have killed your spirit. I have no use for an empty husk. Plus," he adds, giving a chilling smile to Gabrielle, "I kinda bonded with her the last time we met. I guess I like her, irritating though she may be."
"Xena." Gabrielle exclaims, her eyes widening, "If it wasn't Ares who talked to you, maybe they made you do it, too. Could they have been affecting your mind, maybe?"
"I... can't say." Xena responds, thinking it over. She is silent for a time, then shakes her head. "Gabrielle, I'm sorry. I remember feeling that way, I remember wanting to kill you, to hurt you. It's in my memory." She pauses, unable to shake her sense of guilt. "Maybe someone was controlling me, but I can't tell the difference."
"You tried to kill me in Illusia, too." the bard notes, thinking. "What did you feel like once we had returned from Illusia?"
"I felt... relief." Xena answers. "Relief that you were alright. And then I thought of the things I had done..." Xena turns to the wall, her eyes flashing.
"What?" the bard asks.
"I was horrified!" Xena explains, whirling back at her. "I wanted to die! I wanted to kill myself right there at your feet. It was then that... your wounds... started coming back. And then..." Xena held her hand up to her mouth, overwhelmed with the memory of it all.
"I don't understand that myself." Ares observes, rubbing his beard. "Your bard should have stayed healed once you departed Illusia. That's the way these things work. Someone... or something... wanted her to suffer."
Xena and Gabrielle both look up at him, and he nods his head. "I've got to go check up on some things. Don't go anywhere." he adds with a feral grin, vanishing in a trailing star of light.
"What a jerk." Gabrielle observes, managing a smile. Xena drew up close to her and reached through the bars to touch her hands.
"The Amazons aren't going to care whether I was under someone's control or not, Gabrielle. The fact is, I was responsible. And I'd like to think that I would fight with all of my being before doing those things to you. But I didn't. And the Amazons are going to execute me for it."
"No." Gabrielle shakes her head, her eyes reddening. "Don't say that. We'll find a way out of this. We always do."
"Not this time." Xena insists, her eyes filled with pain. "Gabrielle, I couldn't live with myself if it turns out I wasn't under someone's control when I did that to you. I want you to know that if they find me guilty, I will gladly go to my death. I don't deserve to live for what I did."
Gabrielle was so stunned to hear this admission that she couldn't speak for a moment. "Thanks." she manages, and calls for the guard. Drawing herself away from Xena's cell, she gave the warrior a final smile. She knew what Xena was saying, although she was as tight-lipped with her feelings as usual. She was saying she loved her more than life itself.
"All please rise for the Honorable Judge Malath." the bailiff calls out, stomping her staff on the floor.
The assembled courtroom gets to their feet, and Xena watches the woman who will decide her fate enter the courtroom. An aged Amazon, eschewing feathers and beads for simple robes, steps up to the Judge's platform and takes her seat. She nods to the bailiff.
"You may be seated." the bailiff announces.
Xena looks over at Gabrielle, although it broke her heart to glance at her for even a moment. The injuries to her face would leave prominent scars, marring her beauty for life. And it was she who did that to her. Everyone in the courtroom knew it, too.
The bailiff hands a scroll to the Judge, and she nods as she unfurls it.
"The court clerk will now read the charges against the accused." she proclaims.
A very slight girl gets up from her desk and holds up a papyrus scroll, her hand shaking. Xena notes she is about the age of... Solan. She winces to herself at the thought of him, as the clerk begins reading aloud:
"Xena, Warrior Princess, is hereby charged with the following crimes against the Amazon Nation: First, that she did brutally assault with the intent to kill, the Queen of the Amazons by Right of Caste, Gabrielle, Bard of Poteidaia."
Gabrielle's eyes wander over to the Warrior Princess, but Xena would not meet her gaze.
"Second, that she did brutally attack with the intent to maim, Ephiny, Interim Queen of the Amazons, while she was under the charge of protecting Gabrielle."
Xena looks to Ephiny, who coldly meets her look with a glare, cradling her broken arm on the table before her.
"And finally," her voice drops. "a lesser battery charge against the self-styled Joxer the Mighty."
Xena watches Joxer whisper something to the bailiff, who then nods. Joxer gives Xena the thumbs-up, and flashes a smile, as the bailiff walks over and whispers to the Judge.
"Joxer has asked that the charge pertaining to him be dropped." Judge Malath pronounces. "Because of the severity of the remaining charges against her, so be it. The third charge is summarily dismissed." -clack!- She bangs her gavel on its wooden plate.
"Well, uh" Gabrielle says softly, then tries valiantly to speak up. "I wish that her charges against me be dropped as well."
A murmur of disbelief rolls through the courtroom, as the judge patiently considers the Queen's request.
"I would remind the Queen that she is Queen by Right of Caste only, so I will forgive her ignorance of Amazon law." the Judge chides. "Xena is charged with a Capital Crime against the Queen, and as such it cannot be dismissed, regardless of the wishes of the victim."
At this Xena herself stands up, holding up her manacled hands before her. The guards behind her rise as soon as she moves. "Then I ask to dispense with the proceedings altogether, and enter a plea of Guilty."
"Xena, no!" Gabrielle cries, starting to get up. She has to sit down again though, the pain of moving almost too much to bear.
Growls of anger erupt throughout the courtroom. Cries of vengeance echo back and forth across the chamber.
"Order! Order!" the Judge calls, tapping her gavel. The crowd subsides.
"Again, Amazon law requires a trial be carried out, no matter what the wishes of the participants to expedite matters." With that, she levels her gaze across the gallery of spectators. "In any event, such a motion would have to be requested by your defense counsel, and such has not even been determined yet."
"Interim Queen of the Amazons," she calls over to Ephiny, "have you selected a prosecutor?"
"We have, your Honor." Ephiny answers, getting to her feet. "Or rather, she selected herself."
A bright star of light drops from eye level down to the floor in the center of the courtroom. When the glow fades, there stands a deity.
"Goddess of the hunt, patron of the Amazon Nation, Artemis." Ephiny recites, bowing.
All assembled bow as one to the Goddess, and Xena decides to do likewise.
"Don't you bow to me, you worthless excuse for a woman." Artemis hisses, her voice reverberating throughout the chamber. "How you could do these things to the one person in the world who believed in your essential goodness, I will never fathom. But I'm here to see you pay for your crimes."
The Amazons present cheer as one, as Xena sits down and rests her head on her arms. Well, this crocodile court is now in session...
"Order in the court! We will have orderly proceedings." the Judge commands, trying not to appear flustered at the Goddess' arrival. "Goddess A-Artemis, forgive me, but to act as prosecutor you must be willing to yield to my authority as Judge. Are you willing to do so?"
"I am." Artemis nods calmly. She takes a seat next to Ephiny, her eyes never leaving Xena. Everyone in the court notices she is at least a foot taller than any woman there, Xena included.
"Very well then. Xena, have you chosen counsel, or do you need counsel appointed for you?"
Xena turns away from the Goddess' glare to look at the Judge, now with new appraisal of her ability. This woman just stared down a Goddess, she thinks. A bright flash appears beside her, pushing one of her guards out of the way.
"She won't be needing counsel." the God of War declares to the stunned courtroom. "I'm her defense."
"Your Honor," Artemis begins, getting up from her chair. "I object! Ares is a male. He has no jurisdiction in an Amazon Court."
"Objection sustained." Judge Malath agrees. She directs her gaze to the War God, hoping she has an imposing enough look on her face. "Ares, God of War. Do you have a reason for this Court why you should be allowed as counsel to the defendant?"
"It's simple, your Honor." Ares intones, gesturing at Xena. "Xena is, or was, my Chosen One. The mortal I had selected to lead my armies to victory. I have a... personal stake in her well-being."
"Xena," the Judge asks, "will you agree to take... Ares... as your counsel?"
Xena looks to Gabrielle, who is shaking her head frantically. "Yes, your Honor." Xena responds.
Ares smiles as he pulls out a chair and sits next to Xena. He leans over to whisper to her. "I hope this is more exciting than my brother's trial was."
"I wouldn't want to disappoint you." Xena whispers in disgust. Much as she hated to admit it, Ares was almost the only friend she had now. On the other hand, with him on her side and Artemis on the other, it would probably give wings to her execution time. Either way...
"So be it." Judge Malath bangs her gavel. "Prosecution and defense counsels have been appointed. The trial will recess for one hour."
Ares vanishes, and Gabrielle decides to make her way over to Xena as the crowd begins filing out of the chamber. Idrine helps her make the journey.
"Looks pretty bad, huh?" Xena wryly notes.
"Well, it doesn't help to have Ares as your counsel!" Gabrielle hisses, not wanting to exhale too far.
"As long as he's here, he's not out spreading wars and bedlam."
"Sound like someone we know?" Gabrielle brightly asks.
Xena looks at her with a pained expression.
"Sorry." the bard apologizes. "I guess this isn't the best time for humor."
"It's alright." Xena admits. "I'm going to need some to get through this."
"The prosecution will now present their witnesses to the court." Judge Malath resumes.
"Thank you, your Honor." Artemis responds, getting up.
"Objection, your Honor." Ares interrupts, getting to his feet as well. "If I may ask the pardon of the prosecution, I must ask that Judge Malath recuse herself from this case."
Artemis seems ready to blow steam, but looks to see the Judge's reaction.
"On what grounds?" the Judge asks in a barely tolerant tone.
"I have learned that the Judge was an apprentice to the respected Judge Arbus. Respected, that is, until Xena exposed him and sent him off to prison."
The Judge was silent for several moments. She had expected this to come up. "I am aware of the facts concerning his disgrace, and the Warrior Princess' role in that. I believe Xena acted professionally and appropriately, and thus cannot concur. Your request is denied. The prosecution may continue."
"Thank you, your Honor." Artemis resumes, giving Ares a glance. "The prosecution will call Ephiny, Interim Queen of the Amazons, to the stand."
Ephiny gets up and walks to the front of the courtroom as the bailiff approaches her. She holds out a scroll, which Ephiny places her hand on. "Do you swear by the Code of the Amazons to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you Artemis?"
Ephiny looks over to the Goddess, who smiles at her. "I do so swear."
Ares buries his head in his hands. Great, just great, he ponders, not exactly a good start. This is going to take more than I thought.
"Please describe to the court the events as they occurred a fortnight ago." Artemis requests.
"Xena... came into our village." Ephiny begins. "She appeared to be very angry. I ordered my Amazons to subdue her as she bounded up on Argo. She easily leaped from her horse over my spear-maidens, and confronted me."
"What did you do?"
"I tried to reach for her, but she was too swift." Ephiny continues. "That's when she broke my arm. She demanded to know where Gabrielle was. I wouldn't tell her. Then Joxer emerged from the Queen's purification hut carrying the Queen, and I warned him to run. Then I looked at Xena."
Here Ephiny pauses, bringing her eyes to the defendant's. "She hefted her Chakram up to throw it. Xena had this... I don't know... maniacal look on her face."
"And so, even with a broken arm, you blocked Xena's throw." Artemis points out.
"Yes. I made her miss Gabrielle. It was close, though."
"Then what happened?"
"Xena punched me, and performed one of her... godlike leaps, and overtook Joxer. Joxer set Gabrielle down, and urged her to run."
"Xena took a whip off an Amazon's horse, and used it to snare Gabrielle."
"How did she snare her?"
"She wrapped the whip around her ankles, and yanked her off her feet."
Sitting across of Xena on the right side of the Judge, Gabrielle brings her eyes up to the Warrior Princess.
Xena forced herself to meet the bard's gaze, no matter where else she'd rather be looking right now.
"Joxer charged Xena. Xena decked him."
"I'm sorry, decked?" the Goddess asks.
"Forgive me." Ephiny says in a soft voice to her Goddess. "I mean punched, she hit him on the jaw, knocking him out. She mounted the horse with a war cry and spurred her into a gallop, dragging the Queen behind her."
"And what was the Queen wearing at the time?"
"She... She was wearing a double-sheet toga. Nothing else."
"You set up a pursuit party to follow Xena." Artemis continues for her. "And several minutes later you followed the horse's trail to the Aegean cliffside. Would you tell the court what you saw?"
"I saw Gabrielle and Xena tumble off the edge of the cliff together." Ephiny replies.
"Thank you. I have no further questions for this witness." Artemis declares with a wave of her hand.
"Does counsel wish to question the witness?" Judge Malath asks.
Ares nods his head, then remembers that he should speak to the mortal Judge. "Yes."
Ares gets up and paces towards Ephiny. Truly a fine specimen, Ares considers to himself. Perhaps I should reconsider my earlier decision to spite Artemis by never selecting an Amazon to lead my armies.
"I just have one question for the Interim Queen." Ares notes as he raises his finger. "How did Joxer get into your village?"
"Well, he's a man, I take it." Ares continues, smiling in that deadly way of his. "And the Amazon Nation is run by women. How did he get in?"
"He, uh, said he was a friend of Gabrielle's." Ephiny explains, looking to the bard. "And our Queen confirmed that this was so. Why?"
"I'm asking the questions here." Ares retorts, looking over to Joxer. "No further questions, your Honor."
"The witness is dismissed then, and you may bring forth your next witness." the Judge rules.
"I now call my next witness, Joxer the Mighty." Artemis announces without a shred of irony. Muffled giggles run through the gallery, as the creaking and clanking warrior wannabe gets up and makes his way to the witness stand. After taking the oath, Joxer sits, his eyes bugging out as he gazes up at Artemis.
"What can you tell us about the morning in question?" the Goddess asks.
"Well, I was worried about Gabby... the Queen." Joxer corrects, shaking in his armor. "So I went into her hut to get her out of her ritual stuff. When I carried her out, I saw Xena standing out there, surrounded by Amazons."
"And what happened next?"
"I saw Eph crouching before Xena, injured, and then she told me to run, so I did." Joxer gulps as he turns whiter than usual. "But then Xena caught up with me, and uh, I don't know. I knew I couldn't beat her, so I set Gabby down and charged Xena. I hoped it would buy her enough time to get away."
"And that's when she decked you."
"Uh, yeah." Joxer admits, rolling his eyes. Then he narrows them at Xena. "It was a sucker punch, though."
"You did indeed, punch a sucker." Ares whispers to Xena, who wisely keeps quiet.
"Indeed." Artemis agrees. "No further questions, your Honor."
"Does defense wish to-"
"Defense does indeed wish to question the witness." Ares says, getting up from his chair and striding over to the worst warrior in existence.
Joxer calmly watches the God of War walk up to him.
"You made your way into the Amazon village, under pretenses of friendship with Gabrielle."
"I am her friend!" Joxer says proudly. "I lo- uh, care for her, too."
"Yet you were nowhere in the vicinity of the Centaur village where both women broke up."
"Then how did you learn Gabrielle went to the Amazon village?"
"I heard about it while traveling, you know." Joxer explains. "Doing manly deeds, and such. You know, warrior stuff."
Ephiny leans over to whisper something to Artemis, and Ares cocks his head slightly until she is done.
"Objection, your Honor!" Artemis calls out, waving Ephiny away. "I really do not see how this pertains to the trial."
"Objection sustained." the Judge rules. She directs her gaze at Ares. "Are you going somewhere with this, counsel?"
"It would appear not, your Honor." Ares claps his hands together. "I have no further questions."
"The witness may step down." Judge Malath rules. "And I'll remind the defense counsel not to wander off the subject. We'll recess for lunch. Court resumes in one half-hour."
"Ares, what are you doin', man?" Strife asks, grabbing his uncle by the shoulders. Ares looks at Strife's hands significantly. Strife quickly removes them.
"This is important." Ares responds, looking around the Amazon village. They were standing outside of the courthouse, although the Amazons were mercifully unaware of their presence.
"Important?" Strife yells with exaggeration, then quiets down. "How is this supposed to help us with our... immediate problems?"
"I have a hunch that the darkness which threatens us all is also interested in this trial."
"Really?" Strife's eyes bug out more than usual.
"Did you really think I was here out of the goodness of my heart?" Ares punches his nephew hard in the shoulder.
"I've always known that my destiny was somehow entwined with Xena's." Ares concludes mysteriously. "Now I think I know why."
"What is the first thing you remember?" Artemis asks the witness.
"I remember... looking up at the sky, and wondering why it was spinning..." Gabrielle begins haltingly. "And then someone set me down, I guess it was Joxer. I tried to stand, and standing before me was Xena."
Xena rubbed her bruised wrists as she watched Gabrielle testify. Thankfully, the Judge had relented to Ares' request that her manacles be removed. She wasn't going anywhere.
"I called out to her, and Joxer told me to run. I wanted to stay, wanted to talk to her. I was glad to see her. But..."
"Her eyes." Gabrielle says softly, certain she would break out in tears any moment. "When I looked at her, I recognized the look in her eyes. It was the look she would get just before she'd kill some warlord. And she was looking at me."
Xena buried her head in her arms, not wanting Gabrielle to see her tears.
"I guess I came fully awake then." Gabrielle continues. "I turned to run, heard Joxer cry out, and... and that's when I felt it. Xena... wrapped something around my ankles. I'm told now it was a whip. Before I knew it, I was flat on the ground, and when I looked up, I saw Xena mount a horse... a dark horse." she pauses, puzzled. "Where was Argo?" she asks herself softly.
"And then she began to drag you. Drag you through the Amazon village."
"Yes." Gabrielle admits, remembering.
"What happened then?"
"May I..." Gabrielle asks.
"May I be excused... I don't have to..." she looks up at the Judge. "I don't want to do this."
"You must answer the questions truthfully, to the best of your ability." the Judge responds.
"I... heard Xena give a whoop," Gabrielle resumes, "and felt a sharp pain like my feet were going to be pulled off. Instead, the ground started moving. I realized I was being dragged behind her."
"I called out to Xena, begging her, imploring her to stop." Gabrielle continues, her eyes watering. "It was then I hit something. I was told later that they were wooden poles. They felt like walls. I-I guess I broke through them."
"I know this is painful for you, but please go on." Artemis gently induces.
"I started skidding through some sand after that, and I hit a pile of rocks. I didn't know what it was until I had already gone through it. It was a fire. I felt great pain sear up the back of my legs, and my... my bottom. I guess the ground put it out as soon as I went through it. It hurt like Hades, though."
Gabrielle motioned for a glass a water. When it was given to her, she drank from it in small sips, then set it down.
"I uh... After that, I continued calling out to Xena. Then things started going by faster. I guess she spurred her horse after we left the village."
"I... don't know." Gabrielle responds, thinking. "I guess I passed out."
Xena didn't know that. She remembered Gabrielle continuing to cry out in pain every time she hit something. If she was senseless, her groans were involuntary. Xena began shuddering at the memory.
"What's the next thing you remember?" Artemis asks.
"I woke up, I don't know when." Gabrielle remembers. "I awoke feeling a thousand knives cutting me, carving deep into me. It took a moment for me to realize I was being pulled through water."
"Pulled through water?"
"Yes." the bard answers. "I guess the shock of the water touching my cuts... It must have woke me up."
"We came out of the water. My hip was killing me, and I tried to struggle against the line, but it was no use. Then I... I guess I hit something else, and... I must have gone unconscious again."
"When did you wake up?"
"I was looking up at the sky again. I hurt all over, but I felt like I was bobbing and waving in the air. Then I heard someone cry out, and I figured Xena was going to throw me down."
Xena lifted her head out of her hands, and looked at the bard on the witness stand.
"Throw you off the cliff?"
"I didn't know that, then." Gabrielle softly corrects her. "All I knew was that she was going to throw me down, hit me some more. Hurt me. So I kicked. I kicked, and I guess I hit her, cause I tumbled down to the ground."
"I hurt all over. But I was determined to get up, to stand before her. I don't know how, but I stood up, and faced her. I looked her in the eye."
"And what did you see?"
Long moments pass. The bard does not answer.
"Gabrielle?" Artemis asks again. "What did you see?"
"Evil." Gabrielle answers, returning Xena's bleary-eyed gaze. "A look of complete evil. She was happy she had hurt me. I've never seen such a look of glee on her face."
"And so you tackled her off the cliff, sending both of you plunging to your deaths."
"Well, I didn't know that then." Gabrielle admits. "I just wanted to give her one last show of resistance before she... killed me."
Applause broke out in the courtroom, amidst shouts of "You go girl!" and "Hail Gabrielle!" while the Judge had to bang her gavel until things quieted down.
Xena felt a wad of spit land on her hair from behind, and felt it begin to roll down the back of her neck. Ares looks over at her and flicks his finger in a casual manner, vaporizing the spittle.
Artemis pauses until the gallery subsides. "Let's go back in time for a moment. You've fought a lot of ruthless people during your two years traveling with Xena, haven't you?"
"Excuse me?" Gabrielle asks.
"Warlords, tyrants, gods." Artemis glances at Ares. "And through all that, Xena protected you from harm, did she not?"
"Yet through all of your adventures, you must have incurred some injuries along the way. What was your worst injury?"
"Who was it that injured you the most during your travels with Xena?" the Goddess asks, "The warlord Draco? Was it Callisto? Valeska? The Horde?"
Artemis pauses as she gives a brief smile to Xena, then turns back to her witness. "Was it Ares? Agathon? Dahak? Or... Xena?"
Gabrielle did not speak as the court fell silent. And she thought about it. She thought about the close calls, the near misses. She thought of all the times a knife had been held to her throat, to force Xena's surrender. And then... she thought of being in the Temple of Dahak. Being raped. Surely that was the most terrible thing that had been done to her, wasn't it? No, she thinks, slowly realizing. That was done by a stranger. This was done by a friend.
"Gabrielle?" Artemis presses again. "Out of all these... villains, who injured you the worst?"
The courtroom waited in silence.
The word was barely audible, yet it cut into Xena's heart like a sword thrust. I did more harm to Gabrielle than Callisto or Dahak ever conceived of. Oh Gabrielle...
"Thank you, Gabrielle." Artemis concludes, her voice quavering a bit. "I have no further questions for this witness."
"Defense counsel?" the Judge asks.
"No questions, your Honor." Ares responds with a dismissive wave.
"The witness may be excused." the Judge orders. Artemis herself steps forward to assist Gabrielle back to her seat.
"Next witness?" the Judge requests, taking a sip of tea from her mug.
"The last witness I will call to the stand is the defendant herself, Xena." Artemis intones.
"Will the defendant take the stand?" the Judge asks.
Ares puts his hand on Xena's arm, shaking his head No, but Xena yanks her arm away and slowly gets up. Low hisses sound behind her, among more varied comments, as she makes her way past the gallery to take the witness stand.
"Do you swear to tell the truth and the whole truth, so help you Artemis?" the bailiff asks.
"I do so swear." Xena responds, locking eyes with the Goddess as she places her hand on the scroll. She takes her seat.
"Xena, Warrior Princess. Do you deny the evidence presented thus far before this court?" Artemis sternly asks.
Looking over at Ares, Xena responds, "No, I do not."
Murmurs from the gallery sound again.
"So you admit to dragging Gabrielle behind a horse, with the intent of killing her?"
"Yes." Xena answers wearily.
"Excellent." the Goddess notes, letting the word hang in the air. "Let's ignore that for the moment though, and go back to events that occurred over a year ago. Last year, you suffered a grievous head injury, did you not? From being struck by a tree trunk, I believe."
"Your Honor," Ares objects, "what does this have to do with the trial?"
"This has everything to do with this trial, your Honor!" Artemis interjects. "If I may be allowed to continue?"
The Judge nods at Artemis.
"When Gabrielle saw there was nothing she could do for your injuries, what did you tell her?"
"I told her to take me to Mount Nestos, to a healer named Nikleo I once knew." Xena answers. In truth, she remembered none of this, she must have been delirious at the time. She only knew it from what Gabrielle had told her later.
"So Gabrielle created a litter to... transport you by, to take you to this healer?" Artemis continues, her eyes glinting amusement.
Xena felt a trap being laid, but was helpless before the Goddess. "Yes."
"Gabrielle undertook this long and dangerous journey by herself, with nothing but Xena's horse to help her." Artemis addresses the court, "She ascended the mountain in bitter cold, succumbing to frostbite, yet still she dragged Xena upward. She risked her own life, so that Xena might live. An act of the bravest courage, I might add."
"Yes, it was." Xena admits, smiling a little.
"Now Xena," Artemis begins, giving a deadly smile to the warrior, "would you be so kind as to compare for us that dragging to the dragging you gave her a fortnight ago?"
"I cannot." Xena admits, her eyes tearing.
"Yet you decided Gabrielle deserved death." Artemis declares. "When you first encountered the warlord Callisto, you decided that her life should be spared, correct?"
"Yes." Xena repeats, knowing full well the next question.
"Can you tell the court why Gabrielle was deserving of death, yet Callisto wasn't?"
"I... have no answer for you."
"No?" Artemis asks, surprised. "Well, while I myself would like to know why you did these things to your companion, that is not my role in this court as prosecutor. We are only concerned with whether you did these things, not why." Artemis paces around in a circle. "So you admit your guilt?"
"I do." Xena soullessly responds.
"And you are prepared to accept the full weight of punishment, as proscribed by Amazon law?"
"Good." Artemis replies, turning towards the Judge. "No further questions, Judge Malath."
"Defense counsel?" the Judge says quickly, wanting to wrap this up.
"Yes, I wish to cross-examine the witness, your Honor." Ares responds, getting up to his feet. He walks smoothly towards the witness stand, and Xena looks at him skeptically.
"Xena, you told me beforehand that it was I who urged you to kill Gabrielle, correct?"
"And where did this take place?"
"Atop Aeschylus mountain." Xena replies. The toneless howl that arose from her throat at the time now flicking through her mind.
"Why were you there?"
"I was singing a song of mourning for my dead son."
"The son whom you blamed Gabrielle for killing."
"Yes." Xena replies, looking down at her hands.
"And me. When I appeared to you. How did I look?" Ares asks, a jovial air in his voice.
"What?" Xena hisses.
"Look at me. Did I look any different, then?"
Xena looks at the War God. She looks at his eyes, his face, his curls of hair, his beard.
"Your beard!" Xena exclaims.
"My beard?" Ares asks. "What about it?"
"It was your sideburns. They were higher than from when I last saw you. At the time I thought it strange, but-"
"Your Honor, I am sure this is all very fascinating," Artemis interrupts, getting up, "but I fail to see how this has any relevance on these proceedings. Ares is well known for changing his appearance when it suits him."
"Indeed." the Judge notes, directing her glare at Ares. "I must ask where the defense counsel is going with this."
"Your Honor," Ares looks up, addressing her directly, "it is my intent to prove that it wasn't me who ordered Xena to kill her best friend!"
The gallery erupts in complaints, long and loud, and the Judge once again has to bang her gavel for order. Artemis falls into her chair, a disgusted look on her face, as she directs her glare to the God of War.
Once the court is quiet again, the Judge speaks. "And how are you planning to do this?"
"In time, your Honor, all in good time." Ares smoothly intones, making even Xena curl her lip in queasiness. "For now, as I have no further questions for the defendant, I wish to present my own witness."
"I was not informed of any new witnesses, your Honor!" Artemis objects.
"Neither was I." the Judge notes. "But given the very serious nature of this case, and the charges against this woman, I must be lenient and allow her defense to have his say. To a point, counsel." she adds with a raised eyebrow at Ares.
"Thank you, your Honor." Ares resumes, as Xena makes her way back to the defense table. "It is now known that after they plunged off the cliff, the two were granted a journey to the realm of Illusia, by special petition. I have just been informed that the grantor of this journey is willing to appear before this court."
"Very well, although I'll trust you to inform the court of any further new witnesses." the Judge admonishes. "You may proceed."
"I now call to the stand Hades, God of the Underworld."
The courtroom gasps as a dark form shimmers into existence before the Judge. Eschewing theatrical effects, Hades simply appears without any lightshows. Restraining the death aura which normally surrounds him, (and which would make mortals ill), he nods to the Judge, a slight smile on his face.
Dispassionate my ass, Ares thinks to himself, grimacing. He likes a splashy entrance before the mortals, just like anyone else.
"You may take the stand." the Judge motions with her gavel. She was shocked by his... ordinary appearance, but his armor was sufficiently imposing. It made him look every bit the overlord of the dead.
Hades strides up to the witness chair, and then waits as the bailiff holds up the Code of the Amazons. "Do you swear by Almighty Artemis to tell the whole truth and nothing but-"
"That won't be necessary." Artemis interrupts, waving at the bailiff. She looks to the Judge, and then withdraws the scroll. Hades takes his seat.
"Hades," Ares begins, "how does one go about obtaining a journey to Illusia?"
"A shade must petition me for the privilege." Hades begins, his voice clear and boyish. "Once I deem the person or persons worthy, arrangements are made to place their souls in abeyance, so that they may work out their differences in the Realm of Illusion."
"And who made this petition?"
"It was Xena's son, Solan." Hades replies, his dark gaze meeting Xena's.
"And his reasons for this?"
"He said it hurt him to know his mother and Gabrielle had broken up over him. He wanted to put things right between them."
Xena's gaze met Gabrielle's. They smiled at one another.
"How did he know they had broken ties with each other?" Ares asks.
"The dead can hear your thoughts." Hades replies, causing a murmur of whisperings to go through the courtroom.
"And what was the result of their time in Illusia?"
"There was no time involved." Hades corrects. "They came to terms with their differences, said goodbye to Solan, and returned to... real existence."
Ares raises an eyebrow at Hades' little joke, but deigns not to comment.
"Pardon me, Judge? Judge!" Gabrielle calls out as loud as she dares, starting to cough.
Judge Malath watches the young woman double over with pain, and decides on a whim to get off her stand and go down to her. "Yes, dear?"
"I want to ask him something. Please?" Gabrielle wheezes.
"Uh... Very well." the Judge decides. Having three deities in her court were strange enough circumstances, so having an out-of-turn question was quite acceptable, all things considered.
Gabrielle was helped up by her healer, and they made their way before the Ruler of the Dead. Idrine shook violently as she brought her eyes up to the personification of her lifelong foe, and then averted her gaze to the ground. One look was enough.
"Hades?" Gabrielle begins, tears forming in her eyes from the pain of moving. "My daughter. I have a daughter, Hope. Did she want this, too?"
"I'm sorry, who?" Hades asks in confusion, unconcerned at the lack of dignity in not knowing the answer.
"My daughter died, too. The... same time as Solan."
"I'm sorry." Hades stumbles, not following the mortal. "I have no such shade. Your bloodline ends with you."
"I don't understand." Gabrielle continues, as confused as he is. "She was also the daughter of Dahak."
Xena notices Ares flinch visibly at his mention. Could he truly be afraid of that upstart deity? When she told him that maybe he was on his way out like the Titans, she had only meant to insult him. Were her words closer to home than she thought?
"Ah..." Hades raises his eyebrows. "That's another matter. Creatures like... Dahak... do not procreate as humans or we Gods do. If you birthed his child, know that all her essence was from her father. She had no part of you within her."
"Not... a part of me?" Gabrielle realizes. The shock floods over Gabrielle, and she collapses against Idrine's steady grip. The aged healer began to lead her back to her chair.
"Idrine?" Hades asks, the murmurs in the courtroom falling silent.
She turns to acknowledge the Death God, her breath catching in her throat. "Yes?"
"Good job." he commends, enjoying her reaction as she leads her battered charge back to her chair.
The Judge motions to the defense council. "You may proceed."
"Hades," Ares begins again, "what happens when visitors depart Illusia?"
"I don't follow."
"Their bodies. What happens to their bodies?"
"Their bodies are healed of whatever injuries they incurred beforehand, and they are sent on their way."
"Yes, Xena and Gabrielle were healed of their injuries from their fatal fall together." Ares notes, pacing around importantly. "But what of Gabrielle's injuries before that?"
"Uh..." Hades pauses. The favor Ares owed him for this was growing larger and larger by the moment. "Those should have been healed as well."
"And in fact, they were healed when they returned from Illusia," Ares continues, his voice almost a snarl, "yet her wounds began reappearing within moments. Why?"
"I don't know." Hades answers truthfully.
"Is it possible..." Ares trails off, speaking to the gallery. "There was someone else there, someone who didn't want her wounds to be healed? Someone who had a vital interest in the separation of these two women?"
"Your Honor-" Artemis objects, but the Judge waves her hand down at her.
"You may answer the question." the Judge says to the witness.
"It is... possible." Hades concedes. "Once the healing effect of Illusia is over, it has no bearing on subsequent events."
"No further questions, your Honor." Ares concludes, walking back to the defense table.
"The witness is-" the Judge begins, but stops as Hades' body seems to waver and fade, and then he is gone. Not one to dally, that one.
"Do you have any more witnesses to present, counsel?" the Judge asks Ares.
"No, your Honor." Ares responds. "But I do request a recess in the trial to examine some new information."
"Granted." the Judge bangs her gavel. "The trial will resume in one hour."
"So, how do you think it's going?" Gabrielle asks Xena, who is back in her cell.
"How does it look?" Xena asks in response, getting up from her cot. "Gabrielle, from the way things are going, we have to expect the worst."
"Don't say that."
"Listen," Xena begins again, trying to clear her vision, "I want you to remember the good times we had... before all this, remember?"
"I remember." the bard smiles in response, reaching her good hand through the bars.
"And I want you to think of those adventures, where we helped people, and made a difference in their lives. I know all the good things I've done in my life were in large part because of you. I want you to hold on to those times, those memories, and don't let go of them. You promise?"
"I promise." Gabrielle responds sniffling, as Xena clutches her hand as hard as she dares. "I will, Xena. No matter what happens."
Their time together up, Xena watches her last friend go, and waits for the guards to unlock her cell. She then allows them to escort her to her fate. Like a lamb to its slaughter, she mirthlessly comments to herself.
"And that, your Honor," Artemis concludes, "is why this ruthless animal deserves nothing less than the death penalty. A warlord such as herself shouldn't even get one chance to reform, let alone two. Her fate must be death, and as swift as possible!"
"Xena, Warrior Princess." the Judge intones. "With the absence of your defense counsel, are you prepared to accept the verdict of this court?"
Xena stands up. "I am, your Honor."
Suddenly, a star flares into existence in the center of the court. Ares appears, and he does not look happy. "Hold on, your Honor. I have new evidence to present to the court."
"Objection, your Honor!" Artemis protests. "The trial is over. We are now in the sentencing phase."
"Denied." Judge Malath decides. "I'll not put someone to death before all evidence is heard. Be warned, War God, that should this merely be a delaying tactic, such will not go well for your client."
Like it's going well now, Xena thinks to herself, taking her seat again.
"I call now to the witness stand, Interim Queen Ephiny!" Ares declares, pointing at the blond in question.
After exchanging glances with her goddess, Ephiny scoots her chair back and walks up to the witness stand, taking her seat.
"Ephiny, when I asked you before why you let Joxer in, it was because he said he was a friend of Gabrielle's. But why did he need to be there then, at that time?"
"He... He said Xena was mad with grief," Ephiny begins, looking over at Xena. "and that he feared for Gabrielle's safety. Obviously, he turned out to be right."
"How many days had Gabrielle been undergoing the purification ritual in the Amazon village?"
"And Joxer arrived when?"
"One day into it." Ephiny replies.
"Thank you." Ares nods. "I have no further questions for this witness, your Honor. I now ask Joxer the Mighty to take the stand."
Ares waits as Ephiny goes back to her table, and a skeptical Joxer gets up again and retakes the stand.
"Your Honor, is this really necessary?" Joxer wheedles to the Judge, sitting down.
"I'm beginning to wonder myself." the Judge responds. "But that is not for you to determine. Proceed, counsel."
"Joxer, how did you know Gabrielle would go to this particular Amazon village?" Ares inquires.
"I just assumed so, since all of Gabby's friends were here."
"But how did you know any of them were her friends?"
"Objection, your Honor." Artemis insists. "I don't see the point in this line of questioning. What does it matter?"
"Sustained." the Judge decides. "You do not have to answer that question, Joxer. Counsel?"
Xena watches Ares' forehead. His temple veins were bulging out. She was certain he was going to lash out and fry everyone with his powers, but he seemed to calm down, and keep his cool.
"Alright then..." Ares demurs. "Let's go back to what you said. Joxer, you said you heard about their breakup while traveling. Could you be more specific?"
"I was passing through the Centaur village when I heard of what went down with Xena and Gabby." Joxer responds. "They said Xena looked real pissed, too."
"Which way was Xena heading?"
"To the Amazon village."
"And this is when you decided to go to the Amazon village to warn Gabrielle?"
"But is it not true you told Ephiny that you had seen Xena in the vicinity of Mount Aeschylus?" Ares questions, and the court fell silent.
"W-What?" Joxer stammers.
"You told her that that is why you came to warn the Amazons, that Xena was on her way from Mount Aeschylus." Ares presses.
"Well, uh..." Joxer hem-haws again, flustered. "I must have gotten my villages mixed up. Yeah, I passed through that Centaur village, and then went on to Mount Aeschylus."
"Are you sure?" Ares queries. "Yet you could not have known of Xena's presence there, and arrived at the Amazon village before her, could you?"
"I-I don't know." Joxer stammers.
"Xena has told me that she spent two days mourning at Mount Aeschylus."
"So?" Joxer exclaims, his face reddening. "You could have helped her, teleported her to speed her up!"
"Now that you mention it," Ares coolly responds, "Xena says that in fact, the Ares she talked to watched her remount Argo, and teleported them to the outskirts of the Amazon village. Minutes before she made her presence known there."
"So?" Joxer yelps.
"So how long did it take you to get from the mountain range to the Amazon village?"
"What does it matter?" Joxer says softly, darting his eyes around.
"You saw Xena at Mount Aeschylus, but she was only there for two days before she appeared in the Amazon village. It takes at least a fortnight to travel from that mountain to the village. Yet you arrived there before Xena, despite the fact she was teleported there two days after Ephiny says you arrived."
"So?!" Joxer repeats, a nervous expression creeping across his face.
"So you can't be in two places at the same time." Ares whispers in that low growl of his. "Unless someone teleported you."
"What?" the Judge exclaims, forgetting her decorum.
Ares reaches over and grabs Joxer by the wrist. "Joxer was teleported to the Amazon village by the same person who teleported Xena. Someone who wanted these women destroyed. Dahak! And Joxer here is a willing accomplice of Dahak. The charade is over, pal!"
"Is it?" Joxer smiles, his waxy complexion darkening.
"Ahhhhhh!!!" Ares exclaims as his hand erupts in flame. He withdraws his injured member, as pieces of it flare and drop to the floor.
Xena watches in shock as Ares steps back, his hand reduced to a smoldering stump, trailing fiery cinders to the floor. Joxer leaps over the stand with astonishing quickness and moves towards Ares. Ares lurches back, as Artemis steps forward to assist him.
"What are you?!" Artemis hisses, taking Ares by the shoulder.
"My daughter didn't live up to my expectations," Dahak clicks his tongue, "so I suppose I'll just have to take matters into my own hands."
Dahak moves far quicker than a mortal should, and plunges his fist into Artemis' belly.
The court spectators cry out as they watch their Goddess scream, a hand reaching all the way through her lower back.
"Amazons, clear out of here!" Ephiny orders as a bolt of power flies from Ares' remaining hand, arcing into Dahak.
Dahak staggers, and withdraws his hand from the Goddess. Where his hand had been, a hole now exists in the Goddess' middle, fiery embers sparking and spitting from her body. He adopts a silly grin as Ares continues pouring his power at him.
The bolts lance out behind Dahak as he turns, and impact into the opposite wall, causing several beams to collapse onto the Judge's platform with a thunderous crash.
Dahak reaches out to Ares again as twin beams of divine power erupt from Artemis' eyes, blasting into the dark deity.
"Ha Ha Hah Hah!" the one who looks like Joxer exults as her power floods into him. "Your godly might has no effect on me! Die godling!" he reaches out to Ares' chest, his hand searing him upon contact. Ares screams as bolts of energy fly randomly from him around the gallery.
"Ay Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi Yi!" Xena yells, somersaulting just as a random bolt shatters her chair into kindling. Landing behind Ares, she grabs his shoulder and yanks him away from Dahak's touch. They both fall heavily to the floor, the shock of touching the charged War God knocking Xena senseless. Ares coughs once, and fades away with a star of divine light.
"Flee, puny god!" Dahak laughs, turning to Artemis. "You cannot flee forever!"
Artemis' power explodes randomly in all directions, sending Amazons running as her power shatters walls and rows of benches. Ephiny ducks for cover under her table, only to have it collapse on top of her. Artemis clutches her chest as if dying, and fades away as well.
"Pah!" Dahak huffs. He turns to the remaining mortals. "Going somewhere, my love?" he calls out to Gabrielle, who was being helped out by her healer. He quickly walks over and shoves the old woman aside.
"Idrine!" Gabrielle cries out, falling down. She looks up at the thing before them. "Joxer?!?!"
"Dahak the Mighty, he's very frighty. Everyone will die for him, he's so handsome it's a sin!" Dahak laughs at her horrified expression. "Surprise. Your friend came to Britannia months before you did, having heard of my peaceful order, my temple. He wanted to mend a broken heart, so he said, it made him crave oblivion. I gave it to him, and took his place amongst the puny mortals of your world."
"It can't be..." Gabrielle whispers, losing her voice. She looks over at Idrine, but the aged woman was unconscious. It's up to me. "You did this to us."
"Of course." Dahak explains, gleeful to do so. "Xena's hatred for Caesar allowed me to lure her to Britannia, she brought you to me. And her anger at you for the death of her boy allowed me to influence her again. She made it soooo easy for me. But then, I knew all along I had to destroy Xena to get to you."
"No..." Gabrielle whispers, scooting backwards as he leans closer to her. "Xena!"
"She cannot help you... No one can help you..." Dahak mocks, edging closer to her. "Don't be shy. I'll be gentle. As gentle as I was the first time."
The monster grins at Gabrielle, and she realizes that this really is the thing that raped her in Britannia. If I can just reach my staff.
"I want to do it again..." Dahak slurs, arcane flames dancing in his eyes. "It felt... goooood."
"Yaahhhhh!!!" Xena yells from behind him.
Swinging a discarded sword with all of her righteous fury, Xena arcs the blade at Joxer's face just as he turns. Her blade strikes home, carving through teeth and jaw in a diagonal slash that tears chunks of cheek off. The deity stands completely stunned for a moment, allowing broken teeth and blood to spill out of his mouth.
"Aahhhh -ahhh-ah- Whatf?!" Dahak talks out of his broken mouth, his eyes wild with surprise. He kneels down on the floor, his power fluctuating as he stares at the pieces of his face lying before him.
"No God of Olympus can stand against you, that's true." Xena notes, slinging bits of flesh off her blade. "But it looks like you're not so sturdy against the hand of a mortal."
Xena swings again, intending to chop Dahak's head in half with her blow, but the God reaches out with inhuman quickness, and slaps her sword out of her grasp in mid-stroke. Then before she can react, he lashes out again, slamming his fist into her sternum with a sickening crack.
Xena falls heavily onto her rear, too stunned to groan. Her entire chest felt broken. Lucky my heart didn't stop, she thinks to herself, cringing in pain. Got to get up. Gabrielle... needs me.
"So much for that pitiful interruption." Dahak sneers, his teeth and jaw slowly mending and pulling together. He watches as Xena half gets up and fails, gritting her teeth in repressed pain. "You are angry. Good."
She begins to crawl towards the God in mortal form.
"I appreciate rage." Dahak commends, "But your time is done, Xena. You cannot help Gabrielle, or your doomed world." He puts his hand down to get up.
Suddenly, a staff appears before him, and it drops around his neck. Two hands clutch hard at the sides of his neck, pressing the staff into his throat.
"I am not a victim!" Gabrielle cries from behind him, her righteous fury giving her strength. "I am an Amazon Queen!!!"
Dahak reaches up to brush away the pesky nuisance, but finds to his surprise that he could only grab at her hands with Joxer's strength. He scrabbles uselessly at her iron-hard grip, watching helplessly as Xena pulls herself closer and closer to him.
"Hurry Xena!" Gabrielle whispers. "I can't hold him forever!"
Xena pulls herself up past his legs, and lurches herself upright, as needles of white-hot agony shoot through her ribs. Hovering before Dahak for just a moment, Xena darts her fingers out in a flash at his body's vital points.
"Uhkkkkk!!" Dahak chokes as she cuts off the flow of blood to his brain. He tries desperately to move, to kill, but he cannot. It is all he can do to watch Xena fall away, as Gabrielle releases her staff from him.
"Ahhh!!!" Gabrielle falls backward, her wounds making the world spin around her.
At the same time, Xena collapses on his feet, the pain from her broken ribs and collarbone making her pass out.
Ephiny pushes the table off her, carefully cradling her splinted arm out from under it. She gets to her feet, standing up in the pooling smoke. Smoke? she thinks, looking around. The courtroom is on fire! Ephiny makes her way over to Idrine, and tries to bring her around. Someone starts mumbling. It was Joxer's voice, but Dahak's words.
"No...." he wheezes, his life fading from him. "This is not how it was supposed to be. There was going to be such bloodshed. Such chaos. My legions were going to cleanse the world. Not me... I was going to... liiive..."
The last few seconds pass whereupon his points could be safely unpressed. And Dahak, would-be conqueror of worlds, dies.
Gabrielle awakes with a start. Something was happening to her. She looks over at Dahak, only to see his body begin shriveling away. His skin and flesh evaporate into nothing, leaving naught but bones. And then, even those crumble to dust.
But that was nothing compared to what was happening to her. She felt her legbone slide fully into its socket, the pain receding from it. Her broken bones began to knit, filling her with life. Cuts on her legs and arms disappeared. Her head stopped throbbing. And by the time the dust from Dahak's bones faded away, Gabrielle felt whole again.
"Xena! Xena!" she cries out, getting up. Xena was lying on the floor unconscious, as the flames above her licked at the ceiling.
"Gabrielle!" Ephiny yells, and the bard whirls to see her pushing a recovered Idrine out the doorway. "Are you alright?!"
"I've got Xena." the Amazon Queen calls, flipping her staff up as she begins gathering Xena's form. Gods, she's heavy, Gabrielle thinks as she lifts from the knees and hefts Xena up, holding her in her arms. Just like when you rescued me from Dahak. She makes her way out of the burning courtroom just in time, as Ephiny carries the injured Judge over her shoulder.
A safe distance away, Gabrielle lays Xena gently down on the grass, and slumps down beside her. She watches Ephiny set down her charge before her, and Judge Malath sits up, coughing.
"C'mon Xena..." Gabrielle whispers gently, brushing the warrior's cheek. "Wake up."
Xena flutters her blue eyes awake. Her pupils wander around for a moment and then focus on the beautiful face leaning over her. "Now there's a sight for sore eyes."
Gabrielle cannot contain her relief anymore, and sweeps her arms around the warrior, hugging her out of pure joy. "We're safe now! We're safe."
"Agh-Gabrielle." Xena nearly gags, gently pushing the bard away. Xena sets her arm down. "My ribs... cracked. Don't touch. But you... your injuries! They're gone!" Xena exclaims, her eyes wide with wonder.
"When it died, all my wounds started healing." Gabrielle observes in equal wonder. "I guess it was his power keeping me from healing."
"Xena?" Ephiny asks, sitting down beside her.
"How do your ribs feel?" the Amazon asks, looking over at the flames as they completely consume the courthouse.
Xena pauses a moment before smiling. "Like they were yanked out of my chest and shoved back in."
"Good." Ephiny nods. "That makes me feel better about my broken arm. A little." she adds with a smile.
"I'm sorry about your arm, Ephiny. Really."
"I forgive you, Xena." the Interim Queen allows, sighing.
She looks over at Judge Malath, who is watching them while cradling a nasty gash on her forearm. "Judge Malath, I'd like to drop my charge against Xena, if you don't mind."
"This -cough- seems like extenuating circumstances to me." the Judge observes, clearing the smoke from her throat. "So be it!"
"And the remaining charge?" Gabrielle asks.
"Mental coercion by a demon..." Judge Malath ponders, rubbing her chin. "He admitted his guilt just before -cough- the death sentence was carried out... Hmmm. I don't think I've ever heard of something like this happening before. It's a precedent-setter."
"Which is?" Gabrielle asks hopefully.
"Case... dismissed!" the Judge rules, discharging her last official duty. Exhaling loudly, she flops herself down on the grass.
"Easy does it." Gabrielle observes, setting Xena's tightly-bandaged body down on her royal bed.
Xena does her best not to show any pain, and settles in against her pillow as Gabrielle clambers into bed beside her.
Gabrielle claps her hands. "That will be all."
Her guards bow as low as they can, and depart the royal bedchamber.
Gabrielle lolls her head into the crook of Xena's neck. Xena gasps audibly, making the bard quickly sit up.
"No!" Xena exclaims, reaching for her soft hair, pulling her head back down to her. "Stay here."
"But I hurt you."
"No, you didn't." Xena explains, wincing in pain as the bard settles her head against her again. "I want you here. Next to me. Nothing could make me feel better."
"I know what you mean." Gabrielle admits, smiling up at the ceiling. "I feel like all the troubles of the past year have been lifted away."
"Good." Xena agrees.
"Plus," the bard chuckles, "now I get to take care of you, and spoil you rotten."
"You could never spoil me, Gabrielle."
"Say that again." the bard whispers.
"Gabrielle." Xena drawls.
"I love the way you say it. I... missed hearing you say it that way."
Gabrielle was silent for a moment, and Xena took the opportunity to inhale the scent from her strawberry-blond hair. "I love you Gabrielle. And I want to be by your side, for as long as I have breath."
"I love you too, Xena." Gabrielle responds, her hand searching for and finding Xena's. "Till death do us part."
Xena nuzzles her nose into Gabrielle's hair and, with a smile on her face, gradually drifts off to a well-deserved rest.
In the 3rd season of Xena Warrior Princess, Gabrielle's character was changed from Amazon Queen to Permanent Victim. She was raped, impregnated, abandoned, repeatedly maimed, and violently abused this season, the latter by her supposed best friend. Her love has been thrown back in her face, her courage spit upon. Her values of compassion and decency have been mocked and impugned at every opportunity. This must end. The writers of the show think that by devolving and demeaning Xena and Gabrielle's characters, they are improving a "stale" show. They are dead wrong. They are killing the show.
Let's all hope for an excellent 4th season! Shade and Sweet Water to you.
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