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GENERAL COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: All characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction.
Any other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author (meaning Kharis belongs to me). This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
LOVE: This story depicts a loving relationship between two women, a girl, a Goddess, and anyone else who loves someone that is close to them. If you can't stand the idea that women can have a loving relationship with those that are around them or each other then please keep your closed mind where it belongs and don't bother reading this story. 'Nuff said
VIOLENCE: This is Xena we're taking about. Of course things can get violent when you are fighting with a round killing thing and it's sharp pointy counterpart.
This is the third story in my Sins of a God Series that has taken on a life of its own. If you haven't read the first two stories, starting with And Then There Was Two, some of the events and/or characters might not make sense so check them out before tackling this one. Comments, suggestions, and flames are always welcome so write me if you have something to say.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
The sharp clash of metal against metal permeated the once still clearing as two opponents circled each other, searching for any openings of weakness. Steel blades shimmered in the sun's early light as the swords were whirled around heads and bodies in intricate patterns of attack and defence. Neither opponent wasted excess energy or movement as they continued to parry, thrust, and slash at each other with utmost control and refinement.
Sweat glistened off the two dark bodies as identical shades of midnight hair swayed around chiseled cold features. Steel blue eyes locked momentarily with harsh golden orbs as a thought was passed between the two combatants. Nodding in unison both opponents stood back and saluted the other in the warrior's salute before dropping their respective swords to their sides.
The tall, bronzed warrior princess smiled at her smaller companion as she sheathed her sword behind her back and walked towards the young woman, "Let's get something to drink before we get back to the village. You've done a good morning's work here."
The young woman grimaced a bit as she tried to regain a normal breathing pattern before she could reply back, "I don't think... I could drink... without... drowning myself... right now."
Xena chuckled as she placed a well toned arm around her sister's shoulder and led the woman to the water skins that hung on a nearby tree; "Just take a few deep breaths and control your breathing like I taught you."
Kharis allowed a sharp sigh to escape from her lips as she concentrated on regaining her breath and felt the tingling in her body dissipate. Rubbing tired arm muscles the young woman glared up at her sister, "Why aren't you breathing like a stuck pig?"
"Conditioning," Xena smirked after she took a swig from the water skin before handing it to her sister.
"Pfft. You and your damn conditioning. A lot of good it's doing for me. One month has passed and I'm still in the same shape I was before," Kharis frowned as she took the water skin handed to her and allowed a few small mouthfuls of water to quench her overwhelming thirst.
"You're being too hard on yourself. You can't gauge your progress from what I can do Khar. I've been doing this as long as you've been alive."
"Doesn't matter," Kharis seethed. "We're running out of time and you know it as well as I do. I don't have years to be as good as you. I have maybe a few more months if we're lucky."
Xena could see the anguish and fear lying beneath the surface in the twin pools of gold looking up at her. The warrior felt the same apprehension growing in herself but never allowed her sister to know it. The girl, who once stood up to Xena's sword and demanded she trust her or kill her now, was afraid to trust herself. Like a weed, the misdoubt would continue to grow until it overwhelmed the very core of her sister. If unchecked it would eventually be her downfall, leading to her death.
'Mind over matter' the bard had said once during a late night discussion of Kharis and her training. 'She has a mind as strong, maybe even stronger than yours, Xena. If she would only allow that mind to believe she is ready then she will be. She just needs to have faith in herself and her abilities.'
Sage words from a wise bard but words none-the-less if the girl in question couldn't, wouldn't believe in herself. Though she had excelled in every bit of training she was subjected to she never broke the barrier, allowing her to be free from just the training, that would permit her natural abilities to take over. Fear held her back. Fear of what she was and fear of what she could become.
Xena recognised the fear and, though she never pushed the envelop concerning her sister holding back, she knew she would have to confront the girl before it was too late. Mentally berating herself for not rectifying it sooner she silently promised her sister that tonight the air would be cleared.
"Come on. Solari has you set up for bow training this afternoon after Elysse has finished with you."
Twin eyebrows turned downward as a scowl quickly crossed the girl's face, "Why do I have to spend time with that flighty priestess? I'm supposed to be learning how to be a warrior, not one of Artemis' prophets."
Xena chuckled deeply as she tried to soothe her sister's impatience, "If you are to be initiated into the tribe you have to be a follower of Artemis. And to do that you have to learn her teachings. Besides, it's only for another week. Ely said she's pretty much tapped dry when concerning you and that memory of yours."
"Good. Then I can start chobo training with Pony."
"Yup, and start javelin training with Eph. She says that your handling the staff pretty efficiently right now but..." Xena let it hang hoping that maybe she could start a few certain wheels turning in the young woman's head.
"But you won't go any further with the training. Why's that?"
Kharis shrugged as she turned away from her sister's curious gaze, "Thought I was going to be using the sword more often than not so figured that I learnt all I really needed to know about the staff."
"Uh huh," Xena said as she let a small inflection of inquiry into her voice.
"Really," Kharis said as she turned back to Xena. "But if you think I should continue with the training then I will."
"I do," Xena said seriously as she placed two calloused hands on her sister's shoulders. "And when you do go back to it I want you to really try from now on."
Confusion clearly registered on Kharis' face as she tried to figure out what Xena was saying, "But I thought you made me promise not to do that unless I'm training with you?"
"That was then, this is now. From now on I want you to do what you should be doing. Learning how to fight and survive with every means possible. And if that means showing the Amazons how proficient you really are then so be it. It's about time they learnt who the real Kharis is."
"Are you sure? It's been hard enough in the village as it is. What with them all baiting me to show them that I'm really your sister. They think that I'll just start kicking ass like you do."
"Well can't you?" a small glimmer of amusement shone in azure eyes.
"Not like you do, no."
"But in your own way, yes. If you would allow yourself to," Xena stated as she started to walk back to the village leaving a perplexed Kharis standing in the clearing.
Catching up to the warrior the girl fell in step, silently pondering what her sister had meant by that. 'If I allowed myself to?' Shaking her head slightly Kharis understood where Xena was coming from but didn't want to accept it so decided to leave it till later as they entered the village.
Crossing through the main courtyard, Kharis felt eyes continually following her progress beside the warrior. Life in the village had fallen into a routine, since she had been brought back from her failed attempt at taking Caesar's life, but a routine that was void of companionship, besides Gabrielle and her sister. The only Amazons that would willingly spend any time with the young woman where her trainers - Ephiny, Solari, Eponin, and Elysse. Beyond those four not one Amazon was inclined to speak to her or even acknowledge the girl's presence unless they wanted to challenge her. Yet every where she went their eyes would follow her, watching and judging.
At first she attributed it to being Xena's sister and the mystique that had already developed around the girl from her disappearance in front of the royal guards' own eyes. When she still wasn't accepted, the young woman reasoned that her own aloof manner around the Amazons was to blame and tried to make a concerted effort to engage those closer to her age in discussions during and after training. That went over like a trip down to Tartarus.
Finally she realised that it was her 'freakish' abilities that spooked most of the Amazons and thus alienated herself from them worse than if she was a hydra. Pulling back and faltering during training was the only way to relieve the open jealousy and animosity, yet it still did not relieve the tension. Failure was not an option, but how could one fight a battle when the battlefield hadn't been drawn yet?
Xena marched up the temple steps nodding her head slightly to the high priestess, Elysse, who was waiting for her pupil; "Here she is. Ready and willing for your teachings." The priestess smiled slightly as Kharis walked around her sister and leapt up the steps into the temple without a backward glance.
"Ready, I'm sure Xena, but willing? No. That one doesn't want to open her heart to Artemis."
"She's young, Elysse, and doesn't trust the gods, even if one of them is the Patron Goddess of the Amazons."
"That's precisely my point. She's too young to be jaded towards the gods. It does not bode well."
"It has for me," Xena smirked. "Besides, a good healthy disdain for gods will enable her to resist Ares' call when he comes for her."
"That is why she should embrace Artemis. With Kharis under our Patron's wing she will be protected from him." The priestess smiled reassuringly, trying to make the stubborn warrior before her understand the power that her Goddess held.
"No. She will never be protected from him, despite your faith in Artemis. Trust me. I know," Xena said as she allowed her darkness to shine through for a brief moment. Elysse gasped slightly at the change in the warrior before her. Once placid, and almost harmless, Xena was now taut with lethal foreboding.
"I do believe you Xena," Elysse said haltingly. "But you gave me the job of training your sister. For that I have to ask you to trust me. To know what I'm talking about."
"You know your stuff and that's the most I can expect from you," Xena said as she placed the darkness back in its cage. Nodding once again to the priestess, the warrior princess left the temple steps and headed towards the Queens' hut.
Sighing, Elysse turned and entered the temple, praying to her Goddess to give her the strength to help the young girl waiting inside.
Kharis paced back and forth in the small learning chamber as she waited for the priestess to arrive. She was sick of the woman's ramblings about Artemis and only stayed because of a promise made to her sister. If Xena thought learning about the Goddess was in her best interests, then Kharis would learn, grudgingly.
Picking up one of the scrolls lying about the tables, Kharis grimaced as she sat down on the floor and unrolled the parchment. 'Might as well do some reading while I wait.' Deep in concentration, she never noticed a small Amazon enter the room and walk towards her.
"Scuse me," the woman said softly as Kharis leapt to her feet, dropping the scroll onto the ground. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to startle you."
"You didn't," Kharis said nonchalantly, despite the fevered pounding of her heart. "I haven't seen you in the village before. You new here?"
"You could say that," the woman replied as she bent down and retrieved the fallen parchment. "How are you liking our village?"
"It's all right I guess," Kharis replied as she studied the small woman before her. Not much bigger than herself, Kharis marvelled at the woman's cool air of confidence. Tanned muscles glistened in the soft light of the room as the woman smiled. A rather large bow with arrows was held fast to the woman's back and didn't seem to hamper her graceful movement. Dressed in forest green clothing the Amazon nearly shone.
"You're not sure?" the woman asked as she strolled around the room, caressing any scroll that was visible.
"I'd rather be on the road than here. At least out there you know who your enemies are," Kharis admitted despite herself.
"You feel you have enemies here?" the woman asked innocently as she studied the girl.
"No one has tried to dissuade me otherwise. Most treat me like one anyways."
"If you believe yourself to be the enemy than others will treat you accordingly."
"Aren't I?" the girl whispered despite herself.
The stocky Amazon laughed as she approached Kharis, "No, you aren't. You are only a child who is scared of what she will become."
"And what is that?" Kharis sneered, daring the woman to even guess what she was truly afraid of.
"I know about your fears of the prophecy and what you are fated to become."
"How do you..." the girl stammered as fear quickly leapt into golden eyes.
"I have been watching you ever since you entered our village," the woman simply replied. "I knew you were to be the One and have been guarding you from afar until the day you would need my help. That day is coming soon I fear."
Unsheathing her sword, Kharis leveled the tip against the woman's chest, "And what makes you think I would want your help?"
"Because time is running out for you. You are at the crossroads at this moment and if you don't chose wisely all will be lost," the small woman smiled as she stepped closer into the sword's tip, allowing it to caress her breast. Mellow brown eyes held golden pools hypnotically for a few brief seconds before Kharis was given release.
"What choices do I have?" the girl sneered. "Ares already owns my soul."
"That is where you are wrong. If you continue to ignore the darkness that is within you than yes, Ares has laid claim to your soul. But if you follow the path that your sister has taken, then he will have no hold over you. The darkness within you both is the key."
"What do you know about darkness?"
"I know that it exists in all of us, as does the light. Unlike pure evil, the darkness within us serves a purpose. Some, like you and Xena, are comprised of darkness more than others but it is a part of the whole none-the-less. Learn from your sister. She allows her darkness to sit close to her heart while keeping it afar and thus uses it for good. Only by perceiving evil can you truly understand how to overcome it."
"I won't allow it to overcome me," Kharis swore as the sword dropped to her side.
Lightly stroking Kharis' cheek the stocky Amazon smiled as she shook her head; "But you already have. By denying it's existence you have allowed it entrance into your heart. There it will rest, gathering its strength until it is too late for you to combat it. Once that happens then there will be no turning back. You will be lost."
"Why do you care?" Kharis growled as she whipped her head away from the woman's soothing touch.
"What happens to you will affect us all. My first duty is to protect the Amazons and if that means that I must protect you as well than so be it."
"How can you protect me? I have enough protection as it is and in the long run it still won't be enough."
"Your sister and fellow Amazons are protecting your mind and body by teaching that which you need to know. I am here to help protect your soul."
Kharis snorted as she turned away from the woman and walked to a lone window facing the village square, her sword still resting by the side of her thigh; "My soul isn't worth protecting."
"Do you truly believe that?" the woman asked concerned.
"Then you will need my protection more than you know. Along with my brother and sister we will always be here when you need us," the woman said tenderly. "Experience the darkness Kharis and learn from it. From that you will not only save your soul but your sister's as well."
"Your brother and sister?" Kharis asked curiously as she turned to face the woman, only to find herself once again alone in the room. A sudden chill crept down her spine as Kharis sucked in a sharp breath, uncertain whether she was truly alone. Calming now fragile nerves, she sheathed her sword and quickly walked out of the room into a startled Elysse.
"Sweet Artemis child, you scared the Tartarus out of me," the high priestess gasped.
"I don't think I could handle any lessons today, priestess. I will return tomorrow to pick up where we left off last time," Kharis said coldly.
"Your sister believes..." Elysse started but was stopped by a few fingers covering her lips.
"I never said I was stopping the lessons. I just need some time to think. I promise I will be back tomorrow," Kharis swore as she dropped her hand.
Leaving the priestess, the girl walked down the hall coming to a stop by a small altar. Bowing her head slightly the girl grimaced as she voiced her fears, "You are wrong Artemis. I can't allow myself to succumb to the darkness that Ares gave me. I fear I'll never come back and I won't allow that to happen. Protect your Amazons well Artemis. For they will need it very soon."
Xena was at odds with herself when she entered the Queens' hut. Finding the hut empty, the warrior princess quickly removed her weapons and body armour before tackling her greaves and boots. Finally being rid of them she walked softly into the next room to the Queen's private bath house. Finding that scented water was already steaming in the large tub Xena allowed a small smile as she stripped out of her leathers and britches and stepped into the soothing water. Sighing with relief the warrior closed her eyes and allowed her mind to wander as the hot water slowly relaxed her tense body.
Two delicately formed hands rested lightly on the side of the tub for a few moments before moving to Xena's tight shoulders to knead the tension out of them. Exhaling with contentment, Xena kept her eyes closed as her bard continued to work on the shoulders.
"How did it go?" Gabrielle asked as she moved to a particularly hard spot by Xena's neck.
"Practice went well but she's still holding back," Xena purred as her body started to feel like jelly from the warm water and the light touch.
"Have you talked to her yet?"
"No, she won't listen to reason. I should know. No, I'm going to have to do something more confrontational I think."
Wisps of light blonde hair gently grazed Xena's shoulders as Gabrielle gave her soulmate a light kiss on the top of her head, "Is that really the best thing to do?"
"I don't know," Xena sighed. "But it's the only thing that I can think of right now. Nothing else has worked so far and we are running out of time. I thought for sure she would have broken through her fears by now but... well something drastic has to happen and I'd rather be there when it does, just in case."
"You want me to talk to her?"
"Honestly, Gabrielle, I don't think it would do much good. This is something that has to be done, not discussed. She has to release her battle lust while she can still be protected, not when it's too late to bring her back from it."
"Why have you never pushed me to release... well... you know ?" Gabrielle asked all of a sudden, surprised at herself for even thinking it.
Sky blue eyes opened and turned to look into misty green orbs, "Because once you did there would be no going back. You would then be on the path of a killer and that, my sweet bard, is not for you."
"I have killed before," Gabrielle whispered as she left Xena's back and sat on a small stool beside the tub.
"Yes, you have. But both times were with great remorse during and after. A warrior never thinks about the kill, they just do it. There is no remorse until the end of the day and even then, most of the times, there is even no remorse."
"So you're going to force Kharis into a situation where she will have to kill?"
"No," Xena soothed as she began to wash her legs. "I can help her release the battle lust without having to shed blood. If I'm there she won't even hurt anyone."
"And then what?"
"Then I will show her how to control it, bend it to her will so that she can call upon it when she needs to without fearing the consequences."
Gabrielle took the sponge out of Xena's hands and scuttled the stool closer to the tub. "Here, let me get your back," the bard said as she began to wash well defined muscles in silence.
Hanging her head in her arms Xena calmly waited for Gabrielle to finish before taking the sponge back to work on her arms and chest; "Dinar for your thoughts."
"What would happen if she couldn't control it like you do?"
"I don't know, Gabrielle. I guess we'd have to worry about that when we crossed that bridge. She'll control it though. I'm sure of it."
"How can you be sure? You've lost control before." the bard said softly.
"Yes, I have. And if it wasn't for you I would probably still be out of control. But that's because of the years I lived in the grip of hatred and anger. Kharis has only experienced that recently so she won't be as strongly tempted, like I am all the time."
Gabrielle stood up and walked to the front of the tub, concern plainly showing on her face, "Are you always tempted? Every day?"
"Almost every day. No matter how tranquil, or at peace, I may be with myself something inevitably happens that stirs it up and tries to draw me back. Whether it is from a battle, seeing the innocent being down-trodden, or even something as simple as going stir crazy I'm always tempted to give in but I don't."
"Because of me," Gabrielle stated simply, fully understanding the consequences of her bond to the warrior.
Xena nodded, "Once, it was only because of you. But now, committing an act for the greater good drives the demons away much more quickly then before. Maybe in a while that will be all that is needed."
"So you're saying that one day I'll be dispensable? That's a pleasing thought," Gabrielle jokingly said as she caught a mischievous glint in the warrior's eyes.
"Never worry about that my bard," Xena drawled as she quickly grabbed Gabrielle's hands and yanked her into the tub head first. Pulling the bard's head up out of the water Xena laughed at the drowned puppy look she was being given. "You are truly indispensable to me for many, many reasons."
"One of them being your water toy?" Gabrielle sputtered as she pushed soaking bangs out of her eyes. "Gods Xena, I wasn't the one needing a bath."
Innocent blue eyes sparkled at the bard, "I just wanted to return the favour for the back rub."
"You could have done that once you got out of the tub you know," Gabrielle complained halfheartedly.
"Now what kind of fun would that be?" Xena grinned evilly as she helped Gabrielle out of her shift and proceeded to show the bard how back rubs were much nicer in a hot bath.
Kharis sighed as she brought her plate of food in the stable and sat down on a bale of hay beside a cross-tied Argo. Ripping a piece of meat from the large bone the young woman methodically chewed the venison as her thoughts betrayed the cool air of indifference that enveloped her outer being. Something as simple as breaking fast in the mess hall was taxing on the girl as time after time one of the younger Amazons would challenge her to a contest in arms before she was even five feet within the door. Whispers of cowardice and weakness always followed her when she declined the challenge.
"They just won't leave me alone, Argo," Kharis spoke to the mare as a small amount of juice from the meat dribbled down her chin. "If they aren't baiting me into a fight then they're ignoring me. I don't know how much longer I can take it."
The golden mare snorted as Kharis continued to eat and speak randomly, "I'm not a coward despite what they may say. You know that, doncha Argo? I mean, don't they realise what would happen if I was to fight one of them. To really fight? I could kill them without even thinking about it. Then where would I be?"
Argo nickered as the mare shoved her nose into Kharis' shoulder. Offering the mare a piece of her bread Kharis sighed as Argo willingly took the offering.
"I wish I never was born. Things would be simpler for everyone. But I'm here and there is nothing I can do about it," Kharis said to the mare as she finished the rest of her meal.
Placing her plate down, Kharis stood up and started currying Argo, reveling in the rhythmic exercise. After the mare's coat, mane, and tail were glistening Kharis wrapped her arms around Argo's neck and buried her face in the flaxen mane.
"No matter how hard I try to believe that things will work out in the end I just can't, Argo. Somewhere in my soul I know that the road I am on will lead to many deaths. How can I change that? How can I accept that?" Kharis cried suddenly as a tall shadow loomed over the young woman.
"You can and you will," Xena said as her startled sister whipped around to face the warrior. Gabrielle, who was standing patiently behind Xena, smiled warmly to soothe the girl's distress.
"How long have you been standing there?" Kharis asked warily.
"Long enough to try and shake some sense into you," Xena replied bluntly.
"Xena, be nice," Gabrielle said as she went and stood beside Kharis, reaching up and stroking away an errant tear off the girl's cheek. "Don't worry, Khar. We'll think of something. You won't have to go through this alone."
"Gabrielle, quit coddling her. She's a woman now and should start acting like one."
Gabrielle whirled around, hands on hips, as the bard angrily glared at Xena; "Xena? How can you be so cruel?"
"I'm not being cruel. I'm being practical. Kharis, you need to realise something and accept it. You aren't who you are because of your parents but who you make yourself to be. If you believe that Ares has won, than he has. Plain and simple. You might as well go off and start leading his army right now. But that would be the coward's way out and you are not a coward. At least you weren't a few months ago."
Golden eyes flamed for a few moments before the fire was doused as Kharis bit her bottom lip, trying to maintain her composure. "And what is that supposed to mean?" she asked sullenly.
"Over the past two months you have been hiding from accepting what you are. You're a warrior and a warrior only has one purpose. To fight for the greater good even if that means using whatever is necessary," Xena said emphatically.
"What do you want from me? I've been learning all that I can as quickly as I can. How much more can I do?"
"How much more? For starters, how about accepting the fact that there is bloodlust cursing through your veins every time you pick up the sword? How about accepting the darkness that is within you and using it to your advantage? How about being honest with your teachers and yourself for a change and really learn all that you can?" Xena said softly, hoping that Gabrielle would jump in any time. Sensitive chats were definitely not the warrior's thing, even with her own sister, and this chat was not one of her most sensitive ones.
"I have been learning all that I can. I'm better than most of those Amazons out there at almost every weapon. Isn't that good enough?" Kharis cried.
"No, it's not Khar," Gabrielle jumped in. "I've watched you during practices. You never act, just react. You are only better than them because your reactions are quicker, no more. Until you accept everything that makes you what you are, you might as well not even bother with the charade you've been pulling. You might as well put down the sword and give up."
"I don't get you guys," Kharis laughed bitterly. "First you tell me to hold back, than you tell me to go for it. I'm not supposed to submit to Ares call yet you want me to submit to the bloodlust that he gave me. I'm going crazy, I just know it."
"No, you're just hiding and that stops right now," Xena said suddenly. "Ephiny is in the middle of staff practice right now and you're going to participate."
"But..." Kharis stammered as Xena pointed to the open stable door.
"No buts, we're going!" Xena ordered as she strode out of the barn, never looking back to see if Kharis was there.
Following along behind her sister, Kharis ignored those around her as she slipped into her own discontent, hoping that the practice session would be over before they got there. Not paying attention, Kharis bounced off Xena's back as the warrior came to a stop in front of the group of young Amazons being trained by Ephiny. Clearing her throat Xena caught the eye of the Regent as Kharis stepped around her sister to stand behind the tall woman.
"Eph, got room for one more?" the warrior asked as she recognised the hostile glares directed at her sister from the other Amazons.
Ephiny smile warmly at the girl as she motioned with her head for Kharis to join the circle, "Of course we do. Kharis can take the next bout."
Kharis sat down in the circle as the girls on either side of shuffled further away. Ignoring the affront, the girl watched the staff bout that was taking place in front of her with keen eyes. Noticing opening after opening, that the Regent left, Kharis snorted as the young trainee in the centre of the circle ignored the invitations and fought a defence battle.
Many of the other trainees sitting in the circle scowled at Kharis. Xena, standing off to the side with Gabrielle, hid a smile at her sister's obvious impatience but softly chastised the girl through will alone. Feeling her sister's disapproval through their blood bond, Kharis held her next remark as the trainee's legs were swiped from her and the girl took a heavy fall onto the ground.
Ephiny held an arm out and helped the girl up while she gestured to the group, "What was the fatal error that Mara made?"
"She never attacked," Kharis blurted out.
"And why is that fatal, Khar?"
"Defence is only good for a short term. Eventually you have to attack if you want to neutralise your opponent. You can't hold out forever by only using defensive manoeuvres. You'll be dead."
Ephiny smiled as she caught Xena's eye, "Why don't you show us Khar."
Kharis bit her bottom lip as she stood up and relieved herself of the small scabbard across her back. Placing it down in her spot, the young woman walked towards the centre of the ring and picked up the fallen staff laying in the dust. Saluting the woman in front of her Kharis took a defensive stance as the Regent's staff flew towards her torso. The clash of deflection resounded throughout Kharis' body as she thrust the bottom of her staff at exposed legs only to be efficiently blocked.
The two fighters circled each other, trading blows as each tried to gain the upper hand. Both woman were sweating profusely as neither gave an inch. Despite her much smaller size and inexperience Kharis was giving Ephiny a run for her money yet Xena could still see the girl mentally holding herself back. Not taking opportunities that presented themselves to the warrior's trained eye, opportunities that Kharis could plainly see.
Xena knew that the time had come to push her sister into releasing the darkness that was hiding beneath the surface. The staffs gave her the perfect opportunity without any fear of bloodshed. Grabbing a staff, discarded by one of the trees, Xena yelled her battle cry while flipping into the ring of trainees and attacked Kharis while she deflected one of Ephiny's blows.
Instinct took over for the girl as she blocked the staff travelling towards her exposed back and whirled to face her sister. Shock clearly registered on Ephiny's face as she immediately stopped the motion of her returning swing while Kharis blocked another bone crushing blast from the warrior princess.
"Xena, stop! What are you doing?" The Regent yelled as Xena continued with her attack.
"Attack now Ephiny!" Gabrielle yelled from the side as Xena's sweep was blocked by her startled sister. "She has to learn to let go."
Ephiny stood stunned as she watched the warrior literally try to take the girl's head off with the staff only to be denied as Kharis ducked and jumped out of the way. Launching a volley of swings, Xena kept the girl on the defensive as she called out to the Regent.
"She has to release herself to the bloodlust before she can learn to control it, Eph. We don't have much time left," Xena grunted between volleys.
Kharis vaguely heard her sister's call over the pounding in her head as she tried to survive the onslaught of blows heading towards her. Fear flooded through her body as she tried to control the growing anger that wouldn't be allowed any release. Couldn't be allowed to rise to the surface.
Ephiny slowly nodded as she finally saw what Xena meant. She had been surprised when Kharis refused to do any more staff training but associated it with the need to spend more time learning the sword with her sister. Now she finally understood why. Kharis was visibly checking herself at every opportunity, now that Ephiny could finally watch the small figure's refined movements. Every thrust, sweep, and block was perfectly timed yet was automated. Only perfectly sharp reflexes were allowed to respond from the girl as she disassociated herself from the staff, instead of allowing it to be an extension of herself.
Xena continued to press her attacks, hoping to fuel the anger that was lying so close to the surface in her sister. Yet the girl's control never broke. Leaping lightly over Kharis' head the warrior landed beside Ephiny and allowed her staff to drop as the girl whirled around, preparing for another attack.
Desperately trying to control her gasping breath, Kharis stood on guard as she tried to speak, "Xe... please... stop... doing this."
Xena smiled smugly as she caught the slight nod from the blonde Amazon beside her, "You are about to learn once and for all what it truly means to fight Khar. There will be no hiding from now on. Get over it!"
Both woman attacked the girl simultaneously aiming for opposite ends of the girl's body. Unable to defend herself Kharis allowed the blow to the body to make contact as she blocked the staff end heading towards her head. Pain shot up to her arms as she tried to unsuccessfully block another tandem attack. Blow after blow landed on her small frame as she blocked each attack the best she could.
Disgust at what the two women were subjecting her to quickly filled Kharis' head, along with a white burning rage that frightened her more than the attacks themselves. Weakened and bruised, Kharis never gave in as she tried to fight off her two opponents. Blue eyes as cold as ice blazed into the girl's golden orbs as Artemis' voice suddenly rang loud and true from afar; 'Experience the darkness Kharis and learn from it.'
Tearing down the walls of control, Kharis surrounded herself in anger as a small sneer formed on her lips. Time slowed to a crawl as staffs flew at her in slow motion, allowing her the luxury to parry and attack almost at once. The pain that once racked her body disappeared as a warm glow overtook her, heightening every nerve fibre to an intense point. She could almost feel the warm caress of air glide past her body as the staffs no longer found their marks.
Laughing evilly, Kharis was a blur in motion as she began her attacks on each woman when an opening presented itself. Wood against flesh struck again and again as the fury of Kharis' staff delivered retribution on those arrogant enough to test her. The battle lust shone on her bronzed face as those around the circle stared at the fight in shocked horror. Never before had they seen such a display as each trainee quickly reassessed her opinion of the girl that they had ostracised.
Sweeping the legs out of Ephiny, Kharis flew at the Regent with a thrust to her throat as Xena slammed her foot into the girl's chin, rocking her away from the Regent's prone form. Throwing her staff to the ground, the warrior quickly grabbed the staff that was aimed for her head and yanked it out of Kharis' hands. Flaming golden eyes swept up to the hand as a sinister smile climbed to the girl's lips.
"You shouldn't have done that," Kharis said coldly as she reached for the dagger that was attached to her thigh.
"Kharis!" Xena bellowed as she threw the young woman's staff down. "It's over!"
"It's over when I say it's over," the girl replied smoothly as she flipped the dagger towards Xena's exposed neck. Snatching the dagger out of the air with her left hand Xena brought her right fist over to Kharis' head, knocking her down to the ground. Flinging her body onto Kharis', Xena held the girl on the ground as the fire raging inside of her sister continued to burn brightly.
"Come back to me, Kharis. Let it go. It's over. Come back." Over and over the warrior repeated the statement into the girl's ear as Kharis struggled to get the large muscular body off of her.
Slowly rising from the ground, Ephiny watched Xena struggling to contain her sister. Snatching a glance at the circle of stunned trainees, she motioned for them to leave as she walked towards the warrior and girl and knelt down into the dust beside the bard, who had run over to help her soulmate in soothing the young woman's anger.
Stroking the raven head, that lay next to the warrior's own, Ephiny was held in the gaze of Death itself as Kharis' eyes focussed on the blonde woman. Absolute rage radiated from golden eyes, completely overwhelming the blonde Amazon yet she never shied away from it as she tried to convey her support and love to the girl. Suddenly the golden eyes closed as the final battle was drawn.
Slowly, yet subtly, Kharis' body hardened as she found herself balancing on the edge. Trying to control the demon within her, as it released one final attack on her soul, Kharis mentally braced herself for the impact. Unable to wrest control, it subsided into it's box in the shadows as the young woman slowly came to her senses and her body succumbed to the exhaustion of the fight.
Xena felt her sister finally regain control as the girl's body relaxed completely only to be taken over by violent shudders. Rolling off her sister, Xena snatched the girl up in her arms and held Kharis close to her chest as loud sobs quickly broke the surface of the young woman's throat.
Gabrielle shuffled over to Xena and stroked Kharis' hand as she tried to comfort her, "Shhh, Khar. It's over. You're back here with us now. Don't cry. Shhh."
Xena rocked the girl as Gabrielle continued to talk until Kharis' sobs quieted down to just sniffles and gasps. Golden eyes, held tightly closed refused to open until a finger lightly brushed dark eyelashes.
"Open your eyes, Kharis," Xena's husky voice drawled as she tilted the girl's face up to hers. "It's all right. You can open them now."
A slight flutter of lashes revealed flaxen eyes now mellowed as Kharis looked into her sister's smiling face.
"Welcome back, Khar," Xena whispered as she brushed a few stray hairs away from the girl's eyes. "How do you feel?"
Holding in a sob, that threatened to break free, Kharis swallowed roughly as she shook her head slightly, "I don't feel so good. I feel like death warmed over."
Xena nodded, "That will pass, just give it a few minutes as your body readjusts to losing your battle lust."
"Why?" the girl asked as new tears quickly fell across tanned cheeks.
"It was the only way. I'm sorry sister but you can't control it forever, despite what you may think. You have to release that rage pent up inside of you and learn how to control it so you can use it when you have to."
"I could have killed Ephiny," Kharis wept as she turned to look at the Regent.
"But you didn't," Ephiny chuckled as she ruffled ebony hair. "I wasn't giving your abilities the respect they deserve and took you for granted. Next time I won't and you won't find it so easy to get me down on the ground."
"No, it shouldn't have happened," Kharis said with all certainty.
"Yes, it should have," Gabrielle said adamantly as Xena helped Kharis out of her lap to sit on her own. "Are you feeling better?"
"A little," the girl replied meekly as tears sporadically fell onto her lap.
Grasping Kharis into a hug Gabrielle stroked her hair; "Kharis, you are going to have to trust us."
"No, you don't," Gabrielle said adamantly as she pushed the girl at arm's length trying to make eye contact. "If you truly did you wouldn't be holding back on us. What are you so afraid of? Afraid that you might hurt us? Afraid that you might like fighting too much? What?"
Kharis sat in silence, head bowed, as she bit her bottom lip unwilling to answer. What was she afraid of? 'Anything and everything' Three woman waited patiently for the girl to answer, each guessing what it would be but only one knowing the true answer.
Finally raising her eyes to meet those of her sister's Kharis exhaled softly, "I'm scared I won't ever come back if either of you aren't there. Then I'll be lost forever."
"There is that possibility," Xena stated bluntly, shocking Gabrielle and Ephiny alike.
"Xena, how can say that?" Ephiny stammered before the bard could ask the same question.
"Because I know, Eph. I've been there," the warrior replied coldly. "For ten years I rode as Ares' Chosen, filled with hatred and anger that could only be quenched by death. Hundreds of thousands of deaths. No matter how many villages I razed, how many kingdoms I conquered, it was never enough. You fight for the safety of the village and your Amazons. I fought for the pure joy of killing. And it was a joy for many years. The more blood I spilled the more obsessed I became with spilling it. It was a vicious circle."
Fixing ice cold eyes on the blonde Amazon's Xena allowed the wolf to shine for a moment, "I was unstoppable and didn't feel anything for those poor souls that got in the way of my sword. Your own sisters felt my wrath and because of me, the Amazons are no longer the mighty Nation they once were. Do not underestimate Ares' pull. I did and will be paying the consequences for the rest of my life."
"Then why force her to experience it?"
"Because she is going to have to embrace it before she can learn how to reject it. Ares won't give her any option but to and when she does she is going to have to choose which side she will take. Ares won't give up on her, just like he'll never give up on me. If it wasn't for Gabrielle being my source I would have gone back to him many years ago. Kharis needs her own source and that will have to come from inside." A slight hand quickly squeezed the warrior's own as Gabrielle smiled at her soulmate.
"I feel the pull to rejoin him every single moment of my life whereas she doesn't. And because of that we have a window of opportunity to allow her to experience it without the repercussions," Xena declared as she turned her attention to her sister. "Khar, you're much stronger than I am, despite what you may think. You said yourself that if I could overcome the darkness within me than you could too. How will you overcome it if you can't recognize when it has control?"
"I don't know," Kharis acknowledged grudgingly.
"Do you want to be his Chosen and fill the shoes that I vacated? Do you want to become what I was?"
"No, of course not but.."
"There is no but, not when concerning Ares. You said yourself that there isn't much time. You know there isn't so the choice is now up to you. Will you allow us to help you or will you willingly hand over your soul to Ares?"
"Yes or no? You made a promise to me once. You promised that you would do everything that I said even if it meant endangering your life or ours. You remember?"
"Yes," the girl replied meekly. Kharis had prayed over the past few months that her sister wouldn't remember the promise but knew that she would be held by it, even if it meant losing her soul.
"Than follow through with that promise. Will you trust us? Trust me to help you find your way?"
"I promised so I will"
"Swear as my blood sister."
Golden eyes opened wide at the oath that Xena demanded, knowing that if she did there was no going back; "I swear as your blood sister that I will hold true to the promise."
"Good," Xena said as she hugged her sister tightly. "Now you can begin your real training."
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