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Disclaimers Xena Warrior Princess and all Characters of the Xenaverse are the property of Ren Pic and Universal. My deepest gratitude goes to them for the loan of these folks and I returned them none the worse for wear. Thanks for the Fertile fields.
BY APRIL MCKAIG
Darkness covered the landscape. A total ebony shade which would have been a blessing but in this twilight, the horrors were merely shadowed. Wildfires were scattered across the land as far as the eye could see, the remains of the charred buildings lay in their wake. A thick, putrid smoke filled the air, saturating the land itself with the smell of death and burnt flesh.
A lone figure walked among the carnage. Bile rose in her throat as the smell and sights assaulted her. Bodies of men, women and children were scattered about in gruesome randomness. Pain and fear etched on their faces, as if, in the last moments of their lives they had realized that they could not escape the plague that stalked them. The fires that had been set to burn off the disease had claimed some of the victims and left only skeletal remains.
The plague had been quick, but not fast enough for those caught in its grasp. Innocents had endured pain and unimaginable horror in the last few seconds of life, and many clung to family and loved ones as they died. Now all that was left of once loving families were ashen statues.
The woman closed her eyes, trying to block out and forget but the moans of the dying crept through clenched ears. A putrid odor overwhelmed her and caused her to gag, leaving the taste of fire in her throat.
"What happened?" She whispered to herself and the darkness and death that surrounded her.
Only moments before she had been walking in a meadow, her best friend by her side. Then there had been an explosive clap of thunder and a brilliant burst of lightening that struck a nearby hill.
Two figures appeared on the hill as the glare faded. Straining her eyes she could only tell that it was a child and oddly dressed man.
She turned to speak to her companion, but found herself alone. Quickly, she looked around trying to find her friend in the darkness but found no one. Only the child and man upon the hill kept her from being alone in this field of death. Suddenly, with but a blink, she found herself at the foot of the hill staring up at the two strangers.
Now that she was closer, she recongnized who the child was. The little girls appearance was different, the face scarred by burns but still clear enough to prove her identity. Unconsciously the woman took a few steps back. "No." She murmured, "not you."
The child and man smiled down at her, "Hello Mother." They said in unison.
The woman turned her attention to the man accompanying the child. He was young, medium height, muscular build and light brown shoulder length hair. He wore clothes unlike anyhting she she had ever seen before. Pants and a coat of an odd thin material that seemed made to fit him perfectly. His smile sent chills down her spine and his twinkling blue eyes showed deceit and cruelty. He and the child shared the same eyes. Her eyes.
Fear pumping wildly within her, she turned and began to run. It took her a moment to realize that she was only moving in place, unable to put any distance between her and them.
Their laughter forced her to realize she could not escape, so she stopped and turned back to face them. She slowed her panting breath and met the childs eyes, "Youre dead. You can not hurt anyone again."
The smile faded from the childs scared lips, "You failed mother. You waited too long. I forgive you for trying to stop me. You opened the door for my father. You gave birth to me. You will always hold a place of honor. Dahok will not let you go unrewarded."
The girl and man raised their left hands and, in unison, swept the air. Another bright flash of light and the meadow disappeared - replaced by the hellish wasteland that surrounded her.
Tears streamed down her face as she opened her eyes again. A breeze stirred the smoke filled air and swept her blond hair from her face. It was then, her eyes blurry with tears,that she noticed another figure had appeared in the wasteland.
She felt a sense of relief and began walking toward the figure who was now moving toward her. Her first instinct was that it was her friend, made unrecognizable by the smoke and distance, but as she drew closer she realized the figure was unknown to her. They stopped a few feet apart and looked upon one another. There was a physical resemblance as well as a sense of familiarity about the stranger. She sensed that the newcomer was just as frightened and confused as she was. The stranger was dressed in a similar fashion as the man who stood beside Hope, but there was no malevolence about this woman.
Both women were startled when they felt hands upon their shoulders. Turning around and assuming a defensive stance, almost like miror images of one another, the blond relaxed when she saw the long raven hair and familiar armor about the woman touching her. Another woman had also joined the woman in strange clothes; this woman bore a strong resemblance to the armored woman, which had so startled her. "Youre not alone." The two dark haired women said together.
Without warning, a flash of lightening struck among the four women, scattering them about.
The child and man appeared again, this time anger radiating from them like heat from the fires. The girl faced her mother and the man faced the other frightened stranger, "You will not stop us." They growled as the earth began to shake and a stone barrier rose out of the ground, separating the blond and her warrior friend from the strangely dressed ones.
The ground stopped shaking suddenly, but the woman noticed that the land around her was still moving; then, looking even closer through the dim light she saw not the earth moving but the bodies of the dead crawling from all directions. She looked to her left and saw that her friend had drawn her sword and was braced for an attack. But how could you kill what was already dead? She caught a glimpse of the other two women, seperated by the barrier of light where Hope and the strange man had once stood. They too were preparing for battle.
Hands exploded out of the earth, seizing the blond womans ankles and tripping her. She called out, but as she rolled over, kicking at the vise-like grip of skeletal hands, saw that her friend was surrounded by the dead and unable to help. She was certain that the same thing was happening on the other side of the wall of light. As more hands erupted from the ground and the crawling dead neared, she knew escape was impossible. Bony, decayed hands grasped her flesh and began to tear her apart. She did the only thing she could -scream.
She was brought into a waking state by that scream. Sitting up, she fought off imaginary hands that attempted to pull her back.
"Gabrielle!" A familiar voice broke through the cob-webby dream fragments.
Gabrielle choked off her scream and looked around her, eyes wide with fear and still searching for the monsters from the nightmare.
Xena was suddenly beside her and wrapped a strong comforting arm around her friends trembling shoulders, "Youre okay. It was only a dream."
Gabrielle clung to her companion, trying to shake off the dream remnants but finding it harder than she thought. Moments passed before she calmed enough to stop trembling and a few more before was able to pull from Xena. Drawing her knees to her chest she rocked slightly and stared into the fire.
Xena watched her closely. Gabrielle had nightmares occasionally but nothing this severe. Xena had been sleeping soundly when Gabrielles screams had awakened her. Sitting up, she watched her for a few minutes before reaching out and gently touching her shoulder. At that touch Gabrielle had awoken screaming.
"Its never going to be over." Gabrielle whispered.
"It was only a dream." Xena reassured.
Gabrielle cut her eyes to glance at Xena and then back to the fire, "No. No, it wasnt." She edged closer to the bright security of the fire light.
Xena grabbed her blanket and draped it over Gabrielles shoulders, "You wanna talk about it?"
Chilled, Gabrielle pulled the blanket close, trying to forget the lingering phantom visions. When Xena moved up beside her, she leaned against her for support.
"Was it a prophecy dream?" Xena asked.
Gabrielle nodded and hesitantly began to relate the dream. When she finished, she took a deep breath and buried her face in her arms, pulling into a tight defensive ball.
Xena quietly digested the details of the dream. Her own unease was evident as she scanned the darkness around their camp. Her need to reassure Gabrielle, however calmed her down. "Sometimes your dreams of prophecy get mixed up with other things that are bothering you. Hope is gone."
"Im not so sure. She was Dahoks daughter. She said I waited too long. What if she was right and has come back?"
Xena tensed at the mention of Hope. Gabrielles assault had led to the birth of a demon. A demon that had been responsible for the death of her own son. Solans death still brought her grief but she and Gabrielle had reconciled their differences. Neither woman discussed what had transpired, both trying to allow time for the wounds to heal. The thought of Hope still alive, the murderer of her only son, caused those wounds to open slightly.
"Somethings coming Xena and Im scared."
Xena refocused, "What about the man that was with her?"
Gabrielle shrugged, "They both called me mother but I didnt know him. They resembled each other though and had the same eyes."
Xena considered that as Gabrielle continued, "The other woman knew him. I could tell by the look on her face. She was afraid of him too."
"These other two women. Who were they? You said they were dressed strangely, could they be from another land?"
Gabrielle uncurled from her ball and turned to face Xena, "Thats the really weird part. I think they are us, but not us. But either way we need their help."
Xena frowned, not sure of what to make of her friends ambiguity as the distant sky revealed dawn.