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Dark Heart

by Jerry Hansen (Jeremiah)

Please do not reproduce or forward without permission of the author.
Copyright ©1996 Jerry Hansen


by Jerry Hansen (Jeremiah)


The rain had softened to a gentle mist by the time Xena had dispatched the last member of Rathgar's marauding horde. She stood tall and proud, her coal black hair clinging to her face. Her smile told the story; another ruthless warlord would no longer terrorize the villagers who lived in the valley below. Rathgar had fled early in the fight, leaving his men to Xena's vengeful wrath.

Gabrielle stood by her side, staff in hand, breathing hard. Xena turned a bemused eye on her companion and asked her, "why are you breathing so hard?"

"I'm still new at this. I don't have your experience at this sort of thing, but just you wait, I'm getting better every time," replied Gabrielle.

Xena smiled, "just be careful, don't get in over your head. Come on, let's get out of this wet weather."

As they began to wend their way through the remnants of Rathgar's men, Gabrielle paused to look at the young face of a dead warrior. She asked, "why do the strong prey on the weak, Xena?"

Xena stopped, a distant look playing about her eyes, betraying for a brief moment the inner turmoil she fought every day. "You know," she began, "I used to think that way. But I've discovered something, thanks to Hercules."

"What's that," queried Gabrielle.

Xena reached out and took hold of Gabrielle's staff, a deadly serious note to her voice, "the strong don't prey on the weak...the weak prey on the unsuspecting."

Before Gabrielle could reply, Xena's head snapped in the direction of the next hill. What could have been the wind blown mist in the trees resolved itself into a throaty hissing sound, accompanied by the quiet thunder of distant hoofbeats hammering the ground. As she strained to see through the gloom, she made out a figure on horseback cresting the hill from where the noise had come.

The rain began again in earnest as one word escaped Xena's lips, "Callisto."

As Xena and Gabrielle stood watching, the hill's horizon filled with warriors on horseback, led by the hissing and screeching Callisto. "XEEEENNNAAAA," echoed across the wet green slopes, as Callisto led her army in a charge towards Xena's position. The great steeds fired chunks of earth in high arcs behind them as they roared down the hill.

Xena's brilliant blue eyes grew wide at the impending threat. She felt no fear for herself, but was truly worried about Gabrielle. She turned to face Gabrielle, the rain now streaming down her face. Xena said, "I'll delay them. You've got to run Gabrielle."

Gab's response was immediate and firm, "I will NOT run and leave you alone to face that army."

Xena looked pleadingly at Gabrielle, concern etched in her face, "there's no time to argue. You're not ready for this fight. Please Gabrielle, for me, RUN."

"Run where?" was all Gabby said, as an arrow landed but a few paces down the hill from where they stood.

"Then at least get behind me," replied Xena, as she guided Gabrielle behind her with her right arm. And as she brought her arm back forward, Xena drew her blade and began t twirl the mighty sword faster and faster, her eyes darting back and forth, a small smile suggesting itself at the corners of her mouth. She waited for the first poor soul who would be foolish enough to challenge her. Gabrielle stood behind Xena to the right and leveled her staff in anticipation. Her face, set firm as stone, belied the simmering terror she felt in her stomach. But she would not abandon the best friend she had ever had in the world.

Another arrow fell to ground, this time near Xena's feet. She was momentarily startled by it, and alarmed that she had not sensed it coming. "This rain must be distracting me," thought Xena, seeking a quick explanation for what had just happened. Callisto and her army were almost to the base of the hill where Xena and Gabrielle stood alone, waiting. Callisto raised her arm and her men halted their mounts. She continued up the hill alone.

Xena slowed the motion of her sword and readied herself for the attack. Callisto reined in her horse and sat astride her saddle, looking down at Xena. She smiled a mad smile, made demonic by the rain darkened blonde hair framing her chiseled face. "Well Xena, what a surprise, don't you think?" She giggled as she gazed at Xena, "Yes this IS a pleasant surprise. Say, you wouldn't mind giving me back that arrow would you?" Xena did not move or say a word, but stood alert and ready with her sword. Callisto continued," No? I thought not. That's right, you can't ever return what you've taken from me. That arrow surprised you didn't it?"

The poison sugar continued to flow from Callisto's lips. "You know Xeeeeennnaa," she said, stretching it out, "you're not the only one who has many skills." Callisto's laughter soared to the gods above and rolled through the valley below, mixing with the rumbling thunder, and sounding more like the tormented screams of tortured souls than laughter.

Finally Xena spoke, barely audible through the storm, tight and contained, the pain swimming just below her calm exterior, "What do you want?" The rain continued falling, like the tears of the Olympians, washing the world with the anguish of the gods.

"Why Xena," taunted Callisto, "I thought you were smarter than that. Don't you know what I want?" And suddenly the mad humor disappeared from callisto's bearing. The demon mask of her face grew ferocious and savage as she spat out her venom, "I want you to die. But before that, I want your mother to die." Callisto's voice grew to a scream, from squall to tempest, drowning out the drum beat of the raindrops spattering the field around them, "I want your horse to die. I want Hercules to die. I want all you care about to die before your eyes."

And as quickly as it had begun, it ended. Xena stood deathly still, staring at Callisto. The smile returned to callisto's face and her eyes shifted to Gabrielle, standing firm and ready to help Xena at the least provocation. Callisto nodded in Gabrielle's direction and pulled the reins of her horse to begin turning around. As she began to saunter away, she turned to look back over her shoulder. "But most of all Xena," purred the madwoman who called herself Callisto, "I want that annoying little pest of a friend of yours to die." Xena stood frozen to the earth, her sword hand grown still. The rain could not wash away the growing anxiety she began to feel in her gut.

As Callisto rode back down the hill to rejoin her horde, her screeching, tortured laughter filled the valley, echoing far afield, eventually fading in the rolling misty hills.


Xena remained still as stone, staring at Callisto's retreating form. The threats to all her loved ones rang in her ears, a discordant tune howled by a madwoman. The notes of the tune crashed and banged into each other, as if an insane bard strummed an ill-tuned lyre over and over, "mother, Hercules, Argo, Gabrielle, mother, Hercules, Argo, Gabrielle." the demon song played again and again in her mind against the background chorus of Callisto's hissing and screeching hatred.

Callisto reached her army at the base of the hill and turned back to face Xena. Callisto waved and smiled calmly up at the two figures standing alone and wet at the top of the hill, and with a quick toss of her head and a hitch of her legs, spurred her horse towards the village that had just been spared Rathgar's unwelcome attention. Her army followed, drawing their swords and broadaxes, holding them high, anxious for them to be blooded on the newest victims of Callisto's rage. Their whoops and warcries climbed up the hill to taunt Xena and Gabrielle.

Xena had yet to move, mired in thought as she let the horrible song playing in her head continue to haunt her. Deep in her mind she began to think about the prospects of Callisto's threats, "mother is too far away for Callisto to get to, Hercules can more than take care of himself--though I wish sometimes he couldn't--hey, where'd that come from?" She pushed that thought aside and continued, "Argo can outrun any creature alive and knows how to fight if it comes to that, and Gabrielle..."

"Xena," said Gabrielle, breaking into Xena's thoughts, "we've got to help those villagers. I thought she would attack us, but she's not. Why didn't she attack us? We can't leave those poor people to Callisto. She'll destroy them. Xena!"

"has a pure heart and has only begun to learn how to use that staff. Gabrielle, Gabrielle," Xena finished the thought. Suddenly the torturous music stopped and her eyes grew wide. "Gabrielle, I know," she said, an urgency now tingeing her voice. She whistled for Argo. I'll stop them. You wait here."

Gabrielle replied, "I can help. I'm coming with you. You can't do this alone."

Xena's response had a hard edge to it, the edge that is honed by caring about a friend so deeply, "I can't wait here arguing with you. Just stay put." She jumped on Argo and screamed, "Hyaah." Argo bolted down the hill toward the village where Callisto's army had begun their attack. Gabrielle was left standing alone, looking after Xena.

"She's always doing this to me," thought Gab, "well not this time." Gabrielle took her staff and began to stride purposefully down the hill, the distant cry of YIYIYIYIYI ringing in her ears.

As Argo raced towards the village, bearing its salvation, Callisto sat in a grove of trees near its edge. She kept one eye on the destruction her men were reaping and another on the approaching form of Xena. She smiled to herself and thought, Oh Xena, I know you so well. You and I are of one heart. We're like mother and daughter. After all, you gave me this life." And the demons danced their dance in Callisto's mind.

Callisto watched Xena draw and throw her chakrum. It flew through the air to knock the axe from a warrior's hand just as he was about to deliver the death blow to a cowering villager. The warrior looked around in anger in time to see Xena catch the returning disk, somersault off her horse, and land with her boots squarely in his chest. Xena drew her sword and began to slice through the air with the mighty blade in wide arcs and figure eights. Callisto's men were waiting for this and gathered to engage her in battle. Callisto had instructed them on pain of death that they must occupy Xena while she accomplished the real reason for the attack. Xena's eyes burned blue fire, and her smile grew more playful as Callisto's horde drew near.

"Oh, this is too easy," thought Callisto, as she quietly rode her horse toward the lone figure striding down the nearby hill.

Xena sheathed her sword. The bodies of the slain and injured lay about her. Luckily, most of the villagers had been, and remained, inside because of the rain. "Thank the gods, none had been critically hurt," mused Xena. She looked about for Callisto. "She's probably run," thought Xena, "she just wants to toy with me. I can't let her get inside my head." She remounted Argo, satisfied at the thought, and rode back up the hill, looking for Gabrielle. Xena called out, "Gabrielle, it's over, let's go get dry." The silence that greeted her was louder than thunder. She looked around, growing concerned and frantic, screaming now into the silence, "GABRIELLE," but heard nothing save the distant fading of her own voice. The clamorous song began to play again in Xena's head just as the rain stopped and Apollo loosed the sun's rays upon the land. The wet grass sparkled as if Demeter had cast down a handful of jewels.

And although the sun had just broken through the clouds, a storm had just begun to build a mighty fury in Xena's heart.


The storm in Xena's heart built unabated, coming to full fury, without benefit of that gentle wisdom bestowed by her best friend, that calm hand on the shoulder of her torment. Looking down, Xena saw the broken remnants of Gabrielle's staff. The sturdy timber rested in two pieces against the hillside. Xena cried out an anguished scream, "GABRIELLE," as the storm wrapped her in the whirlwind of its violence, and the black clouds closed in over her heart.

As she rode Argo back into the village, her heart beat a wild rhythm in time to Callisto's maddening song, the last note hissing over and over in Xena's mind, "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, Gabrielle." She saw Gabby's gentle face swimming before her eyes, smiling that kind, knowing smile, turn slowly into that plaintive appeal for Xena to do something, anything to help her.

Upon arriving back at the village, Xena dismounted, leaping at the first body she came to. Grabbing it by the left shoulder, she yanked it upright. Seeing that the lifeless form could yield no secrets, she hurled it aside in anger and disgust. the next several bodies she came to were also on their way to await the judgment of Hades.

An elderly villager stepped timidly out of his hut to thank Xena for saving the village. In her tormented state, all Xena said was, "where is she?" The timbre of her voice and the fire burning in her eyes sent the villager scurrying back to his hovel without reply. Xena finally came to one of Callisto's warriors who lay wounded at the edge of the village. His face was pale from loss of blood and he moaned in pain as Xena grabbed him. "Where is she?" demanded Xena. The man blinked his eyes several times before they were able to focus on Xena. He gritted his teeth and said, "she's dead." His choking laughter was like the bone crack of death in Xena's ears.

The fury in her heart erupted throughout her entire being. She drew her sword, a lightening bolt of pain and dismay crackling from her throat, "NNNOOOOOOO." The warrior's laughter abruptly ceased as he joined his companions waiting in line at Charon's boat. A murderous rage engulfed Xena, Callisto's screeching song growing louder in her ears and driving her to the brink of the madness that had once possessed her. As she looked about, sword in hand, all Xena could see were the bodies of Callisto's men in the village and Rathgar's men on the hillside, all dead or dying by her hand. Images from her past began to creep up to lie beside those already slain this day, until her entire field of vision was filled with the shapes and shadows of the dead. "All right," she growled, "we'll play your way." She called for Argo, hopped on, and charged off into the valley.

And as she rode, the wind carried Xena's murderous cry, "CALLISTOOOO."

"Did you hear something? I thought I heard something. You know, Xena will find us. You just can't go around threatening people and hurting them just because you feel like it. It's not right. And it doesn't mean you're strong either. It really means you're weak. Xena told me that and she would know. And when Xena finds, by the gods, I sure wouldn't want to be you, no by Hades, I sure wouldn't. And another thing..."

"If you don't stop talking, you annoying little pest, I will flay you and hang you on a stick to cook in the sun. Now SHUT UP!" screeched Callisto at Gabrielle.

Gabrielle thought about it and decided that she'd be quiet for a while. But just a while, for she also knew her best defense had always resided in her gift of Gab. She smiled to herself at that as she sat in the wooden cage in Callisto's camp. "Xena will come," she thought to herself.

Callisto called to one of her archers and walked with him around Gabrielle's cage. "You position yourself over there in the trees, behind this little girl's cage, and be ready. As soon as Xena appears, you will launch arrow after arrow into the girl. Make sure you kill her, but not before she suffers. You must make sure that Xena can see the whole thing. It will be exquisite," purred Callisto. She yanked the front of his tunic, pulling him close and hissed in his ear, "you know the penalty for mistakes, don't you." It was not a question, but the archer replied, "yes, mighty Callisto." A mad smile played about Callisto's lips as she danced back to her encampment. She indeed had heard on the wind the faint call of her name, and could sense the madness in that cry. "One heart Xena," she whispered, "one dark heart."

Callisto envisioned the scene in her head over and over again. She laughed out loud, a hearty, robust shriek of laughter that flew through the trees, eventually mingling with the mad cry of her own name, being born in on a distant wind, and carried by a storm, the fury of which she had never before seen in all her mad existence.


The storm in Xena's heart howled its fury as shadows of those long dead by her bloodied hands continued to plague her vision. She saw their gaunt, wounded faces and mangled bodies before her eyes, and they were watching her, smiling at her, taunting her, now that thoughts of Gabrielle's death haunted and tormented her. The discordant notes of the song Callisto's threats had become beat a constant reminder in Xena's ears that now Gabrielle's blood was also on her hands. "And the only way to wash it off, is to avenge your death my friend," was the one thought that pierced through the noise in Xena's mind.

A brief ray of regret burned through the storm clouds of Xena's heart as she rode, "Gabrielle, why did I leave you on the hill? I could have watched out for you better had I let you come with me. Ahhh, Gabrielle." But there was no room or time for grief or regret, and instead, Xena let these thoughts fuel the violent maelstrom already spinning and crashing in her heart. The tempest reasserted itself, growing ever more fearsome in its strength, raging full force, its power unleashed and unchecked, consuming Xena, and becoming her very essence.

Thunder roared from Argo's hooves, accompanied by the tormented screams ringing from Xena's throat as she spurred Argo onward, ever onward, toward that destiny that had been sculpted if fire during those days of her own madness. And now that madness had spawned a creature madder still, born of fire and nurtured on hate, and it had come home to feed.

As Xena approached Callisto's camp, the guards posted to watch for her raised the alarm long before she was in sight. Her cries of rage split the air and echoed across the land, announcing to the world that vengeance had been made flesh this day. Xena's chakrum sliced through the air, dispatched the guards, and returned to her skilled hand as she rode into Callisto's camp.

She propelled Argo straight into the middle of the encampment, and as she flew through the air, her battle cry of "YIYIYIYIYIYI" soared to Olympian heights. She drew her sword and landed in the middle of six warriors. Given a chance for the storm within to finally vent, Xena swung her sword full circle, and six more warriors would fight no more. Her sword continued to twirl and slice through the air, as if hungry for blood and searching for prey. Xena held her non-sword hand out and ready, waving her fingers, inviting the challenge of battle.

Xena whipped her head from side to side, black hair flying as if tendrils of a terrible storm cloud were reaching outward, seeking targets for the devastation about to be unleashed. Xena's face was set in grim determination and no smile graced her face for this conflict. There would be no mercy today.

Wave upon wave of snarling, growling men came at Xena. They were intent on winning Callisto's favor by capturing Xena, for they were not to kill her. Callisto had ordered them to take her alive so that she might be forced to watch her friend's destruction first. But the rage in Xena's heart knew no quarter. Every sword blow was a lightening strike, every punch and kick a thunderclap, and the tumult rose to the gods in an ominous chorus of death and destruction. All that would quiet the storm loosed on Callisto's men was the death of every living being in camp. Xena was a blur of fists and feet, blade and blood, as man after man fell to Xena's wrath. A few were lucky enough to rise. Nothing Callisto could do was equal to the devastation being wrought by Xena, so those who could, fled for their miserable lives.

Callisto perched on a branch in a tree at the campsite's edge, watching intently. Gabrielle's cage had been secreted further back in a clearing, out of sight. Callisto smiled quietly to herself, whispering over and over as she watched Xena's furious execution of her men, "one heart, one heart, one heart, one heart." She knew she was sacrificing her men to Xena's outrage and she didn't care. "Let them die," she giggled, "it's for the greater good."

Before long Xena was left standing alone. She looked about her and saw yet another group of dead warriors scattered at her feet. But this time she let the bloodlust consume her, and she fed its wrath with a madness of her own making. She roared, "Callisto," and waited, her eyes wild and burning blue fire.

"Xeeeeennaa," came a tiny hissing voice from a tree at the edge of camp, "I have something to show you." Callisto hopped down from her perch and looked about at the destruction. As if seeing it for the first time she taunted Xena, "temper, temper, Xena." Callisto's eyes glazed over, as she looked far far away and purred, "wouldn't it have been better to BURN them Xena? Isn't that what you're good at?" She snapped her head back and refocused her eyes on Xena, staring daggers of hatred, "at least that's what my FAMILY discovered."

For the first time Xena smiled, letting the madness take her where it would. She purred right back at Callisto, "not this time Callisto. Let's finish this NOW."

"Oh Xena," pouted Callisto, "we haven't yet begun." And with an insane laugh, she leapt back up into her tree and dashed away. Xena followed with a cry of outrage, "AAAGGGGHHHH." They tore through the trees until they came to a clearing. And there at the far edge sat Gabrielle in her cage. Callisto called out, "over here Xena, see what I've got for you." Callisto's eyes grew bright and sparkled in the sun. Her smile grew large and wicked.

Xena crashed into the clearing, sword drawn, ready to confront and finish Callisto. The sight of Gabrielle in the cage stopped her as if she'd been struck by the gods. A seething cauldron of emotion erupted within Xena, so overwhelmed with relief was she at seeing Gabrielle alive. She stopped to shake her head, trying to loosen the grip of madness that had held her in its grasp. "Gabrielle," she called out, a small smile breaking out on her face. Callisto just stood there watching, beaming her own mad smile over the scene.

"Xena," called out Gabrielle, "Xena, I'm alright, get me out of here, I knew you'd make it, this lunatic has kept me locked up in here but I kept telling her.....Xena?"

Gabrielle had abruptly cut off her nervous chatter because of the look of wide eyed terror that had replaced the smile on Xena's face. For behind Gabrielle's cage, Xena saw the arrow that had been let loose by Callisto's archer, and was flying straight and true towards her best friend. Xena cried out, shock and fright shaking her voice, "Gabrielle." But it was drowned out by the hissing and screeching taunts and laughter rising from callisto's lips, as she leapt and danced in joy, screaming, "one heart Xena! One dark heart."


It was a moment frozen in time, as if Persephone had never returned from Hades, and all the earth lay entombed in a sepulchre of ice:

A proud warrior stood wide-eyed and fearful;
A pure and gentle heart stood imprisoned in a cage of wood;
A madwoman stood shrieking her hatred across the land;
An arrow flew straight and true;

It was a moment hewn from the cold marble of time.

Xena saw that Gabrielle was about to be killed by the arrow coursing through the air, and had not heard her cry out because of Callisto's mad keening. Xena could see Gabrielle standing in her cage with that look of puzzlement on her face that she got when she was trying to figure out just what it was that Xena wanted her to do. The sudden shock of seeing Gabrielle alive had sent a thunderbolt of relief through Xena's heart. That shock quickly combined with the realization that Gabrielle might die just as quickly before her own haunted eyes. It was almost too much to bear. There was a brief lull in the storm of hatred that had fueled Xena's wrath, and it began to build yet again as she stood transfixed by the scene.

Gabrielle saw that Xena had cried out something to her, but could not hear it because of Callisto's raving. But Gabby knew that something had gone suddenly and terribly wrong, for Xena's expression had changed from the all consuming rage of battle and revenge to relief to a mask of shock and dismay reflected by the sudden angry terror that now filled her eyes. Gabrielle looked intently at Xena through the bars of her cage.

Callisto saw the arrow and rejoiced. In her fevered mind she rode along with the arrow on its path towards Gabrielle. "Oh how Xena will suffer," thought Callisto. "It will be a loss so great it will drive her completely mad. And that's just the start. Xena will finally know some measure of justice and revenge for destroying my family. Her heart will turn dark and twisted again." That pleasure was so pure for Callisto that her head was thrown back as she howled, "one heart Xena, one dark heart," and the madness glowed in her eyes.

The arrow saw nothing. It was, after all, an arrow, simply fulfilling its deadly purpose, slicing inevitably and inexorably through the air towards Gabrielle.

It was a moment woven forever into the fabric of time, a tapestry woven by the cold hands of fate and suspended by the tenuous threads of time, a tapestry fit for the halls of Olympus. But then, as if the gods fought over the delicate fabric, struggling and pulling at the tableaux, the weave was loosed, the threads unravelled, and the moment was gone.

The warlord Rathgar had been sitting brooding and sulking in the forest shadows, oblivious to the sounds portending the destruction wrought by a mighty storm carried on the wind. "I had a good thing going until Xena ruined it," he pouted. "If I ever get the chance I'll do her in for good," he snarled, forgetting that he had the chance earlier that day, and had run away in terror to hide. The sounds of men crashing through the forest broke his reverie. "What's all this then?" he wondered, and rose to await the arrival of the surviving members of Callisto's scattered army.

Gabrielle, for all her puzzlement, figured out her situation quickly. The look on Xena's face could only mean that danger lurked behind her. It became a moment of crystal clarity for Gabrielle. Xena could not get to her in time! The thoughts happened in a lightening flash of awareness: "Make Xena proud. You can do it. Be an Amazon princess. FOCUS," she commanded herself. Without realizing exactly what she was doing, Gabrielle spun hard to her left, bringing her right arm and hand across the front of her body, crying out, "HAH!" To her amazement, she was looking at the point of an arrow an inch from her heart.

Callisto stopped her mad shrieking in a moment of disbelief, and screamed, "NNOOOOOOO." She began to hop up and down, the fire in her eyes blazing more hotly, the madness overwhelming her at this frustration in her plan. She screeched and hissed,"AGAIN, you idiot, fire again, shoot her, SHOOT HER NOW."

Xena could not believe what she had seen. Again she cried out, "Gabrielle." Xena shook her head again, trying to clear the paralyzing storm of emotion that had seized her in its grip. The storm clouds of hate had blinded her, and no doubt that had been Callisto's plan all along. She saw Callisto's archer knock another arrow and let it fly. "Gabrielle can't do it twice," Xena thought to herself. She sheathed her sword, brought her arm down, grabbed her chakrum, and sent it whistling through the air before the thoughts had even finished in her head.

Xena's chakrum shattered the second arrow, continued on its path to remove any further threat from the archer, careened off a tree, and headed back to her outstretched hand. Seeing this, Callisto leaped through the air, landed in front of Gabrielle's cage, and intercepted the chakrum on its return flight. "To borrow a phrase," taunted Callisto, "not this time Xena. I can see I'll have to take care of this little pest myself."

"You're fights with me Callisto, not her," shouted Xena as she drew her sword and began to deftly twirl it in her skilled hand. A sudden gust of wind hinted at a new storm building and gathering its strength to unleash a new fury.

"You're wrong Xeeeena," hissed Callisto in a breathy taunt. "Was my family's fight with you? Was a little girl's fight with you? No? I didn't think so." Her eyes sparkled in the gathering gloom. She smiled, admiring the chakrum. "This will be even MORE fitting Xena," she purred, "to kill THIS little girl, with YOUR own weapon." Her throaty, screeching laughter filled the clearing and rose to the again darkening skies.

A distant thunder rumbled and rolled through the valley, a hoarse, haunting sound, reminding Xena of the clash of distant armies, and the cries of anguish and death that lingered in the still air long after the battle's finish. Again her heart grew dark at the distant memories plaguing her, the prospect of yet more dead waiting to torment her. She saw Callisto's crazed smile as she began to turn towards Gabrielle.

Gabrielle stood holding the arrow, shaking with shock and disbelieving excitement. "I did it! By the gods I did it!! I knew I could do'd I do it?" she exclaimed to herself. "Now to get out of this cage. If only Xena..." The thought was interrupted by the sound of Callisto's words breaking through to her..."little girl, with your own weapon." A first few misty drops of rain began to fall gently over the land.

"Little girl?!? I'll show you little girl," muttered Gabrielle as she turned the arrow in her hand and raised it over her head like a spear. She clutched it with both hands and made ready to strike Callisto's back as she stood near the cage. "I can end this myself," thought Gabrielle. In her right hand, Callisto held Xena's chakrum. Gabrielle heard Callisto's insane laughter battling the growing thunder. Gab's mind became a whirlwind of thought, like a wind battered ship trapped in a violent maelstrom with little prospect of survival. She paused, remembering and hearing Xena's gentle but sad words from earlier that day: "the strong don't prey on the weak...the weak prey on the unsuspecting." Gabrielle thought to herself, "I CAN end this," and lowered the arrow as Callisto began to turn towards her.

"Callisto is mad with hate. For all her destruction and power, she's weak," Gabrielle mused. "Love and forgiveness is the only way," she reasoned. She watched as Xena began to run desperately across the clearing, brandishing her sword and crying out Callisto's name. "She won't make it in time," thought Gabrielle. She smiled a sad smile, sighed, and got a far away look in her eye as she thought about what had to happen next. And with a great crack of thunder, a new storm hurled itself from the sky, as if the gods were cleansing the earth in a torrent of Olympian tears.


The rain fell so heavily that it seemed as if the gods were heaving the raindrops in a contest to see who could throw the hardest. The wind began to howl a ghostly wail, blowing the rain almost sideways. A great streak of lightening split the sky, as if the roof of the world had cracked under the onslaught. Massive peels of thunder cascaded across the valley, like the echo of some ancient Olympian battle hinting at the strife yet to come on earth.

Xena's cry, "CALLISTO," was swallowed up in the crash of thunder that brought the deluge. Xena willed her legs to move faster, her mind an agony of desperation. "I'll be too late," she despaired.

Just as the rain began in ernest, she saw that Gabrielle had lowered the arrow and held it in her hand at her side. Even though she was closing rapidly, the rain attacked her senses, blinding her and deafening her as it pounded down. She could not make out what Gab was doing now. She gathered all her resources and screamed, battling the roaring pitch of the thunder, "GABRIELLE, FIGHT!"

Callisto had stopped in her turn towards Gabrielle as the downpour began, so that now her left side faced the cage. Callisto threw her head back in an ecstasy of madness and embraced the storm. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" she screamed at the coal black sky, "you know my heart!" Her smile gleamed in the darkness. As she let the rain beat down on her face, she began a mad wailing sound that resolved itself into a delirious screeching laugh that challenged the volume of the continuing thunder. She raised Xena's chakrum high over her head, holding it in her right hand. She let her head roll casually to the side and looked at Gabrielle through her mad eyes. Callisto smiled sweetly at her and hissed, "time to die."

Gab knew that she could not kill Callisto. She reasoned, "more killing is not the answer. Callisto is sick in her mind and her spirit. She didn't have the strength to overcome the terrible thing that happened to her and her family. Xena was right. Callisto is weak."

As the downpour soaked her, Gabrielle shook her head, her rain laden hair throwing droplets of spray in a wide arc, the strands clinging to her shoulders. In her mind she was going far away from this place, to a place of peace. Her thoughts carried her to the Elysian fields, to gentle relatives long past. She thought of how perhaps one selfless act could stop the madness. The crashing thunder and pounding rain played counterpoint in the background chorus.

Then Gabrielle heard a familiar, though distant, cry enter the soft melody of her thoughts. It was a harsh and violent note, but it carried the emotion of the world in its tone. Xena's cry broke the spell Gabrielle had put herself in, and brought her back to the stormy situation. She thought suddenly, "what was I thinking? It would only stop the violence if they recognized why I was doing it. Xena would go crazy with hate, and I won't let Callisto do that to her."

Gabrielle looked at Callisto's head lolling over to the side and saw her crazed face saying, "time to die." Gab's face came alive then, her eyes narrowing in anger, her lips pursed, her brow furrowed. She thought, "by the gods, you're lucky I'm a nice person. OK, so I won't kill you, but you won't kill me either, not today, not any day." With all the might her small frame could muster, she swung her upper body to the right, throwing her right arm and hand forward through the bars of her cage. She screamed with the effort, "AAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHH." For a brief moment a glimmering flash of madness played about Gabrielle's face, as she watched Callisto scream in shock and pain and confusion at the sight of an arrow sticking out of her left cheek.

Callisto struck back in rage and sudden fear, swinging Xena's chakrum in a pain-blind swipe at Gabrielle through the bars of her cage. Her cry of hatred was a hideous screech. Gab threw herself against the back of her cage just in time to avoid the blow. At that very instant, a bolt of lightening split the air, striking the tree in which Callisto had perched just moments before. The thunder was immediate and deafening, shaking the very ground upon which they stood. The tree creaked and groaned its protest as it began to fall, slowly at first, and then with greater and greater force and speed, it crashed to earth. Its uppermost branches landed directly on top of the cage, engulfing Callisto and Gabrielle in a twisted maze of leaves and wood.


The rain continued to hammer at the ground in a ferocious attack. The lightning stricken tree smoldered despite the heavy rain. Tendrils of wood smoke tried to float up, but were quickly destroyed and dissipated by the downpour, as if the gods were slapping back down an offering unworthy of their lofty status. As the thunder's echo drifted down the valley, Xena arrived at the fallen tree. She knew that somewhere within that thick tangle of branches and leaves lay Gabrielle and Callisto. She knew that she had to get to Gabrielle before Callisto.

Xena began to hack at the tree with mighty strokes of her blade, sending bits and pieces of wood flying and hurtling through the wet air. Her anger mixed with a quickening sense of dismay at what had happened. Her fevered pace grew more and more intense as she battered at the fallen tree. She called out again above the roar of the storm, "I'm coming Gabrielle."

From deep within the branches Xena thought she heard a moaning sound and quickened her pace. She was disappointed to realize that the sound belonged to the torn branches as they met and twisted in the wind. Xena's sword carved a quick path through the shards of timber to what appeared to be the remains of Gabrielle's cage. It looked as if the cage had born the full brunt of the tree's impact. Bits of tattered twine and shreds of the carved wooden bars lay at her feet. A tight feeling seized her gut.

Looking quickly around, Xena saw no trace of Gabrielle or Callisto. She swung her sword in a fierce arc, shattering yet another downed limb. The rain streamed off her tired face as she glowered at the remnants of the cage, and the echoing thunder mocked her unfulfilled rage. To Xena it was a hollow taunting sound, the laughter of angry ghosts long departed. The raging emotions of the day took their toll. Gabrielle was still in danger and Callisto was Hades knew where. She threw her head back in frustration and cried out her torment and frustration at the furious storm swirling about her.

At that very moment, Callisto paused to listen to Xena's anguished cry rising above the howling wind, and the howling madness that rang ever in her head. She looked down at the unconscious form of Gabrielle, whom she had dragged out of cage through the tree, and smiled. She let Gabrielle's body drop casually to a pile of soaked leaves. As if awakening from a daze, she looked down to see the arrow still stuck in her left cheek. With a shriek of sudden fury, in a frenzy, she tore the arrow from her, and cast the bloody shaft at the prone form. Callisto seemed not to feel any pain now, as her eyes glazed with hate. Touching her wound, she purred at Gabrielle, "you will pay for this my dear. But first my sweet, you must be awake to see what I have planned for you." Callisto turned back to face the clearing where Xena hacked at the fallen tree. "But first," she hissed, "I have some unfinished business." And she gazed with longing and admiration at Xena's chakrum, still clutched in her right hand. Despite the intense rain, the mad fire burned all the more brightly in her eyes.


As Xena's cry rose against the battering rain, she stopped her attack on the fallen tree and shattered cage. The events of the day and the frustration of still not getting to Gabrielle clutched at her heart, and a surging wave of emotion crested over her. She wavered for a moment, and shot out her left hand to grab a nearby limb to catch herself. Her thoughts turned inward, whipping up the already seething cauldron boiling within her, threatening to spill over and drown her in an emotional maelstrom.

Xena sheathed her sword and looked into the distance through the pouring rain. As the storm continued its assault, Xena felt the sting of the cascading sheets of water for the first time. She could not escape the haunting sounds of the thunder, hearing in it the echoes of ancient battle cries and ominous knells of death. "Will Gabrielle's cry join in haunting me," Xena worried. She teetered on the edge of despair, the stinging rain mirroring the stinging sensation she felt in her heart as she realized just how much she needed Gabrielle.

Xena commanded herself, "Stop it! There's no time for this. Think!" Running on raw hatred had not served her well so far. Callisto had anticipated each of her reactions. Xena released the limb upon which she leaned and stood straight, gathering herself as she looked about her. "They can't have gotten far," she said to herself. She redrew her sword and began to climb through the wreckage of the cage and the downed tree.

Callisto crept slowly through the muck the ground had become under the stormy deluge towards the clearing where the fallen tree had hidden her retreat. The rolling thunder masked the noise of her approach. She bared her teeth when she saw Xena standing there ahead of her, looking off into the distance. The flames of Cirra danced again in Callisto's eyes, the thunder echoing for her the tormented screams of her burning family.

Callisto felt neither rain nor pain, though a slight limp affected her gait. She felt only the lust for blood. She paused and looked at the wound in her leg where Gabrielle had stabbed her. As blood mingled with the wet sheen of rain running down her leg, she ran her finger into the bloody stream, lifted her hand, and slowly traced a line of blood down her forehead and face. When she reached her mouth, her tongue darted out to lick the remains of the blood from her finger. "Ahhhh," she moaned in an ecstasy of madness. "Soon it will be your blood Xena," hissed the grinning Callisto. She raised Xena's chakrum and took aim at the unsuspecting figure. Callisto drew back her arm to let the killing blow fly.

Gabrielle cautiously opened one eye and spotted the skulking form of Callisto as she lurked through the trees back to the clearing. Gabrielle swatted the bloody arrow off of her stomach and sat up. "I AM getting good at this," she whispered to herself, a slight smile hinting at her lips. Gabrielle had played possum when she heard Callisto thrashing about in the fallen tree, and had let Callisto drag her out of the tangled debris. She knew that Callisto wanted her awake for whatever she had planned, so she had simply played at being unconscious.

Gabrielle rose quickly to her feet, tried to wipe the rain from her face, and stealthily followed the madwoman through the trees. "I am really getting tired of this," said Gabrielle firmly, as she saw Callisto preparing to throw the chakrum at Xena. She gritted her teeth at the sight.

Gabrielle charged through the downpour, slopping her way through the soaked ground. Just as Callisto reared back her arm to let the chakrum fly, Gabrielle screamed, NNNNOOOOO," and, leaping forward, grabbed the circular blade with both her hands. At that same instant another magnificent bolt of lightning, a ribbon of white hot fire, crackled through the air behind them, illuminating their silhouettes.

Xena had just begun to climb through the fallen tree when she saw the lightning blast and the shadowy figures of Gabrielle and Callisto backlit in the near distance. "At last," she thought, relief briefly flooding her senses. "But I still have to protect Gabrielle," Xena reminded herself, a splash of anxiety spilling into her gut. She began to twirl her sword in anticipation of the fight she had been craving all day.

As that thought formed itself Xena blinked her eyes to try to believe what she was seeing. She saw Gabrielle flying through the air in a double somersault, the chakrum clutched now in her right hand, her arms flailing the air searching for purchase, her hair flying in a slow arc behind her, sending a plume of water in an even higher and wider circle about her. In the spot where Gabrielle had just been, the lightning's smoldering blast site remained.

Callisto stood dumbfounded as she watched Gabrielle crash land in a heap at Xena's feet. Xena stood staring at her best friend, still unable to believe what she had just seen. Gabrielle struggled dizzily and wearily to her feet, looked at Xena, smiled, and said, "I believe this is yours," as she handed Xena her chakrum.

The happy moment was short lived, however, as Callisto's piercing scream challenged the raging storm. "XEEEEENNNNNAAAA!" wailed Callisto. The demon mask of her face glowed in an eerie, wicked sneer. "I will see you and all you love dead before I'm through. This is not over. Your dark heart is mine," raged Callisto. With that, she let out a roar that pierced the storm, turned, and disappeared screeching into the forest, wending her way through the mire, under the cover of the dark skies.

"Come on Xena," enthused Gabrielle, still feeling heady from all her accomplishments this day, "let's get her."

Xena's reply was one of complete exhaustion, the emotional toll of the day finally crashing in around her, especially now that Gabrielle was safe, "No, Gabrielle, let her go. There'll be other days, and next time I'll be more ready for her."

Gabrielle thought about arguing the point, but remembered yet again Xena's words from earlier in the day, back when it wasn't raining so hard, so she let it go. She thought to herself, "you mean WE'LL be more ready," but all she said was, "then can we please get out of this storm now Xena?"

As they turned to go and search for some shelter from the unending rain, Xena whispered a simple reply, "I don't think so Gabrielle, not for a long time."

The End

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