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Face of Redemption
Part 3 of 4

by John Syverud

Disclaimer: This story contains low level violence. If you are offended by this please read another story.

The light of distant fires fell dimly upon Xena and Cortes. Their drawn swords shimmered crimson and black in the starless night. In the darkness, fear and anger colored Xena's spirit. Amphipolis was burning. Fire lit the cruel face of Cortes and glittered red on his armor. Xena's face was dark and drawn. Her eyes glowed malevolent in the fire of her burning village. Above the distant clang of swords, the air was silent. In their hearts there sounded a grim drum beat.

A dull ring sang through the air and over the earth as their swords clashed and their duel began. Their swords danced furiously in the night like violent spirits. Across the field of the dead they fought, fury rising within each of their hearts with every angry strike. Their dance swelled like the gale of a storm, becoming more impassioned and vicious until suddenly dying to a whisper. Xena fell to her knees. In her shoulder was a deep wound. Fear and anger stood like blood on Xena's eyes as she lay, bowed in pain, before Cortes. Cortes sneered terribly and raised his sword. The drum beat sounded louder in Xena's heart.

Cortes' sword clattered loudly to the earth. He stumbled backwards and fell heavily to the ground. Xena's sword was run through his heart. Xena stood over him, looming ominously in the heavens like the soulless night. A black shadow, she reached down and viciously pulled from his loathsome body her sword. Xena raised her sword to the sky and let out a dark cry of victory. Her cry cut through the night like a sword through flesh. Cortes was vanquished.

As the blood of Cortes ran dark over the earth, anger rose in Xena's heart. Cortes had left Xena in the arms of anger and desolation. He had robbed her heart, he had taken everything dear to her. Friends lay dead at her feet. Her village was burning. Her heart was empty. As Xena watched all that she loved die in the night, her spirit died in her heart. Cortes had planted new seeds of anger in her heart. With her sword drawn long overhead, Xena turned to Amphipolis and let out an angry battle cry. In her heart, it sounded like the entire world was beating a war march.

Through the fields of the dead she ran, her eyes black, and cut down her own people. As she rushed towards them, her anger driving her forth, a flock of crows descended from the sky and escorted her. Their cawing filled the trembling air. The faces of her people were empty and placid. They stood proud like trees as she cut them down. The beating grew louder inside her heart, inside her head, and the world grew dim, as the screams of her own people filled the air.

Xena awoke with the screams of her people in her ears. Blood was beating furiously in her heart and in her head. Her body was drenched in sweat. Dark furrows from a restless night stood beneath her eyes. In a trembling hand was clutched her sheathed sword. Light was on her face. A few birds chirped in the forest. It was early dawn. Xena barely breathed. Her eyes still were lost in her terrible dream.

Shadows cut the light on her face. Squinting in the light of the sun, Xena looked up. Phillius' men surrounded her. Their swords were drawn and pointed towards her. Xena's face paled and her eyes filled with dread. Her dream had left her naked and vulnerable. All the lives she had taken in anger weighed heavy on her heart, making her supine to her own danger. As she lay on the ground, humble in her guilt, Phillius' men became executioners come to serve judgment on her crimes. She could not draw her sword.

"You picked a bad place to sleep. It's cold out here, and far too close to our camp. How I wish you had stayed with me last night. I would have kept you quite warm." said Garael, grinning wickedly from the end of his sword. The soldiers flanking him grinned viciously. Their swords gleamed dangerously.

Xena looked up at him, her face dark, her eyes dead. She had risen from the gauntlet of her soldiers in the ashes of the Warrior Princess. The stars in the night had led her home to Amphipolis. In Amphipolis the Warrior Princess had been reborn in light to defend by the sword the lives of the innocent and heal the wounds of a dark world. If she died, she would betray herself and Gabrielle, and all for which she had fought. She never would know the peace of redemption, and warlords like Phillius would destroy the earth. Phillius' men were murderers dressed in the robes of the righteous. They were no more innocent than she. Her hand came to rest on the hilt of her sword.

Garael and his men began to advance on Xena. As they closed in on her, old reflex intervened. With a battle cry, Xena sprang high into the air in a graceful arc that landed her behind them. She drew her sword as the soldiers turned and rushed towards her. There was no fear in Xena's heart.

Xena's heel struck Garael on the chest, landing him on the ground. As she drew her leg back, she sharply thrust behind her the hilt of her sword. As it struck a soldier in the face, she lay a kick low into another soldier, bowing him over in pain. She grinned in satisfaction as her heel struck his groin. More soldiers came rushing out of the forest in a phalanx of swords. Xena parried artfully with her sword, effortlessly lifting their guard away, and laying them violently, one by one, to the ground. In seconds, the forest was silent. Xena stood alone. Phillius' men were in disarray on the ground.

Xena left the clearing and warily made her way through the forest back to where Argo was tethered. As she walked through the trees, dawn shined on her shoulders. In the morning light, the trees were no longer black monoliths. The light revealed all the grooves and knots of their skin that the days had worn into them. They were the faces of a strong family that stood proud in her communion with them. They did not judge her. They loved her and she was welcome among them. Xena's heart was free as she rode out of the forest back to Grasmoth.

Garael is bowed in disgrace before Phillius in his tent. Phillius' face is dark with fury as he paces in anger before him. As he paced, his hand came to rest on the hilt of his sword. He gripped his sword tighter in his fingers, feeling mortality in the steel and bone, as his anger swelled in his heart like a storm. The urge to draw his sword and release in Garael's blood his anger was strong. He spoke to Garael in a low, dangerous, voice.

"I have made a place for myself in the stars among the gods, Garael. I have destroyed armies and toppled kingdoms. I have led my army forth into conquest and glory, and you lead them to disgrace against a lone woman! You'll never lead this army, Garael. You're a worm. You're a warrior who can't fight, and a leader who can't command! Clearly you give my men no inspiration!" raged Phillius.

He struck Garael on the head with his fist as he kneeled before him. Garael took the blow penitently like a humble servant, and was silent. In his heart he was seething with hatred.

"Was she the one I've been seeking?" Phillius asked.

"No, my lord. She was another, and twice as fierce. All I saw of her was the heel of her boot and a scar on her shoulder..." said Garael, looking up.

"Another...A scar...Xena's here. When I left her army, she was powerful. She led her men with fury, and held the land in fear. I thought she had died in the gauntlet. Compassion had made her weak. Now fate brings us together, and I am to rise to destiny. The death of Xena, Warrior Princess, will be my greater glory! When I kill Xena, I truly will have a place in the stars, and the world will be mine to conquer. Thank you for the good news of your disgrace! Dismissed, Garael!" shouted Phillius.

Phillius struck Garael on the head with his fist, knocking him to the ground. Garael drew his sword in fury. He had not raised his sword in the air when Phillius' sword came to rest at his throat. Phillius looked silently down on him like a bird in a tree, his eyes dead in the shadows of his face. Garael slowly sheathed his weapon and arose from the ground, glaring at Phillius. He turned and left the tent. Phillius' face twisted into a harsh grin as Garael exited.

"The weak will be scourged and plundered and the earth will belong to the wicked!" said Phillius.

A young girl looked up at Phillius. Her frightened eyes were lost in the shadows of his face. Small and meek before Phillius in his armor of steel, her purity of heart made her strong. In her heart was a light of hope that in the darkness was bright and graceful in its enduring love. Sara feared Phillius, but she didn't hate him. She lived in the light of her love for her family.

"There is no beauty in the world, Sara. There is only hatred and death. Love is a lie. It is the light people live in, because they fear the truth. I know! That is why I make the world bleed. Peace dies when you're lying in the ashes of the of your own people. Don't let go of your loss, Sara. Don't let go of the dead. Keep them in your heart, let them rot and fester within, for vengeance someday will come to your hand, and I will die." said Phillius.

"I don't want anyone to die." said Sara.

"Sara, do you remember the fires? Do you remember the people burning, screaming in their homes, falling to the ground in flames and dying? The next day they all blew away in the wind as dust! You should have died with them in the fires, yet I saw fit to save you and prolong your suffering. You should hate me, Sara. You should want me to die! I saved you because I saw in you a strength, a potential. I will awaken it." said Phillius.

Phillius leaned in close to Sara, so that his dark face filled her eyes. His face was terrifying to her. He seemed like a shadow wearing a mask. His eyes were black eggs in his face, glass spheres of muddy water that Sara could not look away from. She feared his eyes would hatch, and the spidery shadows on the wall of her room at night would come writhing out of their dark depths towards her.

"I know there is anger in your heart, down in the darkness where your fear lies. I know you hate me. Don't you feel it stirring in your heart, trying to wake? Don't you know the strength it can give you? With it, you can rise above fear, and make it serve you! With it, no one can hurt you. People will bow to you to die! Search your heart down to the bare roots, Sara! See all that you have lost, feel all that you have lost, and see the face of the one who is responsible! See my face burning in the fire, Sara. See my face in the dead, and hate me. Your fear will die when you kill me, and then you will have a kinship with me!" said Phillius.

As Sara looked into the depths of Phillius' dead eyes, his black words reached down into her heart and drew up the darkest things within her. She saw the fire of the night in his eyes and the faces of the dead in his face. She saw people she loved falling by his sword in the night. Sara's face darkened and twisted as he guided her through the sorrow in her heart and ugly feelings rose in her like mud from the bottom of a lake.

"You'll die like my family!" shouted Sara.

Sara bent over and began to cry as anger left her body. Phillius quietly embraced her. He saw in Sara's face a small boy losing in tears the light in his eyes as all that he loved died in fires and clashing swords. He looked at his dead hand. The boy had awakened in the dust of his people the next day, with no family and no soul. Sara would become like him. Her soul would die. Hope would die in her heart. Sara was the face of innocence Phillius would corrupt. Phillius was comforting himself on the day he lost his humanity to darkness.

"Yes...Good...It hurts. It hurt me once, too, but soon it will be a part of you, like your skin. You can't cut it off. You can't hide from it. It goes down deep. You never forget. You have taken your first step towards strength. Someday you will bring the vengeance of the dead to bear upon me. Someday you will take my place. You will lead my army." said Phillius, soothingly.

A sword had come to rest at his throat in the fires and the screams of the night. He had looked up through his tears and seen standing over him the leader of the soldiers. The soldier's face had been a lifeless shadow in the night. He had stood, looking silently down on him, the steel of his sword at his throat, as all that he loved died and burned. Then he had lifted the sword from his throat and kneeled down before him. In the dying light of the fires his face had been sunken like the skin of a dying tree. In the deep furrows of his sockets were eyes darker than night.

The leader of the soldiers had placed the sword in Phillius' hand and raised the blade to his own throat. He had been silent, and his eyes never had left Phillius' eyes, as Phillius cut his throat. Phillius had watched in silence as the soldier's blood spilled in the light of the fires upon the ground. In his horror, Phillius had cut his hand from his body as the light in his soul waned and died. Then the soldier had fallen to the ground and died. When the man died, his horror had faded, and something had stirred, like a spider, in Phillius' heart. The man had let him live so that a part of himself may be passed on.

Phillius knew that someday he must die by the sword. He was tasting of the mortality in his body. He could feel it in the steel of his sword when he struck a body down, and the life drained in red pools upon the ground. He could see it in his hand. His body was weakening under the weight of his armor. One day he would be unable to raise his sword and lead his army. When that day came, he would die by Sara's hands. She would carry on his sword, she would keep alight the flame of his eternal vengeance. It would be his final victory before he died. By his death would she become his daughter, heir to a dark legacy.

With the sun before her, Xena rode Argo across the grassy hills and valleys, where night still lingered in pools of shadows. The grass was wet with dew left in the night, and the sky was clear. The storm clouds had passed and were far in the distance. Xena's heart was silent as the sun as she rose over a hill and Grasmoth appeared on the horizon. As she entered the village and rode through the streets, the crows were sleeping. In the daylight, the lives of the people who had died here were seen in the jewelry and shattered pottery that lay in painted shards on the ground.

Through barren rafters, shafts of light shined down on Gabrielle. Furrows were deep under her eyes and her face was sullen. She had not slept at all last night. She was slumped uncomfortably against a wall. Beside her, Lara slept peacefully in the light of dawn. All was silent. In the empty street outside, Gabrielle heard Argo approaching. Gabrielle's heart rose, and her eyes lit up at the familiar sound. She sat up and rushed outside in excitement.

A great smile spread across Gabrielle's face like the light of dawn spreading over the earth. Xena was riding Argo down the street towards her. All of Gabrielle's fears and worries blew away like dust as she looked on Xena again, and her faith was renewed. Xena slowed Argo to a trot as she approached Gabrielle, and dismounted. Leading Argo behind her, Xena walked to Gabrielle, her head bowed.

"Gabrielle, I..." Xena began.

"Xena, it's all right. You don't have to apologize for leaving me. I care about you no matter what happens. I know you were protecting yourself when you left me." said Gabrielle.

"You were right last night, Gabrielle. I was scared. This town recalls a lot of bad things for me... I'm so sorry I left you, Gabrielle. I didn't know what was important to me...I didn't know what mattered." said Xena.

"I know. But you came back, and I'm glad you're here, now." said Gabrielle, softly. She smiled a sunny smile that lit up Xena's heart and brought a smile to her lips.

"So...Did you find what you were looking for?" asked Gabrielle. Xena's face darkened a little.

"Yeah. I found Phillius. The man who destroyed this village once rode at my side. He thinks he's some sort of god. He's dangerous. He must be stopped before he moves on and another town suffers the fate of Grasmoth." said Xena.

"What are you going to do?" asked Gabrielle.

Xena's words hung in her mouth. Gabrielle looked up. She followed Xena's silent gaze to Lara, who stood in the shadows of the hut. She was holding her sword on her knee and cleaning shales of dry blood from the blade. Gabrielle turned and walked over to Lara."

"I thought you'd be there when I woke, Gabrielle." said Lara.

"Xena's back. I left you to greet her. How are you feeling?" asked Gabrielle.

"I'm feeling better. I have my strength back, and my wounds have healed. I'm ready to join you and Xena." said Lara.

"I think it would be better if you waited here and rested." said Xena.

"Why? What is there for me here? I'm well, Xena. I have only cuts and bruises. I'm strong! Strong enough to kill Phillius. I'm quite good with a sword, you know. If my mother were alive, she'd sooner die again before she'd call me a daughter. I've dishonored her and I've dishonored my family. I'm a disgrace to the peaceful ways of this village. It's yet another thing Phillius has taken from me...I want to help you, Xena. I want to fight." said Lara, raising her sword.

Xena's face darkened. She saw her own face in the dark light of Lara's eyes. She saw herself cradling the body of Lyceus. She saw herself running Cortes through with her sword. She saw Amphipolis burning in the night. She thought of faces in the dust, blowing away. She stepped towards Lara and lowered her sword with her hand, hoping to guide her to peace. When she spoke to Lara, she was speaking to herself on the day she left Amphipolis with the paths of violence and peace before her.

"I don't want you to fight. Lara, your family, your village, is dead in your heart. You have just lost everything dear to you! You need time to collect the remains of your shattered past, and to reconcile your loss. You need time to mourn. Now is not the time to fight." said Xena, quietly.

A shadow lay on Lara's face. She stood among the dead with only a dark horizon before her. She saw her own face in the faces of the bodies that lay in the ruins of her village. Her heart lay with the dead. On the horizon, beyond the dead, she saw the death of Phillius. The death of her village would be avenged. She saw no hope on the horizon. When Lara spoke, a deep lull was in her voice.

"The night I lost my family I couldn't mourn. I could draw no tears, for my heart was with them in death. Spirits can't weep, Xena. Phillius killed my village, and my loss will be reconciled only by his death. The time to fight is now. I can mourn when he is dead." said Lara, wearily.

"That will not bring you peace! With his death your pain will not lift from your heart. It will swell within you like a storm. Your life will become a violent dream. Once you live by the sword, it's hard to put it down. It's hard to go back home. If you let your anger lead you, it will draw you into its web like a spider, and bleed from you your humanity. You will live in darkness. You will be a soulless body on a web that dreams of the light it has lost. Mourn for your people now! Don't live forever with their deaths on your heart! I don't want you to make the same mistake I did." said Xena

"Every day I wake with the screams of my people in my ears. I walk with dawn on the horizon through the burned ruins of my village, seeing their faces in the black dust, and feel like a little girl again. My father died, walking home from the fields in the night. He was robbed by bandits, and left dying in the night. He never came home. And so I feared that when dawn came, I would wake and find my family gone, taken by the night. Now they have been. I can never go home, Xena. All that lies before me is the death of Phillius. The deaths of my people are on his hands. They must be avenged! I want his blood to spill on the ground like it did from my brother in the light of the fire as my village burned in the night!" shouted Lara as anger rose in her heart.

"Please, listen to me! You don't know what I know! Your eyes are blind with loss! You're standing over an abyss that you can't see! Don't lose yourself in hatred! If all that lies before you is the death of Phillius, what will you have when he's dead? You'll have only your anger, your fear. You will be left holding the hands of the dead. Your heart still will be burning in the fire of the night. You will live like the dead in Tartarus. Think of your family. Would they want this? Would they want you to destroy yourself for them? Your people are dead, but you're not. Don't let your ties to them pull you under. Don't let vengeance destroy you." pleaded Xena, her voice low and intense.

"They are my only ties, Xena. I can't let go of them. They are all that I ever had. Look around you. See this desolation! See these bodies, these empty homes! See all the lives that have been destroyed! These are my people! See what Phillius is guilty of! See what I have! It's no different than Cirrae or Corinth! It's no different than any town you ever destroyed, Xena! Gabrielle told me you seek redemption for your crimes. If that is true, you must help me kill Phillius. He is a part of your past that has brought death to this town! Help me kill him, Xena! Help me avenge the deaths of all these people!" cried Lara.

"No. I won't. I do seek redemption. That's why I can't let you do this. Phillius is a murderer, but he will have a trial. And you, you deserve your life back. I can't let you destroy it. We are not executioners. The guilty may die, but anger lives on in the victims. Peace comes with the sinner who seeks redemption, and with the victim who can forgive. That's why justice will be left to the judges instead of to the robbed. We're going to disband his army and bring him to justice before a tribunal. They will decide his fate, not we." said Xena. She walked quietly away, leaving Lara alone with her anger. Gabrielle looked sadly at Lara, then walked after Xena.

Sara's face was dark. She stood, silent, in the looming shadow of Phillius, watching his soldiers battle in the field. The air was loud with the ring of steel as their swords clashed and parted. In a lone tree, dying in the field, a spider was descending on a fly caught in its web. In the distance, the trees swayed gently in the wind. Her village was in her eyes. As she watched the long swords of the soldiers fall, she saw her family dying beneath them. In the fire and smoke of the torches burning in the sun she saw the fire of the night. In her eyes, her family was dead and her village burned. In her heart they lived on in her love and sorrow. She had a light of hope in her love that lit her way in the darkness.

"It's a wonderful sound, isn't it? The sound of swords clashing, of men falling. There is a beauty, a grace, in the rhythm of war, Sara. It is in the sound of soldiers marching across a field, their swords raised overhead like sharp stalks swaying in the wind, into a turbulent sinuous sea of men. It's like watching the angry wings of locusts beat. It is glorious to see." said Phillius.

Phillius breathed deeply and looked with his black eyes at the burning torches and the clashing swords of his soldiers. He saw all that Sarah saw, through the eyes of a lost boy and a dead man. His heart was dead in his body beneath the steel skin of his armor. In his dreams he saw faces of the life he had lost in the night, scraps of his soul that floated by his eyes like broken branches in a dark lake. He didn't understand what he saw. There was nothing left of his humanity that could understand. It was lost, like his hand. He was a hollow shell. Death and conquest were all that he knew. They were all that were divine and beautiful to him. One of his soldiers fell under the sword of another.

"That is the glory of war. The sword striking down the weak. Conquest of the land and of the body. Laying bare the mortality of men in blood in the dust. The bent faces of rage and suffering, the sounds, the death, the visceral excitement! Can you appreciate its art? When my army burned your village, did you see glory in the fire, boiling up into the night? Did you see the power of my men as their swords cut down your people? Did you feel fear? Did you feel hatred? I did, when I lost everything."

Sara said nothing. She was looking beyond the soldiers and the burning torches to the horizon where lay in her heart her village, her hope. She was looking beyond the hateful words of Phillius to the peace of the sun and the gentle eaves of the lightly swaying trees. She longed to sway with them in the sanctuary of their branches. In her heart, she was resting in her mothers arms. She was safe at home, beyond hate, beyond darkness. A sword came to rest at her throat. Phillius kneeled down and looked her in the eye.

"You can't hide from your anger. You can't hide from me. Your family is dead. Your village is burned. Your life lies in the ash and the ruins. You will never forgive me for your loss. Xena hopes to redeem herself, to pay for the sins of her past by being a protector. No forgiveness has she found in the people whose lives she destroyed. Hatred is stronger than love, Sara. It lives on in the hearts of the victims. Someday the time will come when you have vengeance at my throat, and you will take it. There is no avoiding it. It is already fated. You and I have a special destiny together." said Phillius, lifting the sword away from her throat. Sara's eyes left the horizon and met his. The spider dropped onto the fly and began to feed.

Dead flowers lie in ashes upon the altar in the temple of Grasmoth. The stone walls, black with reaching arms of smoke, are bare, like bones burned of flesh. Stone pillars rise like faceless trees into the black depths of a high ceiling. Through arched windows set high in the walls, arcs of light shine through the darkness onto a cold stone table. A weathered map is spread out over the table. Xena and Gabrielle stand in shadows before the map. The sun was setting. As it began to set, the light in the arched windows began to rise in the temple.

"Phillius' army is situated here, in a clearing in the heart of this forest. To the south of the clearing is a small valley where the trees are thick. We can approach from there." said Xena.

"What are we going to do when we're there?" asked Gabrielle.

"He knows I'm coming. He'll have his army out walking the forest in small battalions. That'll leave his defenses weak in his encampment. If we can slip through his outer defenses, we can deal with him, then mop up the rest of his army later."

"Sounds easy enough." said Gabrielle.

"Getting to him is the tough part. That valley will take us only within a mile of his encampment. His tent is far to the north, far from the valley. We'll have a lot of forest and a lot of soldiers to walk through, and we'll be traveling in darkness. We'll be in the thick of it, Gabrielle." said Xena.

Silence fell between them. A shadow was in Xena's heart that had not died in the night. The shadow had been in her heart since the night Lyceus had died, a dark sister following her where she walked, like the crows in the village. It was the death of Amphipolis, it was the faces of the wronged, it was a woman weeping in the heart of devastation. It was her guilt. Grasmoth was the marker of the crimes of the Warrior Princess, the names, the sorrow, the unshed tears of Xena written in the blood of the dead. Xena could see it. Gabrielle could see it. When Xena spoke, her voice was a deep lull that died in the stone walls of the temple.

"Gabrielle, she's awakened a lot of old lost feelings inside me...A lot of things came back to haunt me last night. My memories, my crimes, bad things buried deep inside me. They stay close to you, the dead, the lost, to what you hold most dear. Their voices are in the wind, their faces are in the dust. They're all here in this town of the dead. Their lives are in the ashes of this temple, this monument to the death of Grasmoth. Listening. Watching me."

The air in the temple was as still and vacuous as a breath in the lungs of the dead. Outside, the wind began to pick up. Gabrielle looked at Xena. Her face was hidden in the shadows of the temple. Her head was bowed. The dead of Grasmoth were listening in the temple. Xena hid the secrets of her past in the lull in her voice, the pall on her eyes, the mask of shadows on her face. Beneath the shadows of the night, bright in the darkness of her heart, of the temple, of Grasmoth, was love for Gabrielle. Xena's love for Gabrielle brought the shadow closest to her heart to her lips in words to touch her.

"I'll never forget how dark it was the night Lyceus died. He was a light of hope in the darkness to me. Even in our darkest hours we had each other to look to. When he died, I felt so alone and afraid. It was a starless, moonless night. There was no wind, no sound. The blackness was overwhelming. All the world seemed dead. In the darkness, holding his body to mine, I felt as though I had died. I thought I was in Tartarus. I was so afraid to let go of him. I feared I would never find hope again. I never thought dawn would come. She's cradling the dead, Gabrielle. Holding them like I held Lyceus the night he died."

Gabrielle was silent as she listened to Xena ardently. As she listened, the last rays of the setting sun rose on her and Xena. As the sun rose on their faces, the shadows lifted. The green of Gabrielle's eyes gleamed like stars in the light of the sun. Gabrielle looked in Xena's eyes. There was no pall, no secret. The truth of the past was in them, glowing in the light of the sun. Gabrielle saw a single tear in Xena's eye. It dropped onto the map. Xena closed her eyes and pointed at the map.

"Gabrielle, here is Grasmoth, here is Corinth, here is Cirrae. Here are my crimes. Here is my remorse. Here is my regret."

Xena put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders and tightly embraced her, holding her head close to her own. Gabrielle laced her arms around Xena's back. Gabrielle's face was bright with ardor in the sun, radiant with love, in the whispering shadows of the temple. She was close to Xena, feeling in the gentle beat of her heart her sorrow. Their hearts intertwined, dark and light, in a way deeper than love, more absolute than death. Xena had always known how protected Gabrielle felt in her presence. In Gabrielle's embrace, Xena realized how warm, how protected, she felt in Gabrielle's presence.

"You see the sins of your past in the bones of these ruins, and feel naked, as if I can see the old Xena in you. That's why you left me, last night. But you have nothing to be ashamed of before me. I know this is who you were, Xena, and you are not ugly in my eyes...You are beautiful. Your heart is beautiful. I see it in your eyes. I see it in the hope you give people in darkness. I love you. I'll always be your friend, Xena. You will never be alone." said Gabrielle.

"I never could have gone home without you, Gabrielle. Before I met you, I was incomplete. With you at my side, there are no trials that I must face alone. You make me complete, Gabrielle. You are as much a part of my soul as my past. You are what gives me light, gives me hope. May fate never separate us."

"It never will. It never will.", said Gabrielle. "Not even the past can separate us now." said Gabrielle.

comments? suggestions? (I'd love a replacement name for Lara or Grasmoth. Not very much from out of the "golden age of myth" are they?) Criticism is welcome, just don't write me just for the hell of flaming me.

Continued - Face of Redemption Part 4 of 4

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