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Face of Redemption
Part 4 of 4

by John Syverud

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

Dusk is on the horizon as Xena and Gabrielle leave the temple. The light of the sun wanes like a dying eye as it silently descends beneath the horizon. The sky is somber with twilight, mingling like blood and honey, as night and day struggle in the red and purple clouds of a building storm on the horizon. The clouds march slowly forth like an army of the heavens. On the wind is the bitter smell of the ashes of Grasmoth and the sweet smell of the soil in the valley, the taste of life and death mingling. The wind sighs and wails like mourning men and women through the darkening valley. The wind stirs the ashes of Grasmoth like leaves in coiling clouds of black. Flowers have risen in the ash, their blooms hidden in the folds of black leaves. Beyond Grasmoth is a hill that rises into the horizon. On the red horizon Xena saw a lone, silent, figure lit in twilight.

The jewelry and shattered pottery lay in painted shards in the dying light, etchings of lives, names, faces in the dust traced by the fingers of the dead. The bodies of the dead lie like fallen trees in the shadows. Their darkening arms are spread in the ashes like branches of bone, that reach to the heavens to touch the sun. Their faces are placid masks that look but do not see. Their pallid eyes are black in the shadows of their sockets. They are becoming trees, the trees in the forest that watch. The figure was looking away from Grasmoth to the deepening shadows of the valley, and the dark forest that lay beyond the valley in the dying light.

The black eyes sown in the placid faces of the crows look silently down on Xena and Gabrielle as they walk to the horizon. In the last light, the bodies of the crows seem to lengthen into tall looming shadows. The crows sing a dirge as they pass, crying for vengeance, crying for peace. Their cries fill the air and echo loudly through the still valley. They are the voices of the dead, who still are dying in the fire of the night that burns in one woman: Lara. The figure was a shadow in twilight. She was Xena standing on the horizon the day she left Amphipolis.

Xena and Gabrielle solemnly walked hand in hand through the broken jewelry, the etchings in the black dust, the bodies of the dead, the trees, to the figure on the horizon, Argo trotting behind them. The tipped red crescent eye of the sun lingered silently on the horizon. No stars were on the darkening horizon. The valley was bathed in red and black. The empty fields in the valley waved solemnly in the waning light of the sun. On the horizon the trees swayed gently in the wind. A boom of thunder rumbled through the valley. Xena and Gabrielle were silent as they approached Lara. They stood on the hill on the precipice of the deeply sloping valley.

"I knew you'd be here." said Xena.

"I've been thinking about what you said, Xena. About the victim who can forgive. You're right. I am angry. I haven't let go of my loss. My heart still is burning in the fire of the night. And I'm afraid, afraid I'll never find hope again. I looked at myself today, Xena, and I saw what I was; a woman holding the hands of the dead, a woman afraid to let go, a little girl still afraid of the night, and I was so afraid." said Lara.

"I was here, looking out on the horizon, many years ago. On the path out of Amphipolis, with my home behind me and nothing to hold. I had no hope. And I was afraid to let go. And I took the wrong path. I became the Warrior Princess. Cowards think fear is power. But I was a prisoner of it. Sometimes I would tremble beneath my armor, and wonder why, wonder what I was afraid of. In hate's fire we have no hope, and without hope, each day is a dying. I was living in the night without a star. I found hope when Gabrielle gave me the courage to let go, and take her hand. Let go of the dead. Take my hand now." said Xena.

Lara turned around and looked into Xena and Gabrielle's eyes. Twilight played softly over her face in the last light of the sun. There was no pall on her eyes. Xena saw in Lara's face the faces of the wronged, the people of Amphipolis. Chords of emotion were plucked in Xena's ears like lyre chords. It was like a kiss, like a birth taking place, like seeing the many shades of her soul in the light and shadows of her face, it was beautiful and terrible. It sent a chill down her spine, a tingle in her ears. The emotion was so great, so potent in her heart, Xena felt like crying and laughing. Lara was the face of Xena's guilt, and the face of her hope for redemption. In Lara was the hope of reconciling her past.

"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 forgive Phillius, I can never forget. That is a grace I can't find, but I know now that his death won't reconcile my loss. There is something for me now on the horizon. I don't know what it is, but I know that it lies in the forest with Phillius. I fled from him before. Now I must face him. I must go with you. I have to face the night. I can't live among the dead any longer. When I can do that, I will be free. I can leave Grasmoth behind. I can mourn." said Lara."

"Xena, she's right. There's nothing for her here. I think she should come with us. It would be wrong to keep her from peace to protect her from her own anger." said Gabrielle.

"There's worse things in the forest, Gabrielle!" said Xena.

"And she should face them." said Gabrielle.

Xena was silent. She looked at Gabrielle, then at Lara. She knew Gabrielle was right. There was nothing for Lara here in this dead village. No peace, no life. She could live among the dead no longer. Someday she would have to walk among the living again. Someday she would have to leave. Xena looked to the clouds of the storm, dread and hope waxing in her heart. In the heart of the dark forest was the fate of Lara's soul. Bringing Lara with her might tempt vengeance, might tempt a life of violence, of evil, but leaving her here would do her no good either. She knew all too well that someday she must face her demons. There was too much to lose if she didn't.

"All right. But remember, we're not executioners. Don't let your hate betray you. Remember your family. Always. But remember them with love, not vengeance. I hope you find what you're looking for in the forest. I hope we all do." said Xena.

Lara nodded and looked down on Grasmoth. The cawing of the crows was distant in her ears. She looked through the eyes of loss on the houses, the dead, the ornaments gleaming in the ash. The screams of her people had risen through the valley into the night as the fire consumed their skin like locusts. They had fallen to the ground in flames, their hands reaching to Lara as they died. Her brother had reached to Lara as he died. Her sister had disappeared in the fire and the clouds of smoke as the trees on the horizon looked on in silence, and then there had been only the darkness, and the burning night sky, and the dark fields in the valley. A curtain of darkness fell upon the valley as the eye of the sun closed for sorrow of the night and fell beneath the horizon. All was black, and then Lara looked up to the sky, and the first star of the night was shining.

"In the end you all start to burn, you all turn to dust and blow awayI will miss you, but I will never forget yougoodbye." she whispered.

Drops of rain began to fall on Xena and Gabrielle and Lara's heads like cleansing tears of the closed eye of the sun. The rain began to wash away the ash from the leaves of the flowers, and form black pools in the dust. The earth would claim the lives in the dust. Another boom of thunder rolled through them. The trees were great shadowy centurions, black and green, soldiers standing guard on the horizon, in the night. In the dark forest lay an uncertain future, a secret, a fate the watchful trees on the horizon knew. Together, they walked out of the lonely ruins of Grasmoth to the trees on the horizon, Argo trotting behind them. Gabrielle put her arm around Lara's shoulder as they walked away from Grasmoth.

"Goodbye." said Lara.




Like seeds scattered from weary hands, the rain falls in the empty fields and the fallow hills of the dark valley. The night sky above the valley burns a coral blue. The constellations of stars burn softly in the night sky, the last coral embers of the fire of the night. Fleets of purple clouds drift slowly across the still constellations, weighted ships in a dark sea, burning sails casting sun splendored fire to the wind. The clouds drift north towards a dark eye stirring over the heart of the forest. Lightning flashes silently in the slowly drifting clouds like white memories in a tremulous dream flowering and dying in the night. Broken thunder rumbles softly through the hollow valley.

The valley is desolate under the skin of night like the black seeds in the husk of a dead flowers bloom. The barren fields in the deep basin of the valley wave from afar. The blind hills rise somberly in the darkness, heads crowned by the clouds. The dark trees on the hills bow beneath the purple clouds like plow sheers falling in dark fields at night. A dark tree stands alone, high upon a hill, a silent figure looking somberly upon her burning village, her head bowed in mourning for the dead in her heart. Across the somber valley, to the north of Grasmoth, on the spine of a hill crossed by trees lies the dark forest.

The heavy boots of soldiers march through a dark pool of rain on the forest floor. Brass buckles gleam like teeth from dark wet leather that glistens in the rain like skin. Swords gleam dull in the faint moonlight through runnels of water standing on the steel. The rain runs down the soldiers in black streaming rivulets. The soldiers, swathed in red and black, walk heavily, cruelly, through the forest, in the rain, in loose formation, carrying torches that cast a wet red glow on the leaves and the trees.

Their sheering heels reap the wet fertile soil like rusting plows sowing death in the womb of the earth. The boots leave deep gaping wells in the wet soil, that gasp like toothless maws. The soil is like silt in the rain, washing away from the roots of the trees like ashes from bones. The roots are black with a dark fire, a creeping cancer. The forest is laden with a dark perfume of rain and death that flowers from a sepulchral cancer growing deep in the heart of the forest.

The soldiers walked along the spine of the hill. One of the soldiers stopped walking and stood at attention, his hand on the hilt of his sword, his back to the valley. He took out a leather flask of mead and raised it to his lips. A finger jetted from out of the darkness, stabbing him in the neck. His mouth parted silently. His torch slipped from his fingers to the ground and began dripping burning embers into the water. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground with a wet thud, his eyes rolling up in his sockets.

Xena turned to the incline and kneeled down. She grabbed Gabrielle and Lara's hands and pulled them up from the valley. The rain ran down their bodies in black streaming rivulets. The wind and the rain swallowed up their words as they shouted.

"The soldiers are everywhere! Phillius must have just about every man in his army out here!" shouted Gabrielle.

"How are we going to find our way through this forest without a torch?" shouted Lara.

"I know the way!" shouted Xena.

"Don't worry, Xena can find her way through anything!" shouted Gabrielle.

"What about Argo?" shouted Lara.

"Argo will be fine in the valley! Now be quiet! Or you'll have soldiers all over us! Say nothing more from here on! We have a lot of soldiers to walk through, and we don't need any attention! Come on!" shouted Xena.



The rain falls deep in the shadowy cradle of the dark forest. The night sky above the dark forest is a deep red. The still constellations of stars gleam somberly in the night sky, coral tracings in the ash, lit in the waning light of a dying fire. The clouds in the night sky are a turbulent swelling of purple and black coiling, light and dark, like fat distended snakes around the stars. Lightning flashes silently in the dark eye of the clouds, where the purple and the black meet in a tormented, contorting, perdition of light and dark. Thunder rumbles through the dark forest.

Drops of darkling rain dance upon the bowing black branches and the weaving green leaves of the trees. The fragile leaves tremble in the dappling rain like insects wings. The sound of the rain on the leaves is a hissing, beating, treble like the sigh of a long dying breath. The sound is both peaceful and ominous, as in a dark dream, as though the trees are whispering scraps of consciousness through their leaves.

The dark, silent, trees are souls in black, shiftless, robes, heads bowed in the darkness, faces burned to ash, eyes extinguished candles, lids shut above empty nothings that watch from afar. They are the souls of Grasmoth, whose dreams are the dark fields that blow untended in the night wind. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara walk in the dark fields of their dreams.

Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara, walk in silence in the shadowy cradle of the dark forest, hands entwined. The rain dances off their heads and streams in rivulets down their dark faces into their eyes and their lips. The trees touch Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara, as they pass beneath their boughs, brushing the long stems of their waxen leaves over their shoulders and through their hair. There is a thick, heavy, heat lurking like a sleep in the hot mud, stirring slowly like a soft breath, a whisper of silt in the darkness, at their feet.

The voices of the soldiers call out like crows in the darkness. The marching boots of the soldiers through the underbrush are heard. The lights of the soldiers torches appear in the bleeding darkness through the dark trees like fireflies. The soldiers are spidery shadows in the cradle of the dark forest, disciples of the darkness that has descended on the forest like the night. Legions of shadows march slowly through the dark forest like locusts creeping in a cold, still, field at night.

Thunder rumbles ominously like a distant rumbling of black hooves on the horizon. The treble of the rain on the leaves is like distant fire, the hum of the dead, in their ears. The dark trees gently tend in the winds of the storm.

Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara, walk solemnly in the rain and the darkness, heads raised to the stars, weapons drawn to their hearts. Their bodies are naked to the eyes of the spidery shadows in the bleeding darkness. The spidery shadows lengthen and distend in the bleeding darkness like burning glass. The shadows in the darkness become the fears subsumed deepest in their souls, the false faces, the sinister lies winding sinuously in the dark, turgid, waters of the blackest of dreams. In the shadows that march between the tending trees, in the darkness, in the night, all their deepest fears lay.

A horn sounded through the forest and the valley and died in the night. Xena, Gabrielle and Lara stopped walking. Xena drew her sword from its sheath and held it up in a battle stance. Gabrielle raised her staff defensively. Lara drew her sword. They stood, silent, in the rain and the darkness, listening, the rain dripping off their glistening bodies, their lips, their noses. All was silent in the dark forest but for the gentle treble of the rain on the leaves. The dark clouds stirred seemily, silently, around the stars above them. The silence was as long as a dead breath. The horn sounded again. The horn was a drawn and mournful wail, like a dead soul crying out.

Through the forest, the steel clatter of the armor and the swords of running soldiers was heard. The voices of the soldiers became loud shouts in the darkness. The fire of the torches burned brighter in the darkness, dancing like fiery spirits. Through the dark trees swords glinted dangerously, white eyes lit in dark faces paled through splints of rain in the darkness. The spidery shadows began to near, to fill the darkness. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara raised their weapons.

"The patrols have been alerted! They'll all be on us in seconds! We must make our final push now! Come on!" shouted Xena, through the wind and the rain.

Horns sounded all through the forest and the valley as Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara ran through the dark forest, the branches and the leaves of the trees catching at their hair, lashing at their faces, whipping at their arms. The shadows flew from the darkness at their heels like straining horses loosed from taut harnesses. The soldiers let out a battle cry as they ran towards them, swords raised, torches burning fiercely in the rain and the darkness, dropping burning embers like coral petals from a burning flower as they ran. Fire lit arrows hailed through the night. The fiery arrows struck the trees near them.

A white blade of lightning fell in the dark night sky. Thunder rumbled through them like the beat of a war drum. The treble of the rain on the leaves, the darkling echoes of fire, the chanting tongues of the dead, chorused in their ears. The dark trees swayed languidly in the winds of the rising storm.

Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara ran through the dark forest, the horn calls dying as the cries of the soldiers rose in a dark chorus around them. Their dark cries echoed all through the dark forest. Torches lit up all the dark forest like a swarm of fireflies. The fire of the torches burned furiously, an angry eye dancing in the darkness. The wet steel of a phalanx of swords gleamed silver and red through runnels of water streaming crimson from the blades as a gauntlet of soldiers encircled them. Xena saw her eye reflected briefly in the running steel of a sword. Arrows of fire fell in flaming hails all around them.

Xena arced her sword through a soldiers chest, then parried another soldiers sword. She lifted his guard away, and whirled around in a graceful kick that sent him spiraling to the ground. Gabrielle keenly swept her staff around above her head, from left to right, as she ran, striking a soldier in the face, knocking him to the ground in a neat spiral. In a single motion, Lara slashed a soldier down the face, then with both hands ran a soldier behind her through. With the sword still in the soldier, she kicked a soldier in the chest, withdrew her sword from the fallen soldier, and held it in both her hands above his head, poised to stab. The soldier put his hands up defensively, desperately, fearfully, like her people as they had died. Lara's eyes were black, her face a shadow of burning fury.

"Please! Don't kill me! Gods don't kill me!" he screamed.

The fire of a fallen torch burned and boiled lazily, slowly dying in a pool of oil and water next to the soldiers head. Its light flickered on their faces and the rippling water. Shadowy fingers of firelight played violently over their dark faces in a silent, waxing, song. In the light of the fire he was her brother. Lara stared into his eyes, sword poised above his head, chest heaving, shoulders rolling, in an almost sob, and the fire of her fury waned and the darkness in her eyes faded. She lifted the sword away from his head.

The soldier pushed her off, drew his sword, and, on his knees, raised it above his head to the dark clouds. The dark clouds arced like wings over the stars, folding them in the depths of darkness. The soldier grinned viciously, sinisterly, all the darkness of the storm at his sword, wings of red and purple crowning his hands. Her brothers face burned and blew away, leaving a mask of shadows. His teeth gleamed white in his charred, eaten, face. The white palls of his tallow eyes boiled red and white in the fire of the fallen torch. Lara saw her family dying in the fire of those eyes. She saw herself dying.

The soldier raised the sword higher, then his head jumped on his shoulders and he collapsed, his eyes rolling to the sky. Gabrielle stood behind him, her staff held obliquely. Silently, she held out her hand. Lara took it, and Gabrielle lifted her to her feet. It was as if waking from a dark dream. A soldier rushed out of the darkness, his sword raised at Gabrielle. A sword brought him down. Xena stood behind him. They began to run through the forest again.

A thousand silver spears of lightning fell in the dark night sky. Black thunder rumbled through their bodies like the beat of a dark heart in the heart of the forest. The treble of the rain on the leaves, the dark timbre of fire, the black chant of the dead, ululated in their ears. The dark trees thrashed violently in the winds of the storm, swaying in a funeral dance. All the sky was a seething ocean of fire.

The fire of the sky lit the forest a deep red. The rain bathed Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara, in gales of crimson and black as they ran through the dark forest, bending and breaking the black branches of the trees. The arms of the dead caught at and scourged their naked skin, kissing at their soft necks, lashing at their faces, whipping at their bodies, tearing at their hair. The steel bands of lightning lit the dark faces of children, mothers, fathers, etched in the dark trees. Red leaves fell vermilion from the trees in sundered glory like scattered offerings to the storm, and settled into the red mud on the ground. Coral patterns of light flowered in the darkness and scattered like the sails of a waning dream. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara ran into the light of an open field.



The night sky was a violet river of slowly curling currents, lit by the white constellations of stars. The clouds coiled in seas of light and dark in the night sky. The dark eye, a worms mouth of a thousand rolling teeth, stirred ominously in the clouds. Leaves ascended on the wind in loose curling circles, turning and streaming, winding sinuously like frail souls up into its black depths, its rolling vastness, its vacant emptiness.

The red veins of shoots, the thin wet stems of straw, the tending gilded tips of rush, sibilated like the quill of a bird. Scattered drops of rain fell with a soft, gentle, clatter on the bent rush of the field. A cool wind blew through the field, rattling the feathered seeds of the tall shoots and the tall golden rush like dull bells. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara walked through the field, past a dead black tree, the tall rush whispering, thrushing, like insects, like the sigh of many dying breaths, in the hollow wind.

The field was quiet, deserted, ominous. Tall tents on pointed pikes, and dark, stone, parapets, stood, silent, in the clearing. The tall tents and bannered parapets were still, the cloth sunken, sleeping in the dark hollows strung between the tall poles, billowing, lifting slightly in the wind. The cloth was like ripe, taut, skin stretched over the tall, arched spines and spires of the tents. There was a shifting darkness, a mud haven of smoke and shadows wandering, meeting, between the tall looming tents.

Torches set in the heart of the tall arched tents burn and gust, and flicker and flare, and catch and carry in the wind. Serpentine clouds of smoke coiled from the torches up into the night like rising snakes. The skipping firelight illuminated clips, red striped fingers, of the darkness, tripping and spilling over the still, blind, folds of cloth and falling into and washing around in the dark hollows of the tents. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara, walked cautiously through the dark camp, the vacillating firelight, to the torches.

Phillius stood in the crux of the fire, a shadow black as the night, before the tallest tent. The fire rolled and bubbled seemily, like ether, over the flaws and the cruel tracery of his armor. His grim, skeletal, face burned red in the fire. The fire burned in his black sockets like serpents seen beneath the surface of a dark lake, swimming in its blackest depths. Black things, shadows of wars and torment, of hatred and death, the dust of times long past, forgotten by generations, remembered in a single seed, stirred like silt in the deep, black, pools of his eyes. They were the hollow, empty, eyes of a rotten soul, of a heart consumed by darkness. He stood, tall and looming, ensconced in fire, the face of all their fears, the night that had fallen on their souls.

Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara stood before Phillius, in the heart of the tall arched tents, fear, dread, shadows of the dead stirring like silt in their hearts, their faces shifting masks. They stood silently, hanging clots of hair blowing, swaying, like wet tangled vines, dark strands of hair clinging to their faces, the wind cooling their wet skin. Phillius spoke quietly, as if he were alone. The wind died. The rush trembled as he spoke. His head was raised to the stars. He breathed deeply of the cool air.

"We are all children of the night. We are children born of the womb of a dead mother, alone from the beginning to the end. We are born, cold, wet, blind, in darkness. There is no light. There is no love. There is only death. Something in the night is waiting for me. He is waiting for me. It is waiting for me. The seed, the serpent, the one true God. I was the child, now I am the night. I control destiny."

Standing still before him in his shadow was a small girl. Phillius' hands rested on Sara's shoulders. Sara was silent, dark, completely shrouded in the wings of his shadow.

"I will reap the world of all life." he whispered.

"Sara!" shouted Lara. Phillius idly struck her down with his fist.

"You killed my family!" Lara spat.

"She can't hear you. She can't hear any voice but mine!" growled Phillius.

"Let go of her." said Xena.

"Not ever. She is mine. My destiny. My conquests all have been leading to this moment, this night, when the legacy of the Warrior Princess would be by blood passed on to me." said Phillius.

"Get your head out of the stars, Phillius, or I might cut it off and you won't notice." said Xena.

"I will enjoy spreading you over this field." said Phillius.

"You will answer for the dead!" said Xena.

Xena and Phillius drew their swords and walked toward each other. Their hearts beat a drum beat in their chests. The beat seemed to beat in the stone, and in rivers beneath. Their swords crossed in a loud clash that rang through the vacuous night, through a thousand nights, and echoed over all the valley, and all the world. A small battalion of soldiers poured from out of the tents surrounding them and ran towards them with a loud rallying cry. Sara stood still in the dark crux of the torches as the soldiers rushed around her. Lara and Gabrielle raised their weapons.

Gabrielle struck her staff laterally into a soldiers face, then swept it around in a sharp arc into the knees of an oncoming soldier, flipping him over his head. Lara blocked the sword of a soldier, kicked the soldier away, and ran her sword through his stomach. She thrust an elbow into a soldier's face, brought the heel of her boot obliquely into his knee, bowing him down. She lifted her sword from the bent soldier in an upward arc that sent drops of blood into the air to meet drops of rain and brought the hilt down hard upon the bowed soldiers head with a satisfying clang.

Phillius swung his sword in broad, thundering, strokes, sending out gusts of wind. His sword clicked and clipped and split the stone at Xena's feet. Gouts of mud spat from the ground. Xena's blade moved like water in her hands, parrying elegantly Phillius' heavy throes, his forceful hammer blows, in peels of smooth sparkling steel. Xena and Phillius fought across the field of rush, fury rising within each of their hearts with every lightning strike of steel. Xena kicked him in the chest, and swung her sword.

Her sword arced cleanly through Phillius's stomach. The blade sailed deep in the seam of his flesh, and slipped from his body. Thick, dark, droplets of blood and muscle sloughed from the blade. The drum beat stopped. Silence fell upon the field. The black of Phillius' eyes seemed to break and bubble like droplets of ink. His sword clattered loudly to the stone at his feet. Xena cried her battle cry and kicked him in the chest, lifting him from his feet into the air. He fell heavily to the ground next to Sara.

Phillius grabbed her, and put the blade of a knife to her throat. Xena, Gabrielle, and Lara stood still. The black pupils of Phillius' eyes slowly dilated like twin eclipses as he held Sara, and then put the blade in Sara's hands. He spread a dark streak of mud on her forehead with his fingers. A seed clung in the mud. Phillius held the blade in Sara's hands to his throat. Sara tried to pull her hand away.

"Now is the time for vengeance Sara! I give you my life! I killed your family! I burned your village! Don't you feel anger towards me? Don't you feel hatred towards me? You will never play in its streets again. You will never come home to your mother. You will never have your life back! Take mine! Take my blood! Rise above fear! Take this blade and cut my throat with it! Do it! DO IT! Cut me down! Cut me down like I cut your family down! HATE ME! KILL ME!!!" he roared.

Sara was angry and afraid. She stared deep into the black eggs of his face. They boiled and trembled madly as if they were about to hatch. Arms of fire and shadows black rolled over their faces. The torches gusted and burned brighter, throwing glowing sparks, fiery insects to the night. Her small hand began to move to cut his throat. A thin river of blood ran from his neck.

"Sara!" shouted Lara, running forth.

"Lara?" said Sara.

"Sara! Don't do it! Don't take a life! Not even his! You don't have to do this! You have a choice! You don't have to kill him! Don't give in to hate! Our family is dead, but I am alive! You have me!" shouted Lara.

"Lara!" she cried. Hope leapt in both of their hearts. Sara started to get up, but Phillius grabbed her arm.

"No! You can't do this! You can't rob me!" shouted Phillius.

Phillius took the knife and started to bring the blade to bear on Sara's neck. Xena's hand caught hold of her Chakram. Phillius dropped the knife. His neck arched, and he suddenly gasped. A sword protruded from the broken shell of his armor. Garael's sword was run through his back. Garael stood behind him, a look of utter hate and triumph on his face. He seethed black and red in the fire. He looked up, and his eyes met Xena's. There was a terrible, familiar, emptiness in his eyes. In the white of his eyes swelled and bubbled a blackness, like droplets of ink spreading in water. He looked at Xena silently with a deep knowing, a dread recognition, in his eyes that transcended life. He grinned like a demon, like the shadows of her soul, as if darkness itself knew her face. The seeds of violence were alive in his eyes. He viciously pulled his sword from Phillius' back, and turned and walked off to join the fleeing soldiers. Sara broke from Phillius' arm, which fell limp at his side, and ran to her sister. Xena walked to Phillius and knelt by him. Gabrielle stood behind Xena.

"It wasn't supposed to be like this. I can't die."

"You died a long time ago."

"I'm going to Hades, Xena, for all that I've done."

"That's your problem."

"You're going to Hades with me, Xena."

"Not today."

"I've damned myself with years of murder. Your crimes make you no less guilty in the final eyes of justice. XenaYou'll never be forgiven. You can never go home. Hate never dies"

Phillius saw fire. He saw faces etched in the dust, blowing away in the wind. He saw the faces of his family blowing away. He saw his face blowing away. Xena silently watched Phillius die. He blinked, and his eye was still, and a red rill of blood rolled over the white pall of his eye and down his turned face like a red tear. The fire in Phillius' eyes waned, and fell cold, like iron. And the legacy of the seed was buried forever as night fell forever on Phillius' eyes, and the fire in his dreams at last consumed his life.

Phillius died looking into a dark pool of water, his face broken on the dark ripples of the water like a mirror, the broken pieces of his soul he saw in his dreams but could not understand. Xena looked sadly at her dark face breaking on the water and was afraid. Gabrielle looked sullenly on Xena, her supple face just as dark.

The red eye of the sun woke on the horizon breaking the dark of night. Lara swiped the mud from Sara's face. She held her sister close in her arms, love flowing through her body like the sun. Sara rested happily in the warm sanctuary of her sister's arms. As the light of dawn fell upon their shoulders, the shadows of the dead upon her soul and in Lara's heart lifted, her sleeping spirit woke, and she had new hope. The fire of the night had stopped burning in her at last.

The seed fell in the straw, and rolled and picked at the dirt with the sharp pike of its shell, and then was picked up by the wind and carried away, out of the valley, to another place. The regular coiling spiral of the clouds broke and the coiling snakes of the clouds separated into wider rings and faded into wisps that curled into nothing.



Xena, Gabrielle, Lara, and Sara stood on the path next to the black timbers of Lara's hut. The wind blew through the valley, picking up curls of ash, brief shadows of memory waking. The crows, perched upon the bodies of the soldiers, flapped and gusted their black wings in the wind. The bodies of the soldiers had been pecked and picked at by the crows. Ribs protruded from ripe tallow flesh, and the eyes were sunken away into dark hollows. Grasmoth's black, dessicated, buildings rise like a marker on the horizon.

"We're on our way to Amphipolis. Here's where we part. I hope things work out for you and Sara in Potideia." said Gabrielle.

"Thank you for allowing us to stay with your family." said Lara.

"My family will welcome you!" said Gabrielle.

"Thank you GabrielleFor all that you have done for me. For watching over me, for being a friend...You are my family."

Gabrielle smiled. Lara turned to Xena.

"Thank you, Xena. For protecting me, for helping me find hope. Dawn has come and I will not walk alone. The night did not take my hope. Now I can mourn. Thank you." said Lara.

Xena's face lit up. Her blue eyes gleamed with emotion. A smile spread across her lips. Her body warmed over with a wonderful tingle. She had a profound sense of family with Lara at that moment, as if they were sisters, as if she was her in the past. She felt she was finding reconciliation with herself. She felt she was beginning to reconcile her past. She had taken the right path this time.

"I'm glad you found your sister. I know you have a bright destiny on the horizon. Take care of yourself." said Xena.

Xena silently watched Lara and Sara walk down the path they had walked. The smile slowly faded. Her face darkened to stone as Lara and Sara walked away, and an old sadness returned to her. The crows turned to look at Xena. A thousand black eyes of guilt settled knowing upon her. They all began to cry. Gabrielle walked to Xena and gently put her hands on her shoulders.

"Are you all right?" she asked softly.

"Yeah. Let's go Gabrielle. I don't want to be late."



Xena and Gabrielle walk in a deep valley on the breast of a high hill. The sky is white like cold steel. The sun is ascending on the horizon before them. It is the morning of Lyceus' death. They are walking to Amphipolis. Deep in the basin of the valley points the tall spires of the temple of Amphipolis.

The rising hills are like the supple, rolling, swells of a sleeping body. A few trees stand still on the gentle hills. A soft mist lies low upon the hills and in the bodice of the vales, like thin silk cerements falling loosely around the slender shoulders of the hills. The dark soil of the valley is supple and ripe with rain, breathing the perfume of an earthen kiss. Silver drops of dew sit still upon the bent blades of the grass and the folds of leaves and flowers of the quiet fertile valley. The path is wet and unbroken, overgrown with tall shoots of grass. They walk, silent, in the flowering golden light of the sun, leading Argo gently on her reins.

"He was wrong, you know." said Gabrielle.

"About what?" asked Xena.

"You said it yourself. Peace comes with the victim who can forgive, and the sinner who seeks redemption. You're a good person, Xena. I wouldn't love you if you weren't." said Gabrielle.

"I'll never forget the names or the faces, Gabrielle." said Xena.

"The nightmare is over Xena. You may always carry the darkness of your past in your heart, but never forget the greater part of your spirit that redeems you." said Gabrielle.

"You are that part Gabrielle. And I never will forget it. I never will." said Xena, looking deep into Gabrielle's eyes.

Gabrielle's eyes were radiant sun struck pools, beautiful and alive, swimming with emotion. Gabrielle looked with love into the slow, rolling, ocean depths of Xena's eyes. Within the ocean blue of her eyes Gabrielle saw pulsing a light as brilliant as a star. It shone for her alone. Xena smiled.

"Gabrielle, you give me hope, you give me compassion. With you at my side, I may yet find redemption." said Xena.

Gabrielle sweetly smiled, her face bright with ardor. Xena looked to the horizon. She saw Lyceus' face on the horizon. His face was light and peaceful. She saw him as she had loved him. She saw him as she wanted to remember him in her heart. He was her brother again, no longer estranged. Crows, perched in a tall old oak tree of many branches and sheltering eaves, flapped their wings restlessly. Their eyes silently followed Xena and Gabrielle. Xena and Gabrielle walked solemnly towards the rising sun, arms hugging each other to the hip. Together, Xena and Gabrielle walked to Amphipolis to honor the memory of Lyceus, and no fears were too oppressive.

"Xena, tell me more about Lyceus."


The End

Author's Note: Thanks to Watcher and to Lisa for their confidence, even when this story was gathering dust.

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