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Love's Honor

by Becky Lutzke (deanlu)

LOVE'S HONOR is dedicated to ROO and LL for there indomitable human spirit that inspires this Xenite to dream bigger, believe more and strive farther!! Enjoy all!!

Chapter 1

The sun's morning light broke through the trees revealing a lush landscape. The only sound was the occassional yell from the young woman practicing with her war staff. The light reflected upon her and created the illusion of a golden aura around her.

Gabrielle loved this time of the morning. Even though she wasn't known as an early riser. The moments she did wake early were some of the best. Xena had gone to take care of a few things and the bard was alone now. Her thoughts came to the last year . The time with Xena had changed her life so much. She was no longer the little girl from Potadeia. She had so many good memories of the last year. But there was two in particular. The first was when Xena had brought her back from the dead. She had finally seen a large portion of Xenas heart. And the pull of her pleas had been so great, she could not refuse her friend! The second was receiving The Right Of Caste from Terraius! She had not deserved it or wanted it, she had only wanted the young woman to live. But that was not to be and it had been a major turning point in her life. She now carried the memory of Terraius and hoped she brought some sense of honor to the gift she had bestowed on her.

Gabrielle closed her eyes trying to listen as Xena had taught her. Sensing the the different noises, the aura of that which was around her. It was amazing how she the intensity of that around her came to her senses. There was so much life around her. When Xena had turned toward this lush forest landscape, Gabrielle had followed with complete trust. She never knew why they headed in certain directions, but she alway knew that were they went they were needed. She had often thought that some unseen force was directing there path.Her thoughts were interrupted suddenly.Then just at the edge of her mind, a peculiar feeling like a tingling starts. Gabrielle tenses and waits.

The archer in the trees has been watching Gabrielle. Waiting til no one else was around and it was only her!! She now takes careful aim at Gabrielle, her sweat drops slowly from her in the rising humid heat of the forest and with confidence and resolution she releases the arrow! The notches another and quickly fires it too at the Bard. She watches with great Joy as the arrow flys true toward the Gabrielles Heart! Then like a moment frozen in time.......

Gabrielle acts, swinging swiftly around with her staff and backstepping one pace! Gabrielles Staff catches the first arrow, but the second slices a gash through her upper arm on the left. "NO!, she hears a scream from the forest!! And looks to see an amazon woman standing on a tree branch!! "You were suppose to die!"

Gabrielle looks at her staff and sees the arrow would have pierced her heart! Only by some amazing unseen hand had Gabrielle been missed by the second arrow she thought. She is shocked to say the least. "Who are you??? Why?"

The amazon screams at Gabrielle, "I will kill you Gabrielle!!" and the Amazon takes off into the forest.

Gabrielle removes the arrow from her staff and looks after the Amazon. She then takes off after her just as Xena bursts into the clearing! "Gabrielle??!!"

Gabrielle stops just at the edge of the forest and gazes in. No she thinks, It would be too dangerous to pursue her there! I need to wait, and try to figure this out!

Xena comes up next to Gabrielle and sees the blood running down her arm. "Gabrielle?!"

"I'm OK, she's gone! It's safe for the moment." Gabrielle is in a mild state of shock.

"Gabrielle you are not ok. Come over here so I can take care of the arm and you can tell me what happened" Xena guides Gabrielle over to a large rock and has her sit and lean back against it. She then goes over to Argo and retrieves a saddlebag containing leather twine, a needle, bandages and a white powder. She looks over Gabrielles arm and see's the pain on her face!

"This is going to sting a little!" Xena says, her voice trying to mask the fear she had for her friend. Her face has softened now though and Gabrielle sees the concern there. Gabrielle just nods and begins to think about what just happened.

"What happened Gabrielle??" Xena asks while stitching the gash.She looks up briefly at her friend, then goes back to working on the arm. A slight gasp escapes Gabrielles lips as Xena begins, but then she concentrates on her friends question and the pain lessens.

"I was practicing like always. Listening like you taught me with my body. When I felt someone watching. The next thing I knew was swinging around and stopping an arrow and being hit by another. Then I saw an amazon in the trees, holding a bow. She was yelling she would kill me." Xena has finished stitching and now bandages the arm.

"Here take this, It will help with the pain." Xena places a small amount of the white powder on Gabrielles tongue and gives her a drink of water from a skin she has fetched from Argo."That doesn't sound like am Amazon. They have a high code of honor. And with you bearing the Right of Caste from Terraius........

Gabrielle interrupts "......I know. But I'm positive, and I think I have seen her before!?! Why would she want to kill me though???"

"I don't know, but we better find out." Xena is very concerned. "Stay put, I'm going to see what I can find." Xena turns to go in the direction of Gabrielle's assaillant.

Gabrielle looks at her friend, voicing a fear she needs for Xena to know. "You know she will be back, and next time I may not be so lucky."

Xena looks back at Gabrielle. "Yes, I know, but I won't let anything happen to you! Thats a promise!" And she jogs off into the forest.

Xena returns a short time later. Gabrielle can tell by her expression she was unsuccessful. "Come on, we need to move on." Xena helps Gabrielle to her feet. She gets on Argo and then puts a hand down for Gabrielle to bet on behind her.

"No, I'll walk. I deserve it after being too slow this morning!" Gabrielle starts walking down the road. She is angry at herself for not being a good enough warrior and confused by why an Amazon would want to kill her. Xena urges Argo forward and brings Argo up next to Gabrielle. She is concerned for her friends safety and for the brooding she is doing.

"Gabrielle, you weren't too slow. You did well. You're alive aren't you!!" Xena watches the young bard carefully. She doesn't like admitting to herself that it had been a very close call and that she hadn't been there for Gabrielle.

"No Xena. I survived that was all!" Gabrielles words are angry.

Xena moves Argo in front of Gabrielle and stops. "But you just didn't survive, you defended yourself . Gabrielle you are good with your staff, and a strong fighter." looking intently at her friend. "Don't doubt yourself!!"

Gabrielle looks at her friend and her mood lightens a little. "I'm sorry! Your right,but it seems like I haven't accomplished much with this thing, especially after what just happened."

Xena looked at her friend with compassion. Sometimes Gabrielle could be so much harder on herself than Xena could ever be!! "Just improve!" Xena chuckles a little.

Gabrielle smiles and they continue on. "You know I have the strange feeling that......" Her voice trails off into thought.

"What?" Xena watches Gabrielles face, seeing something that wasn't there before!

"I think I know who it was." Gabrielle is thinking very hard.

"Who Gabrielle?" Xena listens as the bard begins to speak.

Gabrielle looks at Xena and knows that her friend is not going to be pleased with what she is about to say. "I didn't tell you everything that took place when I received the Right of Caste. After you left that day to see Tyldus, toward evening, I heard Ephiny arguing with someone. The person was Cassius, Terraius's lover. She was angry that I had received Terraius Right of Caste. She claimed Terraius had promised it to her on her death and that I had stolen it. Ephiny had fired back that Terraius had passed it on to the person she wanted to have it and to question it would dishonor Terraius. They were both bound by Terraius decision. Cassius voice became dangerously low and I heard her say, "WE shall see!" They argued for a short while longer and then Cassius left. She almost bumped into me outside Ephiny's tent and the look she gave me made my soul run cold. I went and talked to Ephiny about it and she said not to worry. Cassius was just grieving and it would pass. But I think she knew as I did, thatit wasn't over and Cassius and I would meet again."

Xena is stunned to say the least. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because you were already upset about the Right of Caste. I didn't want to add to that and I had hoped Ephiny was right." Gabrielle looks at her friend and hope she understands.

"You could have told me, but your right. I didn't make it easy on you after words I'm sorry Gabrielle." Xena sighs. "Is there anything else you haven't told me?"

"No, thats about it." Gabrielle lapses back into silence and they continue on....

They arrive at a small village towards evening. The forest just seems to open up and then it's there. It is nothing grand, just a few huts, an inn and a market. Xena and Gabrielle enter the Inn and order wine and the local stew. They take seats at a table near the fire. A young Bard by the name of Flariem, is weaving a interesting tale to a few people nearby. Gabrielle turns to listen closely to it . Xena watches as Gabrielles whole body tunes into the tale. It amazes her still the ability Gabrielle has for absorbing a tale and turning around and telling it like its the first time she heard it......

Great was the city of the amazons. Founded on Strength, Truth, and Knowledge. Never had the amazons been so free and safe in life. It is said that Artemis herself resided with them at the time. The fiercest of warriors and most wise in knowledge. The best of the warrior amazons fought in an Arena, displaying their mastery and skill. Most fights ended with a contestant unable to go on or unconscience. The best and brightess Artemis picked as her personnal Prietesses. The city was grand and no one ever believed it would end, but end it did. In a moment of Evil.

When the Princess Hyppolyta died unexpectantly and conferred her Right of Caste to one pure of Heart and Wise of knowledge, her lover flew into a rage feeling cheated at what she thought was alway rightfully hers. The lover, drew support from a portion of amazon's and the city became divided. Warring broke out and in a moment of sheer rage, the lover slew the newly crowned Princess. Artemis's rage was unrivalled and she destroyed the betrayers.The remaining loyal amazons she took and sent out of the city to find there way in the world and the city was claimed by the forest. Never to be seen again.......

Several people clapped at the ending of Flariems story. Gabrielle got up from the table and approached the young bard.

"Very good! You should study at the Academy. My name is Gabrielle."

"I'm Flariem, and Thank you Gabrielle. It has alway been a dream of mine." Flariem is blushing.

"The story you just told how did you come to hear of it?" Gabrielle is intrigued.

"A woman that stayed with my mother and I when I was little told it to us." The young Flariem beams with pride.

"So where is this city you spoke of?" Gabrielle has become more than curious now. Xena notices the subtle change in her friend and watches her carefully listening to every word said.

"There are rumors that a city exists deep in the jungle, just south of the village.But they are only rumors of old men and lost, frightened children." Flariem laughs.

"Hmmmm, How would one go about finding such a thing in this lush forest?" Gabrielle asks.

"Well the road outside the village that branches south is said to run past it. But many have tried to find it and failed!" Flariem is enjoying the conversation. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason, just an intriguing tale! Thank you Flariem for your marvalous story." Gabrielle smiles and begins to turn.

Flariem catches her hand and kisses it lightly. "My pleasure Gabrielle!" Gabrielle blushes and then returns to her seat next to Xena. Xena watches her friend and recognizes the look within her face.

"No!" Xena says firmly.

"What ?" Gabrielle says startled out of her thoughts by the force of Xena's voice.

"You know very well what Gabrielle. We are not going to look for that city. We have to find Cassius." Xena's face is set.

Gabrielle is about to protest, but holds her tongue for a second. Then says, "All right."

Xena watches her friend for a second, then relaxes slightly. She is not happy with the speed with which Gabrielle agreed! It was never easy to win with Gabrielle. But just perhaps the danger this morning had been enough. Two glasses of wine is set before them by the innkeeper.

"We didn't order these." Xena says.

"The young man over there did and says Thank you for your kind words." The innkeeper walks away.

Gabrielle turns and smiles at the young man, who smiles back. She then pushes her cup of wine toward Xena and takes a cup of water of the table. "Go ahead Xena. I'd rather have water." Xena looks at her friend, but drinks both cups of wine.

Neither have seen Cassius sitting in the darken corner, watching intently with a satisfied grin.

Gabrielle pays for a room. Xena and Gabrielle ascend the stairs and Xena stumbles slightly. Gabrielle looks back at her friend and notices her face is now flushed, "Are you ok?"

"Yes, just tripped on the step." Xena says. Gabrielle thinks this strange but continues on. They reach the room and Gabrielle shuts the door. As she turns around she notices that Xena is leaning heavily against the far wall.

"Xena are you...." She never gets to finish her question as Xena begins to fall to the floor. "XENA!" Gabrielle shouts in concern and rushes to her side. She helps Xena to the bed. Xena's eyes have become unfocused and she is slipping to unconsciousness. With all the effort Xena can muster she tries to warn Gabrielle. "Gabrielle, the wine........drugged....Be......careful...... and she slips into a deep and heavy sleep.

"Xena! Xena, wake up!" But her friend is beyond hearing her. She checks her breathing and listens to her heart, both are very slow.

"I'm surprised she isn't DEAD!" Says Cassias voice from the doorway.

Gabrielle rises quickly from next to Xena and grabs her staff, holding it defensively. "Cassias! I should have known." Gabrielles concern for her friend is turning to anger now.

"Yes, Gabrielle!" Cassias steps into the dim light of the room and brushes the hood covering her head. "How's the arm?!" she says sarcastically.

"What have you done to Xena?" Her voice a low dangerous now.

"Don't worry, she'll sleep for a while thats all. Amazing though, she had both hers and your dose of the drug. Most it would kill immeadiately. She is strong, no wonder you travel with her. You need the protection!" Cassias smiles wickedly baiting Gabrielle.

"I don't need her to protect me. How long will she be out?" Gabrielle asks.

"Ha ha! Don't make me laugh Gabrielle, you would never last in an Amazon fight.You'd be DEAD!" Cassias is enjoying this. "She will wake tomorrow, most likely with a nasty headache. However there is a lot of time between now and tomorrow. You never know what may happen unexpectantly in the night!!" Cassias turns to leave.

"Don't even think about hurting her Cassias! This fight is between you and me! I guess you are the weaker one as Terraius thought, using innocence as a shield!!" Gabrielle is playing a dangerous game.

Cassias turns around and anger flashes through her eyes. "Be careful princess, you tread on dangerous ground!" Then she relaxes slightly. "You know where to find me! Come there and we will solve this once and for all.....Oh and make peace with the Gods before you come,because you won't be leaving!!! Hahaha!" Cassias leaves.

Gabrielle calms and returns to Xenas side. "You have given me so much Xena. I know your not going to be happy about this, but I won't let her hurt you! Or anyone else because of me!" She leans over and gently kisses Xenas forehead. "Good Bye my friend!"

Gabrielle descends the staircase and see's Flariem near the fire still! She walks up to him. "I need a favor flariem! It's real important!." "Anything for one as beautiful and charming as you, Gabrielle." Flariem smiles.

Gabrielle smiles at the young bard. "I need you to wath over my friend, Xena. Just for the night. She should be fine by morning." She leads the young bard back to the room.

Gabrielle explains quickly to the young bard what is wrong and then gathers up her things. "Gabrielle how will you find the city??" the young bard is concerned.

"That is the least of my problems. Cassias will make sure I find it!" Gabrielle turns and looks at her friend, desperately wishing she was going to be with her, but knowing that she has to do this before Cassias hurts anyone else. "Tell her that no matter what, I wouldn't have changed anything!! The last year has been the best!" Gabrielle turns and leaves.

Flariem watches from the window as the young bard/warrior walks into the darkness and her fate?? "Good Luck Gabrielle!, May Artemis be with you!" Flariem turns back, checks on Xena and then takes a seat to begin his watch.

In the dark another pair of eyes watches Gabrielle. But they are filled with hate and blood lust! And they are laughing silently at the young bard!!

Chapter 2

The darkness is lit only by the light shining from the moon and the thousands of stars that dot the sky. Gabrielle has been walking on the road south for an hour. Hee thoughts are with Xena. Hoping she recovers from the drug Cassius gave her. She knows her friend is strong and should be able to fight off the effects. Heck, if Callisto couldn't kill her, then Cassius's drug should be easy. She hopes! She knows her friend will never arrive in time to help her. So she must try to live long enough to bring some small measure of honor to Terraius Gift. And then just on the edge of her mind....

Gabrielle swings around with her staff as an arrow embeds in the tree next to her.

"You'er slow Gabrielle, barely a challenge. Had I wanted too kill you now, you'd be dead!" Cassius voice comes from the trees.

"You brag a lot Cassius, but I'm still alive!" Gabrielle sarcastically replies.

"Don't patronize me little girl! You will die when I want you dead! I know a lot about you Gabrielle.I know about your code of not taking life. It's just a matter of time." Cassius voice holds a hint of Joy and Gabrielle knows in her heart she will never be able ti kill Cassius. "Take the trail where the arrow has landed. It will lead you to the city. Oh, and be careful! I wouldn't want you to die without my hands around that lovely throat of yours!" Cassius laughs.

"Oh, one more thing. I saw your friend tonight! I hope Hades enjoys her company!" Cassius laughs even more.

"You lie! You've followed me since I left the village." Gabrielle's Voice holds a hint of fear.

"Really ?! You need proof then!" Gabrielle hears a familiar sound... the whine of....

Xena's Chakrum embeds itself in the tree where the arrow is. Cassius drops out of the trees and walks over to it. Gabrielle stares in disbelief and shock. "Oh my, is that blood I see on it?! Too bad! I wonder what it feels like to die by your own weapon??" Cassius is smiling evilly.

Rage explodes from within Gabrielle. "I told you to leave her alone. She was not involved in this!!"

Cassius laughs, "Poor Gabrielle, your lucky I let poor Flariem live. You know I enjoyed watching her blood spill out drop by drop by drop.

Gabrielle can take no more and she attacks Cassius. Cassius laughs even more with glee, just staying beyond Gabrielles range of attack. "Some friend. You can't protect her and you won't even get the satisfaction of avenging her!" And with that Cassius takes off down the trail and heads toward the Amazon City. Her laughter echoing through the forest, taunting Gabrielle. "CASSIUS!!" Gabrielle screams into the night. She grabs the Chakrum and places it in her pouch. Then quickly takes off down the path after Cassius.

Flariem awakens slowly. His head feels like a boulder is on it. Light of morning is shining through the window. Then he remembers the hooded figure the night before and the painful crash on his head. Quickly he goes to Xenas side. Some watch he thinks. Then he notices a small pool of blood on the floor next to Xena.

He quickly finds the source is a cut that runs across the palm of her hand. He grabs a rag and the basin of water on the nearby stand. He begins to tend the hand as Xena struggles to awaken. "...Gabrielle ?..." She is groggy yet and is fighting the effects of the drug still.

"Shhh...." says Flariem. "Your safe."

Xena's senses begin to come alive as she hears a voice she doesn't recognize. "Who are you ?!"

"I'm Flariem, remember the bard from last night. Gabrielle asked me to take care of you." Flariem finishes bandaging the hand.

"Gabrielle ?!" Where is she ?" Xena sits up to quickly and everything begins to spin. Flariem grabs her as she loses balance and helps her lean against the wall.

"She went to take care of Cassius." Flariem brings a drink of water to Xena.

"What!! Gabrielle, what do you think your doing ?" Xena is fully awake now. She puts her hand to her head and closes her eyes, willing herself better.

Flariem produces the packet of white powder that Xena used on Gabrielle the previous day. "She said you would need this and I wasn't to let leave till you had ate."

Xena opens her eyes and looks at Flariem questioningly. Remembering he gave them the drinks the night before. Flariem see's the question. Gabrielle had told him Xena would be cautious.

"Yes, I bought the wine. But I didn't put the drug in it. Gabrielle is sure that Cassius did it while the innkeepers back was turned. Please Xena believe me." She has no reason to trust him, except those eyes. Flariems eyes are as innocent as Gabrielles and Xena can tell he is telling the truth. She takes some of the white powder for her headache. It is then that she notices her Chakrum is missing and finally sees the bandage on her hand. "What happened ?"

"I'm not sure. Someone wacked me over the head last night. When I came to, it was morning and I found your hand bleeding."

Xena begins to rise and Flariem helps her stand. She is still not quite free of the drugs effects. "Cassius did this! Gabrielle is in great danger. I've got to get to her." Xena stumbles and Flariem pushes her down on the bed.

"Your not going anywhere till you eat. I made Gabrielle a promise and I intend to keep it. Stay put and I'll get some food." Flariem gets up and walks out of the room.

Xena chuckles softly, "These bards sure are a stubborn lot!" Then her mind goes to Gabrielle. She lays back and concentrates on her friend. And for a brief moment she see's her friend. Exhausted, running through the forest. Anger and fear in her eyes. And then it's gone just as quickly as it was there. Xena shakes herself, she always knew the bond between Gabrielle and her was strong. But she never knew how strong before.

Flariem reenters with some bread, cheese, and fruit. "Here, eat something. Then we will go after Gabrielle."

Xena looks at the bard. "We ? I don't think so. Your staying here!"

"No! I'm to take care of you. Gabrielle was firm about that. You can't do it alone yet. The drugs affects will take time to wear off. So whether you like it or not, your stuck with me!" Flariem looks her straight in the eyes.

Xena frustrated, "I can't believe it! You are just like her!! Stubborn and headstrong. All right . We need to leave soon. How long has she been gone?!" Xena begins eating.

"She left shortly after you passed out. She also asked me to give you a message." Flariem had been dreading this part.

Xena saw the fear in his eyes. "What was the message ?"

"She said to tell Xena that no matter what, I wouldn't have changed anything. The last year has been the best!" Flariem watches Xenas face and sees pain flash across it.

Xena's voice is only a whisper. " Gabrielle." Then she starts to rise. "Come on we have to go NOW!!"

"What's wrong?" Flariem is helping Xena up.

Xena looks at Flariem. "Gabrielle plans on giving up her Right of Caste to Cassius. The only way that can be done is for her to die. We have to hurry."

Flariem quickly gathers up Xenas things and helps her up on Argo. He gets up behind her and they ride south. Xena concentrates as hard on her friend and her thoughts hope she can hear. "Gabrielle, don't give up ! I'm on my way. Please FIGHT!"

Gabrielle has chased Cassius for hours. Each time avoiding some new attack on her by the Amazon women. She is hot tired and in pain. She pauses to rest near a small pool of water. She sits back after getting a drink and closes her eyes. Sleep soon comes to the Gab and somewhere in her mind she feels Xena's touch and hears her plea, "FIGHT!"

Gabrielle sits bolt upright. All is quiet and she can feel a cool breeze. "You know I chose well with you Gabrielle!"

Gabrielle can't believe her eyes. Terraius stands before her smiling. She shimmers in the glow of morning. "Terraius ?!"

"Yes, Gabrielle. It's good to see you haven't forgotten me." Terraius comes near.

"Forget you, How?? After what you gave me ! Why? Why did you give me the Right of Caste? Why not Ephiny or Cassius ??" Gabrielle is tired and wants to know Terraius reasoning.

Terraius gently kneels before Gabrielle. "Ephiny is a warrior, she knows that. Cassius heart, even though she loved me, sought power and position. But you Gabrielle sought only knowledge, wisdom, and truth. You wanted none of the other. One who rules must have these things first. The fighting and great warrior skills can come later."

Gabrielle looks at the young woman and shakes her head. "But now Cassius will kill me, unless I kill her. I can't kill her Terraius, you know that. Soon I'll be with you and she will have the Right of Caste! You have only delayed the inevitable."

Terraius looks at the tired princess with love and concern. "The Amazon's are safe as long as you have the Right. You have two possible outcomes to this path. Xena will arrive to help you. But I know not when. She may help you defeat her or arrive in time for you to give her the Right!! It is your choice when all is said and done. You chose to take on Cassius to keep others safe. That shows the heart of a true leader!" Terraius rises and begins to walk off, the stops to look back at Gabrielle. "I wish I had known you longer. We could have been Good Friends! Artemis is near for you Gabrielle, You are her chosen Favorite!" And with that Terraius image fades.

Gabrielle rises. Cleans her wounded arm and eats. She has much to think about and quite a ways to go. She begins to jog down the path again. "I won't dishonor you Terraius!"

And on the wind Gabrielle hears Terraius answer, "You never have Gabrielle ! You never have!"

Cassius rests in a clearing not far from Gabrielle. Her mind is consumed by hate and rage. Her only thoughts now are to make the bard suffer till she dies. Taking Xena's Chakrum and covering it in her blood had been a pure stroke of genius. Gabrielle had become enraged at Cassius so badly she had not kept track of where she was being led. Soon she would start hitting the traps laid for her. Nothing to kill her, but the would cause her problems. Too bad, Maybe I should have killed Xena. But that stupid innkeeper had interrupted me.

Terraius was a fool to give Gabrielle her Right of Caste! Gabrielle was weak and would only lead the amazons to their death. But Cassius would lead them back to the great City and they would reclaim all that was rightfully theirs!!

"Are you so sure Cassius ?!"

"Terraius!!" Cassius love has turned to hatred now and she strikes out at her former lover. "What do you want ! You've already caused enough trouble !!"

"Has your heart grown so cold and hard from seeking after power ? You were once as she is!" Terraius watches.

"I WAS NEVER LIKE HER !" Screams Cassius. "She is a sniveling weak brat! She never deserved your Right of Caste ! She was an outsider Terraius!!"

"She is noble and wise Cassius! There is much you could learn from her, even Xena can see this." Terraius says gently.

"Xena is weak and I will take care of her soon enough! I can learn nothing from Gabrielle, but I will teach her!" Grinning evilly. "I will make sure she gets all her warrior lessons and then I will kill her!"

"You will not get what you want Cassius and Gabrielle may surprise you yet!" And with that Terraius is gone.

"You are a fool Terraius! A FOOL!!!!" But her words are lost on the wind.

(End of ch. 2)

Chapter 3


Xena and Flariem have arrived at the small trail into the forest! Xena see's the evidence of Gabrielle and Cassius fight. But it is the Tree near the trail with the Chakrum cut in it that alarms Xena the most! Gabrielle's footprints lead into the forest.

"Well she's alive! The trail is to narrow to take Argo. I'll go on from here, you can take care of Argo till I get back!" Xena begins to remove a small pouch from Argo.

"No! I'm going with you. I've come this far and I want to help."Seeing the look on Xena's face Flariem continues. "I'll just follow you, so you may as well take me with!"

Xena has no time to Argue, she is already too far behind her friend. She whispers into Argo's ear. Argo wanders off. "All right, lets go! " She takes off with a fast jog into the forest with Flariem following. The going is tough. The trail has overgrown from lack of use. Gabrielle's path is easier to follow because of this. Xena and Flariem are making good headway despite of the problems. But suddenly Xena stops, Flariem almost falls over her.

"What is it ?" Flariem says breathing hard.

"Stay put! I'll be right back." Xena walks carefully forward peering at the trail carefully. She gets on her knees and see's a very thin string of twine strung taunt across the trail. She moves carefully back and pulls her breast dagger out.

"Get down!" Flariem lays flat against the ground. Xena kneels down, takes careful aim and throws the dagger. In the same instance she drops flat against the ground. As the dagger severs the thread, it releases a set of sharpen wooden spikes that fly over Xena and Flariem's heads. Flariem looks at Xena in amazement. "How did you know ?!"

Xena gives him a look and then gets up. She checks the area over and returns to Flariem. "Come on !" They begin there jog again.

"Why would she leave the trap if she knew you were drugged ?!" Flariem asks as they run.

"She knew the effects of the drug wouldn't last. She has no intention of just killing Gabrielle, she plans on making her suffer. Slowing us down gives her more time to take with hr plan." Xena can feel the strength returning as the drug leaves her body. She concentrates all her anger now on Cassius and getting to Gabrielle.

Cassius watches from the trees as Gabrielle tops a rise in the jungle. Cassius leaps down, kicking Gabrielle over the edge. Gabrielle has no time to react and rolls over and over slamming into a large tree at the bottom. Cassius laugh rings out through the forest, as Gabrielle painfully pulls herself up. Gabrielle leans back on the tree and looks up at Cassius. "Oh, Gabrielle, some Warrior. Can't even predict an attack."

"That was a dirty trick Cassius, not worthy of a True Amazon Warrior! But then we know your not a very worthy Amazon!" Her taunt almost sends Cassius into a rage, but Cassius quickly controls herself. "We shall see Princess, who is worthy!" And Cassius takes off into the forest again.

Gabrielle shakes her head. "Stupid! Xena has taught you better than this. I should have seen that coming!" Gabrielle picks her self off the ground. Pain lances through her arm and side. She looks herself over. The gash on her arm has reopened, she has cuts and scrapes all over and her ribs are sore. Other than that she is in one piece. "Geesh, I look like I went 10 rounds with Argo!" She smiles now, wishing her friend was here to carry her. She sighs and moves forward grabbing her pouch off the ground and taking out a clean rag. She rebandages her arm, retrieves her war staff from were it had fallen and slowly and carefully climbs up to the top of the rise. Once at the top, she begins jogging after Cassius. Thinking to herself, I have to be more careful. I need to listen. I have to be more aware or I'll be dead before I get there.

As Gabrielle jogs on , the sun rises to the height of mid-day. The heat and humidity combined with her physical exertion are taking a toll on the Gabrielle. She has however become completely focused on Cassius, pushing all thoughts of Xena to the back of her mind. She no longer feels the stings of the branches as she goes down the trail. Nor does she feel the ache and weariness of her body. She has focused on only one thought, to stop Cassius no matter what!

Suddenly Gabrielle bursts into a small clearing. Cassius stands on the opposite side, she has a branch the size and thickness of a fighting staff and she is smiling evilly. "Took you long enough! Time for your next lesson Princess." Gabrielle is becoming to hate the way Cassius sneers the word Princess. Cassius approaches , her staff at the ready.

"I thought you wanted to kill me in the city ? Why all these lessons !" Gabrielle readies herself.

"Oh, I plan to kill you in the City Arena. But nothing like a little fun first!" Cassius swings the staff toward Gabrielle's head. Gabrielle blocks with her staff and kicks her foot full force into Cassius stomach. Cassius recovers quickly, swinging the staff to trip Gabrielle. Gabrielle leaps over and counters with a swing that connects with Cassius shoulder. Cassius staggers just a little and swings the staff toward Gabrielles shoulder. Gabrielle goes to block and is quickly dropped to the ground as Cassius had changed direction of the staff at the last moment. Gabrielle blocks and overhead downward swing from Cassius while on the ground. Gab then brings the lower end of he staff up connecting with Cassius gut. As Cassius reacts, Gabrielle leaps back up. And so it goes for the next 30 minutes. Each opponent blocking attacking and exchanging blows. Finally Cassius makes a direct hard blow to Gabrielle s wound on her shoulder, sending pain through Gabrielle. But instead of dropping her staff, Gabrielles training takes over and she thrusts the staff forward for a direct blow to Cassius face! Cassius stumbles back as blood flows from her nose and Gabrielle pulls back to a defensive position to await the next attack.

Gabrielle is breathing hard and Cassius is wiping blood from her nose. "Your good with the staff Gabrielle. But an Amazon uses more than just a staff. When next we meet, you'll need to do better!"

"Maybe you should quit while your ahead Cassius. You'll never get the Right of Caste. I'm not that easy to kill!" Gabrielle focuses all her anger at Cassius.

Cassius slowly backs toward the trail. "We will see how easy you die! The city is only a days walk from here. We should be there tomorrow. And then the real fight begins, My Princess!"Cassius turns to leave, but Gabrielle rushes forward and grabs her by the hair. Cassius swings her hand back and strikes Gabrielle down. Her staff leveled now at Gabrielles throat. "I could crush your windpipe and watch you die a slow death right now, but I have other plans for you. DON"T EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN!" Cassius turns quickly and jogs off into the forest. Gabrielle slowly picks herself up and walks over to a shaded spot. She grabs a piece of fruit from a nearby branch and sits down. Slowly she squeezes the juice into her mouth to relieve her thirst. The gash on her left arm has stopped aching and she is numb down to her elbow. Gabrielle knows that at the rate Cassius is attacking her and the heat and travel, she won't last very long in the cities arena. How does Xena do it she wonders. She has new found admiration for her friends abilities. "Xena! I don't think I can take much more." Gabrielle leans back and lets sleep slowly take her. And somewhere in the forest Xena's spirit hears Gabrielles plea and her friend concentrates. And Gabrielle hears her friend. "You can do this! You are a Warrior Gabrielle, You have great strength inside you. Gabrielle I believe in you! Fight! I am coming!!" Gabrielle smiles in her sleep. And the day moves on as a young amazon princess sleeps with the soft touch of her friends soul guarding her.

It is evening The heat of the day has passed and night is approaching quickly. Xena and Flariem have reached the pool of water Gabrielle was at just that morning. "Staying on the trail in the dark will be too hard. We'll rest here tonight and go on in the morning. Get some firewood, but don't go to far." Xena watches the young Flariem wander off, thinking how much like Gabrielle he is. Xena walks over to the small pool of water, thinking about Gabrielles plea and touch from this afternoon. She almost fell when Gabrielle's plea touched her. The weight and defeat in it was so great . She had stopped Flariem to rest and gone off by herself to be with her friend. She had lingered to long trying to comfort Gabrielle and set her mind at ease. Gabrielle and her bond had grown extremely strong. One of the gifts of that bond had been in moments of deep need they could reach out with there souls and touch in someway! Xena had never been able to explain it, but Gabrielle had always held a knowledge of it. Xena sighs and kneels down to take a drink. Raising her head back up she notices a piece of cloth near a stone. She reaches over to pick up the blood soaked rag Gabrielle had discarded from this morning. Xena's heart catches. The wound must have reopened. "Gabrielle, Why are you so stubborn ? Why wouldn't you wait and let me help you ?"

"Because she wants to protect you." Flariem had returned and started a fire. Noticing Xena near the spring, he had wandered over. "She believes it is her fault you were drugged and her responsibility to take care of Cassius." Xena rises and looks at Flariem. "She's wrong. It was never her fault, nor her responsibility alone. And I don't need protecting!"

"Don't you Xena ? I watched Gabrielle and you. Your friendship is stronger than any I have seen, but you each need something from the other. What is she trying to protect in you ?" Flariems question has hit a blind spot in the Warrior Princess.

"Tend the fire, I'll be back with something for dinner." Xena goes off into the forest. She returns a short time later carrying a rabbit. Flariem has gathered some fruit and pulled bread from the bag they have been carrying. As the rabbit cooks, Flariem tries to break the quiet. "I'm sorry I did not mean to intrude into your thoughts earlier."

"Don't worry about it." Xena stares at the fire as Flariem turns the cooking rabbit.

Flariem sees the pain on Xena's face and knows that more sits just below the surface. "Artemis will help her. She will be ok."

Xena looks at him. She is amazed at how much he reminds her of Gabrielle and how much a like they are."Artemis doesn't care. She only helps when it serves her purpose."

They lapse into silence again and Flariem takes the rabbit and divides it. The eat in silence. Afterwards Flariem tries again. "How long have you two been together ?"

Xena gives in finally, disliking the silence. "For a year now."

"Amazing!" Flariem is shocked.

"Why ?" Xena is curious to his reaction now.

"It's just that you two act as if you have always known each other. Never been apart." Flariem looks thoughtfully at Xena.

Xena hesitates a little , then.... "I've never had a friend like Gabrielle. I thought when she first joined me, she would leave after a while. But she didn't. In fact, when she was not with me, it was like a part of me was missing." Xena chuckles softly, "I'd always tease her that she was too stubborn for her own good."

Flariem smiles. "I believe she sees as I do, the part of your soul you try desperately to hide away. You are both very lucky to have each other." Xena is startled a little by this, so good had she become at keeping her mask in place. She knew Gabrielle could see through, but that Flariem could shook her a little.

"I'm sorry again. I didn't mean to upset you." Flariem tend the fire again.

"No. Don't be. But I think I'm the one who is lucky. If Gabrielle hadn't come along....." She begins to think. But Flariem finishes her sentence with clear insight. "....You would never have changed. Yes, but then Gabrielle would not have become the women she is now either. Whether you want to admit it or not. You two are not complete apart. You are like two sides of the same soul. Each different, but one."

Xena listens with newfound realization."Flariem, you are very wise. Gabrielle surely knew what she was doing when she asked for your help." Xena rises, "Get some sleeps. I'll be back." Xena walks off. Flariem watches her go and wonders to himself what would happen to Xena if Gabrielle did die. A soul with only one side would never be complete and would fade into nothing.

Xena walks near the pool of water and sits down. The reflection of the moon plays across the water and a gentle breeze causes it to ripple. She looks up at the moon and closes her eyes. "Artemis, please protect Gabrielle! I'll never make it in time."

"I know Xena!" Artemis soft voice drifts over to Xena as she appears before her. Dressed for the hunt and bathed in moonlight. Xena stands quickly. "Your right, you won't make it in time to stop what will happen. Gabrielle must do this alone."

"Won't you help her ? She's not a warrior, at least not one with the skill to beat Cassius!" Xena's voice holds hope for what Artemis could do.

"There's nothing I can do yet!" Artemis is adamant about this.

"You say yet ? Why?" And then a thought occurs to Xena. "Your using this as a test! She could Die!" Xena's anger begins to grow.

"Watch you tone Warrior Princess! Yes, she could die, but Gabrielle accepted the Right of Caste. I already knew she was Wise and Honorable, but a ruler must also defend her people. So her skills as a warrior needed testing. I was about to have the amazons send for her, when Cassius showed up."

Xena's tone is dangerously low. "So you saw an opportunity! Not caring whether she would survive!!"

"No, Xena! Exactly the opposite! You sell your friend short Xena. Cassius is a cunning and skilled warrior, but she has no compassion. She is a danger to the Amazons. I believe Gabrielle will win. She is fast, strong and her mind is quick. You have taught her well." Artemis is smiling now.

"How far am I from her ? Please Artemis, help me get to her!" Xena anger is lost, knowing she needs to help Gabrielle.

"I'm sorry Xena, but events must unfold as they are now. Gabrielle chose them. But I will be near for her, if she calls on me. She is special Xena, More than you realize." Then answer me this, is she alright. I need to know Artemis!" Xena pleads with the Goddess who holds her friends life in her hands.

Artemis watches Xena for a moment and then answers. "She is ok. But she is going to need Flariem and your help when this is done. Cassius is more evil than I expected and is constantly springing traps on her. Gabrielle is holding her own."

Xena sits, defeat showing in her. Knowing she could not protect her friend from this no matter how hard she would try.

"Be strong Xena. She is much like you!" And with that Artemis leaves and Xena weeps in the night for her friend, and what may happen.

End Part Three

Chapter 4

The sun is just beginning to rise. Gabrielle has slept through the night. She rises now. Feeling stronger, but sore. She quickly cares for her wounds and scrapes. She loosens muscles stiffen by the long rest. She looks at the sun and whispers, "Today, We finish this Today!" And then she is off again. As she jogs she thinks of what she must do and makes a decision. Her winning against Cassius will depend on a couple of factors. One Cassius's pride. Second just in case, a favor from Artemis. Neither of which were very promising right now!! But Xena was fond of saying that Gabrielle could be annoying! Time to find out! By midmorning she stops for a drink at a stream and then moves on again. Cassius has not attacked her and all Gabrielles senses are on edge. She can feel Cassius eyes watching her.

She reaches the city by Mid-day. As she tops a small rise, the jungle reveals to her city like none she has seen. Over grown with vines and branches, but still revealing all that was lost! It's Gates guarded by two massive leopard like statues. A wall that is high enough for defending and still to invite the traveler. Building within of white stone hidden below the branches. At the center Stands a Temple erected to the Goddess Artemis, made of the purest white marble that Gabrielle has ever seen! In the light it shines as a beacon, calling out to her. And on the wind a voice light and lilting whispers, "Reclaim me for the Glory of Artemis and The Honor of the Amazons!" Gabrielle gives a little start, amazed at the power of the words she has just heard. Trying to believe that she has not heard them. Then off to the side of the temple stands The Arena! And Gabrielles heart catches. Then she digs down within herself and focuses on the battle to come! She starts down the rise and approaches the cities gates. From the size Gabrielle believes it would take at least 3 Amazons to open or close. They stand open though, and Gabrielle cautiously enters in. The buildings are closely grouped together. There are several narrow streets that lead through out the city. But the main Street leads straight toward the Temple of Artemis and is wider.

Gabrielle's eyes are drawn to the Temple of Artemis. She must go there first and then she can go to the Arena. Gabrielle walks slowly forward, knowing with even the wide street here, the buildings provide perfect opportunity for an ambush!!

"Welcome to the City of the Amazons, Gabrielle!" Cassius voice rings out and echos off the smooth stone of the city. Gabrielle hunts for its location. "Take a good look ! For soon this shall be my city! And My Amazons to rule over!!"

"Be careful of your over confidence Cassius. You haven't won yet! The Amazons will never follow you!" Gabrielle decides to begin the game here. She must draw Cassius out.

Cassius laughs. "You are so amusing Gabrielle. No wonder Xena lets you follow her. She needs a Good laugh!"

Gabrielle is carefully moving down the main street. Searching the buildings she passes with her eyes. There are too many places for Cassius to hide. Every reflect is tense with the knowing of what is to come. The Temple looms ahead. Her only safe haven before the storm to come. "At least Xena can laugh with me." Slowly turning to find Cassius, "Not like Terraius who had to live with disappointment from you. Watching you tear her heart out with your evil."

"AAAAAAEEEEEEYYYYYY!" Gabrielle barely has time to deflect the sword blow when Cassius jumps from the shadows.

"Why you little Wench! You are going to die for that!" And she swings her sword at Gabrielle in rage. Gabrielle blocks her blow. More blows fall towards her and Gabrielle blocks them. Cassius spying a water trough behind Gabrielle presses her attack, causing Gabrielle to stumble and fall backwards. Then Gabrielle makes a near fatal mistake. In trying to break her fall, she releases the war staff. The staff rolls away to the side as Gabrielle lands and rolls quickly coming up in a defensive position with no weapon. Cassius, seeing Gabrielles mistake, places herself between the staff and the bard.

Her sword at the ready, she begins to playfully swing at Gabrielle. Forcing her back again. "Some warrior! Not even a fair Amazon Princess. Now who is a disappointment Gabrielle??"

Cassius swings with purpose now at Gabrielle. Gabrielle drops and sweeps her leg tripping Cassius backward. Cassius falls, as Gabrielle leaps forward, rolling and reclaiming her staff. She comes up with the staff in her hands and turns and runs toward the Temple of Artemis. Cassius quickly recovers and takes off after her. Resheathing the sword, Cassius pulls out a bola and swings it over head. She aims and throws at Gabrielle. Gabrielle feels something snag her feet, trips and falls toward the ground. This time though she retains her staff. She hits the ground and quickly rolls over, staff held before her. Cassius now stands before her, sword drawn. It's point just inches away from Gabrielle.

"You are too easy!" Cassius sneers.

"Really?" Gabrielle then brings her staff straight up, doubling Cassius over with a devastating blow to between Cassius thighs. She then knocks her back with the end of the staff and quickly removes the bola. Looking down at Cassius, Gabrielle lets a wicked smile escape. "I'm never easy!" And Gabrielle takes off toward the Temple. She reaches the temple and enters in. She heads straight for the altar. She looks straight up and calls , "Artemis, I here now! Did you have to do this!?"

Artemis appears next to Gabrielle. She gently caresses her young princess. Gabrielle shivers from her touch. "I knew you'd figure it out. You are very wise Gabrielle." She looks at the young warrior before her. She is a sight. Battered, wounded, dirty and tired. But even in all this there is bearing in Gabrielle that the Goddess has seen in few humans that speaks out and says this one is precious, she will do great things.

Gabrielle steps back form Artemis. She has had enough of being a pawn in games. "If you wanted to test me it could have been done by the amazons. Not in a life and death situation with Cassius! She almost killed Xena! Why???"

Artemis sees the fire behind Gabrielles eyes, She lets her vent some of her anger, knowing that it is helping to sustain her now. "Yes, your right. I could have done that. But Cassius would have come after you anyway! And she endangers my Amazons! I needed her dealt with! You are the perfect vessel for that."

"You know I can't kill her and that is the only thing that will stop her!" Gabrielle has never been so angry, but she controls the rage that wants to be released. "You have sealed my death and the death of the Amazons."

"You have a great power within you Gabrielle. It can be used to defeat Cassius. You already know that!" Artemis watches as Gabrielle nods her head.

She can't fight the truth of Artemis's words. She'd known even in Potadeia that she was different and had found out why only recently. She looks up at Artemis. "I have a favor that I need to ask. I want your word that you'll agree to it!"

Artemis looks at her. She was bold and there was no hint of fear. She would make a perfect leader one day. She would be everything prophecised on her birth and more. If.... "You have but to ask. But remember, I can not interfere with the fight once it begins. You will be on your own !"

"I understand!" Gabrielles eyes are clear with understanding and knowledge beyond her years. "This is all I ask. As Amazon Princess and Holder of Terraius Right of Caste. I ask that you...."

It is late in the afternoon. Gabrielle leaves the Temple and heads toward the Arena. Her stride purposeful and her eyes shine with the knowledge that no matter what she will defeat Cassius now.

Xena and Flariem have made great time. They left before mornings dawn, the feeling of tension being more than Xena could handle. Flariem is tired, but still keeps up the pace. Xena whispers under her breathe. "Not long now!" The pull of Gabrielles soul is definitely closer. Fear stays knotted in her gut and she keeps it pushed down. And on they go...

Gabrielle enters the arena. What stories this place must hold she thought. And now it will hold one more for Good or Bad! She quickly steps from the shadows of the entryway into the light. It is not unlike other arenas she has seen Xena fight in. However at the center, appears a huge pit with a log across the center. She looks around and sees no sign of Cassius. She walks slowly toward the pit and peers over the edge. It is dark, but the light reveals it to be deep. Just then a tickling sensation touches Gabrielle and Cassius enters into the arena. The wicked gleam and evil smile on her face. She carries a spare sword and throws it at the feet of Gabrielle.

"Pick it up and prepare to die!" Cassius growls. She is still limping from Gabrielles earlier assault.

Gabrielle smiles, "Aren't you forgetting something Cassius?"

Cassius looks warily at Gabrielle. "No! Why ?"

Gabrielle maneuvers around to the opposite side of the pit. Putting distance between Cassius and her. "This is Artemis's Arena, her City! Artemis, I Gabrielle, Princess of the Amazons, heir to Queen Melosas thrown, call on you to appear to judge who shall rightfully rule the Amazon's!"

"NO!" Cassius screams. She had not thought of this at all! So blinded with her greed for power, she had forgotten who's city this really was!

Artemis appears in her finest clothes for the hunt. Two priestesses appear next to her and seat her on the Dais at the end of the arena. Xena and Flariem appear next to Artemis. They glisten with sweat and are completely off guard at where they are. Artemis gives them a warning look., that silences there questions.

One of the priestesses steps forward and speaks "Gabrielle, Amazon Princess, your summons has not fallen on deaf ears. Favored are you of Artemis this day. Fight well for the Amazon's Honor."

Xena cannot believe this is her friend!! Her appearance is like that after a major battle and yet, the fight is just beginning. Xena see's the damage Cassius has inflicted and starts to walk toward Gabrielle. "HOLD XENA!" Xena is restrained and seated on the dais next to Artemis. "This is not your affair. Gabrielle have taken full responsibility. You may stay and watch, or be returned to where you were." Xena looks at her friend. Gabrielle acknowledges Xena's presence, but turns back to Cassius.

"I will stay and watch." Xena is seething with anger from not being able to help.

"You will not win Gabrielle! You of all people should know Artemis can't interfere or anyone else." Cassius laughs and it sends a cold chill down Xena's back. But Gabrielle barely even flinches.

"Come on Cassius! Don't you think it's time we really had it out. You have been blowing a lot of air with your threats and still I stand! I'm alive and you are still just as pitiful as the moment this started!" Gabrielle moves onto the log, balancing herself . Staff at the ready!

Cassius steps up onto the log, "You are a dead fool Gabrielle!" And Flariem and Xena's blood runs cold at the sound of the words.

Gabrielle laughs. "All talk Cassius! All talk!" And the deadly game begins........

(End of ch.4)

Chapter 5

They stand perfectly balanced. Purpose in both faces. One with power hungry rage , the other with purposeful determination of Love. Xena watches as Gabrielle's expression reflects the mask Xena has always used. But there is a hint of amusing taunting in the face.

Cassius sword swings low and quick. Gabrielle catches the sword with the lower end of her staff swinging it up and over. Cassius is minorly off balanced and Gabrielle kicks forward with her leg. Cassius grabs Gabrielles ankle as it connects with her gut and yanks straight up. Gabrielle falls backwards, landing slightly off balance. She quickly recovers her balance and catches Cassius sword on her staff as it falls toward her head.

Xena jumps up, but Artemis's invisible force restrains her from going any further. Panic shows in Xena eyes. Cassius presses the sword down harder on Gabrielles staff, using brute force. Gabrielle shows no sign of fear in her eyes as Cassius stares at them, instead they are laughing at Cassius. And then with more force than she has ever used before she rolls her and Cassius toward the open pit! Both fall over the edge. Gabrielle and Cassius release there weapons and grab the log as they fall. They hang there suspended in space. Then as quickly as possible they scramble back on to the log. Cassius reaches the top just before Gabrielle. And as Gabrielle comes to the top and faces her, Cassius kicks forward with all her might! Gabrielle doubles over, but manages to keep herself balanced.

"You should have killed me when you had the advantage earlier!" Cassius laughs looking at Gabrielle. "Oh, by the way. You are Easy!" Cassius swings her fist out to knock Gabrielle off the log.

"GABRIELLE!" Xena yells in fear.

Gabrielle lunges forward knocking both her and Cassius off the log, back onto the floor of the arena. Gabrielle lands a fist to Cassius jaw. Cassius throws Gabrielle up and over her head. Gabrielle lands hard on her wounded shoulder and rolls to stand quickly. Cassius has already flipped back to her feet and pulled her crossbow on Gabrielle. She fires at close range and Gabrielle's hand grabs the arrow from the air in one swift movement.

"Nice try Cassius! Hope your better with your other weapons!! Pretty sad when you can't hit anything this close!" Gabrielle's taunt enrages Cassius and she flings herself forward knocking Gabrielle back and grabbing her by the throat. Cassius grip is like steel and Gabrielle is starting to see spots in front of her. Gabrielle takes both hands and boxes Cassius as hard as she can on the ears. The pressure releases from Gabrielles throat and she punches upwards and throws Cassius clear of her. She quickly gets to her feet and repositions herself on the other side of the pit, trying to catch her breath. She watches Cassius. If the other woman is tiring there is very little sign of it. She glances over toward Xena and see's the fear on her friends face. She wishes she could spare her this. But it was part of the agreement that she made with Artemis. She needed her here afterwards for what would happen.

Gabrielle turns her attention back to Cassius. Cassius comes across the log as fast as possible flipping end over end and slamming into Gabrielle. Gabrielle hits the inner wall of the arena. Cassius has reclaimed the spare sword that she had thrown at Gabrielle's feet earlier. Gabrielle pulls herself up and stands defensively. Fire lances through her back.

"You would have killed Terraius if she hadn't of died! I can see it in your eyes." Gabrielle knows she hasn't a chance with no weapon.

You are very smart Gabrielle, too smart! Yes, I had planned on poisoning her! It was going to be a slow process and I would have never been discovered." She swings the sword toward Gabrielles head. Gabrielle ducks and moves back quickly.

"Just like a coward! You knew you couldn't beat her in a fair fight! So you chose a deceitful path. You never loved her, you only used her!!" Gabrielle ducks and rolls from another sword swing.

Xena is absolutely in a panic for her friend. She continues to strain against Artemis's hold but it does no good. Artemis keeps her attention on the fight and Xena, as do her priestesses. In all the excitement though, no one notices Flariem relieve one of the priestesses of there short sword.

"Gabrielle! Here!" Flariem throws the short sword to Gabrielle. Gabrielle catches it and in one single movement blocks a death blow that had come inches from her neck.

Artemis turns on Flariem. Anger in her eyes. "You are not allowed to interfere!!" An invisible hand throws Flariem onto his back, knocking the wind out of him. "Do not interfere again or you will join the loser!" But as Artemis turns back a smile plays across her face.

Xena goes to Flariem and assists him to his feet. "Are you all right ?"

"Yes, just should have expected that." Flariem smiles slightly.

"Thank You Flariem, you took a great risk. I won't forget it! Ever!!" Xena turns back to the fight and thanks the gods for Falriems courage. It had just saved Gabrielles life.

Cassius and Gabrielle continue to exchange sword blows. Cassius though is starting to pick up cuts and gashes as Gabrielle wears her defenses down. The sun is starting to set and the two combatants are starting to slow, if just slightly. Cassius backs away. Gabrielle stands ready, breathing hard. "Unfair! He interfered!" Cassius yells at Artemis. Artemis says nothing.

"What's wrong Cassius ? Afraid of a fair fight! Not as easy as you thought I would be! I knew you could only pick on the helpless, not the strong!" Gabrielle's taunting has had it's effect finally. "You are not am Amazon! What would you know of a fair fight ?" Cassius rests, but stands ready.

"But she is an Amazon! Born from the line of Hyppolyta!" Artemis smiles after speaking these words.

Everyone turns and looks at Artemis. Except Gabrielle. "WHAT?!" Cassius and Xena say in unison. That's the only opening that Gabrielle need. She drop kicks Cassius to the ground. The sword goes flying from Cassius hand and Gabrielle leaps forward landing on top of Cassius. Ridding herself of the sword, Gabrielle pins Cassius to the ground. "It ends forever, here and now!" Gabrielle's shine with a strength and clarity Cassius has only seen in her lover Terraius. And then Cassius rage bursts through. They struggle rolling toward the edge of the pit!

"If I die, you go with me!" Cassius arms lock tight around Gabrielles. They teeter on the edge of the pit. Gabrielle looks up at Xena, eyes locking. And then Cassius off balances them both and they fall into the darkness!

"Gabrielle!" Xena's restraints are lifted and she jumps from the dais. She runs to the edge of the pit, as echos of Cassius voice float back up. Xena reaches the edge and looks over. The darkness of evening envelopes the entire pit and she can see nothing. Flariem comes to stand next to her, watching as emotions begin to pull her. But Artemis stays on the dais.

Xena turns on Artemis. "Why ? What possible purpose could this serve ?"

But Artemis says nothing. She waits....

Then slowly from the edge of the pit a hand emerges to grab the ground.

"Xena looks!" Flariem rushes forward. Xena turns and quickly grabs the hand, pulling Gabrielle out. Xena grabs her and hugs her tightly.

"Xena, Please! I can't breathe!" Gabrielle laughs. Xena releases her, tears falling down Xena cheeks.

"Gabrielle!" Artemis voice is commanding.

Gabrielle turns and steps forward. Artemis appears before her. She lightly brushes her cheek. "It is time. It must be done Now!" Gabrielle nods.

"What must be done ?" Xena asks, concern showing.

Artemis two priestesses step forward. They hold Gabrielle in place. Artemis turns to Xena. "When Gabrielle came to temple. She had not the strength left for this fight. So she asked a favor of me."

"What favor ?" Xena peers narrowly at Artemis. She watches as Gabrielle kneels before Artemis.

"She asked for Terraius to be allowed to help her. And so I gave her, her wish." Artemis turns and unsheathes her sword.

"Wait! What do you mean ?" Xena watches as Artemis sword rests over Gabrielle's heart.

"There two souls were combined. So Gabrielle could have the strength to fight. But they must now be separated!" Artemis plunges the sword into Gabrielles heart. Gabrielle's eyes go wide! Artemis pulls out her sword and Gabrielle falls forward.

"NO!" Xena shoves Artemis out of the way. Gabrielle lays as still as stone.

Terraius appears next to Artemis. "She is truly a Amazon Princess. Sacrificing all to protect that which she loves!"

Xena turns on Artemis. "Why did you kill her ? She fought for honor! She won with honor!"

"Xena!" Gabrielle whispers softly. Xena whirls around and kneels quickly next to her friend. She notices then that there is no blood, no mark. "I'm not dead. Not yet!"

"Gabrielle ? I don't understand ?!" Xena gently lifts her friends head and pillows it in her lap.

"Artemis sword has the ability to kill. But it can also divide the soul and heart." Flariem speaks softly.

Artemis comes and kneels by Gabrielle. "Well done my Chosen One! You are truly the rightful Princess of the Amazons!! Heal now and when you have need call on me!" Artemis lightly kisses the top of Gabrielles head.

Terraius ghost steps forward. Gabrielle looks up and understanding floods through her. "You have and always will bring honor to my name!" Gabrielle falls asleep. Xena gently allows Flariem to take her place.

"Gabrielle never was tested then. It was Terraius all the time." Xena stares coolly at the two.

"No! Gabrielle did all you saw. The only thing she got from Terraius was the strength to fight and the answers to questions she has had of Terraius." Artemis smiles down at her. "Care for her Xena, she fought to protect you."

Artemis, the priestesses, and Terraius disappear. Gabrielles Staff appears beside her. A gold band is around the staff with Artemis name engraved into it. Then all time shifts and Xena, Flariem, and Gabrielle are on the road where Argo was left. It is night and Xena quickly finds shelter. Flariem sets up camp, while Xena tends to Gabrielle.

(End of chapter 5, cont....)

Chapter 6

It is late that night when Gabrielle finally stirs. She is aware of the cool air, the sound of crickets and of soft breathing nearby. She hears Argos hoof's nearby pawing against the ground. She glances over and sees Flariem laying on the other side of the fire. Xena sleeps nearby, her breathing slow and steady. Gabrielle looks at her friend and thanks Artemis that Xena didn't have to watch her die! Even with all that has happened and as tired as she is, Gabrielle feels something is not right. She carefully pulls herself up, sucking in a gasp as pain floods her body. Xena awakens from her light sleep and quickly goes to Gabrielle.

"No, don't move. You need to rest. You're safe now."

Gabrielle finishes setting up and rests her back against a tree. Her eyes are closed and she feels ancient as time itself. Slowly she opens her eyes. Xena leans over Gabrielle and checks the bandages. Her eyes reflect relief and mild anger. "You should have waited for me! I could have helped!"

Gabrielle catches Xena's hand. Her grip is firm, but also shaky. "You're always there. You always protect me. Would you have let me fight Callisto?"

"No! She was my problem. I made her." Xena says defensively.

"Just like you made Callisto by circumstances out of your control. I made Cassius and she is MY problem." Gabrielle closes her eyes and her hand releases Xenas.

Xena's anger flares at her friend. "Why do you have to be stubborn? You're not a Warrior!" Immediately Xena regrets her words.

Gabrielles' eyes open wide and she sits up straighter!! "No! I am a Warrior. I may never be as skilled as you, but I am good enough to hold my own."

Xena quickly regrets her words. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to's just I thought I might lose..." Gabrielle looks her straight in the eyes and grabs her arm. "I'm not!! So stop thinking it. I had to get use to that possibility along time ago with you. I don't like it, but I have to live with it!"

An uneasy silence settles between the two friends. The Xena remembers something that Artemis had said. "Gabrielle, What did Artemis mean when she said that you were born of the line of Hyppolyta?" Xena watches her friend as she starts to giggle.

"Oh please Xena! Don't make me laugh. It hurts too much." Gabrielle giggles even harder. Puzzled Xena looks at Gabrielle. "Well, I'm glad you find it so funny. Can you please let me in on the joke!?"

Gabrielle slowly stops giggling to explain to her friend. "When Artemis combined Terraius and my soul, I in essence gained everything that Terraius was. Terraius was born into the line of Hyppolyta."

"She lied! But why?" Surprise gives way to wondering as Xena watches Gabrielles face. She can see, even now, the bards thoughts streaming across her face.

"To off balance Cassius I think. She couldn't officially interfere or stop the fight. But she could answer questions that were asked if she wanted too!" Gabrielle looks at Flariem. "And ignore swords being stolen. I owe him a lot!"

Xena glances over at Flariem, who is sleeping. Then she looks back at Gabrielle. "We both do! He's a lot like you, just as stubborn and headstrong. But with a faith in those he calls friend."

Gabrielle smiles and chides Xena. "Well, what do you expect when certain Warrior Princesses insist they can do everything, and don't need anyone elses help!"

Xena quickly begins to argue. "I never said that" Gabrielle's giggling cuts her off and she watches as the familiar light returns to Gabrielle's eyes.

"No, you'd never say it. But I have been your friend long enough to know." Gabrielle takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, A smile plays across her lips. Xena gets up, walks over and picks up the waterskin. Gabrielle struggles to her feet. When she turns around, Gabrielle is standing. She is leaning heavily against the tree, looking off into the forest in a trance like state. Xena walks over quickly and puts an arm around her friend to support her. Gabrielles has a far off look in her eyes and her breathing has slowed and steadied.

Fear begins to rises in Xena again. "What is it Gabrielle? Gabrielle, Can you hear me?"

But Gabrielle is far off in an Amazon City, looking at a pit. While her eyes see what she should not see, a hand reaches over the edge. Slowly a scraped and bloody body emerges from the pit and rolls onto its back. A face, with eyes burning in deep hatred, stares up at the cold dark sky of night. As Cassius stares up, she lets out a blood curdling scream.


Gabrielle hears very well the scream of her enemy. All goes still around the camp site as if every living thing knows the evil that comes. And Gabrielle watches through her mind's eye and knows with deep dread Cassius is ALIVE!

"THIS IS NOT OVER!" yells Cassius.

Xena shakes Gabrielle out of her trance like state. "Gabrielle, What's wrong? Come on, tell me!"

Gabrielle refocuses on Xena with great effort. She is still reeling from what she has seen. "Cassius is still alive! She is coming!"

The expression on Gabrielle's face is all Xena needs to know. "We've got to get you away from here!" Xena helps Gabrielle sit back down and then starts to move away.

Gabrielle grabs Xena's arm. "She'll find me wherever we go. I can't let her hurt Flariem and you. I have to stop her!"

Xena turns on Gabrielle. Then softens her response when she sees the exhaustion and pain in her friend. "The only stopping your doing is going to be resting. I'll take care of Cassius!" Xena walks over and shakes Flariem. "Come on, we are leaving!"

Flariem is trying to shake off sleep and figure out what is going on. "What? Why, it's still dark!" He quickly rises and stumbles a little. Xena is quickly packing up their things.

"Cassius is alive! We need to get Gabrielle to the safety of the village. We can prepare better against her there." Flariem starts to help. Xena quickly saddles Argo and then places the packs securely around the saddle. She then helps Gabrielle up. Xena mounts Argo behind Gabrielle with Flariems help. Gabrielle leans back, shaking from the exertion of getting in the saddle.

"Relax Gabrielle, I've got you. I won't let anything happen to you. Come on Flariem." Gabrielle relaxes slightly. They start down the road back to the village.

They arrive shortly before dawn. It has been a long ride. Xena gets down as Flareim steadies Gabrielle. Xena reaches out to help Gabrielle, who half falls into Xenas arms. Flariem quickly gets a room for them and helps Xena with Gabrielle. Xena sends Flariem for fresh food and her saddle bags. While Flariem is gone, Xena gently cleans and rebandages Gabrielles wounds. Gabrielles eyes open. She starts to rise, but Xena holds her down."Stay still. You need rest."

"But Cassius is still out there." Xena's face tells Gabrielle she isn't going anywhere.

Flariem returns and sets a tray on the table. He then removes the saddle bags from his shoulder and hooks them over the chair. Xena walks over and whispers something to him. Flariem nods and walks over and sits next to Gabrielle, blocking her view of Xena.

"This is going to make a great story Gabrielle."

Gabrielle smiles at that."You will tell it well Flariem. I'm sure of it!"

He laughs softly. "I'm just happy it has a good ending!" Gabrielles smile fades and her brow furrows with worry.

"I'm not sure it will be Flariem!" She hasn't seen Xena approach. Flariem moves and allows Xena to take his place.

"Here drink some of this." Xena Helps Gabrielle drink some warm cider. Flariem brings over some warm broth and Xena makes sure Gabrielle drinks all of it. Then Xena sends Flariem off to get something for himself.

"You didn't have to do that Xena. I would have slept, even without the herbs." Gabrielle watches her friend through sleepy eyes. Xena covers Gabrielle with a blanket.

"I know, but you need them. Flariem and I will be near, rest." Gabrielles breathing starts to steady as sleep takes over. Xena leaves the room and goes down to the bar. She walks over to where Flariem is seated. "I need to care for Argo. I'll be back, watch over her till I return."

Flariem rises and looks at Xena. "Xena, Your not going after Cassius are you?"

"No Flariem! She'll come here soon enough." Flariem nods

Flariem looks thoughtfully. "You know she can't be in much better shape then Gabrielle. It could take days for her to get here. She didn't even have Artemis's help to get to the road. She may not make it."

"No Flariem. She will be here soon. Hate is very powerful and can give you strength to do things you wouldn't be able to do normally. Just watch over Gabrielle. I'll be back very shortly." Flariem walks back toward the room Gabrielle's in resting.

Xena walks out of the Inn and heads toward Argo. And under her breath she swears, "This time Cassius, things will be very different. You will pay for hurting Gabrielle!"

Cassius has traveled hard through the night. Her body no longer feels the pain or exhaustion, only a deep abiding hatred for Gabrielle. A hate fired by defeat in front of a Goddess. Humiliated, by a slip of a girl with her lovers assistance. Now darkness has descended on her heart and soul, even as the sun rises outside the warm the world. Cassius finds a place to hide near the village and rest. She would have died in the fall, had it not been for grabbing at the sides of pit and finding a hand hold. She had been a fool to release Gabrielle after falling. She hadn't expected the girl to grab for the sidewall of the pit! She had expected to see her body smashed at the bottom! This time there would be no mistakes. Gabrielle will die! Cassius falls asleep into nightmarish dreams. Dreams so evil in intent, even Xena would cringe in fear.

(End of chapter 6..Cont.)

Chapter 7

Cassius wakes just as the sun is setting. Its red-orange glow sets the sky ablaze and reflects the fire that burns in Cassius evil heart. She moves with great effort, quickly heading toward the village. And just as dark has set fully upon the village, she arrives to hide in a stand of trees near the Inn. She watches as Xena walks from the Inn to the stables. Then she slowly creeps to the back of the Inn and slips through the rear door. She quietly walks down the hall, checking the few rooms there are. She finds Flariem in the chair near the window and Gabrielle asleep in the bed. Drawing her knife, she silently approaches. This boy was going to pay for his interference. It is then she hears Xenas voice as she is talking to someone outside the Inn. She turns quickly and stares at Gabrielle. Hatred pours out from her eyes. She moves quickly down the hallway, grabs some food off a nearby table. She then leaves through the rear door and goes back to wait in the trees. Patience, I must have patience, she thinks.

Xena returns from the stable to the room. As she walks down the hall there is the hint of some odd smell in the air. She quickly walks to the room and opens the door. She checks on Gabrielle and Flariem, strange how they have the same slight smile as they sleep. Must be something that bards share she muses. She looks around, sure of what she is sensing. Cassius her mind whispers.

"Flariem, Wake up! Go to your room. I'll watch over Gabrielle now." Flariem gets up and stumbles out to the other room. Xena stands at the window and looks out. Cassius is very near and has already been in the room. She watches the shadows, Where are you Cassius? , she thinks to herself.

Gabrielle stirs and wakes. She pulls herself into a sitting position. She is more stiff now, but awake. She sees Xena near the window with an expression on her face she has seen many times. "She's here, isn't she?"

Xena continues to stare out the window. "Yes. Very close now."

Gabrielle moves off the bed, grabbing the wall to steady herself and get her bearings. Xena quickly crosses the room to her friend. "What are you doing? You need to rest!"

Xena grabs a hold of her arm, but Gabrielle shoves it away. "I told you before, She is my problem!" Gabrielle grabs her staff.

"Gabrielle, please! You will never defeat her now. Not with how tired you are. Let me help."

Xena steps forward as Gabrielle turns. "All right, What do you have planned?"

Xena whispers quietly to Gabrielle who nods and smiles. Then anger comes over Gabrielles face, and she pushes Xena away. "NO! It's my job." She turns to leave. "I'm sorry Gabrielle! I don't have time to argue with you!" And as Cassius watches from her hiding spot through the window, Xenas fingers connect with two spots on Gabrielles neck. Gabrielle collapses toward the floor and her staff rolls free. Xena catches her and carries her back to the bed. She blows out the candles and waits watching the shadows out the window. One shadow in particular smiles and stays silently still. Time passes slowly and the shadowed figure disappears. Xena watches and waits. Then she sees the figure reappear and head toward the stable. Xena smiles, glances over at Gabrielle, and jumps through the window after the figure. She follows the figure and watches as the figure disappears into the stable. She comes up to the door and listens to the sound of a saddle being moved. She enters quietly and watches as the figure is trying to silently saddle Argo. Xena draws her sword and steps into the light!

"Not a wise move Cassius!"

The figure startled, spins around allowing the hood to fall back. But it is not Cassius. Before Xena, stands a young frightened boy. "Please don't hurt me. I'm just getting the horse for the lady."

Xena moves forward slowly, glancing around. "What lady?"

"The lady at the Inn. She said she'd be leaving and to saddle and bring her horse around. She paid me well." The youth trembles in fear before Xena.

"That's my horse! Go on, get out of here!" Immediately the youth flees. Xena runs out of the stable toward the Inn. She bursts through the door of the room. Gabrielle is gone and the table is over turned.

"Cassius!" Knowing Cassius would love to kill Flariem for interfering in the earlier fight, she heads toward the room Flariem is in. She enters to see that Flariem is sound asleep in bed. She shakes him awake. "Flariem, Wake up!! Cassius has Gabrielle!"

Xena returns to the other room. No, Cassius might not have Gabrielle. There has definitely been a fight in the room, but if all went as Xena planned then.....Then she hears a sound coming from the stable. She crosses quickly to the window, as Flariem comes to the door of the room. She turns and runs past Flariem. "Quickly, they're in the stable."

Right after Xena had left for the stable through the window, Cassius entered the room. She smiles to herself. It had been so easy to mislead Xena. She pulls the knife from its sheath at her waist. Quietly she approaches the bed where Gabrielle lays. She stands over Gabrielle and drives the knife downward toward her heart. Gabrielles eyes open and her hand shoots out grabbing Cassius by the wrist. Cassius pushes harder, but Gabrielle hand holds firm.

"Good try Cassius, but I was expecting you!" Gabrielle shoves Cassius backward and jumps up off the bed! She quickly grabs her staff and moves toward Cassius. Cassius has put the table between Gabrielle and herself.

"Why can't you just die like a good little princess!?" Cassius slowly maneuver around the table so the room door is to her back. "I see fear Cassius! Where is the mighty amazon warrior you brag to be? Ephany could have defeated me faster than you have!" Gabrielle keeps the table in between them.

"Why aren't you asleep? I saw Xena put the touch on you!" She needs to fight Gabrielle elsewhere before Xena returns.

"Yes, I knew you were watching! Xena had planned this to lull you into thinking I was out, then she could take you out easier. But I see you have a few surprises of your own!" Gabrielles eyes shine with determination to end this.

"Terraius was right. You are full of surprises! But then so am I!!" Cassius grabs the edge of the table and flings it toward Gabrielle. The table hits Gabrielle, slamming her back into the window. Cassius turns and takes off down the hallway. Gabrielle pushes the table off of her and takes off down after Cassius. Cassius and Gabrielle run out the back of the Inn and around the side. Xena enters the front of the Inn. Cassius couldn't have timed it better. Xena never sees them. Cassius runs into the stable, moving into the shadows behind the door. Gabrielle charges into the stable and stops in the center of the stable. She glances around. Argo is at the back of the stable calmly munching on hay. The stable is divided into two sides. Stalls on each side with an area down the center to maneuver. Above the stalls on each side runs a loft. Attached to the two center posts of the stable are oil lamps. The flickering light of the lamps give off an eery light. Gabrielle hears the door brace drop into place behind her. She swings around, and sees Cassius standing in front of a braced and bolted door! She holds a pitchfork at the ready!! She advances slowly toward Gabrielle.

"I wouldn't want us to be disturbed!" Cassius sneers.

She swings the pitchfork at Gabrielle. Gabrielle jumps back, slamming into the ladder to the loft. Gabrielle knows her staff is of minimal use in this confining space. Cassius has trapped her well! Gabrielle steps up onto the ladder. Cassius jabs forward to spear Gabrielle, Gabrielle turns quickly. The pitchfork passes Gabrielle, going through the ladder rungs. Gabrielle brings the full force of her elbow down on the pitchfork and breaks it in half. She takes off up the ladder into the loft. Cassius grabs her booted foot and Gabrielle loses her footing. Cassius unsheathe the knife. Gabrielle kicks back with her foot, slamming into Cassius shoulder. Cassius falls back as Gabrielle takes off up into the loft.

Xena shakes the door of the stable trying to get in, but the door doesn't even budge. "Gabrielle! Open the door!"

Gabrielle moves to the far end of the loft. She is trapped. "Xena! I'm OK, but I'm a little busy now!" Gabrielle sees a rope hanging off to the side. Cassius presses Gabrielle back with a swing of the knife.

"You're too late Xena. She's as good as Dead now!" Gabrielle throws her staff down. There is no room to swing it in the loft. She will have to use her hands. Cassius slowly begins to creeps forward, moving the knife back and forth looking for an opening. Gabrielle is cornered and begins to move along the edge of the loft, as she tries to circle around Cassius. Cassius smiles and lunges forward with the knife. Gabrielle jumps back to avoid the knife and figures out her mistake too late. She falls to the floor below.

"WWWhhhhhhhhooooooaaaaa!" She is lucky. She lands in a large pile of hay. She quickly rolls over and is looking straight into Argos face. Argo snorts.

"Yeah, easy for you to say! You didn't just fall out of a hay loft." Gabrielle gets up quickly looking for Cassius. She keeps Argo to her back. She hears voices outside and the sound of something striking against the door. Gabrielle slowly creeps forward, looking into the shadows of each stall as she goes.

CCCRRRAACCKK!! The door is starting to splinter. Gabrielle hears a sound behind her and turns just as Cassius swings into her full force with both feet. The force of the blow send s Gabrielle into the barn door, knocking the wind out of her. "Uuhhh!" Gabrielle refocuses as Cassius drops from the rope. Cassius charges at Gabrielle with the knife. She thrusts forward. Gabrielle catches Cassius wrist and the struggle is on.

"Gabrielle!" Xena calls. She can hear the struggle near the door. CCRRAACCK! The door splinters again. "Hang on we are almost there!"

Gabrielle and Cassius roll back and forth struggling with the knife. Somewhere in the struggle they regain their feet. Cassius pushes Gabrielle into one of the main beams of the stable jarring loose one of the lamps. The lamp crashes to the ground and starts the hay on fire. The two continue their struggle as the barn erupts into flames. Gabrielle glances toward Argo who is wild with fright. But she must turn her attention back to Cassius.

"Give it up Gabrielle! I'll let us both burn to death here in the barn before I let you win! But if give in, I'll save the horse and make your death merciful." Cassius eyes gleam wickedly. Gabrielle has seen that gleam before, but then it was in Callisto.

"Never!" The door splinters again as the fire burns out of control. With all the strength she can muster, Gabrielle pushes them both forward. She propels them straight through the barn door. They fly right past Xena, Flariem and the villagers. The land on the ground, the knife still held in both their hands. Xena starts forward, when Gabrielle yells. "NO! Get Argo! I can take care of Cassius." Xena hesitates only a second and then hears Argos terrified whinnying. She runs into the fire. Moments later Argo comes running out, followed by Xena. The villagers begin throwing water on the fire, but the stable is too far gone.

Meanwhile, the struggle has continued on the ground. Xenas watches as her friend battles for her life. Gabrielle noticing nothing but the knife at her throat, knees Cassius between the legs. Gabrielle then turns the knife downward in Cassius hand and plunges it into the ground. Cassius recovering from Gabrielles blow, throws her off with a mighty heave. They both stand opposite each other breathing hard and bodies bent from exhaustion. Xena moves to finish the fight.

"NO!" Gabrielle says to her friend. "My fight! I'll deal with Cassius!" Xena stops short and backs off, but remains ready to come to her friends aid.

"You'll never win Cassius. Give up! I told you I'm not that easy!" Gabrielle never takes her eyes off Cassius.

Cassius only answer is to lunge forward again at Gabrielle. Gabrielle sidesteps and trips her. Quickly Gabrielle spins around as Cassius falls hard onto the ground. Xena smiles. The tide has definitely turned. Cassius is now at the disadvantage. Cassius picks herself slowly off the ground. Turning she swings her fist at Gabrielle. Gabrielle easily ducks the swing and punches as hard as she can, striking Cassius in the face. Cassius staggers backward.

"Give up Cassius! It's over. You have lost!" Gabrielle steps forward at the ready. Cassius swings again and misses. Gabrielle swears under her breath and punches Cassius one last time in the face. She watches as Cassius, unconscious, crumples to the ground. She steps up and looks in pity at the woman who would have killed her.

"Love is more Honorable than hate Cassius. And it will win every time, even if it takes forever." Gabrielle feels strong hands grip her shoulders. She looks up at Xena and watches as the world tilts and goes dark. Xena grabs her friend as Flariem and the others tie Cassius up. She carries the bard back to the Inn and tends to her needs. Flariem returns and Xena finds that Cassius is safely locked away where she won't do Gabrielle or anyone else harm.

Gabrielle sleeps for two days. Xena and Flariem take turns watching over her. Flariem has told the story in the Inn several times now of the Amazon Princess and her fight for Loves Honor. Xena smiles at the comments that Flariems story brings. It's about time that Gabrielle got some credit. She was a formidable woman and she had saved Xena several times. Xena finishes her Port and walks back to the room. As she approaches the door she hears Gabrielles laugh. She walks into the room to find Gabrielle seated at the table eating. Flariem has obviously been regaling her with the story, much to her protests.

"Stop! You need to tell of Xenas battles for good. Not me! I didn't do anything special."

Flariem looks at Xena, who just shakes her head and chuckles softly. Xena knows better than to argue with Gabrielle. Especially when she has that look of stubbornness on her face.

"Come on Gabrielle, time to go!" Gabrielle gets up and then notices that her staff is gone. Lost to the fire in the stable. Her face falls, but she follows Xena and Flariem outside to where Argo waits.

"Goodbye Flariem! Take care." Xena shakes hands with Flariem and mounts Argo.

Flariem reaches over and hugs Gabrielle. "I still say you're the bravest bard there ever was!"

Gabrielle smiles at him. "You didn't so too badly yourself ! Take care my friend!" And with that Xena and Gabrielle head out of town.

They walk quietly for a time. Neither saying anything. Xena breaks the silence first. "Gabrielle I'm sorry when I said you weren't a warrior. I was wrong. You are a very capable and strong warrior."

Gabrielle looks at her friend. "You know I still prefer being a bard! But it's nice to know I can take care of myself too."

Suddenly the air shimmers around them and Artemis appears. "Well done my chose one! You have fought honorably Gabrielle. You are truly an Amazon Princess! I have something for you!" Artemis reaches into the air beside her and Gabrielles staff appears. The same one given to her my Terraius and with the gold band added by Artemis. Gabrielles face lights up. Artemis smiles at Gabrielle expression. "I think you lost this. Take care my chosen one." And with that Artemis disappears.

Xena looks down as Gabrielle runs her hands over the staff. "Hey, do you two want to be alone?"Xena chuckles softly.

Gabrielle looks up at Xena and laughs. "Funny, very funny!" They continue down the road.

In a jail cell, two eyes rage in the dark. And a voice filled with hate whispers quietly..."Patience!"

The End!!

Xena Forever
Becky(A SOUL is a terrible thing to waste!)
TXM Enforcer/Bard!!/CUFFS!

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