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DISCLAIMER: The characters described herein are the property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. This is a work of fan fiction and there is no intention to profit from the use of these characters.

SPOILER ALERT: This story takes place immediately after the events portrayed in the final episode of Xena: Warrior Princess' third season -- SACRIFICE II. Do not read this if you have not seen this episode or if you would be upset to learn what happens during the episode.

VIOLENCE: The aftermath of violence and its effect on the characters is portrayed.

If any of these notices distress you, please, read no further.


by J. York

His hand reached out and the glow from the fiery pit caused its dark shadow to snake across the temple floor. The movement of the silhouette along the hard surface registered at the edge of his vision and a cold fear tore through his numbness. Gasping, he snatched his hand to his chest, rattling his chest plate and cast a suspicious glance at the vacant eyes before him.

No movement. He stared at the strangely reposed expression. She was dead and he berated himself for allowing his imagination to spur him to feel -- anything. The fear had opened the door and now each emotion banged noisily in his still thundering heart. Bewilderment, guilt, and anger flooded his senses. The loss, the loss was too overwhelming and he pushed it down. Swallowing hard, he reached out again and passed his hand over the corpse. There was a lot he couldn't change but at least he could protect them from the sight of those maniacal brown lifeless eyes.

A coolness passed over his back and he realized that something must be shielding him from the blazing altar. His eyes traced the outline of the new shadow and a shudder of recognition jarred his mind. He climbed slowly to his feet, all the weariness of the battle and the last few moments burdening his motions as he moved toward the steps and the source of the new black apparition cast upon the stones.

The warrior stood in the infernal glow that emanated from the pit, watching the flame tossed depths. The opening seemed to plunge to the center of the earth. Intermittent blasts of heat rose from the maw searing her skin and still she stood, sky blue eyes searching.

Her compatriot shuffled closer and removed his helmet, nervously twisting the item in his hands. Behind him, the remaining captives found their way from the temple with quiet reverence. Even the most simple of them recognized the enormity of what had transpired. A gift had been given at great cost.

Huddled next to a towering black statue knelt the cult's former priestess, a thin slip of a girl. Her tear-filled eyes watched as the others left. For the first time in days her thoughts were solely her own, her unfettered conscience able to grasp the consequences of her past actions. If she looked to the edges of the temple, she could see the bodies of the offerings. But they weren't mere 'offerings' at all -- they were people. Every taunt and hateful remark, every order given to satisfy some ravenous god's blood lust chafed her soul. The guilt twisted her stomach, sending her into another painful course of retching.

At last the heaving subsided, and the girl sat up. It was as though every action was her first after a long sleep. More than anything else, she wanted to speak with her childhood friend. Everything her friend had told her was the truth. She shifted her weight onto knees and got ready to stand, mulling over what she would say. Wincing a bit she wrapped a hand over the wound in her side and stood. The scene on the altar steps wrenched away the last of the fog from her mind and she sank to her knees, praying to any god that could offer succor from the truth.

The man watched the girl dispassionately. His was a kind and noble heart, but he could find no pity for her. Instead he turned his wide eyes toward the warrior.

Her only movement, the gentle sway of her ebony tresses touched by the heated updrafts. The woman's hands hung loose at her sides as her sword had been cast away in the battle. A fresh cut was visible along her cheekbone and a ragged gash disappeared into her leg armor. Staring at her bloodied yet unbowed figure, her compatriot wondered how she found the strength to stand. Four gods pitted themselves against her and she prevailed.

Imagining the reprimand such a statement would bring from the warrior, he amended his thought immediately: we prevailed. All of us. Together.

For the first time he noticed the silence that surrounded them. For an instant he wished that the thunder would return because something was needed to fill the emptiness.

He stared at the warrior's burnished features but purposely avoided focusing on her anguished eyes. He feared what he might see there and he knew that in this unguarded moment, as she struggled to hold reign over her emotions, her gaze would give her away.

Feeling like an intruder, he cleared his throat and looked away for an instant. Still, concern for his friend led him to watch over her again. It seemed to him that her lips were moving, though he could hear nothing not even the rasp of her whisper. He was closer to her now, so he spoke aloud trying to ease into her attention. If she heard him at all she gave no notice. The cascading light from the pit shimmered and danced along the warrior's armor.

Frowning as the heat became more pronounced, the man set his foot on the steps just above the warrior and, in doing so, jostled something on the altar. His awkward step just caught the end of the object and sent it rolling and clattering from one stone to the next until it finally collided with the warrior's boot.

She had heard the rattling and disregarded it until she felt it thump against her foot. He held his breath as she lowered her eyes to the thing that now rocked gently to and fro, balanced gingerly across her boot.

He heard the sharp intake of breath and saw the unshed tears as the warrior gaped at the quarterstaff. The light colored wood stood out in sharp contrast to the dark steps in the few seconds that passed before she knelt and picked it up. It seemed to him that her hands trembled as she fastened them on the staff.

She turned the weapon in her hands and her palms slid easily to the well worn spots where it's owner had carried it. Those places were smoother than the rest of the staff, honed down over the years of travel and use. Tightening her grip, she pulled it vertically to her chest, letting her eyes close as she tipped her face until it rested against the delicate carvings at the top of the staff.

Her chin trembled as she grimaced, her white teeth shining as she wept silently. There was too much to feel and it caused her heart to quake. Darkness surged closer with every heartbeat as the perverse turn of events replayed themselves in her mind. Her pain and helplessness ran through to her bones and awakened a long dormant anger. The destructive call of the darkness felt soothing in comparison to the torment of remembering the light.

The light held laughter, solace and peace for her battered soul and she had been led there by the greatest of friends. She would not turn away from it now, and betray that friend's trust she decided. She would hold firm against the darkness. It was her promise.

She ground her teeth and pushed the rage away. The ache of the loss remained and her shoulders bent slightly under the pressure of her grief. A weary sigh escaped her lips as she opened her eyes to see the troubled face of her compatriot.

He stood two arms lengths away and his expression carried an unspoken question. Her face was wet but she didn't care, for his was too. She lowered the staff and closed the distance between them, grabbing his arm and giving him the permission he sought to fall onto her shoulder.

It was unfamiliar territory for the warrior. A sad smile crept onto her face as a conversation about "sensitive chats" rumbled through her mind.

After a moment he pulled back and wiped haphazardly at his nose, embarrassed that he had fallen apart on the warrior. Recognizing his discomfort, she thumped his back one final time and moved away from him.

The red-orange light glanced off something to her right, something small and moving. A girl with short blonde hair. The warrior's eyes narrowed to a piercing stare as she approached the sobbing form.

The girl had crawled to the remains of the goddess and sat staring at the unmoving body with the silver-hilted dagger protruding from it. Sniffling quietly, the girl pulled the weapon free and waited to see if the wrathful goddess would awaken. The warrior froze and waited, nothing changed, for the hind's blood had found its mark.

The girl's head raised as she sensed the approaching warrior and she held the dagger up defensively. Her own bloodshot eyes met the cerulean blue of the warrior's and she saw the injury there. Gasping, she shifted her hold on the weapon, taking the blade in hand and offering it to the woman who stood above her.

Taking the dagger into hand, the warrior looked down at the girl who waited with her head thrown back, jugular exposed. The warrior's eyes took on a bitter chill and the girl closed her eyes. Gratefully, she waited for the thrust that would free her of her conscience.

The knife descended and ripped through the ragged remnants of the girl's robe, cutting a corner from the material. In the next instant, she felt warm hands applying pressure to the wound at her side. Flinching, she opened her eyes to behold the warrior's stoic profile as she worked to reduce the flow of blood from the injury.

A quick field dressing later, the warrior pulled the girl to her feet. Her dark brows knitted in concern as she appraised her patient. For all the animosity she felt for the girl, another part of her realized what it was to face down the horrors of your past. She wrapped a tanned arm around the shivering girl's back and she helped her make her way to the entrance of the temple.

Outside the sunlight was rending the gathered storm clouds in two. A bright blue swath slashed through the center of the dark stains on the sky. Seraphin blinked and shaded her eyes from the sun. The warrior eased her charge to the ground and walked back into the temple.

"Joxer!" she called into the gloom. "Gather our things -- it's time to leave," she asserted.

Several lumbering footfalls later, her compatriot stood before her, helmet askew, with a heavy broadsword in one hand and her chakram in the other.

She rewarded him with a warm smile and clasped his shoulder firmly. "Thanks," she said as she affixed her weaponry to her armor.

"Is that it?" he asked. "What I mean is, is there anything else you can do ..." he wondered aloud as he gestured back at the altar with a grimy thumb. She turned her head with a start and he was immediately sorry he had asked.

"Uh, what I meant to say was... are we ready to leave?" he corrected lamely. The warrior's attention was back on the altar. "Okay, well, I'll just check on Seraphin," he offered as he exited into the daylight.

The warrior retrieved the Amazon quarterstaff from the floor where she had treated the bard's childhood friend. She swept it gracefully through a favorite pattern of Gabrielle's, one that she remembered seeing the bard practice constantly until she could do it effortlessly.

Finishing the movement, she raised the staff over her head and closed her eyes. She knew better than anyone else that the dead can hear the thoughts directed to them. Swallowing hard, she lowered the weapon and strode through the temple door.

The strangely armored man glanced up in time to see the warrior appear in the open doorway, with the staff firmly in hand. A rueful smile curled up his cheeks as he watched her approach.

"Where are you taking me?" the girl's tremulous voice broke the silence as the warrior helped her aboard the tall pale horse.

"Home," was the simple reply.

"Poteidaia?" she whispered.

"To your family, to the people who care about you and miss you," the warrior stated quietly as she prepared to lash the staff in its familiar place on the saddle. Instead, her fingers simply retied the leather straps.

Her compatriot took the reins and began leading the horse along the narrow path away from the base of the mountain. There was quite a journey before them and he was sure he would spend it listening to the rhythm of the Amazon's staff as it accompanied Xena's every step.


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