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Xena, Gabrielle, Najara and other characters from the tv show Xena: Warrior Princess remain the exlusive property of MCA/Universal and Rennaisance Pictures and are used within for non-profit, entertainmental purposes.

This story takes place some indeterminate time after Crusader and Convert and may contain spoilers for any of the previous episodes.

Appropriate additional warnings will be added to each new chapter as they are written. If you are not a fan of alternative fanfiction, or of two women who fall in love with each other, abstain from reading this and I'll abstain from telling you in graphic detail just what you're missing out on.

Passing on the Pain encompasses the Hurt & Comfort, First Time and Mystery genres. Feel free to email me comments, constructive criticism, chocolates and the ilk. I also accept amazed ravings about how you didn't know I wrote anything other than comedy. *EG* As always flamers will tell me to burn in Tartarus...with Xena...

Continues from here

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Passing on the Pain

by badbard


Chapter 4

Xena stormed into the stables, as always seeking comfort from Argo's warm presence and dumb devotion.

"She's young," she muttered under her breath. "Everybody makes mistakes. Hades, I almost made that mistake myself."


She spun around, chakram already in hand, blue eyes searching the shadows. The stranger stepped out of a stall and favoured her with a smile, blindingly white against his black skin. The Warrior Princess bit her lip and gazed up at him with muted admiration. He was beautiful.

Eyes a peculiar glowing green, features so fine as to belong to a female, standing a foot over her in his wiry height, he smiled down at her, obsidian wings stretching out from his shoulderblades towards the heavens.

"Xena," he husked and his voice was liquid warmth.

"Who are you?" she breathed, clutching at her chakram as though it were a security blanket. His smile grew even broader.

"A bright spirit."

Xena blinked at the brilliance of his countenance and shook her head from side to side, trying to collect her jumbled thoughts. She who had consorted with gods, slain monsters, seen wonders and contacted the dead had never seen a being such as this. The Warrior Princess herself was commonly regarded as a creature of legend, brewed by exaggerating bards in their quest for more coin. Yet in all the talk and tales she had been subjected to by her very own bard, she had never heard the like of this man, if he were even a man! When she at last collected her wits, suspicion ran forefront in her mind.

"What exactly is that? A bright spirit? Are you mortal?" He laughed softly.

"Can I be killed you mean. Ah, Xena, you are right not to trust me." A brief feeling of deja vu slipped its chilling arms around the warrior. She shook it off.

"Are you a god?"

"I am worshipped," he noted loftily.

"That's not an answer," she spat back. He laughed again.

"No it isn't. Xena, woman who has changed her world, I am here to save you from yourself."

"I don't need saving," the warrior snarled, deliberately turning her back on him, every sense focused on his next move.

"Of course you don't," he agreed easily. "The Warrior Princess never needed the worship of some innocent village girl to help her change her ways. The will that conquered and held the wargod to her whim never needed a simpering bard to keep her on her self-proclaimed path to redemption." His laughter wasn't so soft this time. Xena stared at him in barely contained rage, hand aching to throw the chakram which would sever his voicebox.

"It must have been hard, Xena, so hard to leave your thousands of followers behind, soldiers who screamed your name in abject adulation. Young men left their farms and families and gave up everything in your name. You managed it though, warrior. Just so long as you had Gabrielle, watching you with adoring eyes, hanging on your every word."

"Gabrielle's grown up," managed Xena, between her gritted teeth. His smile grew more pointed.

"Yes, Gabrielle's grown up. Grown up into a wise young woman, capable of throwing childish worship to the wind and falling in love with another, albeit not so wise, woman." Xena gasped and raised her chakram, no longer caring how this stranger knew so much about her. She wanted blood and the silence his dying scream would bring.

"Down girl," he chortled, a crimson cloud boiling about him and bearing him away.

*   *   *

Gabrielle woke alone. The sun was high in the sky, the day bright, the sky blue and the Warrior Princess absent. Sniffing the blanket, the bard determined that the warrior had not come to bed; there was no lingering whiff of leather.

"Stables," she guessed, knuckling the sleep out of her eyes and wishing it would rain so she'd have an excuse to burrow under the covers to temporarily escape the vicious depression she felt herself sinking into. "Breakfast is in order," the bard decided, scrambling downstairs in search of some food. Distraction was needed.

Surprisingly, she found Xena downstairs, still picking at her own morning meal.

"Hi," she half-whispered, wishing desperately her voice wouldn't crack like that and slipping onto the bench opposite her friend.

"Gabrielle." Xena's eyes were veiled as she passed a loaf of nutbread across the table. "I ordered for you."

"Uh, thanks." She bit into it accordingly, munching it around in her mouth. It tasted like sand. Swallowing hastily, the bard decided she wasn't hungry and focused her attention on her cider.

"How did you sleep?" asked Xena, watching all this with a worried frown.

"Fine. You?"

"Alright. Um, nice weather we're having today."

The bard slammed her hands down on the table making Xena jump in place, her leather skirt flying up a little.

"Xena, this is ridiculous!"


"Xena, we're best friends, for Artemis' sake! Stop treating me like a stranger! I haven't changed remember. I was a..." she broke off at the pained look on the warrior's face. "I was like this all along."

"Yeah, but I didn't know that," growled back Xena, ignoring the plea she heard in her bard's voice. "What else don't I know about you, Gabrielle?"

"YOU'RE asking ME that?" cried the bard, embracing the anger. It was so much more manageable than the pain. The warrior stared at the bard's wildy gesturing hands and arched her eyebrows.

"Good point." Gabrielle stared back into the blue, trying to get her bearings. "Look Gabrielle," began the warrior. "I'm sorry if I'm acting differently around you. I can't help it. I've had some bad experiences with your kind. We'll head to Athens, get you some help and then everything will be back to normal."

"My kind?" whispered back the bard, almost unable to believe her ears. Xena squirmed uncomfortably in her seat.

"Gabrielle, I don't want to talk about this anymore. I don't know what to say to you. I don't want to hurt you. Get your things. I'll go saddle Argo."

The bard was left to stare incredulously after her retreating back.

*   *   *

Chapter 5

"Where has our brother been?" hissed Djahera, as Djaki came wafting into the waterskin they called home. She watched as his emerald green essence swirled in an evasive dance of deliberation. Djahera had not accompanied her brother for millenia for nothing. He was avoiding the question and already formulating his lie.

"How goes your latest plan?" he asked, obviously changing the subject.

"We think that very soon now, the Little Light will go out," grinned Djahera, indeed distracted as she puffed full of joy. She couldn't wait. With Gabrielle out of the way, all Najara's attention and devotion would be focused back on her beloved Djinn, where it belonged.

"Good," decided Djaki, rubbing his spirit against the leather skin of their house to express his pleasure. "Once you've finished authoring the destruction of yet another idiot mortal, we can leave for the new world." His sister shook her beryl-green essence adamantly.

"I'm never going to the new world."

Djaki was thunderstruck. It was the first time he'd ever heard her refer to herself in first person. Sensing her advantage, Djahera pressed on.

"This new world, this other dimension, what hold does it have for us?" Her twin only stared at her incredulously.

"The same hold this world once had!"

"This world still holds it!" she fired back. Djaki's centre of being whirled chaotically.

"Only for you, Sister. The other Djinn tire of these games with the pitiful humans. They die so easily. It takes but a minor miracle to inspire their worship. I, for one, am looking forward to the challenge of taming the peoples of the new world. I hear there are no other immortals there! No arrogant godlings have arrived to steal their adulation. We must set ourselves up there before the gods of earth get bored and beat us to it! Already their worshippers are declining and losing faith in them. Small wonder, for Zeus, their king, is nothing but a braggart, mindless in his exploration of the pleasures of the body. We are above that."

"What of the fulfillment of the soul?" asked Djahera. "We believe the answer is here and is it not worth fighting for?"

"Rubbish." If Djaki had been in mortal form, he would have spat in disgust. "There are no answers here. This world is our past, Djahera! We were once like these mortals but we have risen far above them! Casting our weak bodies aside, we have attained immortality! We traverse the stars, watch civilisations rise and die and influence who we may, where we will."

"Our brother is quite the pompous fool." Never had she spoken so coldly of him and it was like a slap across his non-existant face. "Here is our home. Sometimes we think we made a crucial mistake, giving up our mortality. We have too much power. We have lost the ability to learn from our mistakes. Immortality has left us empty."

"You always were full of words," he scoffed, a little taken aback at how much she had hurt him. Then he thought of the graceful nymphs already swimming the oceans and climbing the trees of the new world and of his own unbearable boredom, here on earth. Yet he had never been parted from his sister; their every scheme was devised together and brought much mutual satisfaction. He was not willing to forego familial ties just yet. He would have to do something about his sister's distraction, namely Najara.

"I must see how Najara is faring," huffed Djahera, almost as if she had read his thoughts. Then she was away, whirling in the wind and leaving him to scheme alone.

*   *   *

Gabrielle trailed horse and rider, her eyes boring into Xena's rigid back. The bard felt off-balance. Part of her wanted to crumble into the dust and scream and cry and somehow rid herself of the horrible humiliation she felt, knowing Xena knew and that Xena scorned her for the way she felt. Another part of her wanted to see Xena crumble into the dust, to watch the warrior weep as her bard left her far behind. Another piece of her heart berated her for still loving the Warrior Princess. If she didn't love Xena so much, she wouldn't have to endure this degradation. She could leave, build her life elsewhere, be with a woman who would accept her as she was.

Not now. Not after everything they had been through together. No matter how Xena protested it, the bard knew she had been changed irrevokably from her contact with the warrior and the life her warrior lived.

"Dinar for your thoughts?" Gabrielle looked up into concerned blue eyes. Xena had halted Argo and was looking back over her shoulder, worried about the glaring absence of the bard's usual chatter.

"You really do love me," whispered Gabrielle, drowning in those eyes, just as she always had. "I can see it in your soul." Xena reigned Argo around to face the bard. A muscle twitched in her strong jaw.

"Yes, I do," she whispered back. Gabrielle raised her quivering chin and stared defiantly up at the warrior.

"Yes you do," she affirmed and her voice, although still small, was painfully audible to her audience of one. "You must. You promised me you wouldn't become a monster. You stayed with me after our children died. You told me that even in death, we'd never be separated. You let me search for my way, even while it was hurting you. You protect me, you cherish me, you value me over all others." Xena stared at her, jaw twitching harder, trying to restrain the emotions that memory brought. If only Gabrielle would stop staring up at her so pleadingly, if only her bard's voice was a little less emotional, if only she could turn away.

"You love me, like that, Xena and then you say, two women simply can't love each other, like that. What am I missing?!"

"Don't press me, Gabrielle," warned the warrior. The bard just wouldn't stop staring at her. If she would just look away for a moment...

"Don't lie to me, Xena. Don't lie to yourself." Xena summoned all her formiddable will. Tearing her eyes from the bard's brought actual physical pain but somehow she managed it, turning Argo back around in the process.

"We're going to Athens, Gabrielle." Her voice brooked no argument. Then she rode Argo down the track. Gabrielle stared after the rigid back, chin still quivering. Then she too turned her back and walked away, away from Athens, away from Xena.

*   *   *

Chapter 6 (Spoilers for The Debt and Forget Me Not and Sacrifice)

Najara strode into the tavern, scanning the patrons anxiously for that familiar golden head. No Gabrielle. Racing up the stairs, she kicked door after door open, her tension building unbearably. Empty. Empty. An irrate soldier willing to kill for the interruption to his systematic rape of a barmaid. The irrate soldier's head rolling down the stairs. Screams drenching the air. Empty. Empty. Nothing. No Gabrielle.

Then the last door. With a grunt, the crusader shouldered it open to find herself plowing into soft warm flesh.

"Gabrielle?" she gasped, staring up into beryl green eyes.

"Child," smiled her benefactress. In an instant, Najara was on her knees clutching at the skirt swirling around Djahera's knees as she sobbed in frustration. The djinn stroked the short tousled hair of her disciple, marvelling at how her cold fingers warmed in the curling strands.

"Listen, Child," she ordered firmly, gratified to hear the crusader's sobs lessen in intensity. "The Little Light has left this place. Our sources tells us she is on the road to Athens, accompanied by..."

"Xena!" hissed Najara, leaping to her feet and unsheathing her sword with a metallic rasp. Djahera stepped backwards involuntarily, fascinated by the emotional cacophony she heard pouring from her chosen into the spiritual dimension. There was jealously here, a thick green cloud of bitter resentment, obscuring all clarity and reminding the djinn of her own feelings in this matter in a most disconcerting way.

"Get a grip!" she growled back, blinking rapidly in an effort to focus on the mortal plane.

Najara stared at her mistress in shock.

"Gabrielle must die!" ranted the djinn, the outlines of her physical form blurring for a moment into the wall behind her. "She has rejected the light, she has made her choice and she must die!"

Najara took a hesitant step forward. "Mistress?"

"Soon," hissed the djinn insistantly. "Soon."

Then she was gone in a wave of shimmering scarlet and Najara was left to pass through the lingering puffs of her passing, through the broken door, down the stairs, out of the tavern and into the night, all the while muttering a feverish prayer.

*   *   *

Gabrielle sat by her very own campfire, made from the wood she had gathered, lit painstakingly by the tinder Xena insisted she carry. The flames were warm but the bard was cold to her core. She had built her life around a warrior and without that warrior, what was she to do?

"Where do I go now?" she muttered into the flickering flames.

"Athens." The single word echoed around the clearing. Gabrielle leapt to her feet, staring out desperately into the night, every sense on the alert.

"We're going to Athens." A six foot shadow stepped out of the trees leading a horse shaped shadow behind her. The bard wanted to scream and cry and hurl accusations. Instead she found a huge grin taking her face captive.

"Is that you, Argo?" she asked with a snicker.

Xena stepped into the light and rolled her eyes, even as she scooped the sniggering bard up into her fervant embrace. "You realised you wasted half a day," she berrated, relishing the feel of Gabrielle's arms around her neck and Gabrielle's wet cheek pressed against her own. She relished the feel of Gabrielle's mouth opening to snap a retort, moist lips brushing along her cheekbone in the process. "You realise WE wasted half a day," the warrior amended hastily. When she set the bard down on a handy log beside her, she did so with relunctance.

"Xena," whispered Gabrielle, half afraid that if the demons of the night were to hear her voice her fears, they'd all come true. "Xena, I'm sorry for leaving you. I..."

"That's the fourth time," stated the warrior bleakly.

"Do you remember what happened when you left me, Xena?" The warrior glanced into pleading emerald eyes.

"Yes, Gabrielle. You made a bargain with Ares and betrayed me." The bard shivered.

"I'm not going to leave you again, Xena." Now the warrior turned to face the bard full on and to Gabrielle's surprise, she was smiling.

"I know, my bard. I know because you jumped into a fiery pit and left me all over again." She reached out to take the bard's cold hand in her icy one.

"Hmm," murmured Gabrielle, eyes bright with unshed tears. "That's how you know, huh?" Xena stared into the firelight grimly, working at keeping her emotions hidden under her honed warrior mask.

"Yeah, Gabrielle," she managed at last. "That's how I know."

*   *   *

Chapter 7

Xena glanced sidelong at the bard chattering away at her shoulder than back towards the smokey spirals she could just make out on the horizon. They were nearing Athens and she was faintly aware of a buzzing tension wisping along the air currents. Her blue eyes misted over as she remembered a confrontation that had taken place at the base of this very slope, eight winters ago...

*   *   *

Shankalin watched the warrior walk underneath his branch from his precarious perch in a tree. He chuckled inwardly as her broad shoulders tensed almost imperceptibly and her hand began to twitch over the round killing tool hanging from her belt.

"You know I'm here, don't ya!" he called out, laughing out loud as she spun around effortlessly, round killing tool raised in one hand, sword already unsheathed and being directed in intricate twirls by the other. Her icy blue eyes bit into the milky cataracts covering his own eyes and he could almost smell the suspicion that rose from her like steam from watered down coals. "Put away your weapons," he called down to her, grinning as she raised a rather sarcastic brow in response. With another chuckle, he scrabbled his way down the tree trunk, skinning his knee in the process and made an elabourate bow before her, sweeping his six pronged cap from his curly head with a flourish.

The warrior woman waved her sword in front of his face, monitoring his lack of reaction. He watched as she took in the otherworldy costume he'd adorned himself with, the red and green bows decorating his limbs, the cape of red and green painted in bold alternating stripes. He watched as she sheathed her weapons and folded her arms over her wondrous chest. "What does a blind man want with a warrior?" she asked and he thought he could detect just the slightest hint of curiosity in her monotone.

"In the court of fabled Midas, they called me a fool," he informed her, grinning again as that sarcastic brow raised itself. "My name is Shankalin today but yesterday it was Fool and tomorrow it will be God. Today you stand before me as Xena, Destroyer of Nations but yesterday you were Girl and tomorrow you will be the Warrior Princess who changed the World. I know this because I am aware. We who are aware are destined to be great! How do I know you are an aware one? I saw you use the warrior sense to find me hiding in my tree."

"You're blind," the warrior reminded him but she sounded unsure.

"Xena, Xena," he birred back, "May I call you Xena? I'm going to tell you a secret, Xena. The gods are only mortals who are making full use of their senses!" Shankalin watched craftily as the warrior's lips worked back and forth as her intelligent brain worked in tandom to comprehend his craziness. "Tis true, Xena," he protested earnestly. "When I was a little boy they dropped me on my head and I've been addled ever since or so they say. I say, I can see clearly now!" Xena eyed him warily but she made no move to leave. Shankalin guessed that this brilliant tactician had garnered valuable information by making use of fools before.

"You're blind."

"No I'm not," he exulted. "Actually, I suppose I am blind in the conventional sense." He tapped his right cataract. "Mine orbs, they do not see you. They do not have to, for my mind is painting a picture of you, so beautiful warrior, an accurate picture apart from your decidedly nude status." He grinned as she growled. "That's just my fantasising helping me out a little, Xena. Really, I see you in all your perfection, leather, brass and that eyebrow you're arching at me yet again." He giggled as she rose her brow in response to that than struggled to keep it down.

Suddenly he turned serious. "We all have eight senses, Xena, Destroyer of Nations. Most of us mortals only use the first five. Most of us mortals only know of the first five in any case. It is the other three that give you right and might to battle with the gods, Warrior Princess of tomorrow. You have the warrior sense, Xena, I have the second sight and a little farm girl who's gonna develop six fabulous abs has enough empathy to drown Atlantis, gods forbid." He grinned nastily. "And the gods do forbid, Xena, they do! This is a secret. All gods have all of the three extra senses but they don't know how to deal with the mortals who possess even one. Use this knowledge, Xena."

Xena stared after him, face as stoic as ever as the fool began to skip backwards down the track, tripping over his cape more than once and singing bawdily.

"I see you with my sight

and I'd really like to touch you

smell you bloody in a fight

hear you say how much I will rue

the day I tasted fear

on my tongue

I see with second sight

spirits on another plane

I sense that army coming

than they're running back in vain

I touch your heart with my heart

and I feel all of your pain"

"Why are you telling me all this?" Xena yelled after the absurd figure as it crested the top of the hill. The fool twirled back to face her, cape whipping behind him and threatening to snag on any number of bushes and brambles surrounding the track.

"Tomorrow I'll be a god!" he screamed back, doing a little dance. "Everyone knows gods manipulate the mortals. I'm just getting a little practice in." Then he tripped over backwards and rolled out of sight, leaving Xena to silently agree that he must have been dropped on his head, probably several times in quick succession.

*   *   *

Xena stood atop the crest overlooking Athens with an exuberant bard exclaiming excitedly at her side. One part of her was wondering why she was dwelling on a fool she had met during her warlord days, even if he had dropped out of that tree now looming overhead. Another part of her was paying heed to seething activity emanating from Athens, her blood humming briskly through her veins, warning her of danger, imminent danger. A warm hand on her elbow brought her back to the present with a slight start.

"What is it, Xena?" Gabrielle was scanning the countryside, hand clenching around an invisible staff. The Warrior Princess looked down at her bard's well developed bared abdominal muscles and arched a wondering brow.

*   *   *

Chapter 8

"Do you feel it, Gabrielle?"

"Feel what?" asked the bard, even as she searched the bushes for the invisible foes she felt sure were about to launch an attack. When nothing happened she whirled to the Warrior Princess who was just standing there, staring at her with a strange look on her face.

"What do you feel, Gabrielle?"

"I uh I..." she trailed off and made a swirling sweep of their surroundings again. There was nobody waiting to ambush them, unless their attackers happened to be in the possession of Hades' helmet of invisibility. "You tell me, Xena!" she cried at last, giving into frustration. "Where's the threat coming from? What's the danger?"

"I'm not sure. It's down there somewhere," Xena brandished her sword towards Athens vaguely. "Do you feel it?"

Gabrielle sighed and mopped at her sweaty forehead. "I feel it in you, Xena. You're all agitated inside." She patted her belly to demonstrate. At Xena's arched eyebrow she capitulated with a grin. "I've become pretty good at reading your signals, my taciturn warrior. We've got to communicate somehow!"

Xena glared at her. Gabrielle smirked back. With a shrug, Xena mounted Argo, hauled a volubly protesting bard on behind her and started to ride down the hill. Just how had Gabrielle become so apt at reading her anyway?

*   *   *

Najara rode along the busy street, trying her best not to run the more pushy members of the milling crowd into the stone pavement. She had never seen such a busy town before and the stench of evil hung heavy in the air.

"Slave for sale! Take heed good patrons of the Athenian marketplace. Today I bring you a virgin from the fabled land of Egypt. Only fourteen summers in age, she'll make the perfect addition to a harem or kitchen corner. You buy, you decide!"

Najara's head whipped towards the dais where the slave auction was being held. Her narrowed glinting eyes bore into the tubby presenter who had swathed his bulk in purple silk. This was evil of the worst kind. This was depravation and darkness and only a hero of the light could banish it back into the bowels of Tartarus where from whence it had come.

"For the light!" she screamed, charging into this churning nest of vipers. Her sabre caught the sun, even as it bit hungrily into the soft unresisting flesh of the auction audience.

*   *   *

Argo trotted around a conspicuously empty street corner and skittered to a halt at an entry to the desecrated marketplace. "By the Gods," gasped Gabrielle, hiding her face in Xena's leathers and taking some small comfort in the warm musky scent that couldn't quite drown out the sharp spicy smell of blood in the air. Xena looked dispassionately on the huddled bloodied bodies strewn in their path.

"We got here too late." Her voice was cold and dead, just like the huddled townspeople.

"Oh gods, Xena. Oh gods." The Warrior Princess felt Gabrielle's fingers clench her leathers and claw into her back. She felt the bard breathing far too rapidly into her ear, each exhalation coming heavy and hoarse.

"Gabrielle?" she asked, half turning in the saddle to grasp one cold arm protectively. She found herself gazing into glazed green eyes so distant they seemed to journey forever inward. "Gabrielle?" she asked again, shaking the bard's arm almost violently.

"We're all gonna die!" Gabrielle's choked exclamation was tinged with hysteria. "What do we do, Lerana? Our daughter, get Mishaya to safety! Get her away from that demoness! She's crazy, I tell you, crazy!"

Xena watched in abject horror as the blood drained from Gabrielle's face, leaving her pale and shaking, cold sweat beading her brow as her body twisted and turned atop Argo, neck craning as she searched for an escape route.

"Calm down, Gabrielle," she gasped, trying to hold the bard steady and praying that her unnerved mare wouldn't chose this moment to bolt. Gabrielle grasped Xena's shoulder and hung on with the strength of a harpy, wild green eyes peering into anxious blue.

"Why did I leave my dagger at home? Oh gods, somebody kill the bitch! She's crazy!"

"Who is? Who's crazy? What is it, Gabrielle? Are you having a vision?" Xena grasped the bard's chin, trying to get some sense out of her, trying to make sense of what was happening.

"Stop her, she's crazy! Manithus! Neighbour! NO, Manithus! Don't! No...oh gods, MANITHUS! NOOOOOO!" The bard tore herself from Xena's protective grasp, half leapt-half fell off Argo, pushed herself to her feet and sprinted across the marketplace, heading for the dais.

"No you don't," muttered Xena, shrieking her war cry and using her stirrups to spring up and out of the saddle. She hurtled through the air and gradually slowed her descent with several calculated flips to touch down lightly in front of the raised platform, just in time for a sobbing bard to crash headlong into her armoured chest.

"Lerana!" The bard grasped Xena by her gauntlets and pulled her down with surprising strength. "Get down, Lerana, get down NOW." Xena found herself sprawled on the stones panting, a desperate bard atop. "Look, Lerana!" Gabrielle was suddenly filled with animated hope. Xena looked. The dais was held aloft by wooden stakes. She could see all the way underneath the stage, to an alley leading out of the marketplace to the streets beyond. Her little bard began to make her escape, squirming into the darkness, calling for 'Lerana' to follow her to safety. Rolling her eyes, Xena began to crawl after her, already wondering why she hadn't just traversed the dais to await her bard at the opposite end.

When Gabrielle stopped moving, Xena almost plowed into her, only stopping herself by applying tremendous force to her forearms. Her bard turned herself around and began crawling back the way they had come.

"Mishaya," she puffed, "where's Mishaya? We have to get to her! Lerana, where's Mishaya?"

"Uh..." began Xena, as they emerged from under the dais, sunlight disorientating her for an eyeblink. She was behind Gabrielle, still reaching for her, when it happened. Every muscle in the bard's back went rigid, standing out prominently. Xena heard her sharp intake of breath, but didn't hear her exhale. Stunned, she could only watch as Gabrielle threw herself over the headless corpse of a child, clutching what was left of the body to her breast as a low keening began to fill the stillness.

"Gabrielle?" she asked tentatively, going to pull the bard off the body with the intention of shepherding her away from this traumatic scene.

"Lerana," garbled the bard, allowing the warrior to lift her to her feet, allowing herself to be turned around and wrapped in strong arms. Finally Xena took a step back, hating to let the trembling body from her grasp but needing to see the light of reason in Gabrielle's eyes. All she saw was a shocking influx of pain. The bard staggered a step backwards, than another, hands pressed tightly over her abdomen, mouth opening in a wet choking gasp as she tripped backwards to collapse at Xena's feet.

"GABRIELLE!" yelled the warrior, on her knees in an instant, searching desperately for the injury and finding none. She pryed the bard's hands away, expecting to see a protruding throwing knife or an arrow, something...

There was nothing there. Nothing but her bard, convulsing slightly on the dusty pavement, emitting slightly slurping gasps for air that translated a loosing battle.

"Gabrielle, what the Hades? What's WRONG? What do I do?" Her voice cracked as the bard smiled fondly up at her.

"I love you Lerana."

"Who the bloody battle of Cirrah is Lerana?!" cried the baffled warrior, grasping the icy hands in hers.

"Gotta" Gabrielle's eyes slid closed. Xena stared down at her still body in utter disbelief.

*   *   *

Chapter 9

"We are most pleased, my child."

Najara looked up from her flagon of mead to find Djahera standing over her in human guise, wearing a proud smile. She almost fell of her chair in her hurry to prostrate herself before her mistress. The djinn seated herself and gestured for the Crusader to join her.

"With servants such as you, the light will triumph!"

"Thank you, mistress," gushed Najara, bowing her head reverantly. "I live to serve you, Bright Spirit. With your advice aiding me in my noble quest, we will smite the darkness and trample it under..."

"Hush, child!" cut in the djinn, smirking a little as her ardent disciple tripped over her words in an effort to obey. "Our sources have informed us that the little light has at last arrived. You know what you must do. Those who reject us cannot be allowed to poison the minds of the populace."

"Deluded lies!" piped up a reedy voice.

"Who would dare?!" screeched Djahera, rising to her feet in a boiling scarlet cloud of indignation.

"God is the name," giggled the owner of the voice, appearing before them in a smoky flash. Djahera stared incredulously as this stranger succumbed to a violent coughing fit, waving away the thick black billows of smoke left in his wake.

"Who the..."

"I TOLD you," wailed the spluttering newcomer, finally managing to disperse the foul smelling cloud that had heradled his arrival. "I'm God and I really need a new entrance." Djahera's mouth moved soundlessly. Najara fell off her chair unable to tear her eyes from the absurdity grinning foolishly at them, resplendent in his slightly sooty tunic and cape, both decorated in bold alternating stripes of red and green. Sweeping the six pronged cap from his head, he proceeded to bow until his chin brushed the tips of his toes. Djahera finally recovered enough to gather her wits and power about her, pointing one accusing finger in the fool's direction as she proclaimed his doom.

"Spawn of darkness, know that you have presumed too much! We will not allow such as you to exist under the same shining orb of golden light that we..."

She trailed off as the colourful stranger doubled over in a fit of laughter. Just as suddenly he sprang back to stand straight, fixing the djinn with the glittering gleam of his icy white cataracts. "Wind up your long and boring speel, why don't ya?" he demanded while she blinked at him, unsure of her next course of action. "We know, we know, we know, we all heard. You're the djinn, a lovely creature of love and light and henbane induced deductions and you've come to save the world by laying it to waste. Or at least, that's what you like telling little girls. Why don't ya get a REAL job?!"

"We are going to FRY you, blasphemous iniquity!" screamed Djahera, her hands beginning to glow crimson with the destructive power imbuing her corporal form.

"Ot oh!" squeaked the fool, "she can't handle the truth! Whatever shall this god do? I suppose I'll have to use my incredible powers to protect myself from the pain of a burnt bottom. Let's see now, shall I run or shall I hide? Choices, choices..."

"The Light has triumphed!" trumpted Djahera, clasping her hands together in the shape of an arrow and directing a stream of crackling energy towards her unexpected enemy.

"I'll hide!" decided the fool, diving away from the flair of energy which disintegrated the door in his absence. Ducking wood splinters the self-proclaimed 'god' winked at a dumbfounded Najara, grabbed the flagon of mead from the table, uncorked it and poked his pinky finger into the hole. He winked at Najara again. Then he just stood there as Djahera gathered her energy about her again, preparing for another assault.

"Are you insane?" hissed Najara, wondering what the hades the costumed idiot thought he was doing. He winked at her yet again.

"Takes one to know one, loony of the light." Najara gasped at the insult and started fumbling at her back-sheath for her sword. Meanwhile the fool uncorked his finger with a satisfying 'pop' and sat himself down on the table, dangling his feet in the air and gracing Djahera with a self-satisfied smirk. The Djinn stared back at him doubtfully, her hands beginning to ache with the barely restrained power she held in check.

"What?" asked the fool, systematically picking the wax from one ear. "You don't like my hiding place? Oh wait, I know! You can still see me! Hades Hallowed Helmet, I guess my powers of invisibility must be on the blink."

"Who are you?" grated Djahera, her hands beginning to twitch involuntarily.

"Oh how remiss of me, darling djinn, did I neglect to introduce my corporal body? I'm Shankalin, soon to be master of the universe! Go ahead, fire at me, for all the good it will do ya." His cataracts twitched towards the flagon of mead he now cradled between his knees. Djahera's beryl-green eyes followed the motion.

"Ah," she practically purred, her hands shaking convulsively as she fixated her attention on the flagon. "We know what you are now, just as we know where your spirit is lurking, attempting to evade the righteous wrath of the light. We will smite you to smithereens." With that declaration, a steady pinpoint of brilliant red fire shot into the flagon as the djinn sighed in relief to feel the prickling in her veins abate. At last she lowered her hands, spent but content, waiting for the fool to deflate in a lifeless heap like a pricked bladder. It didn't happen. He simply sat there, a huge grin stretching his face from side to side. With a flourish he produced a cork and proceeded to plug up the flagon while she stared at him in angry bewilderment.

"Thanks for draining yourself to create this little power pick-me-up," he chortled, raising the stoppered flagon above his flailing cap melodramatically. "When I master the universe, I'll be sure to mention you donated blood." With that he made his exit, leaving copious amounts of thick black smoke masking his wake. Djahera stared down at her hands, calling for comforting power to come aid her and shaking her hands disbelievingly when nothing happened. Najara started choking. Neither of them heard the distant spluttering as a costumed fool stumbled down the inn stairway, swiping at the thick black clouds with one hand, the other clutching the precious flagon to his chest.

TBC in Chapter 10

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