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GENERAL COPYRIGHT DISCLAIMER: All characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction.

Any other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author (meaning Kharis belongs to me). This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

LOVE: This story depicts a loving relationship between two women, a girl, a Goddess, and anyone else who loves someone that is close to them. If you can't stand the idea that women can have a loving relationship with those that are around them or each other then please keep your closed mind where it belongs and don't bother reading this story. 'Nuff said

VIOLENCE: This is Xena we're taking about. Of course things can get violent when you are fighting with a round killing thing and it's sharp pointy counterpart.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4

Dire Truths
by Crys



Word of the fateful staff bout quickly spread throughout the village within a few days. By the week's end there was not one woman, nor child, who did not know what had happened and who it happened to. In a warped twist of fate the bout did more than help exercise the demon that lay beneath Kharis' surface, it helped bridge the chasm of misgivings the village had towards the young woman. After a few weeks, she was not only truly accepted by the Amazons but was even embraced as one of their own.

Xena shook her head slightly as she made her way to the communal gardens. Amazons never ceased to confuse her. If she had known that all it took was an all out staff match, to gain Kharis' acceptance, then she would have done it sooner. She should have known that these woman were very much like her. Actions always spoke louder than words.

Strolling across one of the small courtyards, the imposing warrior made her way around the mess hut and stopped in a small spot of shade provided by a small tree. Scanning the large plot of land before her, that was reserved for growing the village's vegetables, Xena found her sister and another girl hunched over a row of tomato plants, carefully removing any weeds that might hamper the plants' growth. Her sister's laughter floated over the neat rows of plants to Xena's sensitive ears as Kharis was obviously enjoying something that her companion was relating to her.

Stepping over a row of melons, ripening in the sun, Xena walked towards her sister, occasionally nodding a return greeting to the others working in the garden as she quickly began to discern the flow of the conversation directed to her sister.

"... and so here's your sister, trudging up the path, pulling an enormous wagon full of fish, and finding the Queen on the same path beside Aphrodite, who stunk to Mt. Olympus supposedly, Ares, and the Queen's friend Joxer. Well..."

"Am I interrupting?" Xena said suddenly from behind the girls as both Kharis and her companion whipped around and sheepishly smiled at the bronzed warrior.

"No, Mara was just telling me one of Gabrielle's stories that I hadn't heard before," Kharis said as she stood up and slapped the dirt off her hands. Smiling fondly at her companion, Kharis laughed inwardly at her friend's obvious unease being around Xena. No matter how many times she tried telling Mara that her sister is not who she appeared to be, the young Amazon wouldn't believe it. The fabled Destroyer of Nations wasn't a person to Mara, she was an icon.

"Hope it was a good one?" Xena chuckled softly, causing Mara to almost jump out of her skin. The sudden change in persona was frightening. Once imposing and lethal, Xena now exhibited an air of ease and good humour that the young woman could never get accustomed to.

"Oh, it was. Why didn't you tell me about that enchanted scroll?"

"I thought Gabrielle had already told you that one?"

"Not when I've been around. Though I can see why," Kharis laughed. "She really screwed that one up."

"So what are you guys up to after garden detail is over?" Xena directed the question to the Amazon beside her sister, trying to draw the girl's shyness out.

Mara visibly swallowed as she tried to find her voice, "We're supposed to be at bow practice within the candlemark. We're practicing for the Festival."

"Well I've seen you with the bow Mara and I think you can handle missing one practice, don't you?" Xena suddenly said as she allowed one of her rare smiles to wash over the girl.

"Well... I... I..."

"Hades, yes!" Kharis jumped in for her stammering friend. "She's the best out of the group. I've been telling her that for almost moon now but she won't believe me."

"Khar, you're just saying that to be nice," Mara said sheepishly, feeling awkward with the praise coming from her friend.

"Have you ever known me to say something that I don't mean?" Kharis asked seriously.

"No, but you also know that you are the best amongst us so don't try building me up while tearing yourself down at the same time," Mara replied as seriously. It was a familiar routine for the two young woman. Kharis always trying to downplay her abilities while Mara continually tried to build them up.

Xena watched the two young women's exchange and grinned. Not a month ago, Kharis couldn't get the time of day from the Amazons. Now she had respect and friendship from mostly everyone, but especially one unlikely source. Mara truly surprised Kharis and Xena the day after their staff bout by offering her friendship. That day held many surprises for them both.

It had been a productive practice as both Xena and Kharis moved through the different defence and offence techniques of the sword. The fight had been a short, but exhausting exercise, that warranted a time out for both women to catch their breaths. Sitting against one of the larger trees surrounding the practice area they were approached by the young Amazon, who was obviously nervous, but from whom neither could say.

"Hello," Mara greeted both women shyly as she approached the tree.

"Hi," Xena offered back as she studied the girl before her impassively. "You're Mara, right?"

"Yeah. I was the one that fought before the... well... before you both fought as well," She said softly, uncertain how to continue.

what can we do for you?" Xena offered, hoping to help ease the Amazon into revealing why she was there with a quick smile.

"Well, I was just wondering... you see... I'm really here to ask something of Kharis."

"What do you want?" Kharis scowled, which got an elbow to her ribs from Xena and a muttered 'be nice' that only she could hear.

"I was wondering if you wanted to practice with me. I'm not very good with the staff and could learn a lot from you. Plus we could practice the other weapons together too. But if you don't want to, I can understand that," Mara said in one rush, glad she got it out before her fear stopped her.

For she was afraid of both women, but for differing reasons. Xena was an enigma that all of the Amazons feared to one extent or another. Kharis, on the other hand, was an unknown fear and that was what intrigued Mara, despite herself. The furious staff bout had opened the young Amazons eyes. The girl that fought like a demon and bettered her two opponents was someone who was so much more than she let everyone to believe. Mara recognised that in an instant and decided then and there to try and understand her complexities. Somehow, Mara knew that both were kindred spirits.

Kharis was slightly happy that someone was finally making an effort to actually talk to her but the defensive walls, that she had built up after being around the Amazons, wasn't going to come tumbling down any time soon. "I already have a practice partner with the staff. Gabrielle is the best there is," she answered somewhat more coldly than she had meant.

Dejection plainly seen in her eyes Mara shrugged as she smiled slightly, "That's okay. Didn't think it could hurt to ask. Thanks anyways." Walking away from the resting warriors Mara berated herself for bothering to even try. What was she thinking?

Xena gave her sister a dark look as she stood up and turned to face her sister, "What the Hades do you think you just did?"

"What?" Kharis asked offhandedly. "It's true that I already have a staff partner. You can't expect me to learn with an albatross like that to practice on do you?"

Xena snorted as she motioned for her sister to stand up, unsheathing her sword for the next round of lessons, "You are going to have to learn to trust people Khar. She was offering you more than her body as a practice partner. She was offering you friendship."

"Yeah, right!" Her sister scoffed as she also unsheathed her sword and stood at the ready for Xena's initial attack. "She was probably just following through on a bet that the others gave her."

"It took a lot of courage to approach you Khar after what she had seen yesterday. That's something you could learn from her," Xena said offhandedly as she readied herself for the next lesson. A repeat of the previous day's events was scheduled, without her sister's knowledge of course.

"Are you calling me a coward?"

"Why, yes I am. You would rather hide behind me and Gabrielle and moan about not being accepted here with the Amazons than bite the crossbolt and open yourself up to one of them."

"How dare you!" Kharis shouted as she brought her sword downward towards Xena's head.

"I dare because it's the truth," Xena grunted as she deflected the blow and offered one in return. Stirring up Kharis' anger was relatively easy now as Xena proceeded to goad her sister on. "I never thought I'd see the day when you would be afraid of kindness. How does it feel to know that you're craven?"

Kharis answered with a kick to the stomach and a thrust to the throat that were easily deflected by Xena's many skills. Despite herself, the young woman allowed her anger to boil at the surface and used it this time instead of trying to bury it. "You'll regret saying that dear sister," she said menacingly.

"I don't think I will," Xena smiled evilly as she let the wolf out to play. "Come on, you can do better than that. Quit loitering and fight for a change. You do know how to do that don't you?"

Kharis shuddered as she released her own demon and tried to take her sister's arm off, to no avail. "You'll soon find out won't you?" she growled.

Both women fought with untamed fury, yet one controlled it and used it to her advantage while the other just sunk into it's abyss. Xena knew that she could lose more than the fight if she didn't treat the threat of her sister seriously. As the glow of bloodlust coursed throughout her body, she forcibly checked her blows and allowed her sister to press the attacks.

"That's it Khar. Feel the rage. Don't allow it to control your reactions. Control it to act with thought," she instructed as golden eyes grew harsh at the words.

"Control this!" Kharis yelled as she delivered a series of blows directed at the warrior's left side.

Backing up from the onslaught of attacks, Xena easily deflected her sister's sword until she felt her back caress a tree behind her. Bending down slightly Xena released the tension in her thighs and flipped over Kharis' head, laughing as she landed on the other side of her sister, across the opposite end of the small practice area.

"No matter how hard you try to hurt me, Khar, you won't succeed," Xena said as the flush of power surged through her body. "Especially when you can't control your own body. Don't give in to the darkness. Bend it to do what you want, not what it wants."

"What if I like what it wants?" Kharis purred as she twirled the silver blade around her, planning her next line of attack. "What if what it wants is what I want?"

Xena lowered her sword as she stood to face her sister's blade, "If it wants my life then take it. I won't stop you. But think, will you be able to live with yourself afterwards when it has left you cold and alone? Control it Khar before Ares uses it to control you."

Xena knew she was taking a risky chance not defending herself to the evil that had overwhelmed her sister, but it was a chance she had to take. She had to know if Kharis could step over the line that stopped her from killing in cold blood. 'Not like I haven't come back from the dead before' she mused bitterly. Preparing to override her survival instincts, Xena stood perfectly still as Kharis rushed her, the girl's blade level with Xena's abdomen.

A moment before striking true, Kharis faltered as Xena's words finally gained entrance into her fevered mind. 'Control it Khar before Ares uses it to control you' The mere mention of Ares name brought the young woman up short. The veil of bloodlust suddenly lifted as Kharis dropped her sword down before impaling her sister. As the tip buried itself into the ground the force of her momentum carried Kharis forward head-first into her sister, who tried to absorb the impact.

Strong arms quickly wrapped around the girl as both women tumbled backwards, rolling a few feet before both finally came to a stop. Two sets of ragged lungs sharply inhaled as each cleared their heads from the fall. Rotating onto her side, Xena grimaced as she felt a cracked rib pound in protest from the movement. 'That'll teach me to take a hit like that' Reaching over to her sister Xena felt the girl's clammy skin flinch at her touch.

"Come on Khar, get up. We're not done yet," Xena said as she started to get up haltingly.

Kharis turned over and sat up, confusion shining in golden eyes. "I don't understand," she said weakly as the loss of rage quickly drained her energy.

"Get up and pick up your sword!" Xena yelled as she retrieved her own fallen weapon.

Kharis did as she was bidden and was soon standing and facing her sister once again in preparation to fight. Seriously weakened she could barely life the sword as she stood ready for the next attack, pain clearly etched in her face.

"Now I want you to call up your rage again. This time check it before it overcomes you. Got that?" Xena ordered as she stood ready.

Mortified what her sister was asking Kharis shook her head, "No. I almost killed you."

"But you didn't. That moment when you could have you didn't. Don't you see? You can control it. You just have to have faith in yourself, like I have faith in you."

Kharis knew that she didn't have faith in herself but held onto the faith of her sister. Tapping into the hatred, that recently lay so close to her heart, Kharis allowed it to slowly fill her soul as her weariness quickly left her, leaving her to feel rejuvenated and alive.

Emitting a feral smile, Kharis once again raised her sword, prepared for anything that Xena could throw her way. Recognising the look Xena smiled as well as she quickly attacked her sister, pushing the pain from the cracked rib into the back of her mind. Both women fought like banshees as azure eyes picked up a noticeable difference from the last fight. Where once Kharis was uncertain or wild in her movements, now she was sure and precise as their deadly dance wound it's way into a fevered pitch of clashes that startled the birds nesting within the surrounding trees.

Kharis too felt a difference as she easily read her sister's patterns of attack and easily deflected every assault that came her way. Holding back when necessary yet releasing when paramount, Kharis quickly learnt to control her battle lust as the sun reached its zenith.

Reveling in her new found power, Kharis found herself quickly relieving Xena of her sword only to stop dead as she watched the blade shimmer up into the air before tumbling back down to the ground. An amused look on Xena's face was the next thing the girl saw as her mouth dropped open from shock.

Xena chuckled at her sister's surprise, "Now that is what happens when you control it."

Kharis nodded dumbly as she pushed the fury from her mind and started to feel the pain, from overtaxed muscles, creep into her consciousness. Slumping down to the ground, Kharis closed her eyes as she quickly categorized the various pains and pushed them into their own little spaces deep within her. Once free of most of the pain she opened her eyes to see her sister still chuckling but wincing slightly as each movement caused her obvious discomfort.

"What's wrong? Did I hurt you?" Kharis asked alarmed as she jumped to her feet and felt her world spin for a moment before subsiding back into normalcy.

"I just cracked a rib when we took that tumble. Didn't absorb your head-butt right," Xena smiled as she pulled her quivering sword out of the ground, its tip once buried in the dirt.

"Oh Gods, I'm so sorry," Kharis apologised as she moved towards her sister.

Xena held up her hand as she tried to calm her sister's fears, "Don't be. It was my fault. I should have twisted a different way when we were flying through the air. Another lesson learnt for both of us."

"That being?"

"That you have a very hard head. Like your sister," Xena laughed as she tapped her own head.

Kharis grinned and relaxed as she felt her normal strength return much more quickly than before. "You took a chance you know?" the young woman said sadly.

"I had to Khar. And I'll probably have to many more times but it's for your own good. Like you said, we don't have much time. You have to use everything that is within you if you want to survive as Ares Chosen. Including the darkness."

"I'll never be his Chosen," Kharis spat vehemently.

"You already are. But what you do with it is another thing. After ten long years I finally realised I could use it for some good. Hopefully, when you are faced with the same decision, you'll make the same one."

"And if I don't?" the girl asked softly, still unsure whether she could fight Ares influence.

"Then you'll just have to get used to the fact that Gabrielle and I will be following you around trying to show you otherwise. Either that or we'll have to stop you," Xena said coldly as she effectively ended that line of thought.

"So now what?" Kharis asked, aware that she had missed her training session with Eponin.

"Now you go and seek Mara out," Xena said as she sheathed her sword. "Friends are hard to come by. Trust me I know. You will be kicking yourself later on in life if you don't give her the chance. Not every one will betray you like Caesar did, Khar. You deserve to have good friends beyond Gabrielle and me."

Kharis nodded as she knew her sister was right. Xena could count the people she considered friends on only two hands but those that made the cut were very special people. Flaxen eyes shone as Kharis smiled before leaving her sister to find the young Amazon that offered nothing but friendship.

Finding Mara that afternoon, Kharis accepted her offer and slowly but surely started to tear down the defensive walls she had built over the past month to allow the shy, sweet Amazon entrance into her life.

Kharis could only smile when she thought about that day. The day that opened up a few new doors into her life and changed her perception about herself and others. Not only did she conquer her fear of what she could do but her fear of those around her. Mara was the first big step in that direction.

"So what were you thinking of sis? Swords, staffs, what?" Kharis inquired.

"Neither. I was wondering if the two of you wanted to join Gabrielle and me on a picnic," Xena asked innocently.

Both young woman stared at the warrior, uncertain whether she was pulling their legs or not. Kharis broke first as she grabbed her sides from the fit of laughter that had overwhelmed her, Mara soon followed albeit warily in case she angered Xena.

A small sigh followed a raised eyebrow as Xena waited for her sister and companion to control themselves; "And what's so funny about that?"

"Nothing," Kharis hiccuped as she tried to stifle an oncoming wave of giggles. "I mean... come on Xena. You? Picnic?"

"Excuse me Khar, but what else would you call a nice day by the river with good food and company?"

"Ummm... besides a respite from having Amazons around you all day?"

"Heh!" Mara yelped as she punched her friend in the shoulder, hard.

"Present company excluded of course," Kharis backtracked as she rubbed the now sore shoulder.

Xena shook her head as her face once again went impassive; "So? What will it be? Picnic or practice?"

"We'd have to be two-legged centaurs to turn an offer like that down, wouldn't we Mara?" Kharis said in all seriousness.

"Well you can go whenever you want. I on the other hand have to answer to Eponin if I don't show up for practice," Mara said dejectedly.

"Actually," Xena drawled. "I already talked to Pony and she said you could miss practice as long as you stay with Gabrielle and me. I think Gabrielle talked to her before I did. You know how persuasive she can be."

Both girls laughed and nodded as the woman in question was suddenly seen walking towards them. Gabrielle felt a small blush on her cheeks as she approached the three woman, certain that they were talking about her. "So, we set to go?"

"Yeah, I think I was able to twist their arms into it," Xena said as she ruffled her sister's hair.

"Good. I have the food ready back at the hut. Mara, would you be a dear and go and get it?" Gabrielle asked the young Amazon.

"Yes, my Queen," Mara replied softly as she bowed her head and took off at a run.

Gabrielle sighed as she shook her head at Mara's retreating back, "I wish she would get over the Queen business and just call me by my name."

"You know she can't," Kharis said in her friend's defence. "You are her Queen."

"In two days she will be yours as well," Xena smirked.

"Does that mean I'll have to start addressing you as 'my Queen'?" Kharis teased the bard.

"By the Gods, I couldn't handle it if you started to," Gabrielle laughed as she gave her soulmate's sister a quick hug. "Don't stop being you, Khar. Even after your initiation. You know where you stand."

"Yeah, as one of your loyal subjects," the girl said as she rolled her eyes. "Guess that means I'd have to follow your orders."

"You have to anyways," Xena smiled as a small glint came to her eyes. "She IS your elder."

"So? Almost everyone is my elder here. Doesn't mean I have to follow their orders," the young woman said defiantly.

Gabrielle sighed as another battle was beginning between the two sisters. Kharis' ego was one of the few things that Xena hadn't been able to control. The girl's stubborn pride didn't allow her to yield to anyone else's authority, beyond those that trained her. In her eyes no one was deserving unless they proved themselves otherwise.

Xena scowled as her impatience clearly registered on the warrior's face; "Let's talk about this at a later time. We're supposed to be going on a picnic to relax, not fight."

"Who said we were fighting?" Kharis asked innocently, knowing full well she could instigate her sister's anger at the drop of a helm. A raised eyebrow was the only answer she received when Mara's shout could be heard as the young Amazon approached the trio.

"I have the basket," Mara said softly as she felt the tension in the air surrounding her friend and Xena. "Is everything all right?"

"What could be wrong?" Gabrielle jumped in as she diffused her soulmate's sudden anger by grabbing the warrior under the arm and leading her out of the garden. Mara quickly gave Kharis a glance that plainly asked 'what happened?' Grinning wickedly Kharis shrugged her shoulders and followed her sister as Mara shook her head, fully knowing that her friend was causing trouble just to be difficult. All four women strolled out of the garden area, each in their own thoughts.

"Gods, I'm stuffed," Gabrielle sighed happily as she rubbed her swollen belly. Mara and Kharis laughed as Xena could only grin slightly at her bard's declaration of fullness.

"I'm surprised," the warrior said as she leaned back against a rock, basking in the sun's warmth. "I thought for sure the second rabbit would have been enough for you."

"Not when she dug into the third one," Kharis giggled as she stood up to stretch her lazy muscles one by one.

The afternoon had passed pleasantly as each women enjoyed the others' company. Many stories, jokes, and discussions had transpired along with much laughter and a certain nasty water fight that entailed both the warrior and bard ending up fully soaked while the Kharis and Mara got off relatively untouched.

"Ha, ha. You weren't much better Khar," the bard mocked as she got up also and started to retrieve the frying pan and knives for cleaning in the river they had stopped by. "Mara, would you mind helping me clean these?"

Embarrassment registered on the young Amazons face as she realised she should have attended to the cleaning instead of her Queen. "Let me do those for you my Qu... Gabrielle," the girl said as she reached for the pan. It had taken over a candlemark of corrections before the girl finally called Gabrielle by her name, albeit with much reverence.

"No need Mara, we'll both do it. When Xena and I are on the trail I'm the one that does the cooking and cleaning don't forget." Gabrielle said as Mara and her started to walk towards the river's edge. Both Xena and Kharis could hear the bard chattering on, trying to engage the young Amazon in a conversation.

Shaking her head in amusement Xena twisted her head suddenly to one side popping a vertebrate back in place before climbing to her feet as her sister continued to stretch well-toned muscles.

"I'm going to check the trap lines I set up. Tell Gabrielle I'll be back in a bit," Xena said as she grabbed her sword and chakram from the ground where they lay next to the other weapons.

"I'll go with you," Kharis said as she grabbed her thigh dagger and sword. "Gabrielle will be safe with Mara there to protect her."

Xena looked over to her bard and nodded as she watched Mara continually be wary of her surroundings while trying to keep her end of the conversation going with Gabrielle.

"Okay, let's go then."

Both sisters headed into the thick tree line and proceeded to follow a deer path that Xena had laid traps on. Following her sister as silently as possible, Kharis allowed her thoughts to wonder as Xena took point and watched for any possible sign of attack. Though they were deep within the Amazon territory there was always the chance that some miscreant had gotten past the Amazon patrols and guards.

"Xena?" Kharis asked suddenly as her sister was checking the first of the traps buried within the dense overgrowth.

"Yeah?" Xena grunted as she pulled a rabbit carcass out and disengaged it from the wire before digging up the snare's post and throwing the snare into a pouch.

"Why did you agree to this, on today of all days?"

"Because Gabrielle wanted to get away from her duties and just have a nice lazy day."

"You're lying to me," Kharis accused her sister softly. "Why?"

Xena whipped around and glared at her sister before snorting and moving onto the next snare. Kharis held her tongue as she let her sister answer the question when she was ready to.

Three traps later Xena finally spoke up, "I wanted Gabrielle to have a nice day to remember in case something happens in a few days."

"Does this have to do with my initiation?" Kharis asked, suddenly remembering the conversation her sister had with the high priestess so many months ago.

"Yes. Tomorrow I'll be going on trial for the deaths of the leaders of the Steppes Amazon Nation," Xena said simply as she checked the final trap and pulled a pheasant off the line. "I asked for it."

"I know, well I remember. But I don't know why I didn't remember until now," Kharis didn't know what else to say as her confusion and then anger slowly began to surface. "Does Gabrielle know?"

"Not yet. I've already talked to Ephiny about it and she will head the tribunal. Gabrielle won't have to officiate. I was hoping to tell her this afternoon."

Kharis nodded as she suddenly understood her role in the picnic, "So that's why you invited Mara also. You wanted the two of us to be there as a buffer."

Xena exhaled as she let her shoulders droop a bit, "I was hoping that with you two there she won't go into one of her tirades. At least not as much as she could if the two of us were alone."

"You don't have to do this you know. I would rather that you didn't actually. I don't need to become an Amazon. I need my sister more then that." the young woman said emphatically as she suddenly wrapped her arms around Xena's waist and held onto the warrior tightly.

Xena lightly kissed the top of raven hair as she hugged her sister back before forcing the girl to let go, "I have to do this Khar. Not just for me but for the Amazon Nation. There has been dissension in the ranks because I'm the Queen's Champion and a war criminal to the Nation. This has to be solved for many more reasons then just your initiation."

"What will happen if they find you guilty?"

"I am guilty, Khar. As for the sentence. I have no idea. There will be many wanting my blood, I'm sure. I just hope that calmer heads will prevail and I'll only be banned from ever entering the Nation's territory upon threat of death," the warrior said matter-of-factly.

"But that would mean..."

"I know. It would create problems when concerning you and Gabrielle. I'd have to trust the Amazons to safely protect the two of you when either of you are in Amazon territory. But let's see what happens tomorrow before we start worrying about how we're going to live with it. Okay?"

"I still don't like it and you know Gabby isn't going to like much more then me," Kharis stated sullenly.

"I'm more afraid of what it will do to her then to me frankly. But we'll cross that bridge together. Don't worry about Gabrielle. If I know my bard she'll find a way to overcome any difficulties it might present. Speaking of which, I'm sure she's worried about us already. We should head back."

Kharis agreed silently as she helped her sister dig up the last snare and carried the sac while Xena swung the carcasses over her shoulder. Both women headed back to the picnic site silently, each in their own thoughts.

To say that the bard would take the news angrily was an understatement. Much yelling could be heard coming from the Queen's hut the night before the Summer Solstice Festival. Xena was adamant about her position on accepting any punishment deemed necessary to pay for her crimes towards the Nation whereas Gabrielle argued for the greater good. Neither women would bend as the heated discussion came to a stalemate.

Kharis heard every word from her room at the back of the hut and silently cursed herself for bringing turmoil to their relationship. If it wasn't for her being initiated there would be no need for Xena to concede to a trial. Things could have stayed status quo as long as the warrior was only an infrequent visitor.

The young woman could understand her sister's position but agreed with the bard that it was foolhardy. Xena had paid dearly for her past deeds every day of her life, whether it was from the nightly nightmares or from the numerous bounties that still plagued the warrior princess where ever she went. The looks of fear and dread when she entered a village her army once ransacked cut her to the core. Yet she continued to battle those that slaughtered the ones she once butchered without any thanks or forgiveness asked for.

There was nothing else the Amazons could do to make the warrior repent more then what she did to herself. But justice was being demanded and Xena was honour bond to abide by that justice.

That night held little sleep for all three women as each tried to forget their misgivings. Weary, each greeted the morning with dread as Apollo streaked across the sky. The promise of a glorious day could not shake the sombre mood permeating from the Queen's hut.

Being the first to rise, Xena got out of the bed she shared with the bard and began to dress in her leather and armour. Silently leaving the hut, she surveyed the still village before walking to the training grounds for her morning workout.

Gabrielle quietly listened to her soulmate leave before she finally broke down into tears that had been threatening to break all night. The pain that engulfed her quickly broke the surface as she sobbed onto the bed, hoping against hope that something would happen to stall the festival for a few more days. But she knew it was foolhardy. The only thing she could do was approach Ephiny and plead with her to try and talk Xena out of her madness. Rising up from the now tear stained bed, Gabrielle greeted the day with a silent prayer to Artemis to watch over her warrior as the bard donned her clothing and sought Ephiny out.

Kharis lay in bed still wondering how she could avert everything that was to happen that day when she heard a small scraping under her window. Moving closer to the window, the young woman looked out and saw her friend crouched in the bushes beside the hut.

"Mara, what are you doing here?" Kharis whispered as she leaned out over the window.

Mara smiled up at her friend before standing up and leaning against the hut's wall, "I was wondering if you wanted to go for a morning swim before we have to get ready for the initiation?"

"Gods, I'd love to Mar but I think I need some time alone this morning before everything starts getting too hectic. I have a lot on my mind."

"Still reconsidering your decision to become one of us?" the girl asked softly, unaware that neither Gabrielle nor Xena were in the hut any more.

"Sort of, I just never realised how complicated it would all become," Kharis mused as she frowned in thought. Shaking her head, the girl suddenly smiled at her friend to reassure her. "Don't worry about me. I just have morning jitters I guess. You go for that swim. I think I need to do some drills and work this anxiety out through some good old fashioned sweat."

"If you're sure..."

"I'm sure," Kharis said as she lightly squeezed Mara's hand before ducking back into the hut.

After dunking her head in the wash basin Kharis stilled her raging thoughts, as she quickly dressed in her best tunic and leggings before grabbing her weapons. Stepping into the dew filled air, the girl shook her wet hair as her eyes adjusted to the dim morning light. Midnight hair clung to her face as she brushed some stray hairs from her eyes before deciding where to go for a quiet work out. Deciding that the practice grounds would be vacant until midmorning, the young women headed into the dawn's light.

The sound of metal whistling in the air alerted Kharis to the fact that she would sharing the grounds with her sister this morning as she approached the drilling warrior. Squatting down to watch her sister, Kharis marvelled at the warrior's graceful movements as Xena went through the various disciplines of the sword.

More then once the girl had been struck dumb during a bout with her sister at the audacity of some of Xena's movements. 'Always expect the unexpected' her sister had said once and it was true. Xena had won many fights due to her unpredictable fighting style. When most would feint, she would attack. When retreat was the only obvious solution she would attack, despite the odds, using whatever means necessary. Sword, chakram, head, fists, elbows, knees, and feet were all used efficiently to deliver as many deadly blows as was possible to disarm her opponents.

Xena heard her sister approach as she was working through a particularly complex set of drills. Finishing up with a double flip, that brought her within a mere foot of her sister, Xena smiled wildly as the flush of adrenaline rushed throughout her body.

"Want a duel?" the warrior asked as she twirled her sword around her head and upper body.

"Thought you'd never ask," Kharis beamed as she stood up and unsheathed her own sword and dagger. Xena quirked an eyebrow in the direction of the dagger as the girl shrugged slightly. "Thought I'd try your chakram and sword against my sword and dagger."

"I'm game," Xena smirked as she grabbed her chakram off her belt and flipped back into the centre of the training ground. Kharis laughed as she strolled onto the hard packed dirt, happy to see her sister in a playful mood.

The contest began immediately as each opponent slashed, jabbed, feinted, and parried with precise control. Both weapons, in the hands of each woman, flashed in the dawn's early light as metal became a blur of refined motion. Kharis allowed her demon out to play for a bit when Xena began to press the girl's defences in earnest, allowing it to empower her body to perform movements that would have otherwise been to slow to react. Xena noticed the change and grinned evilly. 'Two can play at that game' she thought as she let the wolf out and started to press her sister once again.

Both women continued the battle for over a candlemark until Kharis lost her sword to the heavens. Xena laughed as the girl watched the blade fly through the air and stick in a tree at the opposite end of the clearing. Taking advantage of the girl's lack of concentration, Xena leapt forward and pressed her blade against the woman's neck only to find Kharis' dagger up at her own neck.

"White or dark?" Xena drawled into her sister's face..

"Who shall carve first?" Kharis taunted back as she suddenly applied a pressure point to Xena's hand and grabbed the chakram that was now falling to the ground. Surprised at her sister's bold move, Xena leapt back and regarded the fully armed girl.

"You've been watching more closely then I thought," Xena complimented as she watched her sister spin the disc around a finger.

"I have to if I want to be as good as you," Kharis said as she accepted the compliment and prepared for her sister's next move.

Xena chuckled as she dropped her sword to her side and regarded the defensive posture her sister was maintaining. Xena knew that within a few months the girl would be as good, if not better, then what she was and the thought didn't disturb her anymore. Pride flowed through the warrior as she sheathed her sword and held her arm out, as an equal, for the warrior's handshake.

Uncertain whether it was a diversion or an end to the bout, Kharis sheathed her thigh dagger and held out her hand while holding the chakram tightly against her lower back, so as not to give Xena any advantage of grabbing it suddenly. An eyebrow rose under midnight hair as Xena observed her sister's action.

"You always told me to expect the unexpected," Kharis remarked cooly.

Xena grabbed the girl's forearm as her bright smile matched that of her cerulean eyes. Kharis finally allowed herself to relax as she shook her sister's arm. Driving her demon back into its cage Kharis offered the golden disc back to Xena before she went to retrieve her sword. Pulling the quivering blade out of the tree's trunk Kharis suddenly felt a chill whip down her spine. Whirling around to see what danger was threatening, Kharis noticed her sister's reaction to the same feeling and ran to stand at Xena's back, sword now at the ready for any attack.

"Show yourself Ares," Xena called out, certain it was the God of War that had caused the hair's on the back of her neck to rise.

Appearing in a flash of blue, Ares stood smugly before the warrior as Kharis stepped from around Xena's back and held her sword at the ready.

"Now is that any way to greet your Father?" Ares asked slightly miffed.

"What do you want Ares?" Xena responded, boredom clearly showing on her face.

"I've come to claim Kharis."

"Over my dead body!" the girl in question exclaimed.

"Dead, alive, it doesn't matter. The time has come for you reign by my side and lead my army," Ares answered as he admired his youngest child. Bronzed, toned muscles gleamed with sweat as golden eyes gazed darkly at the God of War. Raven hair blew in the breeze against chiseled cheeks, now almost void of baby fat after two months of hard discipline. The girl's beauty was already manifesting itself into something that only one other shared; the haunting, lethal majesty of her older sister.

"Shouldn't that choice be up to her?" Xena asked as her hand lingered by her chakram. Despite her calm attitude Xena was petrified of this very moment, the moment she had been dreading for almost three long months. Would Ares take her sister or would he allow the girl to make her own choice? Once fearful that her sister wouldn't make the right choice, Xena was now confident that Kharis would decline. But in declining what would Ares do to the girl?

"She's my new Chosen. She has no choice," the God of War merely replied.

"I think someone else would tend to disagree with you on that point," the warrior said cooly as she felt, rather then saw, Artemis stand behind Ares.

"And who would that be?"

"Me," Artemis declared as she materialised behind the God.

"Artie, how are you doing babe?" Ares smiled falsely as he turned to his half sister, obviously displeased with her arrival.

"Don't even think of taking that child against her will Ares," she warned as the Patron Goddess strolled up to a tense Kharis and stroked her cheek fondly. "I told you I would be here to protect you," she whispered in the girl's ear before nodding an acknowledgement to Xena's presence, who nodded back just as sharply. Kharis smiled slightly as her blade never wavered from it's stance, ready to rip into the God of War's heart if need be.

Ares snorted as he approached Artemis and placed his arm around her shoulder, "Now Artie, would I do such a thing? You really should have greater faith in me."

"Why should she?" Xena suddenly asked. "I don't."

"You stay out of this!" Ares warned with a finger pointed at Xena's chest, ready to release anything his godly powers could.

Shrugging the arm off her shoulders Artemis stepped away from Ares, "Then ask the child and be done with it. If she agrees, then you may have her. If she doesn't, then leave."

"You can't order me around. This is my child we're talking about here," Ares exclaimed vehemently.

"And because of that she doesn't have a will of her own? You may have carried the seed that helped bring her into this world but it ends there. She is a free thinking creature like all of our children. The sooner you understand that fact the sooner you'll forget this madness you have subjected our children to."

Xena was shocked at this last statement, uncertain how to take the obvious protection that Artemis now threw upon the warrior. 'Since when was I considered one of Artemis' own?' she thought as an errant thought suddenly replied 'Since you become the Amazons' protector instead of their destroyer.' Sky blue eyes opened wide as Xena gaped dumbfounded at the Goddess before her, who only winked in reply.

"Fine. You want her to decide then I'll let her decide," Ares said suddenly as he stalked towards Kharis. Artemis looked surprised at her brother's sudden about face, never believing she would sway him to her way of thinking, but quickly masked her emotions as she waited to see what angle he was going to play. "Kharis, before I ask you to join me I have one thing to say. If you do become my Chosen I promise, as the God of War, that you will never become the Guardian unless you so chose."

Dismay clearly registered in Kharis' face as she dropped her sword and gazed in her father's eyes, wondering if he was lying to her or not. 'What game is he trying to play with me?'

"Khar, don't listen to him!" Xena exclaimed as her sister raised a hand.

"How could you stop that? It was foretold." Kharis asked simply.

"I'm a God," he boasted. "I can do anything. If control is what you are in need of to stop you from sliding into complete darkness, then I will help give you that control. Without it you'll surely slip away and will eventually be Xena's downfall."

"And if I say no?"

"Then I will accept your decision, for a while of course."

"You so promise?"

Ares sighed as he held his hand up to his heart and intoned one of Kharis' favourite rhymes as a child, "Cross my heart and hope to fly, may Zeus strike me down from above the sky."

Kharis turned away from the God and paced a few feet away, her back facing all present. A few moments went by as each person waited for the girl to come to a decision, none knowing exactly what she would choose. Finally turning back to them, Kharis allowed a feral smile to play across her lips as she approached Ares.

"I'm sorry father but I'll have to decline," she finally said as Xena released the breath she had been holding.

"Think about what you are saying," Ares tried one last time. "Without my help you will fulfil the prophecy and you will destroy Xena."

"Ah, but that is where you are wrong. You see, I know the prophecy," Kharis exclaimed as she closed her eyes and started to recite that which only the gods once knew. "And from the One shall come forth the Light to hold council over pestilence, famine, war, and death. From which true darkness reigns so will reign the Light that neither men nor gods shall be kept asunder, all held to equal justice determined by its dominion. As it is spoken so shall it be."

"It was you!" Ares shouted, angry that he had been tricked by a child. His child!

"Yes, it was me," Kharis replied coldly as Artemis turned towards the girl with fear in her eyes. "I'm sorry Patron Goddess but it is to be."

Artemis nodded slowly as she felt her world dissolve around her only to come into a sharper focus. Life would never be the same again for the Gods as the Guardian knew the full portent.

"You see father, you always think of us mortals as nothing more then your own personal play things. You throw us around until you become bored and move onto something else more exciting, never realising that we are more then what you chose to believe. But believe it now, you're play time is coming to an end. So leave me and my sister alone or I WILL become the Guardian and release the Light that is in Xena to rule over you," the girl stated coldly as she turned away from the God and walked up to her sister.

Xena stared at her sister, uncertain whether she had heard what she had heard, and unwilling to believe it. 'Does she really think that it's about me?' Xena wondered as her sister approached her.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner Xena but I had to play my cards right. You know yourself that you never commit all of your troops to the opening battle. You hold them in reserve until the time comes for the final push that will decide victory or defeat. I had to hold back so I could win the battle for you and me. Will you ever forgive me?"

Xena grabbed her sister into a tight bear hug, never wanting to let the girl go, just in case she disappeared before her eyes. "Of course I forgive you. You did what you thought you had to do. How can I fault that?" the warrior replied as she felt the world shift into a different pattern then what was before. Raising her eyes from the midnight hair she stroked Xena opened her mouth to speak but could only glare at the God of War as she continued to hold onto her sister tightly.

"What has been done is done," Artemis said as she stepped up to her half brother. "Go now and leave my children in peace for their Festival."

Ares shrugged as he flipped his hair back behind his shoulders. "We'll see Artie. We'll see. Till the next time Xena," he said as he blew a kiss in the warrior's direction before disappearing with a flash.

Xena rolled her eyes as she released her sister and turned to the Goddess of the Hunt, "I don't know how to thank you for helping my sister."

Artemis smiled sweetly as she gazed fondly at the warrior, "There is no thanks necessary. Both of you are under my protection, as are all of my Amazons."

Xena shook her head as she frowned slightly, "No, I'm not one of your Amazons and will never be. But I'll thank you none-the-less." Xena's mask slipped firmly into place as she extended her arm out.

Artemis grabbed the warrior's arm and laughed inwardly at the absurdity of it. Here was a mortal treating the Amazons' Patron Goddess as an equal. Only Xena dared to think such a way and because of that only she was allowed to live after committing such impertinence.

"Xena, you are an Amazon in the truest sense. Though you once fell into evil, I do not hold it against you. You are absolved of your crimes against the Nation."

"Until I am tried and judged by the Nation I can't accept your exoneration Artemis," Xena responded, unwilling to bend on the matter.

"As you wish, my child, but I will still be by your side, whether you want it or not," the Goddess replied as she turned towards Kharis, who stood off to the side. Artemis smiled and extended her hand to the young woman, who grasped it hesitantly as she felt a wave of peace wash through her.

"Kharis, you know that I will be there for you when you need me. What Ares offered in deceit I offer in faith. If you ever need me, just call out my name. I will give you the strength you need to fight the evil that is within you."

"I will, and thank you," Kharis whispered, still uncertain whether she was truly free from Ares or not.

Artemis nodded and winked at the young woman before she melted away into a ray of sunshine, leaving the two sisters to stand once again alone, each wondering and dreading what else the day had to offer.

"It's not right Eph!" Gabrielle cried as she paced back and forth in front of the blonde Amazon. The bard hadn't stopped pacing since she had entered the Regent's hut and the motion was starting to make Ephiny nauseous.

"I know that Gabrielle, but she is right. Xena has never had to answer for her crimes and it's best she does before her sister is sworn in as one of our own," Ephiny replied as she stood up and grabbed the bard by the shoulder. "Will you sit down. You're giving me motion sickness."

Sea green eyes blinked a few times before the Queen nodded and sat down on the chair that Ephiny offered. Head in hands, Gabrielle could only sigh in frustration as she knew it was useless to even try and stop the trial.

"Gabrielle, she's my friend. I don't want to see her go through with it either. But as the Regent I have to abide by the Elders' decision, and they have been demanding for this for a long time now. I can't put them off any longer." Ephiny explained as she poured Gabrielle and herself a mug of wine and then handed one mug to her friend. "Here, take this. It'll help calm both our nerves."

Taking the mug, Gabrielle could only stare into its depths as she tried to rationalise her soulmate's decision. All of the good that Xena had done for the Nation should surely outweigh the one transgression she committed. Yet in her mind, the bard knew that didn't matter. A public hearing was needed to clear the air, one way or the other. The question was, could both of them live with the judgement?

Finally taking a sip, Gabrielle looked up at her friend and noticed the same lines of worry that surely showed on her own face. "Guess this isn't going to be the celebration we thought it was, huh?"

"Guess not," Ephiny laughed bitterly. "But stranger things have happened. The Elders could go either way. Forgiveness or restitution."

"What do you think they'll do?" Gabrielle asked in a small voice of a child's.

"I really can't say. If it was up to me she would be exonerated for all the help she has given the Nation in the past. But it won't be, I can only arbitrate. There are only a few options. Clemency, punishment, or..." Ephiny stalled as she tried to find a way to soften the edge.

"You can say it, Eph. Death. If they find her guilty she could be sentenced to death." Gabrielle stated, surprised she could even say it.

"Yes. It is one of the sentences as decreed by Amazon law."

"Who will defend her?" Gabrielle asked suddenly as a small glimmer of hope leapt into misty green eyes.

"The Elders will decide that. As the Queen you should be arbitrator, but since you're biased you'll have to step down," Ephiny apologised as she reached across the table that divided them and squeezed the bard's hand. "But don't worry. She has supporters amongst the tribe and she will be upheld."

"If I can't speak on her behalf can I at least be by her side?"

"You may do both. Three Amazons are given the right to speak. The Champion is decided by the Elders while the other two are chosen by me," Ephiny smiled as nodded towards her friend.

"It's not much but at least it's something, I guess," Gabrielle murmured as she swirled the wine in her mug.

"Don't worry, Gabrielle. Things will work out. They always do when she's around."

"I wish I could believe that but I can't. If she would only defend herself, argue for the greater good, then I wouldn't have this sense of dread clinging to me."

"Even if she won't, others will. Have faith Gabrielle. That's all we can do," Ephiny said as she drained the rest of her cup. "Come on. We've got a Festival to prepare for. Despite everything, we have to put on our 'bright shiny faces' for the tribe."

A weak chuckle followed by a lone tear was all the bard could muster at the moment. Knowing that Ephiny was right didn't make it hurt any less. "I guess you wouldn't want to take my right of caste before the trial huh?"

"Nope. But it was a nice try. You both will get through this," the blonde Regent soothed as she gently rubbed her friend's hand.

"I know we will. We have to," Gabrielle agreed as she tried to smile for Ephiny's sake. "I'm just now worried how Kharis will take this. If Xena were to be sentenced to..." The bard stopped, fearing to tempt the Fates once more.

"Would she..." Ephiny asked, remembering what happened when a raging Xena came into the village. Many Amazons were harmed after the death of the warrior's son. Kharis was just as dangerous.

"I don't know, I really don't. I pray that she doesn't but... she's so much like Xena. She's never been a monster like Xena has, yet she has it in her. If she were to succumb to it... "

"Then we'll have to make sure she's not around when sentencing is declared," Ephiny reasoned.

"How? She won't stay away and even if you tried to restrain her, she'd find a way to be free. By the Gods Ephiny, she can disappear in front of our eyes and there would be no way of stopping her!" Gabrielle shuddered as the implications of what she said brought dreadful images to mind.

"Then Xena will have to talk to her and convince Khar to stay away. It's the only solution," the Regent surmised as she gathered the mugs and put them away. "As it stands, there isn't anything we can do about it until Xena talks to her. For now, find Xena and talk to her. Plus, try to calm her fears about Kharis' initiation. I know she's worried. Between Pony, Sol, and me there will be someone to attest to Khar's right for inclusion. It will happen. Just tell her that, okay?"

Gabrielle smiled warmly for a few brief seconds as she got up and hugged her friend, "I will. Thanks Eph, for listening to me."

"That's what Regents are for," the blonde Amazon lightly joked as she hugged her Queen back and then began to lightly push Gabrielle towards the door. "Now go and find your warrior. I'll send someone to you when it's time for the trial."

"See you then," the bard said as she left a very worried Ephiny to mull over what could be done.



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