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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



Silence had fallen over the village as the Queen and Regent lead the procession of Elders to the tribunal dais, each woman wearing the respective mask and ceremonial clothing that denoted her station within the Amazon hierarchy. Word had spread throughout the various tribes of the warrior princess's trial thus delegations were sent to uphold the momentous occasion. The once tiny village was now filled beyond capacity as Amazons took positions in the centre courtyard, along the walls, and in the trees. Woman and children rubbed shoulders with some of those they had never met before, thus the Nation was once again united by the very woman who brought about their separation.

Stepping up onto the tribunal platform, the Queen and her Regent strolled to the centre as the Elders took their positions on either side of them. Raising their masks, to reveal their features, both Gabrielle and Ephiny turned to one another as the Amazons looked on.

"Upon acceptance of this mask you are hereby granted leave to deliver fair justice to the accused as determined by Amazon Law. Do you so agree?" Gabrielle asked in a wavering voice as she removed her mask and handed it to Ephiny, along with the judging staff she carried.

"As I take this mask I agree to abide by Amazon law and arbitrate these proceedings with fair and swift justice," Ephiny answered as she removed her own mask, handing it to one of the Elders, and received the Queen's mask and staff. Placing the mask upon her head Ephiny turned towards the tribe and tapped the staff down on the dais twice.

"Bring out the accused!" Ephiny called out as Gabrielle slowly stepped off the platform and moved to the side, awaiting her soulmate's arrival.

Flanked by six guards the warrior princess walked out of the Queen's hut in only her leathers, striped of her weapons and armour, but allowed the dignity to walk unchained. Swaggering towards the dais Xena felt all eyes on her as she quickly scanned the area for the only eyes she wanted to see at that moment. Azure locked onto mist green as Xena tried to convey confidence and reassurance to her partner before turning her attention back to the Ephiny and the Elders.

Standing proudly before the Amazons Xena radiated an aura of lethal majesty that encompassed all within her vicinity. Not one Amazon moved or breathed as they witnessed the power which is Xena, the power that beguiled one of their most revered Queens. Xena allowed a lazy smile for a few brief seconds as she allowed her darkness to shine before calling it back and releasing her hold over the throng, her face now as impassive as if it was etched in stone.

Ephiny raised her staff as she spoke to the assemble, "Amazons, we are here today to try and lay judgement on Xena, Warrior Princess for the acts she committed against the Nation. Do you, Xena, understand the charges that are brought before you."

"I do," Xena acknowledged humbly.

"As decreed by law, you are granted a fair and just trial. Before you are our Elders who will judge you for your crimes. Will you so accept their judgement?"

'Do I have a choice?' Xena thought cynically before replying, "I will."

"Then I hereby declare the trial to commence. Xena of Amphipolis, you are charged with the massacre of the Steppes Amazon Leaders along with the attempted slayings of Amazons within this tribe. How do you answer?"

"Guilty," Xena softly replied as she bowed her head in obvious shame.

"Though you admit your guilt you are allowed three supporters to speak on your behalf before we lay judgement. Is there anyone who wishes to come forth and champion the accused?" Ephiny called out, knowing there were many who would do the honours but only one that the Elders agreed upon.

"I will!" a voice called out from the crowd as Elysse made her way to stand by Xena. Ephiny nodded her approval as a murmur rose from the Amazons. The Elders had reasoned that there were many loyal supporters of Xena so chose one who was unbiased to the warrior's charms.

"What have you to say in Xena's defence?" Ephiny asked hopefully.

Elysse turned away from the Elders to face the village and in a slow, sing-song voice began to speak, "Fellow Amazons, I am but a humble servant of our protector Artemis. I have been with this tribe since a child and have seen many of our enemies fall by the side as our Nation flourished over the years. We were strong as a whole, relying on our Queens to guide us into battle and protect the Nation from evil. One such evil was known as the Destroyer of Nations, the Warrior Princess of Kalmae. It was this woman that deceived our most revered Queen, Cyane, into trusting her. It was she who massacred the Amazon leaders and brought the storm that weakened the Nation until we were nothing but scattered tribes."

"The evil that plagued our Nation began its downfall and should be punished but I stand before you to present, not the Destroyer of Nations, but a warrior who is an Amazon in the truest sense. A warrior who has upheld our tribe in battle and spirit over the past few years. A woman who has risked her life and fought from death to vanquish those that have tried to destroy what is left of our Nation."

The high priestess raised a lone finger and pointed it at Xena before continuing, her face shining with an unearthly light; "This woman, who stands before you, is not the woman who you seek to punish. The woman you wish revenge upon is no longer with us. She died when Xena reclaimed her soul from Ares' grasp, who has striven to right the wrongs that her evil incarnate committed. There is no punishment that our Elders can decree which she has not already applied to herself. Her atonement has been deep and true and will continue to be so until the day she is no longer with us. What more punishment can we exact upon a woman who will not allow herself to be absolved?"

Lowering her arm, Elysse turned towards the assembled Elders and raised her head in defiance, "As high priestess I speak on behalf of our Goddess, Artemis, who has instructed me that Xena of Amphipolis should be exonerated. I ask the Elders to consider this before laying final judgement."

Bowing her head in reverence, Elysse stepped back as the Amazons pondered the high priestesses last statement. If their Goddess forgave should they not do so in return?

The crack of Ephiny's staff echoed in the compound as she silenced those around her. "Who will support the Champion's claims?" she called out.

"I, Yakut, Shamaness of the Steppes Amazons will speak," a young woman called out as Xena whipped her head around to find the woman who spoke. Yakut stood up and walked towards the warrior as those of her tribe moved aside to let her through. Tapping her chest with her fist, Yakut raised it towards Xena in the Amazon salute of respect before she addressed the surprised assembly. Only Amazons of distinct honour were acknowledged in such a way, not criminals of the Nation. Xena shook her head slowly, not wanting such affirmation, as she lowered her head.

"I have been our tribe's Shamaness since Xena relinquished her power to me many moons ago and I speak on behalf of the Steppes Amazons. We were once a strong village under the leadership of our Queen, Cyane, but have weakened till there are few of us remaining. It is our tribe who seeks justice for the crimes committed and it is our right to speak at these proceedings."

"Our fear of the one that is called the Destroyer of Nations is deeply rooted still to this day. It was she who annihilated our leaders and it is she who must pay. But I do not see the woman that we wish revenge upon standing before me," Yakut stated as she continued. "Our tribe was forever doomed to walk the Land of the Dead when our holy word was taken, stopping those that went before us from entering Eternity. The woman who stands beside me risked her own soul to destroy the one who took it and discover the new holy word which allowed Cyane and my fellow Amazons to pass over. That is the act of one with true honour."

"The woman who stands beside me went to the Land of the Dead, willing to enter Eternity, for your own Queen. The woman who did that is not the same Xena we are here today to judge. The Xena we wish revenge upon is gone, she is no more. The crimes she committed were truly heinous and will forever be marked in our souls but I ask that you forgive those transgressions, as my tribe has forgiven them, and allow Xena to continue her quest for redemption. She has paid and will continue to pay much more then we realise. I pray to Artemis I will never have to walk a lone step in her boots for I know I would not overcome what she has."

Hushed whispers suddenly washed over the compound as Yakut walked back towards her tribe, leaving Xena to stand once again alone. Many fellow tribes still demanded justice but more were perceiving that justice wasn't what the Nation needed to bind together once again. Forgiveness was.

Ephiny waited for the murmurs to die before she raised her staff a third time and brought it down. "Who will be the final supporter?" she called out, waiting for her friend's reply.

"I will," Gabrielle called back as she mounted the platform and stood beside Ephiny, her regal bearing striking a cord in Xena's heart. "As Queen of this tribe it is my right to speak against or on behalf of the accused. But I will not speak as your Queen. I chose to speak as a fellow Amazon who has seen both sides of that which we are here today." Removing her royal cape, Gabrielle lightly leaped off the dais to stand beside her partner.

"I have seen the monster that were are here today to judge. That monster has committed acts that none of us could ever imagine doing. The Xena I know has struggled for the past four years to hold true to the good within her. It has been a battle every day, for the monster is much stronger then we could ever conceive. I have seen the darkness that lives within Xena and it does scare me. Evil scares us all yet we never have to live within it's embrace. Xena has and still does."

Raising her voice so everyone could hear Gabrielle spun around slowly, so that she may grasp as many of her audience as possible within her unflinching gaze.

"The woman who I call friend and partner is noble in the truest sense. She willingly stakes her lifeline against the Fates every time she goes into battle for the greater good. Whether it's for the common man, or for the Nation, she acts without thought to the consequences. She has done this for years now and despite herself, is doing it even now."

"The good that Xena has accomplished does not outweigh the evil that she once committed and this she knows. Her debt will never truly be paid but it is a debt that she strives to uphold, despite the odds that are continually thrown against her. An Amazon's allegiance is to her Queen and the Nation. Xena is not an Amazon yet she holds true to these ideals. She has helped us triumph over our enemies and helped maintain the fragile balance that has kept our Nation alive, never asking for anything in return."

"I know Xena, and despite my attempts to help her, she will never truly forgive herself for what she has done in the past. Maybe that's the way it should be but I can't abide by that philosophy. I helped commit an act of murder that I will repent for the rest of my life, yet I was given forgiveness by the one who never asks for it in return. My child killed hers yet she does not hold this against me. The hate that could easily overwhelm her is held at bay by the love she holds within her. The love for her family and the Nation. It is because of this love for the Nation that she is willing to possibly die by your hands."

"Many of you have heard of the good deeds she has committed throughout the years, many of you have not. The good she contributes to this world surely outweighs the need for retribution, because this is what we have fallen to," the bard spoke simply as she turned to face the Elders. "This hearing is no longer a trial for crimes against the Nation but a trial for vengeance that is stemmed from hate. Hate once encompassed Xena and robbed her of her feelings, she was just a vessel which the God of War abused knowingly. Who are we to judge her when we are falling into the same trap that she was in? If hatred is your reason for judgement then step away, for you will become no better than what she once was."

"I am just a simple bard who happens to be your Queen, but I am not blinded by a rage which many of you have shown. Xena can not bring back those that she destroyed, but she can help those that are still here. Think on that when you are deliberating her punishment. Which ones amongst you are willing to place another nail in the Nation's sarcophagus? If you destroy the Amazons' greatest protector what will become of the Amazons?"

Tears slowly fell down bronzed cheeks as Xena had listened to her soulmate's oration. Now free of the bard's spell, the warrior astonished everyone present as she pulled the bard into a fierce hug and lightly kissed the top of her honey coloured head. Love and respect clearly shone on a face once cold as a mask. The woman who stood with the Queen was clearly not the same woman that mercilessly slaughtered the Steppes Leaders.

Ephiny smiled inwardly at the public display of affection. Xena was notorious for holding her emotions in check yet here was one woman who could bring the great warrior to tears. Raising the staff above her head Ephiny pulled her mask down before addressing her fellow Amazons.

"Amazons, we have heard from the three. Xena has admitted her guilt and will be bound by the punishment that the Elders determine. Sentencing will be heard at the next candlemark," Ephiny called out as she brought her staff down the final time. All Amazons knelt in respect as the Elders stepped off the platform and retired to their hut.

Xena let Gabrielle go as Ephiny approached the two woman, now free from the ceremonial mask and staff. "What now?" the warrior asked.

Ephiny looked around the clearing at all of the Amazons before focussing her attention back to Xena, "Now we wait. You and Gabrielle can retire to the Queen's hut if you choose. I'm not sure how the other tribes might treat you if you stay out here."

Xena nodded slightly, understanding what her friend was saying. Though many might not want revenge, there were others who wouldn't hesitate to enact it personally.

"They wouldn't try anything before sentencing would they?" Gabrielle asked worried.

Ephiny shrugged as she motioned to Xena's guards to keep an eye out, "I wouldn't wager any bets against it. Go and see Kharis. She must be beside herself by now."

"Good idea Eph. Ciya in a candlemark," Xena replied as she shook the Regent's arm before leading Gabrielle away under armed guard.

Kharis paced nervously back and forth within the small hut as she waited for someone, anyone to come and get her. Time had slowed to a crawl the moment Xena made her promise to stay in the hut until the trial was over. Twice she almost broke that promise when she thought her nerves would give out but by sheer force of will she kept the promise. Her only respite was when Mara had come to visit and tell her how things had been going with the trial.

"So?" Kharis asked as she patted the spot next to her on her cot.

Mara hung back for a few seconds before she relented and sat down, "It's going... ohhh... I don't know Khar. I'm not good at judging people like you are. I can't tell what the Elders are thinking. The high priestess and the Queen both spoke on Xena's behalf, along with the Shamaness from our Steppes sisters."

"Yakut is here?" Kharis asked warily.

Mara nodded her head, "Yeah, she spoke very well actually. I never knew your sister helped Cyane and our fellow sisters cross over."

Kharis stared off into space as she remembered Xena telling her about her time with the Steppes Amazons. Both the good and the bad was told and Kharis admired her sister more for Xena's bravery at revealing her feelings then for what she accomplished.

"It's in the past now, just like everything else. Don't the Elders realise that? What are they afraid of? That she'll go berserk and start a rampage through the village?"

Mara bit her lip slightly as she sought her friend's flaxen eyes, "Don't forget Khar, she's done that already. After her son died. She broke Ephiny's arm and wounded many of our warriors."

"That was different Mara. That was because of her grief. Xena bottles up her emotions so much that when she finally lets them out they are amplified to the Nth degree."

"True, but who knows what could set her off the next time. Maybe that's what the Elders are afraid of," the young Amazon offered.

"Yeah right. The only thing they are afraid of is losing the measly bit of power they have. This is a lynch mob no more!" Kharis spat as she pushed herself off the cot.

"Maybe Khar. Like I said, I don't know. I just hope they go easy on her," Mara sighed as she stood up and headed towards the door. "Are you gonna be all right?"

Kharis managed a weak smile as she went and gave her friend a quick hug, "Yeah, I'll be better when I see Xena. Don't worry about me, okay?"

Mara smiled back as she was released, "Okay. I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll be here," Kharis said as she watched her friend leave her hut. Grimacing, the girl started to pace.

"I don't know what she's so afraid of," Kharis said to herself as she continued to pace. "It's not like I haven't heard what she's done in her past. Why doesn't she want me there?"

"Maybe it's because she's afraid of what you'd do?" Eponin's voice suddenly filled the room as the weapons master entered the hut. "Talking to yourself huh?"

Kharis smiled weakly as she stopped her pacing and sat down on the cot in a huff. "I don't get it Pony. I know why she's doing this and have to accept that. So there's no reason for her to be afraid."

Eponin shrugged as she grabbed the lone chair in the room and sat down, propping her legs up on the end of Kharis' bed. "Khar, can you honestly say you wouldn't try something if you thought she was in mortal danger?"

"But she isn't and she won't be," the girl protested.

"She might be," Pony warned gently. "Khar, this isn't some harpy court. Xena's life is on the line. She has committed some monstrous crimes in her past and though the majority of us know she will never go back to being what she once was, there are others who don't. Either they don't want to see it or refuse to believe it. It is those that we have to worry about."

Kharis sat silently, chewing her bottom lip as she pondered what her promise really entailed now. "Pony, what do you think they'll do to her?"

"I don't know, Khar. I really don't. She could be sentenced to death or she could be banished from our lands. They are the only punishments to fit her crimes," the Amazon grimaced as she sought the girl's eyes. "Khar, could you stand by and allow the Elders to sentence Xena to death?"

Bolting off the bed Kharis stood looking down at the weapons master as fire raged through golden eyes. "I think you know that answer already," she hissed.

"That's what I thought," Eponin replied as she stood up and replaced the chair back to its original position. "Kharis, you are hereby ordered to remain in your hut under a full guard until sentencing has been passed and carried out, as decreed by the Queen."

Shock swiftly registered on the girl's face as her mouth dropped open, "You''re kidding right?"

"No, I'm not. I'm sorry Khar but it has to be this way. That is precisely what the Queen and Xena are afraid of. They don't want you anywhere near the Elders or the rest of us when sentencing has been passed. We know what your capable of and don't want any undue bloodshed."

"I would never..." Kharis stopped as she looked deep within her and found the answer that the others knew without thought. She would kill anyone to help her sister, even those from the tribe if need be. 'If that's what they want...' Kharis never finished the thought.

Eponin held out her hands to the girl, "Your weapons please, Khar."

Dazed, Kharis handed over her sword and dagger as she numbly watched Pony walk towards the door. "Can I see Xena?" the girl blurted out before the Amazon could open the door.

"She's on her way here already I'm assuming. Pray to Artemis, Khar. That is what she needs the most right now," Pony said as she left the hut.

Kharis slumped to the floor as the world she knew came crashing down and the weight of what could happen to Xena finally hit her. Empty of everything except grief Kharis shuddered as she tried to control the sadness that threatened to overwhelm her completely. 'I can't believe it. She wouldn't let them do that to her. She couldn't. What am I going to do?' the girl wailed inside as her body fought for a release.

Minutes went by before the young woman slowly purged her soul of anguish and discovered the calm mask of rage burning brightly beneath it. Hidden until now, the girl reveled in its intensity. The death of her mother and brother, her loss of innocence by Caesar, the injustice of her sister's possible death - all fuelled a rage that was dormant no longer. Once under control of an emotion she could use effectively Kharis got up off the floor and sat patiently on her bed for her sister's arrival.

Xena paused outside the door, unsure how to tell her sister good bye just in case it came to that. The guards that surrounded the small hut averted their eyes from the warrior's form as they held a silent tribute for a woman they respected and admired.

Before the warrior could knock Kharis' voice called from inside, "Come in Xena."

Stepping inside Xena immediately recognised that something was not right with her sister. The calm, cool air of indifference her sister radiated was unsettling. She had never experienced this facet to her sister's personality.

"How are things going?" Xena asked as cheerfully as she could.

"Fine," Kharis replied stonily.

"Thought you'd like some company for a while."

"Why bother. I'll see you again when this is all over. It won't be long."

Xena studied her sister's features trying to discern what was different. The girl was neither happy nor sad, she was almost too controlled. Shaking her head slightly Xena sat down on the bed beside Kharis and laid her hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Khar, what's wrong? Are you mad at me for making you promise to stay here during the trial?"

"No, I know why you did it and I appreciate your concern for my feelings," the girl replied coldly as she shrugged her sister's hand away and rose. Walking to the opposite end of the hut Kharis collected her thoughts before turning to face Xena. "Pony was here, she explained everything to me."

"So you know about the guards?"

"Amongst other things."

"I'm sorry it has to be this way Khar but it's for your own good. I don't want to have to worry about you when I should be concentrating on myself."

"Don't sweat it. When's sentencing?"

Xena smiled ruefully as she looked out the window, "In a bit. Khar you understand why I'm doing this don't you?"

"I do. I don't care for it but I understand it."

"There's something I haven't told you that I think you should know before I leave here," Xena declared as she stood and walked towards her sister. Looking down onto the face that was so much like hers Xena felt a pang of regret. She should have done things differently. Maybe she should have left the village instead of submit to a trial, if for nothing else then to allow her sister the chance to find a true life here in the village.

"You don't have to explain anything to me. I'm not a child. I know that one of the punishments is death," Kharis remarked offhandedly, surprising Xena with the lack of emotion that her sister was exhibiting.

"I don't think it will come to that. Cooler heads will prevail. They always do."

"Maybe. Does it really matter anyways? You're willing to accept it, Gabrielle is willing, why should I not be?" Kharis asked as a small spark of fury leapt from her eyes for a brief second before it was gone.

"Well, no, that's why we need to talk. I need you to understand why I'm willing to do this."

"Don't bother. I know you dear sister and I know why you are doing this. There's nothing else to say in the matter."

Twin eyebrows rose as Xena tried to get a handle on her sister's sudden indifference. "Are you sure you're all right?" she asked softly, hoping that she'd see some sort of emotion from her sister beyond the apathy.

"I'm fine," Kharis said as she fought to maintain the mask that hid the madness lying within her soul. "I think I hear Gabrielle approaching. You should probably go." Hoping her sister would leave quickly Kharis began to plot her escape and revenge, if it was needed. The Amazons didn't deserve to be massacred but if it came to that, then who was she to deny it. There was nothing left to live for in this world if her sister was to go.

Xena quickly listened and couldn't hear anything when suddenly she knew what was wrong with her sister. A cold, blinding rage had eclipsed everything else within the girl's soul and was being secretly nourished right in front of the warrior's eyes.

Grasping Kharis by the shoulders roughly Xena began tremble slightly, "Kharis, don't do it. Don't give in to the rage."

"I don't know what you're talking about sister. I'm not angry. I'm just tired and need to take a nap," Kharis lamely lied, knowing her sister wouldn't fall for it. If Xena were to realise what the girl was really thinking she would do everything in her power to stop her.

"Don't lie to me Khar, I know that look. I've seen it on myself once before, reflected in the shield of a Roman I killed."

Kharis faltered as she tried force a look of lethargy, then gave up when she knew it wouldn't fool her sister. "So what. Aren't I allowed to feel? Who are you to say what emotions I can and can't feel?" she yelled as Xena released her grip and stepped back a pace.

"Khar, what you're feeling is dangerous. You and I both know that. You have to control it."

"I am controlling, Xena. For once I am under complete control," Kharis laughed suddenly, startling her sister with its venomous undertone.

"Khar, I love you. You know that. Please don't do anything that you'll regret later on. Don't give in to it and become what I was. Please, for me," Xena pleaded.

Golden eyes mellowed for a few brief seconds before turning glacial once again. "Don't worry about me Xena. I'll be fine. I discovered that I don't really need you as much as I thought I would. I'll survive without you around."

Pain reflected off of azure eyes as Xena felt her sister's bond slip away from her. Nodding her head slightly, Xena turned to leave the hut.

"There is one thing that I need from you though," Kharis suddenly said as she struck her sister across the back of the head with the wash basin, knocking the warrior unconscious. Grabbing her sister, before she dropped to the floor, Kharis slowly lowered Xena down and placed a pillow under head.

"You probably won't forgive me but I have to Xena. I'm sorry it has come to this but surely you'd realise that I could never live with a group of women who allowed the death of my own sister. There would be no going back from that," the girl spoke simply as she removed her sister's hidden breast dagger and placed it in her own bodice.

Lightly kissing Xena on the forehead Kharis relinquished her soul as the cold mask of Death now lay on a face devoid of empathy. Standing up stiffly, Kharis rolled her shoulders to release the tension that had built up before she stepped close to the door and emptied her mind. Feeling as hollow as a reed that allowed the wind to carry through it Kharis prepared herself before calling out to the guards.

"Guards! Xena's hurt!"

The door slammed open as the guard closest to the hut rushed in, sword at the ready, and found the warrior princess on the ground. Quickly scanning the room and finding no trace of Kharis the guard angrily slammed her sword into its sheath.

"Triana! Demia! Go get the Queen and the healer! Kharis has escaped and injured Xena!"

Triana and Demia rushed to the door and saw for their own eyes what their friend, Meris, was bellowing about. Both women took off at a run after spying Xena's prone form on the ground as Meris tried to wake the unconscious warrior. Feeling a stir in the air, the Amazon whipped her head around to look out the door but saw nothing as Kharis calmly walked out of the hut silently, invisible to the guard.

The pounding in her head alerted Xena to the fact that she was awake. Slowly opening one eye, the warrior groaned as she tried to open the other one, only to fail when the first shut as a new wave of pain ripped through her head.

"Gabrielle, she's coming to," a woman said to the left of Xena as she felt a cool, damp cloth placed on her forehead. Warmth flooded her senses as the warrior felt the comforting presence of her bard suddenly upon her chest. Fighting to remain conscious Xena once again attempted to open her eyes and won the brief battle.

Soft, golden hair was the first sight Xena saw before sea green eyes suddenly gazed into her own murky blues as Gabrielle titled her head up from her partner's chest to see how she was doing.

"Thank the gods you're all right," Gabrielle exclaimed as she sat up and laid her hand against Xena's cheek. "You had us worried for a bit there."

"What happened?" Xena asked groggily as she tried to quell the pain from the back of her head and clear her mind.

"You were whacked on the back of your head by Kharis."

Xena slowly raised her head to feel the bump at the back of it, "She hit me good I'll say that."

"How do you feel?"

"Like Tartarus at the moment but that'll clear in a few more minutes. Where's Khar?" Xena asked as she tried to sit up only to be held down by two insistent hands.

"Oh no you don't. You stay right there. No getting up until your eyes have cleared. They're still fuzzy," Gabrielle frowned as Xena continued to struggle to rise.

"I'm all right Gabrielle. Just tell me where Khar is."

"We don't know," Ephiny said as she entered the Queens' hut and stopped beside Leah, the Amazon's healer. "How is she?"

"I'll heal," Xena replied gruffly as she concentrated on her head. Finding the point where it hurt the most, she applied a pressure point to the back of her neck, instantly relieving the pain. "There. All better," she smiled as the warrior sat up, her eyes back to their clear blue once again. "How long was I out?"

"Not long, half a candlemark, no more," Ephiny replied as she sat down on the chair that Gabrielle offered her and watched the bronzed woman slowly rise on wobbly legs. "You sure you should be doing that?"

"I'll be fine Eph. Just need to regain my balance. Can't have the Elders condemn a woman who can't even stand on her own two legs now can we?" Xena chuckled softly as she walked a few steps and nodded to herself, feeling her coordination coming back into focus.

"Because of what just happened the Elders have decided to hold of sentencing until we find Kharis," Ephiny stated as she motioned to Leah to leave them.

"So they're smarter then they look," Xena scoffed as she realised that something was terribly amiss.

"What is it?" the Bard asked, knowing that something was troubling her warrior.

"I don't know. Something's wrong's...son of a bacchae!" Xena exclaimed as her face clouded with dread.

"What?" both Ephiny and Gabrielle asked in unison.

"My breast dagger. She took it. Damn it to Tartarus!"

All three women suddenly sobered as the notion of a now armed and dangerous Kharis was on the prowl.

"I should have known she'd try that. What was I thinking?" Xena berated herself as Gabrielle approached her and pulled her into a hug.

"Xena, you couldn't have known. Kharis was fine when we left her."

"You didn't see her though Gab. She was gone. Her face was dead of all emotions. I should have seen she had surrendered to her darkness."

"Is she really lost?" Gabrielle asked in a small voice.

"Not yet, but if she kills anyone then she will be," Xena scowled as she sat down on the edge of the bed and rested her head in her hands. "I've been so blind. I should have known."

Ephiny searched Gabrielle for an explanation, not understanding why Xena was taking this so hard. Surely the warrior couldn't blame herself for her sister's actions. No one could hold her accountable to that.

Guessing what Xena was referring to Gabrielle lightly stroked her soulmate's raven hair as she inhaled a deep breath before finally telling Ephiny everything that she would need to know about Kharis.

"I always thought it wouldn't have to be said but I guess the time has come to fess up."

"Fess up? To what?" the blonde Amazon asked, almost afraid to hear the secret that was obviously about to be revealed.

"I'm not the one who should tell you really..." Gabrielle paused, hoping that Xena would take over.

"Go on, I need to think," Xena said suddenly from behind her hands.

"Ephiny, Kharis is not a normal girl. You know she's half god and from whom."

"Yes, Xena told me and I took that into consideration when I agreed to allow her to stay here and become one of us. I know she's Ares' Chosen."

Gabrielle sighed as she grasped one of Xena's hands into her own and held it on her lap, forcing Xena to raise her head out of the remaining hand.

"It's more then that Eph, much more I'm afraid. Khar is not only his Chosen but the Chosen One of all of the Gods."

Blonde brows furrowed as the Regent tried to comprehend this tiny fact, "What do you mean precisely by 'all of the Gods'?"

"She is destined to be the Guardian of the Apocalypse. The one who will decide when we die and how. The Gods have no choice but to abide by her," the bard stated as Xena stared off it space, deep in concentration.

"Why have I not heard of this before? Surely the Amazons would have known about this, would they not?"

"No, it was only revealed to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a warning. The prophecy was kept silent by even the Gods, their fear of it is greater then anything we know of."

Ephiny bit her upper lip as she tried to phrase her next question right, not knowing that the answer would explain so much more then she thought possible. "How do you know this is true?"

Xena finally snapped back into the here and now and stood up. Striding over to Ephiny and gazing into liquid brown eyes the warrior called upon her power and released the Horsemen for a few brief seconds in a deadly whisper, "Because I am one of the Horseman."

Ephiny flinched back from her own death that clearly shone on Xena's impassive face and suddenly remembered the same look in Kharis' eyes after the infamous staff bout. Too frightened to breath the Amazon waited for Xena to make the first move, praying to Artemis that her death would be swift and painless.

An evil smile played across Xena's lips as the Regent's submission embraced her senses, yet the warrior did not revel in it like she usually did. Grabbing control of her power, Xena closed her eyes and did not open them again until she was safely back to normal.

"I'm sorry Eph. I shouldn't have done that to you," Xena whispered as she went back to the bed and sat beside a slightly shaking bard. Gabrielle couldn't move as her partner went from Xena to the Horseman in the blink of an eye. It had happened so fast that by the time she could react Xena was already gaining back her control.

Ephiny swallowed hard as she looked for a mug and some strong spirits to calm her nerves. Never before had she felt such fear in one sickening moment. Spying a bottle of wine on one of the shelves Ephiny stood up and went to retrieve the bottle and a mug while Xena and Gabrielle waited patiently for her to return. Sitting back down at the table, the Regent poured herself a stiff drink and gulped it down in one shot. She had always known Xena was a dangerous woman but to finally understand how dangerous was almost unbearable.

"Now I see," she finally said when her nerves had calmed enough to speak. "She's going to replace you."

"I don't think you do, Eph," Xena frowned slightly as she tried to find the words that would convey how dangerous the situation really was. Finally bringing to the light what was hidden in the darkest reaches of her soul, Xena spoke softly, "You see, I was Ares Chosen and was bound by that duty to be one of the Four Horsemen. Kharis is his new Chosen and as such should take over. But Kharis isn't going to supplant me. She is destined to destroy me as no one else can. She must destroy all four Horsemen to be the Guardian."

"Destroy you? How?"

"If I was to die today I would end up in Tartarus. As one of the Horsemen though, my body would never truly die in case it was needed to fulfil my duties. But if Kharis were to... well... I would be no more. My body and spirit would be sent to oblivion. There is no coming back and no resurrection of any kind."

"If you've known this all along then why have you been protecting her?"

"Because she's my sister and a pawn in a game the Fates are playing with the Gods. I thought that if I could teach her how to control her dark side then she would be able to live her life without ever having to become the Guardian," Xena explained as she sat down at the table and took a swig of wine from he bottle.

"So if she never submits to Ares' call then she won't become..."

"Yes and no," Xena said cryptically. "I thought that if she ever accepted Ares' offer and became his true Chosen then she would be on the path to her destiny. But I was blind. It really has nothing to do with Ares. It has everything to do with true evil."

"How so?" Gabrielle asked, suddenly understanding that her partner was about to reveal a portion of her soul that had been kept behind a barrier that even Xena refused to break through. Until now.

"You both know that there are facets to our personalities that we are ashamed of. That tiny speck that is dark enough to make us cringe when we think about embracing it. Most don't. I did and happened to like it," Xena admitted reluctantly. "I discovered early on that I truly liked killing people. I liked the feeling of slicing through a person, feeling the blood on my hands. I still do. It was a high and it's an addiction that I can't break, but I have learnt how to control it."

"It is evil no matter how you rationalise it," Xena stated as Gabrielle was about to protest on behalf of Xena's good qualities. Arching an eyebrow Xena waited for her bard to close her mouth before continuing.

"Kharis is like that too, though she doesn't realise it yet. That high we derive from the darkness is pure evil and that is what makes us different from others. Khar is already starting to feel that evil for the first time. It's nothing like what you two saw a month ago. It burns and eats away at your soul while at the same time freezing you to the core. It numbs your emotions to the point that you don't really feel them any longer. You are still functioning with them yet on such a distant level that they seem like they aren't even a part of you. Despair, happiness, even passion are focussed to such a minute point that you can look into their depths and never find them."

"Kharis is almost at that stage right now. She is consumed with one thought only and that's an overwhelming wrath directed at the Amazons. She has pushed all emotions away except for her rage. That one emotion alone is what is fuelling her evil. It is all encompassing and is stronger then almost all other feelings. The longer she lives with only that rage the deeper she will fall until there is no going back. She won't be Kharis anymore but Death itself."

"You were filled with nothing but rage once before Xena, yet you came back. Why can't she?" Gabrielle asked softly, knowing within her heart that there was always hope. Xena had proved that to her time and time again.

"I was filled with rage but it didn't last that long really," Xena replied honestly. "My hate was stronger and I think that's what saved me. A person can hate without rage. I just happened to like my hate better. It allowed me to feel that high without suffering remorse. With rage as your guide you eventually do feel some pain, as small as it can be. It has no true reason, whereas with hate there is always a reason. My rage only allowed me to seize my evil. My hatred finally allowed me to see how destructive it truly was."

"Then we just have to get Kharis beyond her rage to feel something less destructive, something more positive," Gabrielle surmised as she turned to look out the window, hoping that Xena would come up with some solution to this problem.

"You know Gabrielle, that's a great idea!" Xena exclaimed as she jumped up and suddenly swept the bard off her feet into a hug.

"Whooh, not so tight!" Gabrielle squealed as she felt her world spin for a few seconds before she was finally placed back down on the bed lightly.

"I don't get it," Ephiny declared, unsure why Xena could possibly be so happy at this moment. "What's stronger then rage?"

"Love, Ephiny. Love," Xena said as she slid back onto her chair. "I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner. When I was talking to Kharis I reminded her that I loved her and she almost came back. Just for a few brief seconds she was herself. That has to be the answer!"

"Will it work?"

Gabrielle snorted as she stood up and lightly hugged her soulmate around the neck, "It did for Xena didn't it?"

Ephiny finally allowed a small chuckle as she admired her Queen more at that moment then any other time. To love an admitted psychopath was one thing but to love someone who was Death itself was another. The Amazon knew she would never be able to look to Xena, nor Gabrielle, in the same light again. Shaking her head slightly, the Regent finally relaxed as she leaned in towards the two women, as Xena began to lay out her plan.

"This is how we do it..."



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