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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Argo and all other 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. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. 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.

NOTE: All works remain the © copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.

Any polite comments you would like the author to read send to Short and to the point would be nice. Venting at the author is not advisable since the Muses protect their own. 8-)

Chapter 1-3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16-17 : PART I 

In Search Of
A Greater Cause

J.A. Bard

~ Return to Crometh ~

Chapter 1

Xena woke early, as was her practice…not with the gradual awareness of herself, surroundings and the warm body that was pressed against hers, but…with the alertness of one who is always aware, even in deep sleep, of what is around her. Being awake only meant her eyes were open, confirming what her other senses informed her.

Xena forced her natural inclination to rise immediately to a halt, as she listened to the rhythm of deep breathing from her sleeping partner that reassured her of her living presence and the softness of her skin to support what she was seeing. Xena swallowed from the memory of one time line where Gabrielle had brunt to death and Xena had only her charred remains as a reminder of her…she had not been able to save her….a slave girl who was burnt to death by her owner for being impertinent. Xena didn't dare close her eyes least the memory be accompanied by images of the young slave girl she had seen being beaten by her master in the market.

She was but a nomad, Elsu, strolling though the market, studying the village she and her soldiers would be raiding in a few days. There were a few others in her clan studying who to rob first and where they were more likely to hide their valuables. The beating seemed to be routine for there were many bruises already on the body that had curled into a ball as the pounding from a heavy stick continued. Her owner left her there, unconscious, knowing when she became conscious, she would come crawling back to him…he owned her body and he thought…soul. Xena couldn't help the shudder that went through her body.

Xena kissed the top of the blond head and rose. She needed some physical activity to keep the memory at bay. She dressed in a workout tunic, padded in some places, but loose, and short, leaving room for freedom of movement. She picked up her sword in it's scabbard, not bothering to fasten it about her waist, or in its customary place nestled comfortably between her shoulder blades.

The day before, Xena left Gabrielle in the Inn to listen to the Bard stories and practice on her own for that night, while she looked around to see just what had changed around the streets. In her browse through the city she found what she was looking for. A soldier on duty, dressed in cleaned leathers, muscular build, and amused blue eyes when she stopped to ask him about the athletic competitions. He gave her directions and asked if she was interested in participating in any…for he didn't hide his open appraisal of her.

She didn't commit herself but instead told him she liked to work out early in the morning and was hopping she could 'warm-up' with someone. He had, without surprise, offered himself as a practice partner.

The day hadn't put any touches of color on the dark gray shadows of the city in it's predawn awakening, when Xena had started her stroll through the city's streets toward the common practice yard. Dogs greeted her with stretches, cats were merely settling down from their nightly forays, and smoke was just beginning to weave long tendrils toward the sky from the early morning fires in home hearths and the multitude of Inn's kitchens.

By the time she reached the yard, there were other gray forms arriving. She spotted the area she would like to work in and moved toward it. She tossed her cloak over the wooden post, showing that area was taken, leaning her sword still in its sheath against the pole then moved away from it measuring the distance about sword length, mentally. Ignoring her surroundings she began a slow warm-up without her sword, moving smoothly letting her muscles stretch and take the weight of her shifting stanches. She lost herself in the movements, speeding them up as she felt her body respond favorably. It was more difficult for her to move slowly than fast so she enjoyed the challenge to do the beginning of the work out at the correct speed, as Mai Lai had taught her.

When she finished she was aware of many eyes on her but she was use to it and merely looked for Eilissus, the soldier that she was to meet.

"Hey, you!"

Xena turned her head slightly to look at the gaudy dressed man approaching her. His short tunic was draped over his shoulders like a small cape. He was all muscle. His wide shoulders were larger than Hercules, and his arms were bigger than her large hands could span. His tunic did not cover his third leg that was dangling in a very vulnerable position as it wobbled back and forth with each step the owner took toward her.

"That's my place! Go find another." His tone of voice was contemptuous and too self-assured for Xena's taste. Hmmmm. Looks like I'll be getting more than one workout.

Xena casually looked at her cloak on the post, then looked back at him with a raised eyebrow.

He got her message but brushed it away with a casual wave of his hand. "I don't need to mark my place on a practice field or anywhere else." He snorted, placing his large hands on his waist. "I've made my mark were it counts."

"Ahhh. Really? So there is a city decree or charter saying you have this spot permanently?"

He laughed, and looked around at the others that were listening with interest. He had beat most of the worthwhile athletes, and so far he hadn't seen any real worth while challenges for the last six moons. Someone had said Hercules, who held the champions wreath, may come this year, but he hadn't seen him yet…but he was still hoping. To claim the wreath the competitor had to compete in nine events and win them all.

So, as he looked at the tall dark athletic woman in front of him, he felt only contempt that a woman should be taking his place. He had under no uncertain terms let everyone know that it was his place, and no one was welcomed to use it in his absence, since they may mess up the ground or post.

He held up a big fist…with a sneer, "This, is my authority."

"Not mine." Xena returned calmly then turned to resume her work out, laughing at the expression she turned away from…disbelief then real meanness.

She caught Eilissus's upraised eyebrows over the heads of those now forming a circle around the two, but he was good at masking whatever else he may be feeling.

Xena heard the movement behind her and waited, not just moving out of the way at the last moment, as he may expect, but catching him between the legs. That ended the conversation quickly. She wasn't expecting to workout with him just yet…he would need some time to recover, which would mean in about a candlemark or so…he would be challenging her. By then she would be pretty warmed up with Eilissus, and would probably get a few suggestions from him about the colorful champion. Xena smirked as she grabbed on of the big man's wrists as he was writhing around on the ground and pulled him out of her work out area.

Eilissus joined her, tossing his cloak over hers.

"I see you've met Leoni." He remarked casually.

"Lion? Hmmm. Built more like a Minotaur, don't you think?" Xena asked as she nodded her good morning.

No more was spoken as Eilissus did some warm-ups then signaled to Xena that he was ready. They started with sword drills. Xena found Eilissus knew a few tricks she hadn't seen before and she was quick to adapt them into her own arsenal of moves. Their work out with swords was longer than each had planned, as neither seemed to weary as most people would …oblivious of their appreciative audience.

After taking Eilissus's sword from him the third time Xena paused and with a raised eyebrow asked if he wanted to switch weapons. They moved into hand-to-hand and after two candlemarks, Eilissus was ready to call a halt. Both were glistening with each other's sweat and dirt.

Leoni was waiting, as Xena was expecting. "You can use the space now…we're finished."

"You think you're good…but I think you wouldn't last one round with a real fighter." He challenged.

Xena gave him a predatory look knowing that the coy, unpretentious approach would be wasted on him. Gabrielle would probably be waking about noon, so she had plenty of time. Her competition the previous night was the last scheduled and had went well into the night. She won…easily…in Xena's opinion and had been so giddy with anticipation for her next one that she had a difficult time falling asleep. Xena finally had her soak in the tub while she finished it off with a back rub. Worked like a charm…the happy Bard finally fell asleep.

"And just what type of activity did you have in mind….arm wrestling….javelin pitching…discus throwing…knife tossing…" She knew she was irritating him with her choices by the look in his eyes. He was too easy to read….which alerted her to…

Her instincts were on alert as he moved around her to position her so that she was facing the raising sun. Old stuff, she thought as she let him. She didn't need to see her advisory.

"Hand to hand." He told her. Once he was satisfied with where he had her he moved fast for a man so large.

However, Xena, ever resourceful, had flipped over his head, kicking him in the back of the head as she somersaulted over him and twisted in midflight so she was standing with her back to the sun when she landed.

Unprepared, Leoni went headfirst into the ground but was quickly back on his feet expecting Xena to attack while he was down. He was miffed to find her standing with the sun behind her, arms resting on her hips…waiting. Her bright blue eyes were amused and she let only a tiny hint of a smile cross her otherwise, unreadable face.

Leoni, more careful, circled her, or tried. Xena wasn't moving, she stood with her hands casually at her sides, legs not locked and not bent, waiting. He was thinking of waiting her out, but before he could make up his mind, a blurred fist popped him in the chin, sending his head back. Startled he remained standing, but glazed eyes regarded the tall dark haired stranger, as he felt a darkness descend upon him.

Xena picked up her things then left, laughing to herself as she spotted Eilissus collecting some money from another.

Xena felt good from her work-out with Eilissus, and it was competitive enough for a fire to be lit in her that she let move through her, burning and setting a volcanic reaction between her legs. Leoni was not a challenge as she had been hoping, so the fire Eilissus built, that she had been hoping to extinguish in her fight with Leoni, was overshadowing her. A sensual cloud enveloped her. She took deep breaths hoping to bring some sort of control over it before she woke Gabrielle up. At the thought of Gabrielle she imagined how she would wake the sleeping golden haired woman up, slowly.

The Inn was serving some early morning customers when Xena came striding in, passing the server who glanced up at her surprised, grabbed a fruit from the bowl on the front table and taking the stairs three at a time. Xena halted herself just outside of their door, getting her fire under control,so that it was not a bonfire but rather a flame on a torch.

She eased the door open and slipped in. Xena's eyes grew wide as she softly closed the door behind her, holding her breath.

Gabrielle was seated in the center of their room, naked, and bathed in the early morning sun, casting a long shadow behind her. Xena moved so that she was northeast of her, quietly sitting with her back against the wall. Gabrielle's eyes were closed as she slowly moved into another of her poses, holding each at different points of extension, letting the stretches set in the ligaments, muscles and bones.

Xena studied the naked form as one arm was stretched above her right ear, pulling her breasts and tattoo design at an angle. As Gabrielle moved into the next position, still with her eyes closed, she extended her legs slowly, moving her upper torso down to grasp her ankles effortlessly, then moving onto her stomach, pushing herself up, with hands and feet still on the ground, hips rose into the air stretching.

Xena wet her lips as she studied the back muscles that stood out across the bare back. Her eyes traveled up the muscular buttocks that were held steady in the air…in a smooth movement her mate hopped with the palms of her hands remaining on the floor, feet moving to be planted between her palms. She grasp her ankles and held the position.

Xena didn't realize she had risen to her feet moving to get a different view of the exercising woman. From behind her, she could see her womanhood peeking out from between her pubic hairs, glinting as if moist.

Xena's eyes narrowed as she caught the smell of Gabrielle's arousal. The fire she had lowered to a small flame reached up as if fuel had been added to it.

Xena moved to the side, watching as Gabrielle lifted her chest, arms outstretched to her side, as if she had wings, rising slowly. Her chest expanded and still with her eyes closed, breathing even, as she moved back to sitting position. She lay on her back, leaving one leg extended, pulling the other close to her chest, holding the position.

Xena could see her labia like a flower peeking out between the leaves, wet with morning dew, releasing its sweet essence from the heat of the sun's rays that rested on its petals. Xena breathed deeply the fragrance of her mate as she unconsciously wiped the beaded sweat from her upper lip.

The cool morning air coupled with the sun's morning light covered Gabrielle's exposed mound, giving her sensuous pleasure as the warmth from the morning sun covered her bare body. She envisioned herself seducing Xena with her slow dance, drawing the Warrior to a slow flash point of being the observer, the passive participant, in her display of provocative posses, holding them, so that she could spend some time envisioning what she would like to do to her in each pose.

The thought of Xena's hands, mouth, phallus, taking her as she held herself immobile in the poses excited her and released juices that coated her lips, whose fragrance was released by the warm sun's rays. She smiled inwardly as she remembered the wall painting in Aphrodite's temple. At one time she had thought a lot of the positions impossible and uncomfortable looking, until Xena had demonstrated them and gave her an insight that the uncomfortable feeling made it more arousing if not just plain fun to try. The memory released another warm liquid flow as she moved into the next pose, catching the smell of another's arousal…a very familiar one at that.

Well, let's just make this real…interesting, she thought lecherously.

Eyes still closed, Gabrielle moved to her stomach, lifted her back legs and chest from the floor, holding the position, resting, putting both hands on her buttocks, she lifted one back leg, lifted her chest and moved her opposite arm above her head then slowly returned it. Doing the same for the other side.

Xena's eyes watched closely as the buttock muscles tightened, the breasts thrust forward and out with hard nipples pointing toward the balcony's open door. Gabrielle ended that move by moving her hands to beneath her shoulders, pushing up again with her hips steady in the air, arms and feet on the ground, holding.

Unable to resist any longer, Xena approached the naked form, bathed in the sun, letting her hands rest on the white buttocks, tight from the stretch she was in. She could smell Gabrielle's and her own arousal with little difficulty. A small groan came from Gabrielle as Xena let her hand then finger explore her crack then to the bud that was more than ready, standing out from her lips and hairs. Xena groaned as Gabrielle moved her legs further apart and pushed against the finger that was only stroking the outside of her wet lips.

Two candlemarks later Gabrielle stirred in Xena's arms, biting a nearby nipple that was raising and falling with her steady breathing.

"Hey. I thought you had enough?" A low voice purred above the unrepentant Bard.

"That was just a temporary truce." She said between licks around the areola and fully erect nipple.

Xena moved Gabrielle's body on top of her own, spreading her legs so Gabrielle fit comfortably between them.

"So, tell me…again…I think I missed just why this guy Leoni thought he was the toughest act around."

Xena's body twitched as Gabrielle fastened her teeth around her favorite nipple and bit, sucked and flicked it. Xena's thoughts became unfocused from the desire that Gabrielle relit.

Gabrielle's hips began to move at a slow rhythm pushing her mound against Xena's.

"I do believe….I owe you something…" She whispered in a husky voice, feeling Xena part her legs further, raising her hips so that their wet lips would slide against each others.

She watched the bright blue eyes close as a soft groan escaped her lips, becoming tight with expectation. Gabrielle smiled, pressing a little harder, feeling her stomach muscles that were tired from Xena's workout, being pushed into service once again. When she felt Xena, nearly to the edge she backed off, moving her hand to her libia, feeling their combined wetness slicking their surface. Probing with three fingers she slid them in easily, and hard, knowing that Xena was overdue for a hard fuck.

"Is this what you need, Warrior Princess?" she asked gruffly, stroking her hard but slow.

Xena groaned and pushed against her hand trying to increase the rhythm to meet her immediate need.

"Well…I see you're primed enough for your solstice surprise…" she smirked biting the throat that was exposed to her.

Gabrielle put her small hand over the eyes of the dark haired panting woman, a hint that she wanted her to keep her eyes closed. Gabrielle rose from the bed and was gone for a brief moment, for she had everything ready.

Back on the bed she put a dark cloth over Xena's eyes tying it behind her head. She roughly pushed Xena's yielding legs further apart, then had her bend them at the knees.

Xena felt Gabrielle's body settle between her bent legs, then a touch at the entrance of her wet center with the sudden plunge of a large object into her more than willing slick opening. She groaned as Gabrielle moved it rapidly inside and out not giving her a chance to savor each filling moment, but letting the sensations of being filled then emptied arouse her to move with the fast tempo, trying to hold onto the phallus as it filled her with tightened muscles and hips that moved up to welcome the next thrust. As she neared her peak, the thrusting stopped, the tip resting just at the opening that was yawning and moving upward in frustrated need to recapture it's length.

Gabrielle grabbed a hard nipple in her mouth and bit it hard getting Xena's attention and a low growl sounded in her throat. "You'll come when I'm ready, Warrior." She growled in her best imitation of a warlord.

She thrust the large toy back into the dark hole, feeling the pleasure the penetration gave as shudders rippled through the body beneath her. She returned her mouth to Xena's nipple, one of her favorite places to suck, and as she again started to fuck her she could feel the buildup again of the energy…this time she let it go its natural course, tweaking one nipple with her fingers, as she continued to grind her hips into the moaning form beneath her.

Xena's climax started with a rising of her hips, that halted at a certain point, then the low growl that started in her chest and vibrated out of her throat to a keening cry. Sometimes it was a shout of Gabrielle's name, sometimes it was a cry that wasn't describable and sometimes, it was a moan. Today it was a cry of her name, over and over again as the waves of pleasure rolled over her. Gabrielle let the last of the trembling finish before she slowly moved the toy out of her wet center, but she could feel it drag as Xena's inner muscles seemed to object at the removal. Smiling Gabrielle slowly started to move in and out, watching the sweaty face below her groan with pleasure as this time, Gabrielle let each inward thrust rest a moment, so it's recipient could enjoy the penetration, its fullness, stretching her insides and touching her deeply.

Instead of letting her climax with it inside of her, Gabrielle slid it out and quickly covered her mouth over the swollen lips and the hardened nub, that was so engorged it looked ready to be popped. Gabrielle let her teeth cover the nub, then pressed her tongue against it feeling the beat of her heart against her tongue. Sucking it and washing her tongue over the hard bud she heard Xena cry out again as she hips rose, with Gabrielle firmly attached to her, flicking fast and hard then thrusting her tongue into her center as a flood of nectar drenched Gabrielle's face.

What would be late noon meal time, Xena rubbed the bards back from her prone sleeping position on the bed. Their last tryst left Gabrielle tired.

"Hey, don't you have another round of competition tonight?"

"Hmmmmph." Was the muffled reply she got.

Xena moved over to the other side of the unmoving form, where the turned head was facing the wall. She relished the soreness she felt between her legs from Gabrielle's presentation of her solstice gift. "That was a nice gift…" She let her tongue wander around the reclined woman's ear, then slipped it inside, knowing Gabrielle became aroused when she did that.

"That's no fair." A soft voice muttered, as one, then another green eye opened.

"What's not fair?"

"We don't have time to carry on with that conversation."

"Hmmm. Not that I'm complaining, but with all this energy you suddenly have, I would think you spent some dinars in Aphrodite's temple."

"Can I help it if I get excited when I watch you work out." Was the sleepy reply.

Xena raised an eyebrow. "Just what workout are you referring to?"

"The one with that nice, blue-eyed, good looking soldier."

"Now how did you know about that? I had thought for sure you were too tired to even rise before noon."

"Well, one of the bard's is his lover and we had this bet on you two. No sense in making a wager and not watching, is there?"

Xena shook her head then rose from the bed, pulling the Bard after her. "Come on. You need to take a quick bath…I don't like sharing in our personal…fragrance." She whispered with her lips pressed against Gabrielle's head.

"So, what do you plan on doing tonight?" Gabrielle asked as she let the water glide down her standing form, taking the suds with it. She watched Xena from under her lowered lashes, noting that it had the effect she was trying for.

"Hmmm. What? What do you mean?" Xena shook herself from the sexual haze that seemed to keep dropping over her. "I'm going to watch you clean up on prizes in the Bard's contest."

"Xena, isn't it boring for you to sit through all of that?" Another trickle of water rolled down her body, as Gabrielle twisted her body to get at the suds that were hanging on her backside.

Breathe deep, Xena. She's doing this on purpose…now why doesn't she want me to listen to tonight's tale? And why is she teasing me all the time. If I didn't know better, I would say someone's been putting some of Aphrodite's charms in her food.

Two puzzles turned over in her mind as she watched with divided attention at the show Gabrielle was putting on.

"Hmmm. It's not all that interesting, Xena. They give us a boring event that happened in the city and we craft it into something…more interesting. In another part of town, I happen to know that tonight they are having competition in a blindfold maze thing. That's just what you like…" Gabrielle turned to face her. "I know you'd take the prize there."

Xena thought about it. Maybe she was reading more into this that what was there, for she was right. A smile curled up her lips as she thought about being blindfolded…but it wasn’t anything to do with a maze.

"Leoni picked it as his event to take the championship for the year." She looked up at Xena with innocent eyes.

Xena turned her head slightly, as if to get a better view of the standing figure in the tub of water that was probably cooled by now. She rose from her seated position on the bed, where she had been sharpening her sword, grabbing a towel and handing it to Gabrielle who stepped out and leaned into the towel and Xena's arms.

"What are you up to, O'Bard of mine?" She asked resting her cheek on the damp hair.

"Welll." She gently slapped the muscled tan thigh. "I have this bet…"

"Gabrielle!" Xena leaned back to get a better view of her lover. "Since when are you into gambling?"

"Since a pot was set up in the hall downstairs that has you pitted against Leoni."

Xena was still for a moment.

"You see, there’s this orphanage that has a farm out side of the city…they need money to expand, to support the kids, and what they need is farm supplies."

Xena waited, mindfull of the water that was trickling down her body from contact with Gabrielle’s dripping form.

"The Temples have raised money for solstice gifts for the children…but they really need metals for farming tools and new carts to carry stones from the quarry, and supplies to…"

Xena held her hand up. "And this pot money…you want to give it to whoever runs this farm."

"The Temples oversee the farm."

Xena pursed her lips. There was definitely more to this story, for anything that Gabrielle seemed to get involved in was or became complicated.

"You see, there was a caravan that was suppose to bring supplies the Temples had paid for in advance, but it was hit by raiders. So…the only thing the Temples have now are the toys for the children and nothing in the way of needed supplies for the farm. Which was sheep to replenish their stock, cattle, chickens, metals that the metalsmith was going to make into tools as a gift…"

Xena nodded, releasing Gabrielle and letting her dry off. She slid into the lukewarm water and cleaned herself.

"Don’t you want to use the herb soap? It smells nice." Gabrielle asked as she fastened her bodice.

"I don’t want my opponent to find me so easily." Xena replied with a grin.

"I knew you wouldn’t mind, Xena." Gabrielle smiled her sweet smile, confident that Xena would help out.

"Hmm. So what are you going to do while I’m doing this blindfold thing?"

"Watch, of course! I asked Alosus to switch places with me. He didn’t mind at all. He didn’t want to go after Carmelius. So, I gotta go it’s time for me to do my thing." Gabrielle leaned over and kissed the top of the dark hair, grinning at the blue eyes that were already taking on the predatory look.

Xena was thinking about what she had heard about the blindfold competition. It required two to enter a labyrinth, without any weapons. Both had to make it to the other end by daylight. Spectators watched from the surrounding hills, though Xena couldn’t figure out what they could see, for it was dark!

Xena climbed out of the tub, dried off and quickly dressed. She needed to get to the start of the Maze.

As Xena walked along the paved streets she was aware of the familiar weight of the sword at her side, her cape flapping behind her, and the parting of people. Her long strides took her quickly passed others, who were headed in the same direction, and that were hurrying to get in position for an event. Her gaze took in the walls of the homes that were decorated with evergreens, red ribbons, holly berries, and tiny wooden replicas of the gods they were honoring. It was a different city than what they had first entered.

Xena’s face hardened, as she remembered different time lines she had gone through before getting back to Gabrielle in the cavern. She talked to Mnemoyse, or did she? Then she for a moment when she didn't see Gabrielle in the cavern, she let was whisked away to other time lines, until she managed to get back to the right cavern. She remembered times in the future…but it didn’t make her happy at what she witnessed and experienced. Not too much changed with people over time, those who wanted power over others, and the burden they would be placing on generations after them. Forests decimated for greed, oceans polluted for greed, plundered land and water resources for greed…when would it stop? What was there in a future like that? She didn’t want to go over the different people both her and Gabrielle would become, both playing their parts to keep a certain connection to the spirits of the land they dwelt on, the different gods they would believe in and most of all, the bond they both had. It was wearying to think of many the many lives they would experience, trying to save others and themselves from themselves.

Xena’s eyes spotted Eilissus talking to a citizen who was gesturing toward her. As she walked up he straightened up and smiled at Xena. It was near sunset and the buildings were creating long shadows along the open street.

"Eilissus, good solstice week to you and your family." She greeted him grasping his arm as he hers in return.

"Xena, Warrior Princess. I understand you have taken the challenge to enter the Maze." His light blue eyes looked into hers steadily.

It sounded like a formal greeting, which surprised Xena.

"Yea. It’s for a worthy cause." Xena returned shortly.

His eyebrows rose. "I’ve never heard it put that way. But, yes. I think it is."

He turned and pointed at the temple of the Muses. "That is where you go to prepare. A temple accolade will greet you. The blessings of the Muses upon you."

Xena was getting little warning messages from her natural defenses, that were telling her that maybe there was something more to this maze thing than she had thought.

She had told Gabrielle she would do it for the orphan’s farm, and by the gods, she knew orphans were a plenty from on going wars, diseases and accidents that left children without caretakers, but…she now had some reservation.

Xena returned nods to people that were smiling at her and nodding as she walked by them and up the temple stairs. She would normally take the stairs two or three at a time…but this time she took them one by one feeling more serious as she neared the top stair.

She entered the porch that was cloaked in the shadows from the sun disk that dropped behind the hill in the west. The statues of the Muses surrounded the porch that ran around the entire building. Xena spotted a small white form that stepped out of the shadows. For a moment she stopped, then continued on.

Xena stopped in front of the white figure. Dorie reached out a small hand to take Xena’s strong sword hand, gently tugging to lead her somewhere. Xena’s normal night acuity was not able to penetrate the darkness of the walkway the child was leading her down. She seemed to know where she was leading them for she showed no hesitation as she led them into the darkness.

Xena could see a light far off to their left and that was where Dorie led her, turning a corner and bringing her into what sounded like a grotto in the temple. There was a small fire burning in a sacred pit with the aroma of incense permeating the air like a thick blanket. It was a bit strong for Xena, and she had to struggle to not gag.

The small hand left hers and her small white figure moved to the other side of the sacred hearth where a dark robed figure in black stood motionless.

Xena felt two figures move to either side of her and began to undress her. Fingers unbuckled her sword belt and the comfortable weight was removed. For some reason she stood still letting them touch her. Her eyes remained on the figure before her, waiting. Buckles on her armor were undone as her breastplate and backplate were pealed away. Fingers tickled her wrists as her wrist guards were pulled over her large hands and long fingers. Her bracers were slid down her arms leaving chills along her arms from the fingers that trailed down to her fingertips. Her leathers were removed next, then her greaves and boots, leaving her standing naked in the warm grotto. Her eyes remained fixed on the dark figure across the hearth, feeling the cool air around her warm skin. Warm scented water was poured over her body and a soft linen dried her skin. A soft fabric fell across her bare shoulders then was draped about her. It hung just above her knees. The feeling of the fabric was cool against her hot skin. It seemed odd for it to be warm here, for the outside was cold and there didn’t seem to be anything but the small hearth fire that warmed the area.

A thin sash was wrapped around her waist. It was as white as the tunic she was clothed in. As the figures finished dressing her they moved away from her and disappeared back into the surrounding darkness.

The black figure became a little clearer to Xena’s eyes as it was more gray than black. The figure turned from her and started to walk away. Xena seemed to understand that she was to follow her. Xena's bare feet could feel the stone floor changed to dirt as the floor also sloped downward. Before her, walked the dark figure and sometimes the lighter color of Dorie appeared, as she appeared to be leading the way.

Xena became aware that stone no longer surrounded them when the sounds and smells changed dramatically. No incense clogged her nostrils and no muffled sounds blocked her hearing. Shadows of tall hedges that rose as high five cubits, blocking out the rising parchment thin white crescent moon. The dark figure halted and Dorie's white form returned to Xena's side. It took a moment for Xena to realize that she was holding something dark in her hand. Xena took the silk cloth out of hand and bound her own eyes.

As she stood still for a few moments she could hear footsteps recede, two pairs, one light as a child and the other heavier, an adult. Taking a deep breath she decided maybe she was to start…but she didn't. There was something that she needed to wait for. She heard it…more footsteps heading her way. Her nostrils flared as she caught the odor of Leoni. She waited. Her senses were hyperviligant…tracking his movements.

There were no voices only the soft movement of someone tying something.

"Into the Labyrinth

round and round

seek the unseekable

Into the Silence

down then down

darkness to light

Into the Void

Deeper then deeper

Two to find

Into the Light

Fire to fire

Seek the Truth"

The voice was so low that Xena's sternum vibrated. She could feel a part of her lift, her spirit body, rising above the darkness. Her spirit body turned to the sound of the footsteps, watching a gray cloaked figure disappear into a dark opening. She turned back to face the opening she and Leoni were left facing. It was the start of the maze. She returned to her solid form, and started forward not wondering why she could see though her eyes were covered. Leoni remained standing and Xena turned back and touched his elbow to see how he was going to react.

"Shall we get going?" Xena asked softly.

The tall muscular man nodded and started to walk forward. Xena used her hand to guide him forward walking in a fast fashion as if she knew exactly where she was going. And, strangely enough…she did.

Leoni said nothing as he let Xena's light touches on his elbow guide him around the corners and forward. A noise to their left had Leoni shift away from it. Xena pulled him back.

She stopped them and waited, listening to the sound and trying to place it. The hairs on the back of her neck rose until she saw…or imagined…that the noise was coming from someone with a gourd and knife dragging over it. Xena touched the black silk cover over her eyes to see if they were still covered.

"Come on." She whispered to Leoni. The noise persisted and only Xena's firm hold on his elbow got him past the first sentry.

It seemed like days had passed when Xena finally felt a breeze on her face that brought the smell of morning dew on plants. They had to be nearing the end of the Labyrinth. She was getting tired of pushing and pulling at Leoni who had become many times frightened by sounds, touches, and smells that the guardians of the Labyrinth suffered them through. Xena was able to see through their guises, and her silk scarf, recognizing that they were mere mortals testing their nerves.

Leoni seemed to sense they were at the end for he pulled his elbow from Xena's hand and walked forward boldly, something he hadn't done until then. She merely let him move forward amused. The moment he stepped across the threshold cymbals and flutes sounded. Xena stood off to the side and let him stand surrounded by the temple attendants. She pulled off her scarf and looked around her, for Gabrielle. She spotted her waving at her. Xena smiled then returned her attention to the high priestess whose cloak was covering her head and facial features. Dorie was standing next to her holding a basket that had something in it; a gold band of leaves for the first to cross the threshold.

"May the goddesses of the Muses, bless the one who has bravely and successfully faced his or her fears in the Labyrinth. The golden leaves shall be worn in recognition and you shall lead the procession to honor our rededication of our city to those whose wisdom has…"

By the second sentence Xena's mind was elsewhere. She waited off to side of Leoni and his group of revelers. Xena could see him whispering to one of the men that was standing next to him and the other was nodding. Xena was thinking about Leoni and his fear at every turn in the maze and how it had taken a lot of coaxing and sometimes threatening to get him to move forward. They had to end together….she got that much from the priestess at the beginning. For her there was nothing to fear. For some reason she was able to sense with what was there…translating the noise into an image. So, she was able to deal with whatever awaited them in the maze…but he could not. But, did it make her braver than he? He was frightened…yet he went on. Yes it took some prodding and encouragement…but he did go on. Xena nodded to herself. Yea…he deserved to be at the head of the procession. The experience of moving through the maze was interesting to her…but not fearful, nor did she ever feel any trepidation to go on. The maze was no real challenge for her.

Xena looked again at the crowd for Gabrielle, sensing she was near. Everyone was moving off leaving her in her thin tunic with the cold night air breezing about her, standing near the exit of the maze. Xena turned back to look at the Labyrinth.

Is that all there is?

Xena took a step back into the maze wanting to take a closer look at the tall brush hedges that cut off sounds and most of the sky. As her foot crossed the threshold she could feel a huming under her bare feet, it traveled up her legs and into her buttocks, up the back of her spine and a fire in her apex started, then her stomach, her solar plexis, heart, throat, forehead and out through her head. It was a fire without flames, sending plumes of color out of her seven centers. Xena could feel a different type of vibration start at the base of her spine and the energy it shot though her made her throw her head back and let out a silent scream. The pressure built, and she could feel something shifting in her. She felt uncomfortable and she was going to shift out of it when a gentle voice spoke something to her that on some level she understood. She let the experience continue with her consciousness being present.

"You must stay present…no matter how painful. You must experience it on all levels." Xena could now hear the voice guiding her.

Darkness was all around her and she wasn't sure if her eyes were open. A searing white light that hit her between the eyes was not painful but pressure built and it kept getting stronger and stronger. She wasn't sure she could endure much more of the pressure.

Then another shift. Suddenly before her were pillars. People, no, unrecognizable beings that were part people…they were wearing masks like the priests in Egypt, she told herself.

She was at the bottom of the stairs and was being shown that she needed to walk to the top. It looked simple enough, but as she looked up to where she had to go she could sense it was not as easy as she thought. There were seven stairs. As her foot was placed on the first step she could feel the air stir about her. Lapis. The first step was made of lapis. The strength to rule sent the familiar feeling of energy surging through her limbs. She was aware of different life times she had used it for both good and bad, but it was as if she was giving herself an interesting view of her many lives. She may have started out in a life going in the wrong direction but a beautiful bright soul…which she recognized right away…would remind her which way she intended to go. She could feel a chuckle start to form in another part of her, but it was stifled quickly. This was very dangerous stuff she was involved in at the moment and should concentrate.

As her weight shifted so both feet were on the first stair she could feel the energy of responsibility shift and settle heavily upon her. With effort she lifted her left foot up onto the second step. Leaning forward, the weight helped her to move to the next step made of a green stone, anchorite. It's an effort to move forward once both her feet were planted on the second step. It seemed as if her body was being pulled in different directions…by the need of others…and her own. She could feel herself wanting to withdraw…away from all this energy pulling at her…her sides…hands…feet….her head was hers and from here she felt the desire to get away from all the needs.

Leaning forward she dragged her foot to the third step…it was hard…but once her first foot was on the red step, carnelian, the energy changed. Heat traveled up her legs to her hands and across her shoulders…free will…awareness of this power to chose flooded her inner sight and caused her to take a deep breath, expanding her chest and sending little shock waves down her spine.

The fourth step was yellow beryllium. She didn't feel the power of this step at first, for the influence of the third was still draining out of her left leg. As both feet became implanted on the fourth step a sharp light, exploded just above the center of her eyes. She jolt of fire that radiated out of her head seemed to expand the awareness of this sense. She didn't have to look around her to know…as she had access to whatever knowledge she needed. It was a powerful awareness, but she lifted her leg to go to the next step, not spending time to explore this awareness. It was for another time.

The fifth step was made up of amethyst. Her vision became multifaceted as her body became a light that shined out of all the many sides. She wasn't aware of her bare feet touching any surface. She felt as if she were floating and her thoughts could radiate out in all directions, so she had to be careful what she thought. Thought became.

As she stepped onto the sixth step, what had appeared as statues flanking the pillars suddenly took on the form of guardians of this gateway. Their eyes pierced Xena's soul and searched her spirit for right of mind and conscious. Xena knew that if she didn't pass their inspection …she would not be able to go further…and she knew she must…she couldn't let Gabrielle down. The sixth step was made of crystal and intention and thoughts became magnified and she could feel her thoughts of Gabrielle magnify and if they had not been loving…she knew she would have perished.

She could see now into the temple. She lifted her foot on the seventh step. The energy that came from this step vibrated to the earth's pulse and all the life forms that made it their home. Standing on this seventh step she could see three lighted circles radiating out from a central chair. The colors were green, blue and purple. She could feel the energy these colors gave off.

Xena was aware of the darkness behind her as she moved into the temple, past the circles, careful to step over them. She came to a stop in front of the chair. The dark robed priestess sat surrounded by nine other robed figures. One was dressed as an Amazon Queen, whom Xena recognized was Gabrielle. Somehow she didn't feel surprised. She stood in front of the High Priestess who was an embodiment of a goddess.

"Xena, Warrior Princess, Destroyer of Nations, and now the common peoples last defense against injustice…" She turned and picked up an embroidered leather girdle that she recognized as the dead Amazon Queen Penthesileia's.

She held the girdle above the incense burner, running it through to catch the sacred essence of the herb that was burning. She then stepped down from her dais and stood next to Xena. She wrapped the girdle around her, fastening it, then stepping back up to her dais.

"It is to you that is given the duty to hold the energy that the present Queen of Amazon's Gabrielle, will draw to undo the terrible burden another Queen of Amazon's, Penthesileia, had taken in remuneration for taking the life of her sister."

The ring on the priestess finger glinted as she rested her hands on the chair's arms. Xena didn't move, knowing it hadn't finished.

She felt attendants move to her side. She was dressed in light brown leathers, with matching grieves and boots. Unfamiliar armor was fitted over the leathers. Her sword was fitted onto her back where she most comfortable with it. Arm bands and wristbands were slid up her arms and attached to her wrist. The design in the armor was repeated on the arm bands and wrist armor.

When they had finished dressing her the High Priestess rose. Xena could feel the energy in the room increase nearly lifting the ends of her hair. The priestess didn't reveal her face as she took one of Xena's strong hands. An attendant approached with a cushion that had one shinning ring sitting in the center.

"With this ring…you will be able to focus the energy of the spirit of Queen Penthesileia."

She turned and walked back to her chair. She turned her head slightly to look at Queen Gabrielle.

Gabrielle took that as her cue and moved to stand next to Xena. Neither touched, frightened that the energy that was running up their legs and though their bodies would burn them as Arii had been. Even at the distance small curls of light jumped between the two.

"Daughter, you have taken on a task that is both difficult and a danger to you and the one who is your champion. If either one of you fails to hold the energy that you draw…you all shall perish, even Queen Penthesileia, into the Land of Shadows, as she is now."

The High Priestess stepped down from her dais, again. An attendant approached with a box they were both familiar with sitting on a pillow of silk. The High Priestess opened the box and handed it to Queen Gabrielle.

Gabrielle removed the feathered fan. The attendant withdrew and the High Priestess stepped back.

"With the fan you shall call forth the wandering spirit of the remorseful Queen. With the power of the ring you shall call forth the energy that surrounds her and keeps her in this sad world and pull her back into a world of form….long enough to release her so she may pass over to the Land of the Amazons, her rightful resting place."

The priestess' eyes were dark as they regarded the two women who chose to take on this dangerous challenge to break a spell that was cast by the very person they were calling forth. "I can tell you no more of how or what to do. You must figure this out yourselves. Dig deep for the answers, and act from the heart. It is something I know you both are capable of doing."

She raised her hand and suddenly….Gabrielle and Xena were standing in an underground grotto. Xena felt the energy in the room pulse, as if it were a heartbeat. There were two lit torches sitting on both sides of the exit. Within the grotto were thirteen statues set into the wall niches. In the center of the room was a chair that Xena could see lines of light from the ground and above the ceiling connecting to.

Gabrielle looked at Xena, her green eyes were dark in the grotto and they seemed to be asking her a question. Xena touched her reassuringly on the shoulder and nodded to the brazier that was near a wall where there was no statue.

Gabrielle drew a deep breath and moved to the brazier that was chest high to her. Clean coals with chunks of incense scattered about the coals were waiting to be lit. Xena found a lighting stick on a table near the brazier and went to the torch to light it. She handed the burning stick to Gabrielle.


Gabrielle lit the coals, not having to blow on the prepared wood to get it going, for the small flame leaped into a healthy life, curling around the small clumps of incense. A breeze of air from open spaces that were between the ceiling and walls wafted across the curling tendrils of smoke and carried them throughout the grotto. The essence of the incense changed the energy of the room. Both women could feel an awakening of the earth beneath their feet. For Xena it wasn't anything she had ever felt before. It was like an anticipation of something building and feeling like it was going to shake the entire room until, whatever it was waiting for…arrived.

Xena became aware of Gabrielle's soft voice behind her, speaking something in a language she didn't recognize, and Xena was familiar, with many. She turned to face her and was nearly frightened for her. Surrounding her were shades in various forms of clarity with clouds of incense being disturbed by their movements. Gabrielle closed her eyes and continued the chanting.

"Open your eyes Gabrielle." Xena whispered urgently. "You must be aware."

Gabrielle's eyes popped open and she took a quick breath, resuming the chant.

Come together, gather around, you who wander, abandoned and lost, ready to be found. Hear my call, hear my song, hear my plea, bring together, all around, those who wander, those who are lost…ready to be found. Come together all around, friend and foe, no grudges held, no sadness kept, no earthly ties, to seek the light. Are you ready to be found?

Xena could feel the ring heat up around her finger, as the room became filled with lost souls that wandered the nearby region. Still she could not locate the one spirit they were hoping to help.

Xena shook her head to Gabrielle who nodded she understood. For a moment Gabrielle was silent as she thought of what she was going to say next.

"I sing a song of a sad Queen and sister, whose golden light was dimmed when the sound of laughter and song from a beloved sister, were heard no more. I sing the song of a sad woman who abandoned all, to seek death when by her hand she had stopped the laughter of her heart. I sing the song of a warrior who did honor to the one whose life she had ended early. I sing you the song of a spirit who never felt her death in battle would be enough to undo the life she had mistakenly…"

"Who calls me!"

Xena felt the air move around them and the other shades moved aside as a dark cloud moved into the grotto. Xena could feel the ring burn around her finger and the girdle tighten around her waist as she became charged with a life force.

"Sister, it is I, Hippolyta the younger."

The dark figure moved toward Gabrielle threateningly. Xena had moved to Gabrielle's side and held her ground as she felt beneath the anger a deep sadness and loss.

"It is I Leia, Poly." The voice came from Gabrielle's throat, but it was not Gabrielle's voice nor was it the usual way Gabrielle would stand, legs apart and ready to move, if needed. A warrior's stance.

"You are…dead." The dark cloud was close to Gabrielle, nearly in her personal space.

"Yes, Leia, my beloved sister, by your hand. I have never held you accountable for it, Leia. Why have you taken that burden? Why do you insist on remaining away from me?"

"I…can't forgive myself for that…act." The voice sobbed.


"Leia. Why are you not returning to me? We have many lives to share together, Sister. By not returning…neither of us can continue."

"I…am afraid." The voice returned softly.

"Afraid of what?"


"Of having to…lose you again."

"My sister. Recompense has been met…more than enough has been paid for something that was never needed to be suffered for. Did not the priestess tell you that it was deemed by the Fates and Furies to be forgiven?"

There was a long silence. The other shadowy figures began to move and Xena could feel the back of neck prickle with a sense of danger.

Then a swirl of a darker cloud swept in clearing the room of the other shades that left with cries of distress. Penthesileia's shadow shrank a little at the arrival of the new energy.

Xena's sword was out and as her hands wrapped around the grip she could feel the fire from the ring slide up the sword like a serpent. Xena moved to stand between Penthesileia and the menacing new comer.


It hovered for only a moment then started to take the form of a black cloaked figure with no features showing.

Xena didn't need conversation to know that she had to put an end to it before it had a chance to gather the energy that was forming in the room. Through her legs she pulled up more life energy that hummed through her body and through her arms. The power that came out of the sword was as real as if she was holding a bolt of Zeus's lightning. She struck the dark figure as features began to form, shattering the dark figure as if it were a mirror. Each shard became a sharp knife point, hurling toward Penthesileia, whom Gabrielle pushed behind her, with Xena stepping in front of Gabrielle. Her flaming sword turned the darts of glass into burnt ash that floated to the ground.

Xena again tapped the energy in the earth, feeling the ring again burn as it focused the power it drew into the sword that was moving rapidly blocking anything that was a threat. Xena didn't know for how long she was battling the dark specter but her arms were weary when they finally dropped. The dark presence was no longer felt in the grotto.

"We don't have much time, I feel the day is coming." Gabrielle spoke in a hoarse voice. Once more she called to the other wandering spirits that wanted to end their wandering.

Xena was thinking that it would be like Gabrielle to save as many as she could. There wasn't much more energy left in the earth for her to draw on for she had depleted it. She was hoping they didn't have any other unpleasant visits from other dimensions.

"Queen Penthesileia, Sister Queen, by the wishes of those that love you, I call you to cross over to the Land of Artemis, where your sisters and soul mate are waiting for you."

The dark cloud had lifted from around Penthesileia's shade form and before them stood a magnificent warrior woman. Both women held their breath wondering if this was all for naught, for she was the one in the end to decide if she was to end her wandering.

"Queen Gabrielle, Sister Queen, I thank thee and your Champion for what you are attempting…"


Both women looked at each other for a moment losing hope. Then Xena stepped forward and grasp her arm in a warrior's grip. "It's time for you to move on." She told her simply.

For a moment the form wavered then became more solid.

"I…hurt so much. I don't think I can let myself hurt like this again." She whispered.

"We can be defined by the depths of our passions and most importantly by the depths of our love." Xena started. "But there is no certainty that because we get it right the first time that we will other times. It's what you learn over all."

The warrior nodded turning to look at Gabrielle whose eyes held compassion and understanding. "By not going forward…you cause your soulmate more hurt than what you felt you had done in the beginning. What is to say that it wasn't meant to happen so you could learn forgiveness…of self?"


The warriors eyebrows rose and her face took on a look of thought.

"You must decide…the sun is ready to rise."

"I will go, Sister." Penthesileia nodded taking what appeared to be a deep breath.

Gabrielle didn't waste time as she began a chant, clapping her hands for a beat.

It wasn't energy Xena felt, but the tearing back of a veil, as if the air itself was a veil that touched her face. As the veil was pulled back, a dark blue to black tunnel appeared with whirls of various shades of blue and black whirling into the funnel. Bright lights shot out and one white wisp came out, forming into the shape of a tall woman. The dark hair of the woman, whirled around her head in slow motion. Her face was shinning and joyous as she moved close to the opening of the funnel, but stopped at the edge. She held her hand out waiting for Penthesileia to take it. The woman was dressed in hunting leathers; her bow across her back and her traditional Amazon medallion of Artemis was around her neck. Penthesileia appeared to be crying as she took the hand of her beloved sister and stepped in without looking back. The other forms that filled the grotto, moved forward quickly with cries of joy, as other figures appeared in the funnel waiting for them with open arms.

Xena could feel her heart just about bursting with the joy that came pouring from the funnel and whirled around the lost spirits that were making their way onto the other side.

Then the funnel suddenly closed with an audible crack. The ground beneath them shook from the impact. They were quickly disorientated as they found themselves standing in the Temple of Artemis.

Before them was a priestess holding the cup of wine for libations to be poured in to the sacred urn that was then emptied into the ground as a blessing was given.

"So…it has been a success." She nodded to the attendant that took the empty vessels from her.

She motioned for Xena and Gabrielle to follow her. She led them into the foyer where a small grotto was used for private conferences.

She picked up the small box that the feathered fan was kept in and opened it, extending it to Gabrielle. Gabrielle was still holding the fan, which she dutifully rested it in its holder.


Without being told Xena removed the embroidered girdle and the ring handing them both to the priestess who laid them on the table next to the box.

"Please wait here." She turned and started toward the door then turned around pulling the cowl to her robe back.

Xena wasn't surprised to see Artemis under the dark robe.

"Potnia." Gabrielle breathed. Her face was alight, Xena noticed.

She's just a goddess! Xena grumbled mentally.


Artemis looked toward Xena with a gentle smile. Xena had her sword out and whirled around with it extended, as the familiar dark feeling she got when Ares was near tweaked her.

"Now, now, Xena. Why do you always have to be so defensive? I just came to say thank you." He sighed and nodded to Gabrielle. "To you both." He looked at Artemis and was gone again.

"Did he really say what I think he said?" Gabrielle asked unbelieving.

"Yes. I told him he owed me one and it was necessary he put in an appearance, and to make it brief." Artemis laughed. "We learned about the time line break from Gabrielle's dreams." She glanced at Xena. "Some people don't let us in whether they sleep or are awake, so we have to get our information wherever we can."

She turned back to Gabrielle. "We all thank you both for that too. From Penthesileia and her sisters, her clan, they owe you and someday…will repay you."

Xena shifted to another foot. "It's not necessary." She told her gruffly wanting to leave this part but thinking for Gabrielle's sake she needed to not do her usual leave before the accolades. She certainly didn't feel she needed them.

Xena endured a few more moments of Gabrielle and Artemis' conversation then the two left the Temple. As they were walking back to their rooms they were sent solstice wishes and greetings from the various citizens.


"Hey, it is solstice morning!"

"Well…fancy that. I guess it is. We seemed to have lost a day somewhere." Xena smirked giving her friend a side long look.

Suddenly Gabrielle stopped. "Xena…you're wearing your armor."

Xena lifted an eyebrow at her. "What else should I be wearing?"

"Well…I mean…I saw you dressed in this…gold colored armor…and.."

Xena looked at herself. True. She somehow got her own leathers and armor on…but she decided to tweak Gabrielle a bit.

"Have you been sniffing too much incense from the temple?"

Gabrielle didn't know if her friend was teasing her or if she really meant it. Instead she changed tack. "You owe me a solstice gift." She told her instead.

Xena grinned. "I certainly do."

*   *   *   *

Xena watched her companion as she was carefully…too carefully…cutting up fruit for something she only smiled about when Xena asked.


Xena smiled as she thought about her gift to Gabrielle…a new scroll case with Xena's signet on it, over Gabrielle's quill and scroll that she liked to use as her own mark. She also got a few other tidbits but the scroll case came in handy since the other was falling apart.


"Gabrielle…" Xena glanced at the hands that stilled over their juicy dismembering of fruit seeds and pulp. So…she expected me to ask. "Why didn't you ask me?"

Gabrielle looked up from her dripping and sticky hands with a sigh. Her eyes fastened on Xena's, worried. She cleared her throat for a moment then put the knife and fruit down on the table.

"So…why not start at the beginning." Xena leaned back on the wall against which the bed was against and patted a space next to her.

Gabrielle brightened. She usually found more courage curled up against her friend for things like this than way over in another corner with her fingers dripping with…

Gabrielle dropped the knife and licked her fingers. She found a bowl and rinsed her hands, dried them then brought the bowl she had some of the cut fruit in over to the bed. She had other plans for the fruit…but…adapt. That's what she learned with Xena.


Gabrielle snuggled up against the tall warrior and extended her shorter legs next to the long tanned ones on the covers. She absentmindedly offered Xena the bowl, but dark haired woman merely smiled and shook her head. The curl of the tall woman's lips into a sensuous smirk reminded her that she usually couldn't hide things from Xena. Xena knew what the fruit was for. However, this story may take a long time.

Gabrielle nodded, and put the bowl on the other side of her, laying her left hand on Xena's thigh. For a moment Gabrielle reflected that the muscle that lay warmly under her palm reflected the image she had of Xena, strong and warm…to her anyway. She smirked and sighed at her wandering mind. She didn't really know how to explain. It was all so clear now. Her fingers idly drew circles on the tanned leg, noting that the hairs on her legs where not like hers, but more fine. A muscle twitch under her hand told her she had an attentive audience, and that audience of one was getting impatient.


"Remember I told you I had a dream where Artemis gave me this box with something in it and I had to deliver it somewhere?

"Hmmm." Xena didn't believe in adding any words that may side track her easily distracted Bard when it came to telling a difficult story. They had already figured out the dream was a precursor to when Artemis did appear to her, and gave her the box that held the fan to be delivered to Crometh.

"Well…" Gabrielle was hopping Xena would say more. "I didn't remember all the dreams …then…it was later…when I was touching the swirls on the walls." Gabrielle was silent for a moment, remembering that as she touched each one, images from various life-lines flashed by her so fast that she experienced many life times in moments. Some were more disturbing than others, but she always felt Xena was there, as a child, a mentor, a husband, a wife, a friend, and in one, her enemy. She wondered how that lifeline ran for she was sure they would not be enemies for long.

"I knew that you would be the one that held everything together but….it was part of the ritual, the mystery, that the Champion of the Holder, take up the role willingly. I knew if I asked, you would do it. I had to let you decide without my influence."

Xena could feel that was the end of what she had to tell her. There was a slight exhale, and her body was tense, as she waited for her response.

"But you did ask me to go through the maze."

"Yea. Well…that was okay. You see, it was a test to see if you were…ready. If you had…not come out as you did, then the next step, you returning to the labyrinth, would not have happened. You would not have been able to walk up the steps to Temple."

"Did you?"

"No. But I wasn't the Champion. I was the Vessel."

"So…this whole visit to Crometh…was for me…"

Gabrielle quickly reached up and pulled Xena's face so that they both had direct eye contact. "Xena, it was for both of us. Just as I wouldn't have been able to do it without you, you would not have been able to do it without me. I don't pretend to understand how that works…it's like adding water to a river."


An eyebrow quirked upward. "I hate to ask…but what does adding water to a river have to do with this?"

Gabrielle smiled, aahhh, story foulder.

Xena caught the smile that lifted each corner of her Bard's mouth, and lit up her green malachite eyes. Part of her was patting herself on the back for turning a tense Bard into a happy Bard.

"Well, let's take the River Styx, for example….looking at it, it looks insignificant, compared to Crathis, where it flows from and into the Gulf of Corinth. But to the people that live along it, or have to travel over it, it can be either a life saver or a life taker."

Xena pursed her lips, wondering where this was leading to. All of Gabrielle's stories seemed to eventually get to the point…


"So…you think adding more water to the Styx will reduce the black cloud of blood sucking bugs or the stink the town from up river is dumping into it."

Gabrielle laughed. "Well, that's an idea. More water flowing through there would move the trash the town above them dumped, and…" An image of another life line gave her an idea of what this would create. "Ah. Not a good idea. That would be dumping in someone else's' backyard."


"What?" It brought back to Xena a life line they shared in fighting powerful indifferent groups that dumped their trash that caused death to the area they dumped it in. But she didn't think this was leading in the right direction. She tried to remember what this was all about.

"Well, I understand it all, now. You didn't tell me because I had to make the choice myself, like deciding whether or not to drink from the Styx, or travel in it." Xena concluded.

"Xena." Gabrielle paused, not sure what happened to her story. "Xena, the river barely moves, that's why it goes to the nether world."


"I know. I've traveled it a few times." Xena looked into the green eyes that widened then darkened as she realized what Xena had meant.

Gabrielle shook her head smiling. "Xena, you do pretty good with understatements …pun intended."

"Okay. So, the river represents movement, but not where some can see."

"Right. Potina Ge said that still waters run deep. I understood exactly what she meant…then a day later…or when I was back to myself here, I couldn't understand it. But when I mentioned the River Styx just now, I understood. Not all appears to be what it seems. You say that a lot. And with the Styx, so much goes on underneath. The shamans use the River to get to their dream place. Hades uses it to move souls here and there…except Artemis. Amazons, going to the Land of the Dead, don't use the River. Did you know that Xena? Of course you do. You've been there too."


Gabrielle looked at her hands for a moment.

"What's bothering you." Xena asked. And what does all this have to do with the original question? You've already answered it.


Gabrielle sighed. Xena, I had lost you. So many times…I thought…loving you again and again would be so painful. I was glad each time we shared a life…that I didn't remember the pain from any of the other lifelines. I would never have been able to…go on…to love anybody for that matter."

Xena reached toward Gabrielle and pulled her closer to her. She kissed the top of her head and remembered in one lifeline, she did remember and tried to keep Gabrielle at bay, to save them both the pain, but…Gabrielle's persistence won out.


"Let's forget the other lifelines we saw and deal with one at a time, this one. I can honestly say…that regardless of the pain we go through now…it would be a whole lot more unbearable if I had to walk it alone. Relationships are painful, but take it from me, the love of one person can make those small moments…something like growing pains."


"Xena…it's not…"

Xena held up her hand. "There are some people that are willing to stay in a relationship, no matter how brutal the other person is to them, because of the loneliness they are afraid to face."

"You're not like that, Xena."

"But I was."

"You changed yourself. You made the effort to change."


"And occasionally I regress."

"Xena. Only once was I really scared…that you would…that you did hurt me…"

"What makes you certain…that something in the future doesn't make me that way again?"

"In another lifeline? We already know what the next one will be about."

"No. In this one."


Gabrielle looked up at the face of a person she felt she knew…intimately…and even deeper.

"Xena, that behavior is not something you are as easily…no capable, of being over whelmed with. Even when you touch that dark part of yourself to overcome a foe that seems to be far worse than the previous, you know who you are. The difference is…you are present."

Xena shifted her position. She was right. When she fought now, there was no closing out a part of herself and just letting the rage run its course. Now, it was like sitting on a wild horse and guiding it, being aware of where she wanted it to go. Even before she mounted the wild horse, she knew where she was going to take it…and if a new direction was needed, knew instinctively where to guide it. She was present…and sickened by the violence it took to stop violence. It made more sense to try Gabrielle's way…a peaceful settlement, before trying a more forceful approach. But, even her forceful approaches were pretty creative and less violent. She smiled, looking down at the hand that was intertwined with hers.


They had many lifelines together. There were many adventures, a lot of tiresome repetitions of what they were now going through, but with different perspectives. But in some lives, they reaped the benefits and actually led peaceful lives together. As if getting a reward or taking a break, for most of their lifelines seemed to be fighting the dark side of human nature.


"So, do you fear going on?" Xena asked, remembering why Penthesieia did not move to the Land of the Dead.

"In a way. There are some pretty scary things a head of us."

"But…we're together…and we share a lot of happiness."

"Yea." Gabrielle sighed. "Xena, I wish I didn't remember some of these lifelines."

"Hmmm. You're forgetting you are looking at lives with your eyes of Gabrielle, the Bard, the Amazon Queen. In those other lives, we grew up and understood what was going on. We weren't frightened for ourselves in those lifelines. We were frightened for others and what they were doing to themselves, the world they lived in."


"So…don't worry about what I can't understand?"


"Yea. We gotta enough to worry about in this lifeline."

"Hmm. Like Caesar."

"Well…he's one. There are a lot of others, wanna-be-warlords, wandering bands of cut-throat thieves, and slave traders, just to name a few."

Gabrielle shivered and was grateful for the strong arms that pulled her even closer.


Does this mean, you're going to forgive yourself?

Xena knew where that voice came from. Mnemoynse. Xena hugged Gabrielle to her, breathing in her gentleness and her wisdom that belied her age.

I…don't know if I can. She replied.

"I think, we got a good job in this life. You know Xena?" She turned to look up at the thoughtful face of her partner and soul mate.

"What job is that? Keeping people entertained with your stories."


"Well ya. You give me story folder and I whip up a bit of good news. The bad guy bites the dust again."

Xena laughed. "Not always, Gabrielle. The bad guy, as you refer to them, get away to…"

"To decide if they want to take that second chance they have on their lives and do something about it…or waste the chance and continue down a losing path."

"Oh, Gabrielle, what a just cause, you've got me believing in. Goodness over bad boys, their accessories, and the bad girls that think it’s the way." Xena told her tongue in cheek.


"Xena, don't you believe in yourself? In what you're doing?"


"Gabrielle. I just do it. When I think about it…then I wonder if it's going to undo what I had done. So…you've got my cause listed. What's yours?"

"Mine, I have to admit…is a greater cause. It's helping you see that you don't have to hate yourself, that you can forgive yourself."


Xena looked down at the green solemn eyes. "You'll have plenty of lifetimes to change my feelings in that regard, but, I don't think it will happen in this life Gabrielle. Maybe you need to search for a greater cause, then…me."

Much to Xena's startlement, Gabrielle snorted. "You have got to be kidding! You are where the action is, the heart of a story, my cause for going on in this world whose meaning sometimes eludes me. For me, there is no greater cause, my love, than you. You will just have to face it…you're stuck with this chatty Bard."

Xena leaned down and kissed the smiling lips.



Chapter 1-3 4-6 7-9 10-12 13-15 16-17 : PART I 

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