Of Love and Hate
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Characters Xena, Gabrielle, Argo etc. are the legal property of MCA/UNIVERSAL Studios and are used in this story without their approval. No profit is tended to gain with the publication of this story.
VIOLENCE DISCLAIMER: There is some violence involved in this story.
SEXUAL DISCLAIMER: There is love between two adult consenting women. If this offends you or you are under 18, stop reading.
Constructive criticism is always welcome and can be sent to email@example.com
The sun had already gone long past its peak on the cloudless sky, when Xena and Gabrielle arrived to Aleknos. The small, drowsy village was located along the river that flowed through the Amazon territory, being the nearest settlement outside their borders.
The dark haired warrior looked down at her blond companion and could see the fatigue on her face. They had been traveling most of the day, only having a couple of short breaks to rest Argo and grab a bite to eat. Although the bard had not made a single complaint, Xena figured that her legs had to be aching like Tartarus.
"Boy, am I in for a hot bath, a good meal and a cozy bed!" Gabrielle sighed as she leaned forward taking support from her staff.
"That goes double for me. We'll spent the night in here," Xena replied. "If we leave at dawn, we should reach the Amazon village by tomorrow afternoon."
Gabrielle nodded. It had been almost four moons since they had last visited the village she now called home. She was eager to meet her Amazon sisters, but she knew that if she would take another step, she would collapse.
"You know, of course, that if you had ridden with me, we would have already reached the Amazon village by now," Xena said in somewhat sarcastic tone.
"The way you ride, we would still be looking for my stomach somewhere on the road."
The warrior grinned at the bard's remark. Gabrielle sure didn't feel very comfortable, when she was on horseback. Only, if the situation insisted them to move quickly, would she sit behind her on Argo. When that occurred, Xena enjoyed the feeling of bard's hands on her waist.
During the time she had been travelling with Gabrielle, she had become very fond of the blond bard. Gabrielle had saved her in many ways and as numerous were the ways she loved her savior.
Gabrielle turned to look at her friend, still mounted on the white mare. I could rest my eyes for days on that sight, she thought, when she gazed the dark haired woman sitting proudly on the saddle. Her love for the warrior princess had become deeper and deeper, and she could not bear one moment being apart from her.
"Why don't you go get us a room at the inn and I'll go and take Argo to stables," Xena said as she dismounted.
Gabrielle arched her back and started to walk towards the inn. "Okay. I'll be expecting special treatment from you, when the bath is ready," she winked at the warrior.
"As long as you return the favor. I feel like I'm bearing all the dust from here to Athens." Xena smiled at the thought of the shared bath as she headed for the stables with Argo.
From a distance, a pair of observing eyes followed the two women leaving in separate directions. Those must be them. Gotta go and tell the boss, Lycos thought, when he turned around and headed for the woods.
Lycos looked more like a rat than a man with his furtively around glancing eyes and his outward sticking teeth. He had been expecting the women to arrive today or tomorrow. His master had observers all over the country so preparations had been started, when a message of the women heading this way, had been received.
He arrived to a small camp. Ten grungy tents rounded up in a circle, plus a larger one in the middle. There were about forty soldiers wandering around the camp or sitting by the campfire.
Lycos headed straight for the large tent. "Boss inside? Got news," he asked the mean looking guard standing by the entrance.
"Suppose he'll see you," the guard grunted. Every time he saw the "Ratman" he felt like squashing him to the ground. Wonder, why boss puts up with him?
"Master? I have news for you," Lycos said in a squeaky voice as he stepped inside.
The tent looked more comfortable from the inside than the outside. It had been separated in two rooms with veils. A dark figure appeared behind the veils and Lycos started one step back.
"This has better to be good," the figure said in a cold voice.
"It is, it is! Xena and Gabrielle just arrived in the village."
"Excellent! You and the men know what to do. Commence!"
"Right away, master!" Lycos turned around and left his master alone.
Soon, Gabrielle. Soon you will be mine, he thought with an evil grin.
The hot bath had already been prepared, when Xena arrived from the stables.
"Looks like my timing was perfect." The dark warrior looked at the steaming tub.
"Look at size of this tub!" Gabrielle said with an enthusiastic voice, then with raspier tone, "Care to join me?"
"How could I resist such an offer." Xena placed a gentle kiss on the bard's lips.
"Pheeeeyyii! You gotta hold those back for a while. You smell like you've been sitting on a pile of manure." The bard waved her hand in front of her nose.
"Well, you don't exactly smell like lavender, either," Xena shot back.
"Touché! I guess it's time we do something about that, then."
Both women got undressed and slipped in the steamy water. Gabrielle let out a long sigh as her muscles felt the warm sensation of the hot water.
"Let me start with your back," Xena said as she took the cloth and started to caress the smaller woman's back with gentle strokes.
Xena thought about her relationship to the blond bard sitting front of her. After they had returned from Illusia, things had started to develop on their own. Mutual forgiveness, devotion and - finally - love. As they realized what was happening between them, they also realized that it had always been like that. It just felt so natural.
The first time they made love together, had been gentle, yet so passionate, full of emotion. Afterwards, they had just lied still, holding each other. When Xena thought of that, a warm sensation went through her body.
"Have I told you lately, that I love you?" The dark woman said as she moved the wet cloth in circular motion on the bard's shoulder.
"Now, let me think about that. It must be at least three or four hours," Gabrielle replied with a gentle smile.
"Huh, that long? What have I been thinking?" Xena grinned as she moved the cloth on Gabrielle's chest and watched the water dripping around her slightly hardened nipple.
Gabrielle arched her head backwards and moved her hands on the warrior's hips. She felt the tremble in Xena's body as she kissed the tall woman. "I love you too, my bold warrior," Gabrielle said the words right in to Xena's mouth.
The passionate lovemaking had spilled nearly all the water out of the tub. Luckily, there were a couple of full buckets left, so that they could finish washing up.
"It will be a sunny day at Tartarus, before I'm going clean that mess up," Xena referred to spilled water on the floor as she fastened her chest plate.
"Hey, it's not my fault that you can't hold your water while you're bathing," Gabrielle replied with a smirk on her face.
"Well, at least I wasn't the one splashing the water around with her feet."
"That's nothing compared with all the jumping, you did." Gabrielle threw a wet towel at Xena, which she easily avoided. "Besides, why are we arguing about this, when the innkeeper can do the cleaning while we're eating downstairs."
"I was thinking, we could order something up here," Xena said as she lifted the towel from the floor.
"I'd rather eat downstairs, where there are people. I want to hear the crowd around me. It has been over a quarter moon since we have seen some signs of civilization."
"That may not be a good idea. Knowing my reputation, some idiot might want to challenge me and you might " Xena stopped when she realized she had said too much.
"Get hurt? Is that what you were going to say?" Gabrielle said with a provoked tone.
"There is always the possibility. You know I can't protect you while I'm in a middle of fight."
"I can take care of my self, you know," Gabrielle said.
Xena looked at her. She knew that the bard was a bit edgy after the long travel in addition to that they had not had a decent meal since yesterday. Gabrielle needed to have people around her and, honestly speaking, a couple of mugs of strong port downstairs did not sound too bad to her, either.
"Okay, I guess we both deserve a little change on the daily routines." The warrior grinned.
"I hope they have some nut bread," the Bard said when they exited their room.
They both enjoyed the good meal they ate, and the innkeeper had even managed to find some nut bread. Gabrielle's face had lit up when she had the bread served in front of her. Yet she was rather quiet than her talkative self, Xena thought. Well, she probably was tired from the walking.
Gabrielle chewed her bread and looked at the observing warrior. I'm a bit snappy today. Xena only means well. Guess it must be that time of the month, huh. Let's see if I could talk Xena into giving me one of her world famous backrubs.
Xena noticed the bard's cheek tops lifting a bit as she continued observing the dining room. The dim room had eight round tables and a long desk by the kitchen entry. There were about thirty men sitting at the tables. There were hardly any peasants. Almost all looked like soldiers. Funny, there wasn't any forts or barracks nearby, she thought. Well, they were probably on their way to some battle somewhere.
She was about take another swag from her port, when she saw few soldiers approaching their table.
"You Xena?" One of the soldiers said in a rude tone.
"And what if I am?" Xena's blue eyes narrowed and her muscles tensed a bit.
"Then we have a score to settle. You killed my brother!"
"From the way you look, I think he had it coming. And where have I supposed to kill this brother of yours?"
"He rode in Draco's gang."
"Then he certainly had it coming to him. Only an idiot would join Draco and his merry men." Xena smirked coldly as watched the reaction on the soldier's face.
"Why, you nosy bitch!" The soldier drew his sword as Xena stood up and kicked the table at him.
"Now, that's not a way to talk to a lady," Xena said as she drew her own sword. She saw Gabrielle picking up her staff and moving a little left from her giving them room to fight.
More soldiers had stood up and started to come towards them. Xena blocked the first slash of a sword with her own and punched her elbow at the nearest attacker's jaw. She needed more room to fight, so she somersaulted over the bunch of soldiers, her war cry echoing around the room.
She landed on a surprised soldier, bringing him down on the floor. As the soldiers turned around, Xena grabbed her chakram and threw it at them. It took down three men as it bounced from the opposite wall, back to its owner.
The dark haired warrior felt the lust for battle beginning to rise as her every sense became sharper and she confronted the mob. She took a glance toward Gabrielle, who had managed to take down two of the men with her staff.
She stabbed the next man below the ribs and could see the light fade in his eyes. While she was fighting, she thought about their next move. At the first change, they would fetch Argo from the stables and make a run for the Amazon village. There they would be safe. They would get their personal belongings later, when the situation had cooled down.
She took another soldier down and noticed that the others were retreating. The brawl settled down as quickly as it has begun. Only dust, smashed furniture and few bodies reminded about the recent fight.
"Gabrielle! We have to get some distance between this place and us!" Xena looked around the dining room and realized that the bard was gone. "Gabrielle?" She tried to find sign of her beloved bard. "Gabrielle! Where are you?" Then she saw the wooden staff near the desk. She went to the staff and picked it up.
The innkeeper was still hiding behind the desk, when Xena came to him and pulled him up. "Is there another exit than the front door?" She asked the pale man.
"T-through the kitchen."
She ran through the kitchen to the back entrance. Pale moonlight hit her face as she stepped on the empty alley behind the inn. "GABRIELLEE!" She shrieked at the moon.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! Gabrielle thought, when she was held tied on a horseback. She had wanted to show Xena that she could manage her own fights. At first she had managed to take down a few of them. Then she realized that the most of the soldiers were concentrating on her, instead of Xena. The rest were just keeping the dark haired warrior busy. She had tried to yell for help, but she had received a hard knock on the head and had fallen unconscious, only to wake up lying on a galloping horse.
Well, at least she was alive. Xena would start looking for her when she realized that she was gone.
They had been riding for a few moments, when they arrived to an opening and Gabrielle saw the tents. The horse stopped in front of the main tent and the bard was pulled down from the horse. She was escorted inside the tent. A dark figure was standing by a small table.
"I'm so glad, you could join us, my dear." Terror hit Gabrielle's mind as she recognized the man facing her.
"Dahak," she spat the name. She had never seen the evil spirit in a human form before, but in her heart she knew it was he.
"My, my. I get the impression, you are not so delighted to see me."
"The day I see your face, is a day too soon." Gabrielle shuddered as Dahak touched her chin with his fingers. "What do you want with me?" She asked.
"I'm going to wreak havoc with the known world and you, my dear, are going to help me to achieve my goals."
"You must be mad!" The words came out, before she could even think about it. "What in the name of Hades gave you the idea that I would help you? Besides I'm quite far from your average bloodthirsty menace. "
"The reason, I chose you, is that you are going to be my tool, when I get my revenge on Xena."
Gabrielle laughed, "That's even more absurd! I would never do anything to hurt Xena."
"Well then just have to do something about that, don't we?" Dahak said as he pulled out a golden medallion with a bright ruby on the center.
Gabrielle looked at the gem, when she realized that she was starting to feel dizzy. She tried to turn her look away but she could not resist anymore. As everything turned to red she could hear Dahak's evil voice in the back of her head, "I will awaken your dark side, your darkest desires, your bloodlust. I will turn your love to hate. You will become the ultimate destroyer..."
Lycos watched his master releasing his powers and backed away at the horror.
Xena was getting desperate. She had spent half the night looking for Gabrielle without finding her. She had given the third degree to innkeeper. The terrified man had explained that he had not seen the soldiers before and that he knew nothing about her friend. She was sitting at the dining room table and thinking about her options.
She could ride to the Amazon village to get help, but that would take too long. She had to start looking for her right away. On the other hand, she needed help and the Amazons were the only ones she could trust. She had to get a word to Ephiny, but how. Then she came up with an idea.
She went to Argo and stuck a knife with a message to Ephiny on the saddle. Then she talked to Argo, "Listen, girl. I want you to go to the Amazons. You got that? I have to go and find Gabrielle." As a sign of understanding, the mare nodded her muzzle. Xena patted the mare on the back and send her away. She watched the horse to gallop towards the road that headed to the Amazon territory.
Xena returned to the inn. Argo would reach the Amazon perimeters at dawn and the Amazons would be here before midday. She had plenty of time to find out where Gabrielle was kept.
She saw a small, furtively around glancing man enter the inn. He looked more like a rat than a man to Xena's eyes. He turned towards the table where she was sitting and came to her.
"You want to find your friend?" The man said with a squeaky voice.
"You know where she is? Take me to her!" The warrior stood up to her full height.
"Not so fast! What's in it for me?"
"Maybe I let you live," Xena said as she lifted the small man against the wall.
"Okay, okay! I'll take you to her!" Lycos said in a scary tone. Why did I have to do this? Boss could have sent someone else to deliver the message to this maniac woman. "Follow me," he said after Xena had lowered him down.
They headed for the outskirts of the village. The first signs of dawn began to appear on the eastern horizon as they climbed on a riverside hill. Xena noticed that the hillside that ended to the river was very steep. When they reached the peak, she could see the river streaming over thirty feet straight below them. She also noticed that the peak was quite flat and she became cautious, because this was the perfect place to set up an ambush.
"Okay, where's Gabrielle?" She asked only to see that her guide had vanished.
Suddenly she heard the sound of a closing arrow and duck. The arrow hit the nearby tree. The next moment, she was on her feet with the sword in her hand. She saw a woman warrior dressed in black leathers, wearing a masked helmet and holding a bow. The masked warrior dropped her bow and drew her sword.
Xena grinned coldly as she went in a circular motion with the approaching woman. "You know, it takes more than one to ambush me," she said to her masked opponent.
"Yes, I think it's easier to fight, when you can focus your thoughts on the fight, instead of protecting your friends. Don't you think so too?" The woman replied with a dark voice.
That remark almost cost Xena her life, when she got mentally off balance and blocked her opponent's sword at the last moment. Boy, she's good, she thought as she jumped away.
"On the other hand, it's a kind of sad to think that you're not needed. You don't feel yourself so important now, do you?" The woman continued as she approached to strike again.
Xena avoided that attack easily and managed to make a counterattack, without success. She sure has a way with words. The masked woman reminded her of Callisto, whose tongue was as sharp as her sword but this wasn't her. Callisto was almost as tall as Xena but this woman came only up to Xena's chin. Her figures and movements were more like.. But she can't handle the sword that good, can she?
On her next strike, the masked woman managed to cut Xena's arm. The wound was not serious, but it gave the woman the upper hand. "You're losing your touch. Have the years protecting the innocent made you soft? It's about time that someone puts you out of business."
Who is she? The woman warrior seemed to know her very well, the way she fought. On the other hand, Xena had no recall of confronting her before, although she felt very familiar. Get a grip, Xe. She's playing with your mind. She tossed her chakram at the woman standing by the edge. The golden disc bounced back from the woman's helmet, leaving her shaking her head.
In a blink of an eye Xena was next to her. "No more games! Let's see what's behind that mask of yours," she said, pulling the helmet and the mask off.
Xena had suspected the truth, when the fight had gone on, but she still could not help being shocked, when she saw the warrior's face.
Xena had not yet recovered from her shock, when she felt Gabrielle's sword penetrating her body. She could only see her lover's normally emerald green eyes gloving red. "Gabrielle?" She said again in disbelief, when the blond woman pulled her sword off between Xena's ribs and pushed her over the edge, into the dark stream.
Gabrielle stood there for a while, watching Xena's lifeless body floating away. Then she picked up Xena's sword and chakram, which were still lying on the ground. She looked at the round object and started laughing. She walked away from the battlefield, the evil laughter still echoing from the rocks.
Sun's first rays caught the group of six Amazons riding on the road to Aleknos. Eponin thought about the last few hours that had passed. It had been just before the dawn, when the scouts had seen the lonely horse galloping towards their village. Only when they had managed to catch the pale mare and read the message, things started to happen. Ephiny had given instructions to Eponin and half an hour later she had rode towards Aleknos with Solari and four other Amazons, Argo following them at the end of a leash.
The thought of her queen in danger was almost overwhelming to Eponin, when rode along the others. Oh, Xena. I hope that you have already found her and that she is all right.
Eponin was pulled away from her thoughts when she saw that Argo had run away from her escort and headed for the river. She and Solari rode after her. They gained Argo standing at the riverbank next to a body lying on the ground.
"Gods, it's Xena!" Solari cried out as she knelt to the woman next to her.
"How is she?" Eponin asked her.
"Alive, barely. Looks like she has lost a lot of blood."
"We have no choice. We have to get her back to the village."
"What about Gabrielle?"
"Gabrielle would never forgive us, if we had let Xena die on our hands."
"But every moment we spend lessens the chances of finding Gabrielle."
"You're right and that's why we are splitting up. Alysa and I will take Xena to our village and you will continue with the rest of the girls to Aleknos.
The four women took off as Eponin and Alysa prepared stretchers for Xena and begun the journey back to Amazon village.
Dahak watched the blond warrior practicing in the field. Everything was going according to his plans. He had absolute power over Gabrielle, Xena was dead and there was nothing in his way to stop him from spreading terror all over the known world. Even if Xena would have managed to kill Gabrielle, the knowledge that she had killed her lover, would have reverted her back to the destroyer of nations, she was.
Gabrielle would go to the Amazons and, as their rightful queen and ruler, ask them to join her in her conquest and if they would resist, they would be killed.
Gabrielle had finished practicing and approached Dahak.
"What are you thinking about, Dahak?"
"About, how sweet life can sometimes be," he said and pulled the blond warrior into his embrace.
Ephiny had waited inside the healer's cabin for twelve hours now. She was frustrated and angry. She knew that there was nothing she could do for now, but wait and that made her even more angry. Eponin had stopped by to bring her some food, but she had told her to stick her food in where the sun won't shine. Eponin was offended at first, but then she realized what the acting queen was going through right now. So she just left the tray on the table and left.
"Ephiny? Xena is awake. She wants to see you," the village healer said as she stepped out of the room.
Ephiny stood up and went to her friend. The dark haired woman looked pale and weak. She smiled as the Amazon sat down next to her bed. Ephiny could not hide her shock, when she looked at Xena's eyes. The bright blue color had faded into pale gray.
"That bad, huh?" Xena said in a silent voice, when she saw the expression on her friend's face.
"Xena, who did this to you? Where is Gabrielle?"
The warrior closed her eyes before she answered, "Gabrielle did." Her voice faded into thin air.
She opened her eyes again to see the shock and disbelief facing her. "That was my first reaction too." Xena stopped to catch her breath. "She was not her self, when "
"What do you mean she wasn't herself?" Ephiny asked still trying to digest, what she had just heard.
"Think she " The warrior gasped. "Under a spell or... some... thing."
Ephiny could not bear to watch the pain on her friend's face when she continued, "I trust you not... to... tell... the... others... yet." Xena started to cough and the healer came in and pushed Ephiny outside the room.
"She needs to rest. It's a miracle that she is still alive."
Ephiny thought about Xena's last words when she stepped outside the healer's cabin. Why did she want to keep it a secret that it had been Gabrielle, who had attacked her. Then she understood. The Amazons were very fond of their queen and would take Gabrielle's side on the matter. On the other hand, Gabrielle, being quite an expert with her staff, couldn't possibly have got Xena into that condition. Even if she could, the bard loved the warrior too much to hurt her. Unless- she wasn't herself.
Well, she had some information. What would she do with it? If Gabrielle was under a spell, who was behind it? Where was Gabrielle right now? How could they bring her back to normal? There were too many questions, but no answers. Only thing, she could do now, was to ask Eponin to go to Aleknos and get in contact with Solari.
She found Eponin at the training grounds.
"Eponin, I'm sorry that I snapped at you back at the healer's. I didn't mean.." Ephiny started.
"That's okay. I know that you were under a lot of stress."
"Well, here's what I want you to do. You have to get to Aleknos as soon as possible and find Solari and the others. Try to locate Gabrielle, but do not, I repeat, do not let her find about your presence. As soon as you find her, sent me a message and wait for further instructions."
Eponin was a little puzzled about Ephiny's request, but she nodded. "I'll be on my way as soon as I get my horse ready."
"Remember, Gabrielle must not know. You'll understand, when you find her."
Dahak looked at the blond woman lying next to him on the bed. Ahh, vengeance is sweet, he thought. Being in this body had its advantages. He stood up and walked to the entrance. A couple of more days, and Gabrielle would be ready to implement his plans.
Xena was already on her feet, when Ephiny went to see her. She was still a bit pale, but Ephiny could see the shade of icy blue in the warrior's eyes.
"Shouldn't you be resting?" The Amazon asked her.
"She keeps telling me the same thing." Xena nodded towards the healer. "But I can't lie still on a situation like this."
"Well, I've done some arrangements while you were sleeping. I have Eponin and Solari trying to locate Gabrielle. Don't worry, they are not to make contact with her," Ephiny said, when she saw the expression on Xena's face. "They will sent a word to us, when they find her."
Xena sat on her bed, when Ephiny asked her, "How did you find out that Gabrielle wasn't herself?"
"You know that Gabrielle has never been good with the sword. Now she handled it like she had born with it. She beat me with my breeches down." Xena took a sip of water as she continued, "Then her eyes were all red. I could not see one shade of the green in them. That's why I suspect she is under a spell." She covered her face with her hands. "Finally, the Gabrielle, I know and love, would rather die than hurt anyone consciously." The tears ran down on her arms as she sobbed the last words.
"Do you have any idea, who could be behind all this, Ares?"
"That's what I thought at first, but Ares wouldn't dare to touch Artemis' protégéé. Suppose, we'll find out soon enough."
"How are we going to break the spell?"
"I haven't got a slightest idea. As soon as we'll find Gabrielle and the villain pulling her strings, we'll find a solution to that."
Eponin and Solari sat on a tree, looking down at the camp and the blond warrior training at the field.
"It's Gabrielle, all right. Although I've never seen her like that," Eponin noted.
"Well, now I understand, why Ephiny insisted us on hiding our presence from her. That is not the Gabrielle I know."
"Go and send one of the girls to deliver a message to Ephiny. I will keep watching."
"Don't I always." Both of the women grinned.
It was late noon, when Ephiny got the word from Solari. She headed for the queen's hut, where Xena had been transferred.
"They have found her. She's at a camp, not far from Aleknos," Ephiny said as she found the dark warrior, already wearing her leathers and armor.
"Then, what are we waiting for? Let's go!" She stood up and staggered a bit.
"Not so fast, Xena! You are in no condition to go against her and that army!"
"I'm going to tell you this once." Xena looked at Ephiny, with a new firmness in her being. "Nothing, but nothing is going to keep me away from her." She walked towards the door.
"Who would argue with that?" Ephiny said as she followed her.
"Listen, I'm going to need a sword. I left my sword and my chakram at the hill."
"I think, we'll find something to fit your taste."
Lycos entered the inn on that evening. He looked around and saw that there was quite a crowd tonight. He headed for the empty bar stool at the desk.
"Gimme a port!" He addressed the innkeeper.
As he took a sip of his drink he saw two women approaching him. Amazons, from the looks of them, he thought.
"You ladies looking for some pleasure tonight?" He asked with a harsh manner.
"Some sort of pleasure," one of the amazons answered. "We have a friend, who would like to have a little chat with you."
Lycos didn't like the tone of the woman and tried to flee, but strong hands took him in tight grab.
"What's the rush, sugar? I thought you wanted to have some fun," Solari said as she placed a dagger against the little man's ribs.
Lycos had never considered himself very brave man and now he felt the cold sweat on his back.
They left the inn and walked towards the forest. They arrived to a small opening, where a campfire was burning. There were more women sitting around the fire and when he recognized one of them, his legs went numb.
"We have some unfinished business, you and I," Xena said to the rat looking man.
"Please don't hurt me! I know nothing!" Squeaky voice said between the two Amazons.
"I will be the judge of that." Xena approached him and pinched him on both shoulders. "I've cut the circulation to your brains. You'll die in thirty -- no, let's make that twenty seconds to man of your size.
Lycos thought about that as he felt his body to stop functioning and lost the remnants of his courage. "Noo! I'll tell you anything you want to know! Just don't kill me!"
Xena released the man's circulation. As the feeling returned, Lycos noticed that his pants were soaked from his own urine. The women around him laughed.
"Okay, start talking!" Xena said with a frozen tone.
"My master will kill me for telling you this," Lycos tried to look for sympathy.
"Trust me, it will be a walk at the Elysian fields compared to what I will do with you, if you don't give me the information I need."
"Okay, okay, what do you want to know?" Lycos said with broken tone.
"Who is behind all this?"
Xena's eyes went narrower as she heard the name. "Figures. What has he done to Gabrielle?"
"I don't know." Lycos' face froze as he saw the dark warrior approach him again. "I don't know! Really! I don't know which kind of powers he has."
"You must know something of what he did to her." Xena kept closing him.
"All I know, is that master hold some kind of a medallion in front of her and talked something about awakening her dark side and turning her love into hate. I couldn't bear to watch it longer, I swear!"
"All right. I want you to do a little favor for me. I want you to go to tell Gabrielle, that I want a rematch. I want her to come on that same hill, where we fought before, alone. And not a single hint to Dahak, or you'll hope that you had never been born."
Lycos trembled on his feet and ran off.
"Why did you let him go? He might tell everything to Dahak," Ephiny protested.
"That's the chance, we have to take. I have to get close to Gabrielle without interference. The thing he said about turning Gabrielle's love into hate gave me an idea. It's a long shot, but I have to try it."
"But you couldn't possibly survive a battle against her in that condition."
"That's the other chance, I have to take. That's why I want you to stay close and if something happens to me or her, then use your judgement and do whatever you think is best."
Ephiny had to do everything in her power to prevent the tears from falling. She understood the true meaning of Xena's last words. She may have to kill her, or Gabrielle.
Xena stood alone on the flat hill peak and felt the cool wind against her. It made her shiver. She could feel the pain through the medication in her rib and she could feel the pain in her heart.
"Why can't you be a good lass and die, Xena?" Gabrielle appeared from the woods, not wearing her helmet this time. The red gleam was still there in her eyes.
"Like I told you, it takes more than one to ambush me and you're not even close," Xena answered with an evil grin.
Gabrielle took Xena's chakram and tossed it at her in fury. "I'm the best you'll ever see!"
"Sure, I was a bit surprised at first, but now, anything you do, won't surprise me." Xena took the chakram in her grip and tied it back on her belt. "I don't know, why do I bother to put up with you. You're a spoiled little brat, who can't even take care of herself." Every word she said to the crazed bard slashed her heart deep but this was the only way. Oh, I wish I didn't have to do this.
"Shut up, you bitch, or I will make you to shut up!" Gabrielle shrieked as she drew her sword and attempted her first strike, which Xena easily avoided.
"Now, that's pathetic. Did you ever really think, you could beat me?"
"You never gave me a chance to show what I'm worth!"
"No, I didn't because you just don't have it in you." The conversation was proceeding just as Xena had hoped for.
"You always have to be the knight in a shining armor! You can't tolerate the glory being taken away from you!" Gabrielle moved to another attack against Xena.
The fight continued for a while. The warrior kept taunting the bard as she blocked every strike, the honey haired woman attempted. The amazons followed the two women exchanging insults from a distance. The others made some remarks about the fight but Ephiny was quiet. Xena obviously had the upper hand but Ephiny could tell that the warrior was holding back and her plan seemed to have no other effect than making the bard even madder.
The bard's moves became sloppier by the minute and Xena realized that it was time to make her move. She blocked her attack and forced her to drop her sword. She put her own sword back in the scabbard and faced the blond woman. "Did you really think that I would forgive you for being responsible for my son's death? I offered you the easy way out by taking the poison, but you didn't have the guts to do even that. You're a wimp. You always have been and you always will." Her heart twisted as she said the words. I'm going to stuff each and every one of these words down your throat, Dahak!
Gabrielle stopped for a moment and jumped to Xena, punching her chest plate with her fists. "YOUU! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you.." Her voice faded as her rage settled. Xena looked into her lover's eyes and could again see the shade of emerald in them.
"Xena?" The name was formed in the bard's lips.
"Shh, it's all right now. Everything is okay." Xena hold Gabrielle in a gentle embrace.
"What has happened to me? Why am I wearing this costume?" The bard asked confused.
"Don't you remember, love? Try to remember, it's very important." Xena hated to bring this up so soon, but time was of the essence.
"I remember being taken to Dahak's camp. He did something to me. I remember -- that I fought you. I pushed you down from that hill and I was -- happy." The bard fell on to her knees. "I killed you and I was happy!" She burst into tears.
"Dahak put a spell on you. You weren't yourself." At least not completely, Xena thought. "Dahak turned your love for me into hate. I had to get you really hate me to reverse the spell."
The Amazons had gathered around the two women and Xena addressed Ephiny, "We need to get back to your village and organize the defenses. Dahak will undoubtedly try to retaliate, but we'll name the time and place."
Dahak knew that he didn't have Gabrielle in his grip anymore. He had felt the mental bond between them broken. That meant, Xena had to be alive. Only she would have been able to break the spell. I should have had made sure she was dead. Dahak knew also that they would retreat to that Amazon village. It's about time to tear that place down.
Gabrielle was quiet, when they rode back to the Amazon village. She had not been able to face Xena, after they had left the hill. She had not told all to her. How could she tell her, that she had given herself to Dahak under his spell. She knew that her thoughts and feelings had been twisted, but part of it was her own dark side that made her do what she did. How can Xena ever forgive me? How can things ever be the same between us? She thought of the evil being, that was behind all of this and she felt the rage inside her rising. Very well, Dahak. You awakened my dark side and now you're going to pay the consequences.
Xena saw the bard's expression changing darker. She knew too well what that meant. That feeling was very familiar to her from her warlord days and she knew that the rage would always be there, inside her. Now Gabrielle's rage had been awakened. I wonder if she can control it? Only time will tell.
When they arrived to the Amazon village, Ephiny started organizing the defenses against Dahak's men. She ordered extra guards to outer perimeters. Every warrior was on constant alert. The children and the elderly women were prepared for immediate evacuation.
Xena was watching the preparations as Gabrielle came to her with Xena's sword.
"Here, I guess you'd be wanting this back." Gabrielle handed the sword to her.
"Thanks, looks like you have been taking good care of it." Xena tried to raise the atmosphere, but Gabrielle did not catch.
"You still have that hind's blood dagger?" She asked.
"Yes, I do," Xena replied, lifting her eyebrow. "What about it?"
"I need it. Now that Dahak is in human form, he is vulnerable to it."
"You don't have to do it. Let me take care of him."
"No! I want to finish him off myself. I want my vengeance." Gabrielle's voice became firmer.
"Are you sure, you want this?"
"Sure I'm sure! Now give me the dagger!"
"What if I refuse?"
"Then I'll have you thrown in jail. No one shall take my revenge away from me, not even you."
Xena understood that the bard was beyond reason at the moment and handed the dagger to her. It would be Gabrielle's call. It was her decision, if she would give in to her anger. No one could help her with that.
"Hey, I have your staff. You might want to use it in the battle."
"No, thanks. This time I'll be using the sword." Gabrielle turned away from the warrior.
Damn you, Dahak! What have you done to my bard? Xena thought as she watched Gabrielle prepare for battle.
The first messages about the approaching troops came just before midday. There were about three hundred men on foot and horseback. Dahak had obviously had some reinforcements waiting nearby. The majority of the Amazons would confront the attacking men. A smaller group would try locating Dahak and disabling him.
"I'm worried about Gabrielle. She still isn't quite her usual self," Eponin said to Xena, when they were going behind the enemy forces.
"I know. She is driven by her anger. I hope there would be time to work this out."
"I just hope that she comes out all right."
"Don't worry. I keep an eye on her."
Gabrielle could not hear the words but she knew they were talking about her. She wished that she could just run into Xena's embrace and let it all out but would she accept her anymore? Was their love deep enough to overcome this? It would have been so easy to let Xena take care of Dahak, but she knew, she could not go on with her life if she did not confront him the last time.
Elsewhere, the battle commenced. Ephiny lead the Amazons against Dahak's men. Dahak had split his troops in half and attacked on two fronts. The Amazons, on the other hand, benefited from the woods and used guerrilla tactics on the attacking force. That gave the Amazons the upper hand and they managed to keep their casualties at minimum.
"How are we doing?" Ephiny asked Solari.
"We have managed to stop their progress and our lines will hold. So far we have seven killed and twenty-five wounded. Their troops are down by the third."
Ephiny looked at her troops preparing for another counterattack. She wondered, if Gabrielle's group had already found Dahak. The sooner Dahak was eliminated, the sooner this battle would come to an end.
Dahak was at his temporary headquarters, when one of his men came in to the tent.
"Master! We are being attacked by a group of Amazons!"
"Engage them! I will join you!" He ordered. Dahak was astounded about the change of events. That dark haired bitch had managed to spoil his plans with a single move. Now his troops were outnumbered against the Amazons but he would still have his revenge. He would kill Gabrielle in front of Xena's eyes. No tricks, no magic, just Gabrielle and me.
He stepped out of his tent and observed the ongoing battle. He could see the bard engaging two of his men with her sword. She still wore the black leathers he had given him.
"There's Dahak!" Xena said and moved towards him.
"No! He is mine!" Gabrielle punched her opponent down and jumped over him.
"So the apprentice is challenging the mentor," Dahak said as he watched the blond woman approaching him.
"The only thing I learned from you, was hate!" Gabrielle said in coldhearted tone.
"You can't possibly kill me. I'm immortal, you know."
"Maybe, but I can sure as Tartarus sent you back under that rock, you crawled from."
Two swords hit against each other and the battle between the bard and the semi-god began. The struggle around them silenced as everyone turned to follow the duel.
At first, Dahak seemed to have the upper hand as he gave hit after hit and Gabrielle was on the defensive. Neither of them, however, could get a hit through. Eventually, Gabrielle couldn't hold her balance, when Dahak made another strike and she fell to the ground, losing her sword.
As Dahak prepared to make the final hit, Xena grabbed Gabrielle's staff from Argo's saddle and threw it to the bard lying on the ground. She grabbed the staff and raised it to her defense, continued with blow to Dahak's ribs. That stunned him for a second and gave Gabrielle a chance to stand up.
Gabrielle's rage was now bursting out in its full measure. She continued giving blows with her staff and forcing Dahak to yield. "You raped my soul! You turned me against my friends!"
One blow broke Dahak's sword arm and he was forced down to ground. Gabrielle knelt down on him and pulled the dagger. Dahak's eyes widened as he recognized the hind's blood dagger. Even so, he did not try to stop her. He just stared at her peacefully.
Xena watched the blond bard over her opponent. Gabrielle now had all the cards in her hands. If she killed Dahak, Dahak would win. He would die knowing that he had managed to turn the bard into a ruthless killer.
Gabrielle was preparing to push the dagger through Dahak's chest, when she caught Xena's eyes and saw the concern and sorrow in them. At that moment her mind took over her anger and she came to a full understanding of what she was about to commit. She lowered her hand and stood up slowly. Xena went to her and took the dagger from her.
"I just couldn't do it. I couldn't kill an unarmed man, even knowing what he had done to me." Gabrielle could not hold her tears and Xena laid a hand on her shoulder.
"That is what makes you so special, Gabrielle. You don't kill in cold blood," Xena said as they walked away from Dahak. "You faced your dark side and you overcame it. I'm so proud of you, my bard."
As they continued walking, Dahak stood up slowly and reached for his sword. He silently moved towards the two women.
As he was about to hit his sword into Gabrielle's back, Xena turned around and tossed the hind's dagger into Dahak's throat. He made no sound as he fell to the ground.
With the knowledge of their leader's death, the remains of Dahak's men surrendered. They were disarmed and escorted outside the Amazon territory. Ten Amazons had fallen defending the village and they would receive the Amazon ceremonial cremation.
The whole village was preparing for the evening's victory festivities. Food and drinks were being brought to the village opening, where the festivities would take place. Tables were being arranged in circles and the opening was being decorated.
Xena returned from the stables, where she had been tending Argo. She headed for the queen's hut, where she found Gabrielle, now in her Amazon outfit. She looked in the bard's eyes and couldn't see the normal brightness in them.
"How's Argo?" Gabrielle asked, trying to smile.
"Oh, she's just fine," Xena replied. This was not good. Something was still bothering the bard's mind. Xena decided to make the initiative. "Listen, Gab.. I'm sorry about those things I said that night on the hill. I didn't mean them."
The bard looked at her in surprise. "You're sorry? It should be me asking your forgiveness after all the things I did to you."
"You don't need to ask my forgiveness. You didn't do those things. It was Dahak."
"Deep inside, it was me. It was my anger and my frustrations, my dark side. Dahak just gave an outlet to those feelings."
"Maybe so, but we all have to live with our dark side. And we have to accept each other in good as well as bad. That is what loving someone is about." Xena took the bard's hand into hers. "Dahak knew that your feelings for me were so strong and he used that against you."
"But there are things, that I haven't told you. Things that Dahak made me do."
"You mean..." Xena knew the answer before she even heard it.
"H-he made me to sleep with him... And I did." The tears ran on the bard's cheeks.
The warrior's grip tightened for a moment. The dagger in the throat was too kind for you, Dahak.
"I.. I just feel so dirty. I don't deserve to be with you," the bard continued, keeping her head down.
"Gabrielle, do you still love me?"
"More than life itself," was the silent answer. "Why?"
"Because I love you. I never stopped loving you. My love for you kept me alive, when I was floating in the river." Xena paused and placed a gentle kiss on the bard's forehead. "I will always love you, if you just let me."
For the first time in days, Xena saw happiness in the bard's eyes.
"Oh, my dear warrior! Nothing would please me more." Gabrielle leaned to kiss the dark haired woman.
Xena stood up slowly, took the bard in her arms and carried her to bed.
It was gentle, almost comforting. They both wanted to ease each other's pain by caressing and fondling each other. Xena undressed the bard, explored every inch in her body with her hand and her lips before rising her into ecstasy. Gabrielle started carefully with Xena, then with more passion. Eventually, she did not stop, until the warrior cried out her lover's name in fulfillment.
The darkening night found the lovers in bed, still holding each other.
"I love you, Xena."
"I love you too, Gabrielle."
"I could be like this forever," the bard whispered into the warrior's ear.
"So, why can't we?" The warrior asked.
"I can't think of any reason-," Gabrielle was saying, when they both heard the knocks on the door.
"Gabrielle, Xena? Everyone's waiting for you at the table," Ephiny's voice said behind the door.
Gabrielle sighed. "I guess we have to get up," she said to the dark haired woman.
"No we don't. This night I want you all for myself." Xena kissed the bard.
"I like the sound of that." Gabrielle climbed over the warrior's naked body.
Ephiny smiled, when she turned around at the cabin door walked towards the ongoing festivities.
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