Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle and others from the show Xena: Warrior Princess belong to MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement on their rights is intended. All other characters are of my own creation and belong to me.

Subtext Disclaimer: This story contains references to a loving relationship between two consenting adults, who happen to be of the same sex. If this offends you, or you are under 18 years of age, or you reside in an area where this type of material is illegal, read no more. There is plenty of general fanfic out there for you. Go find it.

Violence Disclaimer: This story contains scenes of graphic violence.

Shock Factor: 5. Plan D #22a.

Timeline: This story starts where The Bridge left off.

Ann, thanks again for all your help and your patience.

Please send any comments to asdease1@gte.net

Enjoy, I hope.

part one

Written by FlyBigD

Her mind and body fighting the effort of being conscious, Gabrielle woke up slowly and became aware that the world she’d left behind hadn’t changed. As her eyes opened, they were met with complete and utter darkness. No shadows. No faint glimmer of light, just jet black. Closing her eyes, she struggled to bring her hand to her face, then opened her eyes again and saw nothing. Waving it around, she couldn’t see her fingers, or her palm, but she could feel her breath on them. Lowering her hand, she lightly touched her skin and felt it’s warmth. Letting out a sigh, she closed her eyes once more, laying her hand across them, as the pain in her head came to the forefront. Groaning aloud, her hand came away from her eyes as soon as the sound hit her eardrums. Testing the sound, she groaned again and again heard it outside her head. "Xena." Calling her wife , the bard heard the word and heard it echo softly from somewhere in the distance. "Xena?" Calling again, she struggled to sit up and only barely managed to get up on her elbows. As she looked around, the pounding behind her eyes grew more fierce; she closed them after a few seconds, and laid her head back in agony. Squeezing her eyes tight, she slid off her elbows, laying back down and brought both her hands up to cover her eyes.

While she lay there, the pain pushed all other thoughts out of her mind, except the desire for it to end. Concentrating on the pain, Gabrielle focused her consciousness on getting rid of the pounding and although it seemed like an eternity before she felt any results after that the throbbing began to subside by slow degrees. Bit by bit it went away and she continued to focus her will on it’s dissipating, until she reached a point where the pain would go no further. Hitting that plateau, she was down to a minor gnawing ache in the back of her head and fought it only a little while longer, before finally gave up on getting rid of the pain completely.

Her chest heaving with the mental exertion and the physical stress of the effort, she lay still, letting her hands drop from her face. Taking several long deep breaths, she let them out slowly to release the last bit of tension and relaxed as best she could. When her body didn’t ache as much anymore and her mind was able to function a little better, her forehead knitted with the realization that there was a light on the other side of her eyelids. Opening them cautiously, Gabrielle saw a dim light, which was still bright to her and she brought her hand up to shield her eyes against it. Sitting up slowly, she got all the way up this time and lowered her hand when her eyes adjusted. Searching the immediate area, her head swiveled from side to side, but all she could see was a black floor and the light, which seem to have no source. As if the air itself was giving off a dim glow, she ran her hand over her legs looking for a shadow, but there wasn’t one and as she turned her hand over a couple of times, she brought it close, checking how the light shown both below it and above it equally. Shaking her head, she let it drop in confusion then frowned at her belly button. Surprised to see a bare midriff, she ran her hand across it, feeling for the gray suit and dark blue silk blouse that should’ve been there. Frowning harder, her eyes moved down to her waist and went wide. Instead of the gray skirt she’d worn to work, she had on something she hadn’t seen in well over two thousand years, but recognized immediately. Staring at it, she absently fingered the light brown material in an unconscious effort to determine if it was real, which it definitely appeared to be. Then her eyes moved further down her legs and went only partially wide at the boots on her feet. Wiggling her toes, she confirmed the reality of the worn burgundy leather around her feet. Shaking her head, she closed her eyes, bringing her hand up from the skirt to run across her chest and as the last piece of the ensemble was confirmed by her touch. The latticed design gave it away and she didn’t need to look to know that she was wearing a slightly tattered green cropped top that had been discarded so long ago, the idea of it’s existence was making her head hurt again. Placing a hand on her head, Gabrielle ran her fingers through her hair in an effort to ease the sense of bewilderment and to make sure that her hair was still the same length, which it was. "Thank the gods." Voicing her relief, she opened her eyes to give the outfit the once over and got to her feet, checking little things here and there. "Well, I guess it could be worse. I could be in that stupid yellow get up. Gods, I can’t believe I ever thought I looked good in that."

"My sentiments exactly." Nodding, T smiled when Gabrielle turned around and her approach was shortened when the bard ran at her.

"T!" Launching herself off the ground, Gabrielle flung her arms around T’s, hugging her tightly, as her embrace was matched by a set of powerful arms. Then her world began to spin in circles and she buried her head in T’s shoulder, as her friend spun them around. "You’re alive."

Slowing the rotation, T lowered the bard to the ground and loosened her embrace, but remained tightly held by her friend. Her face no longer smiling, she held up her right arm and looked at it with an expression of confusion. "Gabrielle, um I don’t know how to break this to you, but either I am dead, or I’ve been robbed."

"What?" Unwrapping her arms, she took a step back.

Smiling sadly, she held up both bare forearms for the bard’s inspection. "What happened to my stuff?"

As soon as she saw that T’s gauntlets were missing, Gabrielle’s heart sank. Instead of the woman who was normally loaded for bear, the one who stood in front of her was in the same condition they’d buried her in. Closing her eyes, she hung her head as a new set of tears began to fall. "Ungara removed your things before you were put in the tomb. He gave it to us to hold until Gabriel was old enough to want it."

"Oh." Nodding in comprehension, T took another look at her arms, then completed the inventory, or the lack there of and sighed. "Well, I guess it’s not too bad. I mean I feel kind of naked, but at least you didn’t take my arm bands. Then I’d really feel naked." Checking out the two pieces of gold around her biceps, she frowned at them. "I wonder why Ungara didn’t take these."

"Huh?" Opening her eyes, she wiped away her tears with the heel of her hand.

"Well, he took everything else that he made, so I’m wondering why he left these?" Shrugging, she let her arms drop to her sides and smiled. "So, where are we anyway?"

Turning her head, Gabrielle looked at her friend sideways and arched an eyebrow. "T, why are you being so glib right now?"

"Glib?" Frowning again, T considered the question and sent her eyebrows up and down a couple of times, then scratched the back of her head. "I didn’t know I was being glib."

Curious and confused, she stepped forward and sent a forceful jab into T’s shoulder. "Ow." Grimacing, she shook hand as it began to throb.

T glanced down at the spot where she’d been punched, then lifted her eyes to stare at her friend like she’d grown horns. "Why did you hit me?"

"I wanted to make sure that you were real." Tucking her hand under her other arm, Gabrielle smiled through her pain.

Now it was T’s turn to arch an eyebrow and she raised her hand, as if she was going to do the same test, but had it grabbed before she could get the punch in.

"You’re real. I’m real. Everybody’s real. Don’t hit me." Spitting out the words as fast as she could, she held T’s fist with both hands to prevent her impending broken shoulder.

Relaxing her hand, she shrugged and smiled. "Okay." Lowering her hand, T looked around. "So, where are we?"

Letting out a silent sigh of relief, Gabrielle shook her head. "I don’t know. Is this the land of the dead?"

T rolled her eyes at the question. "How would I know?"

"This isn’t where you went the first time you died?" Putting her hands on her hips, she stared at her friend.

"Gabrielle, I don’t cross over, remember? When I die, I die. There is no land of the dead for me." Giving the bard a ‘well duh’ look, she put her hands on her hips as well.

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle counted to ten before she took a deep breath and held it. Letting it out as a sigh, she opened her eyes. "Okay, let’s back up here and see if we can figure out what’s going on?"

"Sounds good." Nodding, T stepped forward, placing two fingers on the bard’s neck. Rolling her eyes around, she shrugged then checked her own neck. "Well, first off, you have a pulse and I don’t, so that would lead me to believe that I’m dead and you’re not."

Frowning, she did her own pulse check on both of them and nodded. "Huh."

"So, the next step would be to find out how we got here and why we’re here, yes?" Taking a step back, she folded her arms across her chest.

"Works for me." Sighing, Gabrielle looked around, then turned back. "What’s the last thing you remember?"

"Dying." Sounding rather sarcastic, she smiled also.

"T, are you going to have that attitude the whole time, because if you are I may have to kill you again." Her eyes narrowed, she glared the smile off her friends face.

"Sorry." Rolling her eyes, T shook her head. "The last thing I remember is the whole dying experience. You know, the darkness. Voices getting further away, do dah, then I woke up over there somewhere." Turning around, she pointed in the direction she’d come from. "I walked around for a little while, then I spotted you and came over." Turning back, she sighed. "How did you get here?"

"Well, that’s a little more complicated." Rubbing her chin, she thought about what had happened before she’d waken up in this place. "It was like a daydream, or nightmare, depending on your perspective. I was sitting eating dinner with Xena, then the phone rang and it was you."

"Right, I called to see if you two were coming over and that was when everything started." Nodding, she remembered that part.

"Yea, but it happened twice." Holding up a finger, she continued the story. "After it happened the first time and you killed Dahok, we put you in the Hall of Kings and I remember sitting beside Xena there, and then the next thing I knew, I was back at the dinner table and the phone rang again. I picked it up, just like the first time, heard Ares being snotty, then I heard your voice and the whole day came back at me and I turned around, saw Xena clearing the table, then I tried to warn her, and that’s when everything went black. I guess I passed out, or something and then I woke up here with a killer headache."

"Hmmm." Arching an eyebrow, T considered what she’d heard. "Deja vu. Now that’s interesting." Turning around, she scratched her cheek as she thought. "Why would your mind go back to the beginning?"

"I don’t know. Maybe this is a dream I’m having." Following behind her friend, she walked a step behind, then tapped her on the shoulder. "Maybe this is like when you came to see Xena when you died the first time."

"What?" Frowning, she turned around.

"Yea, you know." Nodding, Gabrielle smiled. "When we were taking you to be buried the first time, Xena passed out beside the wagon and you came to see her in her mind. You showed her all your sword moves."

T’s frown got deeper and she shook her head. "I never saw Xena after I died."

"Yes, you did." Slightly dogmatic over the matter, she put her hands on her hips again. "She told me that you came to apologize for never showing her all you could do. You were up on a rock, or something and you did your thing, then when she was fading out, you told her to marry me."

Folding her arms across her chest, she stood up straight. "Gabrielle, I never did that and why would I apologize for not showing her what I could do with a sword?"

"Because you said ‘forgive me’ just before you died in Dahok’s lair." Losing some of her confidence.

T shook her head sadly. "I said forgive me because I was sorry that I couldn’t get us out of there. I thought we were both going to die. I wasn’t apologizing for not showing off with my sword and I don’t know who, or what Xena saw that day, but it wasn’t me."

"But?" Sighing in frustration, she closed her eyes. "Xena said she saw you."

"Gabrielle, when I died the first time, the last thing I remember was hanging off that ledge in Dahok’s lair, then the next thing I knew, I was laying on the altar in the main chamber in the Palace of the Ancients. I didn’t see Xena and I couldn’t. When I die, there is no afterlife for me. I can’t cross over to the land of the dead, because I still have Ungara’s soul." Smiling sadly. "Maybe Xena was seeing what she wanted to see?"

Another sigh escaped and she opened her eyes. Looking at T, she could see the truth written on her face. "So, maybe I’m seeing what I want to see, right? Maybe this is just a dream I’m having as a reaction to losing you."

"Maybe." Whispering, she nodded. "That would explain your outfit. I always liked that one." Pointing to Gabrielle’s clothes.

"You said it was functional." Looking down at herself, Gabrielle ran her hand over her skirt and sounded a tad disgruntled.

"Well, it is, but it looks good on you. It’s a lot better than that yellow atrocity." Sticking out her tongue, she shivered at the thought of the short lived get up. "What were you thinking?"

Rolling her eyes, she looked up again. "Don’t even start, okay?"

"Talk about non-functional." Grumbling under her breath, she saw the glare she was getting and smiled.

"T." Growling, Gabrielle narrowed her eyes.

"Okay, okay." Holding up her hands, her smile got bigger. "I’ll leave it alone and just say that I’m glad it’s gone."

"Smart move." Shaking her head, she put the matter aside. "Now, where were we?"

"If memory serves, I believe we’re trying to figure out where here is." Getting back on track as well, she gave the surroundings another search. "Which brings up another point. If this is your dream, why isn’t there anything here?" Doing a 360, she held her arms out from her body to indicate the lack of anything. "You’re supposed to be the creative one and there’s nothing here." Turning back to the bard, she gave her a disappointed look. "At least in Xena’s dream there was a rock to sit on and I had my stuff."

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle lowered her head. "T." Using an exasperated tone, she shook her head slowly. "Are you trying to make me want to hurt you, because if you are? You’re succeeding."

"No, I’m not, but I think I do have a valid point here." Folding her arms across her chest, she stood in an indignant manner.

"Okay, I’ll give you that one." Opening her eyes, she rolled them before she looked up. "This isn’t exactly my style, so what does that mean? Is this my dream, or isn’t it?"

"Oooo. Good question." Drumming her claws on her arm band, T thought about it. "But if this isn’t your dream, then why am I here? I’m supposed to be dead and unless you are dreaming, then there’s no way I could be here."

Feeling her headache coming back, Gabrielle rubbed the back of her neck and rolled her head around. "Okay, let’s think about this."

"What’s wrong with you? Did you get hurt?" Watching her friend’s actions, she tilted her head.

"No, I’m not hurt. I’ve just got this headache." Sighing, she dropped her hand and had it grabbed. "Hey!"

"Here, let me fix that." Turning the bard around by the shoulders, T began massaging the back of her neck. Rubbing her thumbs into the base of Gabrielle’s skull, she smiled when she heard a groan. "Better?"

"Oh, gods yes." Letting her head hang down, Gabrielle closed her eyes as her body went almost limp in relief.

Smiling to herself, she continued the massage, moving from the back of the blonde head upward to the temples and back again. "Okay, let’s think about this. What do we know?"

"Not much." Moaning out the words, she felt like she’d melt to the floor, but somehow managed to keep her mind on the subject. "About the only thing we do know, is that you are dead and I’m not."

"And we know that this probably isn’t your dream." Nodding, she looked around while her hands did their magic. "Hmmm."

Thinking about the problem, Gabrielle opened her eyes. "T?"

"Yes?" Turning her attention back to the bard.

"What about Gabriel?" Letting T manipulate her head, she stared down at her feet.

"What about him?" Leaning to the side, she looked at the bard’s profile.

"Could he do this?" Reaching up, she stopped one of T’s hands and pulled it away from her head, so she could turn around. "Could he bring us here?"

Dropping her other hand, T straightened up. "I doubt it. I mean, he does have all my powers now, but I couldn’t see him doing this. You, he could send anywhere in the world, but I don’t think he’s got what it takes to override Ungara’s soul."

"But he had enough power to heal your wounds." Countering the idea, she pointed to her friend.

Looking down at herself, T saw that it was true. She hadn’t noticed that all the damage Dahok had done was gone. "Huh?"

"And he had enough power to bring Ares back to life." Tapping her chin.

Snapping her head up, she stared wide-eyed. "What did you say?"

"I said he had enough. . . oh my god. You don’t know, do you?" Seeing the surprised expression on T’s face, she nodded slowly. "T, Ares is alive. When Gabriel was trying to use his powers to bring you back to life, we fed some of it through Xena to help the others. They’re all alive. Ares, Cargan and the Guards. He even healed Bud."

"Ares." Closing her eyes, T turned around, walking a short distance away before she stopped and hung her head.

Watching her friend, Gabrielle took a couple steps toward her. "He made it, T. He’s alive." Taking another couple of steps, she put her hand on T’s shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Putting a hand on her hip, she rubbed her forehead with the other one, then held her hand to it.

"I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spring it on you." Sighing, she shook her head. "I’m so sorry."

Lowering her body, T knelt down then sat down and brought her knees to her chest. "Don’t be sorry, Gabrielle." Whispering, her eyes opened to stare into space. "That’s good news. I thought he was going to grow up without either of us."

Moving around to the front, Gabrielle sat down as well and gave T a worried look, then smiled sadly. Taking her friend’s hand in her’s, she gave it a gentle squeeze. "I wish you could be there to see him grow up, T. And he tried so hard to get you back."

Closing her eyes again, she turned her head. "It doesn’t matter." Sighing out the words, she opened her eyes. "He’s got you and Xena, and Ares. That’s all that really matters. That you’re all safe."

Closing her eyes, as she began to cry softly, she leaned forward, resting her head on T’s knees. "It isn’t fair. You should be there too."

Sighing again, T turned back and gave the blonde head a gentle stroke. Smiling sadly, she leaned forward to kiss Gabrielle’s head. "I know, Gabrielle. I know, but sometimes the things we want he most just aren’t meant to be." Giving her another kiss, she sat back. "Maybe that’s why we’re here. So you could tell me that everything turned out all right."

Lifting her head, the bard stared into sad dark brown eyes, which were a reflection of her own.

Wiping Gabrielle’s tears away with her thumb, she tried to look happy. "Maybe now we can go back to where we belong."

Closing her eyes again, she nodded slowly.

"Come on. Let’s get up and see what happens." Putting some cheer into her tone, she got up slowly, then helped the bard to her feet.

Wiping her tears away, Gabrielle wrapped her arms around her friend, giving her a hug. "We’re gonna miss you."

Hugging her back, T nodded. "No more than I’ll miss you, Gabrielle and be sure to tell them all that I love them very much."

"I will." Sniffing hard, the bard pulled away, then took a few steps back. Sighing heavily, she waved to her friend.

Doing a four finger wave, she winked and smiled, then waited for her world to go dark.

Staring, Gabrielle waited for T to disappear and for herself to be brought back to her conscious self, and after a few minutes of nothing, she closed her eyes and hung her head. Covering her eyes with one hand, she sighed again. "That wasn’t it."

Looking around, T tossed her arms up and let them fall to slap her legs. "Apparently not."


After reaching their mutual realization that Gabrielle’s message wasn’t the key to their predicament, the pair took off walking in a straight line. Strolling casually side by side, they were searching for some sort of barrier, or limit to the emptiness that they hoped would take form as a wall, or something and if they were really lucky, a door. But as they continued to walk, the surface beneath their feet, which was barely discernible in the light, remained solid and nobody fell over an invisible edge. They also didn’t find any wall, but they kept walking, because there wasn’t really anything else to do and they continued talking as they went. Most of the conversation revolved around where they were, but they did have a tendency to drift from the problem, once in awhile.

"So, let me get this straight." Arching an eyebrow, T gave her companion a studious stare. "In all the time we’ve known each other, you never felt the need to tell me that you had the hots for Ares?"

"You’re twisting my words." Rolling her eyes, Gabrielle shook her head. "All I said was, that despite his personality flaws, way back when, that I thought he was cute in his leather outfit. I never said I had the hots for him. Xena’s the one who used to have the hots for him, not me."

"Hmmm." Sounding doubtful, she shook her head. "Well, you can’t have him."

"I don’t want him." Exasperated, she was becoming sorry she’d ever changed the subject from their personal preferences in music. "I think he’s cute, that’s all. I am now and forever, hopelessly in love with Xena."

"Must be a brunette thing." Shrugging, T let the idea of Gabrielle drooling after the man she loved go.

"Must be." Sighing in relief, she looked around as she walked. "I wonder how long we’re gonna be stuck here?"

"Until we figure out why we’re here, I suspect." Glancing over at her friend, she smiled. "Am I such bad company?"

"No." Backhanding T’s arm, the bard smirked at her. "You were always fun on the road. I’m just worried about Xena. She was stressed enough with you dying. I don’t want her to go over the edge if I don’t get back soon."

"Ahhhh." Nodding, T clicked her tongue. "Why don’t you try and think about her? Maybe you can get through to her?"

Gabrielle stopped in her tracks and held up an index finger. "That’s not a bad idea."

Bowing from the waist, she smiled. "I aim to please."

Smacking a brunette head, the bard chuckled. "Here, sit down with me and I’ll see if I can focus on her." Squatting down, she shifted to sitting on the floor.

Rubbing the back of her head, T pouted for a second, then sat down beside the bard. "What do you want me to do?"

"Stretch your legs out." Scooting out of the way, she waited for a pair of muscled thighs to come together, then she turned and laid down, putting her head on T’s lap.

"My sole purpose in life is to be a human pillow." Sighing up at nothing, she looked back down at the bard. "If you start snoring, I’m slapping you."

Smiling, Gabrielle flicked her eyebrows then closed her eyes. "Just hush and let me concentrate."

T made a face and leaned back, resting on her arms, while she watched Gabrielle. "See if you can’t bring back some food. I’m starting to get hungry."

Slapping blindly, she landed a smack on a hard shin. "Hush."

Rolling her eyes, she shook her head and kept silent.

With the silence, the bard began concentrating on Xena, trying to focus on the warrior and calling her name with her mind. Xena. Xena. Can you hear me?

Waiting patiently, T tilted her head to watch her friend’s face go though several contortions. The effort Gabrielle was putting forth mentally showed up on her face as a mixture of scowls, frowns and something that looked like she was going to sneeze. The last was rather humorous and she had to consciously stop herself from laughing out loud.

Pushing her mind further and further out, Gabrielle moved beyond the sound of her heart beating and her breathing, to a place where it was completely quiet. Continuing to call the warrior’s name as she went, she began pausing between mental shouts to listen for a response. Call then listen. Call then listen. Call then . . . Xena? Hearing something that sounded like a distant whisper, she concentrated on it, trying to get close enough to understand what was being said. Xena, I can barely hear you. Can you try harder? Listening again, she was able to hear it a little better, but the words still weren’t clear. Frustrated, she took a deep breath and centered herself, for a hard mental push. Holding her breath, she strained to hear what was being said.

Hearing something herself, T turned her head and sat up slowly. Searching the direction the sound had come from with her eyes, her ears picked up the sound again. It was very faint, but it definitely sounded like footsteps. Listening closer, she closed her eyes and moved her head form side to side, narrowing in on where the footsteps were coming from. Slowing the movement, she settled on the direction and opened her eyes, but saw nothing. Holding her stare on the spot, she eased Gabrielle’s head off her lap as gently as possible, then laid it on the floor. Crouching next to the bard, her fingers began flexing almost minutely as her predatory instincts kicked in.

Pain shot through Gabrielle’s head, but she ignored it and kept concentrating on the sound of Xena’s voice, which was still too faint to understand. Along with the warrior’s words, she could hear something that sounded like Ares’ voice shouting in the background, but she couldn’t be sure and there were other noises coming through making it even harder to hear what Xena was saying. Tell them to shut up, I can’t hear you. Listening with every ounce of her being, she finally heard something she could understand. Take these? What are you talking about? Take what, Xena? Say it again. What am I supposed to take? Straining as hard as she could, Gabrielle listened as the voice got weaker. Xena! Xena! "T, somemppiihs." Suddenly, her words were cut off by a hand over her mouth and she opened her eyes to find that it belonged to T. Confused and in agony, her eyes hurt to keep them open, but she did it and watched her friend put a single finger over her lips. Nodding, she was released and turned her head, when T pointed to something. Squinting, she tried to see what it was, but only saw the floor stretch out forever. Closing her eyes against the pain, she winced at it and began the routine of trying to get it back to an acceptable level, only to be interrupted by something going on on her stomach. Sighing, she opened her eyes again and blinked a couple of times, before her mind registered what she was seeing.

Staying low, T began putting on the things that had appeared on Gabrielle’s bare stomach while she was trying to get through to Xena. Snapping a gauntlet into place, her eyes were still trained on the source of the sound, as she picked up a gold dagger, sliding it into the underside of the gauntlet.

Staring in confusion, Gabrielle looked down at her stomach. There, stacked up in a small pile was everything they’d removed from T before she’d been entombed. From the bracelet and ring, to her sword, which made her eyes pop out of her head and she held her breath. Knowing one wrong move could get her sliced though with no help from anyone, she remained perfectly still until T picked up the golden blade. Putting her hand over her pounding heart, she closed her eyes and took some much needed cleansing breaths.

Sheathing her sword on her back, T kept two of her daggers out and tapped Gabrielle’s shoulder with them.

Holding up her hand in a silent request for a moment longer, the bard released a long sigh, then opened her eyes. "What’s going on?" Whispering as softly as she could, two daggers appeared in front of her as a response. Taking hold of the handles, she was helped up to a sitting position and looked around on her outfit for someplace to stow the weapons. Finding nothing really acceptable, she slid them gently inside the outside of her boot, next to her skin and left the handles out for easy retrieval. That task completed safely, she got to her knees and crouched beside her friend.

Turning her head sideways, T continued to look off into the distance for a moment before she moved her eyes to the bard. "What happened with Xena?"

Scooting closer, Gabrielle got as close as possible, then whispered. "All I could hear her say was ‘take these.’ I thought I heard Ares shouting too, but I couldn’t be sure. There was a lot of background noise in the way." Moving even closer, she got right up next to T, pressing their shoulders together. "What’s going on here?"

"I hear footsteps coming from that direction." Pointing, she turned back to look off in the direction she was still hearing the noise come from. "What did that background noise sound like?" Her voice still barely audible, she hunched down when her eyes spotted something.

Shaking her head, she followed T’s example and got lower. "If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it sounded like a war zone. T, I think they’re in trouble."

"They aren’t the only ones. Look." Getting even lower, she crouched down like a cat ready to pounce and pointed.

Focusing her eyes, Gabrielle followed suit again and stared where T was pointing. Seeing nothing at first, she squinted again and spotted something moving through the light. "Who is it?"

"Your daughter." Growling out the words, T glared golden tiger eyes at the short blonde figure coming toward them. "And she’s not alone." Spotting more figures following behind, she heard them as well.

"My daughter? I don’t have a . . ." Closing her eyes, a little light bulb went off in her head and her heart fell through the floor. "Hope." As she hung her head, she opened her eyes and sighed. "Now I know why I’m in this outfit."

"That’d be my guess." Nodding, she saw that it was true. Hope was wearing the exact same outfit Gabrielle was, the one she’d warn after her rebirth. "Looks like we’re getting ready to have a little Dahok family reunion." Seeing the other figures more clearly, T recognized them immediately, though she’d never actually seen one of them.

Looking up, Gabrielle saw the others also and groaned inwardly. "Oh no. Drennan and the Destroyer."

"Yep, the gangs all here, except for Daddy himself." Watching them get closer, she began to take in their postures and their expressions, trying to read their intent, which was pretty much a given. Narrowing her eyes, she slinked forward a notch.

"What are we gonna do?" Glancing around, she was wishing for the rock from Xena’s dream and shook her head. "There’s no place to take cover."

"Just stay behind me and keep an eye out for Dahok. If he’s not the one making all the noise you heard, then he’ll probably show up here." Moving forward again, she felt a hand on her arm and stopped.

"T, Dahok’s dead." Leaning to the side, she tried to see her friend’s face.

"Yea and so am I. What’s your point?" Sending a quick grin back to her friend, she turned back to the three people getting a little too close for comfort.

"None, I guess." Sighing at the whole situation, Gabrielle began looking around. "Why is it nobody ever stays dead around here?"

Shaking her head, T smiled. "Do the words Karmic circle ring any bells?"

"Yes and this is no time for you to be a smart ass." Giving T a shove, she growled. "Gods, you can be as infuriating as Xena when you want to be."

"If we live through this, I’ll be sure to find a way to tell her you said that." Chuckling, she began to slowly rise to her feet. "Now, just stay close and keep your eyes peeled."

"Snot nosed brat." Sneering at a muscled back, Gabrielle pulled the daggers out of her boots. Standing up, as well, she stayed close to that back and began looking around.

Fully upright, T cracked her neck, as she unsheathed her sword. "That’s far enough, if you please." Her voice at it’s normal volume, she watched Hope and let her other senses take care of what the males were doing.

Smiling sweetly, Hope tried to poke her head around to find her mother. "Hello, Mommy."

Hearing that voice, the bard cringed and moved to the side so she could see her daughter. "Hope." Using a casual tone, she kept her emotions masked. "What are you doing here?"

Losing some of her smile, Hope eyed T. "Why is it you’re never happy to see me, Mommy?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" T asked, with her infamous impish grin in place.

All of her smile gone, she glared at the woman standing in front of her mother. "No one was talking to you."

"T, I’ll handle this." Putting both daggers in one hand, Gabrielle put the other on T’s arm, but stayed behind her friend. "What do you want, Hope? Why are you here?"

Giving Drennan a quick glance, Hope smiled again. "Wouldn’t you rather know why you’re here?"

"Oh, please, oh great swammy. Do tell. I’m all a quiver with anticipation." Using her most sarcastic tone, T flexed her fingers around the handle of her sword and got the reaction she was hoping for.

Hope shot T another glare. "You shut up! You’re supposed to be dead."

"Ahhh, the truth will out." Smiling wickedly, T flicked her eyebrows. "Let . . . me . . . guess. I’m not supposed to be here, am I? I’m supposed to be dead and buried, and out of the way, so Daddy dearest can get his grubby little hands on Gabrielle." Nodding to herself, she could see the truth written all over Hope’s beet red scowl. "That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what all this has been about. Dahok wants Gabrielle."

Closing her eyes, Gabrielle laid her head back and groaned. "Gods, I don’t believe this."

"Dahok will have her, as he will have what is rightful his." Stepping forward, Drennan unsheathed his sword.

"Hold up, Junior. I’m not finished yet." Lifting her sword, T pointed it at Drennan, which stopped his advance. "Before we get down to business, I have a question for Hope." Moving her eyes only, she looked at the old version of the bard and smiled. "Ready?"

"Ask, so you can die." Growling, Hope’s glare intensified until her eyes glowed.

"Actually I have two questions, but I’ll make them quick." Smiling, she took a deep breath. "Number one, why now? Why did Dahok wait so long to make his move? Was he waiting for Gabrielle to get her old body back, or did it have to do with his birthday, or was he waiting for me to get pregnant?"

The Destroyer contested so many questions and mumbled his agitation.

"Quiet." Giving her son a glare, Hope turned back to T. "Not that it’s any of your business, but since you will be dying soon, I’ll tell you. It has nothing to do with you or the stars. Father prefers my mother the way she was when she first came into his temple."

"That’s it. Hello, Lady Clairol." Grumbling from behind T’s back, the bard rolled her eyes.

"Well, that makes me feel rather insignificant, but it’s understandable. She does have flaring charm in that body." Slumping dejectedly, she got a punch in her ribs and smiled. "Okay, last question and this one is really for Gabrielle." Clearing her throat, T straightened back up to her full height. "Where are we? Not that it matters to me, but I think your mother would like to know if this is a dream, so she can schedule a frontal lobotomy before she gets her dye job. She’s kind of picky about her ‘do,’ ya know. I think it’s a blonde thing." Flicking her eyebrows, she put forth her most winning smile. "No offense."

Slumping forward, Gabrielle groaned audibly and began banging her forehead between T’s shoulders. "Just . . . kill . . . me . . . now."

"Ignore her." Shrugging, T looked at Hope expectantly. "Well? Is it time to call Dr. Heckel, or what?"

"Jeckel. That’s Dr. Jeckel, not Heckel." Sighing the correction, she stopped banging her head and leaned heavily against her friend.

"Heckel, Jeckel, whatever. I didn’t like those cartoons anyway." Rolling her eyes, she sighed as well. "See. Picky, picky, picky."

Hope shook her head and actually sighed herself at the whole exchange, while her son and half-brother simply stared in confusion. "The answer to your question is yes. My mother is dreaming, but she’s not asleep. She’s in a semi-hypnotic state and her mind is being tapped. Her body is close by and yes, she’s real. Everything that happens here, happens in the outer world, so when you die this time, you’ll stay dead. Then, once Father has eliminated his siblings and the Olympians, he’ll kill your son and Xena, and my mother will come with us. Any more questions?"

Arching an eyebrow, T thought a moment, then shook her head. "Nope. That’s it." Raising her sword again, she smiled. "I’m ready when you are." Feeling the bard still on her back, she gave Gabrielle a nudge with her elbow.

Snapping out of her doldrums, Gabrielle perked up. Brandishing the daggers, she moved back to give T some room. "I’m one step behind you."

Nodding, the smile left T’s face and she locked eyes with Hope. "Just remember what I told you Gabrielle."

Glancing over her shoulder, she pivoted sideways to get a better vantage point for keeping an eye on T and watching out for Dahok. "I’m ready."

"Kill her." Signaling with both index fingers, Hope smiled evilly as her son and Drennan charged at the same time.

Going up on the ball of one foot, T shifted sideways, placing the other one to be at shoulders width and planted it, as she took her sword in both hands. Holding the blade low, she lowered her head as well and felt her eyes change from dark brown to golden cat eyes, while she stared fixated on Hope. Growling, she waited to see who would reach her first, then raised her sword with the flick of her wrist when Drennan arrived a couple steps ahead of the Destroyer. As his sword swung at her head, she brought her arms up and her blade down to vertically block the blow behind one shoulder, then leaned sideways, shoving his blade back, as she kicked the Destroyer in the stomach. When the monster doubled over, T had her sword half way to his neck and followed through, cutting off his spiked head.

"Noooooooooo." Screaming, Hope ran forward to fall beside her son’s body.

Stepping back quickly, T kept her sword up and moved Gabrielle back with her. Seeing Drennan hesitate, she watched him closely as she spoke to the bard’s daughter. "Hope, I’m not Xena. Whatever jealousy you have for her, because you think Gabrielle loves her more than you is misplaced on me. If you’re looking for revenge, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve never done anything to you and I don’t intend to if you’ll just walk away. Go now and you’ll live. Stay and you’ll die. Drennan and I don’t need you to finish this, Hope, but you’ll go with him to the grave if you don’t leave now and I promise you that not even Dahok has the power to bring you back."

Gripping the daggers tightly, Gabrielle held her breath and closed her eyes.

Drennan shifted his eyes back and forth between T and his half-sister.

Stroking her son’s back, Hope looked up at T. "Why?"

"Because you’re Gabrielle’s daughter." Turning her head, T moved her eyes off Drennan to look down at Hope. "Because she loves you no matter what you do and because I know that somewhere inside you is a little piece of her. I don’t owe you anything and I have every right to hate you, but I don’t and I can’t. But I will kill you Hope, if I have to."

Laying her head back, the bard opened her eyes as a single tear made a slow path down her temple.

Sneering, she stood slowly. "You’re as weak as my mother. You use the word love and you think you can stop me. You’re a fool and you’ll die for your belief in love, just like the races of mortal fools who follow you. My Father will wipe them off the face of the earth with a wave of his hand. This world will know it’s true master and you’ll die beneath the power of Dahok." Lowering her head, Hope sent a burst of invisible energy at T.

T stepped sideways, pivoting her body around in a circle and planted her foot as she brought her sword around like a baseball bat, sending the burst directly at Drennan.

Hope watched his body fly back from the impact, then snapped her head around to send volley after volley at T in rapid succession.

Fending off the rounds as quickly as they came, her sword became a golden blur and she sent the bursts toward Drennan when he tried to get up, then off into the emptiness where they exploded invisibly against an unseen wall. Hearing the sound, T narrowed her aim, sending each burst to follow the next toward what she hoped would become a hole to the outside world.

Standing behind her friend, Gabrielle held her daggers ready and kept watch. Though her heart was breaking, she didn’t try to stop Hope this time and she didn’t interfere. Whatever piece of her was inside her daughter was either dead, or buried so deep that no amount of love would ever bring it out. She’d been given the chance to walk away and turned it down, so now there was nothing left for the bard to do but wait for her daughter’s death and to make sure her father didn’t sneak in to save her from what had to be.

Beside the body of her son, Hope continued to send blast after blast and ignored the agonizing cries from her half-brother when he was hit with rebounds. Her eyes and her focus were centered on T, though she wasn’t seeing her. Instead of the muscled woman with the golden sword, her eyes saw the tall brunette that had stolen her mother’s love from her. Hope was sending her fury at Xena and as she began to feel the effects of exerting so much energy, she continued to take her jealous anger out on the one she wanted the most to die.

T’s eyes were on Hope as well, but her vision wasn’t diluted by emotion. She’d given her the chance to walk away for Gabrielle’s sake, to spare the bard the pain of seeing her daughter die, but that was gone now. Anything she might have felt for Hope was gone as well and her mind was set on using Dahok’s daughter to break down the invisible barriers around them. Her lifespan was measured in the amount of time it took for T to see the outside world and once that came into view, Hope would fall for the last time.

Aiming the blast just to the left of Hope, T watched the distance with her peripheral vision, as she did Drennan. Twisting her wrist ever so slightly, she sent another blast at him when he tried to get up and those times were growing further and further apart. Dahok’s power, flowing though his daughter, was killing his son and T used it like she was using Hope. Just a little more time and Drennan would be as dead as the Destroyer and the hole to Gabrielle’s freedom would appear.

Moving her head from side to side, the bard was getting edgy. The sounds around her were starting to get to her now and every time she heard Drennan scream, or heard a blast explode, her nerves became more frayed. Whether it was the length of time she’d spent away from a war zone, or the fact that people she loved were in a fight to the death didn’t matter. The throbbing in her head was getting more intense with each eternal second that passed and it was becoming painful to keep her eyes open to the light. Cringing inwardly with each sound, she began to blink more slowly, squeezing her eyes shut for longer periods of time. Fighting to stay alert, she didn’t feel the tears rolling down her face and she turned her head sideways, to squint as she searched for anything coming from the rear. Then slowly, she bent over, holding the daggers with a white knuckled grip, she brought her hands to each side of her head. Pressing her fists into her ears, Gabrielle crumbled silently to the floor. Withering in anguish, her body drew into a ball until the agony reached a pinnacle and she screamed inside her mind.

T heard that scream, just as what she’d been waiting for appeared. In the distance, to the left of Hope a burst exploded, shattering the wall and making a large dark opening in the horizon of white. With the window open, she sent seven consecutive bursts toward Drennan’s body, though it hadn’t moved for sometime, then she turned her attention back to the source of the assault. Twisting her wrist again, she sent the next burst back to it’s sender, nailing Hope with her own weapon and ending the barrage momentarily.

Stumbling back, Hope looked down at where the blast had hit. Enraged, she drew her power inward, as her body shook with pure unadulterated fury. Her eyes turning to literal flames, she moved the infernos upward to see the face she loathed so close she could smell Xena’s flesh searing from her gaze. Raising her hand, she reached for the warrior’s throat, to rip it from her body, but her hand never reached it’s mark, though she continued to struggle to get it into her grasp.

Her arms out straight, T watched the fire in Hope’s eyes burn, as two arms flailed about, trying desperately to reach her. Her sword buried up to the hilt in a heaving chest, she was out of reach of those arms and felt Hope press against her as she struggled. Waiting for the flames to go out, she watched a face she loved contort in fury, pain and frustration, and felt all the sadness she would if it had been Gabrielle on her sword instead of Hope. Closing her eyes, she listened as Dahok’s daughter began spewing threats and vile promises, then felt another pain enter her mind and the voices were the same. Hearing Gabrielle’s mental screams combine with her daughter’s, T opened her eyes, seeing the flames again. Clenching her jaw, she twisted her sword, jerking it upward and silenced one of the familiar voices. As the flames died away quickly, she lowered her blade slowly, allowing Hope’s body to slide to the floor. Staring at her for a moment, she left her where she lay, then moved to add Drennan’s blood to Hope’s before she came back to Gabrielle.

Sheathing her sword, T knelt beside the bard. Tugging on her daggers, she had to forcibly unwrap Gabrielle’s fingers from the handles to get them away from her. Tucking each one in a boot, she stroked the blonde hair of her friend, then glanced up to the dark area on the horizon. "Just hang on, Gabrielle. It’ll be over soon." Sliding her arms under the curled up body, T scooped Gabrielle in her arms, cradling her as she lifted her off the ground. Heading for the hole in the wall, she walked past the bodies of Dahok’s grandson, then his daughter and finally his son. All lay still as she passed and T never gave them a second look. Walking quickly and carefully, she checked the floor as she went, making sure there weren’t any unsprung traps in the way. Glancing up from time to time, she saw the hole getting closer and tightened her hold on the bard. "Almost there, Gabrielle. Almost there." As she got closer, T could begin to see things beyond the breech. Walking faster, she hurried towards it and started to feel an uneasy dread coming up from her soul. Though all she could hear on her side were her own footsteps, she could see that things were not quiet on the other side of the hole and as she closed the distance to it, it became apparent that what Gabrielle had heard in the background was fact. Slowing her pace, T approached the opening, staring through it to see a war going on and recognized the battle field.

Just beyond the fractured barrier was what had been the Hall of Kings. Coming up to the hole, T’s view was blocked by a statue with it’s back to her, but she could still see the damage done. The long double rows of statues, lining the aisle were nearly all shattered and lay amongst smoke and strewn bodies. Though she couldn’t see or hear the fighting, she knew it was still going on by the figures moving in and out of her sight. Standing still for a moment, she watched them appear and disappear from view, seeing the weapons wielded and could almost feel the ground shake from the assault taking place. Stepping forward, she hefted the bard in her arms and ran into something. Startled, she frowned and stepped back again. Moving her eyes over the clear opening, she tried to pass through again, but was held back by some unseen force. "Dammit." Leaning back, she tried to push it with her foot and met the same resistance. Growling low, she knelt down, laying Gabrielle next to the opening. Placing her friend gently on the floor, she stood again and unsheathed her sword. Twirling it once, she brought the blade down, trying to slice through the barrier and heard it scrape against the invisible wall. Growling louder, she slammed her fist against it. "No." Stricking with flesh and metal, T attacked the unyielding surface. Stabbing, pounding and shoving to no avail, she watched the outside world in unequaled frustration, as the battle raged without her. Moving back, her lungs burned with the oxygen it tried to intake and she stared at the opening with blood red eyes. Searching the edges, she tried to find the slightest hint of a crack, or anything that looked like a flaw. Stepping up again, she crouched down on one side and began to search with her fingers. Feeling the smoothness of the invisible wall, her fingers followed the uneven line around the outside, making their way over the arched opening. Closing her eyes, she let her touch be her guide and she stood slowly, following their lead. Edging sideways, her hand moved slowly upward then back down again, as she felt her way down the other side. When she reached the floor, she growled and opened her eyes. Staring blindly outward, she leaned against the barrier, trying to think of a way to break it, then she let her eyes focus again and saw something she hadn’t seen before. Off to the side and only visible from that angle were Dahok’s prizes. Only a few feet away from the opening, Gabrielle’s body lay unconscious with the Crown beside her, along with a leather jacket. Looking back to the bard on her side, T sheathed her sword and scooted over to the balled up form. Taking hold of her shoulders, she drug Gabrielle back to the spot where she could see both bodies. On all fours, she leaned low and wrenched the fist away from her ear. Holding it out, she put her head close and began whispering in Gabrielle’s ear, while her eyes were trained on the bard’s body outside.

Lost in the smoke, Xena wielded Katai’s battle axe as she stood over the Ancient’s body. Swinging it hard, she sank the double-sided head into the body of the nearest demon, then yanked it out, sending a spray of black blood and flesh to join the stench already covering her body. Kicking the demon out of the way, she swung again, catching the next one then continued her forward push. All around her feet were bodies of demons and gods alike, laying in an unrecognizable mass amongst the shattered statues and smoldering ruin of the Hall of Kings. To either side, barely visible in the stinging smoke were Ares and Ungara. Like her, they had picked up weapons from the fallen and were holding their ground by sheer force of will.

They’d been out-numbered to begin with and the overwhelming horde of demons were slowly winning the war by attrition. Over half of the Ancients were gone, as were Cargan and the Guards, and somewhere in the fray was Bud. But she hadn’t seen him since Dahok’s wet and militated body had burst through the doors and hell had opened up to pour demons out by the hundreds.

But that was an eternity ago and after she’d gotten Gabrielle and Gabriel to safety, she’d grabbed the first weapon she could get her hands on. From then on, the wave of demons had never stopped. For every one that fell, it seemed three more appeared and her initial hope of getting to Dahok quickly had been blocked by the bodies of his minions. Even now she couldn’t see him for the smoke, but she could hear his voice bellowing. His laughter, curses and roars were deafening in the narrow room and it was the only signal she had to the fact that somebody had made it through. Whoever had passed through the throng of demons was not making Dahok happy, which gave her the strength she needed to hold the line.

Risking a glance, Xena checked her flanks and saw who she thought were Ares and Ungara. Beyond them, the remaining Ancients were stretched out from wall to wall, but she couldn’t see them, though she knew they were there, because a quick look over her shoulder told her that the line was holding. Behind her, the floor was still clean, though there wasn’t as much space as before. They’d met the demons half way down the long Hall to start with and now T’s statue was no more than thirty feet away. The wave of demons had pushed the line slowly back to the point where only a few statues remained untouched and unless they stopped the push now, their backs were going to be against a wall very shortly.

Needing nothing short of a miracle, or something that could pass for a miracle, the warrior thought hard, as her body moved purely by instinct. Cutting and slicing, the battle axe swung in continuous movement while the wheels turned in her head. Looking for any opening to send the demons back, her eyes shifted from side to side, trying to see beyond the smoke for something she could use. "Ungara!" Shouting above the din, she tried to get closer to the Ancient without leaving a hole for somebody to get through.

"What!" In the middle of annihilating a demon, he couldn’t turn to find out what she wanted.

"The pieces of the statues!" Swinging the axe, she beheaded one demon, then cut another one in half.

"What about them!" Watching a head fly by, he split the demon behind it in two with a sword he’d picked up from somewhere.

"Can you move ‘em!" Kicking one demon in the groin, she drove the axe into his back.

Fighting demons and the urge to turn to stare at her, the former won out and he cut an arm from a body. "Define move!"

"Make them fly! Can you make them fly like bullets!" Giving him a quick glance, Xena saw a hesitation. "Mow down these bastards with the pieces of the statues! We’ve got to push them back!"

Nodding, Ungara finally understood what she wanted and began concentrating on the pieces of the statues scattered throughout the Hall. Focusing his power, he shook them free of the bodies on top of the pieces and lifted them slowly in the air. When they got waist high, he closed his eyes and stood perfectly still. Building his power to full force, he lowered his head and sent the shards of stone from the sides of the Hall toward each other in a single blast of energy.

"PUSH! Everybody push! Push these bastards back to hell!" Driving the battle axe into a demon, Xena left it place and shoved her victim with all her might. Using the demon like a battering ram, she shoved his body back into the ones behind him. Stepping over and on bodies, she moved forward and threw her weight into the handle of the axe for extra leverage. Vying for traction, she used the mounds of bodies as foot holds and continued to make headway.

With the middle of the demonic army eliminated by Xena’s brain storm, the battle line moved back toward Dahok and was picking up speed, as the Ancients, Ares and the warrior shoved the stumbling demons back the way they came. Then, just as quickly as the advance had begun, it stopped when a wash of fire rolled up from behind the demon line, hurling them forward in a surge of power. Crushing minion and foe, alive and dead alike, Dahok sent a shock wave out from his body in all directions. His roar reverberated off the walls, as the wave shook the Palace to it’s foundation.



No Epilogue.

Thanks for reading.




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