By Masque

Xena’s Thread

The warrior awoke with the first rays of the sun that filtered in through the window. She was surprised to find her physical strength renewed, the throbbing in her head was greatly reduced; she still felt the loss and emptiness inside, but somehow she felt ready to deal with it.

She swept her gaze around the room and found Solari sleeping in a chair by the wall. Obviously they had all taken it in turns to watch over her as she slept. The scrolls and all of Gabrielle’s possessions had been returned to the satchel which now hung on another chair along with her cleaned armour and polished leather.

Not wanting to disturb the Amazon, or anyone else for that matter, she quietly pushed back the covers and swung out of bed. She stood up and finally realised that she was still naked, images of what she had tried to do the previous night with Hercules flooded into her mind, followed by the oddly realistic dream of Gabrielle. She did not have time to sort out the incident with Hercules now, so she quickly got dressed in her full armour, with her weapons and grabbed the satchel and silently left the room. She just missed the moment when Solari cracked open one eye and watched her leave.

Getting out of her bedroom had been the easy part, now she had to make her way through the living area without disturbing the other bodies that were sleeping there. Ephiny appeared to have gotten the best end of the deal, being that she had got the rug in front of the fire; although it appeared that she had shared her bedroll with Solari, Xena raised an eyebrow, not surprising really.

Carefully she picked her way through the sleeping forms and reached the door without causing any sound. Slowly she opened the door to avoid creaking and slipped out of the house unnoticed.

Outside she breathed in the morning air and headed into the woods, bound for the clearing where she and Gabrielle often camped when they were staying in Amphipolis; from the first time to the last time.

*           *            *

Joxer’s Thread

He awoke in what appeared to be a war zone. He bolted up, feeling all of his muscles stiffen from a night of sleeping on a wooden floor. Hercules and Iolaus were both up and eyeing the two Amazons as one might eye a poisonous snake.

“What do you mean she’s gone?” Ephiny screeched

“I mean she got up, she got dressed, she left.” Solari explained sarcastically for the third time.

“And you didn’t stop her, you were supposed to be watching her?” Ephiny accused her lieutenant.

“I was on my way, I thought one of you guys might have caught her, I mean there are enough of you.” Solari defended herself. If she had not woken up it might have been hours before they realised that Xena was missing.

“Alright everybody, let’s try to calm down.” Hercules interjected before blood was spilled between the two female warriors. They were making enough noise to wake everyone, proof arrived when Cyrene entered the room from her bedroom.

“What’s going on?” The older woman asked as she finished straightening her blouse and smoothed back her hair.

“Xena’s gone.” Iolaus stepped closer to Xena’s mother, believing her to be the safest person in the room at that moment. Although why he thought an irate mother would be a safer bet over two fuming Amazons and a protective champion of men was anyone’s guess. Cyrene to everyone’s surprise remained unphased at the news.

“How can you say calm down, Hercules? Xena just lost her best friend, she’s hurting and I’ve seen what her hurt and pain can do,” Ephiny waved her arm in front of Hercules, “Gods know what she might do.”

“She’s probably gone somewhere quiet, to pay her respects to Gabrielle in her own way.” All eyes turned to the person who had uttered these words and all eyes found Joxer, he was still stretched out on the floor but was now propped up on his elbows.

“How did you know that?” Hercules asked.

“I’ve been there,” When eyebrows raised in his direction he felt that more of an explanation was in order, “When she’s lost someone that she cares about....”

“She sings.” Cyrene concluded for him, “It began with Lyceus.”

“Where would she go?” This time his question was for Cyrene.

“There’s a clearing not far from here, in the woods, by a stream - a good camping ground. Xena and Gabrielle stay there sometimes.” Cyrene remembered. She did not mention that she had also camped there with them on the way back from the Furies temple.

“That’s where she’ll be.” Ephiny concluded.

Quickly they readied themselves and left the house following Cyrene’s lead. They covered the distance into the woods and moved quietly towards the clearing. As they neared the area they could see Xena moving around, they did not want to alert the warrior to their presence; they remained at a distance to give her the privacy she needed but close enough should she need them.

*           *            *

Xena’s Thread

The clearing that she now stood in was where she had camped as a child and as a warrior. Her father had brought all three of them here when they had been young, he had taught them to fish, to ride, to hunt; later she and Lyceus had camped in the same place and played pretend battles and pretend weapons. None of those reasons were what brought her here now.

It had been in this very clearing that a certain Warrior Princess had finally relented and allowed the runaway Bard of Poteidaia to join her. Xena had tried every trick in the book to rid herself of the tag-along; she had deliberately scared the girl with her intimidating presence, had rejected her attempts at friendship and had terrorised the poor girl about what she should expect in her life with Xena. Gabrielle had remained unphased, insisting that she wanted to go with the warrior and that she would face the dangers with her as a friend.

The young bard had proved to be a loyal, trusting, determined and talkative companion and she had kept her promise of friendship. At the time Xena did not think that she needed anyone, but once again Gabrielle had proved her wrong and somewhere along the line the bard had found a way into the warriors heart and taken up residence there. She had watched Gabrielle grow from a young naive village girl into a woman, and now she had to say farewell to that time and part of her life.

Xena turned towards the rising sun, she loved this time of the day; the feel of the first rays of light bathing her body in a new day, one more than she felt she deserved.

She closed her eyes and conjured up an image of Gabrielle, surprised that it was not the vision of Gabrielle’s death. Instead she saw the time when she and Gabrielle had been sat on the beach after returning from Illusia. Her hair hung loosely, cascaded down passed her shoulders, a nervous smile twitched her lips and reached her eyes, apprehension at what her friend might do to her. But the nerves were replaced by pure joy at being reunited with Xena after what had almost been their deaths. It had been at that moment that Xena realised she had been so close to losing something that she did not want to live without, but now....

Inhaling deeply Xena prepared to say her good-bye, to sing her burial song. As she was about to sound the first note she heard the unmistakable sound of a God making there entrance.

*           *            *

Gabrielle’s Thread


Gabrielle began to wake and her blurred vision focused on the form that was peering down at her, “Xena....” She blurted out before she was fully awoke, then she realised it was Artemis that was looking at her, whilst laying on the bed next to her, “I was talking to Xena.”

“That was ‘Dite’s idea,” Artemis explained, indicating towards the Goddess of Love who was settling herself at the end of the bed.

“It was a thank you present.” Aphrodite leaned over towards Gabrielle, “You were actually talking to Xena, but she’ll remember it as a dream.”

“But I couldn’t tell her what I wanted to. About me not being really dead and about the trial.” Gabrielle said.

“There are some rules that even I’m not allowed to break.” Aphrodite explained.

“But I wanted to give her a message.” The bard complained.

“No can do,” Aphrodite said, “The Warrior Babe will be here soon enough.”

Gabrielle decided that she liked the affectionate name that Aphrodite had for Xena - Xena would hate it. She turned questioning eyes to Artemis, Xena was going to be here soon?

“She is being brought to Olympus for your Judgement, you do remember that?” Artemis ruffled Gabrielle’s hair.

“Like I could forget.” Gabrielle playfully pushed Artemis’s hand away, “What are you going to tell Xena? She’ll never believe anything the Gods say.”

Suddenly Athena appeared, startling Aphrodite, “Make an entrance, why don’t you nerd.” Aphrodite tried to compose herself.

“We have a problem.” The Goddess of Wisdom and War announced. All three woman looked to Athena, “Ares has decided to pay Xena a visit. I think it’s about time that we went and broke the news to our warrior.”

Aphrodite giggled in pure excitement, she had been looking forward to this moment, “Come on jock, I’ll race you.” She disappeared along with Athena.

Artemis smiled at her sisters and then turned seriously to Gabrielle, “What’s the message?”

*           *            *

Xena’s and Ares’s Threads

The blue flash appeared in front on her and materialised into the form of Ares. The sound that came from Xena’s throat was a snarl, but carried a note of her burial song with it and finished as a scream.

Like a wild animal she lashed out with a fist, her full body weight behind the punch she lunged forward. Ares dodged easily, he moved forward and both pivoted to face one another again.

“Now don’t do that Xena.” He said smoothly as they began to circle one another to return to their original positions.

“How could you?” The question encompassed everything that he had done in recent times: his taunting, teasing, betrayal, “How could you?” She made a second lunge towards him but this time strong arms enveloped her and held her back.

“He’s not worth it.” Hercules tried to convince her, never relinquishing his hold on her.

“Stay out of this pretty boy.” Ares warned his half-brother.

“Go on Hercules. I’ll be okay.” She felt him release her and watched as he moved back to join the others who had also appeared from the woods. She almost smiled, grateful for their support at that moment. She returned her attention to Ares, “What do you want? Haven’t you done enough?”

“What are you taking it out on me for? It’s not my fault that the irritating blonde threw herself into the fire.” He growled into her face.

“It’s all your fault. If you hadn’t made the deal with the Fates, I would have killed Hope and Gabrielle would still be alive. It’s all your fault.” She snarled back.

“It’s not the way I planned it,” He began to explain, but he realised that he had gone about it the wrong way when he saw the growing look of fury in Xena’s eyes.

“Not the way you planned it. This was just a power quest for you?” Xena groped blindly for words. She wished she had the Hind’s blood dagger in her hands right now, she would gladly kill him, “Don’t you have any loyalty? Don’t you care about anyone or anything other than yourself?”

“I do care,” Ares began weakly, trying to win one back for himself, but Xena cut him down again.

“No you don’t. All you care about is power and your greed for it cost me the life of someone I love. I love Gabrielle.” She did not realise that she had been backing Ares up until she heard the water splashing underneath their boots.

“And I love Hope.” He retaliated, not caring that he was knee deep in the stream.

Xena wanted to laugh but the shock prevented it, “You couldn’t love Hope, you only needed her. The only decent quality she had was that she looked like.... her mother.” Realistation set in with her final words, “You never loved Hope, you were in love with....” Xena could not bring herself to say the name.

Ares seemed to deflate at this revelation; he wanted to deny it to himself, and the others, but it was too late, and stood opposite to the person who truly loved Gabrielle without reservation he found that he could not, “So now you know.” He turned away, unable to face the warrior who had been his chosen for so long.

“How could you Ares?” Xena shook her head, trying to get a grip on what had just been uncovered. “Did you really want to sire a new race? Did you want to be Dahak’s slave for eternity?”

“Dahak came to me and offered me a deal. A place at the head of his army, all I had to do was give Hope a child. And when I saw her face.... I couldn’t refuse.” Ares finally turned, he saw the others, they were all too stunned to say or do anything except watch the exchange between the God and the warrior. “Gabrielle could never love me, I know where her heart is.” There was no doubt about where he referred to. “But Hope.... Hope....” Ares dropped his head backwards, unable to finish his sentence.

“Yep, even the God of War isn’t immune to the lurve thing.” Aphrodite’s voice was clear even before she shimmered into existence.

“What are you doing here?” Xena snipped, she hated one God, but two....

Aphrodite looked up from where she was splashing her feet in the stream, “Well since he’s talking about love, and you’re talking about love, I guess that’s my territory,” a sly smile spread across her face, “Besides, I wouldn’t miss this for the world.” She giggled taking in her brothers obvious discomfort.

Just then two more beings shimmered into the mortal plane - Artemis and Athena. Xena was beginning to think all kinds of paranoid scenarios.

“Have you told her why we are here?” Athena addressed Aphrodite in her usual clipped tone.

“Nah, I thought I’d wait for you guys.” Aphrodite replied.

Artemis approached Xena, “We need to talk.”

At the sight of the Amazon Goddess Xena curled her lip, “She’s one of yours, why didn’t you do something?”

“I wanted to, believe me.”

“I don’t believe anything that you Gods say.”

“Then believe this,” Artemis took Xena’s face in her hands, “Gabrielle is not dead.”

Xena’s eyes went wide for a moment, she wanted to believe what she had heard, but she was wary of anything that the Gods said.

Artemis sensed the unease and the conflict, “She said if you didn’t believe me I was to give you a message.”

“What’s the message?” Xena’s voice was hoarse, heavy with anguish and confusion once more.

“ ‘Even in death I will never leave you,’ ” Artemis quoted the young bards words exactly, “She said it would mean something to you.”

Xena remembered when she herself had said those words; when Gabrielle laid dying from the poisoned arrow and Xena had vowed they would see their destiny out together.

Then a stronger emotion hit her, Gabrielle, alive. It was too much for her to take in and before she could stop herself her legs gave way and she landed on her knees in the stream. Loud splashing was heard as Hercules raced to her side, catching her before she sank any further. Leaning heavily on her friend, her mind began to burn with questions, How? Why? Where?

Artemis was no longer before her, now someone dressed in blue leaned down and hooked a finger under her chin and drew her face up. The Goddess of Wisdom gazed down at the shaking warrior with compassion and understanding, “All of your questions will be answered in due course. You are to come to Olympus to speak at a trial for your friend.”

“She’s on trial?” Xena managed to stammer. She could not believe that Gabrielle could be put on trial for anything.

“Yes. The Gods are undecided as to what Gabrielle’s fate will be. This trial will determine what happens to her next.” Athena watched as Xena tried to say something, but after some moments of trying without success she gave up. Her eyes began to wander, looking at the faces that surrounded her, with a jerk of her thumb Athena brought Xena’s attention back to her, “I must warn you, if Gabrielle is found guilty you will never see her again.”

Xena closed her eyes tightly, stopping tears before they started, “Will I at least have the chance to say good-bye?”

“I can not promise that. The Gods will allow what the Gods will allow.” Athena announced solemnly.

Gritting her teeth Xena opened her eyes, full of determination - Gabrielle would be found innocent, “What are we waiting for?”

“Just your consent.”

“Let’s go.” Xena stood up, water cascading from her leathers and skin.

“I’m coming too.” Hercules stated, once again stepping forward.

“Impossible Hercules, you gave up your place in Olympus. Father will not allow it.” Athena told him.

“The Zeus had better change his mind, I’m coming. Xena will need a guard at the trial.” Hercules pointed out.

“That’s okay, ‘Cupie’ can do it,” Aphrodite added helpfully, then at the sharp glance she received from her brother, “Actually he’s real busy with Psyche and the baby, I think Hercules should do it.”

“Yeah Athena, who else is going to be able to hold her back if something goes wrong?” Artemis urged, they all failed to mentioned that any one of the Gods could hold her back with a thought.

“Very well,” Athena agreed reluctantly.

“Count me in,” Everyone turned to stare at Ares, “You’ll need two people to hold her back.”

“No,” Athena screeched firmly, “Father has thrown you out of Olympus.”

Again all eyes turned on Ares, “He threw me out of the Judgement, not out of Olympus.”

“What makes you think I’ll have you at my back?” Xena glared at Ares.

Ares glared back at her, “Because we both want the same thing.”

Xena was about to argue back when she realised he was right, “This doesn’t change anything Ares.”

“Can we leave now?” Athena had tired of the endless chit-chat. She had intended to come to the mortal plane, collect Xena and return to get on with the trial. Why did brothers always make everything so difficult?

Xena briefly went over to her mother and friends to say good-bye. It was obvious that all of them wanted to go to the trial as well, even if it was only to say good-bye to Gabrielle. Then Xena, Hercules and the collection of Gods left.

*           *            *

Gabrielle’s Thread

Gabrielle lay face down on the huge bed in Artemis’s hunting lodge. It seemed like an eternity since the Goddess had left to speak to Xena.

A soft hand stroked across her exposed back causing the tension to ease out of her muscles. The owner of the hand sat close to her and Gabrielle rolled onto her side to look at Terreis’s blue eyes and red wayward curls.

Gabrielle had only known the young Amazon briefly but she had developed an overwhelming respect for her in that short time. Terreis had introduced her to the Amazon way of life and the power of free thinking. Gabrielle hoped that she had been a worthy successor to this bright young woman.

“Nervous?” Terreis inquired.

“Not really,” Gabrielle replied and then pondered on the reason as to why she was not, “I know that I’m on trial for what I’ve done, but I don’t know what I’m on trial for, and what happens if I’m found innocent or guilty.”

“Sorry, I can’t help you with that,” Terreis stroked the side of Gabrielle’s face, “but you’ll find out soon enough.”

Right on cue Melosa entered the room, “It’s time Gabrielle.”

The two Amazons escorted Gabrielle through the lodge to the entrance hall where Artemis was waiting for her, “Time to face your Fate.”

*           *            *

Callisto’s Thread

Callisto stalked around her empty cell, occasionally kicking or punching a wall; the pain that surged through her arms and legs at the actions were welcome relief to the pain she felt inside. Her entire life had been torn apart in front of her eyes by Alecto.

Everything that mattered, everything that she had tried to destroy had all been a lie, manipulated by the Punishers of the Gods. Callisto had longed for oblivion, to at last find peace. Xena, the woman that she had hated for so long - yet still admired - had tried to give her that peace, but that too had been taken away from her.

Now she realised she would spend her eternity in torture; regret, anger and renewed hatred would fill her every moment, unless....

She heard crackling in the air and turned to find all three Furies - Alecto, Megaera and Tisiphone - waiting.

“It’s time Callisto.” Alecto reached out a hand for Callisto to take.

“If I do this, if I defend Gabrielle, will I find peace?” Callisto asked as she moved away from the offered hand.

Alecto withdrew her hand, “Let me put it to you another way Callisto,” Alecto fixed her eyes on the blonde warrior, a hint of evil flashing in them, “If you don’t do this you will never find peace.” She re-offered her hand.

“Well since you put it like that,” Callisto gathered all the hate that she could and put it into the one sentence.

Stepping forward she took Alecto’s hand and felt the tingling sensation that shot along her arm and through her body as they began their journey to Olympus.

*           *            *

Continued in Part 7