Disclaimers: Xena, Gabrielle, Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are mine.
Ain't It Special? They're In Love! This story contains no explicit sex scenes, but the two main characters are women and (gasp!) they're in love. If this sort of thing bothers you, better try reading something else!
Spoiler Alert: This works has a lot of spoilers for the India Arc.
Author's Note: This story takes place after the dynamic duo return from India, but before The Play's The Thing.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
"I have been summoned by my Mistress to retrieve you." Lysander began, his tired eyes staring at us across the fire, "You must retrieve the Chalice of Hemera from the Valley of Day and return it to its temple in the Mountain of Moros."
Gabrielle sputtered in her water, "The Goddess Hemera, mother of Day? Older than Zeus?" She regained her composure as she continued. "Isn't Moros the God of Doom and Destiny?"
"Yes," the old man replied, "The Goddess Hemera is one of the Gods of the Void. She trapped her brother, Moros, in this mountain, for his thirst for power was overwhelming. The Chalice of Hemera is the light which kept Moros weak and tied to this mountain. It is too powerful for a God to be entrusted with this task; it was removed from its temple during the last siege of Dahak to keep it from his grasp. Now it must be returned, else Moros will grow strong enough to leave his mountain."
At the mention of Dahak, I watched Gabrielle's shoulders stiffen. She still felt so much shame over letting Hope live and the death of my son, then being responsible for Hope and the Destroyer's death. How I knew! The guilt of giving Solon up and his death because of my burdens still stung me at times. Flashes of watching Borias die as he called for me flooded my mind.
"Surely Gabrielle could wait for us."
"It is Gabrielle's presence that I have been seeking, Warrior. The Goddess Hemera has blessed her. You," he said, motioning at my bard, "are the Chosen One of this generation to bear the Chalice to the Temple of Hemera."
"I am what?" Gabrielle looked shocked, as was I. I always knew she had the light in her eyes, but this was taking it a little too far.
Lysander sipped from his waterskin. I found myself remembering when he was younger and still in the unhealthy business of being conjuring for angry warlords. I always passed his conjuring and visions as the sound of ale, coming through the mouths of drunks. After all, I'd known real shamans - dangerous shamans - and his talents always seemed to exclude him from that company. He always seemed to me like a man who just talked too much and made my head hurt.
"We all have the darkness," Lysander replied, "but the light in you, Gabrielle, is what is needed to convey this Chalice onto its resting place. No one but the Chosen One can touch the Chalice."
I looked at Gabrielle. I had taken her to so many dark places. How many more times could I expose her to the evil that seemed to wait to extinguish her light? Callisto, Krafstar, Dahak, Hope, and Gods, dragging her behind that horse - all of this weighed so heavily on my mind. And my fear of the vision I'd had under Alti's influence certainly didn't lessen with his foreboding. I'd give anything to spare Gabrielle that fate. We hadn't talked about it, really, other than to acknowledge that we'd both seen it. I managed a slight smile. "Couldn't the person who removed it just put it back?"
"The last Chalice bearer gave his life to protect it by removing it."
And he wanted me to willingly lead Gabrielle into this mess! "You don't mean that she's going to die by merely touching it?"
"No. It is your duty, as her Champion, to protect her outside the Temple, Xena. That was where he gave his life."
I grabbed my whetstone and started sharpening my sword. I tried my best to mask my emotions. The guilt and shame on reflected on Gabrielle's face. I knew now we'd have to take this challenge or we'd never be free of the pain. "Lysander, leave us so we can talk."
"Xena," Gabrielle started after he left for the river, "I have to do this."
I nodded, sharpening my sword, trying to keep my stoic warrior facade.
"I won't walk away. I can't. We can't."
"Gabrielle," I started, putting on my best smile, only to be interrupted by her.
"Don't 'Gabrielle' me. It sounds like I helped create this. I have to try to make it right. You, of all people, should understand that."
Ouch, that hurt! I looked at her, ashamed. My desire to protect her would keep her from atoning for her heavy heart. I wanted to cry at the pain I could see etched into her face.
"Let's be in this together, Xena. I need you." She reached for my hand, something she'd done all to little of lately. I certainly couldn't let her do this alone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We loaded all our supplies on Argo and joined Lysander for our trek towards the mountain. If I looked close enough, I could swear it was the mountain of Alti's vision. A chill passed through me. I'd give anything not to lead her to that vision.
"Once we get to the mountain, we must journey through the caverns," Lysander informed us, "Be careful of the tales told in the mountain. They are known as the Secret Heart. If you believe them, your soul will become one with the mountain."
"We'll keep that in mind, won't we, Xena?"
"Yeah," I grimaced, dreading this journey worse than a month-long shopping spree.
The trek to the mountain was a short jaunt. We'd kept most of our supplies and encountered none of the usual thieves. I was disappointed. With so much time for my mind to roam, I could have used the distraction of banging heads.
The Mountain was dead ahead. My heart stopped for a moment. This could be the mountain revealed to me in that cursed vision. I placed my hand to my head to momentarily stop the voices that were tormenting me about that damned crucifixion.
Gabrielle noticed this action and asked if I was okay. In my usual gruff warrior fashion, I grunted at her.
Lysander interrupted our moment of concern. "We need not wait, my friends. Look, there is the entrance way."
The opening was almost obscured with trees and brush. It reminded me of the Ixion Caves, where I last saw Kaleipus. I pushed that painful memory down and removed our packs from Argo. "Argo, you can't go with us here. I want you to go around the mountain and wait for us in the valley." Argo whinnied her argument to me. "Do what I tell you, girl! Now go!"
As Argo galloped off, we grabbed our packs and headed into the cavern. So much for never leaving her out again!
We lit our torches and began walking. Lysander was surprisingly nimble for an old man.
"Round and round..."
"Xena, did you hear that? It sounded like Callisto," Gabrielle whispered, grabbing my left arm. Of course I heard that. Couldn't believe she did. Callisto, ha! It was the voice that tormented me in my head!
"Always, forever, in shadows, I am..."
I could feel Gabrielle pulling closer with every utterance. If the situation were different, I might have been comforted. Instead, I was pulling my sword, for the all the good it might do.
"As always, encased in circles. Oh, did you know that? Never mind. It wouldn't strike you."
I glanced around in the darkness. I could see nothing but the walls surrounding us and Gabrielle and Lysander.
"Flames, O yes. Burn, baby, burn. In circles, I am trapped
Trapped as always in circles. Ask me if I care.
Backslide. And I was almost free..."
"Lysander," I whispered, pointing my sword to the side, "where is that coming from? Answer me, damn you!"
He pulled away from me as the voice continued.
"Spin, baby, sin. I don't care.
Nobody knows my crimson tears.
Oh, they drop all the time.
Flow like the Red Sea.
Ask me if...ask my soul..."
"Xena, Gabrielle, come quick! We should not be hearing them so soon. Follow me!"
It seemed to me we had no choice but to follow. I looked behind and could no longer find the entrance. Couldn't understand how that happened. We hadn't gone that far.
"You can't go backward. You must go forward to go back."
"Sin, baby, spin and I don't care.
There's nothing left.
Nothing is sacred, just suspicious.
Pretty, bright, burning flames
Engulf my mind..."
I sheathed my sword as we hurried behind Lysander. I wasn't sure about Gabrielle, but that voice was beginning to unnerve me. It wasn't Callisto; it was a voice from inside my head, from my warlord days, filled with the insanity from a time when I craved nothing more than to be the Destroyer of Nations.
"Burn me like a scroll. Ask me if I care.
There's nothing left.
And the tunnel widens, no,
Maybe...maybe it's the flames
I don't know. Why do I bother?
Don't stop. Keep on going. There's nobody
Here to see your flames...engulf...flow like the river.
Burn, baby, burn and I don't care.
My life, my soul is in your circle.
Spin, sin, burn...it's all the same to me.
Idiosyncrasies of the soul.
I'll just spin my wheels..."
We finally escaped that voice in another cavern. The words stayed in my mind. It reminded me of that time at Mount Nessus, after M'lila died. I could feel the dread and the blind rage threatening to overtake me as I relived her death. I tried to get a grip on myself. Maybe Alti'd been re-born yet again and was plaguing me with this infernal insanity.
Gabrielle took my hand in hers. I could feel her reaching out to me, comforting me. Reminding me I've changed. I'm still a warrior, but I've changed. I'm not the same warrior who would be the Destroyer of Nations. I tried to settle down. She could feel my edginess.
"We cannot rest, friends. The mountain will surely take us if we do. We must continue and stay together. We cannot afford to be separated. There is safety in numbers!"
I pulled Gabrielle close in a hug, then let her go just as quickly. I could feel the dreaded memories encasing me. No. I've changed. We must press on.
"How many of these little traps will we find, Lysander?"
He put his finger to his lips as if to quiet me.
I could feel my eyebrow arch as I stared at him. Suddenly, I felt like I was being dragged through stone as something separated me from Lysander and Gabrielle, stealing my voice. I could no longer see my beautiful bard or Lysander. I could hear only the chanting voices in my ears. As I felt a shimmering presence, I unsheathed my sword.
I could see a non-descript man beginning to coalesce before me. I kept the point of my sword where his throat should be. "There is no need for your toy, Xena. It cannot harm me."
"Moros, is it? What have you done with the others?" I hesitated to speak Gabrielle's name, for fear of bringing attention to her.
"Worry not for Lysander and Gabrielle. It is you I have become interested, Destroyer of Nations!"
"Evidently, you don't get current scrolls around here," I smirked, trying to keep my cool intact. "I haven't been called that in some time."
"Ah yes, I am aware. Fell in with Zeus's son and began your change. Still, you have to admit that dragging your beloved Gabrielle behind a horse was not a sign of peace. Then, overcome with urges, you were tempted to kill her in a bath."
"Is there a point to this history lesson?"
"You have little respect for me. I would change that."
Moros raised his right arm, pointed to me and pulled his hand back to himself. "Gods!" Excruciating pain filled my chest and I was finding it difficult to breathe. I thought of holding out, but I thought of Gabrielle in these caverns, with no real defense. "All right," I gasped. "You have my attention."
"Xena, you need not oppose me. I have heard your prayers."
"You have heard what?" The last time I prayed was in India, when Gabrielle was in trouble. "Maybe you were hearing Meg."
"No, Xena. They were your words. Listen:
Inside myself, I wage a war.
I fear I cannot win.
And fire has engulfed my soul.
....Please, by the Gods....
I am tired.
Fight; fight on, they say.
But whom do I fight?
And why do I care?
Let me be.
I am tired of fighting.
Before my eyes touched your Light
Brought to me
And He knows that I am tired.
Soon, my fight will be over.
I think I will not win.
The Demon knew
Long ago, as
He sucked my strength
The Beast comes out
When he became
The Demon within."
"Those words! They were like a song in my head, after my army turned on me."
"So you do know them, my dear."
"What is that you want with me? If you know all of this, then you know I'm not like that any more. I've found a better way."
"Is that what you call it - the way that which caused the death of your son? The way that allowed you to help Dahak enter your realm? Or is this the better way you followed when you nearly kill your beloved Gabrielle until your son petitioned Hades for the trial of Illusia?
How heavy does this weigh on your soul? Your son died because of you, Hope was born because of your need for revenge, and Gabrielle is prey for every willing demon because of the darkness that falls into her heart. Before you, there was no darkness in her. Look at your beloved Gabrielle now!"
He pointed on a wall and I watched as he commanded. I saw her kill Meridian; I watched again as she was taken by Dahak, powerless to stop it. I saw her make the deal with Ares to get to Chin so she could betray me. I saw, for the first time, the look on her face as she tried to disbelieve that Hope had killed my son. She again held the poison to her lips, only to find the waterskin empty, save a drop. I saw her keep Crassus' ring and saw the shadow that passed upon her face. She threw a spear on into the melee, and I saw it intentionally miss its target as Flanagus died. Then the boy lost his innocence as he shot the arrow through the roman's armor. Next, I saw again in India, as she was possessed by Tataka. My heart felt like an anvil in chest. "Enough, enough," I said weakly.
"Ah Xena, can you see now? You cannot undo what you create."
"What do you want from me?"
"Gabrielle was blessed by Hemera. But you have helped her to lose sight. I thank you, for it has only made me grow in strength!"
"The Light she has she shares with others," I cried out, fighting the stench of the fire in my soul, "Even when they don't deserve it, she always sees the good in people!" I tried to focus on all the good Gabrielle had aspired to and all those we helped because of her insistence.
"How much longer, Xena?"
An image appeared in my mind of Gabrielle, holding Crassus' ring as he was beheaded. Then Najara, that bitch! Again, I heard her as she lay on top of me, attempting to save my life. Then it came to me....the visions, this separation: It was not real! I was trapped by my own regret! This was my soul, separated from my body, hidden within this cavern. I had the truth now in my hands - but how was I to escape? Without Gabrielle...but Gabrielle is always with me. Did I learn nothing from Illusia? She is with me because she chooses to be. She knows the path I follow. I did not force her to follow me, nor do I force her to stay. This is my guilt over her pain that I hold. But it is wrong and that's what holds me here. This life with me and all it entails is her choice!
I remembered us on the beach, after returning from Illusia. I could feel myself falling back into my body, as I'd done two winters ago when Gabrielle fed me the ambrosia. "Gab..Gabrielle," I stammered, trying to catch her hand.
"Thank the Gods, Xena!" She hugged me and held me close.
"Gabrielle, you must listen to me," I implored weakly as she handed me the waterskin. "Moros..."
"Xena, you must save your strength."
"Gabrielle, listen to me! You must..." She put two fingers on my lips to quiet me.
"I love you, Xena. I want you to save your strength. I can't afford to lose you to this cavern."
I looked into her shining, emerald eyes. I wanted to warn her of the inherent danger, knowing I could not help her through. Etched onto her face was worry and concern for me. Gods, I loved her even more! "I love you, Gabrielle, but you must listen. The danger is in your heart."
She chided me as one would a sick child. "Okay, Xena, now rest. You gave me a real scare, falling out like you did."
Her words faded in my head as I drifted off to a restless sleep. As visions flooded through my mind, I kept her smile in my heart. Her love surrounded me and kept the jackals at bay.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The problem when you get out of a situation and start feeling better is that your mind attacks you. And mine was surely wielding the biggest sword I knew, for what Moros said bothered me greatly. It wasn't like I'd never thought those things on my own. How good for Gabrielle could I be if I continued to lead her into darkness and watched as her soul slowly died? It wasn't as if I kept her captive. Quite the opposite; I'd tried to send her away, given her words of freedom to follow others, and she kept choosing me.
Perhaps that was the problem. Gabrielle was my heart. I thought I'd been in love before, but Gabrielle was like no other. Even when the Furies persecuted me and drove me mad, Gabrielle would not give up on me. Through all the doubts and anger, she never gave up on me. Maybe it was my turn not to give up on Gabrielle.
Surprisingly, there were no more confrontations in the caverns. I was certain he just wanted us off-balance. I'd been up against gods before and I'd never known them to give up that easily. In fact, it was too easy. The real confrontation must be outside the Temple.
We entered the Valley of Day, amazed at the stark contrast to where we had been. The lush, green valley was teeming with life. It reminded me of the Elysian Fields I'd glimpsed when Marcus and I were trying to find the Helmet of Hades.
I sent Lysander ahead under the guise of scouting the area, so that Gabrielle and I could speak.
"Xena," she asked me, taking my hands, "what happened to you? I was so scared!"
"Don't know, really. But I do know this: What ever we are up against can turn take our pain and use it against us!"
Gabrielle let go of my hands and turned away. I could feel the intensity of her feelings building like a wall. "Let's just get the Chalice and get out of here."
I had a bad feeling about this. Gabrielle going in that Temple without me, that just wasn't right. Still, Lysander said the real danger would be outside. I had no reason to doubt him. He'd been right thus far.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We rejoined Lysander at the Temple. The temple was nothing like what I'd expected. From a Goddess of this stature, I guess I expected something more ornate. Maybe it was older than I expected. I wasn't sure, but something just didn't feel right.
Lysander spoke before I had a chance to voice my concern. "Xena, as her Guardian, you will need to remain outside the Temple. I will go with Gabrielle to retrieve the Chalice."
"Lysander, I can be the Guardian much better if I am with her."
"The Guardian may not enter the Temple. What good will the Chalice do if damaged in an ambush?"
"Xena," Gabrielle interceded, "it's okay. We'll be in and out. Nothing to it."
Sure, I thought grimly. Kinda like retrieving that ambrosia. Nothing to it. Still, I heard her soft rebuke and acceded to her requests.
I watched as the two entered the temple, my nerves on end as I guarded the door. I hoped Hemera was paying attention.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Xena waited outside the Temple while we retrieved the Chalice. I was a little glad, really. I didn't want to talk about our past. I couldn't deal with it right now. I just wanted to be done with this mission. She must know how much I love her, but I just wasn't ready to talk to her about everything. I was afraid to drag up all that pain.
The Temple, the altar, and the Chalice - they all looked so plain. I don't know what I was expecting, something ornate, I guess. I tried to focus on the task at hand. The Chalice lay in front of us. I stopped, causing Lysander to run into me. "Wait, don't we need an offering or something?"
"Gabrielle, you are performing a service for the Goddess. You need not concern yourself with tributes."
"Look, I've dealt with more than my share of the Gods and they all want something."
"Your heart is pure."
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Your heart is pure. That is all that is needed to retrieve the Chalice." He stared into my eyes, almost as if trying to see into my soul. Seemed a little creepy to be the helper of a Goddess such as Hemera.
I could feel my painful memories rear their ugly head. Still, I put on a brave face. I approached the altar to remove the Chalice. It seemed ordinary to me. When I brought my hands toward it, something in me stopped me from grabbing the Chalice.
"Take the Chalice, Gabrielle," Lysander commanded.
It sensed my pained heart! Great! This is just what I needed. Now what was I supposed to do? I've been carrying around this sack of pain for quite a while. I couldn't barter it away.
"Take the Chalice and we will be free." He looked deep into my eyes and I began to feel trapped. I tried to back away.
"No," I cried, trying to keep my mouth shut.
"Chosen One, I have waited long for this moment. Retrieve the Chalice, that we may place the Chalice on its rightful altar!"
I continued backing away from him, trying to put some distance between us. "Who are you?" I narrowed my eyes and tried to scrutinize him. "Are you a friend of Alti's?"
"Gabrielle, I am not of Alti. Do not fear me. The mission we share is one: to place the Chalice in the Mountain of Moros."
"I'm going to get Xena," I snapped as I hurried to the door.
"Do you not think she is tired of waiting for you, Chosen One," he sneered as he appeared before me. "She has much patience with you, but it is not forever. You cannot oppose me, for I am One with the Mountain! "
Suddenly, my mind was filled with images. Me leaving Xena for the Academy in Athens. Me leaving Xena for home. Me choosing Meleager over Xena. My mistake of a marriage to Perdicas, coupled with his death. How I betrayed Xena in Chin and dealt with Ares to do it. The death of Solon, because of my daughter. The whole thing with Najara. All of this overwhelming me. I must leave Xena to think so little of my love for her. "Xena," I cried, and struggled towards the door.
He moved his right hand in a semi-circle and I could feel myself being forced back from the door and falling to the floor. Omigod, I must be trapped...just like Britannia! The fear from Britannia threatened to engulf me as I fought for some measure of control.
"Chosen One, you must bear the Chalice! Now retrieve it!"
"And what do you get out of it, Lysander? Why lie to me, Moros, I'm a bard. I know these things." If there's one thing I've learned from Xena, it's never let them know when they get to you.
He walked closer as I started to get up. "Why do you struggle? It is over."
Again, my mind was flooded with horrible images...all the pain I've caused Xena, the life that I took. Well, it was more than one life, my mind seemed determined to remind me. Meridian, Crassus - Gods, my own child and grandchild! How that hurt! I saw again how I could have prevented the death of Flanagus and the loss of blood innocence of that poor young man. Everything changed with Meridian. Meridian. I could see the blood on my hands, blood that no amount of water could ever clean. Would this hurting never end?
"You belong to me, Gabrielle. Give yourself to me." I stared at him, fighting back the shame that was slowly sinking my soul.
Turning my head away, I tried to strengthen my resolve. I knew I had to fight this. It was worse than what Alti had put me through. I couldn't surrender to this. I had to focus on what was important. "Moros," I cried, "I follow the Way of Peace! I have given myself to that!"
"Because of you, your husband died. The shame is that he was not who was in your heart. Yet he died for you. And you let him. "
I knew it was true. That was the crux of the problem. There was no lie here. Just me and my heart, heavy with the truth. No wonder I continued to shy away from Xena. She may an ex-warlord, with blood on her hands, but me; I was a monster, professing peace!
"Because of you, Xena was sentenced to death in Chin. Because of her concern for you, she was almost killed by your friend, Najara. Your friend."
"Focus, Gabrielle, focus!!!!" I could hear Xena...Xena. My best friend, my one true love. I had to get to Xena! That was what was important to me! "This isn't about Xena. This is about me." I gathered my wits and stared him in the eye. "And I have a lot of painful memories, but I've already decided to keep them. I have to live with what I've done."
"You need only to become One with the Mountain to ease your suffering." He walked around me, trying to draw me closer to the Chalice. "Perhaps the Way of Peace is not for you. I want only to ease your suffering. Give yourself to me and be free of all this. Be One with the Mountain. All you have to do is retrieve for me this Chalice. "
I knew there had to be answer. I struggled to set aside my self-recriminations and think logically. "I won't remove the Chalice."
He laughed evilly. "You will retrieve this Chalice for me! Too strong is your need to be free of all this." He waved his hand in the air as images from my past flickered on the walls. "Think of what I offer you: You will keep your memories, but no longer be haunted by the pain. Become One with the Mountain."
Talk about temptation! It was a better deal than I was offered in the Temple of Mnemosyne. Wait a minute, what am I thinking! "I won't set you free! I may have been responsible for Hope, but I won't be responsible for you!"
He began to approach me and I did what had to be the craziest thing to do: I sat down and meditated. I reflected on the path of my life...of all my pain and joy. I breathed in deeply. It was good. It was all good. I knew who he was; the God, Moros, for he brought to me my deepest shame. But that was okay. I didn't have to be ruled by it. I could look at Xena as an example. She was able to finally let go of a lot of her old mistakes. I could, too. It would just take time to heal. Time to talk with her, not shut her out. Time to heal.
I stood up, knowing for the first time since my daughter died, I had a glimmer of peace in my soul. I didn't even bother to acknowledge him as I walked to the door. I was not afraid. I did not need Xena to protect me from myself.
I opened the door and let the sunshine envelop me. I saw my lover's pale blue eyes searching for answers. "Where's the Chalice and Lysander?"
Putting my arms around her waist, I brought her close to me. "They're inside, where they need to be."
"What happened," Xena inquired, her concern betrayed.
I reached up and kissed her lightly on the lips. "Nothing you and I can't handle. Why don't we go find Argo and I'll tell you everything. Over food, that is. I'm hungry!"