DISCLAIMER: Ok, some rather dry stuff here, these characters, at least the ones you recognize, are property of MCA/Universal and the author intends no copyright infringement in the writing of this story.
The title of this story is "The Holy War" for a reason, and since wars don't tend to be very nice, there is quite a little bit of violence, blood, and death in this story. If that sort of thing offends you, please stop reading now.
This story also depicts two women who just happen to love each other a great deal. If that twists your shorts, or you're too young, or that sort of thing is unlawful where you live, please choose something else to read.
As always feedback is most appreciated. You may email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for reading and enjoy.
She floated in a sea of blood. The voices inside her mind silent, for the moment. The loneliness nearly overwhelming, she was alone and the sorrow was too much to bear. The memory was still there, but she could not touch it. Like a dream barely on the edge of memory, she could feel the emotions, but could not grasp their source. But above it all was the horror. The horror of what she had been forced to watch, forced to do, all from outside herself. She could see her hand, hear the voices, all as if it were someone else. Forced to watch the sacrifices, all to honor her, that which was still her own rebelled. But she was far from strong enough to break free and turn from the gruesome scene.
Now there was nothing. The horror had passed, and now she felt nothing but the loneliness. The sight of the priests, their cloaks covered in the blood of the sacrifices were preferable to this aching hole that had become her life. She swam through the layers of emotion, drowning in them, unable to break the surface. Just when she was ready to surrender to it, sink gladly into the arms of oblivion, a hand reached out and captured her lost soul.
She thought that the joy she felt would burst her heart. It had returned; the memory was there, only now no longer memory, but reality. This was not fantasy borne of rage and depression, a reflex of the mind used to keep her alive, but now a dream, come vividly to life. She was here.
The warrioress smoothed a stray hair from the now peaceful face. Her hand lightly stroking the clenched fist near her leg, the only outward sign of the tension remaining in the small body beneath the blanket. Slowly the fist relaxed, as had her features, and Gabrielle finally relaxed back into a deep sleep.
Xena sighed heavily, the sight of the bard gripped yet again in the cold and fearsome claws of a nightmare had troubled her. The night terrors seemed to capture the young woman regularly during her troubled sleep, allowing neither of them any rest. Xena had been extremely reluctant to leave the bard's side for even a moment, fearing that she would not be there to soothe the dreams and calm her companion's slumber.
The Amazons had given them both some privacy, but were never far, bringing the warrioress food and water then slipping back out of the chamber again. Their vigilance and loyalty to their Queen in absentia impressed the Warrior Princess, and she welcomed their presence.
Gabrielle's slight frame relaxed with Xena's touch, and she seemed to finally come free of the nightmares plaguing her. The sun was barely above the horizon as the young Amazon Queen's eyes edged open.
Pain was the first among the sensations to return to the bard's awareness, but even the unpleasantness of that pain was welcome to the numbness and blackness that had dominated her life the last few days. Days that had seemed to stretch on into weeks and then to eternity. An eternity that had finally come to an end and left her here, unknowing but alive.
Her mind seemed to wander aimlessly as she attempted to focus on her surroundings. Forcing herself to focus on the room about her, the pain intensified and she quickly gave up the effort, allowing her eyes to slide shut once again, voicing a small groan with the act. The sound was music to the warrioress' ears as she abandoned her stroking and turned her full attention to the bard.
"Gabrielle? Can you hear me? You're safe now, everything's going to be fine."
The bard summoned the strength to pry her eyes open once again, her attention drawn to the warrioress' face as her eyes slowly came into focus. Xena's face animated into a small smile as she watched Gabrielle come awake at last.
"That's it Gabrielle, open your eyes for me, that's it." The warrioress soothed. "Can you talk to me? How do you feel?"
Gabrielle's eyes slowly tracked toward the warrioress' face, but Xena could see that there was something wrong. Just a feeling more than anything really, but something was definitely amiss with her young companion, returned from the dead.
As she watched the bard slowly come fully awake, Xena was struck by the seemingly lifeless look on Gabrielle's face. The sea green eyes, once so alive taking in everything around her, would now barely focus on her surroundings. The warrioress then began to look deeper into those eyes, leaning forward and forcing Gabrielle to make eye contact, and what she saw chilled her very soul.
Nothing. She saw absolutely nothing that was remotely Gabrielle. No spark in those once animated eyes, no expression colored her face. There was simply nothing. It was as though Gabrielle's ordeal had robbed the bard of her soul, leaving this empty and broken shell lying on the pallet before her.
"Gabrielle? Gabrielle, I know you can hear me, please, look at me."
The warrioress' pleas seemed to go unheard as Gabrielle's eyes refused to focus even at the gentle request of her companion. Xena released the breath she was barely aware she was holding, a pall of worry falling over her, shrouding her mind in despair.
I wasn't fast enough...she was there too long! Horde bastards! By the Gods they'll pay for what they've done to her.
A nervous energy seemed to course through her as every fiber in her being screamed for vengeance. The warrioress surged to her feet, unable to contain the rush of adrenaline coursing through her veins. With conscious effort, Xena forced herself to calm down, taking deep breaths and releasing them slowly. But the control she sought was elusive and finally the warrioress could no longer take the sight of Gabrielle's blank stare and expressionless face. Her hands clenched into tight fists at her own helplessness, Xena stalked from the small room and out into the cool night air.
The peace and calm of the evening sounds filtered down to her hearing as the warrior slowly leaned back against the wall of the building she had just exited. Her legs no longer seemed to possess the strength to hold her upright and she allowed herself to slide down the wall until she was sitting in the cool dirt, elbows propped up on her knees, her head buried in her hands.
It was in this position that Ephiny found the warrior, her heart immediately sinking in her chest. The normally stoic warrioress, invincible in battle, now brought down, the defeated slump in her shoulders clearly visible even in the dim moonlight. Ephiny approached her deliberately, not wishing to startle the Warrior Princess, and slowly dropped to one knee before her, waiting for Xena to raise her head to look up at the Regent.
"Ephiny." Merely a statement, a harsh whisper from the warrior.
"Xena. How is she?" The Regent asked simply, knowing the true depth of her question.
The warrior merely shook her head, the grief in her eyes at the question was like a physical blow to the Amazon. Never before had she seen Xena give up hope like this, especially where Gabrielle was concerned.
"I don't know Eph, I just don't know. It's like she's not even there, ya know? It's like they've stolen her away, and all they've left us with is her body."
Ephiny's brow creased in confusion as she tried to grasp what it was that Xena was trying to say.
"What do you mean she's not there? Maybe you just need to give her more time, she's been through a lot..."
"Time! Time won't help her Ephiny! There's nothing left! Nothing there! They've killed her, only she still breathes. That in there is not my Gabrielle. Their gods have stolen her soul from me and what's lying in there is all that's left!" Xena shot back angrily, the frustration and anger pouring from her like an unstoppable river. But the warrior had no intention of trying to stop the torrent of emotion, and so she allowed it free reign. The warrior came to her feet and was now looking down on the Amazon Regent, rage flashing in her ice blue eyes; rage at an enemy she could not defeat with a blade or her chakram. She took that rage out on Ephiny.
"Don't you think that if I thought that time would help I'd give her that! All the time in the world isn't going to help her! Nothing will help her out of this! Nothing!" The warrior began stomping across the narrow street, her voice rising steadily until she was nearly screaming in her despair.
The Regent allowed the warrior to vent her anguish, fear and rage, rising to her feet and watching calmly as she paced from one side of the street to the other until the warrior was once again face to face with her.
"No one can help her Ephiny, no one! I can't do anything for her! I don't know how to heal this!" The admission seemed to rob Xena of her rage and left her feeling spent. It was then that Ephiny chose to speak again.
"I care about her too, Xena. And it tears me up inside to see her this way, but I'm not about to give up on her, and I don't think you are either. You're not a quitter Xena, you never have been. So don't quit on her now. Not when she needs you the most."
Xena felt the anger draining from her and once again sank down to sit leaning against the wall, her head in her hands. "I just don't know what to do for her Eph. I want to help her, you have to believe me."
"I know you do, Xena. But you've just come face to face with the fact that you're human, just like the rest of us. A frightening experience I'm sure, but you need to snap out of it here. Otherwise you're useless to her. She needs you more than ever before, Xena. And you need to be here for her, not off wallowing in self-pity. So pull yourself together!" Ephiny allowed some of her own feelings of frustration and anger slip through, but she honestly didn't care. The warrior before her needed to be shocked out of this mood if she was going to be able to do anything to help the bard.
There was stunned silence from the Warrior Princess for several long moments as she realized that Ephiny's harsh words were only for her benefit, and for Gabrielle's. Now was not the time to fall apart, not when the bard needed her. Xena pushed herself to her feet, the weariness brought on by the events of the last few days still weighing heavily upon her. But now armed with the knowledge that she was likely the only person in the world with the ability to relieve the bard's suffering and bring her back to herself. No matter what the cost.
Ephiny could see the change in the warrior almost immediately. Gone was the persistent air of defeat, now replaced with the more familiar aura of confidence and control. She didn't know how much of it was real, and how much was Xena's convincing herself that it was possible, but really it didn't matter. What mattered now was the Queen.
Xena leveled a gaze at the Regent, "So, any ideas as to what we do now?"
Ephiny's mouth quirked into a slight grin. "Actually, I'm glad you asked that. As a matter of fact, I just might."
The warrioress arched an expressionful eyebrow at the Amazon.
The howling could be heard all across the camp as the news of the Chosen One's loss to the Greeks reached the ears of the Horde army. Their cries were instantly silenced by a wave from their Supreme Commander, Telmark.
"My Horde brothers, this crime shall not go unpunished, I promise you! With the aide of the High Priest of Arimon, we will have the Chosen One at the head of our army once again! Once that happens, nothing will stand in our way! Nothing! We will crush the Greeks from inside their own camp, with the Chosen One leading the way!"
The howling rose from the throats of the Horde warriors once again, as their blood lust took on a fever pitch, overwhelming all else. Only one thing would sate their desires, the sight of Greek blood staining their battle-axes.
As Telmark stepped down off the dais, he could only hope that his men would take their anger out on the Greeks and not turn that rage inward. If so, he and the others in command wouldn't live to see another day.
The light from the campfires cast ghostly images across the courtyard as Xena and Ephiny made their way toward the quarters along the far wall. As they crossed the open area of the central yard, a great howling met their ears and froze them in place.
"What in the seven levels of Tartarus was that?" The Regent asked urgently.
"I don't know. But I don't like it, and I get the feeling we'll be finding out all too soon." Xena replied, her sharp hearing tuned to any sounds that may indicate an impending attack. When none were forthcoming, she resumed her place walking beside the Amazon. The warrioress could see now that they were heading toward the Centaur barracks and was finally fed up with simply following behind the Regent.
"Ephiny, what're we doing here? What do you think the Centaurs will be able to do for Gabrielle?"
"Xena, the Centaurs are a very spiritual people, as I'm sure you know."
"Yeah, so?" Xena snapped, her patience wearing thin.
"So, I think that Tyldus may know something that will help her. I wasn't with Phantes for long, but in the time I did spend with him, I learned a great deal about Centaur mysticism. The Centaurs believe that there can be no mind without the body, and no body without the mind. When they treat illnesses they treat it all, the body and the mind and spirit. To them it's all one. I think that's what Gabrielle needs. She needs to be healed, body and soul Xena, and we can't give that to her. But maybe they can."
The warrior considered her words, but was still rather dubious. "Ephiny, Gabrielle isn't a Centaur. How do you know this'll work?"
"I don't. But do you have a better idea?" The Regent paused for a moment, waiting for a reply. "I didn't think so. You said it yourself that it was like there was nothing there, right? Like they had stolen her mind or her soul? Well, who better to heal that than a people skilled in that type of healing?" Ephiny concluded as they reached the doorway leading into Tyldus' chambers.
"Now, are you coming in with me?"
The warrioress hesitated for a moment, the doubt still showing clearly in her eyes. She then shrugged slightly, motioning Ephiny to precede her into the room.
The room was dimly lit and the two could make out Tyldus' shadowy form leaning over a tangle of battle plans and status reports strewn across a large table to one side of the chamber. His head came up at their entrance.
"Xena...Ephiny, it's late, is there something wrong? What was that howling I heard?" The Centaur asked, concern tingeing his voice.
Ephiny shot a glance at Xena, who it seemed wasn't in any hurry to take the lead in this situation, so the Amazon stepped forward and began to explain.
"Tyldus," she began, "no, nothing's wrong. We heard it too, and we're not sure what that was, but Xena's certain we'll find out before long. Actually we're here about Gabrielle."
"Ah, I had heard that she was found alive in the Horde camp and that you had brought her back here. What is it that I can do for her? Surely you have your own Amazon healers to treat any injuries she may have." Tyldus commented.
"That's true, we do have our own healers, but I'm not sure that we can help her. We were hoping that perhaps one of your healers would agree to see her."
"Why? To what purpose?"
"Tyldus, Gabrielle hasn't spoken since she was found. We've examined her completely, and other than some minor wounds, we can find nothing wrong. We're at a loss to explain it, and thought maybe your healer would have some insight."
Tyldus considered that for a moment. "She's been through a great deal over the last few days. Perhaps she simply isn't ready to speak yet? Honestly, our peoples are very different Amazon, and I'm not sure what we can do to help her."
Xena finally broke her silence, stepping forward to face the Centaur leader.
"Tyldus, I'm not sure that I believe you can help either. But know this, it's more than just her not wanting to speak. When I looked into her eyes, it was like looking at emptiness. There was nothing there at all. It's like the Horde have taken her soul and left only her body behind. Now if you or your healer have even a remote chance of helping her, then you do it. You got me?" The warrior's words brooked no disagreement, and Tyldus slowly nodded.
"All right warrior, I will send our healer to look at her. But I make no promises that he will be able to help."
"Thank you, Tyldus." Xena replied simply. Then turned and walked from the chamber, intent upon returning to Gabrielle's side as quickly as possible. She already felt she had been gone too long, and was surprised at herself for staying away as long as she had.
Ephiny and Tyldus watched her go, then the Regent turned to face her one time enemy.
"I also thank you Tyldus. I know our two peoples have hated and warred for many years. I hope that this will bring a new era of peace to us. Even if this doesn't work, all Amazons will know of your efforts to help our Queen."
Tyldus inclined his head slightly at Ephiny's words. "I'll send for the healer immediately. I'll have him meet you in her quarters."
Ephiny nodded and then turned and walked back out into the calm night, wondering herself how much good this would do.Chapter 18