She was in the same forest as before. Alti was looking amused. "Thank you for dropping in Xena. You never did like the little dance did you?"
Xena said nothing but edged closer to Alti. The shameness raised her hand and sent a light beam towards Xena, but Xena's reflexes were too quick and she raised her hand sending a counteracting bolt out.
There was a slow clap. "You must be a true Amazon, Xena. Perhaps it is Artemis' blood you carry."
The shameness continued to circle Xena who moved slowly around watching her intently. Alti raised her hands again; as did Xena and once again the light bolts were neutralised.
"This is boring," Alti's harsh voice carried her disappointment, and so she raised both hands up.
Xena felt herself being pushed back wards, as if caught in a hurricane. She tried using all her spirit strength and then her physical strength to prevent it but she was pushed back and slammed hard into the base of a tree. She was momentarily winded and after she shook her head to try and clear it she looked up and saw Alti standing over her. The shameness cackled.
"Your death will give me so much power," she said gleefully. "So you see, you will be the destroyer of nations after all."
She raised her hands and as she brought them down to emit the killing blow, she was hit by a light beam and sent ten feet past Xena. Xena scrambled up and looked in the direction where the beam came from. Standing there with a satisfied look was Gabrielle.
Gabrielle watched Xena hurry out of the door. Her mouth quivered and she put her hand across it. She could feel her eyes welling up with tears, when a sudden realisation hit her. She strode out of the hut and spoke briefly to one of the guards who ran off in the opposite direction.
Gabrielle walked as quickly as she could to the council chamber. It was empty, as expected. She approached the shelves that were filled with scrolls, and she sighed, and for a moment her shoulders sagged and she looked disappointed. Then she shook her head and made her way to the shelves and started to pick the scrolls off them. She opened one at a time, skimmed through each one, and then re rolled them and threw them to one side.
By the time Ephiny, Solari and Epinon entered the chamber, there was a small pile of discarded scrolls.
"Gab, what in Hades is going on?" asked Ephiny as she gave the pile of scrolls a puzzling glance.
Gabrielle turned around a scroll in her hand. "Alti," she said simply, and rolled the scroll up and threw it into the pile. She then turned around to face the three amazons.
"Xena's gone to face her in the spirit world." Gabrielle swallowed. "I read several scrolls about a similar situation when I was on bed rest, but-"she pointed to the shelves heaving under the huge number of scrolls.
"What has this to do with delaying the executions?" asked Epinon, frowning.
"Alti gains her power from death. That's what it was all about. An Amazon war."
"With her as the overall winner," added Ephiny. "What can we do?"
Gabrielle smiled warmly at them. "For the moment just re- roll the scrolls. I know what I am looking for."
"Of course," murmured Solari.
They worked through tens of scrolls, before Gabrielle became engrossed in one particular one. The others watched her fascinated.
She looked up. "This is it," she said with a smile. "And hopefully-"she selected two further scrolls that had lain near the selected one, and unrolled them and briefly read them. "Yes!" she said triumphantly.
She put the scrolls on the table and studied one intently. "I'm going to need a few ingredients," she said.
"Gabrielle, you're not thinking about facing Alti are you?" said Ephiny anxiously.
Gabrielle smiled. "Oh yes," she said. "Because I know how to defeat her."
"What do you need?" said Solari. Gabrielle smiled at her and gave her the scroll. Solari rolled her eyes. "This will mean a trip to Piri."
Gabrielle shrugged her shoulders. Solari nodded and walked out.
"We're staying you know that?" said Epinon.
"Thank you," said Gabrielle.
Solari returned with a small bag and Piri in tow. The healer looked at Gabrielle. "You know the risk you are taking?"
Gabrielle nodded mutely.
Piri took the bag from Solari and emptied the contents onto the table. "Fine. I'll make the brew. And I'm staying-I've done this before."
All four women looked at Piri in shock.
The healer merely shrugged her shoulders.
"Good because Piri I may need you to bring me back in a hurry. Argo is the word."
Piri looked at Gabrielle and nodded slowly. She indicated to the floor and Gabrielle awkwardly sat on the floor. Piri gave Gabrielle the cup and knelt behind her. As soon as Gabrielle had finished the drink she lurched sideways but the healer wrapped her arms around her and eased her gently to a prone position with her head on the healer's lap. She looked up and saw the three anxious pairs of eyes peering at Gabrielle.
"Now we wait," the healer said.
Xena watched Gabrielle as she walked with an almost swagger towards her. The warrior jumped up and Gabrielle surprisingly didn't approach Xena but gave her a smile and walked past her.
Alti had recovered her composure and was standing hands on hips. "Ah look, your precious lover thinks she can protect you, Xena. How sweet."
Gabrielle continued to walk towards Alti. "I know I can protect Xena, Alti."
"I shall enjoy killing you and your bastard child in front of Xena and watching her mourn," said the shameness and she raised her hands and shot a bolt of light towards Gabrielle. The bard nonchalantly raised her hand and it was absorbed in to it. Xena and Alti both looked at her with amazement.
Gabrielle smiled and continued to swagger forward. Alti was now back peddling slowly, with her eyes firmly fixed on the advancing bard. "You see Alti, I know what you use; fear. Fear of death, fear of loss, fear of fear. But I also know what you can't fight. What you can't comprehend. And that will beat you."
"What do you know of anything?" hissed Alti. "You're a jumped up village bard, who lives in someone else's shadow. You're not even Amazon."
"You said it, Alti. I'm a bard. A bard who loves reading. I read about this type of sorcery, this witchcraft. And importantly I read how to defeat it." She looked at Xena who was now standing next to her, and smiled.
"What are you afraid of Alti? What do you not understand? Love. It scares you because you have never experienced it. And that's what will defeat you."
"We'll see," said Alti and she jumped and flew above them and landed several feet behind them. Xena turned first and raised her hand and a bolt of light hit Alti. It knocked her off balance but the shameness regained it and smiled. She sent a beam towards Gabrielle who merely deflected it, and as she did, Alti jumped forwards towards Xena.
Xena saw her coming and she jumped towards Alti and they wrestled. Alti placed her hands on Xena's head and Xena's mind was filled with images.
She was standing with Joxer and Cyrene looking around the deserted Amazon village. "They're dying, Xena, the amazons are dying," said a distraught Cyrene.
Xena was standing next to Gabrielle who was lying down. Gabrielle was in obvious pain and Xena was holding her hand. Gabrielle squeezed harder and yelled.
Xena was fighting in a battle alongside Epinon and Ephiny. She parried swords several times and then struck her opponent with the hilt.
Xena bent low over Gabrielle. She kissed the cold lips, and pushed the blonde hair from her eyes. The bard's face had a waxy complexion and Xena herself was crying.
"So what do you think of that, Xena? How far will your love get you?" Momentarily shocked Alti threw Xena against a tree, and her already sore ribs, started to throb.
She watched as Alti lurched forward, hit by a beam by Gabrielle. The Shameness spun around to face Gabrielle. "I know your weakness, runt. It's fear of losing Xena. "She shot a beam at Gabrielle and this time Gabrielle didn't deflect it, and she was knocked to the ground. Alti moved menacingly towards her. She shot another beam and Gabrielle was thrown further back. Xena got up and jumped up into the air. As she flew towards Alti Xena looked at Gabrielle, who had several grazes on her head and slightly bloodied, and the bard mouthed, "I love you." The bard aimed a light bolt but it missed Alti by yards and instead sped towards Xena. The warrior instinctively knew she should drop her hands and soak up the energy. For a spilt second she was encompassed in bright light; she basked in love and warmth, as if the feelings Gabrielle had for her became solid. She felt herself grow in strength.
Alti was oblivious to this as she cornered Gabrielle. She raised her hands and laughed. The sound of the insane laughter brought Xena round. She flew forwards but didn't reach Alti in time. The shameness sent two bolts of light towards Gabrielle and there was an explosion that shook the ground, trees, Alti and Xena. As the smoke cleared, Xena could see that Gabrielle had disappeared.
Alti whirled around and gave a wide smile. "How do you feel now, Xena? Your precious Gabrielle has gone. You are all alone."
For several seconds Xena looked blankly at the space where Gabrielle had been. She then looked at Alti, and gave a sly smile.
"You really aren't very bright are you, Alti? You showed me visions of my future. Gabrielle was there with me. That means we both survive." She shot a bolt of light at Alti which threw her even further back than usual. "And the thing about love is that you are never alone. Never." She sent a further bolt out and this smashed the shameness into a tree. Blood was pouring from the back of her head, and for the first time she looked at Xena with fear in her eyes.
"And when you love someone you are stronger together." Xena sent a bolt from each hand and the light picked Alti up and propelled her upwards. Xena watched as the witch was impaled on a tree branch. Xena floated to where she lay, gasping and clawing uselessly at the branch. "That's for Solon," she said quietly, as the shameness' eyes closed for the last time.
Xena dropped to the ground, wincing as her ribs and other bruises started to ache. She knelt down and again jabbed two fingers into her neck. She came around in the cave, gasping for breath. She inhaled deeply several times, and once all the dizziness left her, she picked up her weapons and set off for the Amazon village. Although she had confidently told Alti Gabrielle was still alive until she saw the bard for herself she would not believe it.
She jogged back as quickly as her pained robs would let her. Her left arm was held protectively across them. She ran straight for their hut and opened the door.
There having her wounds cleaned by Piri was Gabrielle. The bard stood up and walked towards Xena who ran towards her and wrapped her arms around her. She squeezed as hard as her ribs and Gabrielle's bump would allow. She searched out Gabrielle's lips and they shared a tender kiss.
She pulled away and looked Gabrielle up and down frantically. "Are you ok?" She said.
"I'm fine. A bit singed around the edges."
Xena gave her another hug. "The baby?" said Xena worriedly.
"Kicking happily," said Gabrielle. "What about you?"
"Just pleased to see you," said Xena and hugged her again. They kissed again this time more passionately.
As they pulled away, Gabrielle raised her eyebrow.
Xena sighed, "Ribs got battered."
Piri cleared her throat. "I'll leave you two to deal with each others wounds." The healer walked towards the door.
"Thank you Piri," said Gabrielle, and Xena gave the healer a nod.
Once the healer had left, Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle again. "You could have been killed?" said Xena, exasperatedly.
"So could you," replied Gabrielle.
Xena placed her hand on Gabrielle's bump. "But you have got this one to consider."
Gabrielle stroked Xena's cheek. "And what would we do without you?" she said gently. "Besides I had a –"the bard searched for the word, "feeling I had to be there."
"Now sit," said Xena and pushed Gabrielle into a chair. She picked up the wet cloth and continued to clean the grazes on Gabrielle's face. She looked into Gabrielle's eyes. "Tell me."
The bard smiled and spent several moments contemplating her answer. "As I said, I felt I had to be there. I didn't know why. And then it came to me, scrolls."
Xena looked perplexed.
"When I was stuck in bed I read so many scrolls, scrolls of Amazon history, battles, everything. And I remembered a scroll detailing dark sorcery. It spoke of a great battle between good and evil shamenesses."
"And let me guess, love was the victor?"
Gabrielle smiled shyly. "Sounds dumb, I know."
Xena hooked her finger under the bard's chin. "No it doesn't. Alti didn't understand the power of love. That put her at a disadvantage. But what happened to you?"
"I used a potion to induce the trance. I had a safe word to get me back. Piri administered the antidote in time."
"Remind me to thank her again," said Xena.
Xena finished cleaning the wounds. "Your turn," said Gabrielle, and Xena started to take her leathers off. Gabrielle covered the already forming bruises with salve and gently wrapped the ribs.
"What happened after I left?" Asked Gabrielle.
"We fought and she was killed," said Xena simply. She closed her eyes and thought of the visions Alti had shown her. She shuddered.
"Xena," said Gabrielle gently.
"Come to bed," said Xena, and she slipped a tunic on. They could wait for another day. They both lay on their bed propped up by pillows.
"Thank you for being there. I couldn't have beaten her without you." Xena took Gabrielle's hand and gave it a squeeze.
"You don't have to do things alone. Just remember we are stronger together." Gabrielle said.
Xena wrapped an arm around her. "I became the strongest woman alive the day I met you," said Xena and rested her head on her shoulder. "As well as the luckiest."
Gabrielle said nothing but closed her eyes and enjoyed the well earned and unusual peace and quiet.