"Should we take the North or East route to Amphipolis this time?"
Xena asked as she and Gabrielle traveled toward her hometown.
"Uh, East, I think. The scenery is nicer this time of year," answered Gabi.
The two hadn't gone more than two or three leagues when Xena paused to listen to the forest around her. "It is as I feared, a marauding band at twelve o'clock high! Don't move!"
"It's not like I could, anyway! You know how I get in these situations!" quipped Gabi nervously.
"Yes, I know, completely and utterly panicked! That's why I told you to stay still!" Xena retorted with amusement, "you just let me handle this one."
Xena climbed a tree in one fluid motion and waited for the bandits to pass beneath her.
"There they are! I'll ambush from above, and while they panic, you attack from the ground!" Xena whispered to Gabi.
As soon as they came by, Xena swung from the tree branch and unhorsed some of the bandits. Many of the rest were downed by she and Gabi from ground level. Suddenly, the remaining bandits released their secret weapon...a pack of hunting dogs.
Gabi screamed in terror as the snarling beasts leapt for her throat. "Did I mention I'm deathly afraid of dogs!"
"Not until now, you didn't!" Xena replied, with more than a hint of amusement in her voice. "Should I take on the dogs, and you fend off the bandits? Not that there's a big difference to begin with!" Xena quipped.
"I think I'm doing okay, but if I do need your help, I'll yell!" answered Gabi.
"More than you are already?" Xena smirked.
In the next instant, Gabi took a fall to the pack.
"Xena! Help me! Help me now!" Gabi implored with a call.
With a final swing of her sword, and a call of "I'm coming Gabi!" she clobbered the final canine from around Gabi's throat and took her back to the safety of the campsite.
"Gabrielle, are you all right? You look a mess!" Xena told her.
"If I could stop bleeding I'd be fine!" she joked weakly.
"Thank the gods I was trained in the healing arts! Ooh, those tooth marks go deep! I'll be right back with some herbs for those," Xena told her massaging her shoulder blades, "lie back and relax, now, you've had a long, hard day."
"I'm not sure I can lie back, those dogs really shredded my back and shoulders," Gabi answered, "so I'll just kind of sit here and whine."
"That you're good at! I'll be back in a second," she responded.
When Gabi's wounds were cleansed and bandaged, the two sat by the campfire talking.
"It's obvious that my greatest fear is dogs, but you've never told me what your greatest fear is," Gabi told her.
"I'm not certain you'll understand," Xena responded, downcast.
"Hey, I'm your best friend, remember! Try me!" Gabi answered with a pat on the shoulder.
"My greatest fear...is my past. I live in constant terror of becoming again the warrior I once was...That I will somehow, once again, unleash the beast...the dark spectre of my former self," she mused quietly.
"You weren't such a bad person when I first met you," Gabi reassured her.
"This was far before I met you, Gabrielle. Back when I first began my training as a warrior. I was young and inexperienced, I killed merely for the sake of killing. I was no better than my victims. Those dark shadows haunt me to this day. I deeply regret my past, however, without 'her', the warrior I once was, I would not be the warrior I am today." At these words Xena drifted off into another personal reverie.
"Hmm...Oh, sorry, I was lost in thought again."
"That was obvious! Anyway, just out of curiosity, do you think you could face your fear of your past as I faced my fear today? Fending off that pack of dogs was no walk in the park for me, you know! I know you, too, have the strength to face your greatest fear, you just need to...conjure...those personal demons for one final battle...To finally win the war with your past. This is something you need to do, if only for your own good," Gabi told her.
"I suppose I could manage...it just seems that...the memories of who I was are far too painful, even to this day. I even feared myself back then, as did so many others. I was nothing but a monster!" Xena replied quietly, "I don't wish to think of myself from that time."
"Xena, to finally conquer your past, you must do this. If you didn't like yourself back then, just put it behind you. You can vanquish who you once were. As I said...one final battle," Gabi responded.
"I can't...Remember Aiden..."
"Yes, but the darkness is not really who you are, just who you were. You are not a slave to the darkness anymore...You are truly a good soul, if a bit...misguided at times."
"The darkness is a part of who I am, Gabrielle, and who I was, if not who I am to be...That is why we make such good friends, why we compliment each other so well...You are the yin and I'm the yang, you are the light and I am the darkness. So you see, I can never fully defeat the darkness within...I can control it, certainly, tame it, perhaps, but never truly defeat who I once was."
"You pose a point, but my point is that you were not originally evil. You just...slipped up, is all, and at that point, you denied your true inner goodness. Trust me, Xena, you really are a good person," Gabi stated.
"If you're sure you mean that...The truth is, Gabrielle, that in the beginning, I did try to fight off the evil, but at such a young age, and with so little life experience, the darkness rapidly took hold. I truly did not want to fight for wickedness, but the power it promised appealed to me back then," Xena brooded.
"But it doesn't appeal to you now, and that's what I've been trying to tell you all along," Gabi answered, "you are a good soul, and you have a compassionate heart. Why else would you fight for the little guy, stand up for what you believe in, or never battle an unarmed opponent? You refuse to fight a downed warrior, and you try to help wherever, whenever, and whoever you can. To me, that makes a true warrior."
"You know, I needed that. Okay, if I'm to do battle with my dark half, then there's no better time to start..." she mused again, then drifting off in another personal reverie.
"Did you ever stop to think that your past may not have been your own? That, perhaps, a will greater than your own had hold of your life and you couldn't break free...As if something or someone forced you to commit such horrible acts?"
"The thought did cross my mind, but who in Tartarus would want to...take...control...of... my...will? She paused momentarily between words as realization took hold...ARES!!!!" She called his name, becoming angrier by the second.
Within seconds of her summons, the leather-clad form of the warrior deity appeared before the two.
"Ah, Xena, I knew you'd come around someday..."
"Cut it! I only summoned you to reconcile my past. Nothing more." Her eyes narrowed and her fists set as she spoke.
Weapons drawn, he responded..."Your past has nothing to do with me!"
"Want to bet!?" she shot back, yelping her warcry and managing to land a kick to his chest.
She caught him off guard, and he fell to the ground.
Within seconds, her dagger was at his throat..."Say uncle..." she purred, making a small incision to prove she meant business. Ice-blue eyes flashing anger she pressed the dagger deeper. Her voice was a hiss as she prepared for the coup-de-gras..."or in your case...father."
"What! How did you...(gaaak)" His reply was cut short as Xena placed her fingers to his jugular preparing to strike...
"Don't ask questions," she snarled, "how could I not know! How else would I have been so skilled in battle, so good on horseback, or so adept with weapons?"
Still furious with the discovery of her past, she continued..."You were the one making me commit those war crimes. It was not my will, but yours! You turned me into the bloodthirsty warlord I was! I spent years regretting what I'd...you'd done! I tried harder than anyone knows to escape my past...to atone for my actions, little knowing it was your will, not my own imposed behind every life I took...every villiage I sacked...every soldier I commanded! Look at me! Take a good look! What do you see? People always said I reminded them of you! Tall, dark, and bloodthirsty! I'm a lot like you, aren't I...no more than a female reflection of yourself!" Her voice sunk to a growl with the last few words.
"So you're saying I took control of you back then... that I made you who you were?"
"You're right. I knew, if given the choice between fighting for good and fighting for evil, you'd choose good hands down. You know perfectly well that I couldn't have any daughter of mine doing that, so I didn't give you a choice!"
"I'm giving you a choice...Leave me now, for good, or spend your immortality in multiple pieces!" she challenged as they circled one another, as hounds track hares, preparing for battle. "I'm your daughter, right!?...So I should at least have have half a chance in battle against you! Draw your sword for combat, coward! You used me as a conduit for your power in the mortal world! You turned me into a ruthless warlord just to prove your influence was still alive and well among men! Well, that's it!...NO MORE! We fight this out NOW and you leave me for good!"
Sword rang on sword as the two, father and daughter, battled wills and weapons on the field of single combat...Xena's warcry rang out over Ares' frenzied screams...The two fought hand-to-hand, weapon-to-weapon, each trying to prove dominance over the other...each hoping to draw first blood. That honor went to Xena, as she sent her chakram ricocheting off a nearby tree. It hit Ares squre in the jaw, stunning him momentarily, but not doing much harm, other than to open a small incision on his face. He lashed out for her, dagger in hand, making a deep gouge in her left shoulder. She countered with a sword slash to his midsection, opening up what would have been a fatal wound in a mortal. The battle still seemed relatively even, however, neither tiring or dropping back, though both were wounded and bleeding heavily...Neither seemed to have the upper hand, until the tide of combat shifted suddenly in Xena's favor...She somersaulted over his head and attacked him from behind...With Ares better suited to dueling face-to-face, this momentarily surprised him...just long enough for Xena to fire a kick to his ankles to ground him. He hit the ground with a 'thud' that implied defeat.
"Not bad," he wheezed through a face full of sod, "I knew you had it in you."
When he finally returned to an upright posture, he commended her skill in battle...
"Nicely done! Your strategy is excellent! You truly know your enemy. You have even learned to use the throwing weapon I left to you with great skill and incredible accuracy. I have to say, daughter, that your skill in combat is truly worthy of me. Since you have defeated me 'fairly', I will uphold my end of the bargain and leave you for good."
"I always knew I was spawned of war...Little did I know how close I was to being right!" She spat the last phrase with his departure.
"I'll leave you, but the regret won't!" With that, Xena was left unconscious as Ares disappeared...
She went into the trance that allowed her to again enter the dreamscape she had first encountered with the Morpheus Brothers...
She navigated much of it quickly, as most of the 'scape was quite familiar to her. When she again reached the room that opened the door back to reality, her dark spectre appeared once again in order to taunt her...
"Your past haunts you, doesn't it warrior...Tell me you can look into the eyes of those you've killed and not feel regret! You don't regret a thing you did, do you warrior? You relished every drop of blood, every dying scream...You reveled in every fire, every storming, every rampage! Tell me you don't regret it!"
"I do feel regret! Every waking moment I regret what my father did! I deeply regret a past that wasn't even mine!"
"You wish to battle me again? I thought you learned your lesson last time...You know I'll always be more powerful...I made you who you were...and who you are even to this day..."
"Yes, but not who I will be! Like it or not, you did make me into the warrior, and the person, I am today. You, however, are not who I wish to be! I have always feared you, even when I was you...I have never really accepted you! I don't know how to destroy you, but by every god on Olympus, I vow to find out!"
"Oh, you may never destroy me, only banish me...If you discover how to do this, then I will leave you alone...If you don't...I will haunt you worse than I have ever haunted you before..."
"No you won't, either! I do know how to banish you! All I have to do...is accept you! I may not like you, and I may not appreciate everything you...I...my father...had done back then, but to truly be at peace with you, I must accept you as a part of my former self! My past was not my own! It was that of my father! You know I could never commit such heinous acts...I accept you, all right! Accept you for the fact that you were not me! You were my father! Oh, I accept you, all right...accept you for who I wasn't!" By this time, she was furious with her father, the war deity, for having control of her past.
"NOOOOOOOO!!!! How could you possibly know!? You hate me! You can never accept me for who you were!"
"Oh, but I will, I can, and I have!"
There was a blinding flash, a scream that rent the air around the two warrior women, one who was before, and one who currently was, and Xena's dark half disppeared to leave her, once and for all, at peace.
The true Xena was beginning to rouse from her quasi-unconscious state.
"Xena, are you okay?" Gabi inquired nervously.
"Yes, and I know that I will be from now on..."