"Something's wrong mother," Eve says as she and Xena ride into the outskirts of Poteidaia.
Xena doesn't bother to ask if this observation is due to her daughter's new ability to perceive the world around her in different ways. She doesn't need enhanced senses to see that something is indeed amiss here. The fields around them are untilled and fallow. A few wild vegetables grow but weeds dominate the place now. As they ride further in she sees that the cows, goats and other farming animals are untended. They wander about aimlessly eating what they can find. The corpses of many can be found scattered here and there.
As they pass by the first house they see no activity. Saplings grow in the roadways among the buildings. Many of the homes are even boarded up. Her acute hearing picks up the sound of people moving within the houses but there is no one in the streets.
"Mother," Eve draws her mother's attention pointing to a side alley between two seemingly abandoned buildings. Xena sees a body lying motionless there.
"Stop." Xena holds out a hand halting their mounts in the road. "Wait here." She slides off of Argo and unsheathes her sword. She walks carefully to and inspects the body. It is a teenaged girl clad in rags. There are no wounds. No blood. Her body is emaciated. Starved to death. She returns to their horses and remounts. "Be mindful. I don't like this."
"Why is everyone hiding?" Eve inquires as they begin moving deeper into the village.
Xena simply shakes her head. After a few minutes they enter what would normally be Poteidaia's bustling marketplace. She remembers the last time she had entered it. The entire town had been there for a festival. Brightly colored pennants and banners were strung between poles and among buildings. She could hardly hear her own thoughts with the whole of the village buying and talking. It had looked so alive and peaceful. She had come seeking Gabrielle then just as she does now. But she had not found Gabrielle. She had found Hope instead. The dread that seeps into her soul now makes her shiver. She knows that she'll not find Gabrielle's ungodly doppelganger walking the streets now. But there is indeed something wrong with Poteidaia. Something terribly wrong.
It is nearing dusk when they arrive at Gabrielle's home. Just like the rest of the village it is a virtual ruin. A few chickens peck about the grounds of the home desperate for any food they can find. Xena and Eve tether their horses and start to move towards the house. Xena halts just before they step onto the porch.
"Mother?" Eve says looking at how Xena has paused in what had been until now a determined march. "What are you doing? We've been traveling for weeks to get here. Why are you hesitating now?"
Xena looks askance at her daughter's words. "Those weren't the best of terms we parted on. And it's doubtful her family will appreciate my presence. They don't think I've done anything good for her. A bad influence you might say."
Eve places a comforting hand on her mother's arm. "It will be all right. She was angry and she felt betrayed. She's had time to think."
Xena nods at Eve's reassurance. She steps onto the porch and knocks on the door. They wait for several moments. Nothing. Eve steps to one side and looks into a window that is covered with dirt and dust. Inside she can see the glow of a single candle. She gestures to her mother indicating that someone is inside.
"Gabrielle," Xena says stepping so close to the door she is literally rubbing noses with it. "It's Xena and Eve. Please. We just want to talk with you."
The door is suddenly jerked open to reveal…
"Lila?" Xena gasps upon seeing the elderly face of Gabrielle's sister. Like seeing Joxer , it shocks Xena to see one she remembers as so young now older than she. She looks past Lila in the house behind her for any sign of Gabrielle. She notices that Lila has leaned out of the door way and is searching around herself.
Both women locks eyes then ask at the same time, "Where's Gabrielle?"
"She's not here?" Eve asks stepping into Lila's field of vision. The older woman steps back into the house and nearly shuts the door.
Xena slams her hand against the door keeping it open. "Lila. What is going on here? What's happened?"
Lila looks from Xena to Eve then back to her. It occurs to Xena that she must be utterly perplexed in seeing a woman older than her hardly aged a day since they last met. "Can we come in? Please."
Lila, still looking worried, confused and afraid, steps back and opens the door allowing Xena and Eve inside.
Lila stares down at the floor fighting back tears but still sobbing occasionally and continues her tale. "My parents sold most of the farm. Then they along with my husband went to Madador to try and buy Sarah back. Some time later a rider came into the village and announced he was delivering a message from Gurkhan to the family of the girl taken from here. So in the middle of the marketplace he placed the heads of my mother, father and husband on pikes then rode away."
Eve feels as though she may be sick. A tear rolls down her cheek as she listens to the tragedy unfold.
Xena watches Lila resist her grief and wonders once more if she is responsible for bringing this kind of misery to Gabrielle's family.
"After that most of the village picked up stakes and left. Afraid that Gurkhan would return for more slaves. There are less than a dozen families left in Poteidaia. I didn't have anyone left."
With those words she turns her head to look at Xena. The warrior princess looks away and meets the eyes of her daughter. Eve tries silently to express to her mother that none of this is her fault.
"So I stayed," Lila finishes and gets to her feet. She walks across the room to stare out a window. Neither Xena nor Eve makes any attempt to say anything comforting. It would sound too much like pity. And they are sure she wants none from them. She turns back around to look at them both but more closely at Eve. "She would be about your age." She leans against the wall and wraps her arms tightly around herself.
An uncomfortable silence hangs in the air for an agonizing amount of time before anything else is said.
"I'm sorry Lila," Xena apologizes unsure of what else she can say.
"What happened Xena? How is it that you're still the same as the last time I saw you? And with a daughter hardly older than Gabrielle? And where is she? Why isn't she with you? Is something wrong?" Lila walks swiftly to stand before Xena. "There is something wrong, isn't there? What is it?"
Before Xena can say another word, Lila slaps her. Eve jumps to her feet but Xena gestures for her to relax.
"Don't you dare say you're sorry Xena," Lila tells her coldly. "My sister is the only family I have left to me now. You show up here and she isn't even with you. You are supposed to protect her. That is the least you can do for taking her away from us."
Xena does not point out the obvious fact that it was Gabrielle who chose to follow her. She knows it will be best to let Lila's anger runs its course.
"And why did you never return? We are her family. But the last time we saw either of you was when that monster walked into our midst." Lila stares intently into Xena's face daring her to retort anything she is saying. "Twenty five years! That's how long it has been. What is Zeus's name could you have been doing all this time?"
"Lila please," Xena pleads trying to get a word in so that she can explain. "It's complicated. We didn't stay away by choice."
"Just tell me where she is?" Lila asks as loud as she can.
"I don't know!" Xena replies just as loudly. She sits down and hangs her head. "I'm sorry. I just don't know."
Lila stares over Xena at Eve. She can see the worry in the younger woman's eyes. She slumps into a chair opposite the distraught Xena. "Explain it to me then."
Xena sighs loudly before explaining in full everything that has happened to them. Their travels in India. The fateful meeting with Eli and Gabrielle's conversion to the Way of Love. Their crucifixion and resurrection. Her miraculous conception and Eve's birth. She hesitates for just a moment before going into detail on Gabrielle's decision to become a warrior. Their entombment by Ares for over two decades. She sees Eve visibly shudder when she speaks of Livia. Then comes the part Xena wishes she could skip over. But she can't. She tells Lila everything about the Twilight of the Olympians. Everything including what she did to Gabrielle. And of what happened afterward.
What follows is a silence that unnerves Eve to her core. She hopes that her perceptions don't shift as they seem to randomly do. Because she doesn't want to see the auras of the two women with her.
Lila finally breaks the silence. "Get out." The words are simple but spoken with a resolve that leaves no doubt as to the depths of her contempt. She walks to the door and opens it.
"Lila…" Xena begins but is cut off before another word can escape her lips.
"Get out Xena. And don't ever come back."
Xena aches with the pain of those words. But she is not truly surprised by them. How could Gabrielle's sister react otherwise? She doesn't say another word as she stands to her feet and strides out the door.
Eve watches her mother go then stands herself. As she is about to pass through the door, Lila catches her arm. "I know that you're her daughter but you should run. Leave her behind and travel as far away as you can. She brings nothing but misery. "
Eve cannot form any words in response to the terrible accusation. She leaves without doing so.
She finds her mother leaning against a fence post across the yard. Before she can say anything to her Xena speaks. "She's right. So was Gabrielle. Sine the day I left Amphipolis I've brought nothing but pain. To everyone and everything around me."
Eve reaches out a hand to her mother but Xena walks with purpose towards their horses. "Mother. Wait. Where are you going?"
Xena mounts Argo and turns to face Eve. "I'm going to do right by Gabrielle and her family this once. I'm going to Madador to rescue Sarah." She turns the horses and kicks it into a gallop.
Eve quickly climbs onto her own mount and gives chase. She catches up to Xena a few moments. "But Gabrielle. We have to find her. Make sure she's all right."
Xena doesn't slow as she responds to her daughter's words. "Aphrodite wouldn't have sent Gabrielle somewhere dangerous. Wherever she is , Gabrielle is safe. Lila's daughter isn't."
"Then I'm coming with you," she informs her mother.
Xena looks over at Eve with the intent of telling her all the reasons she cannot. But as soon as she locks eyes with her daughter she knows any argument will be futile. There in her eyes she can see it all. The strength and determination that comes from her own blood. Along with the fire and willpower that comes from Callisto's reincarnated soul. She nods and urges Argo faster.
Eve , smiling as she feels the bond and companionship with her mother, urges her horse faster as well. They leave the limits of the village of Poteidaia and break for the coast. There to find a ship that will carry them across the Mediterranean to North Africa and Madador, stronghold of the warlord Gurkhan.
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