We were told to escape, to run away, taking advantage of all the breath we had in our bodies. Without objections and without turning around. I still remember my mother's terrified eyes as she gave us similar instructions. It was as if a part of her feared that split up at that moment would have meant to be apart forever. "It will be all right, sweetheart..." she placed her lips on my forehead, in a gesture that seemed of pure necessity. As if from that sweet closeness, she had wanted to get all the strength to fight. I clenched my fingers around her leather armour, not wanting to let her go, for no reason. I hated being in such situations. Therefore, it was my mother who carefully pushed me away, despite I could guess from her body language, she was against it too. "Xena, they have to go ..." Gabrielle continued, with the same apprehension in her voice. She looked at me for a moment, even managing to smile a little. Her hand rested on my wet cheek, then slipped on my shoulder, which she squeezed tenderly. "We will meet again soon." Her emerald eyes were veiled with a layer of helplessness and profound sadness. My mother nodded.
"Be careful ..." I begged her, before turning around, although I didn't want to.
Andromeda, despite her rebellious and combative spirit, was following Xena's orders, escorting the prophet Belur away from the gates of Rome. Joxer, our closest friend, was behind them.
"Come on Eve, don't stop!" Joxer had turned to me only one time. Despite his encouraging tone, his eyes expressed something else; a feeling of pure terror and bewilderment, which triggered an alarm bell in me. An awareness that I could not have ignored. "I'm behind you!" I replied, making him believe I was keeping his pace, while instead; I inexorably began to slow down. It was not long after that I completely stopped my run, without the others realizing it.
My friends went beyond the gates of the city of Rome and I managed to smile, for a brief moment, glad that at least they had managed to save their lives.
I hurried back.
My mother was fighting well against the other guards; there didn't seem to be any great difficulties, and anyway I wasn't surprised. Even Gabrielle, despite having abandoned the path of violence, she managed to keep up with the other soldiers, without bringing them mortal wounds. Whether with bare hands or stinging powder, she could stun enemies, though not as easily as in the past.
A scornful scream of frustration lashed the air. I looked up, recognizing Callisto's voice to my surprise. Her figure was sticking out of a small tower, high enough, so to be able to watch the whole scene from above. I was stunned. She had had to make some pact with the gods to be there, since she should have been in the Underworld. My attention was caught by the familiar weapon that she held in her right hand, an object I knew too well. It didn't belong to her.
Then she did something unexpected. My mother only managed to resist a few moments before giving in and lying on the ground. Callisto had thrown the chakram against her, hitting the middle of her spine. I lost track of everything. The reason, the clarity of my mind. I felt trapped inside a bubble filled with water. "No!" I could feel as if a part of myself had been torn away from me. It hurt in a terrible way.
Gabrielle spun around, recognizing my voice. "Eve, what ...?" However, when she noticed my gaze, fixed on my mother's immobilized body, she blanched. "Oh no ... Xena!"
In that moment i could see something change in her eyes. She picked up a spear, which belonged to one of the fallen and pierced a man in the chest, who had tried to get close to me, to hit me from behind. I didn't even notice that. I could not react; I was petrified. The path of love, of goodness, which Gabrielle had decided to undertake some time ago, seemed to have no sense whatsoever by now. Now blood ran again on her hands. "Xena!" her voice came out like a plea. "Xena, get up, we have to go!" She picked up the sword of that soldier and like a fury rushed at the other enemies, beginning an inexorable bloodshed.
"I can't ... It's my spine." she gasped, still trying to do something.
With a kick, Gabrielle tackled a soldier to the ground and without lingering a single moment, she sat astride on him. The sword, well gripped in her right hand, brought repetitive blows on the man's face and chest, disfiguring him, without pity, even when it was no longer necessary.
My mother managed to move her head and from her eyes, I realized she was shaken by a new sense of guilt. "Gabrielle no! Enough!" Her desperate screams echoed in my head.
I didn't wait any longer and joined my mother. I didn't care about her disapproving look, full fear, when I slipped in front of her, making my knees crash to the earthy ground. I carefully lifted her chin and my fingers became wet with her own tears.
Her eyes narrowed in pain. "Why are you here? I told you to-"
I gently stopped her, moving a trembling forefinger to her lips in the attempt to calm her down.
"Mother ... we must go away, hold onto me, come on!" I begged her, but her suffering was too terrible to allow her even the slightest movement. And when I tried to lift her, I petrified. A hiss of pain made her scream and her eyes tighten so hard that her face seemed to change colour. She squeezed her fingers tightly around my arms, but I felt no physical pain, other than the mirror of her own. "I'm sorry ..." I sighed and sobbed. "What can I do..?"
A soldier came up behind me.
"Look out!" I had to act quickly, so I jumped up and hit him in the chest.
The man groaned in pain and knelt down. That was my first victim.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle was immobilized. She stared at her hand, which by now had changed colour and the blood of the enemy, of all our enemies flowed freely from that weapon to her arms. "No ..." She slid the dagger to the ground, and at that moment, other soldiers surrounded us, with swords drawn.
"What did I do?"
I knelt beside my mother, and didn't dare to move from there. I narrowed my eyes and more tears flooded my face. My lips gently touched her forehead. Now I was the one who needed her to keep fighting and to be brave like her. "Forgive me..."
I had made my decision, and I wouldn't have changed it for any reason. If I had to die, I would have died my way.