There was a moment at the beginning of a battle when everything seemed to stand still. For Gabrielle, in this battle, it was waiting for the first of the soldiers to break through the hail of arrow fire and into the town. It seemed to take longer than she expected which was good because it meant the 'death tunnel' that Xena had hoped to create was effective but it also meant that the warriors waiting were pumped high on adrenaline for a long time without putting it to use. In the end, when men finally started to burst through the archway, the blonde was relieved that she had something to do.
The warriors stood with them all held spears and as soon as enough men were inside the town they let them fly. Most of those men fell and others burst through behind them to take their place. Xena, Gabrielle and Antonia burst forward, the other women following them, smashing in to battle.
Most of the men were armed with heavy flat swords which made them slower and more cumbersome than Gabrielle. Xena had trained Gabrielle to use her speed and agility with the sais to her advantage. Only a few men at a time could pour through the arch leaving the blonde plenty of space to use that manoeuvrability.
As the bodies started to pile up though it left less and left space and slowed their ability to immediately launch an attack on those pouring through. Those now inside the town were also trying to attack the archers on the wall so some of them were having to turn their attention inwards to protect the defensive position. This meant the 'death tunnel' was becoming less effective so more of the warlord's army were breaking through to the archway.
The bottle neck system was beginning to break down which meant that all the women in the market square were now actively in combat with the army. At the moment it felt manageable, but Gabrielle knew that soon they would start to be overrun by the soldiers and their secondary line would have to come in to play. That didn't signal doom and gloom for the town, but it made their position perilous.
Gabrielle managed to glance in Xena's direction to see the brunette warrior in full and spectacular flow. The lack of space around them made for Xena to be as effective normal though and it was currently impossible for the warrior to use her chakram in the battle as it would risk hitting those on their side too.
The bard took down another man with a simple block and gutter punch manoeuvre, using his momentum to magnify the force of her blow. She dodged another oncoming man and caught him across the lower back, trusting him towards Antonia awaiting blade. The red haired Thracian warrior was utterly focused on the oncoming army, but Gabrielle could see the concern in her eyes.
The blonde took another three men down, dodging one who then accidently swung his blade into a fellow member of the warlord's army, and then taking him down. There seemed to be a lot of men pouring in around them that were not trying to fight the women but break further into the town. Some were getting through and would be coming face to face with the voluntary second line to the rear of the market.
She also spotted Meda frantically waving at Antonia and the red head flung herself forward rather dangerously towards the arch to see what the leader of the town was trying to signal. Gabrielle wasn't in a position to follow her, but she tried to keep an eye on her progress. However, in the intense fighting she lost track of the Thracian for a few moments but then suddenly Antonia was back and forcing her way to the bard's location. The red-haired woman had a painful looking gash on her non sword wielding arm but it didn't seem to be troubling her.
Antonia grasped the bards arm and tugged Gabrielle through a gap that had formed behind a few of the woman fighting as a unit towards Xena. The brunette warrior noticed their approach and stepped towards them.
"Some of the men trying to go around us are not going deeper into town but looking for the West exit" Antonia shouted over the din of battle. "They must have broken Zia...they know where its located."
Gabrielle understood what that meant. They would have to break away from the battle and leave the Thracian's fighting alone. They had to try and destroy the lightning bolt before the Warlords men found it.
Antonia broke off at a run, smashing through a few soldiers in the process and Gabrielle and Xena gave chase. They were at an advantage as the red-haired woman knew the most direct way to the exit and the ravine, the men would only know the vague direction.
As they ran they took a few of the men searching for the exit down but only if they got in the way. This was currently more of a race than a fight and the bard's lungs burnt as she tried to keep up with the two taller women. They burst out of the small west exit, a gap in the natural rock, and into the forest. Antonia weaved through the trees ahead of them, leaping over smaller rocks and fallen logs that were in her way. Gabrielle followed as best she could but there were several times she had to scramble over the debris rather than leap it.
Xena and Antonia burst into the open area on the cliff face in front of her and once her feet hit flat meadow grass she was able to kick on and catch them a little. They were the first ones to the clearing, but there would be soldiers hot on their heels. All three came to a stop at the beginning of the rope bridge.
Antonia hung back, letting Xena and Gabrielle go first; or so the blonde thought. Her initial focus was finding her balance on the thin bridge. After a few paces she became accustomed to the slight movement underneath her feet and looked back to check on the red head. Antonia wasn't behind them. The warrior had stepped back into the middle of the clearing to defend the structure whilst they crossed it.
Undoubtedly tens of men would soon pour into the clearing. Antonia wouldn't be able to fight them alone and survive. She was laying down her life so that they could destroy the bolt. THEY didn't need to destroy the bolt though...Xena could do that alone.
"Xena" she shouted.
The brunette had continued walking so was several yards ahead of her. The warrior turned and looked at her questioningly but then Gabrielle saw the look of realisation on her face.
"I have to go back" Gabrielle said apologetically.
It only slightly improved the odds of them all surviving If she went back but it drastically increased the risk of her dying. The bard could see how scared that made her lover but there was also a look of defeat. It was the right thing to do and Xena knew it. Antonia had been instrumental to them being reunited and they couldn't be so selfish as to walk away and let her die.
"Go" Xena said firmly.
They held eye contact briefly, a lingering look that said more than a thousand words. I love you, take care, try to stay alive for me...
Gabrielle finally turned and quickly made her way back across the bridge and onto the cliff's edge. She looked back at Xena one more time. The brunette had reached the other side and was about to start scaling down the cliff. Gabrielle pulled out her sias again and marched towards Antonia, ready for whatever came next.