Xena sat silent behind the wheel of the old black Jeep Wrangler she piloted through the even darker rainy night. Eight years after starting their new lives in the 21st century it was still strange to see her operating such a contraption.
Xena of course loved cars, anything that went fast. She had taken the time to learn about engines and had become quite the mechanic.
Gabrielle never mastered the art of driving cars; found she was clumsy behind the wheel. It was the same for any technology, telephones made her stutter, computers caused her to fidget, and television with its gratuitous violence and sex made her nauseous and blush at once.
“Will this rain ever let up?” Gabrielle asked.
“Relax,” Xena told her, “I’m done listening to these weather updates, Why, don’t you play some of your music.”
“I think I will,” she answered reaching up and carefully sliding a CD from the visor overhead. She enjoyed the music of the 21st century of all, rock, country, jazz, classical, even the synthesized music of trance and hip-hop if she was in a certain mood.
“What’s tonight’s musical selection?” Xena asked, concentrating on the road, her profile displaying her sexy half-smile.
“Loreena McKennitt,” Gabrielle said, a favorite artist of the both of them.
“Hmm,” Xena countered, flashing her blue gaze, before turning back to the rainy night beyond. She wore her dark hair pulled back away from her face showing off her sculpted cheekbones and jaw line, her brow just recently began to show lines when she was not frowning. She preferred wearing black t-shirts, khakis, and boots, when they traveled which was often.
Since they were not registered citizens, they could not settle down for long. There were plenty of small towns where they could get jobs, set up in a decent motel, but it was never long before the questions started, forcing them to move on again.
Sometimes they wandered to the big cities, but not often.
Gabrielle tried for days to quell her apprehension about going to L.A., not because it was once of the most notorious cities in the world, but because of the haunting visions Xena had of what would await them there.
For weeks, the dreams plagued her, a winged demon plaguing, the right hand of Alti, the shamaness who used science and magic to reawaken them in the 21st century.
They were clones of ancient Mycenaean warriors, myths in their own right. When Gabrielle’s stories of their travels were uncovered in 1941, a cult of academic studies followed evolving into pop culture throughout the years.
They lived restless ghosts in a world where their story was celebrated as legend, lost in a time that was not their own.
“Hey, you’re awfully quiet,” Xena said softly.
“Just tired of driving,” Gabrielle said, “I’ve lost track of how long we’ve traveled.”
Xena frowned a bit, there was gray in her hair now at her temples, Gabrielle smiled because she thought she would never be able to see her age, only watch her die too soon.
She had begun to find lines in her own face where there were none before, just at the edges of her eyes, but no gray in her short blond hair, though it was lighter than she remembered.
“Do you think we’ll ever defeat Alti?” she asked, “So many times back in Greece we thought we ended her-”
“I can’t say,” Xena sighed, “She’s a powerful soul, it would take a lot to put her out of commission for good.”
“How will we find her in a place as large as L.A.?” Gabrielle asked.
“I’m hoping my visions will guide me,” Xena said, and stared back into the night.
They both knew that visions were not always one hundred percent reliable. Especially when a certain warrior princess held back important tidbits.
“You are telling me everything you see, aren’t you?” Gabrielle asked.
“Of course,” Xena said, “No secrets this time. We agreed to that.”
“Yes, we did,” she said, “Being cloned back from the dead was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to our relationship.”
Xena laughed, reached out took her hand and brought it to her lips. And Gabrielle’s heart fluttered as she remembered it had nearly three thousand years before.
- - - - - - - - -
She tried to tell herself that it was good to come home to an empty house. She could have some time alone, to meditate, to try to shake the grief of the passing of a friend. She tried to tell herself that it was good Tina had moved on. Lately, having her around was like having a stranger in the house, a stranger with whom she shared raising a child.
She set some water to boil for tea, took off her coat and shoes, wandered the rooms of her modest home in the suburbs of L.A., an old but well-kept neighborhood.
Her bedroom was as she had left it, the guestroom where Tina slept before she moved out seemed sparse and bear, while baby Angelica’s nursery just made her depressed.
She returned to the kitchen, fixed her tea, and remembered the perfect diversion. She went to her desk where a small wooden crate sat, a screwdriver and hammer lie on either side waiting.
She had ordered the most exquisite gold mask from a shop in Greece, a big extravagance, since she currently lived off her nest egg after losing her job as museum director of the California Arts Center.
Still, the mask would be her little secret. It was some turn of the century bauble, a hand hammered brass, something some heiress wore once to a masquerade.
Bette Porter smiled to herself, used the screwdriver to pry at the lid, pounded the end of the handle with the hammer.
Away came the lid, and she reached in pulling away newspaper to claim her prize tied with brown paper and bubble wrap. She freed the mask, felt the cool brass beneath her fingers.
The mask was to cover the eyes, nose and brow, was perhaps once dressed with feathers, there were holes on the sides where strings could be tied to keep it on.
Bette pressed it to her face, it fit comfortably, almost perfectly. She studied the design, whoever made it modeled the mask after Babylonian masks, but the style was definitely Italian.
When she finished looking at the mask, she placed it on her desk, and searched for the packing slip to file away in her records. She removed the newspaper from the crate and found the slip.
To her surprise, another object lay at the bottom of the crate.
It was small box of black wood (small enough to fit in the palm of her hand) gilded with gold.
She opened her side drawer and retrieved a magnifying glass. She squinted through the glass inspecting the little box. It was much older than the mask, and was covered in seams that zigzagged around cube in no particular pattern.
“A puzzle box,” she said aloud, “It must be.”
A clerk had perhaps packed the box into crate box by mistake; surely, someone would miss it, and would call around. She should not even think of keeping it.
Yet she did.
At least until she solved the puzzle.
She deserved the distraction; one of her good friends Dana Fairbanks was dead. Dana had been a champion tennis player with a promising career; her life randomly cut short. Meanwhile relationship of eight years had ended after Bette’s own infidelity. Tina was lost to her now and they would have to split the custody of their baby, Angelica.
Before she knew it, she was testing the lines in the box with her well-manicured fingernails. An hour of this yielded no results though, and she did not want to damage the artifact.
With a sigh, she placed the puzzle box on her desk, if it was that. Whatever the meaning of the thing, she thought it a treat to have an antiquity in her house to privately handle.
“Oh, but you could have so much more,” a voice purred.
Bette startled, looked up to see an older woman dressed in black, sultry in a witchy way.
“What are you doing in my house?” She asked indignantly.
“I wanted to make sure you were enjoying your little gift,” the woman answered, her voice a raspy purr.
“So you’re behind this,” Bette said, “Are you a smuggler?”
It made sense to sneak stolen artifacts into the US under the guise of antiques, then go to the unlucky buyer’s house, and break in or worse.
Bette was frightened, but did her best not to show it.
“I am your benefactress,” the woman said and bowed, “I am called Alti.”
Bette stood her eyes darting towards the front door, then the phone on the stand. The day had darkened to dusk and the house beyond the desk was fairly dark.
“I mean you no harm,” Alti said, “I need your help Bette Porter.”
“How do you know my name?” She asked.
“It was all random,” Alti said, “I needed that box to get to someone with a strong will, someone who knows that life must be shaped by will.”
Bette quickly snatched up the box, the old woman scared her, the dark eyes that stared at her burned.
“I don’t want it,” she said, handing over the artifact, “Take it.”
“I can’t” the old woman said, “I would-”
“No, here,” Bette held the box out at arms length as she walked past Alti towards the front door.
“Open it,” she insisted, “And know power beyond your wildest dreams.”
“I want you out of my house,” Bette told her, quickly snatching up the phone, “I’ll call the police.”
The other woman grinned, and vanished before her eyes.
Bette turned around in a circle.
“What the fuck?” She questioned her living room, decorated with works of art. She went and turned on more lights.
She looked at the box in her hand. A part of the gilt caught her attention, a divot rounded in the shape a thumb’s impression might make. Bette fit her own digit into the space and pressed gently.
The box shuddered in her half-closed hand; she opened her fingers, as a side of the box rose releasing a honeyed scent.
In the darkness of the inside, lie a small lump.
She turned the box upside down and a warm soft object fell into her hand. It was the color of amber with the consistency of an oversized gummi-bear.
“Ambrosia,” the woman Alti had returned.
Bette turned to face her.
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
“No, the opposite,” Alti said, “This is that last of the food of the gods, eat and claim power that has lain dormant for three-thousand years.”
“I don’t believe you,” Bette told her, though she felt the opposite.
“Believe,” Alti whispered, “Take it, and have revenge on those who have wronged you.”
Bette dared herself to look into that burning gaze.
“Why don’t you eat it?”
“I’m a ghost,” Alti said, “I can only guide you in your journey.”
It all intrigued and tempted her at once.
“A journey of vengeance,” Bette countered, “That is what you spoke of earlier, vengeance. I have no need for that.”
“Of course you do,” Alti said with conviction, “That man your wife sleeps with, those assholes who stole your career, who made a fool of you.”
Bette shook her head, this ghost knew of the things that angered her most. The anger she had tried to shed by practicing Buddhism.
“And what would you propose I do?”
“With the power of a god, you decide,” Alti said, “Miracles. Maybe bring your cancer friend back to life.”
Bette narrowed her eyes. “Her name is Dana.”
Alti shrugged. Bette could not help but wonder what this ghost cared of someone alive becoming a god.
“What’s in it for you Alti?” she asked.
“I share in your power,” was her answer, “And together we will defeat an enemy of mine who has followed me across three millennia.”
“So this is for your own vengeance,” Bette said.
“I cannot succeed without you,” Alti said, “Once my wish is fulfilled I am finished with this life, the power of the ambrosia will remain with you, and you will live many days without sickness or pain.”
That promise sold Bette; she looked at the ambrosia in her trembling hand. The only obstacle that she faced now was fear of the unknown.
“Take it,” Alti whispered, “And never be at the mercy of another again.”
Bette nodded and quickly popped the ambrosia into her mouth. It was painfully sweet, and she found it hard to swallow. She managed at last and felt it rolling down her throat, hot and smooth like rum, landing in her stomach like fire.
“Is that all?” she laughed at the ghost, “I don’t feel very godli-”
Her entire body seized with pain, every muscle clenching, and spasming at once. She stumbled forward bumping the stereo; it came on blaring the Flower Duet from Lakame. She groaned doubling over and backing into a shelf, sending a statuette crashing to the floor.
Bette fell to her knees tossing her auburn hair, a muffled scream escaping her lips.
She could feel her heart pounding blood at an alarming rate; she could feel her blood boiling in her veins, boiling around her brain causing a great throb behind her forehead.
She buried her hands in her hand, elbows in her thighs.
Then she was sure the ghost had stabbed her in the back, literally. At either shoulder blade it felt as if someone had buried knives into the flesh and cartilage and were digging away at her back.
The ghost was standing in front of her, watching her with an astonished expression.
There was someone else in the house she guess, two demons tugging at her shirt, ravaging her skin.
She roared at the ghost, at her pain.
And then it was over.
Her chest heaved as she caught her breath, rose to her feet on suddenly steady legs. She looked at her hands and arms they looked the same.
“The mirror,” Alti pointed to a decorative glass.
Bette turned and saw her reflection with two magnificent ivory colored wings trembling at her back. They stretched past the top of her head to her calves.
“No shit,” she whispered walking closer, glancing at Alti.
“You’re beautiful,” the ghost said.
Bette inspected herself in the mirror.
“This can’t be right,” she said, “I can’t go around like this.”
“Don’t you want to try them?” Alti asked.
“Let’s go,” she said.
Bette nodded. She went to her closet and removed a long coat; she slipped it over the wings as Alti appeared with the mask.
“Here,” she said, “Protect you identity.”
- - - - - - - -
Xena at the wheel of the jeep suddenly sat up erect her whole body rigid. The car on the road skidded a bit. Gabrielle asleep in the passenger seat woke up and grabbed the wheel calling Xena’s name.
She could hear her, but could not respond, she was seeing Alti watch the silhouette of a winged woman fly from a gaping smoky hole. There was an alarm and sirens. They were on the roof of a building. Gunshots rang out through the night. The figure crouched; she was clutching two large paintings.
Alti threw her head back in an ecstasy of wicked laughter as the figure flew into the night.
“Come Xena, my new disciple will be will be waiting.”
She snapped her eyes open to see that Gabrielle had parked on the side of the road, her body pressed against Xena.
“I’m ok,” she slurred.
“No you’re not,” Gabrielle had tears in her eyes, “We were nearly killed.”
Xena smiled a bit. “What else is new?”
“What did you see?” Gabrielle asked.
“We must get to L.A.,” Xena said, “Whatever Alti has planned, it’s begun.”
- - - - - - - -
Tina Kennard woke up alone in her new apartment. She could hear Angelica babbling happily from across the hall. Smiling, she sat up and shuffled to the nursery to greet her baby.
“What is all this noise,” she crooned as she entered the room, “Baby Angie.”
She stood over the crib. The baby lying on her back grinning and kicking her legs clad in little pink pjs. Tina picked her up and held her close. Parenthood pleased the hell of her. Even without Bette it was the most whole she had ever felt in her life.
Tina startled when she noticed she was not the only one in the room. Standing before her was her dead friend Dana, her skin tanned as if she had played an outdoor tournament, not the sickly pallor she had on her deathbed. Her long brown tresses taken by chemo haloed around her head glowing it seemed in the early morning sun that leaked through the window near Angelica’s crib.
“Dana,” she said clutching the baby close.
Her friend looked saddened at Tina’s fear, but quickly took an air of urgency.
“Bette’s in trouble. She won’t tell you the truth.”
And then she was gone.
Tina tried to call Bette immediately. When there was no answer she quickly dressed herself and Angelica, and they drove to Bette’s place. She was not sure what she had seen, if she had seen that she thought. They were all under much strain.
Her cell rang as she drove. It was Helena Peabody, Tina’s lover after her initial break up with Bette.
“Have you heard?” She asked, “Someone robbed the CAC, a Cassatt and a Bazille were stolen.”
“What?” Tina asked, “Who could pull something off like that?”
“They used explosives, can you believe that?” Helena said, “They made a hole in the roof, and flew away.”
“That’s so strange,” Tina said, “They were on lone from New York. Heads are going to roll for this one.”
“Yeah, one thing they can’t blame on Bette,” Helena said bitterly.
She ended the conversation as she entered the driveway of the home she once shared with Bette. She never had forever in mind. That was something she could admit now. She was not so sure about her ex-partner though.
Tina knocked on the door balancing Angelica on her hip then she used her key to gain entry.
The house was in disarray. One of Bette’s favorite statues had fallen from the shelf and broken. On her desk, an unfinished cup of tea and a small packing crate waited among scattered newspapers. Tina glanced at the print. Greek. Bette had been buying art again. She frowned and called for ex.
Tina walked into the bedroom and found Bette lying on her back, shirtless but other wise clothed in the same outfit she wore to spread Dana’s ashes.
She put Angelica in the little bassinet close by. When she turned, Bette was awake smiling at them both. She looked gorgeous, her skin more radiant than ever, her eyes glowed with a drowsy lust. She wondered if Bette had a woman over the night before.
“No breakfast?” She asked.
“I’ve been trying to call you,” Tina said.
“I was asleep,” Bette told her.
“Are you all right?” Tina asked, “Your Shiloh is smashed into itty-bitty pieces.”
“Doesn’t’ matter,” Bette stretched across the bed on her belly to play with Angelica.
She wanted to ask her what did matter to her most at that minute. She supposed she would always have mixed feeling about Bette. Tina sighed.
“What was that about?” Bette grinned at the baby. They often communicated through Angelica.
“What’s wrong with mommy B?” Tina asked, “One of her favorite artworks is smashed, and someone just robbed the CAC.”
Bette turned over.
“What do you mean robbed?”
Tina explained and Bette grinned.
“Serves them right,” she said.
“For firing you?” Tina asked.
“For being assholes,” Bette told her, they stared at each other for a moment, “You don’t think I did it? An incredible art heist? How very Thomas Crown Affair.”
“Of course not,” Tina said, “I just got the feeling you might be in trouble.”
“I’m fine,” Bette grinned she stood and pulled a t-shirt, “Are you leaving Angelica?”
“Well I suppose I could for the day,” Tina said.
“Good,” Bette said, “Thank you, T.”
They embraced and Tina kissed Angelica good-bye, leaving them.
- - - - - - - -
When Bette was sure Tina had gone she picked up baby Angie and sat her on the tousled bed. She went to the closet and removed the two stolen paintings.
“Mommy has a present for you,” she smiled, “Can you say Cassatt?” Bette chuckled, “She was American born, moved to Paris and fell in with the impressionist crowd, a stunning painter.”
The baby gurgled.
“The CAC is in love their shitty little Impressionists in Winter, schtick, I wonder what they will do now.”
“Baby Angie,” she crooned, “Can you say Bazille? Ba-zille.”
- - - - - - - -
The Planet was a coffeehouse in a gay neighborhood, a luxury they were never able enjoy traveling from one small town to the next. Gabrielle was upset that she did not get to properly primp; she usually drew lot of looks wherever they went. It was those legs, Xena was sure of it.
“I’m glad this place was in your vision,” Gabrielle said and picked out several cinnamon rolls for her breakfast. Neither of them liked coffee but there was an assortment of teas.
The Planet certainly was a change from the greasy spoons, of the 21st century and the grubby taverns back in ancient Greece.
Beautiful women spread all around chatting with friends on phones or across from the table, some of the patrons typed busily on laptops.
Xena had tried to convince Gabrielle to get a computer but she insisted on filling, thin brown moleskin notebooks full of neat English script. It was amazing how fast she embraced the written language. She devoured books in hours while Xena was still fairly illiterate.
Gabrielle received a few looks, while the eyes of the breakfast rush avoided Xena, it was because her face was stone, expressionless.
Xena knew this was a place where she could relax, put her arm around Gabrielle without being stared at or harassed later, she took a deep breath and tried to take pleasure from the atmosphere, the woman at her side and her breakfast.
She was looking for a sign. Something to point her in the right direction.
She nuzzled her bard’s ear through soft blond hair.
“WTF?” Someone gasped loudly, “Gabby.”
The bard’s eyes lit up when she saw Aphrodite, stylishly dressed her hair red.
Their embrace was long and teary catching much attention. Xena cleared her throat and stood to receive a hug from Aphrodite.
“What are you guys doing here?” She asked, “Alive.”
“We’re merely clones of our former selves,” Gabrielle said smiling.
“Hold on,” Aphrodite said sensing a story, “Let me order another latte.”
“How long have you been here in L.A.?” Xena asked.
“Oh since forever,” the goddess answered, “I love it here. Hollywood. The Strip. Rodeo,” she rolled her eyes skyward, “Of course I can’t be too much in the spotlight, and I have to reinvent myself now and then…right now I’m a psychic to the stars, Aphra Simonson.”
“Wow,” Gabrielle said.
“Do you come to the Planet often?” Xena asked, “Do you know some of the people here?”
“Well I decided to be a lesbian this time, it’s like the thing now,” she said and touched Gabrielle’s shoulder, “You guys are such trendsetters.”
The bard blushed.
“Why? Are you on a mission?”
“Xena’s been having visions, Alti is here,” Gabrielle told her.
“Eww, that hag, she gives me the creeps,” Aphrodite shivered, her latte arrived, and she gave the waitress a flirty smile.
“My vision brought me here,” Xena said, “Has anything weird been going on?”
“Well there is talk that Brit and Kev may break up,” Aphrodite said in gossip mode, “-and Star Jones lost all that weight.”
“Real news,” Xena said.
“Well some broad with wings set the California Arts Center on fire and made off with two, like, really old paintings, she was wearing a mask and everything, they have security camera footage playing on the news, like every minute.”
“Wings?” Gabrielle asked.
“Alti’s demon,” Xena said, “I saw her in my vision. She had on a mask that explains why I could not get a clear picture of her.”
“A mission,” Aphrodite was excited, “Just like the old days. You guys must crash at my mansion, I insist.”
“We accept,” Gabrielle said not bothering to consult with Xena.
They told her of how Alti cloned them in to the 21st century. They though they had killed her but some essence of her lived.
“Bummer,” Aphrodite said, then gasped, “OMG. The ex-director of the CAC comes in here all the time. Word is she it pissed her off when they fired her. Her name is Bette Porter, one hundred percent hotness, Ivy League, perfect hair-”
“I doubt if she’s Alti’s demon,” Xena sighed.
“Don’t be obvious, but look, her totally hot ex-wife is right over there with some of their mutual friends,” Aphrodite said.
“Let’s go introduce ourselves on the way out,” the goddess of love said, and blatantly ignored their protests, “Don’t worry I’ve slept with Alice and Shane, I’m on the Chart.”
“The what?” Xena asked as they approached the table.
“Hi guys,” Aphrodite said.
“Oh my god everyone, a psychic,” a cute blond said cattily.
“Be nice,” a scraggily brunette insisted and flashed them a smile.
“Alice,” Aphra said with mock graciousness, “Still haven’t got that overbite fixed I see, and you’re such a pretty girl.”
“These are my friends, Gabby and uh…Zoe,” she explained, “Big fans of Dana’s we were all brokenhearted to hear of her death, if there is anything I can do-”
“Nothing,” Alice said, and Xena saw the grief in her eyes.
She wanted to tell her that death was just the beginning. Wanted to tell her the secrets of returning from the dead, but she doubted there were any such miracles left.
The other blond, Bette Porter’s ex Tina, took on a stung expression that quickly faded, something was troubling her.
Gabrielle and Xena expressed their sympathy and they all departed.
“Death is so shitty,” Aphra said once they were outside the Planet, she lit a French cigarette. The goddess of love had changed, she had come to know death though she never experienced it herself.
“Sometimes don’t you just feel like resting?” Gabrielle asked.
“I wish I could, Boo,” the goddess grinned, “This world is just too luscious. Come on girls.”
- - - - - - - -
Bette waited anxiously for the night to wax. Tina had come to pick up Angelica earlier, still eyeing her suspiciously. It was strange how she could suspect Bette of robbing the CAC.
She was reclining by the pool drinking a cabernet from her secret stash. Since money was tight she had been saving it for a special occasion.
“What do you have in mind for tonight?” Alti appeared in the center of the pool standing on the water.
Bette grinned at her as the shamaness walked towards her.
“I have the address of the asshole who bought the Kiki Smith I was forced to auction,” Bette told her, “But then again the National Endowment for the Arts pulled funding for my exhibition and instead hosted some medieval bestiary show at the Getty.”
She rolled her eyes at the ignorance.
“To the Getty,” Alti said.
She stood, donned her mask. She had cut one of her sleeveless, low cut Marni blouses, for her wings. She could make them come and go as she pleased now. She had dazzled Angelica all afternoon with the ivory colored wings and even gave her child one of the feathers as a gift, told Tina they had gone to the zoo.
That was how a child should see their mother, glorious, unstoppable. One day she would have to show Angie that her mommy could throw fiery lightning bolts.
Tonight she wore a pair of dark brown clingy slacks, and did not bother with shoes. She was a goddess after all.
She took to the sky, soared high over the L.A. lights. She flew low over the Getty complex, threw a fire ball in the middle of the pond in the garden center. The water splashed a boiled high.
She landed on the roof of the front entrance, crouched low. There was extra security and they came running. She laughed and they froze. She covered her mouth; she had not meant to laugh to loud.
“Show your self to them,” Alti told her.
They scattered, drew their guns. “Freeze, don’t move,” the guards told her, “Show us your answers.”
She did as they asked releasing a ball of fire that shattered the concrete at their feet. They fell backwards and she turned firing into the museum’s entrance, shattering the glass front.
She heard gunshots as she ran into the building towards the exhibition hall skidding through broken glass as she did. Once inside the medieval exhibit she browsed the selections. Antiquities had never interested her before, only modern art, but these days her tastes had changed.
She smashed a case that held an illustrated Franco-Flemish Bestiary, and carefully lifted the ancient book.
“Nice,” she said.
The guards entered their guns drawn. Did these guys ever learn?
It was time to make her escape.
- - - - - - -
They were enjoying the lap of luxury when Xena had another vision. She described another museum, one with a garden and a pond.
“It has to be the Getty,” Aphrodite said and they were off in her pink Hummer towards the scene.
Police had blocked off the roads leading to the museum when they arrived.
“We’re too late,” Xena said, she wore jeans and a short sleeved shirt, amour beneath it, gauntlets on her forearms.
Gabrielle touched her arm comfortingly.
“We’ll catch up,” she said.
“Shit,” Aphrodite said disappointed, she put the Hummer in reverse and turned around. They were several blocks away from the Getty, at a red light when something landed on the roof of the vehicle.
Xena grabbed her sword and got out of the car, she looked up at the top of the massive car, saw nothing. Gabrielle joined her, sais drawn.
Mocking laughter filled the empty street; they turned their head trying to find its source.
“Come out, show yourself,” Xena commanded.
The flutter of massive wings caused them to turn. Alti’s new disciple was not a demon at all, but a stunning masked woman grinning as she landed on the street.
“Who the fuck are you?” She asked regarding their weapons.
“Where’s Alti?” Xena asked.
“Ah, you must be the enemies she wants me to do away with,” the winged woman said.
“Whoever you are, Alti is only using you,” Gabrielle said, “She’s not to be trusted.”
She was answered by a stream of fire projected from the woman’s hands. Gabrielle and Xena fell backwards pushed by a wave of heat.
Aphrodite ran forward waved her hands producing a protective wall of pink light that deflected the other’s fire.
“She has the power of a god,” Aphrodite said shouted over the roar of flames, “It’s been a long time-”
The fire ceased, the winged woman flew over them. Xena ran, jumped on the roof of the Hummer, then to a streetlight. She swung her body launching herself at her opponent.
The winged woman tried to dodge her, but Xena grabbed on to her clothes, punched her in the face.
She was surprised to her a whimper from the woman as she clumsily fought back. She was strong but her blows were ill-timed. The two of them fell to the street.
Xena’s opponent managed a wild kick that sent her flying across the asphalt.
The winged woman got to her feet, prepared to send another fire ball, but Gabrielle was behind her. She used the handle of her sais, jamming the ends at the woman’s neck just above her wings.
She yelped and turned, Gabrielle punched her in the stomach, causing her to stumble backwards. The winged woman unleashed another ball of fire.
Xena watched her partner fly backwards and land on a parked car. She roared running at the winged woman who threw another fire ball, Xena deflected it with her sword, and it bowled into the winged woman knocking her to the ground.
Xena smirked as the woman squirmed, winded; she raised her hand but only produced a few sparks. She had godlike powers, but she was no god, not even a warrior. Gabrielle was up, limping towards them, leaning on Aphrodite.
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” Xena told her, “This is not a game you want to play.”
“Fuck you,” the masked woman answered all defiance, “This is my given right, my destiny.”
“And you’d kill in the process?” Xena asked, “You don’t seem like a killer to me.”
“Just stick around and see,” she answered, and raised her hand covered in flames that faltered at first then blew stronger.
She got to her feet flapping her wings Xena tackled her back on to the street, then stood over her sword ready.
“Don’t make me kill you,” Xena warned.
They all turned and in the glow of flames saw Tina with baby Angelica in a sling, the woman looked up at Xena anger flashing across her face.
“You stay away from her,” she said, walking quickly to Bette and standing between her and Xena’s blade.
“I know how you feel, but she is dangerous right now,” the dark haired warrior tried to reason.
“I won’t let you hurt her,” Tina said, gripping Bette’s fiery hand, instantly extinguishing the flames.
Xena looked to Gabrielle, and backed away.
Tina turned to Bette, stood helping her to her feet.
“What’s going on here, Babe?” She asked, “What’s with the mask?”
Bette removed it, the fury that was once in her eyes threatened by tears.
“Someone made me a deal,” she told her ex, “You left me with nothing, so what choice did I have?”
“So you chose to wreak havoc on the city?” Tina asked, “Steal valuable pieces of artwork?”
“This felt like the only way I could regain myself,” Bette said, “Maybe it was a wrong turn, but it’s too late now.”
She looked up at Xena. “I must keep my end of the bargain with Alti.”
Tina pulled her away.
“No Bette, not while Angelica is here, you have to get us to safety first,” she was talking to her ex as if she were not in her right mind. Xena noticed the madness in Bette’s eyes, and knew she had eaten of ambrosia.
Xena stepped forward to stop them but Gabrielle caught her shoulder.
“Let them go for now, Alti’s the one we want.”
“I can carry the both of you,” Bette was telling Tina, “I’m strong enough to do that…hold tight to me.”
Xena looked to Gabrielle as the little family took to the sky.
“If anything happens to that baby-”
“Bette won’t allow that,” Gabrielle assured her, “She’s still in control, for now.”
“For now,” Xena agreed.
- - - - - - - -
Jennifer Schecter happened to be outside, smoking, leaning on the fence between her house and Bette’s when her neighbor dropped out of the sky carrying Tina, and Baby Angelica. She held on to Tina until she was able to steady herself, then they embraced each other.
“Are these things real?” She exclaimed.
“Uh-huh,” Bette told her and turned to Tina could touch them.
Jenny dropped her cigarette and stood stunned, her large gray eyes wide.
“How’d you know where to find me?” Bette asked.
“Dana came and told me,” Tina said, her tone half disbelief, even as she touched the ivory colored wings, “Twice she’s told me you’re in big trouble
“They’ll be coming for me,” Bette was saying.
“You don’t have to go through with this,” Tina assured her, she touched her face gently, “Just put those things away, and come to bed.”
Bette suddenly stiffened and turned in Jenny’s direction. Jenny turned to run, ducking the swoop of wings. Bette landed in front of her and she gasped.
“Fucking snoop,” she shoved the smaller woman.
“Shit. Sorry,” Jenny gasped.
- - - - - - - -
This was all spiraling out of control. The powers were not as strong as Bette thought; some dyke with a sword was able to get the better of her. Now Tina knew and that insufferable little writer next door was privy to her secret.
“You’re the insufferable one,” Alti appeared next to the frightened Jenny, “A goddess who can only bully puny little girls and outrun museum security.”
“I am no goddess,” Bette told her, “I wish I could take it all back.”
“Bette. Leave her alone,” Tina called from the other side of the fence, Jenny shrank away and disappeared inside of her house.
“I was wrong about you,” Alti hissed, “Listen to you snivel. Your mind is weak.”
Bette flew back over her own fence.
“I want to go to bed,” she announced, “I want to tuck these wings away and never think about them again.”
Tina came forward but a sudden hot wind pushed her backwards, she clutched their baby and turned away.
“The powers have not set, but I’ll have to settle for you the way you are,” Alti said and Bette felt the ghost enter her body, a heavy chill that stifled her soul.
- - - - - - - -
When Tina turned, she saw that Bette was no longer herself. She grinned menacingly as if seeing Tina for the first time.
“I’ll teach you to meddle,” she said and stepped forward.
There was a brilliant flash of light, Tina saw Dana over Bette’s shoulder behind her wind. Her ex turned and backed away quickly as the ghost of the dead friend followed, mouth pulled down sternly, eyes narrowed.
“Fine, have her,” Bette said and jumped backwards over the pool and into the sky.
Tina moved to follow but Dana stopped her.
“You have to let her fight this out,” she said, “She’ll do what is right.”
That said, the ghost of Dana Fairbanks vanished.
- - - - - - - -
“So Alti picked an L.A. art director to be her champion?” Gabrielle asked, as they drove back to Aphrodite’s manse a bit outside town down a long, dark winding road lined with trees.
“She waiting for the powers to solidify so she can possess her body,” the goddess of love said, “Then that L.A. art director will become Alti.”
Xena and Gabrielle looked at Aphrodite stunned.
“Hell,” she said behind the wheel of the Hummer, “I know stuff too.”
She turned back to the road and gasped, there was Bette standing in the road launching a fire ball into the car.
Aphrodite slammed on the brakes.
Xena opened the door and rolled out on to the concrete, she got to her feet, raised her sword just in time to deflect one of Bette’s fire balls.
“So good you could come, Xena,” she said.
“Alti,” the warrior princess hissed, “You never give up do you.”
“Not until I destroy the soul of you and your little bard,” the shamaness answered.
Gabrielle and Aphrodite joined Xena’s side, and Alti laughed.
“And the soul of a goddess as well,” she said, she threw a stream of fire at them. Aphrodite used her powers to ward off the fire, Xena ran in one direction, Gabrielle the other.
Alti fired at Xena, who ducked and rolled, a tree on the side of the road lit up with flames. Alti fired at Gabrielle who flipped to avoid the attack.
Aphrodite bound the shamaness’s arms with a ray of pink light. She struggled to free herself, as Xena ran towards her chakram drawn.
Alti broke the bonds just as Xena neared, her hands could only clutch at the warrior’s throat. Xena grabbed the shamaness’s hands, tried to escape her grip but could not, Alti force her to her knees.
Xena raised her legs and kicked pushing her attacker away, and scrambling away to escape, avoiding another flying ball of fire.
Gabriella padded behind Alti, kicked her legs from beneath her. The shamaness flapped her wings and rose kicking the bard in the face. Xena ran, leaped on Alti’s back, stifling the wings, wrapping a gauntleted forearm around her neck.
The both fell to the ground wrestling.
“You’re not immortal in that body, Alti,” Xena grunted.
“But you wouldn’t murder poor innocent, art-loving Bette Porter,” the shamaness hissed.
“Let her go Alti,” Xena told her struggling with the woman beneath her.
Gabrielle came, helped hold her down.
“We can’t kill her,” the bard said, “She has a child.”
“I don’t know how to expel Alti’s soul,” Xena pleaded, “I can think of nothing else.”
They looked to Aphrodite who shrugged sadly.
“Bette,” Gabrielle told the fighting body, “You’re in there somewhere…I know things have been tough, but you have too much to live for, you have a child who needs you, it’s not too late for you to turn things around.”
Alti laughed mocking her attempt to get through to Bette.
A cool wind stirred the night catching their attention, there was a voice on the breeze that said:
“I can help.”
They looked up to the ghost of Dana Fairbanks.
Alti roared at the sight of the newcomer, tried to break free of them. Aphrodite pinned her with a ray of pink light.
“Do your thing,” she told Dana.
The specter nodded, and kneeled, leaning down to Alti/Bette’s ear.
Gabrielle looked across the woman’s prone body at Xena, who met her gaze revealing the desperateness she felt at the situation. She did not think the tennis player’s ghost could exhaust Alti, one of the greatest evils who walked the earth.
Before their eyes Bette’s body began to seizure, her eyes squeezed shut, and the spirit of Alti fled in a stream of dirt colored smoke.
Dana’s ghost rose. Xena and Gabrielle did the same.
Bette sat up in the road and blinked, her crumpled wings unfurled as she stood.
“Did I make it?” She asked.
Gabrielle smiled. “You did.”
She put her hands to her head as tears sprang to her eyes.
“I’m so sorry for all of this,” she said.
“It’s ok now,” Xena consoled her, “Alti is gone.”
“And I am stuck with this power,” Bette said, “I don’t deserve to wield it, I wish I could give it to you or your friend here.”
She looked to Gabrielle and turned to Dana.
“I wish,” Bette said, and walked to her friend, put her hands to her ghostly face and touched her as if she were flesh and blood.
“I wish I could do something good with this.”
“You can,” Aphrodite spoke up, “It is yours to do as you choose.”
“But how?” Bette asked.
“It’s not just having the powers of a god,” Aphrodite said, she looked at Xena and Gabrielle, “It’s why I’ve survived all these years…its love, for you, for people, not just those in your social circle, it’s love for humanity.”
Bette turned back to Dana, her hands still clutching the specter’s lovely face.
“Come back to us,” she said simply, “I release the power of the ambrosia; I release my self as well to the whim of all love in the universe.”
Slowly the ghost of Dana Fairbanks, solidified, the color of her flesh gaining opacity until she was a whole living being again.
Bette let go of her and staggered, Xena caught her, and they watched Dana take a breath and speak.
“Crispay,” she said and smiled reaching over to hug Bette.
“Let’s get out of here,” Xena said and watched the two friends help each other walk to the Hummer.
Gabrielle put her arm around the warrior princess and they followed
“Hey,” Aprhodite said stopping them, “How would you gals like to go back to Greece?” Gabrielle looked to Xena who spoke.
“It would be a dream come true,” the warrior said.
“Good,” the goddess of love said, “I have a vineyard there, its all yours if you want it.”
“Aphrodite, that would be great,” Gabrielle beamed, as Xena hugged her and kissed the top of her forehead.
“You two deserve it,” Aphrodite said, “A place to rest. Right Gabs?”
They all embraced.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s an after-party in The Hills I’m just in time for,” she said, she snapped her fingers and popped to her destination in a curtain of pink sparkles.
Gabrielle and Xena looked to each other astonished.
“I didn’t know she could still do that,” Xena said.
They turned to the hummer where Bette and Dana waited leaning against for support.
“Can you imagine that?” Gabrielle asked, “Our own vineyard.”
“You think we could get horses?” Xena asked.
“Yeah,” Gabrielle agreed, and put her hand to her heart sighing, “There it goes again-”
Xena stopped alarmed.
“What is it?”
“That tug at my heart I get sometimes,” she said, “Like that first night you invited me to your camp and called me friend.”
“That was the smartest decision I ever made.”
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