Unfinished Business (Part 2)
For notes & such, please see Part 1
Later that night, an eerie quiet blanketed the temple. While most of the servants and scribes slept peacefully, Xena and Gabrielle remained on high alert. Something wasn't right. It was almost as if...they were being watched.
The warrior stared at the ceiling. "No sense in staying here any longer," she thought and sat up on the bed. Stalking across the room, she tapped Gabrielle on the shoulder. "Hey," she indicated.
The bard stirred almost immediately and muttered, "I was wondering when you were going to get up and check things out."
"Well, I didn't wanna wake ya without reason," Xena continued, slipping on her breastplate and clipping the chakram to her hip. "C'mon!"
Her companion secured her scythes and crept into the hallway after the warrior.
About a half-hour later, they encountered the first signs of trouble. Three of the Lin Che's best guards were sprawled out on the floor, their necks broken.
"Nice and neat," Xena hissed. "Not bad. But, we've got serious trouble, Gabrielle."
"What are we up against? The way this was done would indicate...ninjas?" the poetess asked.
"Seems like it," the warrior nodded. "And they'll be goin' after K 'ao Hsin and Lin Che. Let's get moving!"
At the other end of the building, eleven men dressed in black stole through the darkened corridors, leaving a trail of broken bodies in their wake. Outside of the master bedchamber, they stopped and looked up and down the hall. No sign of trouble or the Gaijins. "Let's do it," one hissed.
"We cannot fail the Dragon," one of his companions reminded the others.
The screens slid aside soundlessly, allowing them to enter the room. The assassins crept into the area and stole up to the bed. Yes, the couple was still asleep.
"Our masters will be pleased," the leader thought to himself, drawing his sword.
At that moment, a banging noise came from the hall.
"What?" the attacker hissed. "What are those fools doing?"
Then, two of the ninjas flew into the room, crashing against the far wall. In the shadows, the man could see two figures move into the room gracefully, poised for further response.
"The brats have returned," the ninja groused, preparing to finish the job at hand. "Take them! Chang, help me here!"
A relatively squatty associate slid over to the bed's side and prepared to hold the victims down if necessary.
"For the glory of the Dragon!" the leader bellowed, tensing to strike the final blow.
Then, a whizzing noise came out of the dark, breaking the blade from his hilt, caroming off of the wall, slashing his arm, and then, darting away. Startled, the attacker took his eye from the bed.
Lin Che took advantage, delivering a single potent hand chop to the throat, disabling the ninja.
"What is it?" K 'ao Hsin inquired drowsily.
"Stay here," her husband assured her. "I will protect you." Grabbing his sword, the former guerrilla fighter jumped out of bed and moved for the door. In the darkness, he heard several blows delivered against clothed chins. The accompanying "shi-yas" identified Xena's presence out there. After a few minutes, the fighting stopped. "What's going on out there?"
"It's over, Lin Che," Xena assured him. "We've got 'em. But, I would like to know who our two friends are."
Kao Sin lit a taper and walked over toward the Warrior Princess. Studying the newcomers, she indicated, "They are our children, Xena. Meet Lin Quo and Lin Ma."
"Are you all right?" Lin Quo asked.
"We're fine, thanks to you four," Lin Che assured his son.
Gabrielle walked into the room and reported, "I think that's it. But, we need to be careful."
"So much for your security," the warrior remarked.
Lin Quo tensed, "Who are you to just walk in here and question the security here? You may have the legendary Xena's name, but that does not give you the right to question us?"
"That is enough!" his father directed. "She is the legendary Xena! And you will accord her and her companion proper respect under this roof."
"It's okay, Lin Che," Xena assured him. "I might have said the same thing had the positions been reversed."
"Thank you for understanding," the younger man told her.
"It is an honor to meet the legendary Xena and Gabrielle at last," Lin Ma added, bowing before them.
"Please don't do that," the Warrior Princess requested. "Your grandmother wouldn't let me or anyone else do so in her presence. And I intend to follow her example."
"Then, it is true!" the teenaged woman exclaimed. "You knew her. Perhaps another time, you can tell us about her."
"Perhaps," Xena sighed, allowing a wistful smile to spread across her face. "But for now, we need to secure the grounds. Gabrielle, can you go with Lin Quo and check the south passage?"
"Right," the Bard agreed and headed down the passage with the younger man.
"Meantime, Lin Ma, can you come with me?" Xena requested. "Lin Che, stay with Kao Sin."
The older man nodded and sat back down next to his wife. "I will see you upon your return."
"Absolutely, Honored Father," his daughter acknowledged and followed her new friend down the hallway.
Deep within the insurgents' cave, Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu groused over the ninja's failed assassination attempt. Those men were their best killers and soldiers. However, Xena had disposed of them with ease.
"She hasn't lost her touch," she admitted.
"Indeed, despite the years which have passed. No matter. Tonight's loss was only a small setback," he stated.
At that moment, a man whose face was streaked with black powder and sweat approached them. "My lords," he started and bowed slightly.
They recognized their chief weapons designer, Chou Wu. "Are you finished?" he asked.
"Yes, we are ready. The rockets await your pleasure," the servant reported.
"Very good," she complemented.
Then, turning around, Ming T'ien added, "Arouse our followers! We attack at dawn!"
Having secured the grounds, Xena, Gabrielle, and Lin Che's family met in the main reception area. The latter spread a rice paper map of the surrounding countryside out on the table and they all studied it intensely.
"We're here," Lin Quo noted, pointing to the 'x' in the middle of the map.
"And we fought them the first time over here," Gabrielle added, indicating a place about two inches away from the indicated spot.
"We faced some difficulties upon our return journey as well," Lin Ma added. "East of here lies a bigger enemy camp."
"Indeed," her brother indicated. "We managed to skirt their numbers and slip by them in the dark. Otherwise, we would have been here to fight by your side."
"No matter," their father assured them. "You're here now. Our family fights together soon."
Xena glanced about the room. Something seemed amiss as if another presence was in the room. "All right! Show yourself!" she hissed.
"What?" K 'ao Hsin asked. "What is it, Xena?"
"She senses something in the room," Gabrielle noted. "And I do too."
"Yeah, Ming T'ien, I know you're here," the warrior continued.
In the far corner of the room, a green cloud collected and coalesced into the Green Dragon's spirit. "Very perceptive, Xena. So, you've returned. The stories are true," he admitted.
"Cut the crap," the warrior challenged. "You've known about me and Gabrielle being here since we took on your troops earlier today! By the way, how's Pao Ssu? I figured she'd be in on this action as well."
The spirit rotated, revealing Lao Ma's other daughter. "I am here as well, Xena, and I will see you dead."
The warrior smirked sarcastically and baited, "Get a number and stand in line. I hear it's running clear back to Hell right now."
"We will succeed where the others failed!" the female spirit affirmed.
Rotating again, her brother's spirit added, "And it will happen soon!" Looking over toward his sister, he offered, "K 'ao Hsin, it is not too late for you. We are willing to forgive you if you will join us."
"And allow you to misuse our mother's teachings? Never!" the empress refuted. "We have defeated you before and will do so again!"
"I will die before I allow you to corrupt her!" Lin Che challenged, drawing his blade.
"You are old," the spirit laughed. "I doubt you would survive the battle."
"Uncle!" his nephew interjected. "You will have to take me before you can claim victory!"
"So be it!" Ming T'ien hissed. "You had your chance! By noon, I will be victorious!" Having said that, the spirit vanished into the nothingness from which it had come.
"Noon today?" K 'ao Hsin inquired. "What could he do by then?"
Xena rushed out onto the balcony overlooking the valley. Despite the apparent serenity of the night, she picked up on the sounds of movement. A whole mass of troops were moving in on their position.
"What is it?" Gabrielle probed. "Xena, what's wrong?"
"Is it the Dragon's army?" the emperor asked, rushing to get a look himself.
"Yes, they are coming. Ming T'ien wouldn't have made a statement as he did without having something to back it up. Trust me. They're on the march, and the powder is with them," she reported. Turning to Lin Che, she asked, "How quickly can you get an army together?"
"Two or three hours," he replied. "I will sound the alert. Lin Quo, come with me."
The son nodded and followed his father out of the room.
Lin Ma looked earnestly at the older warrior and asked, "Xena, I've heard the legends about you mastering my grandmother's power. Is that true?"
The Warrior Princess exchanged glances with K 'ao Hsin and replied, "I used it a long time ago, but I haven't used it since then."
"And you had difficulties controlling it," Gabrielle added.
The empress requested, "Lin Ma, I know you're interested in Lao Ma's teachings, but I wish that you wouldn't think of your grandmother's teachings in that way."
"Mother! Forgive me, but I won't sit here and watch my aunt and uncle's followers destroy everything that we hold dear! You know I don't fight except in cases of extreme need," the daughter debated.
"Indeed," the elder woman agreed.
"Then, let me help to limit the bloodshed and preserve the peace. You know that Grandmother would have wanted that," Lin Ma continued.
K 'ao Hsin glanced at Xena and Gabrielle once again. "I tried to block the power out once before. Turning my back on it is not the Way. Xena, can you help her?" she asked.
From the nocturnal backdrop, a bell clanged loudly four times. True to his word, their companions had summoned the men to fight with them.
"It is not the Way," Xena agreed. "I don't know what I can do in a few hours. But, we can try. Come."
"I'll stay with K 'ao Hsin," the bard indicated.
"Thanks," the warrior expressed. "Every moment counts." With that, she escorted Lin Ma out of the room.
The poetess walked out onto the balcony and surveyed the landscape. The silence was deafening. Somewhere out there, the Dragon's armies were massing themselves for the final assault. "May the gods be with us," she wished before returning to the empress's side once again.
Xena guided Lin Ma through the halls running to the southeastern corner of the temple. Winding their way through halls coated in dust and along passages forgotten with time's march, the two women hurried toward their destination. Finally, they stood before a secured doorway.
"This is it," the warrior indicated. "This was her meditation chamber."
"Yes, but Mother wouldn't allow us to go in. She secured this door years ago," Lin Ma proteted.
"Well, we're going in now," Xena asserted and, using her sword, snapped the chain securing the doors together.
Without their restraint, the twin oak barriers swung open, allowing them entrance. As with the hall outside, the room was musty, and dust choked the air. Lighting a taper, Xena saw that everything had remained largely untouched. The colorful and light window coverings still adorned the openings. The walls were still the same shade of white. In the middle of the floor was the small table which the Warrior Princess still remember so well. A solitary vase sat in its center, waiting for a visitor to gaze upon it once more.
Xena's mind flashed back to the day when Lao Ma shattered a piece just like it with the force of her mind. That day, the warrior learned that the will was not absolute in this world. Rather, to control others was to have power, but to relinquish one's will was to know the Way. Granted, it took decades for that lesson to sink in, but it was the road which Xena had tried to tread for the previous 30 years at least. "Let's get to work," she advised. "Now, tell me. What do you know?"
The younger woman smiled and, glancing at the Book of Wisdom, recalled, "To surrender the will is the path to the Way. Worldly power means little in the bigger scheme of things. And one must have a purity of purpose. I try to be humble, Xena. I know that I am not worthy of my grandmother's gifts."
"She would be proud of you, Lin Ma," the Thracian warrior assured her, leaving her sword and chakram against the far wall. "You already have a basic understanding of the Way. Now, do what I do and say what I say."
For the next three hours, the two women sat in meditation, interspersed with spiritual movements. For her part, Xena felt the ancient energies filling her once again, buoying her up. Once again, she recalled when Lao Ma had healed her legs. "Believe, Lin Ma. Believe in yourself. Let go!"
The other woman sighed and relaxed. Her focus was incredible yet she easily achieved the single-minded purpose. Looking up, she saw her friend floating about ten feet in the air. "Unbelievable!" she commented in wonder.
Xena grinned warmly and stretched her hand out. From the window, the covering flew into the air. One end wrapped itself about her waist. Again, she stretched her hand outward, and the other end floated downward toward Lin Ma. "Let go! Surrender your will," she urged.
Her companion relaxed further and found herself rising off of the ground. The curtain end gently wound itself around her waist and she felt herself being led toward Xena. "This is wonderful!" she exclaimed.
"As long as you maintain your purity of love, you'll be able to do this," the warrior informed her. For fifteen minutes, they floated in midspace before they needed to descend to the wooden floor again.
"Sorry, I lost track of time. I could have stayed there all night," Lin Ma apologized.
"Me too," Xena shrugged. "But dawn's not that far off. And we still have more to do."
"Show me please!" her friend accepted.
Xena smiled wistfully, wishing that she had been that eager to learn these lessons so long ago...
K' ao Hsin sat in the main chamber, drinking a cup of tea. In the corner, her husband and son inspected their weapons. Gabrielle paced from window to window, expecting to see their enemies' torches appear outside the gates at any second.
"You know, Gabrielle. When you were last here, I was so afraid of my mother's power," she admitted.
"I remember," the Potadeian nodded. "But, Xena used the power to defeat Khan's armies."
"Yes, but I didn't want my children to be exposed to the temptation of abusing the teachings. So, I have the meditation chamber locked, and it has remained so for many years," the empress continued.
"K' ao Hsin, Lao Ma's teachings are not inherently evil. Your mother only used her abilities for good. It was only Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu who used the teachings for evil," the Bard countered.
"Listen to her," Lin Che requested. "Gabrielle knows of these things. The power in Xena's hands saved our lives. Remember, Gabrielle?"
"How could I forget?" she shuddered, remembering how they had been caught trying to blow up the powder supply. Khan had trapped them and only with her friend's intervention did they survive.
"Besides, Lin Ma has your humility as well as your mother's, K' ao Hsin," her husband added. "Xena taught you the last few lessons. I have no doubt that she will do the same for our daughter."
"And gain the control which she lacked the last time," Gabrielle added.
The empress nodded and walked back toward the window. It would be hours yet before the first light of dawn would appear. However, she still felt that things would be very different after that day. Very different for them all indeed.
On the other side of the room, Lin Quo studied his father carefully. Although he was always serious about things, Lin Che seemed more focused than usual on this night. Each sharpening thrust of his sword against the stone deliberate and quick. The activity had a measured gait to it almost as if the elder were counting by it.
Finally, the son broke his silence, "Father, what is it?"
Lin Che analyzed his son's face meticulously and finally answered, "A very serious matter, my son. Are your weapons ready for the morning?"
"Yes," the younger man affirmed, pointing to the sword leaning against the wall in the corner and the well-worn stone beside it. "I hope my sword will do us honor."
The father allowed his son a brief smile. Lin Quo had always been a very serious student in the arts of strategy and warfare from the time he could hold a sword. His teachers had marveled at how the boy instinctively knew the uses of weaponry and how to maintain his acoutrements. "Let me see, if I may," he requested.
"Of course," the other man complied and brought his weapon over, placing it gently in his father's lap.
Lin Che inspected the blade. The metal shone in the dim torchlight. The edges were definitely razor sharp and well-honed. He thrust it through the air, admiring how light the sword seemed. "And your daggers?"
Lin Quo pulled them from their hilts. They were ready as well.
"Very well. You are ready at least in this sense. But, you still had a question of me?" the father stated.
"Yes, Father. About the matter at hand. Why do my aunt and uncle hate us so?" the teenager probed.
The elder man sighed, "I think that is for Gabrielle to explain." Turning toward the middle of the room, he motioned for the blonde bard to join them.
"What is it?" she asked anxiously.
"Ask your question to her, my son," he repeated.
"I was asking Father why my aunt and uncle hate us," Lin Quo restated.
Gabrielle nodded and recounted, "Well, Xena would know more about these things. But years ago, your uncle ruled this land with an iron fist. During his reign of terror, he had your grandmother, Lao Ma, executed. Xena and I came here almost twenty years ago and stopped him. About three years later, we returned here and faced your aunt, Pao Ssu. The question at that time was the use of Lao Ma's Book of Wisdom. Your mother wanted to use it for good. Pao Ssu, your aunt, wanted it for her own gain. Eventually, Xena sided with K' ao Hsin against her sister and they defeated her. We thought her dead as well."
"But that wasn't the end of it, right?" the young man asked.
"No," Lin Che continued. "Your aunt's and uncle's spirits joined together and led a band of warriors against the rightful order of Chin. They had also gained the secret of the black powder. However, Xena used your grandmother's power to turn them all to stone."
"Yet somehow, Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu survived and have returned. Worse, they have rediscovered the powder. And with dawn rapidly approaching, we will have to face them soon," she added.
"I will do my best," the younger man affirmed. "For my family and myself."
"I know you will," Gabrielle stated.
"As do I," K 'ao Hsin agreed. "Although I don't like violence personally, I do see that this struggle will be necessary." Turning to the table, she focused on the book on top of it. For a long minute, the tome lay still. Then, slowly, it rose into the air and floated over to her.
"Wow! Mother, I had no idea!" her son exclaimed.
"I never wanted either of you to know," she replied. "Now, I have no choice." Turning to Gabrielle, she added sadly, "I still don't want to fight my siblings. But, to protect my family and homeland, I will do so."
Gabrielle smiled wistfully. The woman in front of her had indeed developed into a worthy successor to her mother. "Sometimes, we all have to do things that we don't want to do, K 'ao Hsin. I don't relish killing, but I will do so to protect those I hold dear."
Lin Che put his arm around his wife's shoulders in a supportive gesture. He had always been so proud of her steadfastness and resolve since the first battles with the Dragon so long ago and would always continue to be so. "I am here if you need me," he advised her.
"As am I," their son affirmed.
"As are we all," the bard added.
"Thank you all," the empress expressed. "You don't know how much that means to me. Now, come. We must meditate before the battle. Gabrielle, you are welcome to join us."
"Thank you," the bard noted. "But, I think you need this time for yourselves. I'm going to find Xena and Lin Ma. I'll be back in a while."
"Very well," Lin Che agreed. "We will see you upon your return."
The Bard nodded. Despite the seriousness which the years had placed on his shoulders, Lin Che was still mindful of the situation at hand and would serve his role well when the opportunity arose. Keeping that in mind, she left the room and headed for the meditation chamber in search of the Warrior Princess.
Meantime, back in the meditation chamber, Lin Ma focused on her lessons. Almost as if she had born to do these rituals, the young woman picked everything up rapidly. Her mind was clear and focused on the task at hand. Now, concentrating on the small table, the young woman made a vase rise into the air, rotate end over end three times, and shatter into dust. She could feel the spring breeze gently lofting across her shoulders and brushing her hair and knew that she was one with the Way.
Xena admired her new friend's devotion and did her best to emulate it. After a quarter of a century, much of the knowledge had slid away into the furthest recesses of her mind. Then, that same breeze puffed delicately on her right cheek with the aroma of cherry blossoms. At that moment, she heard Lao Ma say to her, "Let go, Xena."
She did so and discovered that the power was still within her. Just like learning how to ride a horse again, once that hurdle was passed, the lessons came easily to her as well.
Then, she heard her companion exclaim, "Xena! Look!"
The warrior's eyes snapped open and she saw a familiar apparition floating in front of them. "Lao Ma," she smiled.
"Yes, Xena," the spirit acknowledged. "And Lin Ma, it is finally good to meet you."
"Grandmother," the younger woman acknowledged with a slight bow. "You honor me."
"By using the wisdom as you are, it is you who honor me. Listen, I do not have much time. Remember to remain pure in your purpose," Lao Ma instructed. "Such purity of life is the only way to defeat Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu. I must go now, but I will always be close by." With that, she faded away into nothingness.
"You see, Lin Ma?" Xena reinforced her mentor's words. "You have your mother's heart and your grandmother's spirit. Remember that."
"I will," the younger woman accepted her friend's words. "Mother said that you were like a sister to her. Now, I can see why. Thank you, Xena."
The warrior nodded as solemnly as she could under the circumstances. Despite her efforts, a small tear watered in her right eye, dripping down her cheek. Lao Ma had given her something special...a home, a family, and redemption. Amphipolis would be her first home always, but it was here that her rebirth began. The process which had ended on Mount Fuji had started here so long ago. Now, it was time to show the opposition how strong the combined forces of the old and new Xenas could be in her. One more victory...one more achievement...on the road home.
"Xena?" Lin Ma probed.
"I...I'll be okay," the warrior assured her. "Just some memories. Good ones of your grandmother. Keep your chin up and we'll do okay tomorrow."
"I...I will," the younger woman concurred. Then, she noticed Gabrielle entering the chamber. "Did you wish to speak to Xena alone?"
"No. But, I wanted to let you both know that everything is coming along fine in the main hall," the poetess reported.
"What about K 'ao Hsin?" the warrior asked.
"She's fine, and she's accepted her role. She used the power herself," her companion continued.
"Mother accepted the power? I can't believe it," Lin Ma puzzled.
"Sometimes we all have to do things to defend what's dearest to us all," Xena mused, glancing toward the Bard.
"You should be with them," Gabrielle told Lin Ma.
"I shall go to them. Thank you both," she stated, bowing to them and departing.
After she had left, the two companions looked at each other silently. Finally, the bard broke the silence by saying, "Did you find what you wanted?"
"I did. Thanks," the warrior smiled. "And how are you doing?"
"I'm feeling confident," the Potadeian commented. "With you at my side, how else am I supposed to feel?"
"Yeah, let'em try to stop us. Well, the sun's almost up so let's get back to the main hall," Xena chuckled, heading for the door.
"Right," her friend agreed, following her out of the door. Once outside, Xena closed the portal behind them and they hurried to join their friends in the chamber beyond.
Additional Notes: Angie Dubois and Francesca Alvaro are unique über incarnations of Xena and Gabrielle from my "Dubois Chronicles" storyline. And also, Xena regains the power to kill immortals in the installment, "Enforcement Matters".
On the plains below the temple building, the armies of the Green Dragon lay waiting for dawn. Tents were pitched and the soldiers sat waiting for their leader's signal. Given the darkness as well as the evening chill, most wished for a fire, but could understand the mentality behind not lighting one and announcing their presence to the enemy. No, best to suffer a few hours of inconvenience for the glory to come....
In his tent, Chan-Kua surveyed the maps of the plains and laid out the deployment of men and munitions. After the shameful defeat at the hands of the Warrior Princess and her companion, he was determined to grasp victory and with their capabilities, they couldn't lose!
"Don't get too overconfident," Ming T'ien's voice advised from the corner.
The general spun and saw the Green Dragon's spirit floating above him. "My lord," he recognized and bowed. "Forgive me. You are hearing my determination. That is all."
"Make sure that's all it is," the Dragon reminded his subordinate. "Remember, Xena has allies now. There is the army and my family there."
"What are women and children to us?" the other asked boastfully.
The spirit laughed and spun to allow his sister to respond, "They have the power, Fool. Xena and my sister have mastered the teachings as I once did. Take care and don't fail!"
"I will not," Chan-Kua bowed and retreated from the tent.
"Do you think he took us seriously, Brother?" she asked.
One rotation later, he replied, "Time will tell. He has a good plan. Now, we'll see if he can carry it out."
As Xena and Gabrielle entered the hall, the first pink of dawn could be seen over the eastern hills. It wouldn't be long now.
Lin Che and his family made their last preparations. Both men had their gear on and prepared to go down to the courtyard to meet their supporters. K 'ao Hsin and Lin Ma were focusing their thoughts.
"Are you ready, Xena?" Lin Che asked.
"Yeah. Ready as I'll ever be," she indicated. Then, looking about her, she continued, "Why don't you get your family downstairs? Gabrielle and I need to be alone for a few minutes."
"We do?" the bard asked. After seeing the warrior's frown, she agreed, "Right, we do."
"Very well," Lin Quo indicated, helping his mother and sister out of the room. "We will be waiting for you."
After they had left, Xena closed the door and paced the room.
"What is it?" Gabrielle wondered. "What's eating you?"
"I smell a rat. Ares, come out! I know you can't resist a good fight!" the warrior challenged.
In a flash, the war god materialized in the middle of the room. "You are so right on that one," he agreed. "And man, this is gonna be something else! Have you seen the army waiting for you outside?"
"No, but I can guess it's pretty big," Xena hissed. "And let me guess, you want to figure out what they're usin'...."
He frowned sourly and ranted, "You mean the powder? Xena, c'mon! That hurts! What do you take me for? If that idiot, Joxer, could figure out the formula, then why can't I? Especially since I could use it to take over the world."
"Watch it!" the bard warned.
Ares arched his brow at her. "Ooh, and now, you feel something for him! Took you long enough to figure it out, Gabrielle."
"Awright, that's enough," the warrior growled, stepping in between them. "Do you have something to say to us? If so, spill it cuz we have an army to join in a few minutes."
He shook his head and fumed silently for a minute. Then, he advised, "Just keep your head down." Glancing at the bard, he added, "Both of you." With that, he disappeared.
"Well, I'll be...he cares," the poetess puzzled.
"Yeah, in a twisted sorta way," the warrior concurred, glancing out the window and over the wall. Sure enough, Ares had been right. In the dim light outside, she could make out the large gathering outside of the walls. It was going to be one great fight all right. Turning to her companion, she directed, "C'mon, let's join Lin Che downstairs. We have a long day ahead of us."
The two companions made their way down the stone stairs and out to the courtyard below. Waiting for them, they saw the soldiers from the previous day's fighting standing in perfect formation and awaiting the moment of truth. In front of this gathering, Lin Che and his family were ready for the onslaught as well. Time seemed to stand still as anticipation hung heavily in the air.
"How are we doing?" the Warrior Princess probed as she approached the head of the line.
"All is ready," the emperor stated. "And you? Did you and Gabrielle settle your business upstairs?"
"We did," she indicated. "Now, here's the plan. Lin Che, you, Gabrielle, and Lin Quo should go out at the head of our forces. K 'ao Hsin, Lin Ma, and I will be in the rear at least to start with."
"And what will you be doing?" Lin Quo pushed. "I, for one, would like to see the mighty Xena out on the battlefield."
"Xena always has a reason for what she does, my son," his father indicated.
"That's right. In this case, we'll be creating a tight bubble around the battlefield so that they can't launch their weapons," the warrior added.
"And if they do, the powder will blow them up as well," the bard guessed.
"If this works, it would certainly give us hope," the older man agreed. "But, we are still outnumbered 3 to 1."
"We can do it, Father," his son assured him.
Lin Che smiled with pride at his family. Under the circumstances, no man could have been prouder. Seeing that they were all ready, he asked Xena, "Now?"
Looking to her companion, she asked, "Ready?"
"Always," she agreed, holding her scythes in position.
Then, she looked at the imperial family and, unsheathing her sword, she waved it above the crowd.
"For the honor of our ancestors!" the emperor bellowed as the gates opened. As one, the mass of men spilled out of the fortress to confront the enemy which awaited them.
On the plains, Chan-Kua stood ready. His men were in position. Close behind them, the catapults were loaded with the explosives. This would be the day of glory for them all.
Beside him, the twin spirits floated, watching over the events unfolding in front of them. As the gates opened to the temple, they directed, "General! Begin the attack!"
The subordinate nodded and signaled for his troops to advance. As one, the insurgents did so. Then, he lit the tip of an arrow and fired it skyward to alert the men arming the catapults.
Behind them, the men lit their projectiles and, cutting the ropes holding them in place, launched their burdens towards the defenders. However, at that moment, the sky began to glow a bright shimmering yellow. When the charges hit the field, they exploded, wiping out the very troops who had launched them in the first place. By the time the dust had settled, the weapons had been destroyed and the men had been injured and incapacitated.
Realizing what had just happened, Ming T'ien hissed angrily at the subordinate, "You Fool! Didn't we tell you about their power?"
"My lord, we still have more powder. We don't need the catapults. He turned and waving the large Dragon banner, signaled for the rockets to be launched.
"You Idiot! Don't!" Pao Ssu screamed.
Unfortunately, three rockets had been lit and soared skyward. Upon hitting the barrier, they ricocheted backward. The first one's impact wiped out the powder troops all together while its counterparts each found a storage tent. The resulting explosions lit up even the early morning skies in a multi-colored display, wiping out their supposed advantage.
"Gah!" Ming T'ien bellowed. "I cannot fail like this again!" Turning to the frightened man beside him, he snarled, "Go! For your sake, you had best defeat them!"
"I will," the general shuddered, jumping on his horse and urging it onward.
Back in the compound, Xena watched the fireworks with smug satisfaction. At least with the powder gone, the fight would be more even.
"Now, what do we do?" K 'ao Hsin asked.
"You two stay here and maintain the Way-field in case they have any more powder weapons," the warrior noted. "The remaining troops will keep you safe. Wish me luck."
"And what are you going to do?" Lin Ma probed.
"I'm gonna take care of some unfinished business," Xena informed them as she mounted Argo II and galloped onto the battlefield.
In the midst of the carnage, Gabrielle slashed, bashed, and stabbed her way through the Green Dragon's troops. Her motions could have been choreographed as she made her way deep into the enemy's flank. Then, she saw the explosions against the morning sky. "It worked," she smiled. "Thank, Eli. Trust in Xena to make it work." With that bit of success, her resolve was reinforced and she continued onward with grim resolve.
On either side of the battling bard, father and son cleared their own paths with precision. As each man slashed away, they became aware that the enemy lacked the skill and discipline to engage them one on one.
For their part, the remaining men stopped fighting and tried to flee. They knew their deficiencies and had decided to flee whether their leaders ordered them to do so or not. Unfortunately, they were quickly surrounded and cut down.
Without the powder, the battle was quickly becoming a rout in favor of the defenders.
Xena rode through the carnage, viewing the grim scene with satisfaction. With each battle, it seemed that Ming T'ien's followers grew less numerous as the number of defeats mounted. Admittedly, she fought back a spasm of disappointment at the insurgents. After the ambush, she had hoped to work off some frustration by cracking a few heads. "At least, Lao Che's men are efficient," she mused.
"Xena!" a lone voice screamed above the din.
She turned to see Chan-Kua training a bow on her. "Well, well...Looks like I found someone who will fight," she surmised, grabbing her chakram and flinging it faster than the eye could see. Before he could pull the string, the circular weapon split his bow, gashed his arm, and gonged his head, knocking him unconscious. Having accomplished all of these feats, the whirling wonder returned to its mistress' hand.
"That was too easy. Hrumph! Some 'general'," she cracked sarcastically at her fallen foe. Then, looking all around her, she sensed the spirits' presence. "Come out, you two! I know you're here!"
In an emerald flash, the twin ghosts materialized in front of her. "You have defeated our troops, Xena. But, we will be back!" Pao Ssu promised.
Rotating around, the Green Dragon added, "And next time, we will be victorious!"
Xena sighed. As the power to kill gods had been taken from her in Rome, there was no way to exterminate the twin threats.
At that moment, a voice echoed through her head. "Xena, remember your link to me!"
"Angela?" she asked. "Is that you?"
"Yes," the voice indicated. Then, the spectral image of Dr. Angela Dubois, the renowned twentieth-century oncologist and holder of a very unique bond with the Warrior Princess, appeared in front of her friend. "Use your chakram. Don't ask, just do it."
"Yes, Xena. Go ahead and frustrate yourself by listening to the foolish phantom there," Ming T'ien baited.
"If you say so," the warrior shrugged and flung her signature weapon at the immortal enemies in front of her, expecting it not to have any effect. However, the round blade sliced right through the two ghosts, and, like a boomerang, quickly returned to her hand.
The twin spirits screamed in agony, spinning wildly out of control and releasing a foul stench, almost akin to brimstone. Then, running out of steam, they dissipated on the mid-morning breeze.
For a long minute, Xena stood there in disbelief, staring at the spot where the two spiritual siblings had floated earlier. How could that have happened? She had lost the power, so how?
Sensing her "roommate's" thoughts, Angie chuckled and reminded her, "Yes, but they have been returned to you. Remember?"
"I thought that didn't apply to here," the other surmised, recalling how Eli had given back the power to her before the confrontation with the Enforcers.
The brunette image postulated, "No matter where you are, you're still you. In my era, it's you not me who's fighting to protect Eve, keep Dave's temper on the straight and narrow, and...still be the best friend a person could want. I know Gabrielle's your soul mate, Xena, but you have given me more confidence and self-awareness than I have ever known. I always be grateful for that and if I can help-as I did just now-then I'm glad to do it."
"Thanks to you too," the warrior accepted. "And, as for our relationship, you have always had those qualities within you."
Angie blushed shyly at those words.
At that moment, Gabrielle rushed up along with Lin Che and Lin Quo to see how their colleague was faring. "Angela? How?" she asked.
"Hi, Gabrielle," Angie replied pleasantly. "Let me answer your question with a question. How do you and Xena appear to Francesca and me in our time? I guess it's the same thing." Turning to the elder man, she continued, "Lin Che, it is an honor to finally meet you."
"Who?" he asked.
"A very good friend actually. Lin Che, Lin Quo, this is Angela Dubois. Angela, this is our friend, Lin Quo, and you know his father already," Xena introduced.
"It is a pleasure," the oncologist smiled.
The bard still puzzled over their friend's explanation. "You mean just like I appear to Francesca, you're appearing to Xena?"
"Right," the other agreed.
"So, where is she?" the poetess asked.
"Right here," another voice responded and an ebony haired woman's image appeared. "You fought well, Gabrielle."
"How?" Lin Che asked.
"It's a long story," Xena advised. "But, should you be leaving David like this?"
"He's busy with his Latin," Francesca revealed. "Besides, Eve's keeping an eye on him."
"When you get a chance, can you stop by for a chat?" Angie requested, biting her lip nervously. "Dave's getting restless if you get my drift."
The Thracian warrior sighed heavily. Managing her husband and his "Dark Child" was a never ending task. "You bet," she agreed.
"Great!" Angie cheered. "By the way, tell Ares to keep his distance. I let my 'better half' know about that conversation on the ship. He would put a beating on that blowhard-his words, not mine-or die trying on your behalf, Xena."
The warrior grinned. Despite the challenges she had thought about earlier, David Dubois was a good friend. If needed, he would jump into the mouth of Hell itself if she or Gabrielle required. "Tell him that won't be necessary, Angela. I can take care of myself. But, please thank him for caring."
"You bet," the oncologist agreed. "Speaking of my dear husband, we need to be getting back to him and the girls. See you soon!" With that, she vanished back into thin air.
Francesca waved to her friends and did the same, leaving the others to marvel at their presence.
"So, what happened, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.
"I'll tell you the long version when we're on the road, Gabrielle," the warrior stated. "But, let's just say that Angela reminded me of an ability that I had all along."
"You eliminated Ming T'ien and Pao Ssu?" the bard puzzled. Then she stopped herself and told herself silently, "Best to puzzle over these questions later when it's just the two of us."
"Then, it's over," Lin Che noted. "I am glad to have peace in this land once more."
"Right," the warrior concurred.
"Come," the emperor invited. "We will eat and prepare a celebration fit for our achievement." He rode back toward the temple with the others following closely behind. In the past few hours, they had accomplished a great deal. Now, it would be time to sit back and think on these things.
Two days later, Xena kneeled on the floor of the meditation chamber, thinking on the previous month's events. Lao Ma and Yakut had brought her back from the brink of death. Lin Ma had helped her to regain the Way. Then, Angela had revealed that she had indeed regained her god killing powers. Most importantly, Gabrielle had stood by her side, inspiring her to further action, and detailing it in her scrolls.
"Yeah, I sure am lucky to have my friends," she sighed.
"To have good friends, you must be one first, Xena," Lao Ma's voice advised.
The warrior turned to see her mentor's spirit. "Thanks," she accepted. "I was following your example."
"I only introduced you to the Light. You did the rest," the spirit admonished.
Xena chuckled as she heard the words. Only the previous day, she had given a similar speech to Angela. Now, Lao Ma had to apply it to her as well. "I'll try."
"I know you will," she agreed. "Even though your role has changed, the road will still be difficult. Treasure the good times, Xena, for they will support you when life is hard."
"I will," the student agreed.
The mentor nodded and concluded, "Then, before I depart, I thank you for restoring order to this land and protecting my home. Farewell." Having said that, she faded away into nothingness, leaving only a slight cherry-scented breeze to indicate that she had indeed been there.
For another moment, Xena stood there silently, observing every nook and cranny of the area. Finally, a knowing smile crossed her features, and she directed, "You can come out, Ares. I know you're there."
The war god appeared in a burst of light and stated, "Yes, I have been here for quite a while actually. That was a stroke of genius how you used the power."
"Yeah, it shows you how ingenuity can stand up to brute force or weapons," she chuckled. "Besides, you know the tables are balanced once again."
He rolled his eyes and ranted, "Yeah, leave it to those meddlers from the future to remind you of your powers! And I can't believe that they would be brazen enough to challenge me like that!"
"Why shouldn't they?" the warrior replied coldly. "You've certainly done enough to them and Cybelle." "About the god-killing stuff, I suppose you knew about it all along?"
He grimaced and admitted, "I did, but I was hoping to stave off any opportunities for you to find out about your situation. So, what happens now? Do you stay in Chin or head west?"
"As much as this place calms my soul, Gabrielle and I are needed elsewhere. In a few hours, we'll head toward the Steppe and onward to the west.
"Good. I'd hate to see Greece and Rome without you. Until next time, Xena," he concluded and disappeared from view.
"The more things change, the more they stay the same," she mused, leaving the sanctuary behind.
Two hours later, Xena and Gabrielle had packed up their things and loaded them onto their horses. The road would be long enough to chat on things. Now was a time to say goodbye to their friends.
Lao Quo stepped forward and stated, "It was an honor to fight beside you both. May the gods protect you."
"Thank you, Xena, for helping me to find the Way and for rediscovering my grandmother's honored legacy," Lin Ma expressed.
"Thanks, both of you. It's good to see Lao Ma's grandchildren taking after her rather than your aunt and uncle," the warrior replied cheerfully.
"Hers is the way to life," the younger woman replied. "Theirs is the way to death and destruction."
"You're quite a woman in your own right, Lin Ma," Gabrielle complimented. "Hold your head high, okay?"
"I will do so. Thank you, Gabrielle. Thank you both," the other woman noted, giving both travelers a bow. "If you will excuse us, my brother and I will leave you to talk with our parents."
"Safe journeys to you both," Lin Quo added, bowing as well before following his sister into the temple.
When they had gone, Xena noted to K 'ao Hsin and Lin Che, "You've done a great job with those two. Lao Ma would be proud."
"She is, Xena," the mother replied pleasantly. "I can sense her happiness all around us. She will always be a part of this land."
"What about her book?" the bard inquired.
"We will keep it safe here," Lin Che explained. "It is a item to be esteemed and revered. I, for one, have seen its power on two occasions. That is enough for me to believe in it." He approached his friends and added, "I hope you find the happiness that you desire, my friends. Gabrielle, it seems we are parting once again. May your inspiration for the scrolls never run dry."
"Thank you, Lin Che," the poetess accepted.
"As for you, Xena. I hope that the road is kind to you as well," he wished.
The warrior glanced at her companion and grinned, "With Gabrielle here, its always just fine. Thank you."
He beamed with satisfaction at his friends' contentedness. Given their feats and accomplishments, he hoped that at some point they would be rewarded. "Remember, you will always have a place here, my friends."
His wife had waited for her husband to say his piece. Then, she stepped forward and indicated, "I wish to reinforce what my husband has said to you both. Thank you for saving our home."
"I told you on our last trip here that we're like sisters," Xena assured her. "If there's anything we can do, just say the word and we'll be there."
"That's right," Gabrielle agreed. "You've been so kind to us, K 'ao Hsin. And, you've allowed Xena to remember that she still has a destiny here to fulfill."
"It was the Way that did that, Gabrielle. As with you, I am only an actor on the great stage of life playing my assigned role," the empress downplayed the others' praise.
"But you play that role with grace," the bard complimented. "You both do."
"With friends such as yourselves to help us on our way, how can we not?" K 'ao Hsin smiled and embraced her colleagues. "The world is lucky you are a part of it. Be safe and know that I will always think of you."
"Thank you," Xena smiled as she mounted Argo II. "Good health always." Turning to the bard who was on her own mount, she asked, "Ready?"
"Always," the other agreed. "Lead on."
The Warrior Princess grinned and, spurring Argo II onward, rode off towards the west.
Gabrielle waved one last time to their dear friends before following her close companion down the path toward their next adventure.
Lin Che and K 'ao Hsin watched as their two friends disappeared over the horizon and into their memories. Once again, they had been lucky to cross paths with Xena and Gabrielle. Their children had also met them. Despite the strife of the Green Dragon's attack, some good had come of the whole affair after all.
"Come," he requested. "Shall we put on some tea and plan for the future?"
"Yes, that sounds nice," she concurred and followed him into the temple.
The Warrior Princess and the bard rode for much of the day. Finally, when the sun had started to disappear in the western hills, they stopped to camp for the night. Within minutes, they had a campfire burning and a simple meal of bread and cheese to enjoy.
Gabrielle watched her friend closely. The last few weeks had done them both good, but especially for Xena. Back in Japan, the warrior stood at the brink of death, thinking that with redemption came the end of her road in this life. However, with their friends' intercessions, she had realized the new role--roles actually-which she had left to fulfill: guide, fighter, defender of justice, teacher, counsel, and, most importantly, friend and close companion. At the last thought, a tear came to her eye.
"Hey, what's wrong?" Xena asked with concern.
"Oh, nothing, I was just thinking about how hard it would have been to lose you on the mountain," the bard sniffled. "Aren't you glad I brought you back?"
The warrior sighed, "Until we got here, no I wasn't. I had this horrible sense of guilt that I had deserted those people."
"So, what changed your mind?" the poetess probed.
"Just what Lao Ma said, that there are far more people than the 40,000 souls in Eternity who need me here. Then, rediscovering both of the talents I thought lost to me: the Way and the power to kill immortals. Somehow, Angela managed to bridge the centuries and give me the ability to use the latter here," Xena detailed.
"Right," the bard replied, albeit somewhat confused. "So, you said you would tell me how she can appear here like that. I thought when she and you are together, she can't use your abilities. So, how?"
"How do we appear there? I don't know how it works either. But, that connection saved our lives on the battlefield. Meantime, we have two more companions," she shrugged and took another bite of cheese.
"That's true. I had another question if it's okay," the blonde warrior-poet pushed.
"Go ahead," the warrior agreed.
"It's about Akmei. Xena, how could you let her go after her father like that?"
"Not all fathers have their children's best interest at heart, Gabrielle. You just spoke of our future connections. Think about David and his father," the warrior noted.
"But, those are stories!" the other protested.
Xena felt a spasm of pain course through her and continued, "Stories to you and Francesca. However, Angela experienced one of his tantrums as well."
Gabrielle gaped. It was true, but, having seen the other's rage, she should have known that already. "So, would you help him take the same measure of vengeance?"
"No, that's up to him. But unlike Akemi, I don't think he would feel the need to kill. David would humble his father, but not murder him," the Warrior Princess indicated. "At one time, I wouldn't be so sure of that, but his experiences have taught him a great deal and given him a measure of perspective. Perspective that you and I have helped to grant him. Looks like we both have a purpose here and elsewhere, huh?"
"Just remember that when you're trying to commit suicide on me," Gabrielle urged, suddenly feeling depressed.
"Hey, I'm not going anywhere," Xena assured her, embracing her tightly. "You and I were meant to be together. We have a lot of adventures left."
"So, that talk about settling down in Greece is out?"
"For now at least," the Thracian continued. "Eventually, we will end up doing so. But, I have a feeling that we have a lot of unfinished business first. You agree?"
"Always," the bard agreed, rubbing her friend on the shoulder. "Well, we have an early start tomorrow. So, I'm getting some sleep. Good night."
"Pleasant dreams, Gabrielle," the warrior wished her.
The bard settled onto her blanket and looked at her companion. Yes, things were indeed working for the best. Letting that pleasant thought relax her, she drifted off to sleep.
Xena stared up into the evening sky. It had indeed been a long road for her and Gabrielle. However, would there be any end in sight where so much had yet to be done? "I guess all that we can do is to take things one day at a time," she yawned. Stretching out next to her best friend, she fell into a deep slumber of her own knowing that good had been done and more adventures awaited them just around the next bend in life's road.
THE BEGINNING (of this strand)
(This story is dedicated to Xena and Gabrielle. Thanks for everything and Battle On!)
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