(This story begins immediately following the conclusion of "When Fates Collide")
The Fates: "If you destroy the Loom, you'll destroy everything!"
Gabrielle: "So be it!"
Xena sat high and proudly atop Argo II. Gabrielle was dressed in an embroidered dark red halter and skirt. Intricately crafted silver jewelry adorned her waist and arms. She hugged her companion around the waist as the two women prepared to depart. Xena was wearing her usual black leather clothing. A copper breastplate, a chakrum at her side, and broadsword worn in back contributed to her warrior's countenance. Gabrielle asked her a question. "So, what did you think of my play?" Xena responded. "It was all right... could have used a few more fight scenes." Gabrielle merely shook her head in a bemused acknowledgement of the trite response. "Everyone's a critic." With that, they both rode off into the forest mist. The bright sunlight shone down in scattered, chaotic rays across their path. Their destination was unknown.
After riding for several hours, the misty fog that had accompanied them began to thicken. In time, Xena had difficulty seeing even two feet ahead. The sun's rays had long since disappeared behind the enveloping fog. Argo grew hesitant and willful. Xena finally halted her ride and dismounted along with Gabrielle. They made their way carefully through the thick brush. The way underfoot was made treacherous by gnarled roots and intertwining branches. Xena used her long sword to clear the way ahead. Gabrielle followed close behind. "Gabrielle, whatever you do, don't let go of me-no matter what. I would hate to think what would happen if either of us got lost in this mess."
"Xena, this fog around us...it's not really...normal...you know what I mean?"
"Something is wrong, you're right about that...what it is...I really don't know." After struggling for several minutes, the two wanderers discovered a clearing in the overgrowth. A perfect circle of green moss appeared. A precise circle of immense oak trees surrounded it. Strangely, the soup-thick fog was absent from the circle. Xena and Gabrielle gingerly stepped within its circumference. They were both filled with a deep sense of foreboding. "I don't like this Gabrielle. This clearing...it's too perfect. Somebody made this...maybe we should keep going. We don't belong here." Gabrielle had already fallen down into the warm, comforting, soft green moss. "Xena, we've been riding all day. I need to rest. You do too." She reached up and grabbed Xena's arm and pulled her forcibly down into the cushion of green. Xena was unable to resist the plush, relaxing comfort of the welcoming vegetation. Both women were overcome by an overwhelming need to rest and shut their eyes. They rolled easily into each other's arms and fell instantly asleep.
Xena snuggled toward the women in her arms. Smiling as a pleasant memory from the past washed over her, she opened her eyes. It was not Gabrielle who faced her. A severed, bloody head looked back mournfully at her. Xena stared at a bloody, naked, headless corpse. It was her head, and her beaten and battered body. Xena screamed in horror. She struggled to extricate herself from the embrace, but could not. Her body was paralyzed. The severed head of Xena spoke, in a strange, unnatural cadence. "Xena. I am you. You are me. We meet here in the circle of fate. Fate is no more, just as time is a door. Choose your path, and seek your way, but know that this sight, might become your last day." Xena cried and shut her eyes to stop the horrible vision. Finally she shrieked and awoke. She was alone within the green circle. It was bright day outside the small round enclave. Inside the circle of trees, the blackness of night persisted. Xena cried out plaintively, "Gabrielle! Where are you? I need you! Gabrielle!" Xena spun around in a mad hope. She ran toward one of the old oak trees but was stopped dead in her tracks. She fell down again into the mossy warmth. Exhausted and confused, she again drifted off to a fitful sleep.
Gabrielle was sound asleep. Her blunt blonde hair framed her fine-featured face. She recalled a special moment spent with Xena, lounging by a warm evening fire. Sighing softly, she rolled over and slowly opened her bright eyes. Her warrior companion was no longer beside her. In her place, a large, ornately decorated, mahogany wood mirror stood. It seemed to grow directly from the very earth. Gabrielle stood up and gazed into the beautiful polished glass mirror. She saw nothing but the reflection of the forest behind her. She looked deeper and deeper into the mirror, finally looking down at herself. Still she saw nothing but a reflection of the forest behind her. Gabrielle was extremely agitated and spun around ferociously. Pulling her sias from their sheaths, she exclaimed with passionate anger, "All right...who is doing this? Is this you Alti? Or what about...maybe Ares?" Suddenly the echo of her words came crashing back loudly. As if to mock her disorientation, the reverberating sound seemed to beat at her very spirit. "I know this is not happening! Whoever it is out there, I won't fall for your little game! I'm not going crazy! You're doing this to me! I don't care about some stupid mirror! I am here...I know who I am...I exist!" Gabrielle's voice was choked with emotion. Overcome with fatigue, she fell down again into the comforting green carpet. Her eyes were shut tight as sleep again seized hold of her struggling will.
Xena's dreaming mind was immersed in calming scene from her childhood. Her brother Lyceus and she are fishing on a clear blue lake. The sun overhead was bright and the air sweet and cool. Xena tasted the flavour of the chicken and bread that her mother, Cyrene had packed for her lunch. The reassuring youthful image ended abruptly. Her eyes opened again to the circular green clearing. This time she jumped up quickly from her reverie, recalling the horror of her last vision. She turned around and faced Gabrielle. "Oh my God! Gabrielle! Thank God it's you! I thought I had lost you!" Xena lunged forward to hold her beloved mate. The blond woman craftily sidestepped the attempted embrace. "Who are you? Do I know you?" The image of Gabrielle removed an uncharacteristic short Roman sword from its sheath and swiped expertly at Xena's head. It was removed effortlessly and landed on the soft green ground. Still very much aware and awake, Xena watched as her horrible decapitated body embraced Gabrielle. They began to dance together to a strange beautiful and complex melody. The music was unlike any Xena had ever heard. She watched as the two women continued their dance macabre. Xena shut her eyes tightly to extinguish the nightmarish scene from her mind.
Gabrielle opened her eyes once again. The drowsiness of the sleep state lasted only a few minutes. She jumped to her feet in a fully alert posture. Her Sais were drawn and ready for action. She was still standing within the circle of verdant moss. The surrounding forest around her had completely disappeared. Instead the circle was now circumscribed by a continuous series of interlocking wooden doors. They were ornately carved of darkly stained oak, with elaborate carvings upon each one. There were eight doors in total. Gabrielle was frustrated and unimpressed. "Like I said before, this little game doesn't impress me! Do you think I'm some kind of child? Xena and I have been through much worse! So you want me to open one of these doors, is that it? And then what? Does some Bachaae come flying out to eat me? Well I refuse!" With that final declaration of defiance, Gabrielle got down in the mossy ground. She sat cross-legged in a meditative lotus position. She tried to empty her mind of all incoherent thought. Gabrielle noticed then that the ground beneath her had grown softer. She began to actually sink down into it. Like green quicksand, the liquefying moss pulled her downward. Gabrielle struggled hopelessly to extricate herself, but to no avail. In a last desperate measure to survive, she lunged out with one of her weapons and was able to barely gain some purchase. Slowly Gabrielle clawed her way from the widening green sinking abyss. Finally back on her feet, she exclaimed with disgust, "Okay...I get it, if I don't choose a door, I die. As you wish!" Gabrielle stepped toward one of the doors, and away from the widening depression within the circle's centre. The first door looked much like the rest but had a unique image on its central panel. The number twenty-three and a figure of a beautiful baby appeared. Moving to the door on the right, Gabrielle noticed it's unusual decoration. It had the number forty-seven, with a pair of crossed Roman swords adorning it. The next door was without markings of any kind. She visited each door quickly, trying to quickly notice the significance of each one. The last door she viewed was carefully carved with the number thirteen and had a relief image of her projecting from the panel. The encroaching void continued to consume until a mere foot remained. In a sudden flash of decision, she lunged for the last door and opened it wide. Immediately she fell into deep sleep.
Xena awoke with a start. She rolled over to see the figure of Gabrielle lying peacefully beside her. The normally comforting image brought the warrior no solace on this occasion. Instead she leapt to her feet and slowly drew her sword. With a jab at the woman's back, she barked out to the sleeping figure. "You...whoever you are...wake up! I'm sick of these games!" The blond figure rolled over to see the cold steel of Xena's broadsword staring her squarely in the eyes. She seemed at once relieved to see her, but frightened by the aggressive stance. "Xena? It's me. What are you doing?"
"How do I know this isn't another trick? How do I know you won't try to chop off my head again?"
"Xena...are you all right? What are you talking about? Listen...I've been having the same strange visions. We have to get out of this circle. There is some dark power at work here". Xena remained unconvinced by the explanation. She continued her pointed inquires. "Tell me something that no demon or God could take from my mind. Tell me something that will convince me that you are who you say." The younger woman was miffed at first but relented and pondered the challenge. She closed her eyes to think, and at once recalled a very painful memory. "Xena, when Hope and I fell into that pit. I never really explained what happened later. I mean, you saw me wandering in the forest after, but that's it." Xena suddenly put her weapon back in its sheath and bowed down on one knee. "I thought you said that you didn't remember anything about the fall?" She nodded slowly and then looked up searchingly into Xena's piercing blue eyes. "I didn't remember anything-not at the time...but since then little bits and pieces have been coming back to me. I remember watching myself fall, then seeing the flames below...but I remember thinking, no matter how close they got, there was never any burning heat. I don't know... if I concentrate maybe I could dredge up some more memories." Xena was convinced and held her close to her chest. They locked in a warm embrace. Xena broke away and stood up rapidly. "We've got to find a way to get out of here, Gabrielle! Now...we just walked in, but obviously we can't just walk out." She was tenacious as ever and determined to escape. Xena then turned around to see an amazing magnificent gilded mahogany mirror. It was rectangular in shape and stood eight feet high. She looked over at her companion. "Was that here a second ago?" She shrugged her shoulders in response and remained seated. The warrior princess walked over to the impressively decorated object. "I've never seen anything like this. It's beautiful!" Xena ran her hand gently along the smooth, polished wood. Touching the surface of the glass, she suddenly jumped back. Her finger was wet to the touch. Watery ripples obscured the surface of the mirror. Her companion got up to study the bizarre object. "Is it filled with water?" Xena was unsure of how to proceed. She again reached out to the surface of the puzzling mirror. A slender female hand suddenly lunged from the mirror in a splash and seized Xena's arm. It slowly began to pull her inward. Her blond companion jumped to her aid, pulling her backward. Xena struggled desperately against the phantom arm. "Gabrielle, pull me back!" As she struggled, she heard a faint muffled voice, emanating from the interior of the mirror. She was barely able to make out the words, "Xena...it's me...pull me out...help!" It somehow was also Gabrielle's voice.
Gabrielle fell back hard onto the green mossy ground. Her arm was wet and sore. She ran back to the mirror and yelled at the top of her voice. "Xena...that's not me, it's Hope! I'm in the mirror! Help!" Previously Gabrielle had leapt through the door that featured an image of her. She had then awoken to see the same magnificent mirror that Xena was seeing, but from the other side. She was able to watch what was transpiring through the mirror, but could not intervene. In a desperate attempt to get Xena's attention, she pushed hard to get her arm through the mirror's wet surface. She found that the more she struggled, the more resistance she felt. She stared hopelessly through the looking glass at Xena and Hope.
Xena was clearly confused by the experience. Her arm was also wet. The voice of Gabrielle had been unmistakable, but she wondered if it was yet another trick of the mind. The arm she had briefly grasped had felt like Gabrielle's arm, she thought. She again whirled around to view her companion. Hope motioned quickly to Xena. "Look...Xena, I think I've figured a way out. There's a lock in the trunk of this tree...and I've found a key here!" Xena was instantly suspicious of the too easy solution. Hope pointed towards the mystifying mirror. "Xena...quick...destroy that mirror!" Xena looked at Hope and then at the mirror. Still she heard the faint voice of somebody who sounded like Gabrielle calling to her. She turned to Hope, now unsure of the identity of the woman she questioned. "Gabrielle, what if it's not Hope in there? It could be somebody that needs our help. What if it's Solan?" Hope shook her head vehemently. "Solan is long dead...Gabrielle...I mean I sent him to that hut with Hope...you remember?" Xena raised her sword high above the mirror, preparing to strike at it. All the while Gabrielle had watched the events with dismay from the other side. She cried out one last time, "No Xena, don't destroy the mirror!" Just as the sword began to slice downward, Xena pivoted and sent the weapon hurtling directly into Hope's abdomen. The force of the deadly thrust sent her crashing to her knees. A trickle of blood escaped from her lips. She looked up with a boldly defiant gesture. "You may have vanquished me for now Xena, but I'll be back! Gabrielle destroyed the Loom of Time, and that means anything goes! Next time you see me, I'll have some friends...you better get some more weapons!" Her biting sibilant words were cut short as the last breath of life escaped from the monstrous creature. Xena turned away in disgust. She again turned her attention to the mirror. Unsure of exactly how to proceed next, she made a snap decision to again jump headlong into the mirror's surface. Steeling herself for the act, she mustered all her courage and leapt into the mirror.
Gabrielle watched from the opposite side and grasped Xena's intent. She quickly moved away from the mirror. She looked on in fear as Xena came splashing through the surface onto the green moss. She leapt onto Xena's soaked body in a display of great joy. "I didn't know if that would work or not...we've got to get out of this place!" Xena held Gabrielle close to her chest. "I know. Hope is back, but I guess you know that already. That mirror is way beyond strange. I wonder if it's even real? You could see me, but I couldn't see you...but I could barely hear you... Hope said some strange things also. She said, that with the Loom of Time destroyed, anything goes. I wonder what that means? Another thing...before I killed her, she said something, what was it...yes, something about a key! She said she had a key to open one of the locks in the tree." Gabrielle listened intently to Xena's unbelievable description of events. "I say we jump back to the other side and get that key...now!" Both women got up quickly and stood two feet from the mysterious mirror. Xena grabbed hold of Gabrielle's hand and began to count. "Okay, on three...one, two, three!" As the last number escaped from her lips, they leapt through the watery surface together. They emerged on the other side and tumbled headfirst onto the green, soft ground.
They were again alone within the perfect green circle. The same eight oak trees again surrounded them. They were seemingly back where they started. There were no signs anywhere of either Hope or any special key. Xena immediately began studying the bark of each tree for some indication of a lock. The trees were so very close together; there was no possible way to squeeze between them to escape. Xena unsheathed her sword and slashed it hard against one of the trees. It merely clanged without leaving a mark. "These trees are made of some kind of metal." Gabrielle stood behind Xena with her arms at her waist. She also began to study the situation. "Xena, while I was away from you, I had nightmares. In one, it seemed like I didn't exist, and in the other, I saw eight doors, just like these eight trees." Xena nodded in appreciation and related her own troubling experiences. "I had terrible nightmares too...they were almost like the visions I had...of you...being crucified. I don't know if they were just hallucinations or warnings of what's to come. In one of them, I saw my body beheaded and bloodied. In another, I called to you, but you didn't know me. In my vision, my...own head said something to me...I can't remember all of it...something like- Fate is no more, just as time is a door. What do you think that means? It must have something to do with the Loom." Gabrielle nodded in assent. "It must...but that doesn't explain why we're trapped here, and how we're supposed to escape. Fate is no more...hmmm. Maybe that means that what's happened in the past doesn't matter? Is that it?" Xena shook her head in disagreement. "No...I don't think so...I feel the same as before, don't you?" Gabrielle looked around the circle, at Xena and then responded thoughtfully. "I do feel the same...but different also... I can't explain it...how are we going to get out of here?" Xena was uncharacteristically quiet. She stared up at the exceedingly high tree canopy. "I'd say we could climb up, but it's just too far." The two intrepid adventurers were clearly stumped.
From a distance, Xena spied somebody walking far in the distance. Peering through the small space between the trees, she watched a tall dark man making his way through the forest. She called out to Gabrielle. "Look, there's somebody out there!" Both women yelled for help at the top of their lungs. "Hey! You there! Help!" Their cries for assistance seemed to go unheeded. The imposing man continued to make his way toward the green circle. After a time, Xena recognized the figure. "It's Ares. Gabrielle, it's Ares!" Both women again began to call out loudly for help. After seeing that Ares could not hear them, Xena took out her chakram to get his attention. She reached back and flung it powerfully against one of the oak trees. It clanged and ricocheted off one tree and then the next. Each loud clang against the tree was of a slightly different pitch. The crashing sound created an odd, unpleasant music. Both Xena and Gabrielle ducked down to avoid the chaotic path of the speeding chakram. Rather than slowing as would be expected, its pace seemed to quicken. The cacophony increased in volume until the sound was truly deafening. Like the discordant choral music of a hundred off-key church bells ringing at once, the noise pounded loudly at Xena and Gabrielle. It grew ever louder, as their words were utterly silenced. Their hands pressed hard against their ears, both women felt the searing pain of the terrible increasing volume. Eventually they were pummeled into submission by the din. Xena hadn't the strength to retrieve her circular weapon. They both passed out from sheer exhaustion.
Ares walked through the misty forest in a foggy daze. His mind was uncharacteristically confused and unfocused. He last recalled sitting aimlessly on Mount Olympus, and then suddenly being transported to a forest. He walked alone amongst the trees and bushes. Ares then heard a strange faint ringing in his ears, and the sound of familiar female voices. He looked around and saw nothing. Ares was disoriented, and spun around wildly searching for the source of the sound. He then saw a figure walking far out to his right. He changed direction to meet the person. After a few minutes, Ares recognized the figure, by her figure, and her manner of dress. The shapely blond vision in sheer pink lace smiled brightly at the approach of her brother. "Hey bro! What's happening-or more like where in Hades are we?" Ares smiled with his trademark nonchalance. "Your guess is as good as mine. One minute I'm entertaining some lovely mortal ladies on Mount Olympus..."Aphrodite stopped him in mid-sentence. "Yeah, about that, I thought we agreed that you were going to ease up a bit on the skirt-chasing...that's not why it's called Mount Olympus, you know!" Ares chuckled slightly at the sisterly advice, but offered his own suggestion. "I do recall a certain Goddess indulging in pleasures of the flesh- from time to time. You're not exactly a Hestian Virgin yourself." Aphrodite was nonplussed but still mildly insulted. "Hestia? That skank? Why would I want to be a Hestian anything?" Ares waved his arm in a commanding silencing gesture. "Enough with the banter. We've got to find out what happened, and why we're here. Now, I can't say for certain, but usually when this sort of crazy, world-ending, prophecy stuff happens, Xena is involved somehow." Aphrodite nodded her pretty head in appreciation of the assessment. "Yeah, don't get me wrong, I love that warrior gal, but she does seem to attract trouble."
"Amen to that...like sweet nectar attracts bees!" Ares continued his speech. "Don't even get me started about that irritating little blond...Gabrielle! So...I say, if we find the dynamic duo, then we find the trouble, and I can get back to doing what I do best!" Aphrodite awaited further explanation. "What exactly is it you do, now that the Time of the Gods is over...and we're basically useless?"
"Well, since I'm no longer bound by fate- and all its annoying responsibilities...I can just...be me!" Aphrodite merely shook her head in disgust. "Yeah, I see what you mean. This whole no-fate world is a little weird. I wonder who destroyed the Loom? Do you think it was Hades-no wait...he's dead isn't he?" Ares pondered the question. His thick black hair was long past his shoulders; and a carefully manicured beard covered most of his face. He stood rubbing his whiskers and considered his response.
Xena's eyes opened slowly. She saw that her chakrum was now lying harmlessly upon her chest. Gabrielle was lying beside her in a tightly curled, fetal position. Xena's ears were still sore from the sonic punishment they had endured. She gently reached over to nudge Gabrielle awake. With a start, the blonde woman raised her arms and gazed around dizzily. The same strange mahogany wood mirror stood ominously behind them. She finally looked deeply into the piercing blue eyes of her companion. "Xena...what happened?" Xena merely shrugged her shoulders in response. "Who knows? I guess destroying that Loom really messed things up around here. I wonder what's going on outside this place?" Gabrielle also seemed to have no clear understanding of the bewildering recent events. "You realize Xena that I had no choice. I was forced to destroy the Loom. By the way, I guess you noticed that the weird mirror is back?" Xena nodded her head lazily. "Oh, I know you had no choice...I'm just annoyed, because I want to get out of here. I can't help but think somebody, or something, is watching us...playing with us. Yeah...I saw the crazy mirror. Well, I guess that means it's time for another jump into nowhere! I'm ready when you are." With that snap decision made, both women stood up quickly. Xena grasped Gabrielle's hand tightly as they walked toward the mirror's surface. She reached out her hand and again felt the odd watery surface. They stood for a moment, watching the concentric ripples distort their images. After a moment their reflection was again perfect and clear. The two women looked at each other once more and again plunged into the mirror.
Ares looked out wistfully through the unearthly, misty forest. "All right Sis...now let's think about this for a second. Somebody destroys the Loom. Now...fate had decreed that the time of the Gods was over. That much we know. You remember how the child of Xena- Eve would bring the Twilight of the Gods...you with me so far?" Aphrodite nodded in agreement. "Duh...like how could I forget? I mean, I'm not saying I loved everyone in the family...Athena always got on my nerves, you know? Who did she think she was...and she had absolutely no idea how to accessorize!" Ares shook his head wearily. "Right...well anyway. Since this Loom is gone, maybe that means that we can rule the world again...just like the good old days...me and Xena, battling it out!" Aphrodite walked up to her brother and poked him playfully in the chest. "Come on...you don't care about that ruling-the-world-stuff! You just want to see your girlfriend again! You'd do anything to get Xena back...admit it!" Ares shrugged his heavily muscled shoulders and cocked his eyebrows. "Well...I concede that I have missed our little battles...I mean, you've got to admit, she really was something!" Aphrodite shook her head and laughed. "As if...you're head over heels in love with her, and you always have been! The way you two fight...I mean, get a room already!" Ares was left momentarily speechless by Aphrodite's colloquial, yet perspicacious observations.
Xena and Gabrielle came crashing through the mirror's liquid surface. They tumbled onto the same green carpet of moss. Their surroundings had again changed completely. The trees around them, and in fact the entire forest had disappeared. In its place was what looked like the interior of a blue metallic cube. Only the green ground was different. The sides of the gleaming cube were ten feet high, and were decorated with intricate drawings and complicated script. A soft light emanated from all around them. The light seemed to have no source. Both women took a moment to examine their strange new environment. Xena walked up to one side and ran her hand across the unfamiliar writing. "Well, I can't say this is any better than where we were before. Gabrielle, come look at this writing. It looks...maybe Egyptian?" Gabrielle walked over and stood beside her fellow prisoner. She too ran her hand across the shiny blue metal. "This is incredible. Who could have made this? You're right, it does look Egyptian...see, that's one of the Egyptian Gods, Anubis." Gabrielle began to move along each side of the cube to learn more. "See...there? That's Osiris. I wonder what all this means? I assume we're in some sort of Egyptian dream...or maybe it's some sort of puzzle box!" Xena was unimpressed. Her arms were held at her side. "I give up...what's a puzzle box?" Gabrielle continued to walk around the mysterious blue cube, deciphering the images. "It's basically a riddle. When we solve the riddle, the box opens, and we get out." Xena wore a peeved expression. Her arms were now crossed tightly across her copper breastplate. "Okay, so what's the riddle?" Gabrielle seemed to be enjoying the challenge of solving the puzzle. She pointed at the ceiling of the box. "Look there...in the centre, that's Horus. On that side, Anubis, on the other Set, there's Isis and that looks like the all-seeing Eye." Xena's mood was somewhat cheered by the elaborate description. "Okay, I'm impressed. So how do you know all this Egyptian stuff anyway?" Gabrielle seemed slightly off-put by the query. "You know, I did have a life before you. I did read occasionally!" Gabrielle continued to concentrate upon the strange images. Xena sniffed imperiously in the air. "Reading? Who has time for that these days?"
Ares and Aphrodite continued their animated discussion. At length Ares declared, "Okay, enough with the Xena stuff already! Yes, I love her, I would do anything to have her! Is that what you want to hear?" Aphrodite smiled triumphantly. "You know, I may not know much, but I do know love!" Ares ignored her remark with an arrogant wave of his arm. "Now then, back to business...the Loom. Now, if we can somehow find the Loom, that means that fate is restored, and presumably, we again are reduced to being redundant so-called mythical beings in the mind of man." Aphrodite wrinkled her nose and winced at the unpleasant thought. "Ewwww...I like, totally hate being mythical! Next!" Ares continued, "Right, well if we do nothing, and leave things as they are, then conceivably we could spend all eternity wandering in this lovely forest." Aphrodite seemed befuddled. "You really think it's lovely? I think it's damp and cold!" Ares nodded and shook his head. "Obviously sarcasm is lost on you...anyway, option two...as I see, not really an option. So what do we do?" Aphrodite snapped her fingers in a flash of inspiration. "I know, why don't we just zap out of here?"
"Uh...hello? I obviously tried that already, it doesn't seem to work here. Here's what we know for certain. Caesar was able to slip out of Tartarus once Hades was out of the picture. Then he managed to tamper with the Loom. So, presumably all we have to do is find some way to get to the Loom-or what's left of it." Aphrodite stood with her arms akimbo. She was typically confused. "Yeah...but the Loom is gone, first of all...and second, I thought if the Loom was restored, we end up in nowheresville again!" Ares nodded ever so slightly. "Not necessarily. If we can figure out the right way to do it, we can reweave the Loom to fit our purposes...namely, the age of Gods is restored, I get Xena, you get....what exactly do you want anyway?" Aphrodite's brow was furrowed as she pondered the question. "Hmmmm...well, I want tons of new worshippers, a few new special friends...and maybe lots of outfits...yeah!" Ares was typically amused and continued. "Right...think big! Now all we have to do is find where that Loom was, and remake it...and this time in our image!" The two unhappy Gods trudged off doggedly into the foggy woods.
The two women remained trapped within the cube. Gabrielle got up to within inches of the metallic depiction of Osiris. She ran her hand across the smooth warm surface of the engraving. Her finger stopped atop the figure's protruding eye. She noticed that there was a slight amount of give to the metal. She called out to Xena. "Look, I think it might be some kind of button!" Xena came over and touched the strange soft eye in the carving. "You're right! This must be it! Maybe if we push in all of these eyes, we can get out of here!" Gabrielle nodded but adopted a cautionary tone. "I think that's half-right. We have to push them all, but there must be a specific combination...a certain order, that's the riddle!" Gabrielle looked upward at the figure of Horus. Pointing towards it she remarked, "now that one might be difficult...how are we going to get at that one?" Xena offered a suggestion. "Well...I guess one of us could get on the other's shoulders...and I mean of course... that would be my shoulders..." Gabrielle nodded sheepishly. "Well, since I am the brains in this operation, I suppose that makes you the brawn." Xena was not amused by the attempt at humour. She motioned for her friend to proceed. Gabrielle began to step around the cube and consider the possible meanings of the images. Finally, after several minutes she seemed to find a resolution to the puzzle. Her face was animated and bright as she clearly relished the role as puzzle-master. "Okay...how about this? I remember reading that Isis was married to Osiris...and Set was the brother to both, but he tricked and murdered Osiris to get Isis. Then this Horus guy was the son of Osiris and Isis...only he was born after Set murdered his brother Osiris. After that, Horus took revenge on Set, and killed him, but in the process, lost an eye- the Eye of Horus." Xena couldn't help but be impressed by the ancient Egyptian history lesson. "Very good...if a little creepy. What's with the whole brother marrying his sister stuff?" Gabrielle dutifully defended the history of events. "Xena, these are only mythical characters...they're not real..like you or I." Xena questioned the veracity of her mate's explanation. "Oh really? How can you be so certain? Do you know, I remember a conversation I had with a young Roman soldier a while back. We were talking about the Greek Gods- Ares in fact. Do you know what this kid said? Oh Ares, I've heard of him, he wasn't real- just a myth! Can you believe it?" Gabrielle shook her head and wondered. "I never thought about it that way. Maybe you're right...maybe these were real people." Xena was appreciative of the vindication of her views and continued, "Well whatever or whoever these people were, we still need to get out of here. So what's the solution, Pythagoras?" Gabrielle smiled at the clever reference. "Good one! Okay...here's how I see it. Isis is the key. She must be first, then Osiris...he's second, then Set, then Horus, then the Eye-there up above, last." Xena was noncommittal. "I guess you know what you're talking about...it's all Greek to me."
"You mean Egyptian."
"Whatever...just do it!" Gabrielle heeded the slight aggravation in Xena's voice and set about actually unlocking the puzzle box. She walked up to the beautiful rendering of Isis and gazed at the delicate craftsmanship. The magnificent Goddess was dressed in a flowing gown with arms stretched outward. Her delicate face, like the rest of the depictions, was shown only in profile. Gabrielle reached up and gently began to push at the eye. After a second or two, there was an audible click heard, like a key in a lock. Immediately this side of the cube began to move inward. "Xena...I think it worked...but this wall is moving towards us!" Xena yelled at her companion. "Well hurry up! Do the rest, before we're crushed!" Gabrielle ran over to the other side and rapidly pushed on the eye of Osiris. As before, the wall began to rapidly move inward. She rushed to the third and fourth walls and continued the unlocking action. Each side of the cube rushed inward speedily. "Quick Xena, let me get up on your shoulders! I need to press the last eye!" Xena grabbed Gabrielle by one foot and tossed her upward forcefully. The breathing space within the cube had been reduced to barely three feet. The blond bard steadied herself with one arm against one of the onrushing walls. "Gabrielle, hurry!"
"I don't know if I can reach it!" Gabrielle struggled as she stretched to the very limit of her height. "It's not enough! I need another inch!" The sides of the cube had nearly reached the width of Xena's shoulders. She jumped up and held herself against the sides with Gabrielle still atop her. She reached up to the eye of Horus just in time and pushes it inward.
Ares tired of the monotonous search through the thick, lonely forest. His annoyance was clearly evident. "God I am sick of the forest! No animals, no people, nothing, just trees! What good are trees!" Aphrodite was no less peeved by their predicament. "Stop complaining! At least you have boots to wear! Look! How am I, the Goddess of Love, supposed to walk around this icky forest in slippers? My feet hurt! I want a bubble bath!" She began to pout and whine incessantly. Ares was overcome with aggravation. "Enough! You do not get a bath-bubble or otherwise, until we find a way out of this...place!" Ares just then saw something odd in the mist ahead. It looked like a small whirlwind in the distance. "Hey, what's that?" Aphrodite was far beyond caring. Her pathetic sobs nearly choked out her response. "I don't know and I don't care! I can't go any farther! You go look and come back for me!" Ares shook his head. "No...you're coming with me. If I have to drag you there myself. " Aphrodite folded her arms across her ample chest and sighed heavily like a petulant child. Ares relented and picked the inconsolable Goddess up. He walked across the dense forest floor with his sister in his arms. As he made his way towards the disturbance, the unusual object came into view. Ares saw exactly what was causing the strange spinning fog. In the centre of a small clearing in the trees, some odd spinning doors appeared. The object was unlike anything either of them had ever seen. Ares laid Aphrodite down and walked up to the bizarre object. Standing directly before it, he began to describe what he saw. "Hey Sis...check this out! It's a spinning door...only it's actually four doors connected together in the centre. Cool! I wonder where it goes?" Aphrodite looked up remorsefully. "I suppose we have to go through these weird doors? Is that it?" Ares folded his tanned arms across his broad chest. "Well, unless you have a better idea?" With a sullen, sodden gate, Aphrodite dragged herself up to where Ares stood. "Okay, so now what?"
"Well, these doors are spinning pretty fast. I don't think we can go together. I'll jump in first...then you follow? Got it?" Aphrodite's expression was hardly enthusiastic. "All right, whatever you say. Jump away...I'm right behind you." Ares stood for a moment and composed himself. His tall, dark form was stone still at the precipice of the revolving door's entrance. With a sudden movement, he leapt into the unknown. Aphrodite watched as he instantly disappeared in a flash. The doors continued to spin within the mist. Aphrodite shrugged her shoulders and followed her brother. She too vanished in a flash of light.
Xena opened her eyes with a start. She struggled to regain her balance. Xena looked down in sheer terror. She saw that somehow she was now balanced precariously upon a towering Greek column only two feet in width. Looking down at the distant tops of the trees, it seemed as though they were at least four hundred feet below. She called out at the top of her lungs, "Gabrielle! Where are you? Gabrielle!" Standing as still as possible, she then very carefully reached down to feel the top of the white marble column. With her instinctive dexterity, Xena crouched down until she was able to sit comfortably. With her long tanned legs dangling over the edge, Xena folded her arms and finally pouted. "Great...solve the puzzle she says...thanks a lot! This is much better!" Gabrielle also emerged from the strange cube in a bewildering state. She opened her eyes and comprehended that she was immersed in water. It seemed initially she was below the surface of some sea. The clear water was salty but warm. Gabrielle struggled to hold her breath and swim upward. The dark blue water pushed heavily upon her lungs. Several brightly striped fish darted by her quickly. The air within her body was nearly used up. Struggling with all her power, Gabrielle took one final stroke before her air was gone. She finally gulped in a huge swallow of warm water. Her lithe body drifted without motion within the strange aquatic realm. Xena continued to sit motionless upon the polished marble Ionian column. Distractedly she looked downward into the foggy depth below. Just then something interesting caught her eye. Through the dense air, Xena spied what appeared to be another column-identical to the one she was sitting upon. Xena nodded to herself and said out loud, "Right...another test? So I'm supposed jump down...oh, let's say a hundred feet, and somehow land on that column. Is that it?" Xena resignedly stood back up and took a deep breath. She took one look more look down and then stared straight forward. "Here goes nothing....Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee" Xena's signature shriek resounded through the trees. She tumbled rapidly downward towards the lower marble column. Gabrielle's eyes suddenly jumped open. Her lungs were completely full of water, but she was somehow still breathing and very much alive. The supreme shock of feeling water within her lungs pumping in and out rhythmically was disorienting. She tentatively took a stroke forward in the water. She was at once exhilarated and hesitant. Slowly Gabrielle began to gain confidence within her strange new oceanic surrounding. She sailed through the watery depth with a bright smile upon her face. Gabrielle began to search for Xena, who was seemingly nowhere to be found. Xena landed with a loud thud upon the shorter column. Barely able to catch herself, she regained her balance atop the tall marble structure. Realizing the strange internal logic of this realm, she cast her eyes downward to find another even lower column. After several minutes she found the next step in the succession. She again readied herself and then somersaulted into the air. Yelling loudly, "Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee Ayee-ayee," Xena landed this time easily upon her two feet. She saw the forest floor a mere fifty feet beneath her. Xena prepared herself for the final descent. She leapt forward headfirst and tumbled gracefully through the air. A soft, green mossy clearing cushioned her landing. Brushing some foliage off her clothing, Xena moved quickly away from the landing area. She spoke to nobody in particular, "I think I'll stay away from this moss. It seems to be bad luck." Immediately she set off to find Gabrielle. Xena ran briskly through the mist.
Gabrielle slowly found her way around the strange new liquid world. She swam swiftly past amazing, brightly coloured tropical fish. She saw incredible orange and black striped fish, smiling whiskered catfish and delicate, gracefully floating seahorses. Gabrielle was apprehensive but could not help but feel strangely excited by the weightless freedom she felt. An elaborate painted structure then became visible up ahead. Gliding up effortlessly towards it, she saw that it looked like a small castle. It was barely thrice her size, and seemed to be made of a chalky white material. She ran her hand across the smooth surface. Periodically, small air bubbles escaped from the spire of the castle. Xena meanwhile, walked angrily through the foggy forest. The time of day was still indeterminate. The sun's rays were no longer visible. She called out loudly, "Gabrielle! Gabrielle! Can you hear me?" The endless woods were again silent and empty. The usually present background noises of insects and animals were absent. Suddenly Xena heard a rustling in the trees to her left. She instinctively crouched down to watch. What emerged from the gnarled branches caused her to face to blanche. Walking rapidly through the trees was a bizarre creature unlike any Xena had ever seen or imagined. It was a snow-white rabbit, her height, and dressed in a fine red and gold embroidered waistcoat. Xena leapt from the brush to catch up with the strange furry beast. Running at full speed, she finally grabbed the giant rabbit from behind. It turned and faced Xena head on. The creature looked down desperately at her chained gold pocket watch. "Why are you stopping me? Can't you see I'm late?" Xena only stared ahead dumbfounded as the familiar face of Callisto stared back at her.
The tall, black leather clad form of Ares came dashing through the revolving doors. The war God took a moment to find his composure. He looked around dejectedly at his new surroundings. He muttered to himself. "This is really is not any better! Hello! Anybody! Whoever is in charge here...could we make some kind of deal? Just get me out of this place!" He was now enclosed in a blindingly white square room. There appeared to be no clearly defined dimensions, as the walls and ceiling seemed limitless. In the centre of the sterile structure was a wondrous grand buffet table. It was heavily laden with a sumptuous spread of fruits, fine silver cutlery and serving trays, and ornate brocaded linen. He walked up to admire the fanciful display of edible delights. He picked up a large pomegranate and began to pry it open. Struggling in vain to pull it apart, Ares finally smashed it hard against the heavy oak wood table. It merely bounced away across the checkered floor. Ares quickly picked up an orange and tried to peel it open. It also resisted his frustrated attempts. He turned about and threw it forcefully against the table. "Great! Very funny! The fruit is not really fruit- and made of wood!" Ares was aggravated beyond all measure. He walked broodingly around the finely decorated table and finally took his place at the magnificent throne-like head chair. Before him was a wide silver platter covered by a matching silver rounded cover. Ares seemed already bored by the bewildering charade. He spoke loudly into the air. "Oh I get it...I'm supposed to lift this up, and there will be a tasty leg of lamb...only when I try to eat it, I can't...because it's made of wood. Right? Is that it?" Ares heard something odd just then. It sounded like the shrill squeaking of a mouse. He looked down and raised the cover of the dish. Staring up at him from the platter was a four-inch version of his sister Aphrodite. Ares began to laugh heartily. "Oh, this is rich! This just gets better and better! Hey Sis...how are you doing? Having a little trouble?" Aphrodite's voice was a mere faint squeal. She was jumping up and down and stamping her arms and legs vociferously. Ares relented and picked her up gently in his hands. He put her into his chest pocket and got up slowly from the table. "Well....you'll be safe in there for now. I still need to find a way out of here." Aphrodite continued to squeal and fret. Her tiny arms and head poked out comically from his vest pocket. Ares walked over to the opposite end of the table and again sat down.
Xena grabbed the white furred creature by the shoulders. "I should have known you had something to do with this place Callisto! So tell me, where is Gabrielle, and how do we get out of here?" The beautiful dark-eyed beast merely looked back with a total lack of comprehension. "I don't know who you are or what you want...but I need to get back. The Queen of Hearts will be frightfully angry!" Xena's face was fixed with an expression of complete disinterest and disgust. "So you're a giant rabbit that looks like Callisto...but isn't really Callisto...is that it?" Xena released the creature but followed its path as it hopped away. After a few minutes of traversing the same empty forest, Xena watched as the hybrid beast ran into a small black house. Xena followed through the bright red door into a nearly empty room. In the centre of the floor was a hole; into which the white rabbit promptly jumped. Xena walked cautiously over to the hole and peered down. She called down the hole in an attempt to gauge its depth. Xena put her arms dejectedly upon her waist. She considered whether or not to follow the creature down the rabbit hole. Looking around the room distractedly, she noticed something in the corner. Walking over to a small curtained window, Xena discovered a strange object, the likes of which she had never before seen. Rising up from the floor was a familiar two-foot Greek column, identical in kind to the one she had earlier found herself balanced upon. Atop the column was a rectangular glass enclosure filled with water and strange fish. The incongruous sight transfixed Xena. It was nearly six feet wide, five feet high and filled with all manner of colourful, unusual fish. Xena crouched down to examine the amazing sight. All at once Xena jumped back in shock. Slowly she crawled over again to the surface of the glass enclosure. Staring back at her was a tiny version of Gabrielle, no more than four inches long. The Lilliputian bard could be seen banging with her arms against the glass. Xena immediately reached down into the warm water and carefully pulled Gabrielle out. Xena was mystified but relieved. "Well I guess a mini- Gabrielle is better than no Gabrielle at all." Xena struggled to hear the impossibly faint words emanating from her friend. She then merely shook her head reassuringly. "Shhh...I can't hear you...just relax until I can find a way to get you back to normal." Xena looked for a place to put her beloved, tiny companion. Without a pocket or a sack, finally Xena rested her within the small crevice in her cleavage. She got up and pondered her next move. Gabrielle was resigned to her new status as bosom buddy. Xena was miffed and scratched her head with a puzzled expression. "Well, if we go back out there, its just more trees and fog and weird stuff. I guess we've got nothing to lose mini- Gabrielle. Okay hold on, we're going to jump!" With that, the warrior woman and her miniature blonde disappeared down the rabbit hole.
Ares sat down heavily and relaxed his tired body. Stretching out, he put his arms behind his head and yawned. He looked down and felt the tiny beating of Aphrodite's arms against his chest. "All right already! I see the dish, I wonder what this one's going to hold?" Just then he heard a barely audible splash. He sat up to the table and grasped the handle of the silver dish cover. Raising it up, he looked down and smiled broadly. Swimming desperately in his creamy mushroom soup was an incredibly tiny version of Xena. He allowed her to struggle momentarily before fishing her out with his spoon. He placed her gently upon the golden linen tablecloth and clapped his hands in wonder. "Bravo! This just gets better and better! Say, Xena...looks like you've lost a little weight! You must be on the same diet as Aphrodite! Speaking of Sis. I bet you two must have lots to talk about...you two now shared such a similar perspective... similar view on things." He chuckled to himself and gently removed the micro-Love Goddess from his pocket. He gently placed her beside the now diminutive Xena.
Xena angrily attempted to scrape the thick, soupy mess from her leather clothes. Her face and hair were covered in the creamy broth. Aphrodite looked at her and laughed out loud. "Xena...looking good! Mushroom is definitely your colour. Where's the side-kick?" Xena felt for her chest and shouted. "Oh great...lost her again!" Aphrodite was puzzled. "What are you talking about?"
"It's a long, long story...basically Gabrielle was a fish...and she got shrunk, and then she was here in my breastplate, but then I was following Callisto- Rabbit- Callisto that is."
"Callisto was rabid?"
"No, no...it was Callisto...and it wasn't...never mind. Right now we have to find a way to get back to normal size and find Gabrielle, then get out of this place, whatever this place is..." Aphrodite, still dressed in her diaphanous pink gown, considered their difficult situation. "Really! This place is so weird...Ares says it has something to do with the Loom of Time. I guess somebody destroyed it." Xena's expression was sheepish and chagrined. "Yeah...well you see, that actually was Gabrielle who destroyed it..."
"Nice play, Sophocles! Look what she did! Now what are we going to do?" Xena was conciliatory but firm. "Now hold on...she had no choice...Aphrodite, if you think this world is bad...you should have seen the one we lived in before. I'd rather have nothing at all than that horrible world!"
Gabrielle landed hard on the forest floor and tumbled forward. The same soupy fog again surrounded her. Disgruntled but still pleased by her now normal stature, she got up and ambled about in no particular direction. The time of day was unknown, as were her whereabouts. A ubiquitous small white Greek column caught her attention. Walking cautiously up to it, she noticed that it was three feet high. Atop it sat a perfectly symmetrical four-inch cube. She reached down and picked it up to examine it more closely. Three of the sides were black in colour, the remaining white. Studying the surface, she saw that each side was actually composed of numerous smaller cubes- sixteen in fact. The unique object transfixed Gabrielle. She saw that each face of the cube had these same subsections. Gabrielle decided that the object was another puzzle box, and immediately set about solving it. By carefully twisting each side, she noticed that each set of four cubes moved independently. Clicking and turning one side then the other, Gabrielle furtively worked on finding a solution.
Ares was suddenly thrown from the table and sent flying into the wall. Xena and Aphrodite suffered a similar unfortunate result. Grabbing onto each other, the two women barely survived the tumultuous fall off the high table. The dangerous falling and crashing continued within the room for several minutes. The sumptuously laden table was tossed asunder. Chaotic confusion reigned as the white interior of the cube was sent topsy-turvy. Ares was at the very end of his tether. "All right...I've had it! Get me out of here! Look at my vest! It's covered in sticky sauce...and raspberry jam! I hate raspberries! I command that this stop!" His grand pronouncement fell on deaf ears. Xena and Aphrodite and were no less distraught. Aphrodite was actually in tears. "Xena! Make it stop! Who's doing this? Look at me! I look worse than you...and that's impossible!" Xena's usually stoic and steadfast composure was nearly eroded completely. "I give up...I completely give up. Do your worst! I don't care any more! What difference does it make? If we get out of her, it's just another stupid puzzle... or test!" Xena laughed maniacally, as if possessed. She smiled, stretched her arms out and closed her eyes happily. No longer able to make any sense of her present chaotic world, Xena instead decided to ignore it completely. Shutting out everything around her, her mind drifted off into a quiescent peace. Aphrodite watched in amazement as she immediately disappeared in a flash of light from the disordered white room.
Gabrielle jumped up in shock as Xena literally materialized out of nowhere. She exclaimed loudly, "Xena! Where did you come from?" Xena shrugged her shoulders casually. "Who knows? Nothing here makes any sense. I guess I just gave up and realized there was no point in fighting anymore. I closed my eyes, and here I am. What do you have there?" Gabrielle continued to work on solving the cube. "I don't know...another crazy puzzle box...I thought it might lead somewhere, maybe to you." Xena reached over and examined the block carefully. For a moment she was silent while she fabricated a thought. Gabrielle looked at her quizzically. "What is it Xena?" Xena responded hesitantly. "I don't know...something about this is familiar." Suddenly the answer came to her in a sudden flash of insight. "Gabrielle...I know this sounds crazy... but I think I was in this box...just a minute ago...and Ares and Aphrodite must still be in there!" Gabrielle had some difficulty processing the bizarre explanation. She nodded her head knowingly. "Oh I get it now...this is yet another one of Ares's games...when will that guy give up? You said that Aphrodite is in there too? This doesn't seem like her style...this world is too weird-even for her." Xena corrected her immediately. "No...you don't understand! Ares and Aphrodite are trapped inside this crazy world just like we are. I guess the Gods are subject to the laws of fate also. I don't know..." Her companion picked up the thread of the idea. "Okay...that makes sense...sort of. I destroyed fate by destroying the Loom. So I guess this sent us into this insane world where nothing makes sense...and then the more we struggle against this world, the more complicated it gets." Xena nodded her head. "Right...just like life...or being trapped in quicksand. If you struggle, you only go down faster...only, eventually you do go under...whether you struggle or not." Gabrielle was still confounded by the explanation. "I don't know Xena. Somehow you may have accidentally figured out how to escape from this world. So maybe if we both stop worrying, we can both get out of here." Xena agreed casually; with her eyebrows raised high in an expression of surprise. "Yeah...maybe I have...I thought you were the brains of this operation...not me...anyway, I don't have any better ideas. So what do you think we should do now?" Gabrielle slowly pondered her answer. "Well, I guess we do exactly what you just did. When we entered this world, we were together, in that green moss circle. I was hugging you around the waist. Then we fell asleep. Maybe the door in, is also the door out. Let's try it here." They found a small clear spot on the forest floor. Xena lied down and stretched out. Gabrielle reached around and hugged Xena close to her body. They closed their eyes and together tried to think of pleasant, unencumbered thoughts.
Xena opened her eyes and stared ahead down the trail. She gazed around suspiciously at the surrounding woods. Argo II was galloping beneath her as Gabrielle hugged her waist. The forest mist had cleared away, and the apprehension that they both had felt earlier had diminished. Gabrielle spoke into Xena's ear. "I guess it worked. The world is back to normal...and I am so hungry!" Xena was less than convinced. "How do we know Gabrielle? How do we know that the Loom of Time has been restored? This could all be another illusion." Gabrielle was not at all concerned. "Xena, it was probably all just some crazy dream. Let's stop up ahead and have lunch." Xena shook her head in response. "I don't know Gabrielle...I don't think we're out of the woods yet." Gabrielle dismissed Xena's protestations and reached down into her saddle pouch for some food. Rummaging inside, she felt an unfamiliar object. Pulling it out for a look, Gabrielle stared wide-eyed at the strange white puzzle box.
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