Disclaimer: MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures are the owners of the creation of Xena and Gabrielle.
Violence: Yes. No fighting.
Sex: It doesn't seem like it.
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The Spirit Unwilling
By Green Heron
Kuuksk felt so warm. So welcome. So full of love. So strong. So great was the power. So much fell to him. How he loved his burden. How precious was this gift to bring.
Oh, it took work. It took pains. It took the shining brilliance he felt growing in his heart, helping to prepare his way. He slowly lowered his eyes. Night edged closer.
The low yellow clouds inched across the sky. A translucent-skinned gray man in a brown shroud of a robe stood with his foot propped jauntily on a low, flat boulder. Sweat ran into his eyes and around the corners of his grinning mouth. He held a stone the size of two fists that he lifted repeatedly and rammed down on his bare foot. The muscles in his arms strained at the effort and jolted at each impact. The rock slipped in his grip as it became oiled with sweat and jelly-like skin bits. He readjusted his grip and held the rock once again over his head, then paused, cocking his head to evaluate his progress. His foot was gray meat. He nodded shortly in satisfaction and dropped the rock at his side. He reached down to grab the raised knee with both hands and yank his leg free from its pulverized appendage, most of which stayed on the rock. He pulled the leg toward him then pushed it to bury the exposed ankle into the loamy dirt. He was half planted thusly when a floating contingent of three gray men in loose gray wrapping flew slightly above the ground to softly settle around him. He stood akilter, his arms folded across his chest.
The leader stepped up to him. “Shiro, give us your foot.” He spoke with a low, somewhat scratchy voice.
“Get it yourself, skunk.”
One of the Intercessors was carefully scraping up foot remnants. He handed them to the team leader, who once again requested Shiro to produce the remainder.
“May you live forever”, Shiro cursed.
The leader put his hands on the teetering man’s shoulders. Shiro’s eyes reeled upward, his arms dropped and then he dropped. The trio clustered over him, then rose up and began to drift slowly away, continuing on their mission.
Shiro lay on the ground, his body whole, his foot gray, whole and complete, as all would be on and on and on.
He turned his head to once again consider the moving sea of human forms and tortured faces around him. He could see one or two of his own 40,000 brothers and sisters, but he felt no kinship. Every figure, every pair of eyes wanted the same thing. They wanted to feel, they wanted to touch and they wanted an end.
“Verigon,” the sub-Intercessor complained, “is there a way we can send Shiro to The Low? He is way more trouble than he’s worth.”
“Are you kidding?” Verigon answered, “that means we’d have to move more than 2,000 more with him from the Transiers, and who knows what we‘d get in return”
“200,000.” the second sub corrected.
“Whatever. We’ll just have to keep him on our to-do list. There aren’t that many who fight.”
The first sub-Intercessor was not through. “The Vengers should be taking care of Transiers. They’ve been two years in the valleys with Lucifer and we end up with all the Transiers and the Marsh-wives.”
“Listen, Crom, you can bitch on your break. I know where you’re going with this, you are not getting out of the mission from Oio.”
“Oio should do his own missions, see how he likes it.”
“Wait!” Verigon raised his hand and looked carefully at the structure ahead of them. “This is it, she’s here.”
They glided toward a fragmented structure of crumbling stone walls and fallen pillars. They entered between mounds of broken rock and skimmed to a stop in front of the woman seated in a corner of the ruins.
Verigon attempted to pull the strings in his face to make a smile. “Xena,” his voice scratched out.
Xena sat on a fallen pillar. Her loose brown robe was not soft or rough. It covered her, but didn’t seem to touch her. Her hands were clenched on her knees, her head down, and her hair hung covering her face.
“Xena!” Verigon spoke louder.
She raised her head and a hand-sized spider scurried from behind her neck, down her shoulder and stopped, unacknowledged on her arm.
“Xena, Oio wants you.”
Xena looked blankly past Verigon’s head. She blinked a couple of times and opened her mouth. A second spider crawled leisurely out from between her lips to her chin, launched itself softly to the brown-covered torso below, then moved with deliberate, feeling steps among the folds of the fabric.
“How long?” Xena asked.
“Xena, it has only been two months since we met last. ”
“Seven years. It’s been seven years. Xena, why do you torture yourself? Don‘t we do good enough work here?”
Gray eyes focused on the shimmering orange horizon.
“Seven years,” she whispered. Her head dropped again. The two spiders began climbing upward.
“Xena we have to take you to Oio.” No answer. The curtain of hair moved slightly, but only from the hot breeze. The Intercessors clustered around her.
Oio thumbed through a stack of parchment four hands high. The black centers of his small red eyes were pinpoints. “It’s here, it’s here, it’s here, find, find, have to fucking find it! Lucifer, you satan, where are you?! We are going to lose everything! This is not even funny. What!” he bellowed as an imp lit on the table next to him.
“Verigon is coming.” The syrupy voice of the imp usually gave Oio gut pain, but the words were so welcome. He put his hands on the edge of the table, straightened his back, exhaled and asked with his eyes half-closed, prayerfully, “Does he…is she…?”
“zzzzeeeena is with them.”
The three Intercessors swooped into the room as the imp flew out. Verigon stepped to the floor, toward Oio and said in a low voice, “She is the same.”
“Well if we could find Lucifer’s fucking parchmentwork from Japa she won’t be the same.”
“Shall we bring her back later?”
Verigon took a step back in feigned contrition. His acting ruler’s skin hummocks bunched and clumped across his body as his red eyes protruded in what Verigon believed must be panic. The leader turned and gestured to his sub-Intercessors, who lowered to the floor and parted, revealing Xena, who stood, head hanging and arms limp at her sides.
Oio stared for a moment at the godskiller. He couldn’t see her face through the curtain of matted dark gray hair. He looked back to the stacks of scrolls and parchment in front of him and nervously began moving the piles around.
“Xena, sit down, sit down.”
Xena looked up slightly, then bent her knees and using her hands to help her, slowly lowered herself onto the stone floor to sit cross-legged.
“Xena, there is…there has been such misunderstanding. Uh… Petarses! where is that thing….uh….you’re…you were able to accomplish such monumental tasks in flesh, and as a preferred citizen of hell…or tartarus, as you say…you have been selected to…to work with me on…”
Oio stopped in surprise that there was any response.
Xena tilted her head. Her eyes showed regret at even being interested “Who in Hell are you?”
A quick wind started at the shore of the sea. It whipped up foam and waves that rocked the few moored boats, washed over the small pier and scrubbed the rocks and sand on the beach. A stronger steadier wind came behind it that blew up the crags of the rocky bluff and into the village overlooking the bay. The wood and sod roofs shuddered, and closed doors rattled. The houses were built close to each other in small clusters. Maybe for safety, or a sense of safety. None of the dwellers stepped outside, waiting for the storm to pass, as they knew it would.
Set back from the fishing village, in the shadow of a larger mountain, were a few farmhouses, grouped in a scattered semicircle. The goats, sheep, pigs and chickens were shut away in their pens.
At one end of the semicircle, near the edge of the grass and close to the cliff that looked over the south sea wall, there was a small stone hut, smaller than the farmhouses, more like a village house. Window shutters were open to the wind and the door banged open and shut. The inhabitant of the house sat on the stump of a tree facing toward the sea. She wore clean, worn, loose-woven trousers and a tunic, interlaced with strips of multiple colors of dyed leather. Her fingers pulled at the leather as she faced into the mist-laden wind. Curtains of dark clouds were advancing in ragged procession toward the land from across the bay. The rains were coming. Gabrielle turned her head slowly to scan every feature of the horizon. Two strips of sinew held a doeskin patch over her right eye. Her coarsely cut golden hair hung and brushed over her shoulders as it blew even wilder in the wind.
She whispered to herself, “get ready, get ready, get ready, get ready” continuing the soft chant as she went into the house to do just that, as she had for countless times before over unrealized years.
Kuuksk was feeling a bramble, a thorn, an object d’annoy in his stream of happiness. His dream was so beautiful and soulful. These, these, humans, these humans. ..they would cling so. They would bespoil his masterpiece. Now that he had discovered his gifts, he knew he could not fail because, such as he had never been before and so he knew that such as he could do, had to be. Mortals were jealous. Mortals were petty and untalented in dreaming vision and birthing beauty from the universe. Nevertheless, he had stooped to remove the sole great hope of the mortals. The Two were no more.
And yet, there was something… he thought he might need to break off another small shard of his brilliance to deal with a small sense that something was not as he wanted it...needed it to be. He knew in this case his options did have one insignificant limit. Damn the Greatpower.
Xena looked unblinkingly at Oio who had come to stand over her. He was trying to judge her reaction to his presentation. For one thing, she did not cower at his repugnance, something he normally relished. And she seemed to have less than no concern for him or anything he had propositioned.
“Xena, you haven’t answered me.”
“You are lying,” Xena’s voice was low and flat.
“Xena,” Oio scratched the bunching skin on both sides of his head, “I do not have…the…time to read you the history of the universe to get you to understand that everything you know everything there is will be gone if you do not go to flesh again.”
“40,000 souls will be lost forever if I go to flesh again.”
“Ah Petarses! Xena! You believe that fetid pile of dung?? Oh, I do not have time! If Lucifer had just left me that parchment?”
“Where is Lucifer?”
“Oh…oh…where is Lucifer. Yes where is he. He is in the valleys enjoying a 100-moon sabbat with his favorite sins. Can’t be bothered..” Oio began pacing in agitation.
“Why do you care about the end of everything?” Xena asked. She was even slightly curious about the answer.
“Well, then there would be no more…no more…”
“It’s scary, you have to admit.”
Xena’s eyes lost their focus then she turned back to consider Oio. “Will it be the end of flesh, too?”
“It will, but that is not my concern. Normally it would be a tremendous boon.”
“The end of all flesh?”
“Mmm-hmmm, indeed.” Oio tried to hide the optimism that came up as the godskiller’s interest seemed to be piqued.
Xena considered silently. “That… is …sad,” the words were garbled, as if they came up through poison on its way down. She hung her head again.
"Sad? Sad? Xena, I overestimated you. When they brought you from Jigoku I thought you put up an admirable struggle. It was the all the talk. You seemed to be a Sprit's spirit."
Xena's head lifted slightly. Her eyes were slits she spoke slowly in a voice growling in hate. "They...didn't...let...me...go...back."
Oio, clenched and unclenched his scaly hands. “Xena.” This was his high card. “Xena, you know you mentioned those 40,000 souls.”
“You are responsible for them, aren’t you?”
Xena dropped her head again and nodded, out of duty to her great truth.
“Did you know that they walk among you every day here?”
“You lie again,” Xena spoke to the ground.
“No need to. You could walk back to your corner and see thousands of them on the way. Lucifer could show you, if the son of a bitch were here.”
“Xena, I realize I have a reason to lie to you, but I can prove it to you. I can send an Intercessor for your precious Ah...ah....Akemi and bring her here. She is like you, she is like the others.”
“No, they were freed from Yodoshi. Akemi was free. I saw her.”
“Histrionics and dramatics…” he leaned closer, “…misdirection. The last thing any of us wanted was you cavorting around in the flesh anymore. Immortals were getting afraid to go out at night.”
Xena sat silently again until Oio was just about to ask Verigon to go get this Akemi and drag her back here.
“Not even that,” Xena said quietly, “not even that.” She put her hands to the floor and pushed herself to a standing position, swaying slightly. “It doesn’t matter Oio, I brought them here, I deserve to be here with them.” She turned toward the door.
“Good Petarses, Xena! They are all going to be gone. All of flesh is going to be gone. You are the only one who can stop Kuuksk.
“If everything were gone,” Xena spoke softly, “then nothing would matter. Maybe that would be a blessing.” She turned her head slightly to Oio behind her. “The answer everyone is looking for.”
“ANSWER?! BLESSING?! HE HAS NO RIGHT!”
“No right?” Xena said as if considering an incidental argument, “probably not.”
“Xena! There…there…there must be something. There must be some one of the flesh that you once took…uh…cared for.” The word “cared” made his mottled lips disappear in distaste. “Does Kuuksk have the right to…to…torture, torment and tear this flesh one’s soul out and scream in happiness?” Oio had to carefully choose a milder scenario from his bag of favorites.
Xena took two halting steps to the closest stone wall and propped herself up with outstretched arms. The muscles on her neck spasmed and her head began to shake.
“Xena,” Oio knew he had found a blade to rotate deeper, “Is there that flesh one?” Curse the unfound parchment, he knew there was a name, a special name. Lucifer had all the records.
Xena groaned. “Uhhhhh! No! Do…not…do not….make me…again.”
“No. No I can’t make you. But you are the only one.”
Oio did know when to make a fake exit and he did. He slipped past Xena, just outside the door and stopped. Xena held her head against the rough stone. The Acting Ruler of Hell waited.
Xena let out a low keening moan that turned into a howl, then into a choking sound. She dropped to her hands and knees.
“I will try.”
Oio stuck his head back in the door. “Excellent, Xena. We will get you ready.” He turned quickly to make arrangements with his Intercessors.
“Wait!” Xena called after him.
Oio stopped in impatience. “What?”
“You must explain everything to me.”
“Of course, Xena, my pleasure.” He was gone.
Xena raised herself to a full kneeling position and lifted her hands in supplication above her. “Please spare her,” she said through a throat that felt like it was full of dust. Then she dropped back to sit on her feet. “Spare them all,” she whispered. “Spare me.”
Arranel added one more loaf of freshly baked bread to the basket, and covered it with a square of linen. Her husband stood leaning against the door frame, casting a cynical eye on the process.
“Why do you bother, Nellie? I’m pretty sure she could feed herself.”
“Well, of course she could. But she’s done so much for all of us. And she seems so…so….”
“Insane?” Denis supplied helpfully.
“Hmmph. Please yourself.” He knew they could afford the food. The catches had been good this season. Although the last couple of days, they hadn’t been able to scrounge a scallop. Maybe that storm…
Arranel was putting on her cloak. “I’ll be back soon.”
As she opened the door, her son Eyan stepped through it. "Where ya going, Mother?" he asked, lifting the linen square and peeking under. "Are you going to Gabrielle's. I'll go with you."
“You’re not going to go in her house are you?” Denis asked warily.
“No. No I'm not. Not today Eyan, I'm just going to drop these off quickly.” Arranel was slightly ashamed to admit she was unnerved by the wild woman who talked to herself, her one eye always scanning just beyond her visitor’s head. But she would be very sorry if Gabrielle left the village. She had saved her Eyan years earlier when he was trapped in a corral with panicked horses. She heard that last year she had stopped drunken bandits from killing the barkeep in Traka, just to the south. But mostly lately, they would just see her in her yard, or on the cliff, looking out to the sea. And she couldn’t be utterly mad because she had the sense to earn her keep by watching the sheep for Dorothea, Omar’s widow. And Eyan found her fascinating, but that could be all the hormones that were turning her rough and tumble boy into a somewhat thoughtful man.
“OK.” Denis kissed his wife’s head, “be careful”.
Arranel took the basket and headed out the door.
When she got to the stone hut, the owner was not outside on the stump or sitting at her most common haunt, a large boulder at the edge of the cliff. Oh dear, Arranel had thought it would be late enough for Gabrielle to be back from the pastures and she didn’t want to leave the basket on the doorstep. The town dogs would find it on their routes. Maybe she could leave the basket with Dorothea, who seemed to get along easily and even enjoy talking with the wild blonde woman.
Well, she would just put it inside the door, take a quick look around, just to be sure that everything was ok.
Arranel carefully pushed open the unlatched door and stooped to put the basket inside the threshold. She looked quickly around the dark hut. A small table and chair were underneath the window on the far side. There was another chair on one side of the cold firepit in the corner, and a sleeping mat and furs on the other side. The room was as free of dust as it was of adornment. Didn’t this woman have anything to her name? Arranel stepped inside the hut and proceeded just far enough so she could see the wall behind the door. It was so dark, she couldn’t really see anything, but the wall looked odd, like it was covered with some kind of fabric? With a circle pattern? Her vision adjusted and she realized what she saw was a wall, not of silk, but of scrolls. From the floor almost to the ceiling beams. And they were two, no three stacks deep. It looked like hundreds.
“Hello.” A soft voice came from behind her.
Arranel started forward, her hands flew up to cover her mouth when she realized she had squealed. She turned to see Gabrielle, the Wild Woman of Hiratha standing in the door, head tilted, waiting for a response.
“Uh, oh, sorry, hello, uh, Gabrielle. I just, uh wanted to bring you some more bread and to make, to make sure that you were, that everything was ok after the storm.”
Gabrielle bent and picked up the basket. “You make wonderful bread.” She rubbed her thumb across it. “It has such a wonderful crust. Thank you…um?”
“Arranel, sorry, I forget, sometimes, and then…” Gabrielle moved across the room and set the basket down on the empty table. She turned back and walked past Arranel out the door, unconcerned that the woman was left alone in the hut. Then she seemed to remember something and turned back. “Did you see anyone when you came in?”
“Oh no, listen I’m sorry, I just didn’t want the dogs…”
“I thought maybe if I was away, maybe sometimes when I was away, maybe if I stayed away…” Gabrielle took a shallow breath then continued on her way out to the stone on the bluff. Arranel could hear snatches of Gabrielle’s solitary conversation. “Never …ready….can't find….never…ready.”
Arranel walked thoughtfully back home. She had the feeling that she could do more for the troubled woman on the cliff. And she didn’t think she would. Almost everyone in town, well maybe not Dorothea, was ambivalent about their local guardian angel. She dressed oddly and acted even stranger. She was strong, but not like a farmwoman, more like a young fisherman in his prime. And a few had seen what was underneath that patch on her eye, and apparently that was the most unnerving of all.
Xena stood on the edge of the throng Verigon called “Transiers”. She was waiting as told, to be joined by the Intercessor and one of his subs to travel back into The Flesh.
How had she come to be chosen again? Apparently this was to be her fate, to have no rest, no final peace. Had those visions of her future lives been hallucinations? When she was born, why couldn’t Cyrene have seen the sign of a curse on her and thrown her into a bottomless pit? No, no, her mother had seen a beautiful chubby-cheeked, blue-eyed baby at her breast. She had nurtured and cared for her. She didn’t have the window into the future, where she would have seen her daughter creating great pain and countless deaths and living in the midst of vengeance, illusions and deceit.
“I am a plague to the earth,” Xena spoke to herself. “They will not welcome me back.”
“Xena!” Verigon skimmed up to her. “We are almost ready.”
“Oh come, Xena, back to The Flesh again? Many souls barely have a flicker of time there and you’re going back for, what is it, the fourth time?”
“Frankly, I have lost count.”
“Well, it’s a fabulous opportunity for Crom and me. Oio will let us finalize our forms and live if we accomplish our mission. Well, if you accomplish our mission,” he corrected himself evenly.
Xena studied Verigon, looking him up and down. “You don’t seem very…very…”
Verigon really could not manage a smile, but he nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, I know, that’s why we get to go. Intercessors are neutral, neither good nor evil. You know, you can’t keep the gears of a vast enterprise like the afterlife going without committed people with no internal motivation. We don’t care if we do good and are not inclined to create evil, as all that is built into the system.”
“Oh yeah, Oio told me about the system.”
“Oh, he couldn’t have told you everything.”
“Well, he can’t have had the time to tell you everything. There are 7,457 scrolls of instruction governing everything that happens here, and dozens more are created every hundred-year.”
“You people follow rules?”
Verigon was astonished. “Rules? Rulers? There is no hell without rules. Anyway, at least we had the sense to migrate to scrolls from stone tablets, long before you-know-where.”
Xena looked away across the hordes. “No I don’t know where. Tell me.”
“Those are all one place?”
“Gods no. Fight like hyenas.”
“Verigon, we’re ready.” Crom had appeared unnoticed behind his leader. “Oio is bringing the Daygiver to send us over.”
“Finally! This is nerve-wracking.”
Xena turned back to Verigon and touched his arm. “You are going to stay in flesh if we succeed?”
“Well yes, you too, of course.”
“Can’t I…can’t I…can I choose not to?”
“Xena, don’t tell me you want to come back here?”
“No, no, I just don’t want to..to hurt…I would just want to not..be.”
“Doubtful. Usually not an option at all. But of course if Kuuksk has his way.” Verigon shrugged. “That will be it. You’re there.”
Xena took a shuddering breath. “Why does every damned thing have to be so...fucking…hard?!”
Kuuksk sat pondering. Unbelievable, they were letting the godskiller out. And of course the other would know and would find her like a falcon. That would mean the The Two would be joined again and that…would…not….do. For the time being, he had to continue to follow the flow of the Greatpower and not harm the Golden One, but she needed to be kept in place just a little while longer. Just a little longer in the village of…that is it! Peasantry! Inspiration! Drama! A classic. An easy fix.
Gabrielle woke from a fitful sleep. She had not dreamed since she received the Gift, but tonight she had dreamed. But she could not remember any images. She wanted to remember. It seemed very important.
She got up from the mat, washed herself with cold water from the bucket by the firepit, and put on her trousers, tunic and short leather boots. It was before dawn and she needed to get to Dorothea’s to move the sheep up to the pasture. She grabbed her satchel, put a loaf of Arranel’s bread in it and opened her front door.
Her breath stopped in her throat and her body jerked up and back. Circling and filling her yard were dozens of bristle-haired wild hogs. They were haunch to haunch, milling, bumping into each other and snorting. Then almost as one they raised their heads and saw her. In that instant, they all started a bellowing screech that made every muscle she could feel in her body stiffen and refuse to move. Many of the beasts started to rear up their front legs. The bellowing became louder and louder, and sounded more and more like a sharp single scream. Gabrielle’s mouth went dry and she was sure she couldn’t breathe, but she had to get the door closed. She felt like a puppet, willing her body to move backward, her hand to reach to the door and her arm to push it closed. When the door closed, the noise stopped.
Gabrielle kept walking backward until she bumped into the far corner where the scrolls met the back wall. She let herself down to the floor to sit, knees drawn to her chest, her uncovered eye unblinking staring at the door. She started to move her mouth silently, then finally breathed out “I…I…need to take care of the sheep…please let me.” She looked around her. There was one thing she could try to do.
The sound of the swine had carried well down into the village of Hiratha. Lamps were lit. The villagers’ sleep was broken.
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