First published: February 2008
DISCLAIMER: Xena: Warrior Princess, its characters and back-story as contained in the TV series are copyright MCA/Universal, StudioUSA, and Renaissance Pictures.
This story incorporating those characters is copyright Ian Hayes.
No copyright infringement is intended in the writing of this fiction. It is intended for entertainment only. Copies of this story may be made for private, non-commercial use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices. Other uses of this story may be made only with the express permission of the copyright holders.
VIOLENCE WARNING: The violence depicted in this story is not graphical in description and does not exceed that typically shown in the TV episodes.
SEXUAL CONTENT: Descriptions of the sexual interactions between the two primary characters in this story are only marginally more explicit that that depicted in the TV episodes and would not conflict with modern-day ‘watershed’ guidelines.
Many months ago, Xena and Gabrielle had had their last, great adventure together, far to the east in the land of Japa. It had been their last adventure together because Xena had given her life to be able to fight and defeat the evil spirit of Yodoshi. Doing so had freed the forty thousand souls that he had imprisoned within his own spirit.
Although Gabrielle had had the means to bring her back to life at that time, to do so would have meant that those souls would not have been able to achieve a state of grace and pass on into Takamanohara. The souls had originally been villagers who had died because of something that Xena had done many years previously during her dark years and they could only pass into that state of grace, once they were released from Yodoshi’s power, if their deaths were avenged. Consequently, Xena had to remain dead.
For Gabrielle, life without her closest friend and soul mate was going to be difficult but it was made bearable by Xena’s spirit being at her side; a place that Xena had promised she would always be.
Gabrielle had journeyed back towards Greece encountering many challenges and adventures on the way. At first, Xena had always been there, as she had promised, but, one day, without warning, she was no longer at Gabrielle’s side any more.
The warrior stood alone in the centre of the clearing, leaves and twigs providing a carpet in a multitude of shades of brown and gold. Her eyes were open and alert but seemingly looking at nothing in particular. Her stance gave the odd impression that a bull elephant at full charge would make little impact while at the same time looking like her feet were hardly making an imprint in the leaf-littered ground. She appeared to have been stood there for some time and had no intention of moving any time soon.
The air around the warrior was filled with the usual sounds of a wood but even so, she had little difficulty picking out the cautious, creeping sounds of the four thugs surrounding her. She didn’t know what their purpose was but she had no doubt about their immediate intent.
She moved! A slow, steady movement of her right hand towards her left hip where a samurai katana hung in its sheath. Her hand closed lightly around the braided leather handle of the sword and then all movement stopped. It was as if it hadn’t happened at all – except the four thugs were half a step closer to her.
Listening intently to the sounds behind the sounds she followed her assailants’ progress towards her. Even though her eyes were open she didn’t need them. She knew which direction they were in, how far away they were and would know instantly if any one of them made a move to attack. She thought about closing her eyes, smiling inwardly at the confusion that would cause in the two ahead of her that could see her face.
However she didn’t. She also knew that doing so would invite the ache of loss and loneliness to well up again in her heart, as it did every time she did close her eyes or even just sit quietly with her own thoughts. Now was not the time for such distractions. On the other hand, she could surrender to the pain and let her attackers win, that way she wouldn’t have to feel anything much any more.
Her arm moved almost by itself as her warrior instincts took over. The sword flashed from its sheath and arced gracefully over her head to point directly at the ground behind her and between her own feet. The gentle sounds of the woodland were shattered by the crystal clear ring of steel upon steel as her katana blade met the swinging sword belonging to the attacker who had been behind her left shoulder. Without the katana blade in the way, her head would, by now, have been several feet from her body. As it was, the momentum of the blow carried the attacker’s blade forward just far enough to nick the skin on the back of her right shoulder. She didn’t notice – her counter attack was already in motion.
Squatting low onto her right leg she bent and lifted her left. Her attacker, still moving forward, found himself with a foot neatly lodged in his solar plexus. With trained strength and practiced timing her left leg flexed with surprising force expelling all of the air from the attacker’s lungs and propelling him several yards across the clearing to slam into the broad trunk of a patiently waiting tree. The tree was distinctly unaffected by the impact unlike the attacker who would not be moving again for some time.
The remaining three thugs saw this as a signal to begin their own attacks. With a yell the warrior sprang into the air and flipped over the head of the advancing attacker, ahead and to the right of her, landing just a yard or so from him. As he turned his jaw was introduced to the partner of the foot that had just eliminated his colleague from the proceedings. The end result was also similar as far as the thug’s ability to continue the fight was concerned.
The remaining two were advancing from opposite sides, swords raised to strike. As most groups of two or more henchmen seem to do, they both aimed their strike at the same spot on the warrior’s head but instead of making a killing blow, both found the katana waiting for them. The warrior dropped low and swept the feet out from under the thug to her right. As he crashed to the ground she was upon him using the pommel of her sword to persuade him to join his fallen partners.
At this point, the fourth and final attacker had a surprising attack of comprehension; he turned and ran for the edge of the clearing.
Throughout the fight, the warrior’s face had shown little emotion. Now it was as if a cloud had passed over the sun casting it into shadow. An observer may even have claimed that a hint of red had suddenly glowed within her eyes. Passing her katana into her left hand she unclipped an odd, circular device from her belt and hurled it towards the retreating back.
Almost immediately, the cloud lifted from her face and a look of horror replaced it. A single word screamed from her lips.
The spinning ring of metal, now only feet from contact and travelling with enough force to sever the man’s spine, suddenly veered to the right and embedded itself deeply into the trunk of a tree beside him. He flinched, startled by the sound of the impact but continued on his flight and was lost amongst the trees.
The warrior was shaking, a look of shock and distaste on her face.
“By the gods, what was I thinking?” she said, knowing at the same time that her anger had boiled over again, but this time someone had nearly died because of it.
Extracting her chakram from the tree gave her something to concentrate on for a moment or two, then she walked slowly back to her horse. She stroked his neck and pulled on his mane. He snorted quietly and turned to nuzzle her gently. She rested her forehead against his broad neck
“Oh Jason,” she said into the horse’s neck, despair heavy in her voice, “I’m not sure how much longer I can go on like this. Every day I wake up crying inside, I hurt all the time and I am getting more and more angry. I am scared that, sooner or later, I am going to hurt someone needlessly. I don’t know what to do to make it all go away.”
She finished with a mixture of pleading and anger in her voice:
”Xena, why have you abandoned me?” and with that the tears came again.
Gabrielle didn’t notice the air shimmer behind her and the outline of a person sparkle within it.
Deep within the underworld that is the domain of the Japa god, Yama, a soul walked tall and proud, returning to its master’s side.
Souls, of course, don’t have a particular size, shape or appearance but to an observer they tend to look like the physical person they last inhabited. Consequently it is perfectly reasonable to describe this soul accordingly.
Yama turned at the soul’s approach.
“Ahh Anex, you have ‘resolved’ the difficulties with those new souls from the cyclone?”
“Yes my lord. There are no further problems.”
“Very good. And how many were destined for Yomi” he asked expectantly.
“Twenty five my lord.”
“Yes!” he shouted, “I wagered that there would be more than twenty.”
Anex’s eyes went slightly out of focus, almost making her look cross-eyed for a moment. Yama’s predilection for making a wager over almost anything did get tedious.
“You know Anex, I will miss you greatly when you have moved on. You are the best assistant I have ever had. My work here has never been so trouble-free.”
Anex’s awareness snapped back to full attention “My lord? When I have moved on?”
“Yes Anex. The council of gods have been watching you very carefully and have decided that they are going to reincarnate you to serve another lifetime.”
“I don’t understand my lord. I thought my place was here to serve you.”
“Yes, it has been Anex and you have served me very well indeed.”
“Then why am I being sent away?”
Yama looked at the soul carefully. It was not usual for a soul to question their fate once the erasure of character had been completed.
“Tell me Anex, how do you feel about yourself?”
Anex paused before answering, sensing that there was something threatening underlying the question.
“I don’t think I feel anything about myself, my lord… except… I sometimes feel that there is something important to me that I have forgotten.”
Yama’s gaze became even more focussed.
“Really! Tell me anything you can remember about yourself before you came into my service.”
Anex knew this was the key question. She also knew, without knowing why, how to answer.
“There is nothing. My first memory is of my first service to you my lord. Perhaps that is what I feel I have forgotten, whatever came before.”
Yama was not entirely convinced by the answer but could see no way to pursue it further without risking restoration of the soul’s past memories.
“Very well. I must confer with Ame-no-Koyane now. Anex go to the Eastern boundary. There is a large number of soldiers arriving and I want you to oversee their dispersal.”
“Yes my lord.”
Anex turned and walked briskly away, relieved that Yama hadn’t pressed her any further. She hadn’t been entirely truthful with her last answer. It was true that she didn’t have any specific memories from her life before being here in the underworld but there were isolated images that she could recall. None of them had any meaning to her except one image of a face that brought up strong feelings that she couldn’t describe. She held on ferociously to all of them, regularly refreshing them in her mind so as to not lose them. It didn’t make any sense but to her it seemed that, if she did lose them, she would be finally lost herself.
Yama was concerned. If Anex’s character hadn’t been completely erased when she was reincarnated, especially given her previous life, the result could be disastrous. Reincarnated souls took with them their spiritual state into their new body, enabling it to be further evolved through the course of their new lifetime. But to allow the new body to inherit the memories, skills and experiences of a past lifetime was something to be avoided. The results were unpredictable at best. He would have to raise his concerns with the council.
Ame-no-Koyane was in his usual place when Yama arrived, monitoring the souls that had been singled out for particular attention. He looked up as Yama approached.
“Yama old friend. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I have a concern regarding the soul of my assistant, Anex.”
“Ah yes, the one we have recently selected for reincarnation. There is a lot of excitement and interest about that one you know. She is to be placed into the daughter of the Japa emperor – quite a plum position.”
“Yes, yes!” said Yama impatiently, waving his hand to dismiss the information. “I have some doubts that she is ready for reincarnation.”
“Is that so?” Ame-no-Koyane couldn’t keep the scepticism from his voice.
“Yes, really! She is not behaving… normally. Asking questions about her fate.”
“Well, she is rather special you know. Not many souls go through the range of spiritual development that she has, let alone in a single lifetime. It’s not unreasonable that she displays a greater awareness of herself than the norm.” Ame-no-Koyane paused a moment, then continued.
“Do you have any other evidence that she may not be fully erased?”
Yama tilted his head and lowered his voice.
“No, nothing specific. I just feel uneasy about her.”
“Well my observations have not indicated any problems. She carries out her duties extremely well, in fact I believe that you will be quite sad to lose her?” He raised his eyebrows.
Yama was taken aback.
“Now hold on, this is not personal. I am not disagreeing with you but my concern is genuinely for the greater good.”
“I hardly need to remind you, Yama, that Anex was started on the path to reincarnation for the greater good. Once she had discovered that all of the souls her death had avenged had indeed been moved into the state of grace and had passed on into Takamanohara she became a destabilising influence, challenging everything in her search for a way to return to the living world. Erasing her character was the only way to control her.”
“Yes, I know. But you know of the risk of reincarnating a soul with memories.”
Ame-no-Koyane paused thoughtfully and sighed.
“Very well, Yama. I will focus some additional time on her observation but I must tell you that, unless something comes up, she will be reincarnated. Opportunities to put souls like hers into such significant bodies don’t arise very often and if Anex has to have her passage through the erasure process extended we will miss it.”
Yama nodded once in resignation and turned away.
At the light touch of a hand on her shoulder, Gabrielle spun around.
‘Another sign of how sloppy I am getting’ she thought, remembering how close her assailant’s sword had come to causing some serious damage to her shoulder. She raised her hands and unlocked her knees, automatically adopting a defensive posture.
The sight of the smiling but concerned face, surrounded by a mass of curly blonde hair, stopped her in her tracks.
“Aphrodite! What are you doing here?”
“Hello! Can’t a girl visit her best friend?” Aphrodite’s attempt at offhandedness didn’t quite come off. Gabrielle didn’t believe it either; she raised her eyebrows to re-ask the question.
“OK, OK! Look, I’m the goddess of love which means I can sense when love is a problem. And honey, you have a problem.”
Gabrielle brushed away the tears from her face and opened her mouth to protest but the words that came out were different.
“She’s gone, Aphrodite, just gone. No warning, no goodbye, no nothing. Just… gone.”
She stopped and looked at Aphrodite pleading with her eyes for an answer.
Without a sound, Aphrodite stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Gabrielle.
Sitting together on a log beside the campfire the story poured out of Gabrielle, able for the first time since Xena’s final demise on Mount Fuji to talk freely and openly to someone. She told of her crisis of conscience when Xena had asked her not to pour her ashes into the Fountain of Strength, which would resurrect her. Her guilt that she had argued that she didn’t care about the souls that would be lost, only about keeping Xena alive, and how much it had taken out of her to accept her friend’s request and to do what was right even though it had meant her friend would remain dead. She described how Xena’s spirit presence had sustained her at first, providing counsel, friendship and comfort through several adventures on her way back to Greece. And then how, one day, Xena was no longer beside her.
Her story finished with the question that she had asked herself every day since then.
“Aphrodite, she promised me that she would always be with me. Why has she left me?”
Aphrodite had listened carefully to the story; there was no hint of her usual frivolity.
“I don’t know Gabrielle. Xena is in the realm of the Japa gods. They work to a different set of rules that I don’t understand.”
Gabrielle was quiet for a moment and then seemed to become more energised.
“But is it organised in a similar way to the Olympian realm – an underworld leading to an Elysian Fields and a Tartarus?”
Aphrodite thought for a moment.
“Well, I don’t know but I suppose so.”
“How do I get there? How do I get into the Japa underworld?” Gabrielle looked directly into Aphrodite’s eyes, demanding an answer.
Aphrodite looked surprised and worried.
“I don’t know that either Gabrielle, ” she tried to lighten the mood, “apart from getting yourself killed in Japa of course.”
Gabrielle’s voice could have frozen an ocean.
“Well, maybe that’s what it takes then.”
Aphrodite looked even more worried and a hint of panic entered her voice.
“Gabrielle, what are you thinking?”
Gabrielle’s shoulders dropped and she closed her eyes.
“Aphrodite, I can’t go on like this, not knowing. I have tried everything I know; meditation, rationalisation, even praying. Nothing helps. I still hurt… all the time. I have to know.”
She buried her face into her hands.
Aphrodite’s face softened. Gabrielle’s pain, because it was centred on her love for Xena, echoed directly into the goddess of love’s heart. She reached out to put her arm around Gabrielle, leant towards her and kissed her gently on the side of the head. Her lips glowed briefly a deep indigo. She turned her head to rest her cheek on Gabrielle’s head.
“Listen Gabrielle, don’t do anything crazy, at least not yet. Let me see what I can do. As a god, maybe I can find out something.”
Gabrielle sighed deeply and lifted her head from her hands, looked at Aphrodite, forced a smile and nodded.
Anex stood at the Eastern boundary of the underworld. The intake of soldiers had been dealt with, many dispatched to Takamanohara, some, less deserving, to Yomi. As she often did during these quieter moments, she thought about the odd memories from her past life that meant nothing to her but that she felt were so important that she must not let them go. She showed no surprise when the air in front of her shimmered and a glowing outline gradually filled in to reveal Aphrodite. After all, this was the underworld – weird stuff happened all the time. What she was not prepared for was the weird stuff that was about to happen to her.
“Whoa, what a ride. I’ve never done anything like that before. Oh hi Xena!” said Aphrodite, apparently noticing Anex in front of her for the first time.
The impact on Anex of that last word could not have been greater if Aphrodite had accompanied it with a slap to the face.
“What did you call me?” She stammered.
“Xena. That is, or was, your name. Do you know who I am?”
Anex was too confused to answer the direct question.
“My name! My name is Anex, but that other name… it… disturbs me.”
Aphrodite waited. She could almost see the cogs turning in Anex’s head. She guessed what had happened to Xena. Regardless of which realm was involved, the process of reincarnation required more or less the same preparation. She was just hoping that Xena’s spirit was strong enough to re-establish itself.
“You!” Blurted Anex, turning her attention on the god in front of her.
“Yes?” said Aphrodite politely.
“I… feel that I should know you.”
“Dahh, I should hope so, best friends and all.” Aphrodite was becoming concerned that this was taking too long. The presence of an Olympian god in the Japa realm would not go unnoticed for long.
Anex was struggling to find a name.
“Why thank you honey, but not quite.” Aphrodite smiled. She was pleased that Xena had got this far on her own but she needed to speed things up.
“Yes! Aphrodite.” Xena exclaimed. “You’re a god, the goddess of love. And I’m Xena.”
“Bingo!” said Aphrodite. “Now I’m sorry about this but it is going to be the quickest way to get you fully back, and it isn’t going to be pleasant.”
Aphrodite touched the first two fingers of her right hand against her lips. The indigo glow came again. She then pressed her fingers to Anex’s lips; again the glow.
Anex was still too confused and trying to sort out scraps of returning memories to resist. At the touch of Aphrodite’s fingers it was as if an incredibly bright light had just been switched on in her mind illuminating all of the details of the memories that had been hidden from her. Her head jerked and her eyes opened wide.
“Hah!” She shouted in exultation “I remember it all.”
Her jubilation was short lived, as an important memory fought its way to the surface of her mind accompanied by a depth of feeling that she didn’t even know could exist. She clutched at her chest and bent double with a loud moan.
One word emerged from her lips:
Aphrodite stepped forward and put her hand on Xena’s back.
“I’m sorry Xena. I know what you have just felt but I have to get you up to speed quickly before I’m discovered here.”
Xena was gradually recovering her composure. Between short breaths she said,
“What was that? Those weren’t my feelings.”
Aphrodite left her hand on Xena’s shoulder.
“No, they were Gabrielle’s. I knew that they would restore your memories quickly and, besides, you had to know what’s happening.”
Xena looked up in alarm.
“Aphrodite, she’s thinking about…”
“I know,” Aphrodite cut off the end of the statement, “but I’ve talked to her and she will wait for me to get back to her.”
“But you don’t understand.” continued Xena, urgency in her voice, “the underworld here isn’t the same as Olympus. If a warrior gives up in a fight and allows himself to be killed for selfish reasons he will be banished immediately to Yomi, Tartarus to you, without any hope of reprieve. You’ve got to go back to her and tell her I’m safe and that I am coming back.”
“ I kinda thought you might say that,” said Aphrodite smiling. “How’re you going to do it?” she asked.
Xena’s expression was quizzical.
“I have no idea – yet.”
An enormous thunderclap put a stop to any further discussion as Yama and Ame-no-Koyana appeared in front of them. They seemed to be somewhat annoyed.
Yama confronted Aphrodite and blurted out:
“Who are you? Have you any idea what you have done?”
Aphrodite adopted a somewhat abashed look.
“Exsqueeze me! How rude. What sort of a greeting is that for a visitor from Olympus who’s just popped in to say ‘Hi’ to an old friend.”
Oddly, Yama did not seem to be in the slightest apologetic.
“You are interfering with things that do not concern you. You are not welcome here,” he continued.
“Whatever!” replied Aphrodite, indignantly.
“Be gone and do not return!” Yama waved his arm theatrically.
“Well, if that’s how you feel.” She turned to Xena. “Keep in touch honey. Later!” With that she shimmered away.
Xena stood patiently but defiantly looking at the two Japa gods with half closed eyes and a pout on her lips. Now that her memories had been fully restored, she knew what had been done to her and, thanks to Aphrodite, she also knew what Gabrielle had been put through because of it. The rage in her heart demanded that she take revenge but the seasoned warrior in her knew that there was little she could do directly against these two gods. She had to bide her time and she had to work out a plan. In the meantime, she waited for the backlash.
Yama’s first words were surprisingly gentle. It was as if he knew that what had happened was not Xena’s fault so the best that he could do was to try to minimise the damage.
“Anex, how are you?”
Xena’s demeanour did not change.
“My name is Xena and I am very well thank you.”
Yama and Ame-no-Koyana exchanged glances. Ame-no-Koyana tentatively asked:
“How much do you remember?”
“Everything!” the word dripped with pure relish as Xena watched its impact on the two gods. She couldn’t resist a smirk.
Ame-no-Koyana became agitated.
“This is a disaster. We must convene the council – there is much to be decided.” He vanished, presumably to call a council meeting.
Yama looked calculatingly at Xena.
“You know there’s nothing you can do, nowhere you can go.”
Xena returned his gaze unblinkingly.
“Oh, I know there’s nowhere I can go, but there’s plenty I can do. Don’t you have a meeting to go to?”
Yama looked as if he was about to have a seizure, but instead he simply disappeared with a loud crack.
Xena’s face relaxed and a small frown settled onto her forehead. She sank down into a squat and put her chin into her hand. ‘Yes,’ she thought, ‘there is much to be decided.’
The inn was busy. There were no free seats and there were several villagers standing around the walls. Most of the folks in the inn were dressed in fairly drab clothes in various shades of grey and brown; the exception was a woman that everyone else seemed to be looking at. It almost seemed as if there was a hole in the roof and the light of a full moon was shining through it directly on to her, illuminating her garments in a number of brighter colours. The innkeeper had known it would be a good night tonight ever since Gabrielle had asked him earlier if she could stay there and would he mind if she told a story to earn a few dinars. He, of course, had agreed and had immediately sent his son around the village to let everyone know. Gabrielle had stayed at his inn on a few previous occasions, usually with Xena, and had told stories then too. She was a good storyteller and most of the villagers would turn out to spend the evening listening to her.
“Hercules picked up a large rock, the size of a small cart, and used it to deflect the sword of Hephaestus as it flew down from the sky.” Gabrielle related. “He directed it towards the chains that bound Prometheus so that it severed the one holding his left arm. With his arm free Prometheus was able to release himself from the remaining chains and his gift of healing to mankind was restored.”
Gabrielle continued with the story clearly enjoying the telling and the enraptured expressions on her audience’s faces. She didn’t notice the hooded figure slip quietly into the room and stand silently listening to the end of the story.
“And as Xena rode away, Iolaus turned to his best friend and said, ‘Hercules, do you believe that everyone has someone out there that shares part of their soul?’
“Hercules smiled, watching Xena depart and said ‘I know it.’”
Gabrielle stopped and lowered her head. A few observant individuals closest to her may have noticed the mistiness in her eyes but everyone in the room applauded and there were a few calls of appreciation. The innkeeper surreptitiously wiped away a tear of his own and busied himself behind the bar in readiness for the surge of demand for refills.
Gabrielle raised her head again, smiled at the reaction of her audience and thanked those that dropped a dinar or two for her performance.
When the hubbub had died down and those that had remained in the inn had settled down with recharged flagons, Gabrielle found herself a quiet corner in which to sit. The innkeeper brought over some food and a drink and placed it onto the table in front of her.
“Thank you Gabrielle, a wonderful story as usual. Will Xena be joining you this evening?”
Gabrielle was used to fielding this question:
“You’re welcome and thank you,” she said. “I always enjoy returning here. And, no, Xena won’t be coming,” there was a slight pause as the next words took a little more effort to say, “this time.”
As the innkeeper returned to his bar, the hooded figure quietly took his place and sat down opposite Gabrielle. Lost in her thoughts, she started slightly as she suddenly realised there was someone there and looked up into the hooded face, straight into the shining blue eyes of Aphrodite.
“Wow, Aphrodite!” she exclaimed, “That has to be to quietest entrance you have ever made.”
“Well honey, it was your gig.” Aphrodite was clearly bursting to tell Gabrielle something.
“Do you have news?” demanded Gabrielle.
“Do I have news? You have no idea what news I have. You won’t believe what I’ve got to tell you… well, you might, but it’s pretty amazing…”
“APHRODITE!” Gabrielle’s voice wasn’t particularly loud but it would have stopped a Cyclops in his tracks with its intensity.
“Oh, yes. Well, I eventually found my way to the Japa underworld… you wouldn’t believe where I had to go and who I had to talk to, to find out how to get there.”
Gabrielle was starting to consider the possibility of grabbing Aphrodite by the neck and ringing the information out of her.
“Anyway, I found Xena.”
Relief swept over Gabrielle. She hadn’t realised it but she had been tightening up with apprehension ever since she had noticed Aphrodite in front of her and those three little words had been the trigger to release it.
“How is she?” Gabrielle felt that the question was totally inadequate but could think of nothing else.
Aphrodite looked bemused.
“Dahh, she’s dead, silly.”
Gabrielle was stunned for a split second, and then burst into laughter. With Aphrodite being so flippant it was obvious that Xena was ‘OK’, at least as far a dead person could be OK, so the release of her tension found its outlet.
As the laughter subsided, Gabrielle caught her breath and asked:
“Please, tell me what happened.”
Aphrodite related the story of her meeting with Xena, glossing over exactly how she had fully restored her memories.
“So Xena wanted me to tell you that she is safe and will see you again.”
Gabrielle had been looking intently at Aphrodite during the story but, at that, her eyes flicked around the room, as if expecting to see a tall, athletic brunette walking towards them. She focussed back onto Aphrodite.
Aphrodite looked a little uncomfortable.
“I don’t know Gabrielle,” she hesitated, “it may be a little while.”
Gabrielle heard the hesitation and guessed that there must be a problem. She fixed Aphrodite’s eyes with her own.
“What?” she said, “Tell me.”
“Well, some Japa gods found out that I was there and had been talking to Xena. They didn’t look too happy about it. It might not be easy for Xena to get away.”
“She’s in trouble, isn’t she?” The question was more a statement. “She might need my help.” Gabrielle moved as if to stand.
Aphrodite grabbed her arm with a surprisingly strong grip.
“Gabrielle, no, you can’t.”
The desperation in her voice caused Gabrielle to pause. She relaxed back down and stared into Aphrodite’s face.
“Can’t is not a word that applies to me anymore, Aphrodite. Tell me why I shouldn’t.”
Aphrodite told Gabrielle what would happen to a warrior who gave herself up to death in Japa.
“I’m not doing it for selfish reasons, it wouldn’t apply to me.” Gabrielle countered.
“Gabrielle, this is not Olympus we’re talking about here. Their rules are very different. Not just in the obvious ways, but also in very subtle ways too. I don’t understand them, nor do you. That’s an awfully big risk you’re taking on an assumption.”
“Aphrodite, I’ve got to try. If Xena needs my help…”
“Gabrielle, you’ve got to trust her.”
The fire in Gabrielle’s eyes suddenly rekindled.
“I DID trust her and she got into trouble; trouble that needed you to get her out of. And you are asking me to sit back and do nothing knowing that, this time, she definitely is in trouble.”
Aphrodite took a moment to reply.
“The difference is that last time she was taken by surprise. This time, Xena knows what she’s up against. When have you known her to fail when she knew what was going on?”
Gabrielle sighed. Aphrodite had a point but the idea of doing nothing and simply waiting only made her feel even more helpless. How she wished that she could look into Xena’s piercing, blue eyes and just feel the confidence that radiated from them. Gabrielle made her decision. One of the many things that she had learned from her adventures with Xena was not to act rashly and take uncalculated risks unless it was absolutely necessary; a lesson that had served her well on more than one occasion in recent months.
“I will wait,” she said, simply. Aphrodite heaved a sign of relief.
Decision made, the bard in Gabrielle reasserted itself.
“Now tell me, Aphrodite, where did you have to go and who did you have to talk to?”
Yama’s palace dominated the skyline as Xena walked the path towards it. It was not spectacular in any colourful or ornate way but simply by its sheer bulk and appearance of solidity. It took no effort to imagine that it had always existed just as it was now and would probably continue to exist indefinitely. Yama had summoned her, she presumed to tell her of the council’s decision. However Xena was ready to put her own plan into motion and the first step required her to talk to Yama.
As she walked, Xena mulled over the elements of her plan again. She had done as much as she could in preparation but now it hinged on her ability to manipulate Yama into making the decisions that she wanted. This was going to tax her verbal dexterity to its utmost since she knew that her much celebrated sexual allure wouldn’t give her any advantage in this arena. But there was so much at stake here, she couldn’t allow herself to consider the possibility of failure.
The thought of Gabrielle sprang unbidden into her mind. This was a distraction that she didn’t need right now but she couldn’t bring herself to push it aside. She wished that she could have visited her, to let her know in person why she had disappeared and that she still loved her and was literally going to try to move heaven and hell to be with her again. But she hadn’t dared to. She couldn’t tell how much she was being watched and to expose her relationship with Gabrielle would have wrecked her plan. As it was, she had had to make a couple of visits to the living world to check out certain aspects of her plan – she had to know where certain individuals were and whether or not they were even still alive. No, she had to trust that Aphrodite had done what she had asked and had returned to Gabrielle with her message.
Xena strode through the main palace entrance, took a deep breath and quickly ran through her pre-meditation routine that she knew would calm her and clear her mind. She had just started to wonder where Yama might be when his voice rang out across the entrance hall.
“Xena, come here.”
She turned to her right and walked in through the door to a surprisingly small room. It was sparsely furnished with several low stools and a correspondingly low table. Yama stood at one end of the table.
“Sit down, “ he said, rather more calmly than Xena expected.
She selected one of the low stools and gently lowered herself onto it, crossing her legs in the process. She waited patiently for Yama to begin the conversation.
“Where have you been?” he asked.
Xena had expected this type of question at some point in the conversation so she had the answer ready.
“I wanted to remind myself of what I was missing in the living world.” She knew that there was no point in pretending that she hadn’t been there. She stopped, making the decision not to say any more just yet.
Yama gave her the opening to continue:
“ I want to go back.”
Yama seemed pleased.
“Yes Xena, we know that you do. Your earlier efforts made it quite clear that that is what you wanted. You will be pleased to know that we are going to grant your wish.” He smiled in the way that an indulgent grandparent would smile while giving a large gift to a favourite grandchild.
Xena narrowed her eyes. There were at least two ways that this could go and she was sure it wouldn’t be the one that she really wanted. She waited and wasn’t surprised.
“The Japa emperor’s concubine has been made pregnant with a daughter. We are going to reincarnate you into that child. Xena you will not only go back to the world you desire you will become a princess of the greatest of Eastern empires. You will want for nothing, your every desire will be fulfilled and you will command great power.” As a salesman, Yama focussed well on the benefits of the sale but he really hadn’t read his customer at all well.
Xena thought briefly about the desire that most certainly wouldn’t be fulfilled and then brought her focus back to the god in front of her.
“I am assuming that I would have to submit to full erasure of character?” She already knew the answer.
Yama confirmed it.
“Of course. You know that all reincarnations must be with erased souls.”
Xena kept her tone conciliatory, not wishing to raise the temperature of the discussion more than necessary at this stage.
“Yama, your offer is extremely generous and very tempting,” she knew that the offer was not being made for her benefit, “but I worked hard to develop the strength and skills of my previous body and to create my reputation as Xena. I don’t want to start again just yet so I will not submit to erasure and I know enough now to resist it being done against my will. I want to go back to live as Xena.”
Yama seemed flustered.
“You are asking for resurrection?”
“Yes.” Said Xena, simply.
“Impossible” said Yama, “I don’t have that kind of power.”
“No, I know,” said Xena calmly, “but Izanagi does.” Xena knew that, as the god of creation and life, Izanagi most certainly did have the power to resurrect a soul.
Yama was starting to get annoyed. The council had tasked him to resolve the ‘Xena problem’ and had given him various alternatives with a priority for each. Resurrection was not even on the list.
“You must be mad.” His voice betrayed his rising level of agitation. “What in Yomi makes you think that I will even ask Izanagi to do this let alone that he would do so?”
Xena answered the questions in the reverse order.
“Izanagi will do as the council recommends and the alternative would be…” she didn’t finish the sentence since she could see from Yama’s squint that he was already filling in the blanks himself.
“You presume too much Xena. We could simply banish you to Yomi and solve the problem that way.”
Xena had anticipated this gambit. It was true, the gods could indeed do that but she knew that they would have to be very desperate to take that step and lose such a unique soul. Her careful conversations with several of the other gods had revealed how much the council valued her soul for future incarnations.
“Come on Yama, you and I both know that no-one wants that. Besides, with me in Yomi are you sure that the problem would be solved… permanently?”
Yama’s eyes betrayed a hint of uncertainty. In the short time that Xena had been in the underworld before unwittingly succumbing to her first erasure of character she had already done things that had never been done before. What she could possibly do with an eternity and an unlimited number of malevolent souls to assist her didn’t bear thinking about.
Xena decided that it was time to take the driving seat.
“Of course, the stakes are high for all of us but what I want and what you want seem to be contradictory. Perhaps we should toss a coin to see who wins.”
“What?” Yama started at this sudden change of direction. “Are you suggesting we gamble on a coin toss to decide the outcome?”
Xena needed to pull back slightly so as to not appear too keen.
“Well…” she said, “no, not really. But I am prepared to fight for what I want and if that means I am gambling on my ability to win then, I guess, maybe I am.”
Yama’s eyes now showed excitement and he actually licked his lips. The prospect of the biggest wager he had ever taken on took over.
“So, some kind of challenge with a wager?”
Xena resisted the urge to bite off his arm.
“Err, well… I don’t know,” she stalled.
Yama was on the hook.
“Yes, excellent. Now, what challenge should this be?”
‘Well,’ thought Xena, ‘that’s the easy bit!’
Yama was pacing back and forth on the opposite side of the table to where Xena sat. His initial surge of excitement at the possibility of a wager with more at stake than any he could remember seemed to have abated somewhat and the realities of how he was going to sell it to the council had started to sink in.
“Let me make sure that I have this clear. The wager will be; if you win you are resurrected back into your previous body, and if I win…?”
“If you win,” Xena finished the sentence calmly, “I will submit to erasure of character and you will have your Japa princess.”
Yama was weighing up the arguments that he would have to use with the council. He would lay it out as a no-lose scenario. If the wager was won, then they get exactly what they wanted. If it were lost then at least the ‘Xena problem’ would be taken care of and removed from the underworld domain. And even then, all may not be lost; Xena would still have to die again one day and, with her predisposition towards adventuring around the world, she may well end up back in their hands.
“Very well,” he said, his excitement rising again, “now about this challenge; I have a few ideas.”
“I’m sure you have,” said Xena with a small upward quirk of her mouth, “but this is about my life… and soul.” She added as an afterthought. “I am prepared to gamble with it as long as I can see that I have a chance of winning, and that means that I get to use the very things that I value so much.”
“You mean you want to use your previous body, as Xena?” suggested Yama.
“Yes.” said Xena simply.
“If you think that I will agree to a physical challenge with you in your Xena body…” Yama paused groping for the next part of his sentence. “I am fully aware of your physical prowess. That would be too easy.”
“Well, what about a challenge that doesn’t rely on completing a physical task?” Xena reminded herself to go slowly.
“What?” said Yama, clearly unable to see any aspect of Xena that didn’t involve her physicality.
“Wait a moment,” said Xena, “I have an idea that you might find more acceptable.” She paused, apparently thinking her idea through. In reality she knew that she was about to explain to Yama precisely what she was doing to him. She just hoped that he didn’t see it.
“Much of what I achieved in my life I did through my ability to lead other people and have them bend to my will…” Xena adopted a rather coy look, “through one means or another.” She decided it was time to reinforce what Yama stood to gain. “Since this wager is about giving you the possibility of using my soul for your own purposes, perhaps we can make the challenge about using someone else’s soul.”
Yama had no idea what Xena was talking about, but it sounded interesting.
“Go on,” he prompted.
“What actions are the extremes for most people… remember this is about life?” she asked.
Yama felt pressured for the answer. He wished he had been able to follow Xena’s thought processes.
“Ah! Extreme actions? To do with life?” A burst of understanding gave him the answer. “Well, that would be taking a life and giving your life for a cause.”
“Absolutely!” said Xena. “What if I said that my challenge would be to persuade the same person, let’s call them the ‘target’, to take my life and then to give their own life to save mine?”
“Wait a moment,” said Yama, suspicious of a trick, “if you’ve been killed how can you then be saved?”
“You’re right.” said Xena looking puzzled and her shoulders dropping, “Obviously I would have to prevent my actually being killed… somehow.” She continued to look puzzled hoping that Yama would contribute some of his own ideas. That way he would become even more tied in to the challenge and would be less likely to suspect that this was all part of her plan.
Yama stepped in to provide the answer.
“That part of the challenge would have to be completed by the… uh… target being about to strike the killing blow and then stopping, but not by a physical deflection of the blow. You would have to be helpless at that point.”
Xena could have kissed him, but she had to play the part.
“What!” she exclaimed, “How would I do that?”
“This is your challenge Xena, your idea, I’m just supplying a few conditions.”
Xena continued to look as though she was puzzling out this latest twist.
Yama spoke again:
“Actually, your challenge is not as impossible as it sounds,” he said thoughtfully, “over time people can change, allegiances can change as can feelings towards another person. It’s not unreasonable for one person to hate someone and then, sometime later, find that they love and admire them.”
“But surely not in a short space of time, say, ten days.” suggested Xena.
Yama felt that he had Xena on the ropes and pressed home his advantage with a relish.
“My condition is in one day.”
Xena feigned horror at the suggestion.
“Yama, please. At the very least I have to reorient myself back in the world, find a suitable candidate, get to know them a little and then work out how to do what I need to do. Please, give me five days at least.”
Yama was enjoying Xena’s discomfort, apparently forgetting that she could have simply said ‘No’. He decided to be magnanimous; especially since he could not conceive of any way that Xena could win. Mortals were simply not like that.
“Until sunset on the third day, and that is final,” he said.
Xena sighed inwardly. On her reckoning, if the plan worked as hoped, she could have done it in two.
“Well, can I start in Greece, so that at least I know my way around?”
Yama thought for a moment and smiled with an expression that bordered on indulgence and sadistic pleasure.“Very well, but I am not a fool, Xena, there are some more conditions.”
XWP - Changing Places continues in Part 2
Back to the Academy