The spirit Tataka gets more than she bargained for when she takes possession of Gabrielle in the fourth season episode DEVI.
I love mortals. Such stupid creatures. So willing to believe anything that elevates their pitiful existence above fruit flies. Perfect vessels for my kind – entities superior to earthly senses. Boundless spirits unconfined by time or space or form. No limits of flesh, attachments, ridiculous rules. Free to inhabit whatever accepts us – preferably a human we can move through with the greatest potential to exert our will. A mutually satisfactory arrangement actually. Much more fun playing mortals than fruit flies.
They envy us, of course. Compete with each other for our favor. Silly things assume we control our own destinies, that we can always choose where we land, how we’ll be once we’re there. Ah, if only that were true. We depend on prayer and luck just like them, not just to arrive but to leave. Nothing like getting stuck inside some idiot who dies and takes us with them. A good exorcism frees us both from a relationship with no future.
I had such hopes for that last host I possessed awhile back. An unfortunate girl snatched from the market during one of those wars humans endlessly wage. She attracted me with her wails of misery, her futile anger toward her captors. She stood at the bow of the ship she’d been taken to, prepared to leap to her death. "Please, gods, I beg you – set me free!" She gladly welcomed me in place of icy waters. When we reached a port shortly thereafter, I used my powers to grant her wish.
We’d docked in India. Not a bad place in terms of the culture. Lots of respect for the mystical, for existence between the lines. For style. Heh, I’ve been known to show off a little. What can I say? I have an artistic bent. Splendidly colorful fabrics that caressed the skin? Lilting musical strains and spicy aromas? Ah, a place truly worthy of a body to sense all that. Problem is, the package I was in didn’t quite fit the milieu. Not too many light-skinned, green-eyed blondes.
The slavers hot on our trail figured she’d be easy enough to spot. They offered a considerable reward for her. Turns out her exotic appearance worked to my advantage. A shop owner’s family hid her, initially intrigued by who she was, where she’d come from, the fact she could communicate easily in several dialects. When I threw in some extra razzle dazzle – curing a son’s illness, making the grandmother’s headaches go away – they had no trouble believing they’d been blessed with a special presence.
Word of my deeds spread. Soon the whole town kept the secret of my whereabouts. When her captors’ ship finally set sail, the people rejoiced. Set me up in a nice room, brought me delicacies, jewelry, finery fit for a queen. A goddess. A "healing deity," as they referred to me. They gave me the title "Devi," though I called myself “Tataka.” Oh, how they worshipped me. And why not? I appeared young and pleasing to the eye, brought magical gifts, eased their pain, could enchant with simply a smile.
If only the girl had given me something more to work with – interesting recollections, ambition, good sense, some talent besides knowing which fruit was ripe. I mean, the fun of my ability to go beyond myself is the chance to seek, to experience things I might not otherwise. With her, I had to do everything. I couldn’t trust her to take over much. Not that she minded. We both knew life would be more interesting with me in control. What can I say? I got bored.
I hooked up with a rather devilish god named Rama. Gets his kicks from human sacrifice and slaughter. Not at first, though. Too busy establishing myself and enjoying my new state. But you can take only so much sitting under a canopy in the hot sun – posing interminably like a statue for your admirers. Curing disgusting ailments, kissing babies, blessing clueless newlyweds. The more restless I became, the more appealing Rama’s offer. I began steering people I helped his way. Oooo, the images he flooded my mind with. Entertained me for hours.
What can I say? I got careless. Happens to the worst of us. Especially when we’re hampered by mortal limitations on divining our circumstance. A nosey priest guessed my sideline activities. Started spreading rumors about me being a "demon" in disguise. Had my portrait painted on the temple walls to warn people away from me. Most of the common folk paid it no mind. The religious busy bodies did. Snuck up on me, flushed me out with their holy water. Left my former host a useless shell they had to care for like an infant. Suffice it to say, I was not pleased. They wanted a bad girl? Well, that’s what I would give them.
For years I bided my time, awaiting the right moment. It came with a magician whose uncommon aura struck me more than his convincing illusions. He softened up a couple of the more superstitious types for me to toy with before the priest kicked me out. One day the magician sent his assistant climbing a rope up to the sky – "to The Land of The Spirits" – already primed for accepting the sleight of hand I’d give her in place of his. I’d entered her when she appeared to explode and fall in pieces to the ground. The magician threw her supposed body parts into a chest, chanted to make her whole again. I’ll never forget his horror when the lid lifted to my evil grin plastered on her lovely face.
"Something’s wrong!" he shouts, praying for help. Some fool foreign warrior leaps to his aid. Well, not such a fool I discover. None of my tactics frighten her. Our fight ends quickly when she knocks me into the magician. My body is writhing on the ground. I’m having trouble hanging in. I feel hands on me and am suddenly more surprised than anyone. Hovering above me is a face almost identical to the one I’d lost. Skin, hair, eyes, size nearly the same. She does not ask me in, but is inviting nonetheless – open heart, open mind. I don’t have much time. It’s back to the ether or her. I choose her. She does not refuse me.
I never knew such ecstasy. You have to understand – I may need prayer and luck, but I’m not accustomed to being the beneficiary. A miracle like this? Its possibility never occurred to me, and the reality became so much more than I ever dreamed. This latest host had depth and complexity. Memories against which Rama’s visions paled in comparison. The strength of will forged only through trial and pain. Purity, co-existing through her faith and courage with darkness. The physical assets of a warrior, the soul of a poet. Heh, and the aspirations of a saint. Fortunately for me, she did have her flaws.
I went along for the ride at first, simply reveling in the material I had. I could afford to. The priest – Vicrum – blamed my mischief and mayhem on the magician, Eli. More than that, this host made me look good on her own. The crowd proclaimed her "Devi" from the moment she appeared to drive me from Eli’s assistant. "No, you’re wrong! I’m just Gabrielle." Her initial reluctance and denial were so genuine, so endearingly attractive, who could resist her charms? She called the warrior woman "Xena." They were together. A "two for one" deal as it happens.
The warrior ended up providing half the fun. Suspicious from the start. Testing me in her clumsily offhand way. Obviously quite fond of Gabrielle. Oh, how I looked forward to a rematch, battling wits with such a self-assured opponent. Pushing her buttons, pulling her strings with the insights I got from Gabrielle. I’d always been curious about what mortals meant by "love" – why they made such fuss about preferring one particular thing over another. Something told me these two might show me what that was really about, how far it could take you.
Maybe that’s why Gabrielle was so satisfying – all the "firsts" she represented for me. Another was the difficulty I sometimes had figuring out where she left off and I began. Take that sainthood thing. Her hunger to help people, a touch of self-righteousness, a bit of competitiveness with Xena all dove-tailed nicely with the positive image I needed to suck people in. She was overjoyed when she thought she’d fixed Ravi’s blind eye, believed she’d finally achieved her life’s purpose. "I healed! It was real! Beautiful! How could that be bad?" Bwahahahaha! Now she had power Xena didn’t – proof her way was superior. I really can’t say whether the healing was my idea, or if Gabrielle wished it so much I figured, "Yeah, why not?"
The men who offered her their swords? They hadn’t done that for Tataka. If I could’ve inspired loyalty like that back then, I might’ve been able to take care of those meddling priests. Sure, this time around I managed to turn "Devi’s" guards into attack dogs, which Gabrielle never would’ve approved. Yet I wonder if her sincerity allowed me to sic them on Eli and Xena without question, if maybe their ferociousness was less from my influence than from their desire to defend Gabrielle.
Heh, sure scared Xena with her "power to control life and death" talk. Not certain whether because Xena thought it wasn’t Gabrielle or because she feared it was. I could tell the warrior knew the dangers of such power. I presumed Gabrielle would be uncomfortable with it. Her arrogance came as another pleasant surprise. Took only the slightest tweaking from me to summon her righteous indignation at Xena’s suspicions. Ooo, or those heart-wrenching sobs when she accused Xena of not being supportive. That oh so smart warrior wasn’t sure what to think. I doubt I could’ve have pulled that off by myself, if the "real" Gabrielle hadn’t been so in synch with me.
As intriguing as all that was, I haven’t even gotten to the best part – the exhilaration of being in a mortal for the sheer sensual pleasure of it. That servant girl? Despite her decent appearance in those revealing outfits, she’d been soft, plodding. Gabrielle’s body was built for action, chiseled for display. Beauty, strength, grace. No sitting all day under a canopy this time around, though I could hold the poses with far greater ease. I sashayed through the streets, arms rippling with each casual wave, bare midriff screaming, "Have you ever witnessed such perfection?!" Never had that silky skirt clung to such a firm ass or hung so splendidly above such sturdy legs.
Mind you, I make no apologies for being vain. Why should I? "If you got it, flaunt it," I say. So maybe I got carried away a couple times in front of the wrong person – Xena. I felt her studying how I absorbed the crowd’s adulation. She caught me admiring myself in my mirror, when we both knew vanity was way down the list of Gabrielle’s "flaws." I practically had to put my host to sleep while I caressed the pearls adorning my lovely throat. Barely managed to suppress the pleasure that lingered on my sweet face when Xena popped in. Gabrielle came to my aid once again, when I let her play it off as "being one with the people" – dressing like them, appreciating their baubles to make them more amenable to her healing. Yuck. Like Xena would buy that.
I was tiring of the teasing and holding back combo anyway. I’d found the perfect home: Gabrielle. The same unwavering hope and optimism that drew people in would weaken her will to evict me. I could let her continue experiencing the power of healing, while shielding her awareness of my more rambunctious activities. I’d taken care of Vicrum. I’d pegged Eli as my real enemy, especially after he managed to levitate with no assistance from me. It was only a matter of time before I rid myself of that little weasel as well. Which left Xena. That moment she finally called me out? "Tataka!" Yes! No more feigned modesty. No more pretense of sweetness and light. I would slink, strut, swagger in that delicious body like it deserved.
I do believe I tapped into a bit of the minx in Gabrielle. Maybe even a touch of resentment toward her beloved warrior. Whatever, my whole "being" thrummed with anticipation. Xena swooped in all bristling, armed with holy water and one of Gabrielle’s quills. Her?! Perform an exorcism?! What a hoot! I feared I might actually die from laughing. The shock on her face when I rendered her pitiful ritual useless! Did she really think I’d be that simple? Now, nothing stood between us. Although suddenly Gabrielle tried. Must’ve awakened that "soulmate" thing, as somehow she’d sensed the danger. No more mixed emotions, just utter terror – not for herself, but for Xena. Another bonus!
I’d never felt so … alive? My benevolent host’s awareness, her agony and vain struggles heightened my pleasure at pitting her body against Xena. How far would we combatants go to protect it? Were we willing to risk one of the spirits inside, to defend the other? I dismissed Xena’s threats as hollow. Taunted her as a weapon against which she had no defense. Called her bluff when I forced her to stop me from walking on hot coals. Coiled and flexed my lithe muscles – a snake languorously undulating toward its prey, striking with lethal venom. A flick of my tongue seared her face. I would lick the rest of her with the same ease.
She didn’t fight me full out, just as I suspected. "Love" wouldn’t let her. But she is indeed as good as Gabrielle thinks. She laid me out anyway. Surprised me by raising her sword above the heart she cherished so. I figured I’d better let Gabrielle handle that. "Xena?" The quavering, familiar voice gave the warrior pause but did not dissuade her. It seemed we were equally prepared to sacrifice that sweet body before we’d let the other have it. I suppose Eli surprised us both by having the nerve to show up. He distracted Xena, gave me a chance to throw dirt in her eyes. I raced toward him, inches away from silencing the prayer on his lips that might silence me.
Heh, maybe "love" saved the day after all. Once again the warrior felled me. Once again Eli cast me out. If not for his attack of courage, and Xena’s persuasiveness in forcing him to use it, I could’ve been trapped in Gabrielle’s lifeless shell. I got lucky. Or cursed. My host skipped happily away in the pretty new outfit that should’ve been mine, with a greater confidence in the power of healing I inadvertently gave her. Me? Haven’t done any possessing since. Being inside a vessel so luscious, so filled with tenderness and desire to please – can I say it must’ve been like making love to myself? I guess she spoiled me. After her, anyone else might as well be a fruit fly.
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