Rated as adult material for some violence and a loving relationship between two consenting adults and because anything can happen in my stories. If you are easily offended please read something else.
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Suggestion: If you havenıt seen The Last Battleground:
A Friend in Need you may want to wait to read this as it contains spoilers!
Lost Soul 2 - From the Other Side
Continued from Lost
When I opened my eyes I was surprised to see it was daylight, the sun already above the low hills. I still lay with my head on Gabrielleıs shoulder, just like I had gone to sleep the night before. In my ear I could hear the soft sound of Gabrielleıs heart and I could feel the slow rise and fall of her chest. The sun was bright, the birds were chirping and a soft wind caressed my face. It was a glorious morning, smelling of dew and the scents of the forest around us. For a brief instant life seemed just as it had been, then reality returned as my mind came fully awake. Things were not the same and they would never be the same. The world that I looked upon belonged to Gabrielle, but it no longer belonged to me. I was an interloper, here for some yet to be determined reason, which I fervently hoped was so I could be with Gabrielle, but I wasnıt sure.
I heard a change in Gabrielleıs breathing and felt her relaxed muscles firm up and knew she was awake, but I didnıt want to move because the horrors of the past few days still were very much in my mind. I knew it was Gabrielleıs kind heart that had taken me in last night, and comforted me, but I also knew that Gabrielle had been so hurt by me that things might never be returned to normal between us. I didnıt want to move because this precious bubble of contentment would shatter.
"Xena?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Hummm?" I said softly, hating that now I had to move.
"I really need to get up, or Iım gonna burst."
I lifted myself from my comfortable position on Gabrielleıs shoulder and allowed her to get up.
Gabrielle disappeared into the nearby brush, emerging a few moments later near the stream where she splashed water on her face.
"Burrr! Thatıs cold!" she said, as she hurried back to her camp. She gathered her soap and drying cloth and returned to the stream where she slipped out of her nightshirt and took a quick bath, having gone to bed the night before with only a quick wash. When she was done, she hurried into her clothes, and then sat for a moment combing out her short golden hair.
I lay in her bed watching her.
Gabrielle busied herself with getting a cold breakfast then packing up her camp. When almost everything was done she came and stood over me.
"Everybody up. I need to pack that thing."
Reluctantly I crawled from her bedroll and Gabrielle made short work of packing it up. I put my boots, grieves, armor, and sword back on. I was ready when Gabrielle shouldered her gear. As before, I waited, then followed Gabrielle at a short distance. Gabrielle seemed content to leave it at that and I didnıt want to crowd her. I was still worried she would send me away.
Last night had been an exception, brought about by the brutal murder of a family, and my discovery of a small child named Mikiko, lost in the afterlife, and looking for her family. At first I had not realized the girl was in the afterlife with me, and had tried to find her family among the living. When I found them they were dead and I had taken Mikiko to find Gabrielle. Gabrielle buried the family then I helped the girl find her family here in the afterlife. That and many other things had made the day a very bad one, and Gabrielle had relented and allowed me to stay with her. But now we were back to the tensions of yesterday. Gabrielle barely talked to me, and I was terrified she would send me away.
When we reached a small seaport town Gabrielle found an inn near the docks, after rejecting several, and purchased a meal. The people were very reserved and reluctant to serve her because she was a woman, a foreign devil, carrying a weapon sacred only to men. They were reluctant, until one of them happened to realize the dragon on her back meant she was the Dragon Warrior of Higuchi. The Dragon Warrior was the topic of the wildest new rumors, and when they realized who she was they changed dramatically. She was treated to the best drink they had, and people crowded around her wanting to know if all they had heard about Lord Yodoshi, Xena, the Warrior Princess, and her was true. Gabrielle was forced to give them at least a brief telling of the fate of the Stealer of Souls and the death of the Warrior Princess. I sat on the other side of the room from her and watched her as she reluctantly told the people of the battle of Higuchi and the fight on Mt. Fuji. The people were ravenous for news and hardly paid any attention to the anguish the telling caused her until one old gentleman realized that the telling was painful to her and shoed everyone else away.
"Please forgive our discourtesy, gentle warrior. We mean you no disrespect," he said, bowing slightly.
Gabrielle stood and returned the bow. "Thank you, sir. I took no insult. I would be honored if you would join me."
He bowed again. "It is I who would consider it a distinct honor if you would be so kind as to favor an old man with your company."
"Thank you, sir. It would be my pleasure," she acknowledged, returning his bow.
He led her into a small room and closed the door. "I hope this is satisfactory, gentle warrior."
"Please call me Gabrielle, sir."
"A beautiful name for a beautiful warrior. I would be most honored if you would address me as Tanaga."
He seated her in a chair and she had a chance to look around. The room was much different than the outer inn had been. The floor had a large hand woven rug with a very intricate pattern. The table and sideboard were highly lacquered and the walls were hung with many different kinds of weapons.
"I would be honored, Tanaga san," she responded, as she took the seat he offered her.
"Please forgive the necessities of an old man, Gabrielle. I have adopted the ways of the west because an old wound does not allow me to easily sit at a proper table."
He sat directly across from her and lifted a tiny bell. The delicate tinkling sound brought immediate results in the form of two young girls, one carrying a platter of food and the other carrying drink. They set them on the sideboard and while one served them, the other poured silver goblets of a dark red wine. They served Gabrielle first.
"This is fine, Tanaga. I confess to preferring the western way, though my knees have finally accepted your customs."
The meal was wonderful, especially since Gabrielle hadnıt had a decent meal since leaving Higuchi. I watched her sadly, able to smell the wonderful scents of her meal and the wine, knowing I would never be able to taste those things again.
Gabrielle gave me a dirty look when I leaned over her wine so I backed away.
"Please, Gabrielle, ask your friend to be seated," Tanaga said in a matter of fact manner, as he set his wineglass down. "Iım sorry she cannot join us for our meal, but she can at least sit with us"
Gabrielle choked on a bit of food but recovered. I was as surprised as she was, if not more so.
"How do you know of my friend?" Gabrielle asked nonplussed.
He smiled and leaned back in his chair, smoothing his long gray mustaches. "It is written that old fools often become as children, Gabrielle, and children see many things adults have blinded themselves to."
Gabrielle had recovered herself and she smiled in return. "I very much doubt that you have returned to your childhood again, Tanaga san."
He bowed slightly. "You are correct, Gabrielle. I have occasionally longed for the agility of youth, or the keen eyesight, but on a whole I am content to be who I am. In the all too fast moving days of my life I have studied many things and learned things that are all but lost to us. Many of the old ways were very powerful, too powerful for the greedy men of today, and are best forgotten."
"You can see my friend?" Gabrielle asked.
"Only as a wraith. She is standing at your right shoulder watching me. She is very beautiful, Gabrielle. It pains me that a valiant warrior such as she, is no longer able to help even the balance; though she did rid us of a great evil. Evil seems to grow daily and we need our own warriors to hold it at bay. She will be sorely missed."
"She is already sorely missed," Gabrielle answered and I heard the deep sorrow and pain of her loss in her voice.
"Of course. I apologize to you both. I know her loss must be a deep sorrow for you."
"Did you know of my friend before you asked me to take a meal with you?" Gabrielle asked, her voice tense.
"I confess that I did, Gabrielle. I was near the door when you entered."
By now Gabrielle had given up any pretense of eating and I could tell that she was extremely upset by his talk of my loss. To me she looked ready to explode though she still had a strained smile on her face. I lightly placed my hand on her shoulder. She shrank away from my touch and I quickly removed the offending hand, feeling the pain of her rejection in my heart.
"I see I have upset you, Gabrielle. I am sorry. Perhaps I was mistaken to talk of your friend."
"Iım sorry, Tanaga, but I must leave," she said, pushing her chair back suddenly. "I canıt" she ran from the room and I followed leaving poor Tanaga to his own devices.
Gabrielle made her way across the crowded inn avoiding the hands that would stop her and ran out the door. I followed her, feeling the lump in my throat again. She fled down the street and as soon as she was out of town turned into a small copse of trees. I followed her into the trees expecting her to stop, but she fled blindly through the trees and I could hear her sobs as she gasped for breath.
"Gabrielle! Stop, please!" I shouted at her fleeing back, but she ran on. When she came to a stream she splashed through it, falling as she climbed the other bank. She scrambled to her feet, losing her saddlebags and bedroll but kept running. She ran until she fell in a small clearing, unable to run anymore, still sobbing her heart out. I wanted to go to her and try to comfort her but I was afraid it would only make it worse for her, so I sat nearby, hugging my knees, my own tears for her flowing freely.
Gabrielle lay sobbing for a long time but slowly her breathing slowed and finally she seemed to be asleep. I moved over next to her and gently smoothed her hair in place.
"Get away from me, Xena," she said in an angry voice and I pulled my hand back as if I had been burned.
"No. Donıt," she said turning to me, anger very evident in her eyes. "I need you to just back off and give me space."
"Xena, damned you, leave me alone!" she shouted, coming to her feet in front of me and balling her fists. I stood, backing away from her."
"Damn you!" she screamed and slapped me. "Damn you!" she slapped me again. "Damn you, damn you!" she kept repeating and slapping me as I backed away from her, stunned. Then she was beating futilely against my armor and finally leaned against me, wrapping her arms around my waist, crying and still saying damn youı in a weak voice between sobs. We stayed that way for several minutes then she lifted her head as she placed her hands on my breastplate and shoved, turning away from me. Her voice, when she spoke, was choked with emotion but determined. I could do nothing but watch silently, tears running down my face, unable to talk and knowing she wouldnıt listen anyway.
"I want you to go away, Xena. I canıt deal with you right now. I donıt want to see you for a while. If I need you Iıll call for you," she stopped for a moment, wiping at her eyes, her back stiffening in determination. "I have to go back to the stream. When I turn around, I donıt want to see you."
She stopped talking and just stood there, her back tense and her fists still balled up at her sides. I was already stumbling backwards away from her. When she finished I turned and fled, my emotions overwhelming me, unable to think of anything except that she had sent me away. When I stopped it was beside a small stream where it dropped from a little waterfall into a secluded pond under large old trees. The whole area was in deep shadow and suited my mood. I spent a long time sobbing beside the little pond oblivious to my serene, beautiful surroundings. Emotionally exhausted I lay my head down on the rock I had been leaning against.
I woke suddenly, with a little shout, shaking. For a moment I was confused because the instant before I had been standing on a pier watching Gabrielle sail away, because she had forbidden me to go with her. It had been so real I was unsure which was reality. When the confusion cleared I had just enough time to take in my surroundings when the sun disappeared and I was plunged into impenetrable darkness again. The night again was interminable and I had nothing to occupy my mind except that Gabrielle had sent me away. Nothing else mattered. Iım not sure how far into the black hell of a night it was when he appeared. I only know it startled me out of my immersion in sorrow.
"Now this has got to be the biggest waste I have seen since you let that little nothing warlord remove your pretty head from your lovely shoulders. Honestly Xena, you are a real mess. I didnıt even know you could cry, and in the past few days youıve cried a whole lake all by yourself. If there were a competition you would surely win. Quite a comedown from being the greatest warrior of this age, wouldnıt you say?"
"Go away, Ares!" I said, my anger at him rising almost to rage.
"Now, Xena. Donıt take on so. I came to offer you one last deal."
"Iım not interested," I said angrily. "Just go away."
"Not even if I could give you back your pitiful little life so you could be with that disgusting little blonde again?" he asked, then grinned. "I could do that for you, Xena. Then you could kiss and make up, or whatever, though I still donıt see what you see in her. How about it, Xena?"
"And I become your Warrior Princess, right? No deal," I said with a conviction I didnıt feel. He had struck a nerve, and by his smile he knew it. Getting back to Gabrielle was all I wanted."
He grinned. "No no. No, I think youıve made yourself pretty clear on that one. Besides, you are getting a little long in the tooth. What would I want with an old worn out warrior like you? In a few years youıll be to old to lift a sword, most likely."
"Then what do you want? Not the child thing again?"
He shrugged. "Yeah. The child thing again."
"Come on, Xena. What could be bad? We have a little romp in the hay and nine months later you drop a kid in my arms, then Iım out of your hair for good, and you get to return to blondie immediately."
"Damn you," I muttered because the offer was incredibly tempting. Hating myself, I looked into his eyes and asked. "What about the forty thousand souls?"
He smiled that devilish smile, knowing his bait was too tempting for me in the present situation. "No problem, though I donıt see why you care in the first place." He snapped his fingers and Akemi stood in front of him. He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into my eyes with the eyes of the predator that he was, and already I was beginning to hate myself for even considering his offer. "Tell her, sweets."
"Xena, you were redeemed when you released the souls from Yodoshi. There is no reason for you to stay here."
Ares snapped his fingers and she disappeared. "Satisfied?"
"How do I know you werenıt manipulating her, or that you didnıt create her image?"
"Xena," he said disdainfully. "Have I ever lied to you?"
"Every chance you got."
"No, I mean about serious stuff."
"Ares, as far as Iıve been able to determine you always lie and especially about the serious stuff."
"Now, Xena. Give me a break here. When I give my word I keep it and Iım giving my word here. You give me a child and you get to go back and cry on the little blondes shoulders, until you do your mortal thing and die again, no strings attached."
"Youıre a real bastard, Ares."
He grinned wolfishly. "Hey. It goes with the job. Now how about it? One little baby and youıre home free."
"No deal, Ares, get lost. No child deserves to have you as a father."
"Ow! That wasnıt nice, Xena," he answered feigning injury. "Well, I still have one more option. I wonder what that dumb little blonde you chum around with would do to get you back. Sheıd probably become a regular little brood mare for that, donıt you think?"
"You leave Gabrielle alone, Ares!" I shouted, feeling a chill at the thought.
"Now, now, Xena. Donıt get all lathered up. Wonıt do any good," he said, his evil grin spreading across his face. "Iıll just bet little blondie will produce a find heir."
"Ares!" I shouted futilely, for he was already gone. I struggled frantically but couldnıt do much in this place. I needed to get to Gabrielle, but knew that I would already be too late. Ares could go straight there no matter what time it was. Then my warrior reason slapped down the panic in me. Gabrielle wasnıt an innocent child; she was a mature, strong willed woman. She would never go for something like that. The warrior in me scoffed at the very idea that she would give him what he wanted but another part of my mind refused to believe it, knowing how persuasive Ares could be if he put his mind to it. No! Gabrielle wouldnıt do that to a child for any reason. I had to believe that. I had to believe in her.
I began to calm down and realized that for all the time since the sun faded on my last chance at returning to life I had been overwhelmed with emotion. More emotion than I had ever allowed to interfere with my thinking before, but I wasnıt sure why. I was sure that I needed to get myself back in control. The darkness made it unnecessary, but I closed my eyes, and worked to drive all thoughts out of my mind, seeking inner peace and tranquility. Seldom had I allowed my emotions to gain the upper hand as they had for the past few days, but it had to end. I wasnıt thinking clearly and I wasnıt responding properly. The only thing I had done even close to right was helping Mikiko, and even there I had not kept focused, especially when I got Gabrielle involved.
I needed to think, but clearly and calmly. I needed to be able to assess what I was thinking without emotional baggage. It was so unlike me, so completely uncharacteristic. I could only conclude that my fear of losing Gabrielle, and worse, that I had been the cause of a great injury to her, had sent me over the edge. It had to stop. I had to face the fact that it was entirely possible I had destroyed Gabrielleıs love for me, but that I would have a much better chance of regaining her trust and getting her forgiveness if I controlled my emotions.
It took me longer than it should have to clear my mind, and regain control of my emotions. Finally, for the first time, I was able to assess what I had done, whether it was right or wrong and how it had affected Gabrielle and I.
I still didnıt know what the affect would have been on the forty thousand souls. Aresı Akemi assured me that I hadnıt needed to stay, which meant I had wasted my life for nothing, but I was sure that I dared not trust Ares or any information coming from him. He would say and do anything to advance his own goals and could only be trusted if he had given his word, which I now realized he had not done, concerning Akemiıs statement. At least for now I had to discount it, which meant I was stuck here, no matter what, until I knew for sure.
I carefully, unemotionally went over that facet and what Gabrielleıs reaction would be and confirmed my greatest fear. The conclusion was inescapable. Regardless of my good intentions, by leaving Gabrielle out of my plans, by excluding her from participating I had cut her to the very core. Now when I sat and thought about the whole thing, the result was as obvious as the inky darkness surrounding me. I did as she had asked, and mentally went through the whole thing with our rolls reversed. How would I feel if Gabrielle planned her own death and went through with it without my knowing, purposely hiding it from me, to protect me? The feelings that tried to overwhelm me were so intense I gasped. Overwhelming, crushing despair, intense hurt, and a deep growing anger threatened to consume me. Tears flooded from my eyes, running down my face. "Oh, Gabrielle!" I cried out involuntarily. "Iım so sorry!"
I buried my face in my hands and cried deeply for what I had done to her with only the very best of intentions. In my despair I sought out the warrior in me and slowly struggled to regained control. I now knew for sure what I had done to her and that only the hope of resurrecting me had kept her going. Only the thought that she could undo what I had done had kept her working to accomplish that very thing. Her love for me had driven her to succeed, to do whatever she had to do to get me back, and in the end I had refused. I now knew that she had been so stunned by my refusal that she had stopped fighting in shock. She was right. In a profound way that I now understood, she too had died when the sun set on our last seconds together, her last seconds of desperate hope. I had not only done her a grievous injury, but my last refusal had been like stabbing her in the heart. I had killed her. I had killed her love, her trust, and damaged her very soul. Now that I understood I was amazed that she could talk to me at all, and I wondered how I would act. Could I be that strong? Could I stand to hear her voice, or look her in the eye? No wonder she had avoided looking at me! I had destroyed everything for her! The realization was so powerful, so emotionally intense that I became nauseous, then dizzy, and passed out.
I awoke lying face down beside the shady pond. I sat back up, dazed, and confused, unable to focus my mind on anything. I studied my surroundings like I had never seen them before and saw only a lackluster world without Gabrielle. The beauty around me paled into insignificance without her in my life.
It took me a while to get back to where I had last seen her, and as I expected, she was gone. I found her camp, near the stream. I set out to return to town, for I was sure that was where she would have gone. Knowing how she would feel after running out on Tanaga, I was sure that she would return to apologize to him. I hurried into town; very carefully making sure she wasnıt in sight first. She had said she didnıt want to see me for a while and I planned to make sure she didnıt, but I also planned to be as close to her as I could get, in case she called me. I was in time to see her enter the tavern and hurried across the square ignoring the two barking dogs at my heels. Rather than entering through the door I went through the wall close to the bar. It made me feel queasy to go through things and I had avoided it but this was a special case. I watched Gabrielle, across the room, keeping well out of her vision. She didnıt turn so I donıt think she could sense me. She waited by the door to the private room while Tanaga was summoned. When he entered, I saw him scan the room, a wise habit that was probably as automatic as it was with me. He looked right at me but made no sign of recognition. After a few brief words with Gabrielle they entered his private room. I immediately started across the room then thought better of it. I didnıt want Gabrielle to know I was near and I knew Tanaga could see me nearby. I wasnıt sure he wouldnıt say anything, or that she couldnıt sense me when I was closer, so I returned to my corner and waited anxiously.
It was near noon so I assume they took a meal because she was in there for a long time. While I waited, six men came in and boisterously ordered food and drink. They sat at a table close to me and were loud and rough with the servers. One of them was a huge man with a scar across his right eye. The eye itself was milky white. Anger rose in my throat and frustration. If I were able I would plunge my sword into his foul body. He was the leader of the men that had killed Mikiko and her family. Her father had described him to me. I waited anxiously, hoping Gabrielle would come out and when she didnıt I almost went in to get her, but my fear of her reaction won out, and when the men left I followed them instead.
They made their way through the local market, shoving people and taking some fruit, the vendor too terrified to say anything. When they left town they went north and into the hills to a very dirty camp that looked like it had been in use for quite some time. Besides the six I followed, there were nine others there. I stayed and listened to their talk for some time and heard things that sickened me, but there was now no doubt that they were the ones that had killed Mikikoıs family and many others by the talk.
I hurried back to town but Gabrielle was already gone, Tanaga sitting near the bar with several men. His eyes swung to me as I entered. He stared at me a moment then nodded his head towards his private room. I went into the room and waited impatiently while he excused himself.
Tanaga came into the room and closed the door, coming to stand directly before me.
"This is going to be awkward, since I canıt hear you, but you can nod yes or no."
"Your friend told me of her distress, when she apologized for leaving so suddenly yesterday. I must admit, that looking at it from her point you have hurt her badly, but I was once a warrior and I think I can see your side as well. I would have tried to protect my loved ones in your situation."
I nodded, my face somber, a single tear escaping my control.
He grunted and nodded. "Life is so much easier when you have only yourself to account for. You are looking for her?"
I nodded hopefully.
"She has asked me not to divulge where she has gone, Xena, Iım sorry."
Frantically I tried to convey to him that it was important I talk to her.
"I cannot break my word, warrior. She said she would seek you out when she could."
Again I tried to convey to him my urgency.
"You have a problem?"
I nodded then pantomimed a stabbing.
He studied me, trying to understand but confused. "Someone is going to harm her?"
I shook my head and groaned in frustration, but of course he couldnıt hear me.
"Someone was harmed?" he asked.
"Ah, would this have to do with the little girl you found?"
I nodded vigorously and pantomimed stabbing someone small.
"You stab ah, you found the killer!" he said beaming.
I nodded vigorously.
"Perhaps I can help. I can get the town magistrate to send his militia after him."
I shook my head then showed him one finger, and shook no again then showed him fifteen and nodded. He didnıt get it the first time but smiled on the second try.
"Fifteen of them! Hum, are they nearby?"
I nodded and tried to pantomime a camp. He finally got it.
"Well, we really donıt have much reason to hold them but there have been a lot of unexplained things happening. Iıll get the magistrate to bring them in for questioning. Could you show me where your friend buried the family?"
Reluctantly I nodded but then pantomimed Gabrielle again."
"Trust me, warrior. Your friend is fine. She needed some time alone and I provided it for her."
I had to be satisfied with that. If he had given his word nothing would change it, I could see that. I was so frustrated with him that I wanted to scream, but I had to respect him. It was no more than I would do if I had given my word. At least maybe we could get Mikikoıs killer. I could find Gabrielle myself, later.
I followed him to a large building in the center of town and he had a rather long conversation with the magistrate. Reluctantly the man finally gave in and called together thirty of his militia. After another delay while they got ready we finally headed out of town, Tanaga riding beside the magistrate. They moved rather slowly, since the militia was afoot, so I had no problem keeping ahead of them so Tanaga could watch me for direction. I discovered that in the bright light of day he had trouble seeing me and took to moving into shadow when I could to help him. When we were getting close I indicated that they should spread out and Tanaga passed the information to the magistrate.
As they moved through the forest I went ahead to see if the men were still there. I got there just as a guard spread the alarm and I raced back to tell Tanaga. When he got the message he shouted at the magistrate, and started hurriedly forward and the militia had little choice but to follow him.
Instead of preparing for battle the thieves had tried to flee and the militia had little problem capturing most of them, but to my dismay four of them got away and one of them was the man that had killed Mikikoıs father.
Tanaga waited until the battle was over. Three of the bandits had died resisting. The others were tied together and marched back to town. Tanaga sat on an old fallen tree professing fatigue and the need for a short rest so the magistrate would leave him behind. He watched them out of sight then turned to me.
"Thank you for the tip, warrior. The men have convicted themselves by fleeing, then fighting. Our magistrate may be a slow and methodical plodder but now that he has them under those circumstances, he will find out what they have been up to. He is very persuasive."
I shivered, imagining some of his methods of persuasion.
Tanaga got to his feet. "I must get back. Please do not fear for your soulmate. She is safe but you will not be able to find her. Will you come to me tomorrow and take us to the gravesite of the young child and her family?"
I nodded wishing fervently that I could talk to him.
"Good. You will find our magistrate much more cooperative now. I must go. I will expect you tomorrow, Xena." He studied me for a moment then turned away, mounted his horse and trotted towards town, and I let him go. I knew he would not tell me where Gabrielle was.
When he was gone I closed my eyes feeling for a direction to take to find Gabrielle, as I had done the day before. My eyes flew open in brief panic. I could sense nothing of her! I tried again but there was still nothing. Somehow Tanaga had hidden her from me, at her request. Gabrielle was hiding from me! I staggered at the very though of it, and would have fallen if I hadnıt grabbed a tree for support. I hadnıt believed him when he said I would not be able to find her, but it was true!
"Oh, Gabrielle, what have I done to you," I cried softly. I made my way to the fallen tree and sat down. I didnıt know what to do. How could I work to regain her trust when I couldnıt even find her? What if she stayed hidden for good? What was I to do?
I was so immersed in my emotions again that I failed to hear the man approach until he wrapped his arm around my throat.
"Well, what do we have here?" he growled tightening his grip. "I think I need to get to know you much better! Why donıt we just get you out of this armor and leather for a better look."
He moved around to a better position to get hold of my armor clasps and for just an instant his grip loosened. It was all I needed. I rolled off the log and he went sailing over my head, landing hard, but he was quick and was on his feet at the same time I was.
"Who are you?" I asked taking a defensive stance.
"Your new master, bitch," he growled and charged me.
At his first touch, the warrior in me had locked my emotions safely away. The warrior was fully in charge again and I acted, not to defend from his attack but to make an attack of my own. When he lunged for me I was no longer there, instead I was off to the side and my left foot flew towards his lowered head, my boot slamming into the side of his face, spinning him around. He spun around and lunged to get me in a bear hug and I snapped his head back with a left then hit him in the throat. He dropped like a stone and I was on his back with his arms pulled up cruelly behind him."
"Now," I started. "I think we got off on the wrong foot. Who are you and why did you attack me. By the way you have me confused with someone else, my name is not bitch, itıs Xena. When people call me bitch I take offense and they can get hurt, got it?"
"Yeah," he gasped, "I got it."
"Who are you?" I asked again, sweetly.
"Garanus," he answered, obviously in pain from my hold.
"Well, Garanus, why did you attack me?"
He was silent a moment and I tightened my hold, still surprised that either of us could feel pain. Like me, he was obviously dead or he wouldnıt have known I was there, nor could he have touched me.
"Okay, okay, ease up," he said, his voice tight with pain.
I loosened my hold slightly.
"I figured you for an easy catch."
"Why catch me at all?"
He turned his head slightly and gave me an odd look.
"You donıt look that stupid," he remarked and I tightened my hold again. "Okay! Pleasure, what else?"
"Oh," I said lamely. I guess I was that stupid. It hadnıt occurred to me that sex was still an issue, now that I was dead. It also hadnıt occurred to me that I would still have to put up with his kind of slime in the afterlife, or the pain heıd inflicted on my neck. I recovered some of my composure. "Your mistake. I donıt take to force very well, and I donıt do sex with your kind of scum for any reason. Now Iım going to let you up. If youıre a good boy I wonıt hurt you anymore."
"All right! Ease Up! I know when Iım whipped."
I moved suddenly, standing and backing away from him, ready for the move I was sure he would make.
He rolled rapidly to his feet then went into a crouch, pulling a sword and smiling.
I nodded towards the sword. "Does that work here?"
He grinned. "Ask me again when your headıs laying on the ground."
I grinned back and pulled my sword. "Thatıs all I wanted to know. In how many pieces do you want to spend eternity?"
He started towards me, circling to my right and I stepped to the left. I felt the same sensual anticipation I had always felt just before a battle. It was like a thrill of anticipation, a hunger to feel the clash of swords.
"You and what army, honey?" he said grinning. "I eat little girls like you for breakfast."
"Come get me then," I said, settling down into a slow glide, my face and eyes turning feral. I saw a sudden change in him when he saw the change in me. Suddenly he wasnıt so sure. He hesitated and before he could blink I had stepped in, wrapped my blade around his and sent it flying. The tip of my sword pricked his throat and I saw what looked to be blood! "You didnıt answer. How many pieces?"
He paled visibly and I gave him my most feral smile causing him to pale even further.
"Sit on that log," I said. "If you move before I tell you to Iıll find out just how well this sword really works, got me?"
He backed to the log and sat, nodding. "Yes."
"Good boy," I said, sheathing my sword and picking another small log to sit down on, well out of his immediate reach. "I need some answers, and youıre going to provide them, understand?"
"What do you want to know?" he asked grudgingly.
"Where are you from?"
"Greece," he said.
"How long ago did you leave?"
He shrugged. "Iım not sure. A long time ago, maybe thirty years."
That put him before my time. "Why did you come to Japa?"
A glint came into his eyes and I knew the answer before he spoke.
"Treasure. Stories were told of streets lined with gold, for the taking," his eyes turned hard and bitter. "We found nothing but warriors and death."
"You didnıt look in the right places," I answered. "How long ago did you die?"
He shrugged again. "Twenty-five, twenty-seven years ago, itıs hard to remember. A long time ago."
"Why are you still here?"
"I donıt know. Sometimes I get glimpses of other places but I canıt seem to leave here."
"Did something happen to hold you here?"
"Yeah maybe. I was betrayed by someone I thought was a friend. I keep looking for him but I canıt find him."
"Where do you go at night?"
"Go? Nowhere. Into the darkness, where else? Do you go somewhere else?" His look was hungry, haunted. "Tell me thereıs somewhere else besides that damnable darkness."
"Sorry. If I did it would be a lie, at least so far. Do you know what the darkness is?" I asked.
"Nah. Iıve heard a lot of chatter about it but no oneıs sure. Most think itıs a kind of Tartarus, itıs torture enough."
I could agree with that. Darkness I could handle, but this was much worse. I returned my attention to him as he continued.
"Some think only souls at peace can leave here. Others think we still have rolls to play among the living."
"What do you think?"
"I think Iım probably stuck here forever, or at least until I get my hands on that bastard that betrayed me."
I stood and pulled my sword.
"Get up," I said.
He stood warily. "Aw come on. Youıre not going to hack me up are you? It only lasts till dark. Then Iıll be good as new."
I grinned and he gulped. "Really?" I said. "What a wonderful idea."
"Come on, lady. Have a heart," he pleaded, his face going pale.
"Why? You werenıt going to be very nice to me."
"Yeah, well that didnıt work out, so whatıs the point?"
"If it only lasts until dark, what are you worried about?"
"Well thereıs the little matter that it hurts like hell and no matter how much youıre hacked up you are awake and in pain until dark."
"Youıre afraid of a little pain?"
"Lady, this is way more than a little pain."
"I take it youıve had the pleasure before."
"Well yeah, once or twice."
"All right. Get out of here, but if you come back Iıll chop you into stew meat, got it?"
"Got it. Can I have my sword back?"
"Nah. Youıll get it back tonight, now get out of here before I change my mind!"
"All right! Iım going!"
I watched him disappear down the road towards town, the warrior in me now fully back in control and berating me for being so careless in an unknown situation. That was true. What did I really know about where I now found myself? I sat back down on the log pondering my situation as the sun dropped below the horizon.
I had been in the afterlife before but it had always been different, never the same. The situation I now found myself in was different than anything I had encountered before. I decided that it had to do with the culture and the religious beliefs of the area. The Greek Gods obviously held no sway here and I was unsure about Eliıs god. True, Ares and Eli had visited me here, but they seemed more outsiders that I did myself.
Well, what did I know? I knew that I had sacrificed my life to destroy a demon and save forty thousand souls, and I had refused to be rescued by Gabrielle, again because of the forty thousand souls. So in effect I had died twice for the same reason. Now there was no longer any hope of Gabrielle returning me to life. At least not using the method she had been given. I still did not know if I must stay dead to avenge the forty thousand souls so even if she found another way I could not leave here.
I dozed through the infinite night and was still mulling over my situation as the sun rose. I had more questions now than when I started this study of my new life. If I answered one question it seemed to spawn another handful. My mind was a confusion of unanswered questions and more than a little fear about what Gabrielle would do. I didnıt even know where I was in the scheme of things. I knew I was dead but had somehow stayed with Gabrielle even on the other side but I had no idea where I was in the afterlife except that I had to believe this wasnıt truly the afterlife. I had to believe I was here for a reason. So where was here? I was still in the same area, still able to walk among the living, but most would be totally unaware of me. A few seemed to feel my presence and evidently some, like Tanaga could see me as a wraith, shade, or ghost, and the innocent, like little Mikiko saw me as just another person. Children and animals spotted me right away. Unfortunately most animals seemed to fear me, but happily, children did not. In my own experience ghosts had appeared at night, not in broad daylight, yet I was held locked in some ultimate darkness allowed only slight movements and few contacts with anyone or anything.
Gabrielle could see me, touch me and even hold me if she wished and I could do the same to her. I could touch others, even the unknowing, if I wished but could also pass right through them if I chose. And now some callous brute had proven to me that I wasnıt above pain or injury, though he said it only lasted until the darkness came again.
To me, his brutal touch had felt just the same as if we had both been alive. He felt as solid as any living person and I had not been able to pass through him to get out of his hold and he said that our weapons worked on each other.
It dawned on me that some of the people I had passed on the road and in town were probably in the same situation I was. At a quick glance I could not tell the difference between them and the living, like little Mikiko. When I first encountered her I had assumed she was alive and searching for her living family. I did not realize she was dead until after I found her family and was not positive until Gabrielle could not see her. The warrior in me pointed out that since I could be in danger from someone like my recent attacker I needed to be able to determine who could harm me and who could not. I needed to go to town and study everyone and see if I could tell a difference.
Still deep in thought I headed back to town. My motives were twofold. First to learn more about my circumstance, and second, that was where Tanaga was; he was now my only link to Gabrielle. As I walked into town I studied everyone I passed. Again, the dogs especially could sense me, and a few were not happy about it, causing their masters a lot of confusion concerning their strange behavior. If they were let loose they ran to me and circled me, though none of them actually tried to attack me and only a very few barked at me.
Children from about six or seven down were aware of me, smiling shyly and sometimes waving. Their friendly gestures ripped at my heart. I would never get to hold a child again and though I had not planned to have any more children, the knowledge that it was no longer my decision to make was upsetting. In fact it was beginning to look like my existence was pretty much out of my hands, at least the decision about what I did at night and a lot of what I did in the day.
A thought occurred to me and I stumbled. What if I was stuck here in this location, not far from where I had died? What if I couldnıt leave here and Gabrielle decided to leave? A deep sense of dread overcame me, pushing the warrior away. What if she had already left? I struggled with that for some time, finally getting back in control, but the thought refused to go away. I forced myself to concentrate on my surroundings and push the terrifying thought into a dark corner. I entered the Market Square, which was thronged with people going about their everyday tasks. I found an out of the way corner and leaned against the wall, watching people move through the market. At first I could not tell if there were any wraiths among the living, but then I saw one when he walked through a hanging carpet. I watched him and compared him to everyone around him and soon I saw little differences. The difference was that in some vague way he seemed more real to me than the living did! I reflected on that and it made sense. I was no longer part of the living, as though a thin, but impenetrable curtain separated us. He, on the other hand, was on this side of the curtain and just seemed more alive, though I also noticed little things like the feet of the living kicked up little puffs of dust and his feet did not. Watching closely I also noticed that he often went through things or even parts of people and I also saw that several shivered or turned, like someone had touched them with an icy hand. In a short time I found it easy to spot him, even after purposely losing sight of him. I looked for others. To my amazement there were a lot of them of all ages, both men and women! Some of them seemed to follow a single person around. Others seemed alone; simply browsing through things they could no longer have, but could still touch. Still others seemed to be wandering aimlessly, looking for something or someone. Many seemed unhappy but there were some that seemed carefree. Some were easy to spot because they were dressed differently; unusual for a market crowd, though there were a few of the living also dressed oddly.
I jumped when something tugged at my leather skirt, looking down at a small boy.
"Could you help me get my sister?" he asked in a bashful childish voice, his eyes round in fear and bright with unshed tears.
I stooped down and took his hands, smiling at him and speaking softly. "Iım not sure. What does she look like?" I asked.
"Sheıs big like you," he answered.
"Where did you see her last? Can you show me?"
"Uh huh," he nodded, still holding my left hand. He started off, tugging me after.
We walked out of the market down a side street and I began to wonder if he really knew where he was going but continued to allow him to lead me. We passed several shops and then turned into a smaller alley so narrow that the living had to turn sideways to pass each other. I had already decided that my little guide was a wraith like me, when one of the living confirmed it by turning and passing the corner of a basket through him. My heart was already heavy for him and became even heavier when I had it confirmed. He took me to an area of several damaged and abandoned buildings and stopped, looking up at me.
"Is this where you last saw her?" I asked and he nodded, pointing into the nearest building. "In there?"
He nodded again in confirmation.
"Shall we go look?" I asked and he shook his head looking very frightened, backing away from the building. "Okay, Iıll go. Can you stay here?" He nodded again backing against the opposite wall. "Will you be okay while Iım gone?" He nodded again.
I turned and entered the building. The room I entered was empty except for some useless trash. It looked like it hadnıt been lived in for some time. I crossed to the other door, my senses alert. I heard some rustling of small rodents but that was all. The other door led to a narrow corridor. I checked the rooms but they were all empty, except the last one. The girl lay in the center of the room, hands and feet tied. She had been raped and brutalized but a quick check proved that she was still alive, though in bad shape. Then I found the boy, in the corner where he had been tossed and the tears ran down my face. He had been struck a brutal blow. The only good thing was that he had probably died instantly, without suffering. My legs were wobbly as I left the building but I knew I would have to go get Tanaga again.
Outside, the boy was waiting, pressed hard against the opposite building.
"Did you find my sister?" he asked hopefully.
I knelt down in front of him. "Yes, I did. Your sister has been hurt. I need to go get help for her. Will you come with me?"
"Yes," he said solemnly
"Can I carry you? We could go faster then."
"Okay," he answered and I scooped him into my arms and ran down the lane as fast as I could.
Tanaga was not in the tavern but he was in his private dining room. Unfortunately he was with several men of stern demeanor. He spotted me immediately but ignored me, continuing his conversation even though I tried to indicate it was urgent. Finally after several minutes he excused himself and went through the back door into the kitchen, then out another door into a little high walled garden, finally turning to me.
"You come at a most unfortunate time, Xena, " he said, "but I can see that you have a matter of some urgency that I fear has to do with the child you carry."
I nodded urgently then managed to get across to him that the problem was an injured girl, the boyıs sister.
He sighed. "You will have to give me several minutes to make my excuses, warrior. The men I am with will not be happy, but in truth we have finished our dealings. Perhaps they will forgive my rudeness this once," he remarked then turned back to the door. "Please wait for me in the tavern or out front."
I returned to the front of the tavern and waited impatiently, pacing back and forth, oblivious to the living. It was more like ten minutes, but finally he stepped out of the tavern and strode off towards the magistrateıs offices again. I caught up to him and when no one was close he carried on a one sided clipped conversation with me. By asking pointed questions of me he was able to learn that the girl was seriously injured, having been badly beaten and raped. He also confirmed that the little boy I carried was her brother.
The magistrate was less reluctant to leave this time and took only four of his warriors with him, along with a litter. I led them to the girl, but returned to the young boy after leading them to the right room. Two of the warriors emerged with the girl on the litter. Tanaga and the magistrate lead them to their hospital while I followed with the boy. Tanaga managed to tell me that the other two had stayed behind to take the boyıs body away.
At the hospital I stayed with the boy, away from where they worked on his sister. He remained huddled against me, his little head pressed into the crook of my neck; while I assured him that these strange people would do everything they could for his sister. Tanaga had stayed, though the magistrate had had to leave. He talked to me quietly but never mentioned Gabrielle, the thing I wanted most to hear about. Finally one of the healers came out and told Tanaga that the girl had a good chance to survive though they wouldnıt know for sure for several days. There were some awkward questions about responsibility and payments and Tanaga assured him he would take responsibility. Smiling and bowing the healer went away to see to her accommodations. Tanaga turned to me.
"You are becoming a drain on my time, warrior," he said, but he was smiling. "I have to get back to my holdings before I am robbed blind. I trust you will let me know if you need me again?" I nodded and he smiled. "Try not to collect anymore strays for a while, okay?" I shrugged and he chuckled quietly, shaking his head. I watched him out the door. He was a gentle caring man and I am glad Gabrielle led us to him, even though Iım sure he is helping Gabrielle hide from me.
I waited a while then entered the room the girl was in. She was alone. When I got near the bed the boy pulled away from me and I let him down. He crawled up and lay down in the crook of her arm and her arm closed protectively over him, though she was unconscious. I went to the corner of the room, and slid down into a sitting position, hugging my knees tightly. He was so very young to die, but even in death had sought to help his sister. Darkness caught me still huddled in the corner lost in the sadness of his wasted young life and the injury to his sister that would probably haunt her for the rest of her life. Life seemed so unfair, so full of wrongs.
The night seemed to last forever again, but now I had the young boy and his sister to worry me as well as Gabrielle. With the first rays of sunlight I was up and moved to the edge of the bed. The girl was awake and to my surprise she was aware of the boy and of me! I was horrified for a moment, thinking she had died, but she hadnıt. Somehow through the strong bond of her little brother she was aware of us. Large tears ran down her face, for her brother, but she managed to overcome her grief long enough to talk to me. I told her everything that happened and through her anguish I could still see loving admiration and trust in him along with the wonder that he was able to help her from the other side. She thanked me for helping her, and seeing to her brother. I simply nodded, embarrassed at the thanks, something I have never been good at accepting, and bid her good luck. I started to leave and the boy stopped me.
"Can you wait for me?"
"Well, ah, sure, but I thought you would want to be alone with your sister," I answered.
He nodded. "I do. I have to say goodbye."
Realization hit his sister and I at about the same time, and I felt a large tear slide down my face. "Of course Iıll wait for you. Iıll be right outside when you are ready."
He turned large sad eyes to his sister and I left the room, her sobs tearing at my heart.
When the little boy appeared, he silently pushed his little hand into mine and I stooped down, brushing away a tear from his serene face while ignoring the tears coursing down my own. His sad eyes looked into my face and he reached up and brushed a tear from my face as I had done to him.
"Donıt cry," he said, and the weight on my heart became even heavier. "You saved my sister for me."
"We saved your sister. I would not have known where to look without you," I answered, having a tough time keeping my voice steady.
He nodded seriously. "Iım glad sheıs okay. I have to go now. Will you come with?"
"As far as I can," I whispered.
His sad eyes looked into mine again. "Are you waiting for your sister, too?"
I couldnıt answer for a moment and when I did my voice was a husky whisper.
"Yes. In a way, I am."
He smiled. Iım glad you have a sister, too."
"So am I," I managed.
"I have to go now."
"Can I carry you again?" I asked.
He smiled and nodded. I lifted him into my arms and managed to stand on my shaky legs. He molded himself to me, pressing his head against my shoulder.
"Youıll have to tell me where to go," I said. He pointed towards the entrance and I made my way into the street. Our trip was a blur in my memory, clouded with the tears I could not stop. I had no idea where he was leading me and didnıt care as long as I could go with him and ease his way. For a very young child he now seemed very knowledgeable of his destination. We left the town behind and traveled towards the mountains, then into the forest. He pointed out a seldom used trail and we followed it for quite a while finally coming out in a small glade near a happy little stream. In the center of the glade was a small shrine. The setting was beautiful and very peaceful. I immediately felt the pull of the serene setting, the subdued sunlight through the trees dappling the grass with a swaying pattern of light and shade as the gentle breeze whispered through the leaves. There was a strong feeling of peace in this place. I continued into the lovely little glade and stopped in front of the simple shrine. Though very simply made, it looked like it had stood for a very long time and I sensed great but benevolent power emanating from it. I set him down in front of the little shrine and he turned to me.
"This is a favorite place. I told my sister I would be here if she needed me."
I again knelt down in front of the little boy and gave him a last gentle hug. "Iım sure you have help her rest easier. You are very thoughtful." My smile was difficult, with the sorrow in my heart, but sincere.
"I must go now. Thank you for helping me," he said and I crushed him in another embrace.
"Iım very glad I could help you."
"Goodbye," I managed, reluctant to let go of his hand as he backed away from me. At last our fingers separated and he was gone."
"Wait! I donıt even know your name!" I shouted.
"Kenji," A soft childıs voice whispered in my mind. "Goodbye, Xena."
"Goodbye, Kenji, my little friend," I sobbed.
I donıt recall how long I knelt there staring sightlessly at the little shrine, but the sun was low in the western sky when I shook myself back to awareness. The little glade seemed a sadder place now that Kenji was gone. I felt a chill run through my body and shivered, knowing it was not the weather that brought the chill. I stood stiffly and wandered aimlessly around the little glade and to the little stream, imprinting this place into my very soul. I would never forget the shy child that had gathered his courage to ask a tall stranger for help in saving his sister. The sun slid behind the mountains and I hardly noticed, as darkness fell, but I suddenly became aware that I was still in the glade, though in the darkness, a normal darkness, with a full moon and sparkling stars. How incredibly comforting such a simple thing as a little glade by the light of the moon could be, after the frightening darkness that had become my lot, at night. Why this place was different I could only guess, but I was sure the little shrine had something to do with it and I knew that for me it was special because Kenji was here. I reveled in the gorgeous evening, marveling at the stars and the brilliant moon as though I had never seen them before, feeling they were a celebration of the short caring life of a little boy. He had made a difference and to me he would always be a shining star. I lay back, watching the narrow patch of sky, I could see through the break in the trees, wondering which star was Kenji. For the first time since my death I passed a completely peaceful night rivaled only by the night that Gabrielle had taken me in.
Morning found me more refreshed and at peace than I could remember in a long time. For the moment the turmoil of my apprehensions and fears were only whispers in the back of my mind. I searched the little glade and managed to find a few flowers, which I gathered into a small bouquet, laying them carefully at the base of the shrine.
I looked to the little wooden pagoda at the top of the shrine and smiled. "I donıt know who or what you are, but I sense that this is a very good place. Please take special care of my little friend, Kenji."
I felt a warm comforting glow within my heart and knew that my prayer had been answered. Kenji was in good hands.
I took my time returning to town, enjoying the bright clear day and my surroundings to the fullest. In my life I had seen many beautiful and wondrous things, but had seldom taken the time to enjoy them, always more concerned about survival and the troubles in my life. Gabrielle had often tried to coax me to take the time to enjoy life and on occasion had managed to pull me into her world of beauty and innocence, but only for short periods. Life for me had been a never-ending series of battles and preparations for battles, even after I had turned from the monster I had become. I had seldom allowed myself the pleasures of life because I felt I didnıt deserve them. Life for me had become a nearly religious dedication to helping others. Knowing I could never do enough to atone for what I had done before, but determined to dedicate myself to good anyway, even knowing it would do me no good at my final reckoning, and in the end it hadnıt. Forty thousand people had died in screaming agony in the fire I had set in Higuchi. Their hatred of me had trapped them here to wander lost forever. Only my death could avenge them and set them free, or so I had thought; now I wasnıt sure. Was it possible that my death and release of them from the Eater of Souls had avenged them, and released me by releasing them of their hatred of me?
As these thoughts returned to me the world lost its fascination and seemed duller, cooler. If I had redeemed myself by releasing them while in the spirit world then I had indeed prevented Gabrielle from returning me to life for nothing. I had to find out for sure. I didnıt know how yet but there had to be a way.
As my thoughts returned to Gabrielle and the terrible thing I may have done, I increased my pace. I had always heard that wraiths and ghosts, or spirits could move at will, from place to place, or were confined to one place, but I still had to move from one place to the other in the regular way, putting one foot in front of the other. So far I had felt no restriction of my movements.
With my heart in my throat I returned to Tanagaıs inn. I had already tried to locate Gabrielle but still could not sense her. The fear that she had left me for good was crushing my heart in a tight band.
This early in the day the common room was relatively quiet, with only a few overnight guests taking a late morning meal, most having been up and gone long before this.
Two tables were occupied. I scanned them for Tanaga but otherwise ignored them. He wasnıt there.
His younger daughter came out and brought food to one of the tables as I walked across the room. Tanaga was not in his private room either, but there was a parchment lying on the table. Hesitantly I approached it, afraid it was from Gabrielle, but it wasnıt. It took me a moment to puzzle it out because I was not very fluent in the writings of Japa, though I could get by. They have so many different runes that look almost alike but can be very different in meaning that I usually have to read the passage several times before the meaning becomes clear, but finally I thought I had what he meant.
Xena, my sad warrior friend, I have gone to see to the young boy and his sister. Tanaga.ı
I immediately left for their medical facility. I had intended to stop there first, but the closer I had gotten to town, the more urgent it had become to find out about Gabrielle.
Tanaga was there, talking to the girl in soft fatherly tones, explaining that he had taken care of her brother and assuring her that there was a place for her, with his family if she wanted. I stopped beside him and he glanced up briefly, but she didnıt. She could no longer see me. Either her brother or her injuries had been the reason she could see me before, perhaps a little of both. My heart sank. Though I had always been a loner, until Gabrielle forced her way into my life, I now found that I craved contact with others and I felt the loss of her ability to talk to me and see me as a deep surge of loneliness and loss.
Tanaga talked softly with the girl for some time, for she was very frightened and alone. Her parents had died the year before and it had been just her and her little brother since then. Tanaga talked to her, reassuring her that she would not have to return to the street. When he was finally ready to leave he promised her that his daughters would come to see her later in the day.
He was quiet while we walked, and I realized he wasnıt returning to the inn. I tried to get his attention but he ignored me, other than to ask me to follow him. He walked to a small house near the eastern edge of the city, the house of a prosperous man, and I thought maybe it was his home when he could get away from his business, but he chose not to explain. We entered the little house and suddenly my heart began to beat faster. Gabrielle. She had been here! I experienced a momentıs excitement, then sudden dread. She had been here, but she wasnıt here now.
Tanaga looked through the house obviously perplexed. When we returned to the main room I spotted the scroll on the fireplace mantle and brought it to his attention, since I could not pick it up. He took it down with slightly shaking fingers and carefully opened it. I saw the sadness grow on his face and knew she was gone.
He looked up at me across the room and I could feel his compassion for me.
"This is for you, Xena."
Using some of the small ornaments on a little table he laid the scroll out on the larger table and used the ornaments to weigh down the corners. Without a word he turned and left.
I remained frozen in fear, unable to move in the solemn quiet of the lovely room seeing nothing but the scroll, waiting to make my worst nightmare true. I could not force my legs to move for quite some time, and then slowly I moved towards the table knowing that to read the scroll would end everything that meant anything to me.
I looked down at her small neat script, unable to read it through the tears that already ran freely from my eyes. I felt dead inside, merely waiting the formality of the reading to end this tortuous life that had suddenly become more burden than I could stand.
Through my clouded vision I finally was able to make
out the first word and slowly, one word at a time I read Gabrielleıs final
words to me, each word striking me like an arrow through the heart.
I am afraid this will hurt you, but I have to get away.
Life is too much of a burden for me right now. I am in a turmoil that I cannot handle.
To say that I was devastated by your death sounds so inadequate to how I felt, but then the monk gave me hope, and I did everything in my power to bring you back. I succeeded in my goal and then, at the very last moment, you stopped me. You stopped me and I was forced to watch you pass beyond my reach.
Something in me died when you died that final time, passing beyond my help, and I will never be the same again. I cannot begin to describe my feelings through the eternity of that night.
Now, I feel left out, used, and betrayed. We are soulmates, yet you allowed the very woman that used you to cause this whole string of events to use you again, unto your own final death. You allowed it without regard to my feelings, without allowing me to help, or even know what you were doing, until it was far too late for me to do anything about it. Without a word you destroyed half of my soul, and I am not sure I will ever recover.
I know I should be thankful that you are still able to come to me even in the spirit world, but Iım not. It makes it worse, Xena, much, much worse. I want you, Xena, not your essence. Perhaps Iım being extremely selfish. I realize you think you did the good, the right and noble thing, and if I agreed, maybe I would see things differently, but I donıt. Akemi, damned her soul forever, used you, not once, but twice to further her own goals. If there was ever a monster in this picture it was that conniving little bitch, not you. To me she is far worse than even Yodoshi, since in a very real way she created him.
I canıt deal with this, so I must say goodbye.
Right now I donıt know what will happen, whether I will return or not. All I can tell you is that we have been told that we will be together throughout eternity so I will undoubtedly see you in the next life.
The damage is done.
Donıt wait for me.
Donıt follow me, please; I couldnıt stand it if you did.
I do wish the best for you in the afterlife, but right now I just canıt share it with you.
As the room slowly darkened towards evening I was still staring blindly at the words that brought my existence to an end. What happened to me no longer mattered.
"GAAABBBRRRIIIIEEELLLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEE!" I screamed,
as my world darkened, and I crumpled to the floor.
Continued in Lost
Soul 3 - Journey