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 havenšt seen The Last Battleground: A Friend in Need you may want to wait to read this as it contains spoilers!
Lost Soul Part 4 -- Marking Time
I sit on the beach watching the sun slip into the sea, the breakers hissing up the dark sand towards me, moving closer with the rising tide. In the past several moons I had become very familiar with this stretch of the coast of Japa. Just up the beach was the small shipping port of the town of Miyatsu, that Gabrielle probably used to leave Japa, when she fled from the damage I had done to her. At least once a week I spent time here, my heart reaching out to her, praying she would return to me, but so far she had not returned.
The darkness caught me on the beach holding me in my nightly prison of utter nothing. Time had eased the torture of this nearly nightly ritual and I even managed to sleep, if that was what it was still called here in the afterlife. I really didnšt need to sleep it seemed, but sleeping did refresh me as it had done on the other side, giving my tormented emotions time to recover.
With the rising of the sun, I was up and moving from the lovely beach, after one last look to sea. I turned reluctantly away, my heart heavy already with the knowledge that I had driven her to leave.
The irony of my situation was that without my soulmate, I no longer had any reason to live. If I was alive I would probably seek out battles until I met my match, but I was already dead, trapped here in Japa because Gabrielle had forbidden me to follow her. Against the torment of my soul, urging me to follow her anyway, I would honor her last wish. So I continued to exist, in daily torment for the damage my choices had done to my soulmate, without any way to try to help her.
I had a life, or perhaps I should say existence of sorts, to help me through the agony of each day. Gabrielle had met a man named Tanaga here in Miyatsu. Tanaga was an old warrior and much more, including a scholar of the ancient ways. Through his readings he had become something of a mystic and could see me, though only as a wraith. I could listen to him as I could any of the living or any of the people in my situation, but he could not hear me so I had to communicate with him by gesture. Fortunately for me Tanaga was very smart and we had been able to work out pretty good communications in the months that Gabrielle had been gone.
I was sometimes afraid that Tanaga would get tired of me and my straysš as he called them, but he had always been willing to help. So my existence had become an extension of my goal in life. Again I found myself helping to right wrongs, only this time I was helping the lost souls like myself, to right some wrong so they could continue on to whatever was in store for them beyond this place of eternal waiting. I didnšt even know what to call the existence we had here, still in the mortal world. I knew it wasnšt the final destination of souls, for I had helped several find peace and move beyond this place. In doing so I knew that there was something more, but we were shut away from it for one reason or another.
By helping the dead achieve peace I had helped Tanaga and the living by removing quite a few thieves and murderers from among them. The living caused most of the wrongs among the dead, and by solving their problems I helped correct wrongs on both sides of the curtain of death.
My one regret so far is that I had been unable to help capture the man responsible for the death of little Mikiko and her family, though he had barely escaped the magistratešs warriors twice. He had not been seen for over a month and I feared he had moved on and I would never find him.
Mikiko and her family were trapped here until their murderers were put to death for their crimes. It tormented me that I had failed her. The only bright spot for me was that I still got to see her and she was such a pleasure. It was a bright spot that was marred by my knowing my failure was preventing her from moving on to her destiny. She eased my own pain but she also caused me pain and the irony for me was that when I finally helped release her, one of the few bright spots in my existence would be gone.
I did have one other comfort and that was where I spent most nights. I had helped a young soul named Kenji move on, by helping him save his still living, but seriously injured, sister from death. After he said his good-byes to her I had gone with him to a little shrine hidden in the woods where he had joined his ancestors, and where he had promised his sister he would be. The shrine seemed to hold a very strong and benevolent power and the little glade brought peace to my tortured soul. Whatever was there also was powerful enough to hold back the utter blackness of my nighttime existence and I could see the trees, stream, stars, and moon as long as I stayed in the glade within fifty paces of the shrine. In a way the little glade had become my home most of the time. Itšs amazing what a comfort the sight of my surroundings, with the moon and stars, was to me. Such a simple thing, taken for granted throughout my life now was my goal every night, except the nights I had to stay away, like when I went to the beach or was hunting an enemy. My latest delight had been a rather violent storm that had soaked the little glade and brightened the sky with lightening a few nights before.
Today, as I returned from the coast, I decided to visit Tanaga. Things had been relatively quiet for nearly a week and I had not gone to see him, either staying in the little glade or the house where Gabrielle had spent her last days in Japa, hidden away from me by Tanagašs skills and his pledge to her. I could still sense her essence there and smell the scent of her on the bedclothes, which I had persuaded Tanaga not to change, since they were in a spare room of the currently vacant house. It was all I had of her except my wonderful memories of our times together. Memories I tried to avoid most of the time, because to think of her was to plunge myself into depression. Depression is where I seemed to spend most of my time, since everything I did or thought of brought me back to thoughts of her, then to what I had done to her.
I entered the inn owned by Tanaga and his family and was shocked to find it empty. Alarmed, I searched through the entire building, but there was no one there! My link to the living was gone! I returned to his private room and searched for a message, finally finding a hurriedly scrawled note in one of the places he had told me of. Unfortunately one of the little figures that held it open for me had been too close to the edge and the parchment had slipped out from under it, curling part way up. Try as I might I could not read a good portion of the message. What I could read only served to increase my anxiety and concern.
Xena, my sad warrior frie
our family, which demands my
The inn will be in the hands of on
Time is of the essence so I have had t
I hope that your soulmate returns to you an
It has been my pleasure to work with you though
When she returns, tell Gabrielle my heart will foreve
I must go, my friend.
I wish only the very best for you and Gabrielle.
Take care of each other.
I had to read it several times to get that much out of it, but I was more in the dark than when I had first entered the inn.
What had happened? Where had he gone? Was he ever coming back? Dozens of unanswered questions filled me. In a daze I searched the inn and residence again, noting signs of hasty and limited packing but nothing else. There was no clue to help me solve the riddle. I was not even sure how long he had been gone, so once I had confirmed I would find no help in the inn, I ran to check all the roads out of town and to check the little house where Gabrielle had stayed. Nothing. There was a scroll on the main table in the house but it was rolled and sealed and I had to assume it was for someone that would be coming here. I listened at the stables and markets for gossip about Tanaga but what little I heard only deepened the mystery. Whatever had happened had happened long enough ago that all I got was vague comments like, Shame about the inn.š And It should open soonš since the people already knew the rumors and the talk of a recent ship from Egypt was of more import. I found nothing to help me even when I hung around the magistratešs offices, the only friend of Tanaga that I was familiar with. Eventually I searched out a few of the dead, as they wandered the streets, but as I had found out before, most of them were of little help with the living. They were too wrapped up in their own problems and unconcerned with the living, except the ones that had wronged them. I thought of chasing off down each road but since I didnšt know how long he had been gone or his method of travel I had no way of gauging how far he would have gone. I had to assume at the very least he had hired a wagon for his daughtersš comfort but that was only a guess. A good team of horses could easily outdistance anything I could do afoot, and I was definitely afoot, unable to perform the little distance covering tricks associated with ghosts. My only hope was that whoever was going to take care of the inn would say something I could use. I waited anxiously for them to arrive.
Four stress filled days passed, then a heavily loaded wagon pulled up to the house and a middle-aged man and his family; wife, six daughters and two sons took over the house. While the children and his wife explored he read the sealed scroll and I was right there to lean over his shoulder. There was nothing in the scroll to help me! It was simply a welcome to his younger brother, thanking him for coming to take care of the inn and to make the house his own. Tanaga did request that he not disturb the little room where Gabrielle had stayed, but in less than an hour his wife had ignored that request, stripped the bedding and cleaned the room. Just like that, new scents overwhelmed the essence of my soulmate and she was gone. I hung around them for several hours, even though one of their daughters became more upset as time passed. I hoped they would say something to help me but they were only interested in their own affairs and said nothing about Tanaga or his difficulties. He finally went to the inn the following day and they opened, but service was limited until they could get familiar with the place, and still there was no mention of Tanaga or his problem. By there actions and words, I began to suspect that part of what Tanaga had said to me was to express his concerns with this family that was taking over his properties.
To make matters worse, not only had they cleared the house of Gabriellešs essence but one of the younger daughters, a strange child of about twelve summers -- living in her own world -- could evidently sense me and became distraught whenever I was around, either at the house or the inn. Her parents set wards, which didnšt work, but I could not stay where I was causing distress and found myself without, not only the comfort of Tanagašs ability to see me, but the familiar surroundings of his inn and the little house. I was alone, totally alone, for the first time since I had died, with only the little glade for comfort.
Two nights later my nightmares began. I was riding a dark horse at high speed through the darkness in a high walled canyon, a bow in my left hand the reins in my right. I was in great pain from several wounds. I nudged the warhorse to even faster speed looking back to see warriors spread out behind me, several of them firing arrows at me. I tried for even more speed but the horse was at its limit. Pain flared in my hip as an arrow struck me and I screamed. I looked back again and short blond hair blew across my face. I turned back, plucking another arrow from my heavy coat and tossing it away, another slapping my leg out of reach. Suddenly an arrow entered the horsešs neck and another hit just forward of the saddle. The horse went down, front legs collapsing, and I tumbled free, coming to my feet, as the horse flipped onto its back, the arrow in my hip washing me in intense pain. I sprinted for the rocks dodging the arrows of the men, high on the cliff, that had sprung the trap on me and killed my horse. Pain flared through my upper back on the left side and I stumbled, starting to go down. I saw the arrow embed itself in my right leg and screamed with the pain, hitting hard then rolling to my feet again aware that to stop moving was instant death. The rocks loomed ahead of me but as I reached them pain flared in my back again and I fell into a depression, my head striking rock.
I woke in the peaceful little glade screaming Gabriellešs name, for the eyes I had looked from and played out the nightmare I was sure had been hers. The dream had been so vivid that I could feel every bit of it as if it had really been me and I knew that the blond hair, the hands and the screams had been Gabriellešs.
From that night on all or part of that nightmare haunted my nights whether I was in the glade or in the black void. I usually returned to wakefulness with the sight of Gabrielle falling into the depression, arrows raining around her. That first night was like a part of my soul had cried out to me, the part that was Gabrielle. I was frantic, suspecting that she had cried out to me in pain and somehow I had heard her and even been there, but there was nothing else to go by. I had no idea where she was except that it was cold and desolate, the enemy had been converging on her and she was lying wounded and either unconscious or dead. I suspected she was in Chin or Mongol but in the darkness I could not make out much of the warriors, except they appeared to be similar to warriors I had fought in Chin. Having that information was almost worse than having none since a person could travel several lifetimes in Chin and never cover the same ground.
If I were still among the living I would be on my way to Chin by now, even if I had to steal a boat and man it myself. Once there I could ask after a foreign woman and could probably find her given time, but here on the other side I was helpless. Even if I could get to Chin I was unable to ask questions of the living. And unless I could find a mystic the only ones that could see me were animals and the innocent who were much to young to be helpful.
To make matters worse, after that one horrifying vision there was nothing. I could not sense her of course, and hadnšt since Tanaga had hidden her. I had no new dreams to suggest she was alive or dead, just my recurring nightmares of the battle I had seen, so vivid in my mind that it was as if I were there. The only thing that helped me keep my sanity is that I did not know for sure if she was alive or dead and I felt that if she were dead I would know it. I would know if she were on this side with me. I had to believe that or I would be unable to continue.
A day stretched into two, then four, then a week, my misery, doubt and fear growing with each passing day. I found myself haunting the beach, hoping a ship would enter the port and that I would sense her aboard, but though many ships did come, none of them carried my soulmate. Then, to make matters worse, the ships stopped coming and I learned on the docks that Japa and Chin were at war. The only ships that appeared were the very infrequent ships of Greece, Rome and Egypt.
Two weeks passed and nothing changed except a ship from Chin attacked a ship leaving port, and then fled. Still I had nothing to ease my anxiety. During this time I had stopped by Tanagašs inn several times to listen to the local gossip, but primarily to find out if Tanaga had returned. He hadnšt and I couldnšt stay because the strange child that could sense me was always there and I would have to leave to prevent upsetting her. I also tried again to contact anyone I knew in the afterlife as I had once done with my mother and Eli, though they had been unable to help me or stay. Ephiny had even come to me but only for a very short time. Now, no one responded, not even Ares. In desperation I had called to him hoping he would at least assure me she was alive since he had been planning to try to go to her when I had turned him down.
Somewhere in this time I had gone to the little glade to ease my fears in the calming presence that I felt there, but Kenjišs sister was there, as she had been several times before. She had come to stay, at least for a while and was sitting in front of the shrine talking to her little brother. I noted her gear and the fact that she had camped near the water, and feeling like an interloper on a very personal conversation I turned and left. I tried twice more to go there but she was there both times. In resignation I left and had not been back since. Someday she would leave and I could return again, but I didnšt want to intrude so I stayed away, even that little place of serenity taken from me.
I spent more and more time at the beach wandering aimlessly, my thoughts and vision far away in a dark canyon where I had experienced the agony and possible death of my soulmate. The nightmare experience haunted even my days, every second of that agony vivid in my mind.
Another two weeks passed with no word or sign, good or bad while I haunted the beach day and night, by day wandering the beach, by night locked in my own little piece of nothing, unable to move very far or see anything.
The lovely little beach was a frequent host to visitors, mostly young, mostly male, frolicking in the waves but they came less and less often and often looked nervously about and after a short time left. One day as I was walking the beach, oblivious to everything around me, deep in sorrow, I heard a scream and turned. Three young girls had been playing in the water, running in and out with the tide, under the supervision of a stern matron. The three girls stood together looking at me in horror, one of them pointing. Then I realized they were actually looking down at my feet. I looked down to see what they were seeing and was dumbstruck to see footprints in the damp sand leading right to me!
The matron came to the girls and they were all talking at once as they told her what they were seeing. She looked too and I involuntarily backed away. Her face suddenly turned white and she fainted! These people couldnšt see me but they were seeing very faint footprints that I was leaving in the sand! I turned and fled up the beach to renewed screams from the girls. Looking back, one of the girls had also fainted and the other two were looking after my fleeing footprints. I found a path up the low hill and crossed over into the little wood beyond.
Rejection and fear, everywhere I turned. I had to get away. Not knowing about Gabrielle was driving me mad. I realized the last few weeks were a blur with little in them that I remembered. On top of that I seemed to be causing many people anguish and fear and I couldnšt stand that. I had to get away somewhere.
I fled; unaware of where I was going, not caring as long as I was leaving where I was causing people difficulties. The more I ran the more I wanted to run, the specter of three young girls screaming in fear at my presence, while standing over their matron was too much. I had dedicated my life to helping people and even in the afterlife I was hurting them. Darkness caught me still running from the beach and froze me in place giving me time to try to get myself under control. When I calmed down I fell into a deep troubled sleep.
I woke shaking and shivering from the nightmare again, only this time instead of sinking into depression as I had been doing, I got mad; mad at everything and everyone. I had fallen completely apart these past few weeks, unable to even function, because I was in such fear for Gabrielle, because I feared I had lost her, and I feared she was either badly hurt or dead. Then Tanaga disappeared, then I lost the use of the house and inn and finally the little meadow, and yesterday some girls I had frightened had even run me off the beach.
Suddenly I was steaming, trembling with anger. I was mad at Gabrielle, Tanaga, Tanagašs brother and family, Kenjišs sister, the girls on the beach, the uncaring dead, my mother, Ephiny, Eli, Ares, the forty thousand souls, Yodoshi, Ghost Killer, Akemi, everyone, but most of all I was mad at myself.
All right, enough! I had had enough! I was a cruel heartless murdering bitch! I admitted that. I changed and I tried hard to atone, even though I knew I could never atone for the evil I had done, but at least to try to do some good and help people. I had discovered there were good, kind, and caring people in the world who needed help. I never expected to atone, to wipe the slate clean. What I had expected was to try to rid the world of some of the evil, thieving, heartless monsters like I had been, then die in a battle against that kind of scum, the kind I was before Hercules and Gabrielle set my head on straight and unchained my heart. I had done my best right to the end, and then denied myself the one thing that meant anything to me and stayed dead to right another wrong. I died, then prevented Gabrielle from bringing me back though that was the only thing I wanted. Then I find Išm still here. but on the other side of the curtain of life and death. Gabrielle is horribly upset and wonšt speak to me, touch me, or see me, though she is the only one who can do all of those things. My mother, Eli and Ephiny tell me no one can help me and go away. Ares tries to use me again, and Gabrielle goes away, then Tanaga disappears, and I lose everything that has any meaning to me, including the comfort of the shrine. Fine! If that was my punishment then I would accept it, but I was done with all the sniveling emotions, the regrets, the fear, the longings, and the depressions.
I was a murderer. I changed, but that doesnšt wipe out what I was or what I had done. Now I was getting what I deserved. Nothing. No friends, no family, no comforts, no pleasures, noGabrielle. I angrily suppressed the feelings of unbearable loss that threatened to overwhelm me. I was stuck among the mortal, probably forever, yet just out of contact with the people I could see and hear and touch, because I wasnšt deserving of anything more. I was stuck in the impenetrable nothing that was my nights, because thatšs what I deserved. I was a menace, a disease, a pox, and a pariah. Well thatšs what I deserved and I would learn to cope with it.
I left the little glade I had been standing in and started down the road, not sure which road it was or where it went and not caring. It didnšt matter. Wherever I went things would go wrong for me and I would be put in my place, but that was okay, that was the way of things; that was my lot for what I had been. I found my anger cooling with my acceptance of reality, the only pang I couldnšt crush was Gabrielle, but I had to. Gabrielle was better off without me, wherever she was. With all my heart I hoped she was okay and would have a happy life, but I knew even if she had died in that battle I had experienced, Gabrielle would be okay. A spirit as kind and gentle as Gabrielle's would always come out on top, whether she was still mortal or here in the afterlife. I also knew that if she had died I would never see her again, because she would be free to soar on to her destiny while I was forever destined to punishment. She would never be condemned to an existence like mine. Her whole life had been dedicated to helping others.
A deep sorrow and anguish threatened to overwhelm me for what I had done, confusing me, and I tried to shake it off. My fate was sealed, my punishment meted out; I would not add to my own suffering with sorrows. I would accept my fate, my punishment, no matter how bad it got, but though everything else could be taken away from me, even Gabrielle, there was one thing I would always have that no one could take from me. I had six years of memories starting with an annoying little blond kid that had stuck to me like glue though I had been downright rude to her in my attempts to discourage her and make her go away. Thankfully I had never been able to actually force her away, never been able to be cruel or hurtful enough to drive her from me. From those early days I could watch her mature into the strong brave courageous but considerate and caring warrior and woman she was this past year. No matter what happened to me I could handle it because I had those wonderful memories to sustain me.
"You canšt have them, you hear me?" I screamed. "Do what you have to, but you can never take her away from me! Shešs mine! Shešs in here, forever! Do your best, damn you! Gabrielle stays right here forever, and as long as she's here I have all I need!"
Pain flared in my head and I cried out, stumbling to my knees then falling forward onto my hands, my vision darkening. Then it was gone and I slowly stood back up looking around. I turned to the trail and began to move slowly, my head still ringing from the pain. If that was meant as a warning or to dampen my spirit it didnšt work. Well, a little. Itšs hard to think with your head pounding.
Well that wasnšt quite true, what I said about having all I needed. I traveled for days, not paying attention to where I was going, walking through strange towns of all sizes, and seeing all sorts of people, and in that time I found out I had two other things. I still had the ability to attract scum that wanted to use me for their pleasures, even here in this place. To my delight, I also still had the ability to tear into them with a will, with fists, kicks, sword and whatever else I could get hold of.
I may be a murdering bitch, receiving my just punishment, but I was an ass kicking murdering bitch. Maybe I was here to be punished, but no one was going to use me for anything, unless it was my idea. As long as I had any say in the matter, and until the fates, gods, demons, or whatever controlled my punishment, chained me down, any attack on me would meet the appropriate counter. If you throw a fist at me, expect two in return. If you kick me, double it. Get a stick and Išll meet you with one, pull a sword and mine will be there long before you can touch me. I grinned down at the ten bodies of my latest attackers, strewn around me, and then released my war cry into the blue afternoon sky, laughing when a team of horses nearby reared in fright.
The bitch was back.
Well maybe she was back, but she was different and could never revert to what she had been. Gabrielle had changed her forever and as long as Gabrielle was in my heart I could never really become the evil person I had been. Even in the dark hours of my raging anger, such a few short weeks ago when I was mad at everyone and everything and swore the bitch was back, it wasnšt the meš from the past, but the meš I had become that was back. No matter how much anger I held within me I was unable to use it for evil and it was soon dissipated. Once, when we had thought a poison arrow would take her, Gabrielle had made me promise that, after she died, I would never become the monster I had been. I now knew I didnšt need that promise to keep me on my path. All I needed was that gentle loving woman in my heart and just her memory would keep that evil monster at bay.
So I fought the spirits that sought to take advantage of me or any one else. I knew that they would be back the next day no matter what I did to them, but unless they wanted to be carved up daily they would change, or at least move on because while Xena was able to reach them they would have to. If they didn't they would suffer the pain of an agonizing death again and again until they got the message. I may not be that evil woman Caesar had created and Ares had nurtured, but I still had the skills and the abilities I had learned, and I intended to use my skills for good wherever I could. If I couldnšt help mortals then I would help the tortured souls in this heartless place against the ones that would inflict more suffering on them. I would do whatever I could, wherever I could. If the powers that were in charge of my punishment wanted to take that pleasure away from me they would have to remove the scum from here, or send them against me in such overwhelming odds that I was the one cut down and I would return the next day. No, the evil bitch was gone forever, banished by a gentle green-eyed blond, but the spirit of Xena, that brooked no evil and fought like a raging demon for the helpless; that bitch was very much back.
I wandered from city to city doing what I could to help who I could, but mostly enjoying the country and the people. The country was beautiful and the people intriguing, but I found out that my punishment had just begun. I realized with a shock one day that there was something that was an excruciating punishment for me and that was the day I was watching a caravan pass by. A caravan of fun loving happy people laughing and singing together, shouting back and forth in easy camaraderie, children scampering back and forth in happy play. That was the day I had to watch helplessly as bandits attacked that caravan, brutally killing the armed and unarmed men and the children. The ones they didnšt kill they tortured for sport. The women and girls they raped and tortured before they killed them, while I stood in a helpless rage unable to do anything.
I tried. I tried anything and everything and even succeeded in causing a little minor damage in my rage, something I contemplated closely later. Overall I raged against them impotently while they wreaked havoc among the living and I looked on, hanging my head in helpless shame. It was then that I determined to find Tanaga or someone to replace him, but I knew, even if I had a Tanaga in each city I would have been unable to help that caravan and those fun loving but helpless people.
I had thought I could handle anything but I was wrong. To be right there with sword in hand, but unable to do anything to help, as unarmed men and women fought swords with sticks, was a kind of pain I had never felt before, worse by far than I could have imagined. I was at a loss, knowing that this was my punishment, the thing that could destroy me, the thing I would not be able to tolerate. To spend eternity watching helplessly as others were slaughtered, knowing that if I could be there, the deaths would not happen. Knowing that my inability to stop these killings meant that the killers would kill again.
My resolution fell by the wayside and I found myself on my knees, by a family of six I had just watched slaughtered for no good reason. They had nothing the raiders had wanted. Murder and rape had been done here for sport and I found myself again on my knees, crying for these poor souls I had been so close to, but unable to help.
"Oh, Gabrielle," I sobbed. "Please come back to me."
My focus changed. Whenever the opportunity arose I still tried to help wherever I could but I was looking for anyone that could help me wage my war against evil. I tried everywhere. Inns, taverns, fortresses, council halls, temples, shrines, priests, soothsayers, prophets, monks, warriors, scholars, any leaders, men and women of all ages but my results were very disappointing.
I found a few people that saw me, but they ran in terror before I had a chance to try to get a message across to them and I realized I was missing one very important thing that I had had when I met Tanaga. Gabrielle. Gabrielle had talked to him first and eased the way. But that wasnšt all. People say there is no such thing as destiny, but of all the towns and inns we could have gone to that day, Gabrielle had chosen the one place where we could find a scholar-warrior that would comprehend our situation and be open minded enough to accept it. I was sure there were others but there could be thousands of them in this country and I could still spend lifetimes trying to find one or two more, especially without Gabrielle. I realized I may have passed many very like Tanaga, but without Gabrielle I was just another wraith that they could see but not communicate with.
I lost track of time as I made my desperate search for someone, anyone that could reach across the curtain of death, and help me capture these creatures that preyed on the helpless. The few I found fled my soundless pleas, and again I knew I was doing more harm than good, and finally I stopped.
There was no one to help me, no one to end or relieve my torture, no one to help me help the helpless. I needed Gabrielle desperately, but my callous handling of her feelings had driven her away.
In my desperate search I had roamed far to the north of Japa and I had succeeded only in exposing myself to more misery and death, without finding Tanaga or anyone to take his place. When I finally realized that I was causing more harm than good I stopped, staring off along the northern road that seemed to wind on and on forever. As I stood there looking north I heard a group of riders riding hard along the road in back of me. The thundering of their horsesš hooves penetrating my thoughts and awakening me as if from a dream. I turned to face them and even at the distance I knew the leader. He was the man that had led the band that killed Mikiko and her family.
My anger surged and my determination surged with it. I stood my ground, standing defiantly in the middle of the road while the horses thundered closer and closer. I could feel my blood boiling as my rage rose to new heights. When the horses were almost upon me I screamed my battle cry as I jumped straight up into the air in front of the horses. The frightened animals screamed and bucked as I rose above them, and as I arced back down, my enemy locked in my sights, I felt a surge of hatred like I had not felt in a long time. He saw me, horror reflected in his eyes. My sword leaped into my hand and I swung it in a might arc. Then I was past him and screaming at the second rank of horses as I dropped to the ground in front of them. All the horses were screaming in fear and bucking, their front hooves raised high to fight off the demon that threatened them. Riders fell all around me and horses scattered in every direction.
Then I stood in the midst of pandemonium in amazement; my bloody sword in front of me, my hair flying wildly in the winds, as men around me went insane with fear and fled after the horses. Soon I stood alone on the deserted road, the wind howling around me, the sky darkening as if in punctuation to the thing that had happened here, this dark afternoon, on a cold and desolate road. I turned to find the body of Mikikošs killer lying in the middle of the road, his head several paces away.
I was still there, seated on a cold stone fence just off the road, puzzling about what had happened here, when the riders came from the nearby town hours later. They came bravely to check out the incredibly unlikely tale of one of the raiders, when he had asked for protection then babbled an insane story of a phantom warrior that had struck their leader down, from beyond the grave. Their bravery began to disintegrate thirty paces from the body, lying headless in the road, when their horses balked and screamed in fright, refusing to come any closer.
The twenty men dismounted and moved towards the body to get a better look, leaving two to hold the horses, but they were unable to hold them when I leaped into the air and screamed my war cry. The men were forced to release them or be trampled and they fled into the night, leaving the twenty men with a two-league walk back to their town. Half of the men stood pale and shaking then swore that they had heard the battle cry of a warrior. When the confusion settled they returned to the headless body studying it, most of them chattering at once, but a few looking wildly about expecting this phantom warrior at any moment, and they werenšt disappointed. Lightening shattered the darkness and flickered over the land repeatedly, and they all saw it. Standing spread legged, bloody sword raised, hair blowing in the wind, was a demon warrior from the depths of their most terrifying nightmares. The lightening flashed again and she strode towards them, her battle cry freezing their blood and then they fled in every direction wailing in terror while I doubled over in laughter.
I had a weapon. Fear. I had the means. Anger. I even had a sword but I knew I would seldom be able to generate enough anger and rage to use it, but I really didnšt need it most of the time. All I needed was the fear, and the darkness.
It suddenly dawned on me that it was way past sunset and yet I was still seeing my surroundings. Lightening flashed again outlining the large body in front of me. I had done that. My sword had somehow crossed the curtain and taken his worthless life and I fervently hoped I met him on this side again I would carve him into fish food any time I saw him, His punishment was me, for killing an innocent little child and her family. His torment would be me, always looking for him, always causing him pain for what he had done.
I smiled, though I was suddenly happy and sad at the same time, and a tear dropped to my cheek. Mikiko and her family should be free now. He was the last one. I was happy for her because she and her family could now move on. I was sad, because I would never see her again, and sadder still that I hadnšt visited her in several months.
Lightening flashed again and showed me the way south and I knew I was done here. It was time to go back south to continue the search for Tanaga, but no other. He would know me and not fear me. It was also time to search for him because he had been a friend to me and to Gabrielle and I was concerned for him and his family.
All right, I would head back south. Then I smiled. South it was, but there was a little town nearby with at least a few of the raiders there. A little visit might be fun.
Well that town had a few legends to perpetuate. I was getting the hang of this haunting business and I scared ten years growth off of some people associating with the raiders and managed to get the raiders run out of town, on foot. When I left, the town was having an emergency meeting to change a few policies. Many of the people had been skeptical of this phantom warrior but she managed a little appearance right after several of them complained about losing the money the raiders spent there. Not too many people were hurt leaving the building. It was actually kind of funny. After that I figured I had done enough mischief there and I headed south.
I spent a lot of time in thought. A lot had happened that had me wondering. I had been able to show myself to quite a few people when I was in a rage over little Mikikošs killer. Somehow I had been able to do it again when the men came back, though I hadnšt been in such a rage. Then I had done it in town, more than once, and one time I had been on the verge of laughter! The thing that was really strange was that somehow I had reached through the curtain and killed Mikikošs killer! How had that been possible? It had something to do with my rage, my anger that had been so intense I had been shaking. Was that what caused it or was it someone or something else guiding my sword. No, I had to assume it had been me. I doubted anyone or anything was helping me. Several people had told me I was beyond help and I believed them. I had no real answers but now that I had managed to break through the visual barrier it seemed to happen more and more easily, though not unless I wanted to do it. I had no idea what I did to cause it, but it worked.
When I took to the road my spirits were lifted much higher than they had been, Maybe I wasnšt so helpless after all. I just had to learn how to do things in thisplace. Seems like someone somewhere should have named this place something other than, this place. I would have to think on that. Maybe I was the first one to have the possibility of naming it for the mortal. Nah, that seemed unlikely. My step was lighter and I moved along briskly.
I saw a caravan coming and disappeared into the trees so as not to frighten their horses. When they were past I returned to the road and continued my journey. I had a long ways to go. In the days that followed I continued my journey south, stopping to help wherever I could.
The journey south was long, much longer than the one north had been, because whenever I heard of, or came across a problem I would take the time to try to help. Often my interference frightened both sides but the one I attacked more than the other.
These people were not much like the people of Greece or most of the world I had known. Their smaller size was by no means the only difference. Their customs, traditions, relations, mannerisms and religions were all different. Even the food they ate and the utensils they used were different. But they were still people with lives filled with good and bad times, happy and sad times. They lived in a rigidly structured society, on the surface overly polite, but below the surface extremely violent.
Most of them had never seen a foreigner, though the tales of the mighty battle in Higuchi and the foreigners that had defeated Yodoshi on both sides of the curtain of death, had long spread throughout the land. So they had heard of Xena the Warrior Princess and Gabrielle, now known as the Dragon Warrior because of the dragon tattoo on her back that seemed almost alive, and in some ways was alive, though primarily in the spirit world. So when I appeared, nearly a head taller than most of them, bigger in all proportions, dressed in leather and wearing armor, sword held high, hair flying wildly, my face contorted in anger or rage, my battle cry ringing in their ears, few of them could face me, and the fight was over.
Only two, both warriors, making sport of the little people beneath their notice most of the time, stood their ground and found me to be but a wraith that could not harm them, or so they thought after my first attack failed to touch anyone. My second unseated both of them from their frightened mounts. They stood and laughed at me and told me to go frighten peasants. My rage at what they had done to innocent people sustained me and my sword wounded them both but the wounds were minor, my ability to drive my sword through the curtain less intense. Fortunately they took the minor injury to mean I could do worse and chose to leave.
Time, instead of dragging, now seemed to fly by, as I became involved in trying to save innocent lives. My nights were less often spent in total black isolation and when they were it didnšt seem to matter as much. It was part of my punishment and I had accepted it as such. I would spend the time thinking of what I had done and if there might have been a better way. I learned daily my capabilities among the living and they were really quite limited but they were like being released from the most restricting chains to me. No longer need I stand helplessly by and watch as the helpless were slaughtered or an injustice of any kind happened. I still failed and the failures saddened me but usually my presence, whether they thought me god, demon or whatever, made a difference.
Once I had gone over my day, I usually fell into a contented sleep thinking of the golden-haired, caring, green-eyed blond that had so changed my life. Existence without her was painful but my memories of her made it tolerable.
Sadness returned to me the day I was again in the forest where I had fought my last battle among the living. It was not hard to find, the spot where I had waited that agonizing time, fighting against every muscle in my body, to allow that warrior to kill me. In the time it took him I could have killed ten men like him but the battle here was over and I needed to move into the afterlife to complete my mission. I let him kill me, my last living thoughts of my rock, the person that had so changed me that I could make these decisions for the good of others. The person I wanted most to spend my every waking second with. The person that sustained me through this battle and death, to right the wrong on the other side, the one person I wanted least to hurt, and the person I had hurt the most, that I had devastated, crushed. I still had trouble understanding how something so right could be so horribly wrong.
I left this place of death and made my way slowly through the evening mists to the teahouse, surprised that darkness did not cut me off from the mortal world. I crossed the little bridge and slid the door back.
She sat as I had first seen her in this place, my first sight after my death. Her eyes were down cast and her hands rested in her lap, hidden in her sleeves.
I closed the door and moved towards her, at a loss for words, my surprise at seeing her was so profound. I walked across the room in a daze, automatically avoiding the debris of the last battle here, but not seeing it.
She did not look up when I stopped in front of her, so I knelt down and lifted her chin. Tears streaked her face and she pulled away from me looking back down. Her soft voice came to me as if it was far away.
"Please do not touch this unworthy one, Xena," she sobbed.
A deep sense of dread filled me.
"What do you mean? Why are you unworthy?" I asked, my voice filled with the dread I felt. "Why are you here, Akemi? I thought you were free to go with the others."
"So I thought as well, Xena. I thought we were both free to move on, but I was mistaken. I thought we would move on and be together for eternity, but my sin has kept me here."
"What sin, Akemi?" I asked, my voice strained. "What have you done?"
"I lied to you, Xena. I thought to keep you to myself. I thought we would be together forever, but you refused to leave Gabrielle. I know now that even if you had, I would be condemned to this place for my deception."
"You lied to me?" I choked out. "Akemi, what lie?"
"A lie of omission, Xena. When the forty thousand souls were released from Yodoshi and found you had given your life to save them, they forgave you, Xena, but I allowed you to continue to think they still hated you, and that only your death would redeem them."
"Akemi, no!" I cried in disbelief. "Why would you do that?"
"Because I love you, Xena. I wanted you to myself."
I was so stunned I couldnšt answer and choked on the words frozen in my throat. Darkness overcame over me and my mind went blank as I screamed, "Noooo!!!"
When my senses returned the teahouse was all but destroyed and I stood crushing Akemišs throat in my fingers while she hung helpless in my grip, her feet off the floor. I threw her from me, my rage still full on me. She crashed to the floor and stayed there. I strode forward and grabbed her by the hair and lifted her again, to see the rage, the hate, in my face.
"Gabrielle was right about you. I thought we were friends and you betrayed me. You cost me my soulmate, Akemi, and for that I will never forgive you. You speak of love, but you know nothing of love. You do not betray someone you truly love. You do not allow them to die to keep them from someone else. If you truly loved me you would have told me the truth, even if it meant I would spend my days with someone else. You knew Gabrielle was my soulmate, and you plotted to take me away from her. Youšre despicable, Akemi." I dropped her to the floor and walked away.
Away from the teahouse I sank to my knees next to an old tree, my tears finally finding release. Gabrielle had been right about Akemi, and I had refused to believe her. I was no better than Akemi. How could I doubt her, ignore her warnings about Akemi. She was my soulmate, the other half of me, and yet I had believed Akemi. Was I so blind? It took me most of an anguished night but I realized I had been blinded, not by Akemi, but by the thought that I had caused the death of so many. Akemi was part of the solution to correcting what I had done, just as Ghost Killer was another part of the solution. In my single-minded desire to free the souls and correct the wrong I had caused, I had believed the two that could help me achieve that goal, and ignored Gabrielle. I knew I had done so before, knowing or believing that someone else was the solution and Gabrielle too inexperienced to have the answers, but Gabrielle was far from inexperienced any longer. She had always had an uncanny ability to cut through to the problem or solution, at least when it came to me.
Daylight found me still kneeling and leaning against the tree. Akemi had betrayed me but that no longer mattered. It was done and could not be undone. What mattered was Gabrielle, but that was also done and could not be undone. Gabrielle was gone and she should be. I had ruined anything between us in this lifetime, and I had destroyed any chance of seeing her in the next. I realized more fully now, how right I had been when I said I had Gabriellešs memories to sustain me. Thatšs all I had. She was beyond me now and it was no more than I deserved for what I had done to her, but I would never ever forget the wonderful precious days, both good and bad, that we had spent together. With heavy heart I rose to my feet and turned back to the teahouse.
I may have lost Gabrielle, but I would never lose the things she had brought into my life, the things she had taught me. I would spend the rest of eternity living up to what she would expect of me.
When I returned to the teahouse Akemi sat where I had first seen her the night before. I entered the shattered teahouse and knelt in front of her, lifting her chin. She tried to pull away again but I held her firm.
"Akemi," I whispered. "I forgive you."
How could you, Xena, after what I did to you and your soulmate?" she asked, her eyes searching mine to see if I was taunting her.
"Gabrielle is my soulmate, Akemi. She is half of my soul and the person you have most wronged by your actions, but in my heart I know she would forgive you. How can I do any less?"
Huge tears rolled down her face at my words.
"Oh, Xena, Išm so sorry!"
"I know, and I forgive you. Seek your destiny in peace, Akemi."
She smiled sadly. "Thank you for releasing me, Xena, but you are right. My injury was to both of you and I cannot leave here. I know you believe you speak for her, but I cannot believe she would forgive me for what I have done to her. I have your release but I cannot leave without hers and unlike you I cannot see how she could ever forgive me."
"Akemi, Gabrielle has left Japa and I fear she is dead."
"Then this will be my home for eternity, Xena. My wrong has driven you apart and if she is dead it is because of me. Her blood is on my hands, just as yours is. Thank you for forgiving me, but my place is here if for no other reason than to honor your soulmate."
With those final words she dropped her eyes and returned her hands to her lap.
I stood and looked down at her for a moment then left. I had done what I could for Akemi. Now I had to find Tanaga and do what I could for him.