Maria sighed. She looked at her sleeping mother's form.
"Thanks, Momma. Thanks for caring."
At that moment, the door opened. Maria turned around. Tears filled her eyes.
She got up from her chair and walked over to him. They embraced. Pridas pulled back, his face overwhelmed with sadness and pity. He wiped the tears from Maria's eyes.
"I'm sorry sweetheart." he said gently. "Goen delayed me. He was trying to get the rest of the money for the furniture we sold him. He came through, finally."
"At least, you're here."
"Let's go over to the window." said Pridas.
He took her by the arm, and led her to it. They looked out at the late-afternoon sun, slowly descending towards the horizon.
"How's she doing?"
Maria shook her head.
Pridas looked back, hearing Meg's sickly lungs struggle to take in air and expel it. He frowned. Pridas pulled Maria closer to him. He kissed her on the side of the head. At that moment, Virgil and Thanis entered the room. Virgil walked over to the bed, examining Meg for a moment. He and Thanis then walked over to the other couple. Pridas placed a hand on Virgil's shoulder.
"I wish there was something I could do for you."
"You are, Pridas. You're here, and you're comforting my sister."
"I-I'm gonna have a seat." said Thanis.
The others nodded. Thanis took up a seat by Meg's bed. Virgil walked over to the window, gazing out of it. Pridas turned to him.
"How're you holding up?"
Virgil shrugged, shaking his head.
"I…I dunno…I-I'm just along for the ride. It doesn't feel real, and it feels too damn real at the same time."
He gazed down at a purple flower, just below the window. It moved delicately in the light breeze.
"You know…I-I can't tell you how fortunate we were to have such good, loving parents. My folks weren't the most educated people, a-and we weren't the richest people around. But there was always plenty of love to go around. Always. No one was overlooked. So many memories…so many….memories…"
A tear rolled down Virgil's face. His bit his lower lip. Maria walked over to Virgil's side. She put her arm around her brother and laid her head against his.
"I-I'm thinking back to the last time Mom and Dad saw each other…"
Maria shook her head.
Virgil sighed heavily.
He stared at the heavens erratically. He paused a moment, and spoke.
"I-I think I need a few moments by myself."
"No. No Maria. I-I'm just going outside for a moment. I want to be alone for a few minutes."
He turned around and walked out the other entrance. Thanis immediately rose to follow Virgil, but Maria raised a hand. She walked over to him.
"He says he wants to be alone for a moment."
"Nonsense. He shouldn't be alone."
"Just give him a little time, Thanis."
Thanis smirked in disapproval. He sat down again. Maria looked out the door to the backyard. She frowned deeply. Her insides were tearing apart, bit by bit. And she knew Virgil was feeling the same way. Sadly, there was little she could do. For herself or her brother.
Virgil sat down in a small chair. He gazed at the tiny garden of flowers that lay before him. He saw all the various brilliant colors that shone forth from their petals. But he was unmoved by them.
Al he could think about was his mother. And his father.
Joxer's death had been over a year and a half ago. It was hard to believe that it had been over a year. The whole family was hit terribly hard by his death. But none more than Meg. The agony she went through as a result of Joxer's death was unlike anything he had ever seen.
Maybe Mom was right…thought Virgil silently. Maybe Xena and Gabrielle didn't love Joxer the way Meg loved him.
In some ways, they were like any other husband and wife. They had their disagreements. And they argued. Some of those fights were vicious. Never any hitting, though, but plenty of yelling. They were both pretty strong-willed.
But they always made up. Virgil would remember times his father would bring Meg flowers as an apology. And the couple making love afterwards wasn't uncommon.
Virgil also had never seen two people who were more faithful and dedicated to each other than Meg and Joxer. When one was sick, the other always took up the slack. They all but worshipped each other. And they wouldn't tolerate anyone speaking ill of the other.
When Joxer died, a part of Meg died as well. She was never the same again.
Virgil thought back.
He thought back again to the last time Meg saw Joxer alive.
"Joxer, are you out of your mind?!"
Joxer struggled into his old armor, fastening the circular piece of worn armor over his chest.
"Meg, I gotta go help them."
Meg strode over to Joxer, grabbing him by the collar. Her sapphire eyes bored into his brown ones.
"Joxer, yer an old man!! What the HELL is the matter with you?!"
Joxer grabbed Meg's wrist. He returned the heated glare.
"Meg, they are my friends!! I've GOT to help them!!"
"And what about ME and the kids?!" shouted Meg angrily. "You've got a RESPONSIBILITY to US!! To this place!! You can't just wander off on adventures!!"
Joxer yanked Meg's wrist off his collar.
"Meg, I have to help them stop Eve!!
Meg's lips twisted into a heated snarl.
"You… jackass!! What, you think you're still thirty summers old, huh?! Think ya can just run around like Virgil here?! Get this through yer fat, thick skull!! You're an OLD, SICK MAN!!!"
Joxer growled heatedly. He pulled away from Meg, marching with purpose towards the door. Meg's eyes widened in fury.
"Joxer!! Don't you DARE walk out on me!!"
Joxer spun towards Meg, enraged.
"Stop treating me like a goddamned kid!!"
"Stop ACTING like a goddamned kid!!"
Joxer snarled in disgust. He marched out the door. Meg gaped at the door in outraged shock.
She turned her eyes on Virgil. Meg bared her teeth in rage.
"Well?! Help me STOP him, you idiot!!"
Virgil rushed outside. He saw Joxer approach Xena and Gabrielle, who were on horseback. Two other horses stood nearby. Virgil ran up to his father's side.
"Dad, I-I don't think you should do this-"
"You stay out of my way, boy." Joxer growled with finality. "Either you're coming to help, or you're staying here. Eve has to be stopped. She's a tyrant that's gonna kill us all if we don't stop her rampages."
"Dad, mom's right!! I-I mean, you're sick!! You're not as young as you used to be!!"
Joxer ignored him. He strode up to Xena and Gabrielle. They gazed at him, puzzled. Xena raised an eyebrow.
"Is there something wrong, Joxer?" she asked.
Joxer immediately shook his head.
"No." he said with conviction. "Let's go."
Joxer growled in disgust. Xena and Gabrielle immediately looked up. Meg rushed up to them. She stared at Xena with desperation.
"Xena, I don't want Joxer or Virgil going with you!!"
"Meg, stay out of this!!" shouted Joxer. "This is MY choice!! We HAVE to stop Eve!!"
"This ISN'T about stopping Eve!!" Meg shouted back. "It's about trying to regain some stupid glory!! You're an old, sick man!! Those Romans could've cut you down in the square when you, Virgil, and Gabrielle were captured!! You're not fit to go on such a journey!! And you have a responsibility to this place and ME!!"
Joxer stared at Meg, growling heatedly. Xena gazed at Meg. Her ice-blue eyes narrowed.
"Meg's right." Xena said.
Joxer spun towards Xena, his eyes wide with shock.
Xena turned towards Joxer. Her face was set with determination.
"You're staying here, Joxer. That's the end of it. Gabrielle and I are going alone."
"Xena, I can help!!"
"You're staying HERE!!" Xena shouted angrily. The deadly tone in her voice left no room for argument. She pinned Joxer with an icy gaze. He drew back in fear. Xena's feral eyes darted towards Virgil.
"That goes for you too, Virgil."
She turned to Gabrielle.
"C'mon. Let's go."
Gabrielle nodded. She turned to Joxer and frowned.
"Sorry Joxer. It's for the best."
The two women then rode off into the forest. Joxer stared after them in open-mouthed shock. He slowly turned towards Meg.
"W-Why?!? Why did you do that?!"
Meg shook her head vigorously.
"I-I'm not gonna let ya go after that bitch. I'm doing this for your own good, Joxer!!"
Joxer slowly advanced towards Meg. He eyed her heatedly.
"Meg….Meg, I am a grown man. I can take care of myself."
Meg clenched her fists. She approached Joxer, her blue eyes wild with fury.
"Joxer, you…are…an OLD man. You can't fight. You're sick! When in Tartarus are ya gonna face REALITY?!"
"Meg, I could've HELPED THEM!!!"
"HOW?! How in HADES could you POSSIBLY have helped them?!"
"A SPY!! Surveillance!! I could gone SCOUTING for them!!"
"Joxer, you don't have any coordination, and your eyesight is bad. What kind of scouting could you POSSIBLY do?!"
Joxer stopped in his tracks. He stared at Meg is disbelief.
"You…You think I'm worthless..!!"
Meg shook her head rapidly, pointing a bony finger at Joxer.
"Joxer, that's not what I meant, and you know it."
Joxer shook his head, slowly continuing to stare at Meg.
"You don't trust me."
Meg dropped her head, shaking it. She looked up at Joxer again.
"Joxer…I…am… AFRAID for you!!"
Joxer closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He licked his lips, and continued.
"Meg…it's not like I'm doing this alone. Virgil is going to come-"
"I DON'T want Virgil or you INVOLVED in this!!"
Joxer gazed at the heavens, growling. He squinted his eyes shut again.
"Give me patience…" he uttered silently.
He looked at Meg again. His brown eyes narrowed in determination.
"Meg, we are involved in this, like it or not. Eve is terrorizing people. I didn't get involved before because there was no one who could help us. There is now. Xena. Eve is Xena's daughter. If Xena can somehow put a stop to what's happening, many lives can be saved. Including ours. How long do you think it will be before Eve comes to terrorize us?!"
Meg closed her eyes. She licked her lips and spoke again.
"Joxer, Xena and Gabrielle are in top physical shape. They've been frozen for twenty-five years. They still have youth on their side. They can fight. Joxer, you are not a young man anymore. And bringing Virgil along won't do any good. He'll be too busy making sure you don't get sick, fall, get injured-whatever!! Your heart is in the right place, but your body ISN'T."
Joxer slowly approached Meg.
"Meg….all I'm asking…is for you….to trust me."
Meg growled in increasing rage and frustration.
"Meg, nothing- I repeat- nothing- is going to happen to me. I swear it."
Meg gritted her teeth. Tears began to stream down her wrinkled cheeks.
"Don't…you…make promises you can't keep!" she uttered in a low, wounded voice.
"Meg, you've got to trust-"
Meg's piercing scream ripped through the air like a white-hot knife. Joxer froze in his place, eyes squinted shut. Virgil stared at his parents in horror. Joxer took a deep, shaky breath and opened his eyes. Meg stood there, fists clenched tight. There was a wild look of rage and terror in her face, her eyes….
Meg's ice-blue eyes consumed Joxer. He stared at her, open-mouthed. He tried to speak, but no words came out. Her heated gaze pinned him to the spot. Joxer swallowed hard.
Meg made her stand.
She would not be challenged. The glare from her eyes said it all. This issue ended here, without another word.
Joxer looked down at his shoes. Trembling slightly, he absently traced some patterns in the dirt with his toe. With great hesitation, he looked up. Meg's rage was slowly replaced by exhaustion and deep sadness. But the fear was still there, in great abundance.
"Joxer…" she said quietly, her voice shaking. "J-J-Joxer….I-I love you."
Joxer forced a slight, tired smile.
"I know." he said in a hushed, tight voice. "I-I love you too. More than anything."
He turned to his son. Joxer looked around erratically for a moment, and spoke.
"Let's put the horses back in the barn, Virgil."
Virgil swallowed hard. He nodded.
The two men walked over to their horses. Joxer reached his first. The moment he did, Joxer flung himself onto it. With a loud cry, he cracked the reins, and the horse took off like a shot. Virgil's eyes widened in horror.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" screamed Meg with all her might.
Virgil instantly got onto the black horse. He saw his father disappear into the forest.
"Stop him Virgil!!" screamed Meg with hysteria. "Stop him!! BRING HIM BAAAACK!!!"
"Yaaaaah!!" cried Virgil.
He snapped the reins and the horse whinnied, taking off in a cloud of dust. Virgil rode off into the forest. As he did, he heard a loud, piercing wail behind him. Virgil stopped the horse, and looked back. He saw his mother collapse onto the ground, crying hysterically. Virgil looked on deep into the forest. His father's form dove further and further into its heart. Virgil gritted his teeth in anger.
"Damn you dad!!"
He cracked the reins, and tore off after his father.
Virgil turned to his left. Thanis stood there. He placed his hand on Virgil's shoulder.
"Are you okay?"
Virgil sighed. He shook his head.
"No. Not really."
Thanis sat down next to Virgil. He put his arm around him and leaned his head on Virgil's. A tear rolled down Virgil's face.
Thanis pulled back, looking at him.
"I…I was just thinking about the last time Mom saw Dad alive…"
Thanis slowly shook his head.
"Virgil, love….come on now. Don't think about such things."
"H-How can I help it?? M-My mom's dying in there!! S-She's dying…"
Thanis sighed. He gazed at Virgil with deep sadness.
Virgil placed his face in his hands. He began to cry quietly. Thanis held him tight.
"Cry, love…cry as much as you want."
The door silently opened a bit. Pridas peeked outside. He looked down at Virgil and Thanis. His heart broke at seeing Virgil cry. He quietly closed the door again. Pridas turned to face Maria.
"Um…I-I gotta use the outhouse."
"Okay. I'll be here with mom."
Pridas walked across the room, leaving by the other door. Maria sat back, closing her eyes and folding her arms…
And Meg opened her eyes.
She heard what Virgil said earlier. About the last time Meg saw Joxer alive. It rekindled that horrible, horrible memory again. It reopened the deepest, most agonizing wound in Meg's soul.
Not that this wound needed to be reopened by Virgil.
Meg herself was doing it constantly…tearing at the ugly, festering scab, over and over. It reopened again and again. The dark, hideous pain ripped through her body once more, sinking its fangs deep into the innermost bowels of her brain.
Virgil coming into the kitchen, face ashen…eyes filled with tears.
Meg turned to her son. The look on his face told it all. That look ripped open her soul. She knew. She instinctively knew.
A blinding pain Meg had never known cascaded through her body like a volcanic explosion. Her head throbbed. Her body felt light. She felt as if an avalanche had cascaded down on her-except that she lived to feel every single terrible razor-sharp blast of pain. Meg had staggered back, grabbing onto a table.
Incredibly, although swept up in this savage hurricane of bottomless agony, she asked Virgil in a strangled voice how it happened.
He told her about how Joxer was knocked to the ground by Roman soldiers. How Eve had Gabrielle tied up, and was ready to kill her. Xena getting into position to throw her chakram at her daughter. How Joxer got up first, and charged at Eve. And how Eve finally buried her sword in Joxer's gut.
Each word tore open her soul more and more. Each word killed a piece of her. And the last words ripped away half of her soul…
…and all of her sanity.
What happened next was a blur. Meg just found herself running. Screaming. Screaming like she had never screamed in her life. A person or two was knocked aside…she wasn't sure. Steps…steps came next. Up those steps…
More screaming. More horrific, blood-curdling screams.
Into a room… Slamming a door…
It was all a blur. She remembered…she remembered breaking a mirror. A chair. A table. Throwing some chair out the window. Screaming…so much screaming…
The pain was monstrous. Savage. Relentless. Absolutely without mercy. Meg suddenly found herself on the floor.
She didn't know where they came from.
Two arms wrapped themselves around her.
She screamed louder.
She began swinging. Hitting. Scratching.
Her son's face.
It was her son, Virgil. Gods, it was her son…
Scratches on his face.
And Meg cried.
She burrowed her face deep into her son's neck and she cried like never before. She had lost friends before, and the pain that she felt as a result was murderous.
But nothing… NOTHING could compare to Joxer's death.
It had destroyed her.
It had destroyed her purpose for living.
Joxer had been her foundation. Her rock. Her anchor.
She never stopped screaming.
And then came the day that they had the nerve to show their faces…
Xena and Gabrielle.
Meg stared at her reflection in the mirror, gazing at the wrinkled, worn face that stared back at her. Her head was cocked to one side. She looked at that face. Glazed, ice-blue eyes…eyes that were wide open, devoid of any sanity. Those eyes….
Those eyes stared back at her….and through her.
Her grayish-black hair was in a complete state of disarray. Tangled…dirty…smelly. Meg absently twirled a strand of it in her right hand. She looked down at it.
She then fiddled with it in both hands. Something to keep her hands busy… She trembled slightly.
Her insides were completely, utterly savaged. What was left of Meg was a shell. A shell of what she once was.
Her eyes caught something…
Something off to the right….
It was a roach.
Meg released the strand of hair. Her glazed eyes focused on the insect.
It scampered along, stopping momentarily to investigate a crack in the wood, a crumb on the floor…Meg just stared at it.
And stared at it.
She never heard the door open.
"M-Meg??" came the female voice.
Meg kept staring at the roach.
"M-Meg?? C-Can you hear me?"
She slowly turned towards her left. It was Gabrielle.
The shell of herself slowly began to fill up.
With agony. Massive, incredible agony.
Churning up from the depths with it came two other dark forces.
Rage. And overwhelming jealousy.
Her ice-blue eyes narrowed. An incredible darkness filled them.
"Yeeeeuuuuuu…" she let out in a low, snake-like hiss.
Gabrielle stopped instantly. Her eyes filled with overwhelming fear.
Meg stood at her full height. Her lips twisted into a ravenous snarl. Her eyes tore through Gabrielle like daggers.
"What…the hell …do yeeeeu want?!" she spat with venom.
Gabrielle swallowed hard. She heard footsteps behind her. It was Xena and Virgil. Xena walked in front of Gabrielle. Xena gasped at the look on Meg's face. Meg glared at Xena ravenously. Her face grew darker…more feral. She let out a low, animalistic snarl. Xena hesitantly took a step forward. Her lower lip trembled.
"Meg…" she uttered hoarsely with grief and fear.
Meg's eyes narrowed into slits. Xena could see the hurricane roiling within her. Virgil quickly came in, standing beside Xena.
Meg quickly pointed a finger at her son, her blue eyes afire.
"You stay out of this." she hissed in a voice so cold that it shook all three of them to the bone.
Meg's eyes turned towards Xena's. Agony began to mix in with the rage in Meg's eyes. She slowly lifted a bony finger at Xena.
"Your daughter ….your hell-spawn daughter …killed my Joxer."
Meg advanced a step. Gabrielle and Virgil retreated a step. Xena held her ground. Her face was rigid. Her eyes were filled with agony and an overwhelming sense of guilt. Xena trembled slightly. She prepared herself for the onslaught.
"My Joxer." Meg said again, her voice quivering. Tears rushed down her cheeks. She slowly approached Xena, baring her teeth in fury.
"Not your Joxer. My Joxer. My Joxer."
And then she stood directly before Xena. Meg's eyes grew wild with insane rage.
Virgil instantly rushed forth, pulling Meg away from Xena. The Warrior Princess stood trembling, eyes squinted shut. Tears rushed down her cheeks. Gabrielle instantly moved to Xena's side.
Xena slowly opened her eyes. She gazed at Meg, her own face overwhelmed with shame and grief. Xena saw the endless agony and hate that flowed from Meg's features. Xena tried to speak.
"I….I-I…I am so sorry." she whispered, choking back a sob.
Meg squinted her eyes in disbelief.
"You're….sorry…??!!" she uttered in outraged shock. "Sorry…??? Well Xena old pal, sorry ain't gonna cut it."
"Mom, it's not her fault-" began Virgil.
"BACK OFF!!" Meg screamed.
She shoved her son backwards. He toppled into a bed. Meg spun towards Xena. Gabrielle stepped in front of the warrior, raising her hands.
"Meg, you can't blame Xena for this!!"
"And why NOT?!" Meg spat. "She didn't stop her BITCH daughter in time, did she?? DID SHE?!"
Xena gazed at Meg, her face set in stone.
"Let's get out of here Gabrielle." she said in a low, strangled voice.
Xena turned on her heel. Meg rushed around them and blocked the doorway. Her face was set in a hideous sneer.
"Ohhhhhhh, no ya don't." she growled. "Not until you hear what I lost."
Xena stared at Meg, face rigid. But Meg could see the overwhelming agony in her eyes, which was almost at the point of overflowing. Gabrielle shook her head, eyes filling with tears.
"Yer gonna HEAR what I LOST!!!!"
Virgil quickly rushed to his mother side.
"Mom, please don't-"
"If you give a damn about your father, you're gonna let me say my piece. Otherwise, get the HELL out."
Virgil lowered his head in defeat. Meg's lower lip quivered. She looked erratically around her.
"Joxer and I built all this ourselves. Gods…the amount of work it took…We busted our asses putting all this together. Joxer and me…. everything was always Joxer and me. We did everything together. We had twenty years of marriage together, and we had six beautiful children."
Gabrielle lowered her head. She couldn't stop the tears from flowing down her cheeks. Xena stared at Meg, stone faced. But her tears began to run again. Meg approached Xena.
"Joxer was my soul mate. My other half. I thought I had lost him to Gabrielle. But when my opportunity came, I took it. Much of my life, I had no one to love me. People only abused me. And then Joxer came along. He made me feel like something. People thought he was clumsy and all, and an idiot. Yeah, he was clumsy. But so was I. Yeah, he could be a dimwit. But so was I. And ya know what? He accepted me for what I was. And I accepted him."
Meg lowered her head, letting out a slight cry of pain. She trembled. Virgil quickly grabbed Meg's shoulders.
Meg looked up at Xena. Tears streamed down Meg's cheeks.
"I'll miss the way he snores. I'll miss the arguments. I-I'll miss his tall tales. I-I-I-I'll miss the flowers he would bring to me. I-I'll miss the way he made love to me. I'll miss the b-breakfasts he made with the burnt toast. I'll miss the w-w-walks we took. I-I-I'll miss the way h-h-he comforted me, a-and made me feel like I was worth sumpthin-"
Meg squinted her eyes shut, her fists clenched hard. She lowered her head and let out a low, strangled cry. Virgil immediately wrapped his arm around her.
Xena's mask fell away. Her face was wracked with guilt and pain.
"Meg…" she whispered hoarsely.
She raised a hand towards her. Meg instantly lifted her head, pinning Xena with the coldest, most feral stare she had ever seen. It ripped into Xena's soul. She gasped in shock. Meg snarled at the warrior and the bard.
"Get out. I don't ever want to see you two again."
"M-Meg-" stammered Gabrielle.
Xena's hand dropped limply to her side. A torrent of emotions whipped across the warrior's face. Then, the impassive mask set itself into place again.
"Come on Gabrielle." she said in a wounded tone, not taking her eyes off Meg.
Xena turned and left the room. Gabrielle followed quickly behind. Meg looked down at the floor.
"You too Virgil." she said quietly. "Get out. I want to be alone."
She squinted her eyes shut and gritted her teeth.
Virgil released his mother. He bit his lip, eyes brimming with tears. He left the room and closed the door.
Meg shuffled over to her dresser, plopping heavily into the seat. She stared at her reflection again. The pain inside her was unbearable. She couldn't take it any more.
Meg trembled erratically. Agony twisted her features. She began to cry hysterically. She dropped her head onto the drawer and wailed at the top of her lungs. Her soul had been ripped apart. Ripped apart in a way that could never be repaired. She would never be the same again.
And then she began to scream.
She screamed at the top of her lungs.
Meg lost herself….
She lost herself in her screams.
Maria opened her eyes. She heard the soft cries. They were barely audible. But they were filled with such pain.
She instantly got to her feet and walked over to the other side of Meg's bed. Maria saw the tears cascading down her mother's face.
She sat in the bed, lowering herself on top of her mother. Maria held Meg and kissed her tenderly on the side of the head. Meg gazed out at the old vase that stood on the night stand across from her.
"W-Why….??" she whimpered, her voice full of phlegm. "W-W-Why did you leave me, Joxie?? W-Why…??"
She sobbed quietly. Maria felt another presence weigh down on the bed. She looked up. It was Virgil. His eyes were bloodshot. Maria placed his hand on her brother's face. Tears filled her eyes. She looked off to the side. Thanis stood there, gazing at the three with great pain. He let out a low sob and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Mother, brother, and sister huddled close to each other. They needed the other's presence desperately. They held onto each other for dear life.
Virgil thought back again…
He thought back to his father's funeral.
The yellow-orange flames stretched far into the late-afternoon sky.
The smell of burning wood and flesh roiled through the air with sickening force.
Virgil stood there, gazing at his father's funeral pyre. His insides were filled with a painful, endless numbness. His whole body tingled. Sweat trickled down the side of his face. He was trembling. Violent surges of grief every now and then blasted through the length of his body like a scythe.
The smell of his father's flesh…his roasted, burning flesh.
It turned his stomach hideously. But for some odd reason, Virgil would not throw up, could not throw up.
Ah yes…the screams. Those screams again…
They had become all-too common, too frightfully common during these last few days. Savage in their grief, their pain. Savage in their rage and hysteria.
She was on her knees.
Her sapphire eyes were wide open. In them…in them was a hideous, ferocious maelstrom of the darkest emotions Virgil could think of. If the eyes were indeed the window of the soul, Virgil could see that the window into his mother's inner realm lead to an endless expanse of death… desolation…complete and utter destruction.
There was no soul left. It had been savaged. All that was left was utter blackness.
Meg screamed at the top of her lungs. She strained her vocal cords to the bursting point. She grabbed her hair and began ripping chunks of it out of her head. Meg dug into her face, drawing blood. Maria and his other sister, Katia, rushed to her side, kneeling down beside her. They grabbed at their mother's arms and hands, pulling them away from her head. Meg screamed even louder, struggling with all her might against her two daughters. They wailed with grief and terror, desperately trying to keep Meg from doing further harm to herself. His other brother and sister rushed to their aid. Meg screamed, kicking out at them. They all pinned her down, desperately trying to calm her. Their cries of grief mixed with Meg's screams. Virgil looked towards his left. His remaining brother collapsed onto the earth. He curled into a fetal position and cried-
Something violent surged inside Virgil's abdomen-
And he threw up.
Yellowish-brown fluid emptied out of him onto the dirt, spreading out into a pasty, lumpy puddle. Rivulets of vomit burrowed through the dirt, blending with it. Virgil staggered back. He fell onto his hindquarters.
Virgil trembled fearsomely, as if he were a human earthquake….
He looked off to the right…
…and spotted them.
Xena and Gabrielle.
They stood on a cliff, alongside a huge boulder. Xena had her arm wrapped around the bard. Virgil saw the agony on their faces. Gabrielle was doubled over, crying. Xena stared out at the funeral pyre. She slowly squinted her eyes shut and lowered her head, covering her face with her right hand. Virgil could see the Warrior Princess tremble. Virgil rose to his feet. He slowly walked towards them.
As he approached, a third figure appeared at Xena's right…a young woman. Her face filled with grief and overwhelming guilt.
Fury exploded inside Virgil, filling every section of his body.
"Eeeeeeeevvvveeee…." he hissed.
Xena turned by chance in his direction. They locked eyes. Xena's face filled with dread. She quickly shoved Eve behind her and tugged at Gabrielle. A quick exchange of words. Gabrielle looked up and saw Virgil. Horror flashed through her face. The three women were gone in an instant.
Virgil jumped on a horse, and rode off down the road. He went up a trail that led up to the cliff. He saw the hoof marks on the ground. Virgil cracked the reins, kicking the horse's sides. They tore off through the trees. Virgil pushed the horse hard, his sharp eyes searching for the three women.
Finally, he entered a clearing. A vast expanse of grasslands, and valley…
Virgil looked around erratically. There was no one. No one but him…
He rode on, desperately searching for the three women. His ice-blue eyes erratically scanned the landscape around him. There was no one else. Only him…
Virgil brought the horse to a stop. He slowly dismounted it. He stared at the heavens erratically.
And Virgil let out a blood-curdling scream. He dropped to the ground and cried.
It was nighttime.
Meg gazed at the full moon that shone its gentle light on her face. On either side of her, Virgil and Maria were sound asleep. Thanis, Darnia and Pridas had gone to sleep in adjoining rooms.
Meg had difficulty breathing. The phlegm bubbled through her lungs, her throat. She felt exhausted. And yet she couldn't sleep. She just couldn't sleep. The phlegm wouldn't let her sleep…
Meg gazed at the ray of moonlight that shown down before her. As she watched, she saw something. It looked like a small ball of soft light. It appeared inside the ray of moonlight. Meg's right eyebrow arched up in curiosity.
The ball grew larger…and brighter. Meg's eyes widened in shock.
The glow filled the entire side of the room. Meg saw thick white clouds emerge from it, twisting gently before her. And soon, the clouds parted…
…to reveal a figure, dressed in a simple white robe. Meg stared at it. Tears erupted from her eyes.
He stood there, gazing at Meg with a sad smile. He was his youthful self again. Joxer approached Meg's bed. He shook his head, his eyes full of deep sadness.
He regarded her for a moment. Joxer bit his lower lip. Tears trickled down his cheeks.
"Meg…I-I'm….I can't believe what I put you and the kids through over this past year…I…am…I-I-I'm… so …sorry…"
Meg sobbed heavily. She covered her mouth. Tears came down her face in torrents. Meg trembled violently from the emotions that surged through her. But one emotion was greater than the rest. And it was one that Meg had not felt in what seemed like ages.
Meg quickly glanced at her children. They were still sound asleep.
"Don't bother Meg." said Joxer softly. "They won't wake up."
Meg stared at Joxer in total disbelief.
"This isn't for them. It's for you."
"I've come to get you Meg. Your time on Earth is up."
Fear filled Meg's face. Joxer smiled gently.
"Sweetheart…Don't be afraid. Everything's going to be okay. Once you pass over to the other side, all your suffering will end. Forever."
Meg stared at Virgil, and then at Maria. She quickly looked at Joxer.
"B-But what about the kids?! W-Who'll look after them??"
"We will! And the kids will be just fine. I have that on good authority."
Joxer moved closer. He slowly extended his hand towards Meg.
"C'mon sweetheart. Take my hand."
Meg stared at Joxer, and then at his outstretched hand. She grasped it. Joxer pulled back-
And suddenly, Meg stood next to him, wearing a white robe of her own. Her youth had returned. She felt a joy and an peace she had never known fill her. Meg stared at her husband, tears of elation filling her ice-blue eyes.
They embraced, holding each other tight. Meg pulled back a bit. She placed her right hand behind Joxer's head and pulled it down for a deep, passionate kiss. Their tongues swirled around each other. After a few moments, they broke the kiss. Joxer smiled.
"I love you Meg."
Meg returned the smile.
"I love you too, Joxer."
She looked down at the old shell of her former self. Meg gently swiped a hand past its face. The ice-blue eyes closed one last time. Meg looked at Virgil and Maria, smiling sadly.
"I'll miss you, my sweethearts."
Joxer rubbed Meg's shoulder gently.
"They'll always be with us Meg. Whenever they think of us, we'll be in their hearts."
Meg turned towards Joxer, smiling warmly.
"That's wonderful to know."
Joxer outstretched his hand to Meg.
"C'mon honey. Let's go."
Meg took Joxer's hand, and they walked off towards a brilliant white light. The clouds closed up behind them. Little by little, the glowing wall of clouds shrunk back into a small glowing ball, which eventually faded from sight-
And Virgil woke up.
He looked down at his mother.
She lay there, eyes closed, her face bathed in the moonlight. The expression on her face was most peaceful one he had ever seen.
Virgil cupped his mother's chin with his right hand, passing his thumb underneath her nose. He felt no breath. His lower lip quivered.
He quickly looked at his sister.
She woke with a start. Maria gazed into her brother's eyes. His expression said it all. Maria hastily moved to Meg's side. She reached for her throat and felt for a pulse. Tears rapidly filled Maria's eyes.
The sun shone down brilliantly upon the sea. Seagulls flew overhead. Virgil stared down at the turbulent waters, the whitecaps surging onward and up.
In his hands, he carried the urn, filled with Meg's ashes.
Maria placed a hand on his shoulder, gently rubbing it. She gazed erratically at her surroundings, out beyond the cliff into the azure waters.
"Momma always loved to come here. She and Poppa just loved to sit here, looking out over the sea."
Virgil lowered his head. He sighed heavily, licking his lips.
He looked at his sister. A sad smile crossed her lips. A tear ran down Virgil's cheek. She gently wiped it away.
Virgil looked back out over the waters. He took the top of the urn off, tossing it over the cliff.
Virgil then emptied the urn's contents.
The wind caught the ashes, twisting and turning them through the air. They swirled out far over the sea. Virgil then tossed the urn. It plunged down into the water below. Tears trickled down his cheeks again.
"I-I love you Momma." he whispered, choking back a sob. "I'll miss you."
Maria put an arm around her brother. She kissed the side of his head. Tears streamed down her face as well.
"C'mon." she said softly.
Brother and sister, arm in arm, walked down the gentle, sloping hill.
Their parents were together once more….
For all eternity.
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