Xena pulled Gabrielle in a little tighter and snuggled a little closer as the sun made its slow descent behind the mountains. She breathed deeply, taking in the scent of the cool evening air mingled with the sweet essence of the woman she had grown to know and love with every ounce of her being. With one last mortal breath that caught in her throat, Xena felt a panic unlike anything she had ever known course through her body. She felt herself fading, melting…disappearing.
“Gabrriieeellee,” her mind screamed as the world twisted, convulsed, and spewed her out into a dense fog...cold, heavy, oppressing. She went tumbling, with no sense of up or down, left or right. This went on for an incalculable amount of time until suddenly, she found herself floating, suspended in a cosmic soup interspersed with twinkling lights. It left her feeling both free and weighed down at the same time...like floating with an elephant sitting on your chest. When the realization of what had just happened finally took hold of her thinking, Xena found she could take control of the situation enough to dissipate most of the over-bearing pressure that was crushing down on her. She tried to take in her surroundings, but besides the lights, there was nothing to gauge anything by. There was no floor, ceiling, walls, ground, or sky...nothing to help interpret her surroundings into anything tangible.
After a short time, Xena realized that she felt no real panic, just a sensation of being lost. She closed her eyes and gave in to it. She remained this way for she knew not how long.
“Xena…Xena,” a voice was calling. It sounded somewhat muffled. She opened her eyes.
“Michael. Why am I not surprised?”
“Xena, I did not come here to cross swords with you, as it were. As a matter of fact, I am here to help you.”
“Help me… how? Unless you can produce Eli to give me back my life… again, and someone else to die in my place to redeem those 40,000 souls, I don't see how you can help me.”
“Right now that's not the issue. But your soul is. I had to put up a bit of an argument to have you placed here at all.”
“Xena felt her ire rise a bit. “What do you mean?”
“Surely you must know that you have made a few enemies in the under realms. You've done away with Hades and now his cohorts know of your demise and would love nothing better than to see you thrown into the depths of Tartarus. So far Lucifer has not learned of your death, but of course we all know what he thinks. If he gets his hands on you you're finished. And that is our present concern.”
Xena scowled. “Why are you so ‘concerned' with what happens to my soul? I didn't think you were all that fond of me yourself?”
“Perhaps,” Michael stated. But my feelings are irrelevant. I am bound to do what's just, what's right. I know that you have a sordid past, but I also know that you have more than redeemed yourself. You do not belong in either Hell or Tartarus. You have definitely earned yourself hero status and a place in the Elysian Fields Xena, and I am here to make sure that that happens.”
“Why not just take me back to Heaven with you. Already been there, done that.”
“That was my first inclination yes, but isn't Solan in the Elysian Fields? I assumed you would want to be with him.”
A shiver ran through Xena. “I'd prefer not to be dead at all, but if I have to be then yes...yes of course I'd rather be with my son. What do you call this place?”
“We call it ‘Limbo' although not all of those connected with the afterlife know of its whereabouts. Another option was to try and stash you somewhere in the River Lethe, but I could not really guarantee your safety there. This place is vast and can be clouded, even to the eyes of the immortals who know of its existence, so it seemed like the securest place to hide you, uncomfortable though it may be. I'm afraid I will have to leave you here until I feel it is OK for you to be moved.”
“And I don't suppose you have any idea how long that will be?” Xena questioned.
“No, I don't. I've got to feel out just who is on our side...who I can trust. And I'm going to need some Earthly help. Gabrielle will have to join this fight; possibly Eve.”
Xena tried to take a step forward only to find that it sent her spinning. She quickly righted herself and shook her finger at Michael.
“Oh no... No you don't . You are not dragging Gabrielle into this. Eve neither!”
Michael moved towards Xena and said rather sternly, “There is no other way Xena. I am quite sure I can enlist the help of Persephone, but she will be much more obliging if more women are behind me. I have already spoken to Aphrodite who has agreed to assist as long as Gabrielle will be by her side. Of course, I have many of the hosts of heaven with me, but it will provide for a much better outcome if we have a few allies down there. I also think I have a good chance of recruiting Ares. Most definitely a battle will be waged over this and I should imagine he would welcome that prospect.”
“Ares? Maybe. As for Aphrodite, I'm a little disappointed that she would participate in something that is tantamount to blackmail. Doesn't she realize she could very well be sending Gabrielle to her own death?”
“She does. However she also realizes that it is our best option to keep you out of any torment. If Gabrielle, or Eve, dies, they have already earned their place in Heaven.”
“Well I'm sorry, but that's cold comfort to me. I don't want anything to happen to either of them on my account. They've been through enough because of me.”
Michael let out a sigh. “All right Xena. Let's get this settled. Do you or do you not want me to help you? Because if you really don't I will just drop this whole business and let things take their course. And I have already told you what that probably will be. If you really don't want my help I'll leave, right now. However, if you do, you must let me go about this the way I choose to. So what's it going to be?”
Xena shut her eyes and tried to let the whole scenario play out in her head. It was true if her loved ones died they would not be subject to any torture. But if they failed and Gabrielle and Eve died...well then, she'd still end up in Hell or Tartarus wouldn't she? She knew Michael's plan was probably her best option...her only option for keeping out of Lucifer's grasp. Then another thought occurred to her.
“OK Michael, but I have one request. If we succeed in keeping me out of Hell, or Tartarus, and Gabrielle is killed in the process, promise me you will send me to Heaven with her instead of the Elysian Fields. If we're both dead, I want us to be together.”
Michael bowed his head. “That, I can do. You will hear from me shortly.”
The Archangel started to disappear when Xena yelled, “Wait. Can I go to Gabrielle for just a few minutes? Just to let her know I am all right and see how she's doing.”
“Michael put his head back and rolled his eyes. “Oh Xena! After all the trouble I've had to get you here in the first place? Very well, but it will have to be very short ! And you cannot tell her anything about this. You mus t act as though everything is fine. Remember Xena, my rules ! I will be getting in touch with Gabrielle myself as soon as I have a more structured plan in place.”
“Don't worry Michael. I'll play it straight.”
And then the Archangel was gone.
Michael did not appear before Xena, but his voice filled her head.
“Ok Xena, show time. Remember, Gabrielle must think everything is all right…for now.”
Gabrielle was standing on the deck of the ship watching the sun go down yet again. She was speaking to the urn that contained her soul mates ashes.
And with that, Xena found herself on the ship's deck, next to her lover. She heard her words and responded with her hand on Gabrielle's shoulder.
“…And to the place where I'll always remain…your heart. So… where to now?”
Xena looked around, while she listened to Gabrielle's response. So, she's going south with the chakram? Xena replied with the only words she could think of: “Where you go, I'm at your side.”
“I knew you'd say that,” Gabrielle answered.
Xena smiled and gently kissed her soul mate's head. For a fleeting second she felt happy, even peaceful. And then she was gone, back in her cosmic prison, but content that Gabrielle was doing OK…at least for the time being.
Ares was sitting on a make-shift throne in one of the few temples that still paid him homage. Since the demise of most of his family, and his own subsequent humiliating stint as a mortal, humans did not worship him or seek him out like before when he was in his heyday. The ones that did still bring the occasional offering, or ask for help, were mostly low-life's who were looking to glorify themselves, not the God of War. He was presently amusing himself throwing fireballs at a row of dilapidated statues that he had lined up against the back wall. A sudden, blinding blaze of light appeared smack in the middle of his activities, causing him to freeze up for a split second.
“What the….,” he blurted out.
“No, not Hell,” a voice exclaimed. The voice and light materialized into Michael.
“What could you possibly want with me?” Ares retorted.
“I have a proposition for you Ares,” Michael said as he took in the ramshackle surroundings. “And judging by the look of things, I think you might find my proposal rather appealing. It might even help restore some of your former glory.”
Ares put his head back and guffawed. “Really? You think so? Well I'm all ears Mr. Archangel. What is this miracle cure you're so anxious to sell me?”
“I need you to help me wage a battle to save Xena's soul.”
“Xena's soul? What are you talking about?”
Michael gave a wry smile. “Perhaps you haven't heard. Your Warrior Princess has expired.”
“Oh. Again? So how many times does that make now, three…four? Actually I've lost count. No doubt she'll be back tearing across the countryside performing all her random acts of kindness with little Miss Goody-Two-Shoes by her side before you can say ‘chakram'.”
“Not this time, Ares. She voluntarily gave up her soul to save 40,000 others she feels she's responsible for. And I'm not here talking about bringing her back to life. Like I said, it's her soul I'm concerned with. Hades cohorts are just giddy with the prospect of latching on to it and dragging her to Tartarus. I could probably battle them without much outside help, but it's Lucifer I'm really concerned with. Once he learns of her death he'll just be itching to get his claws into her and she'll suffer unimaginable torture if he does. He has all the legions of Hell behind him and he will be relentless in his pursuit of her. I'm sure you know that.”
Ares looked as though someone had kicked him in the gut. It was a look not unlike the one he possessed upon seeing Xena and her flying chakram when she caught him smooching up to her daughter after she thawed out of her quarter-century sleep in the ice cave he had placed her in.
Ares shook his head and brought himself back to his senses. He acted nonchalant, but in truth, he was struggling to keep his cool.
“She's a smart girl. She's always been able to get herself out of trouble. She sent Lucifer to Hell in the first place, didn't she? She'll fight…or talk her way out of it.”
“No…no Ares she won't talk her way out. She can't even fight her way out. Not alone. And this is permanent. The best we can do for her is to keep her soul out of the hands of those who want her to suffer for eternity; and it will no doubt be one ugly battle.
“Even so, I'm not sure a disgraced fallen god such as I can do much to help that situation.”
Michael lowered his head and looked up through hooded eyes. “Well then, perhaps I was wrong about you. I know things have been...err...difficult, but I believed you also had true feelings for Xena. I know what you've done to help her in the past, all you've both done to help each other. And I also assumed the prospect of a lively fight might be good medicine for you now. In all honesty, I'm not sure I can pull this off without your help. Aphrodite has agreed to lend a hand providing I can talk Gabrielle into signing up, which I can't imagine would be a problem. Persephone is also as good as on board.”
“Hmmm,” Ares grunted. Aphrodite I can see, but Persephone? She was Hades wife!”
“Yes, but taken by force if you remember, and then cruelly tricked with the pomegranate, something she never really forgave him for.”
Ares walked over to his throne and sat down, a million thoughts running through his head. He recalled the early days with Xena and how through the years she had slowly become to mean much more to him than just an ally, a subject. Somewhere along the way he had fallen in love with the blue-eyed warrior. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly; the love/hate relationship; through it all she remained a part of him. He could not just walk away from her now. She didn't deserve to spend eternity in Hell and she wouldn't if he could help it.” Besides ,” his war-lord heart admitted, “it would feel good to do battle again.”
Ares stood and addressed Michael. “All right, you're on. I'll hone up my battle skills.” As if to prove a point he let a couple of fireballs fly out of both hands, totally disintegrating a couple of chairs.
“Impressive,” Michael stated. Keep practicing and ah, if you could manage to round up something resembling an army that would be great. I will be in touch with you before too long.” And he was gone.
Almost immediately a burst of pink sparkles appeared where Michael had stood.
“Hi Bro. So I guess you heard huh?”
Ares sighed deeply. “Yeah, I heard. I have a hard time believing it though. So, the Bard hasn't tried to rectify the situation somehow?”
Aphrodite wrinkled her nose and started twirling a lock of hair around her finger. “No...I don't believe so. This is pretty serious Ares; it's not like the other times. Those women...those women have been my friends for a long time. Of course they have caused me some grief in the past, at least Xena has, but I'm over all that now. I admit I'm not sure what help I can actually be in Michael's little plan, but I am willing to try if Gabrielle... or you... are.”
Ares looked around the room and snorted. “After all the glory, look what I've come to. A nice, bloody battle's sounding pretty good about now.”
His sister visibly shivered. “Battles! That's not for me. I'm thinking more along the lines of lending moral support, or distracting the men with my womanly wiles.”
“I think we'll be fighting cranky lesser-gods and demons Aphrodite. Not sure how well that tactic will work on them.”
“Oh phooey,” Aphrodite said with a pout. “You're a god and all Xena had to do was shake her leather skirt and you went running.”
“True,” her brother said rubbing his beard. “Anyway, I guess I'll go see what kind of troops I can dredge up. The loyalty just isn't there like it used to be. But, if I tempt them with liquor and coin I can probably find me enough hot-headed bastards to join the cause.”
Ares gave a little wave. “Bye-bye Sis,” and with a flash he was gone.
Gabrielle was feeling very uncomfortable. She had been riding on a testy old camel for a couple of hours now and her backside was mighty sore . “Gods, what I wouldn't give to be on Argo right now ,” she thought wistfully. She was hot, sweaty, and wore out. Gabrielle had been in a virtual cloud of overwhelming sorrow and disbelief for the first two weeks after Xena's death. She had sailed to Egypt, but had not accomplished much of anything since she arrived. Her old friend Cleopatra the VII's daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was taking her on a “tour” of the great pyramids in a friendly attempt to cheer her up.
“Ah, finally.” said the deceased Queen's daughter. “Here we are! This is where we stop.”
“Thank the gods...dead and alive!” Gabrielle exclaimed.
“Yes, you look like you've had enough,” the woman chuckled. “But they are quite magnificent structures are they not?”
“Yes...yes they are,” Gabby admitted as she dismounted her camel with a plop.
The young Cleo upon witnessing Gabrielle's discomfort with the surly humpback mentioned that she could find Gabrielle a younger “more agreeable one” for the ride back.
“Thank you!” Gabrielle exclaimed. “That would be very much appreciated.”
The two women, along with a host of others who had traveled with them, proceeded to explore the ancient tombs for the next couple of hours.
Afterwards, Cleopatra Selene approached Gabrielle and laid her hand on the bard's shoulder. “Geb and Theoris will set our sleeping tents up while Hasina and Akiiki prepare the evening meal. I would like to make this an enjoyable time. I'm sorry that the journey was so disagreeable for you. And I was hoping you might grace us with one of your stories after we dine.”
Gabrielle smiled at her hostess. “Oh I'll be fine. Thank you for caring, and yes I would be honored to share a story or two with you and the others.”
The rest of the evening passed pleasantly and quickly and after everyone had retired to their respective tents, Gabrielle spent an hour or so writing about this unique adventure on a new set of parchments. She blew out her oil lamp and had just settled down on a comfortable cot when a shimmering white light filled the tent. Gabrielle shielded her eyes, and when she opened them, saw that the archangel Michael was standing in front of her.
“Michael? It's good to see you...at least I guess it is. What's so important that you would track me down here…or don't I want to know?”
Michael sighed and looked gravely at Gabrielle. “I'm sorry,” he said softly. This is not something I take any pleasure in telling you, but I need to ask for your help with something. Xena's soul is in extreme danger. I need your help to save it from eternal torture.”
For a minute Gabrielle could not speak. When she finally found her voice she asked, “In danger? For the love of Eli the woman's dead ...again! Can she find no peace anywhere ? What, who…?” And then it hit her, “Lucifer!”
“Yes,” Michael replied. “At least he's most of the problem, or will be once he learns of her passing. There is also Hades leftovers, who already know and are seeking revenge. Both Hell and Tartarus are, or will be, trying to claim her Gabrielle, and unless we do something soon one or the other will undoubtedly win.”
Gabrielle got up and started pacing the room. “OK, I wondered why she hadn't been appearing to me lately. I felt her presence, or I thought I did, but the last time I actually saw her spirit was on the boat bringing me here to Egypt. So where is she now?”
“I have her hidden away… for the time being. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Lucifer or Hades cohorts figure it out though. That's why we must act soon.”
“Why didn't you just take her to Heaven? And do you really think you and I can take on practically the entire underworld? Are the other angels behind you on this?”
“Yes Gabrielle, the other angels are behind me. So are Persephone and her closest followers. And your friend Aphrodite has agreed to help alongside you. Ares is also gathering an army as we speak. I did not take her to Heaven because I wanted to send her to the place she really belongs; as a hero in the Elysian Fields with Solan at her side.”
Gabrielle looked surprised. “Aphrodite agreed to do battle? That I've got to see.”
“I didn't say she agreed to battle, but she agreed to help,” Michael replied.
Gabrielle sat back down on the cot. “Yes....yes she should be with Solan. And Ares...they always had the strangest relationship. I'm not sure he could ever bring himself to admit that Xena belonged to me and not him. But, he did give a lot for her….for both of us…from time to time. I could probably speak with the Amazons. I'm quite certain some of them would help. But where will this battle be fought? Will it be an actual battle? If it's in the underworld how are we supposing to all get there?”
“I can get us there Gabrielle, that won't be a problem. We may even be able to get them to come to us. I have a plan to do just that and I think it will work. Right now I need you to return to Greece as soon as possible. And talk to your Amazon friends. We will need all the allies we can gather. I hope it doesn't take that long to get this going and the sooner the better. It's already been almost a month since Xena's death and I can probably only keep her hidden for another couple of weeks at most. I also think it would be a good thing to bring Eve along.”
This startled Gabrielle a bit. “Eve? You know she doesn't fight.”
“And she may not have to,” Michael retorted. I'm not exactly sure what role I need her to play in all this yet, but I believe having someone from Xena's bloodline with us will work in our favor at some point. Do you feel comfortable approaching her about this, or would you rather I speak with her?”
“No,” Gabrielle answered, “I can do that. I had better go talk to Cleopatra Selene about leaving. Perhaps she will lend me a camel so that I can start out tonight.”
“Yes, go let your hostess know that you are leaving. But don't worry about the camel, I will take you there. And then you can speak with Eve. She is back in Greece is she not?”
“Yes...yes I believe she is. I was told that she came back a few months ago. I am not even sure if she has heard about her Mother's death. This is...this is going to be a horrible thing for her to bear.”
Michael walked over to the bard and took her hands in his. “I'm truly sorry about all of this Gabrielle. I also must ask what you have done with Xena's ashes.”
“I have them stored in safety at Cleopatra Selene's estate, why?”
“Good,” Michael said removing his hands from Gabrielle's. “Leave them there, but they may come into play at some point. Now, I will remain here while you gather your things and talk with Cleopatra, then we will go.”
“Michael, could you take me to the Northern Amazon's first, then I will go to the others.”
“Very well, but everyone must act quickly. We don't have a lot of time.”
Gabrielle went to her hostess' tent and explained the situation to her as best she could without going into too much detail. She then returned to her own tent with Cleopatra Selene's blessing, gathered her belongings, and she and Michael took their leave.
“No, no , no, noooo,” Ares yelled. “For the love of my dead Dad Zeus, that is not how you swing a sword!” “Yi, yi, yi, yi, yi,” he moaned, bending over nearly double with his head in his hands. “What did I ever do to deserve this?” Ares straightened up and let a few fireballs fly out of his hands setting the seat of one man's pants afire.
“All right,” he screeched. “Listen up, once and for all. I am sick of this lack-luster, panty-twist display I have gotten out of almost all of you over the last couple of days. I have decided which of you I will make my generals and I will put you into groups and those appointed generals will whip you into shape and teach you how to fight...like men...ruthless, bloodthirsty, courageous men! Do I make myself clear?”
There was a general murmur of consent, barely audible, from the motley mob.
“I SAID... DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR?” Ares boomed.
“Yes sir!” they all shouted and saluted to a man.
“That's better! Now, when I call your name, step forward. I will then divide you up into groups and we can all get down to business. We only have a few days to get you sissy-asses whipped into something resembling an army. My army! We will be facing the very depths of Hell you scallywags, so wipe your noses and man up! OK! Agathon, Diocles, Leon, Theodorus, and Timon...you five will be my generals. I expect absolute loyalty and obedience! We will be fighting for everyone's honor here, my honor … but most of all for Xena's soul,” he added. “And yes, your liquor and dinars will be waiting... after we have finished the task at hand. Now, anyone under the age of 20, go with Timon; 20 to 30, with Leon; 30 to 40, with Theodorus; 40 to 50, go with Diocles; and anyone else with Agathon. You five generals can pick the best of your troops to help train the others. All right, let's go! And put some fire under your sorry selves or I will do it for you, isn't that right Magrus?”Ares said, referring to the man whose bum he had scorched just moments before.
The men went to fall in with their appointed leaders and set to work.
Lucifer was seated in his quarters meeting with three of his High Demons. Their main activity was acting as sleuths, keeping tabs on any developments going on in other parts of the underworld that Lucifer would want to know about, with an occasional trek on Earthly soil, taunting and tormenting unsuspecting souls.
“Master,” said one of the Demons known as Euryale, “I have heard talk in Tartarus that your sworn enemy, the Warrior Princess Xena is dead.”
“What!” Lucifer bellowed, pounding the stone table in front of him, cracking it in two. When did this take place? Why wasn't I notified immediately?”
“I....I have only become aware of it this morning myself Your Un-holiness,” cried Euryale, shaking in his hooves. I was milling around Hades old stomping grounds, listening in on the ghouls' conversations, and heard them discussing tactics to drag her into their realm.”
“And where is her wretched soul now?”
“That, I cannot say. They seemed to think it is in hiding somewhere, possible the River Lethe.”
“The River Lethe? No...No, I do not think so. I would have heard her black-hearted soul crying out as her memories were wiped away if she were there. I would have smelled her lying stench. Someone must be trying to keep this hush-hush and I can think of only two beings that would deliberately do that. It's time for me to take a little trip. I am going to hunt her down and when I find her she will suffer more anguish and misery than any soul has ever endured. And if those idiots from Hades tribe try to get in my way I will crush them like the maggots that they are. Euryale, I want you to find another demon you can trust to keep his rotted mouth shut and go back to Tartarus and see what else you can dig up. Gello, you will be coming with me. Reaver, I want you to see to it that my army is in good stead. I sense a war brewing and we are going to be prepared.”
Michael materialized along the banks of the River Styx. Almost immediately Charon appeared rubbing his warty hands in glee at the prospect of a paying customer. But, when he saw who it was his face fell.
“And what exactly would you be doing in these parts? Not somewhere I would expect to see you milling about and I doubt you are here for my services.”
“What I am here for is none of your concern, Charon. Now I'll ask you to take your leave.”
Charon's face became contorted with anger. “Oh no...Oh no, you don't, Mr. Big Shot Archangel! This is my domain! You do not tell me what to do here!”
“ I said be gone with you !” Michael blared, setting the ground shaking.
Charon fell backwards and scurried away on all fours.
“Great,” Michael rolled his eyes, “another enemy to add to the list down here.”
“Ah, Persephone,” he stated as the goddess made her arrival. “This was not a good choice for a meeting place, as I predicted. I have just had a little encounter with Charon and he is now no doubt blabbing to the entire underworld that I am here meeting someone in secret. It won't take long for Lucifer to put two and two together. If he doesn't confront me before the next couple of days pass I shall be very surprised.”
“I'm sorry Michael, but this was the best I could do at this time. No one here scares me and if they try anything I shall have a very nasty surprise waiting for them. It just so happens that I have been able to secure some items that will help us in our quest for the Warrior Princess's soul.”
Persephone opened a large satchel she had across her shoulders and pulled out a medium sized marble flask. She carefully sat it upon a large flat top boulder that was nearby. She then proceeded to pull a leather pouch out of the satchel and placed it on the ground. Michael noticed that it contained something that was clanging together.
“What's all this?” He asked.
“The bag, you can look inside. However, the flask has been magically sealed; it can only be opened by human hands. But I will tell you what it contains: Hind's blood.”
“Hinds blood? However did you get a hold of such a thing? And aren't you a little frightened carrying it around like that?”
“No Michael, I'm not. Like I said, it's been sealed by magic and that also means it cannot crack or break ever either, opened or not. Even so, I do believe it would be best kept in the midst of the mortals. Would you be able to get these items to this Gabrielle, her and her kind will be the ones using them anyway.”
“I'm sure that can be arranged,” Michael answered. He then reached down and opened the leather pouch. “Bones?” He questioned.
“The ribs of Kronos.”
“You surprise me Persephone. And how did you happen to come across those ?”
“From the same one who made use of them to kill my father; my half-brother Hercules.”
Michael raised his eyebrows and looked suitably impressed. “Well, I can't say that really shocks me. We all know he was fond of the Warrior. It's not a stretch to imagine he would want to help save her soul; after all, he killed his own father for her. That's something that I always found a bit strange...noble, but strange.”
“Well, technically he did it to save her daughter, but regardless; Hercules is willing to lend a hand. Yes, he is aging, but very well due to his semi-god status and he is still strong and quick. He will be bringing a young man named Takis who is the son of his friend Iolaus. Hercules has trained him to fight so he should be a welcome addition. And one last thing...” Persephone took one more bag out of the satchel. It was made of purple velvet and tied with a black silk cord.
“This contains two kinds of weapons. The first items are small clay wheels, containing enchantments that will dispose of evil. They can be used by mortals, thrown either by hand or slingshot, but they must hit, or at least touch, their target to work. There are 12 of them here and I suggest they are used only in the direst of circumstances. I wish I could have secured more, but it was not possible. The second is a lead crystal vial of oil, blessed by my Mother and infused with the power of the Earth and it can be utilized by humans and immortals alike. Arrows or sword tips can be dipped into the oil and this will result in the death of any demon, ghoul, or specter that is stabbed, cut, or pierced by said weapon. It is an endless vial; the oil will not run out until the battle is finished. I have everything securely wrapped but caution should still be taken. The vial is bottomless, but it can still be crushed.”
Michael smiled. “Honestly, I did not expect this much co-operation from you Persephone, but I welcome it. Thank you.”
The goddess bowed her head in acknowledgment. “My late husband's cronies have been nothing but a problem for me since he died. They do not recognize my authority anymore. I shall rather enjoy seeing them all destroyed.”
“Well, let's hope that is the case,” Michael replied. “And now I will take these items and deliver them to the proper hands. I expect things to move very quickly now; until then, Persephone.”
“Yes, Michael...until then.”
Xena's patience was wearing thin. It was nice to not feel thirsty, hungry, or have to take care of any other bodily functions, but the boredom, the empty stretch of nothingness, the inability to touch anything solid, was starting to drive her barmy. The look of sheer agony that showed on Gabrielle's face, after she told her that she must remain dead continued to haunt her.
“Michael....Michael, can you hear me? What is going on? How much longer?”
Again, Michael's voice filled her head, but he did not show himself. “Things are moving along Xena. Our Army is taking shape and we have gained some valuable weapons and allies. I expect Lucifer is getting close to figuring out you are here, so I believe we may be going to battle within the next three or four days. In light of this, I will now tell you my plan....”
Gabrielle was sitting with the elders in the Queen's hut in the Amazon's camp.
“....and that is my proposal. I am asking this more out of friendship than as a Queen. This is probably the most dangerous thing I have ever asked of any of my sister Amazons. It is a very real possibility that many of you will die if you choose to join this fight. I have already spoken with the Northern tribe and they have agreed to send two dozen of their numbers to stand with me. They are on their way here as we speak. However, I do not want that to influence you in anyway. This must be something you feel comfortable with. I know that in reality, you do not owe Xena anything. If the vote comes out in the negative I will understand. I will leave and that will be the end of it. Now, I will go to the hut that Maragathe has prepared for me and await your decision.”
“Very well, Queen Gabrielle,” said Ashanta, who was acting as spokeswoman for the group. “You shall have our decision by the dawn.”
Gabrielle nodded and took her leave.
After Gabrielle had bathed and spent some time relaxing in the steam hut, she returned to her own temporary quarters to find two young Amazons waiting for her with a large basket full of dinner.
“Thank you girls, what are your names?”
“I am Hayleese,” said the older of the two, “and this is my sister, Willow.”
“You are both quite young,” Gabrielle stated. “How did you come to be in this tribe?”
“Our home village was attacked by a band of Scythians and our parents were killed. We wandered around in the wilderness with some other children who had also been orphaned...all girls. I guess those Scythians only wanted to steal boys. We were all nearly starved to death when the Amazons found us and took us in. Two of the other girls had been injured during the fighting and were too sick I guess...they didn't make it. The five of us remaining were adopted by the tribe. We owe them everything. I am ten and Willow is four and we are proud to be a part of the Amazons! Can I ask you something?”
“Shoot,” Gabrielle replied.
“What was she like? I mean…the Warrior Princess. Was she awfully fierce? I hear she was so beautiful! Did you love her very much? Do you miss her? I hope we can win her back…for you. I hope the good side wins; I don't like it when bad people win.”
“No….no I suppose you don't. And Xena, yes she was very beautiful! She had long dark hair, amazing blue eyes…and she was tall! As for fierceness….yes…yes she could be fierce. But she could also be gentle and fair. She only wanted to do what's right and help others. And she did not want the bad people to win either…she worked very hard to keep that from happening. I miss her…I miss her very much. Sometimes I miss her so much…..so very, very much; just like you probably miss your parents.”
“Sometimes I feel like I don't remember my papa and momma,” Willow whispered.
Gabrielle gathered the child up in her arms. “I'm so sorry Willow. But, you know, you girls are lucky that the Amazons found you. These women are your family now, your sisters and your mothers. They're part of my family too…so I guess that makes you both my little sisters! Thank you again for my dinner.”
Hayleese smiled. “You're welcome Queen Gabrielle…I mean sister! Come on Willow, we had better be getting back to our duties.”
The girls left the hut and Gabrielle ate her dinner in a rather pensive mood.
When nightfall came, Gabrielle settled down on her bed of soft furs, but sleep eluded her. She could hardly believe she was asking the Amazons to put their lives on the line for her dead lover, but she had swallowed her pride...she would ask for help from whoever would give it. She arose from her furs, and with quill and scroll in hand, began jotting down the first thing that came to mind. “I'd do anything for you Xena,” she whispered softly as she wrote. “Where ever you are, I hope you can feel my love for you, my desire to be with you again. I will fight until my last mortal breath to keep you out of Lucifer's grasp. And if I die during this fight, I will leave Heaven to battle for you as you once did for me. I will not give up Xena, we will win this!”
In her murky prison, Xena felt the lightest of breezes brush through her hair and with it the sweet bouquet of ink and fresh parchment. “Gabrielle....” she whispered into the nothingness.
The new day's first fuzzy light was shining through the huts curtained windows when a voice called from outside the doorway.
“Queen Gabrielle, are you awake? May we enter?”
Gabrielle quickly rose from her furs and tried to wipe the tired out of her eyes, hoping she did not look as exhausted as she felt.
“Yes. It's OK, you may enter.”
The tribes Queen Meera came into the hut followed by Daphne, Tarris, Ashanta, and Zolondie. “As promised Queen Gabrielle, we have made our decision,” announced Zolondie. “It was unanimous, we are all willing to help in any way we can. You are an Amazon Queen, we know how much Xena meant to you, and we know you would do the same for any of us if asked. We will be ready when you need us.”
Gabrielle smiled, held back a couple of tears that threatened to fall, and replied, “Thank you. Hopefully this will not be a long, drawn out battle, but we will see.”
“If you don't have any particular place you need to be while we are waiting, you know that you are more than welcome to stay here and practice with us.”
Gabrielle bowed her head. “I appreciate that and I would take you up on that offer, but I do have one other thing I need to do. I have to find Eve and tell her about all of this. It will be so good to see her again, although not under these circumstances.”
Daphne spoke. “We could send for her if you would like. Tarris acts as such a messenger when needed.”
“I appreciate that, but I think it would be best if I do this myself. However, I would welcome the company if you would care to join me Tarris.”
“It will be my pleasure. We can have breakfast and be ready to leave in two candle marks,” Tarris replied. “I'll see to it that we have fresh horses and supplies.”
She felt Gabrielle's presence even before she laid eyes on her. One of Eve's followers came into the temple and addressed her.
“Messenger, there is a woman here to see you.”
“Yes, my mother. It's fine, show her in.”
The young woman, Jiao, had joined up with Eve while she was spreading Eli's message in Chin. She became enthralled with the idea of love being “The Way” and declared her devotion to the Messenger and her mission. She had left her homeland to follow Eve with a grateful heart. Now, however, her face registered a befuddled look. She knew Xena was Eve's mother and she was fairly certain the woman standing outside was not Xena.
“Ummm….yes, Messenger,” Jiao answered.
As she turned to leave, Eve gave the woman a smile, but there was concern behind her eyes. Why would Gabrielle be coming to see me without Mother unless…
The unthinkable stabbed at her heart and in those few fleeting seconds…she knew. Eve fumbled a bit and struggled to regain her composure as Gabrielle entered the room.
“Evey…” Gabrielle nearly cried the words.
Eve rushed over to her and collapsed in her arms. She felt her stomach heave and her vision cloud.
“I'm sorry….so…sorry.” Gabrielle could barely choke the words out. All the overwhelming sadness….the terror… came flooding back to her as she rocked the woman, who was now shaking with sorrow, in her embrace.
“Why…h…h...how?” Eve stuttered.
“Oh…Eve. You know…Xena…your mother…she…she never felt she could do enough to right the past.” And she relayed a condensed version of that damning time in Jappa. The great agony of her life that would be forever seared in her brain, her conscience….her very being.
“Now those horrible factions of the underworld are vying for her soul. The remaining of Hades associates are giving it their best shot, but it's…well its Lucifer that is the real concern. If he gets a hold of her….”
Eve felt a fresh wave of nausea pass through her. “So what...what can we do?” She whispered. To learn that not only had her mother died…permanently…but that the leader and legions of Hell were in hot pursuit of her, was almost more than the Messenger could bear.
Almost…but not quite. A tingling sensation overcame her as a voice whispered in her ear, “ Have faith .” Eve closed her eyes and saw the face of Eli, an air of calm reassurance about him. “ Love will prevail, Eve. Have faith .” She kissed the bard on the top of her head and stood. “All right,” she said with a new wave of strength that was steadily returning to her body, “how are we going to do this? Do you have a plan?”
Gabrielle divulged to her daughter the blueprint for the mission that Michael had given her and that she was waiting on further instructions from the Archangel.
“So we have gods, demi-gods, angels, Amazons, seasoned warriors, and the love of Eli on our side.” Eve remarked. “Sounds like we've got the upper hand then,” she said with a comforting grin.
“I certainly hope so. I can't bear to think what Lucifer would do if he…he…” The thought sent a shudder coursing through Gabrielle's body. “And Eve, I don't really expect you to…”
“Don't worry about that,” Eve interrupted. “If it comes down to me becoming physically involved, I will. I refuse to let my mother fall into the clutches of that bastion of Hell. Although I honestly don't believe it will come to that. We just have to keep the faith.” She felt an all-embracing warmth flow through her and knew that Eli would not forsake her…or any of them…during this ordeal.
“Thank you Eve,” Gabrielle whispered. “I appreciate you being able to hold on to your beliefs and find your strength. One minute I feel like we've got this beat and the next I feel like I'm losing her all over again.”
“And don't forget,” Eve interjected, “we will always have each other too….you know I will always make myself available for whatever you need…anytime.”
“I know,” Gabrielle replied and gave the woman a little hug. “Now to business; here's what we need to do now…”
Michael was standing on a precipice in Heaven that plunged downwards to the very depths of Hell. He could smell the evil long before his old comrade made his appearance. “I've been expecting you.” Michael commented in a matter-of-fact manner.
A low, unnatural growl found its way out from the depths of the fallen angel. “I knew it,” he bellowed and lunged for the archangel. Michael drew his sword and stepped back.
“Enough!” Michael's voice sent the rocks beneath them quaking. “This is neither the time nor place for this to play out.”
Lucifer backed off, but his voice was quivering with rage as he spat out, “Where have you stashed her, that treacherous, deceitful, double-crossing bitch? I'll have that soul to persecute for eternity. I deserve to wring every bit of pain and agony out of it that I can.”
“You deserve no such thing, Lucifer.” Michael stated lowering his sword. “And she certainly does not deserve to be handed over to the likes of you….or Hades minions. You should know that I am prepared to fight to the last to prevent you from doing so.”
“Your loyalties are perverted and misplaced Michael. That woman soiled Heaven with her lies and trickery and I should think you would welcome the chance to see her punished.”
Michael stepped up to Lucifer so that he was eye to eye with the King of Demons. “Now, let's set one thing straight here. While I do not condone Xena's methods, she did not force you to do anything. I believe she was wrong, very wrong for doing what she did, but you allowed yourself to fall victim to it. YOU should have been the stronger of the two of you, Lucifer. If anyone brought shame down on the realm of Heaven, it was you.”
The Demon King said not a word, but dropped head first back into his pit. Out of the acrid winds that blew up from the fiery depths, Michael heard Lucifer's faithful chanting, “ Vengeance, vengeance, vengeance!”
“Master,” Euryale spat out the words, “the Hag Meredith has located the Warrior Woman through a vision. She is in a land known as ‘Limbo'.”
“Limbo?” Lucifer repeated stroking his leathery chin. “Yes, I am aware of such a place. It is a large void …a chasm really. And of course the perfect place to hide a soul that you don't want to be found. I fear it will be an arduous task finding her there. Supposedly it is vast, vaster than Heaven or Hell and full of smoke and mirrors. I have never had cause to visit there myself. Michael is not going to make this easy for us, so we will just have to outsmart him. Euryale, I want you to grab every extra ghoul and phantom that is not readying for physical battle and meet me here as soon as possible. Make it known to them that I will take you all to the outskirts of this Limbo and send you in to hunt and seek that which is my enemy. I want this done as secretly and quietly as possible. Do not approach her or make your whereabouts known to her. Then, when she is located, you, Euryale, shall come to me post haste and take me to her. If I can possess her while she is defenseless with no one or nothing to back her, I should be able to drag her to Hell quite easily and no battle will be needed. Remember, you must not arouse suspicion within the ranks of Heaven. There shall be special privileges given to the one that finds her. Now, go….oh, and Euryale…. do not fail me !”
Michael knew that they must now act quickly. He appeared again to Gabrielle to disclose the next phase of his plan. He found the bard dining with Hercules and Takis in a private room she was renting in a local boarding house in the town of Stagira. It was near a newly constructed temple of Eli where Eve and several of her followers were staying.
“The Greek Amazons have set up camp just outside of town; there ended up being about fifty of them. The others should be here by nightfall.” Gabrielle told the archangel.
The door opened and in walked Virgil, brandishing an impressive looking sword and whetstone.
“Michael,” the man said as he bowed in acknowledgement of the Heavenly creatures' presence.
“So, you have been asked to join in this venture I see,” the archangel said, responding to Virgil's greeting.
“Actually, I had a dream of my Father. He told me the girls were in trouble. I knew that Xena was... err…dead so I wasn't certain if it was real or just…well…a dream. But I couldn't shake the feeling of dread that had been plaguing me so…here I am. I can't say that my Mother was overly excited to see me off, but I know she understands.”
A pillar of shimmer descended from the ceiling to the floor and Aphrodite materialized. She walked over to Gabrielle and gave her a little squeeze. “I'm ready whenever you are and Ares and his army are camped by the creek. I must say he did a pretty good job getting those men whipped into shape….considering what he had to work with.”
Gabrielle could not stop the tears that had found their way down her cheeks. “I….I am overwhelmed with all this help. It's really been beneficial in bringing me back to good, restored a lot of the faith I guess I lost when Xena died. Thank you, thank you all so much...for me and Xena.”
“I appreciate the confidence, Gabrielle,” Hercules stated, “but we haven't won yet.”
“Regardless,” answered the bard, “it's good to know that the family and friends that Xena, and I, loved...love… so much are still there beside us.”
“I'll drink to that,” said Takis raising his tankard. “Although I never had the pleasure of meeting the Warrior Princess, I know how much she meant to my Father…and Uncle Herc here. I am honored to be at your service.”
“Yes, this is more assistance than even I imagined,” Michael remarked. “Ares has managed to round up close to five hundred troops, Persephone has nearly eight hundred, and I have at least that myself. Even if Lucifer's horde has us outnumbered, those ghouls of his are not seasoned fighters. I might add that a vast majority of them are not very smart either. They have no need for intelligence in that realm and I rather think Lucifer prefers them dumbed-down as they give him less trouble that way. They do, however, resort to other nasty tactics and we will need to be on our guard for that and use a few tricks of our own. And speaking of which…”
Here Michael produced Persephone's satchel with all the other worldly arsenal that it contained. “A present from the god's. I guess you are aware of some of its contents Hercules.”
“My pleasure,” the demi-god said with a nod.
“What's all this then?” Gabrielle and Aphrodite said, almost in unison.
Aphrodite grabbed the satchel and pulled out the smooth marble flask. “Whatever is in this pretty little thing?” she cooed.
Michael looked her square in the face and answered. “Hinds blood.”
“Ewwww,” the Goddess squawked, forcing the bottle into Gabrielle's hands. “Here, sweet pea,” she cried, putting the satchel down on the bench beside Gabrielle. “You can check the rest of it out!”
“That flask can only be opened by mortal hands and will not crack or break.” Michael relayed.
“Whatever!” Aphrodite cried. “It still kills gods. I don't want to touch the thing!”
Hercules reached across the table and pulled the leather pouch out of the satchel and laid it on the table. “The ribs of my Grandfather, Kronos.” His voice faltered a bit. “I had hoped to never touch another one of these again, but…..well I gathered them all up and gave them to Persephone. I….I imagine they could come in handy at some point.”
Gabrielle retrieved the purple velvet bag and Michael commenced to tell her and the others how to utilize the enchanted clay wheels and the oil in the crystal vial.
“Well, no time like the present to start dipping,” Virgil exclaimed and they all did so, immersing or pouring the vials magic slickness onto swords, daggers, and the tips of arrows.
“It's bottomless too.” Michael explained. “The vial will not go dry as long as the battle is being waged.”
Gabrielle looked at Michael. “I should get this out to the Amazons.”
Michael smiled and gave a little nod. “Do that, and I am going to remove Xena from her hiding place. Lucifer has figured out where she is now and has sent many of his ghouls in to find her as I knew he would.”
“Part of the plan I suppose?” Aphrodite questioned.
“Exactly.” Michael answered. They know it's going to be a tough task, so it should take them a day or two before they figure out they've been duped, or just give up. Either way, it should keep that lot nicely tied up and out of the way for a while. The more of Lucifer's gang we can dispose of before we even set to fighting the better.”
Gabrielle felt a lump rise up in her throat. “Michael, if Xena's a…spirit, will anyone be able to see her? And where are you taking her?”
“I have my ways of making her visible. My first inclination was to put her amongst Ares' army, but those men are not really in it because of any loyalty for Xena, other than Ares that is, and I am not sure that I can wholly trust them. Persephone's ranks are too close to those we are trying to avoid. I think our best bet is to hide her among the Amazons for a short while. I would like to have her stay sheltered in one of their tents until I am ready for her to make herself seen, probably tomorrow. I believe if we can get the word out to our rivals that her spirit is here among the living, we can entice both Hades adversaries and Lucifer's troops to bring the battle above ground; it will give us a decided advantage.”
“True,” said Hercules, draining the last of his ale, “but you are right in saying that a lot of the beings in the underworld are rather, well….daft. I've battled dozens of them at a time by myself. And speaking of the underworld, we keep talking about Lucifer, what news is there of Hades loyalists?”
Michael chuckled. “Persephone planted a couple of moles among them. It seems they have decided to sit back and wait for the battle to start and then join in. I believe they are rather frightened of Lucifer and without Hades at the realm, they have no real leadership. And I think they are even more dim-witted than Lucifer's bunch. Persephone is going to try and dispose of some of them as soon as they emerge from their lair and then she will make sure Lucifer knows about it and hopefully he'll follow her and her army here. As of now, I'm not really expecting the Hades brigade to pose any significant problems, other than being extremely annoying. Now, I am going to leave you. I shall return with Xena before too long. And ah, could someone talk with Ares and let him know about this. I think I make him nervous.” And with that the archangel was gone.
Virgil picked up the vial. “Right. Gabrielle, Takis, let's get this to the Amazons and then I'll take the oil out to Ares' army. We've been given these gifts, let's put them to use.”
“Let's take a few of the bones and wheels also,” Gabrielle stated. They can decide amongst themselves who should carry them. Aphrodite, why don't you hold on to one of the clay wheels….just in case.”
“Um…Ok...right,” the goddess replied hesitantly.
Hercules rose from the table. “And I shall go take my stand with Ares. I think we can manage to not battle each other for a couple of days. See you all later.”
The crew said their goodbyes and Hercules set out for Ares's camp.
“Now...the Hinds blood…” Gabrielle stated.
Aphrodite threw her hands in the air. “Don't look at me Toots. I'm not going anywhere near that stuff!”
“Ah, yeah....probably not a good thing to go splattering all over the weapons of Ares' troops either. It might make our favorite war-god a little skittish.” Takis offered.
“I guess it stays with me then.” Gabrielle decided. “I'll dip the breast dagger in it...maybe the chakram. We'll just use it as we go and when needed I guess. All right, let's go. Aphrodite, thank you. Seriously, I cannot express how much this means to me...to know that you are willing to do this for me...for Xena.”
“I'll expect some quality girl-time when this is over, sweet ums. See ya.” And she vanished.
The trio left the building and started towards the Amazon camp. Gabrielle stopped suddenly and addressed them. “Umm…you know what, you two go ahead, I'm going to run into the temple and let Eve know what we are doing. I'll be along shortly.”
Gabrielle found Eve sitting in front of a brightly lit altar, deep in prayer. The beautiful candles and the sweet smell of incense acted as a balm to Gabrielle's anxious mind. Eve sensed that she had entered the room and stood. She turned and smiled at the bard.
“I'm sorry if I've disturbed you…” Gabrielle started.
Eve smiled. “It's fine. I have been spending nearly all my free hours in supplication and prayer, requesting a short, swift victory from the oppressions of Hell. Eli has assured me that God is on our side.”
“Well, that's good to know.” Gabrielle responded. “Anyway, I just wanted to relay to you what the next phase of the plan is.” She ran through all that had been discussed earlier in the tavern. “I also believe it would be fine for you to remain in the temple as it looks as though the battle will be waged here, outside the city. I can always send someone to get you if need be.”
“I appreciate that,” Eve replied, “although I was serious when I said I would fight if you need me.”
Gabrielle hugged her warmly. “I know, and I love you for that Evey. I had better be going. I will see you soon.” She turned to leave and then stopped, retraced her steps and handed Eve a weapon.
“What's this?” Eve questioned.
“Your mother's breast dagger….dipped in Hinds blood.”
“Well, well, well…if it isn't my half-and-half brother come to save his old flame.” Ares remarked upon seeing Hercules walking towards him.
“Oh come on Ares, we can be civil to each other for one day can't we? You get to fight, just with me, not at me.”
“Yeah, yeah, you're right. We're doing this for Xena, I know. You don't happen to be privy to when this show's taking place do ya? The last instructions I got from that pious chump Michael was to wait here. But the rogues are getting restless. Not sure how long I can keep them under control; or even hold them here for that matter. Times aren't what they use to be Bro.”
“No….no they certainly aren't.” Hercules sighed. “Anyway, I don't think it will be too long now. Michael is off to get Xena. He's going to hide her among the Amazons for a bit. Persephone's going to get the ball rolling by stirring things up with Hades loyal losers and lead them, and hopefully Lucifer's lot, out of the underworld and right here to us. Should be a piece of cake disposing of those oafs of Tartarus. Lucifer on the other hand…”
Ares started swinging his sword in a high arc through the air. “We'll cut the bastard down. Somehow. Honestly though, I can see why he'd be pissed at Xena, I mean, face it Brother, all three of us have fallen for the Warrior Princess's um…rather delicious delights. Lucifer's encounter just had more disastrous results. We were able to kiss and make up; him, not so much. And I do have to say, I am looking forward to a good ole' fashion' brawl with yours truly at the helm of his own army again. It's been far too long.” Ares smiled widely and giving one more vicious swing of the sword buried it in the ground up to the hilt.
In the Amazon camp, Gabrielle and Virgil were helping the women in the utilization of the Hind's blood and anointing swords and daggers with the magic oil. Zolondie was keeping a watch out for Michael's return with Xena and was prepared to hide her inside her own tent once she arrived. They had just finished the task when Gabrielle looked up to see Tarris rushing towards them.
She reached the group and put her hands on Gabrielle's shoulders. “She's here…”
Gabrielle dropped the arrow she was holding and rushed towards Zolondie's tent. She tore the door flap open and stopped. Sitting on a roughhewn chair wrapped in a blanket sat her Warrior. For a second she felt glued to the spot, her eyes fixated on the black head barely visible at the top of the wrap. Then, sapphire eyes met hers and she took a hesitant step.
“Xena…” she choked out the words.
“Hello Gabrielle,” said her soul mate, lifting her head and giving a little smile.
Gabrielle found herself rushing towards her lover and, falling at the woman's feet, she buried her face in her lap. She lay that way for a brief time then looked up at Michael who was standing just behind Xena, sword in hand.
“Michael,” she whispered, “thank you.”
The archangel smiled in way of response.
Xena gently caressed the woman's blonde head. “Hey…it's going to be alright.”
Gabrielle rose to her knees and locked the woman in a firm embrace. “I've missed you. I….I…” She truly did not know what else to say.
Michael addressed the couple. “I cannot leave you visible for long Xena, not yet. Gabrielle, I wanted you to be able to see that she is indeed here and OK. I am going to give everyone until first light tomorrow to finish their preparations. At that time Persephone's troops will make known that Xena has been spotted here and will begin actively fighting the Hades regiment. That should bring everything above ground and the rest of us will engage in the battle. I'll give you two a few moments alone.”
Gabrielle stood and took Xena by the hand and led her over to the pile of furs that comprised Zolondie's bed. They lay down and covered with the blanket. Xena wasted no time in taking Gabrielle into her arms and kissing her slowly and passionately. They parted lips and Xena spoke.
“I'm so sorry…so sorry that you have all been dragged into this. I never meant….”
Gabrielle placed her fingertips on Xena's lips. “Hush now. Of course I'm going to do everything I can to stop this. Xena, we are not going to let Lucifer get a hold of you! If I die trying…”
“Don't say that Gabrielle.” Xena interjected. “I really cannot accept that you would die because of me again. Enough is enough. This has to end.”
“Eve is convinced everything is going to be fine. And I am trying very hard to hold on to that.”
Xena closed her eyes. “Eve's here….”
“Of course she is. You know she will do whatever she has to.”
Xena opened her eyes and smiled at the bard, kissing her once again. “I love you both…so much. Gabrielle, I feel myself going. I'll be back soon.”
Gabrielle found herself alone in the furs. Michael's voice echoed in her ears. “She's still there Gabrielle...her spirit is all around you.”
“But I want her here, in flesh and blood,” Gabrielle answered more to herself than the archangel. And she buried her face and wept bitterly until no more tears would come.
“This is madness,” a ghoul known as Balot complained. “We've been searching around in this...this muck for how long now? I don't think the Warrior Princess is here at all.”
“ Silence ,” bellowed Euryale. “If Master says she is here, she's here. We must find her! We have to find her!” Of course he was only thinking about what would happen to his own sorry hide if he didn't. He knew that Lucifer had been talking for some time about his intentions for the Warrior woman once she passed from her mortal life. She was responsible for putting Lucifer in his present position to begin with and Euryale was aware that even the mention of her name was like a bitter poison to the Lord of Hell. He knew that unrelenting anguish awaited him if he failed in this mission.
“Keep searching you filthy worms.” Euryale spat. We are not stopping!”
Persephone's plants in the underworld did their dirty work at the next day's first light, then scurried back to Persephone to await the results. Tartarus was abuzz with news that the Warrior Xena's soul had been spotted among the Amazon's in Greece near the town of Stagira. The fetid mob made their way out of their gloomy abode to the portal leading upwards to the land of the humans. They were welcomed by Persephone's well trained soldiers who rapidly cut them down by half. The remaining fiends sped on their way erroneously thinking that the worst of their battle was behind them.
Lucifer let loose an appalling, ear-piercing howl upon learning that Xena had been spotted walking among the living. He smote several of his own specters and busted everything he could lay hands on. He was seething in a rage so deep he could barely get the words out. “My minions…the time has come for us to wage our attack! The time has come for me to get my revenge! The time has come to give the heinous bitch Xena that which is due her! Come, lets us confront those who stand with her with and rain down on them a torrent of gore, blood, and death!” A cacophony of yelps, roars, and howls rose up from the very bowels of the earth and made its way upward into the waiting day.
Michael appeared beside Gabrielle who was talking with the Northern Amazon Queen, Otere II, who had arrived several candle marks ago. “They're coming,” he said, “and I have already relayed the message to Ares. He should be here momentarily. My army is also on its way.”
“Xena?” Gabrielle questioned; her eyes full of worry.
“She's safe Gabrielle. Our concern now is defeating the threat that is about to invade us.”
And with that remark, came a rumbling intermingled with the sound of hundreds of wings. The ground shook, boiled upwards, and rendered in two releasing a repulsive odor. Swarms of ghouls, specters, and demons came pouring forth, barreling at them full speed. At the same time, a multitude of angels descended down and immediately started the attack. Otere raised her staff calling for all Amazons to follow suit. They rushed in with arrows flying and swords swinging. Ares army had also arrived and joined the melee. The God of War, upon spying Gabrielle, made his way to her, caught her eye, gave a wink and shouted, “Anything for the Princess,” before loping off the head of fetid ghoul.
Within minutes, the battlefield was brimming with screams, the sound of flapping wings, and the stench of rot; the whiz of arrows, and the flash of blades. All around Gabrielle bodies of both the living and the undead were falling in heaps. She noticed that the majority of fallen bodies appeared to be those of the underworld creatures, as she stabbed another specter with her Sais.
Michael appeared beside Gabrielle and shouted over the clamor. “We need Eve. I have sent one of the Amazons to get her.” Gabrielle wanted to question the archangel about that decision, but three beings were advancing on her. She swiftly disposed of them, but by then the archangel was gone.
Several Amazons were making swift work of a pack of demons thanks to the blessed oil on the tips of their arrows. Takis had disposed of nearly the entire horde up from Hades alongside Virgil who put one of Kronos's ribs to use smiting the demi-gods. Hercules and Michael were looking for any sign of Lucifer, but the King of Hell had not yet made his presence known. A demon advanced unawares on Ares and was in the process of bringing down his blade into the God of War's back, when a well- thrown clay wheel by Daphne obliterated the creature. The battle raged on and the countryside was now awash in blood and gore. Some of the lesser ghouls had abandoned the fight and fled back into their Hell-hole. Gabrielle chopped down some of those fleeing with the chakram.
Ares's men were taking much pleasure in gutting and dismembering the legions of Hell, then disposing of them with their oil –drenched, demon-killing swords.
The fighting continued for another candle mark then started winding down. Gabrielle stalled for a second taking in the amazing sight of Amazons fighting alongside Heavenly creatures. Glancing over to a small knoll on her left, a short distance away, she caught site of Eve standing there conversing with Michael. At that moment she knew what Michael's plan was for Eve and her mind went momentarily numb: Eve would have to be the one to deal with Lucifer. Other than Michael himself, she was the only one with the divine power and strength to do so. Gabrielle sent up an urgent plea to Eli and his God to be with her daughter.
Simultaneously, the ground convulsed once more and the sky became black. The fighting ceased as a whirlwind rose out of the earth and when the haze cleared, Lucifer was finally present. Immediately, Michael, Ares, Gabrielle, Persephone, Virgil, and Hercules surrounded him.
“You're army has been virtually destroyed.” Michael blared. “You will not win here Lucifer.”
“The army be damned,” the Demon growled. “What have you done with her ? I will not leave until I have her soul!”
“ Never !” Gabrielle screamed and lunged at him, embedding a Sais in the demons left arm. Lucifer struck the woman sending her flying several yards backwards. He yanked the Sais from his arm and threw it to the ground. Aphrodite appeared and helped Gabrielle to her feet then took her stand with the others.
At this time, Eve walked in among the group with Xena's visible spirit behind her. “You're not taking my mother anywhere, but I am sending you back into oblivion where you belong. Eli, be with me.” And before Lucifer had time to react, Eve rammed the Hind's blood covered breast dagger into his neck. The demon grasped his throat and fell to his knees. He looked at the Warrior Princess and croaked out, “This isn't over…” then faded away along with his remaining army.
A cheer went up from the Amazons who now surrounded Xena. Eve hugged her mother as tears streamed freely down her cheeks. The angels gathered their wounded and took their leave back to Heaven in a mammoth frenzy of divine celebration and fluttering wings.
“What now?” Gabrielle inquired of Michael as she wrapped her arms around her Warrior. Xena returned the embrace and kissed the bard on her head.
“Now, we finish business here.” Michael replied. “We will tend to the injured first, then gather the dead from both Ares' army and the Amazons and give them all a proper funeral. Tomorrow we will proceed with the next phase.”
“Michael...thank you.” Xena stated, giving the archangel a smile.
“Xena... Gabrielle, it was my pleasure.”
Outside the Amazon camp, the funeral pyres were sending up a flaming tribute to the fallen sisters who had given their lives to save the soul mate of one of their own. Of the seventy five women who had joined the conflict, twenty two had perished. As the smoke and ashes spiraled upwards into the star spangled canopy above, a lone voice could be heard singing. The haunting words resonated through the night air...
“... .abu eh abu eh id ma stria arlia ajam, toddo no rabam naim na em na, em do.... .”
Tears streamed down the Warrior's face as she finished her sad lament, her heart filled with a bottomless gratitude for this Nation of Women who had played such a significant role during her life on Earth...and now, also in her death.
Alongside the creek, near his army camp, an unusually somber Ares watched as his men buried their dead fellow soldiers. When they had finished, he addressed those remaining.
“Come to the temple tomorrow at high sun and you will receive your dinars and drink. That is all.” And the God of War zapped himself away.
In the deepest pit of Hell, a much-diminished Lucifer sat licking his wounds and trying to regenerate his strength. The Hind's blood, along with Eli's force, had greatly weakened the Demon. The fact that Eve was Xena's blood relative had only added to the potency of the action. Still, the Hell-God had managed to dredge up enough energy to summons his three highest commanders and mete out the horrible fate that awaited them for failing him so miserably.
“You, Gello and Reaver,” he said to the duo who stood before him trembling with terror, “are to be thrown into the Rat Hole, to be chewed on and gnawed at until there is nothing left of you. And you, Euryale, shall be skinned of your outer shell and boiled in oil for the rest of eternity... with no chance of solace or escape!”
At this, the pathetic Demon fell prostrate at his Masters feet pleading for mercy, but it fell on deaf ears and Lucifer fell back into his agony.
The still disembodied spirit of Xena sat in the Amazon camp while the others ate a late supper. She soaked in every detail of the night that she could; willing the sights, sounds, and smells of the present into her being. She walked over and sat beside her daughter. “Eve...” She began.
“Mother, please...it's all right, really,” she interrupted.
“I love you Eve. I'm so proud of you. Eli and his God chose well making you their Messenger. Take care, my daughter.”
The Warrior and her bard spent their remaining time in Aphrodite's temple. The Goddess had graciously offered them a lavishly decorated room in which to spend their last few hours together. “My compliments,” she choked, in a rare show of emotion for the two.
After a leisurely bath in an exquisite marble tub, the soul mates spent what was left of the night wrapped in each other's embrace. Gabrielle, however, soon fell asleep, the emotionally and physically draining day having taken its toll. As Xena had no need of slumber, she passed the remaining hours of darkness caressing her love's soft cheeks and dotting them with kisses.
At mid-morn, while Gabrielle was hungrily consuming a flask of cider and a plate of cheese and fruit provided by the Amazons, Michael returned. A surge of overwhelming dread spread through Xena. Gabrielle, unable to utter a single word, looked at her Warrior Princess. Xena sighed heavily, and then spoke, “Ok, Michael, where to now?”
He looked at Gabrielle, then Xena and smiled. “Are you up for a trip to Egypt?”
After a quick journey to Cleopatra Selene's to collect Xena's urn, Michael met with Xena, Eve, and Gabrielle in the temple of Eli. The archangel had used his angelic powers to transport himself, Xena, and Gabrielle to Egypt and back, but he did not tell them his real purpose for obtaining the ashes. Xena was preparing herself for the inevitable. As Gabrielle was still alive, it meant that she would be joining Solan in the Elysian Fields instead of the two of them returning with Michael to Heaven.
“Ladies,” Michael began, “I have some news that I know will be very welcome. Xena, there may have been several factions in the underworld intent on destroying your soul, but it seems that you have stronger, more powerful allies in very High places that override the Princes of Darkness. After much conversation, and some debate, a decision has been made...to grant you back your mortal life.”
You could have heard a pin drop. The women had all become momentarily mute, looking at each other in disbelief.
Gabrielle finally broke the silence. “But….how….I mean, it's not like it hasn't happened before, but…well, we thought….”
Xena's voice was strained as she questioned the archangel. “What of the 40,000 souls?”
“That's covered, Xena. It was determined that as this war disposed of a large quantity of the fiends of Hell, that would suffice and cover your debt.”
Michael produced a vial of water from his robes and picked up the urn containing the ashes. He poured the water into the urn, shook the contents thoroughly, and turned to Eve.
“The reason I asked the three of you to meet here in the temple of Eli is because the next part of this process must be performed by the Messenger. I have mixed Xena's ashes with a vial of the Water of Life that flows throughout Heaven. Eve, take this urn and cover your mother head to toe with the paste. Xena, you then must wash it off here in the temple with Eve's assistance; Gabrielle can get the tub of hot water ready. Xena, when the paste has been washed away, you will once again join the land of the living. You must act quickly. Lucifer has been greatly weakened, but as long as he knows that your soul is still here on Earth you are not really safe until you reunite with your body.”
Xena took Michael's hands in her own, “Michael, I….I don't know what to say besides thank you.” The archangel smiled in way of response. Gabrielle gave Michael a hug and then the tears came once again.
“I am going to leave now. My work here is finished.” He bowed to the trio and was gone.
Xena and Gabrielle were lying on their bedroll underneath a stunning full moon in front of a blazing fire. They had spent the last three days of the Warrior's newly restored life enjoying each other, eating, and basically doing whatever they pleased.
“I still can't believe you're really here…and don't ever do that to me again!” Gabrielle scolded through a huge smile.
Xena took her lover into her arms. “Nah….you won't be getting rid of me anytime soon. And anyway, we're stuck with each other for eternity you know, no matter how many lifetimes we get.”
“Wouldn't want it any other way my Warrior Princess,” Gabrielle laughed.
They shared a passionate kiss and Gabrielle whispered into her soul mate's ear. “I love you, Xena.”
“Back at ‘cha my beautiful Bard,” she responded. And they lay in each other's arms as the night passed by around them.
Return to the Academy