Friday, September 08, 2006
i Xena, Gabrielle, Eve, Aphrodite, & Ares…yadda yadda, you know this already.
i This is a Post FIN piece that upholds the storyteller’s cardinal rule.
i I took small liberties with Japanese Mythology, because to the best I could find, there is no physical description of any of the deities.
i In this piece, Ares calls one of the female characters a yariman. Its Japanese slang, for slut.
i This is yet another piece that absolutely refused to leave me alone, no matter what I did.
i I only know how you feel about my stuff if you tell me. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The small campsite bore no sign of life, with the exception of the crackling fire. There was no stew pot bubbling away on its spit over the fire, no pot warming water for tea, and the bedroll had yet to be made up. Sitting close to the fire, a young woman with closely cropped blonde hair and green eyes hugged her knees to her chest, rocking herself back and forth, as the tears streamed down her face.
She didn’t want to go to sleep. Going to sleep meant that she’d accepted the idea her partner was dead, and wasn’t coming back. So long as she stayed awake, there was a small chance that something could be done to save her before the day was over.
Aphrodite watched the scene unfold in her scrying bowl, torn between profound sadness, and overwhelming anger. While her heart ached for the bard, her mind desperately wanted to beat the warrior senseless. She couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Waving her hand to close the scene, she stormed out of the room in search of her brother. Somehow, she knew he was ultimately to blame for this.
She didn’t find him in his quarters, or any of the halls. She was on her way back to her own quarters when she spotted him. He was sitting atop the ruins of a pillar that had been destroyed during a skirmish between Athena and him. She crossed to him, and she got closer, she could feel the waves of agony rolling off of him. Ares looked up as she approached, and Aphrodite noticed the tears running down his face.
“Something wrong bro?” she asked.
“How could she? How could she do that to Gabrielle?” he said.
She knew right away what he was talking about, but she didn’t buy his heartbroken act, because that’s what she viewed it as, an act.
“You’re upset because Xena got separated from Gabrielle?” she asked.
“Yeah right. You honestly expect me to believe you after everything you did to attempt to tear them apart?” she asked coldly, which was unlike her.
He hung his head as her words hit home.
“You’re right. But I never intended for this to happen. None of this was supposed to happen. Everything went wrong that night. Everything. And there was nothing I could do to stop it” he said.
“Ares” Aphrodite sighed, “What are you talking about?”
“Xena had gone to Jappa, for one reason or another. Bishamon had set his sights on her, wanting to use her to run rampant on some of the territories” he began.
“Sounds familiar” Aphrodite said.
“No. I never thought of her the way he did. He expected Xena to just obey him without question, and then kill her when he no longer had use of her. I found out and tried to warn her. When he found out, he set up the turn of events with that little yariman, that suckered Xena into killing her, and not letting Xena know everything about her, and the village she was in, which in Izanagi’s eyes meant she was responsible for what happened to those people” Ares explained in one long breath.
“Why in Hades didn’t you ever tell daddy?” Aphrodite asked.
“You know we never truly got along. And besides, even if I’d told him he wouldn’t have believed me” Ares said.
“Alright, then we have to fix it” Aphrodite said.
“Fix it? How?” Ares asked.
“Well for starters, we talk to Gabrielle” she replied.
“She’s not gonna believe me. Not at this point” he said.
“Don’t sell the bard short bro. She’s not the pessimist that tall, dark and dangerous was. Besides, I’m going with you. But I’m warning you now that if you do anything to cross her in anyway, so help me I’ll make eternity miserable for you” she warned.
“You?” he said.
Aphrodite’s eyes narrowed.
“Lets see, Gabrielle and Eve are both aware of how well you lie in order to get your own way, not to mention how manipulative you can be. And once this is made news to them, you know they’ll do everything they can to bring you down. And then there’s Xena. If you thought you had problems with her before, you ain’t seen nothing yet” she threatened.
“And don’t forget, Xena’s got quite a few deities to back her up. Eli, Lao Ma, Ramses, need I go on?” she asked.
Ares shook his head.
“Good, then let’s do this” she said
Gabrielle’s eyes drooped, and she shook her head, valiantly warding off sleep. A burst of gold sparkles caused her to look up, and she tried to offer her friend a smile.
“Oh little one, I’m sorry, so very sorry” Aphrodite said gently, walking over and crouching down next to the bard.
“I’m surprised to see you here Dite” Gabrielle said.
She stared into the goddess’ eyes for a moment or two, and then her own eyes fluttered closed, and Aphrodite gently caught her, looking up as Ares materialized into form beside them. He crouched down, and gathered the limp body in his arms, and Aphrodite gathered the bard’s things, and with two snaps of her fingers, placed a seal on the small urn clasped tightly in Gabrielle’s hand, and put out the small fire.
“Got everything?” Ares asked.
Without another word, they vanished.
Gabrielle snuggled contentedly into the thick fur, as her body reluctantly fought off Morpheus’ spell. Suddenly, her mind made the connection that where she was the night before, wasn’t at all where she was now. Her eyes opened, and she sat up quickly, trying to take stock of her surroundings. Aphrodite hurried back into the room.
“It’s okay sweet pea. We’re the ones who came to get you and everything’s okay” she said.
“We?” Gabrielle asked.
Aphrodite nodded and looked over her shoulder as Ares walked into the room. Gabrielle’s eyes darkened, and her temper flared. Uncharacteristically, Ares eyes dropped to the floor, and he took several deep breaths before he looked up.
“I know seeing me makes you question what you’re doing here, and what I must be thinking I’ll get from it. But believe it or not, we want to help” he said.
“And why should I believe you?” Gabrielle asked.
“Because I know the real reason Xena was deceived into killing that little harpy. And I know that the villagers never would’ve attacked her on their own, because had they known the truth behind it all, they would’ve had no reason to” Ares explained.
Gabrielle’s eyes rolled.
“After everything you’ve done, you expect me to buy that?” she asked.
“I know my reputation doesn’t give you much reason to trust me” he said.
“But mine does. And for what it’s worth, I think he’s telling the truth” Aphrodite said.
Gabrielle drew in and released a breath.
“Okay. So you know the truth behind Akemi’s death. It doesn’t change anything. Xena’s still dead” she said.
“We know, and we’re going to use our information to try and fix that” Ares said.
“How?” Gabrielle asked.
“I’m gonna talk to Izanagi, and tell him of the chaos that Bishamon created. With luck, he’ll agree that Xena’s death happened as a result of an act of revenge, and he can bring her back” Ares explained.
“Wait, you’re gonna talk to who?” Gabrielle asked
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Ares laughed.
“I’m sorry. I thought maybe Xena explained that to you or that you knew about their beliefs” he said.
Gabrielle shook her head.
“According to their story of creation, Izanagi is the creator of the other gods. He’s sort of like dad, in a way. He created Bishamon, who is their god of both happiness, and war, but his acts of brutality make me look like my sister” he explained, gesturing towards Aphrodite.
“What do we have to do?” Gabrielle asked.
“I’m gonna go talk to Izanagi first to see if he’ll even meet with us. You and Aphrodite are going to find Eve. She shouldn’t hear the news about her mother from a stranger. She deserves better than that” Ares replied.
Gabrielle nodded, knowing that if her daughter had to hear about the news of her mother’s death, she wanted to be the one to tell her. But she suddenly realized something that had always been against them before, whenever they’d dealt with the gods.
“How long do we have?” she asked.
“How long do we have until what?” Ares asked her.
“We run out of time” she replied.
“This time, we have as much time as we need. By allowing her to cross over, before we attempted this, we made sure that there would be no drawbacks in getting her back” she said.
“Alright, now that we’re all on the same page, I’m off to talk to Izanagi” Ares said. With a flash of purple blue light, he was gone.
“You stay put, I’ll be right back” Aphrodite said, disappearing before Gabrielle had the chance to protest.
She sat back on the lounge she’d been sleeping on, and took stock of her surroundings. Her saddlebags and bedroll were stacked neatly on a nearby chair, the urn with Xena’s ashes sat on a small table beside the chair, and Xena’s leathers, armor, and weapons had all been carefully laid out, as if she were in an adjoining room bathing and would soon return to dress.
She pushed the fur back and stood, slowly stretching the kinks out of her limbs. She noticed that she’d been changed at some point into a pair of silk pajamas, and judging by their color, Aphrodite most likely had something to do with it. She didn’t have time to explore her surroundings further, as at that moment, Aphrodite returned, with an angry Eve in tow.
However, the instant the young woman saw the bard, her demeanor changed. Eve’s eyes welled with tears, and she rushed to the bard, wrapping her arms around her and crying earnestly. Gabrielle caught Aphrodite’s eyes with her own, burning with an unspoken question.
“Word traveled faster than we thought” the goddess said softly.
Gabrielle’s eyes closed, and she wrapped her arms tighter around her daughter’s frame. She knew that consoling her would do no good. In stead she tried to reassure her that everything would work out, and they’d get her mother back.
“It’s alright sweetheart, we’ll get her back” she said.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye” the young woman replied.
“Shhhhh” Gabrielle crooned. “You’ll make yourself sick if you keep this up, and then you won’t be of any good when it comes time to get your mom back.”
Eve nodded. “I know it just hurts so much. I just found her, and now I’ve lost her all over again.”
“I know sweetheart, I know” Gabrielle murmured.
They were unable to say more, as Ares materialized in front of them. Eve’s hackles rose instantly, her hands balling into fists as she eyed him suspiciously.
“What the hell is he doing here?” she demanded.
“I know you won’t believe this, but he’s going to help us” Gabrielle explained gently.
Eve’s eyes rolled. “What’s he getting out of it?”
“As hard as it is to accept, he’s not getting anything” Aphrodite said.
“Oh yes I am” Ares replied.
Three sets of eyes quickly pinned him in place.
“Why you” Gabrielle started.
Ares held up a hand to forestall the outburst he knew was coming.
“I’m getting revenge on a guy who thinks he can take my chosen and do with her as he pleases, while I sit back and watch. And since he’s that foolish, to underestimate both her, and I, then watching him pay for his mistake will be sweet” he said, unable to keep the smug grin off his face.
Thus time it was Aphrodite’s eyes that rolled. Sometimes she seriously worried about her brother.
“You just remember what I told you” she warned.
“Now what do we do?” Gabrielle asked.
“I spoke to Izanagi, and as I thought, he wasn’t pleased. It turns out that he knew of Bishamon’s lies years ago, but before he could take care of it, Xena left Jappa, and by the time he knew of her whereabouts, she had already returned to Greece” Ares explained.
“Daddy had issues with other supreme deities in Greece. So that would explain why nothing had been done to correct this problem until now” Aphrodite said.
“Right, because she never returned to the area, he never bothered with taking care of it” Ares said. “Now he’s waiting for us at the bridge.”
“The bridge?” Gabrielle asked.
Ares nodded. “They call it Ama-no-ukihashi.”
“The floating bridge of the heavens” Eve murmured.
Gabrielle turned towards her in surprise. “You’ve heard of it?”
“I read about it when I was younger. Jappa fascinated me as a child. Still does actually” the young woman said.
Aphrodite took Gabrielle by the hand, effectively changing the silk pajamas back into her red halter and skirt. She held her free hand out to her brother.
“I’m not going to give you any opportunity to double cross them” she said.
Ares snorted, but took her hand, as Eve held on to Gabrielle with both of her own. Without another word, the group vanished.
When they reappeared, they were standing on one end of a large bridge that was shrouded in mist. Standing before them was a wizened old man with long dark hair braided neatly, and wearing a kimono that seemed to be made up of every color in the known world. He eyed all of them, focusing particular attention on Eve and Gabrielle.
“The purest thing in her life, and her one great hope. It would appear that even though she thought she was doing the right thing, by holding herself responsible for a crime she committed in her past, she was committing an even greater crime of the heart. And that crime she must be punished for. But first things first” Izanagi said in a voice that sounded like the wind.
With a wave of his hand, a man of middle age appeared, dressed in a black kimono, and bound by some sort of strange rope. Ares smiled the way he normally would when one of his schemes was going to plan.
“Bishamon, nice to see you again” he said, crossing his arms.
Bishamon growled in reply.
Izanagi turned towards the bound deity.
“You incited a riot that caused the deaths of an entire village. And you used your own child to accomplish it!” he raged.
Bishamon stated darkly at Ares, but refused to speak.
“Child?” Gabrielle questioned
Izanagi nodded. He stared into deep green eyes, and appeared to be speaking to her alone.
“You see, I’m sure you’re aware of the legend that Ares takes the form of his men and visits their wives while away at war” he said.
“Bishamon was the same. And Akemi is the result of that. The man her mother was actually married to found out, and so planned to kill her in order to purify the family name. Akemi learned of this, and killed him first. The rest of this nightmare you already know. I cannot change what happened to these people. But I can change who is held ultimately responsible” Izanagi said.
With another wave of his hand, Xena appeared, in the flowing red kimono that Gabrielle remembered.
“She wanted to wear it because it fit the surroundings. Personally, I wish my wife could do a kimono that kind of justice” his gentle voice resonated in Gabrielle’s mind.
For reasons unknown to anyone but the two of them, the bard ducked her head, and blushed clear to the roots of her hair.
“You okay?” Eve asked.
“Fine” Gabrielle commented.
Izanagi motioned the warrior forward.
“Come, stand before me and hear your verdict” he said.
When the warrior moved, Gabrielle noticed that she seemed to float instead of taking individual steps. Her heart sank, when she realized that her partner was still a spirit.
She didn’t have time to dwell on it, as the god spoke again.
“You have committed two very serious crimes against the hearts of the people you loved most. And for that, you will be held completely accountable. However my initial idea of how you should be held accountable would hurt them more than it would you. So, that said, I am sending you back. Your punishment is this. I expect you to make it up to them, your partner in particular. If I ever find out that you’ve put what you thought was the right thing to do, over what’s right for your partner or daughter again. I will find you, and make your life far worse than it is now. Is that understood?” he asked.
The warrior turned and looked at the bard with tear filled eyes.
“Crystal” she said.
“Very good” Izanagi replied.
He folded his hands together in prayer, and then bowed. When he straightened, Xena inhaled loudly, and felt herself drop onto her feet. She quickly enveloped the bard in an engulfing hug.
“I will make this up to you Bri, I promise” she murmured into a nearby ear, squeezing the bard tightly.
She straightened, and kept an arm wrapped around the smaller woman. She turned slightly and held out her free hand towards her daughter.
“Unless your to big to hug your mama in public” she said.
Eve grinned and accepted her mother’s hand, walking into the embrace.
“Never” she murmured into her mother’s shoulder.
“I still hate happy endings” Ares groused.
“And as for you” Izanagi said pinning the grumbling god with an icy stare.
“Me?” Ares squawked.
“I know very well that you enjoy setting up traps so that something might happen to separate the two of them, or to cause harm to their daughter. As of now I shall be keeping an eye on them, and if I ever hear of another of your tricks being used, then you might find yourself facing the same fate that Bishamon is soon to see. And I’ll be nowhere near as lenient as your father” Izanagi replied.
“You don’t have the ability” Ares fumed.
“Oh but I do” Izanagi replied.
“You see, in order to hold Bishamon accountable for his actions in this woman’s life, I must make absolutely sure that she is never put in this sort of position again. If she is, I’ll know it was by your hand. And when that happens, you will be held accountable for your own actions in her life, for setting her on a violent path all those years ago. Had it not been for your influence, there’s a very real chance we wouldn’t be here. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other matters that must be addressed” he said.
He bowed to them again, and then he and Bishamon disappeared into the mist.
“C’mon lades, lets go home” Aphrodite said.
Gabrielle’s eyes filled with tears, and Xena smiled down on her, a sight she thought she’d never see again. Xena tightened her hold on the bard, as well as her daughter, as she stared deeply into emerald eyes, and felt her soul become whole again.
“I am home”
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