Disclaimer: None of the recognizable characters in this story are ours.
They belong to Rob Tapert and Co., RenPics, Studios USA, MCA/Universal, and anyone
else who has an investment in Xena: Warrior Princess. We are just borrowing them
for use in this story.
Beta (and partner in mayhem) Translation: They are not ours...but you
knew that already. Just doing the legal thing here. Besides, they wont get
much from suing me. All they could get is my signed LL/Xena picture collection
and you would think RT has some of those already. <.shrug.>
Thanks: to Steph, who gave us the idea for this story. Her idea sparked
a trip around Pluto and forced the story to grow to novel length. We do hope to
have the novel done...eventually. We have an outline written and everything. It
is simply a matter of having enough free time to get the rest of it up on the
Beta (and partner in mayhem) Translation: Steph Rocks! And this story
goes rolling on. We have plans, big plans (as my long distance phone bill charges
will attest to) for this here storified situation...just hang in there. It will
get done...honest. She's making me do research...lots of research. But that's
okay, I get to sneak in some humor...it's a cool trade off. And if you have any
comments, we would love to hear them...when you find the bunny, click on him.
The man built the fire up well, knowing it would need to last him several candlemarks
once he started the ritual. He checked the tattered parchment in his hands carefully
one last time, nodding in satisfaction as he identified each object lying in a
circle around the fire.
Finally, convinced that he had everything he needed, the shaman pulled the
buckskin from his body and stepped into the nearby creek for a ritual cleansing.
He dipped a finger in the paints he had prepared, and gently drew the symbols
of the war god on his chest. Stripes on his face, arms and thighs completed the
look and he put on a clean breechcloth and began his chanting.
Darkness fell as the ritual continued, bringing with it a rumble of thunder
and fierce lightning. The shamans chanting grew louder and each object around
the small circle he danced in began to emit an eerie light. Then without warning,
the glow disappeared, the shaman was thrown from the circle, and somewhere not
too far distant a bolt of lightning struck, leaving behind a mark... and something
that would change everything for some, and something for everyone.
Gabrielle felt the rending of her soul as the sun set and Xena slipped away
from her. Breathing became problematic as the pain overwhelmed her and she forced
herself to focus on each breath she took. So intent was she on maintaining a semblance
of control that she didnt detect his presence until the small black pot
was snatched from her grasp, and its contents were floating in the Fountain of
Gabrielle sat stunned for long seconds... long enough for Ares to mumble something
incomprehensible to her. The war god looked up expectantly, frowning when he realized
that this wasnt going strictly according to plan. And that was all he had
time to understand because he suddenly found himself with an armful of heartbroken,
"ARES!!" Gabrielle screamed as she started pummeling him with her
fists. "What in Tartarus are you doing??? That was all I had left of her!
Damn you, Ares! Damn you!!" He grabbed at her flailing arms.
"It should have worked," he muttered loud enough for her to hear.
"It should have brought her back." Those words simply sparked her ire
again, and she pushed him away from her, swinging wildly. He was so taken aback
by her aggressiveness that Gabrielle actually managed to land a shot or two before
Ares grabbed her wrists in one large hand and held on tightly. Only then could
he make out her forlorn whisper.
"She chose to leave me. She chose to give up our life together for a lie.
And youve taken all I had left of her." He didnt see her draw
back her arm, but the impact of her fist on his face was... magnificent. And quite
painful, surprisingly. Frighteningly, it reminded of the time he had spent as
a mortal, and he was not at all anxious to relive that particular experience ever
"Look blondie, I only thought to do us both a favor, but I can see youd
never be able to appreciate it. Its a long trip back to Greece. Maybe youll
be able to show a little respect by the time you get home, and we can talk about
this rationally. Until then, see ya."
He disappeared in a glow of blue light, and Gabrielle took a last swing at
the air where he had been standing. "ARES!!" she screamed again, but
he was gone. She dropped to the ground until her hand fell on the small pot. Then
she scrambled to her feet and began to feverishly scoop the ashes from the pool
"As angry as I am with you right now, Xena, you have to know I never meant
for something like this to happen. I promised to take you home, and I meant that.
Ive tried not to make promises to you I didnt intend to keep. Too
bad you cant say the same." She was quiet then for a few minutes as
she concentrated on gathering every single bit of ash she could collect with only
the light of the full moon to help her.
When she was satisfied she had done the very best she could, she straightened
with a groan and lidded the pot. She looked around for her gear, and with a sigh
she wrapped the pot closed carefully so none of the ashes would spill and placed
Xenas remains in the bottom of her bag. Then she began her decent off the
mountain in the darkness.
Gabrielle didnt go very far. She mostly wanted to get away from the spot
where shed lost Xena. Even the thought of that hurt, and she focused on
controlling her breathing, absently thankful for the time theyd spent together
meditating. She noted a small outcropping and made her way over to it, setting
her bag down and shaking out her blanket before lying down and closing her eyes.
Sheer physical exhaustion took over, and she went to sleep with Ares voice haunting
her dreams... It should have brought her back,
A lone tear escaped her closed lid, even as she slept on.
With daylight, Gabrielle arose and took up her burdens once more. She slowly
and steadily made her way down Mt. Fuji, until she reached Higuchi. It was just
lunchtime when she arrived, and she was approached by a merchant with a bowl of
rice and a bow. She tried politely to decline, then realized her refusal would
offend the man, and accepted his gift with a nod when he rebuffed her payment.
She slowly became aware that everyone in the village was bowing as she passed,
regarding her with a mixture of fear, awe and sympathy. It made her want to break
down into tears. Instead, she bit her lip and searched out Hoketsu.
He did not speak, but took her to the bathing room, sensing she was not ready
to talk about what had happened on the mountain. The fact that she was alone spoke
volumes more than words ever could. He waited til she nodded her approval of the
arrangements, then bowed his way out the door. Gabrielle stripped and slid into
the warm pool, allowing the tears to flow at last.
Meanwhile, at the docks, word had passed about the incredible defeat the small
blonde warrior had visited on Yodoshi, and the inconceivable price she had paid
for her victory. The Captain of one of the vessels in residence stepped onto the
dock and began looking for Hoketsu. The younger man bowed as the short, gray-haired
captain approached him. Hoketsu had the utmost respect for Katerina von Lihp,
even though the woman had the strangest habit of dressing like a shepherd instead
of the Germanic sea captain she was. Still, she had proven herself a friend to
Hoketsu and the people of Higuchi, so they overlooked her idiosyncrasies.
"Captain Lihp, it is a pleasure. How may the people of Higuchi serve you?"
"Ah, Hoketsu, my friend. Iz it true zat Yodoshi has been defeated by a
small voman varrior?"
"Yes, yes, but at great cost to herself... to her soul."
The older woman scratched her face. "Perhaps I vill offer her a vay home.
Im sure she vill not vant to shtay here."
"She is bathing, but I will bring her to you, if she is willing, when
she is done."
"Eggzellent. I vill see to preparing ze boat. Ze tide goes out at sunset,
and ve vould do vell to go viz it."
With a nod, Hoketsu continued on to the small market area, and Captain Lihp
returned to her vessel.
When he reached the shop he was looking for, Hoketsu entered and bowed toward
the proprietor. The older man bowed back then asked with a smile. "Hoketsu,
what can I do for you?"
"Morimoto, do you have anything to fit the Little Dragon Warrior? Her
clothing was destroyed in the battle with Yodoshi. I wish to replace it before
she leaves us."
"She is leaving then?"
"I expect she will. There is no real reason for her to remain, and Captain
Lihp is going to offer her passage back toward Greece. I think she will accept
Morimoto nodded his head thoughtfully. "I believe I can find something
for her. She is much the size of the women here. Let me look. She will have my
Hoketsu nodded and Morimoto went into the back area of his shop. Within minutes
he returned, and held up a package. "Several moons ago, I was compelled to
make this," he said quietly, "Though I didnt understand why at
the time. Now I do. My gift to her."
Hoketsu nodded and accepted the package without opening it. Morimoto was the
finest tailor he knew, so he believed that Gabrielle would appreciate the beauty
of whatever artistry he had created.
As he began to make his way back to the bath house, Hoketsu was stopped by
nearly every citizen of Higuchi, all eager to share their thanks with the bard.
He was forced to ask for help in carrying all the gifts offered to her, and he
and Yama had to stop at his home to drop things off first. Then he turned to the
"Yama, will you take this to Gabrielle? She needs new clothing, but I
do not wish to intrude upon the peace of her bath."
"I would be honored, Hoketsu." She bowed and walked the short distance
to the bath house. When she arrived at the door, she stopped and listened. When
she didnt hear anything, she knocked timidly and waited for permission to
Gabrielle raised her head and opened her eyes to glare at the door when the
knock came. She sighed soundlessly and beckoned, "Come."
Yama stepped into the warm room at the whispered command. "For you, Little
Dragon." Yama set the package on the small bench that held the ragged remains
of her Samurai costume and her meager belongings. The long sword, katana and chakram
stood out conspicuously. "Morimoto sent it for you."
Gabrielle wanted to refuse, but she was too tired and too heart sore to really
care. Instead, she nodded and closed her eyes again. Yama smiled gently and bowed
herself out, closing her eyes at the anguish she had seen in the bards own.
Gabrielle sat in the tub a bit longer before finally taking the cloth and the
cake of soap and scrubbing herself clean, wishing with all her heart she could
do the same with the memories. When she was done, she rose from the water and
covered herself with the towel, walking over to inspect the package wrapped in
She untied the hemp knot, and the paper fell away to reveal... it was another
samurai outfit, but this one was done in an indigo that reminded her of.... Her
breath caught and she closed her eyes against the pain. Gabrielle slipped into
the trousers, belting them comfortably before picking up the tunic. She stared
amazed at the dragon pattern on the back, an exact duplicate of the one she now
bore. It was silver and gold, red and green and she absently marveled at the intricate
detail involved in its creation before donning it and settling her weapons.
She folded the towel neatly and stepped into her sandals before she exited
the bath house and headed for the docks.
Hoketsu saw Gabrielle leave and moved to walk with her. She glanced in his
direction and gave him a quizzical look, but did not say anything.
"I have arranged a way for you back to the mainland, if you desire to
return. I did not think you would want to remain here any longer than necessary."
Gabrielle nodded her acceptance of his words, and motioned for him to lead the
When they reached Captain Lihps boat, Hoketsu crossed the gangway and
beckoned Gabrielle to join him on the deck. She walked over with cat-like ease,
landing on the teak planking with a little hop. The Captain moved away from her
first mate, and came over to greet them.
"Velcome aboard. Hoketsu indicated you vould like passage out of Japa.
I vould be happy to take you anyvere you vould like to go." Gabrielle looked
around at the spic-and-span ship and at the not-so-motley crew and nodded. "Are
you in a hurry to get back to Greece or vould you like to go viz us? I haf several
ports of call I can shtop at if youre not in a rush."
Gabrielle nodded again, and both the Captain and Hoketsu began to wonder if
her voice had been stolen on the mountain top. However, Lihp was nothing if not
a determined woman, so she continued. "Eggzellent. Shanghai vill be our first
shtop zen." He didnt see the speculative gleam that entered the dull
green eyes. "Now come," she persisted. "Let me show you your cabin."
Gabrielle turned to Hoketsu and hugged him. He hugged back gently, knowing
that beneath the solidness of her lay a fragility that was close to shattering.
"Thank you," he whispered before she released him and stepped back to
follow the Captain below decks. He waited a moment longer, then turned and stepped
back down the gangplank to the docks. When his feet touched solid ground again,
Hoketsu turned and looked back at the ship a final time, offering a prayer to
his gods for the safety of Gabrielles soul.
Lihp went down a single set of stairs and stopped in front of one of the few
doors in the passageway. Then she turned to her with serious intent.
"Ve dont carry many passengers, so your berth iz not large. Ve do
carry zem often enough zat zis space iz set aside for zat purpose, and it iz clean.
Zat is about ze mosht zat can be said for it. You have ze freedom of ze ship,
and if you need anything, you have but to ask."
Gabrielle nodded her understanding, and the Captain opened the door, stepping
back so she could pass thru. She looked around. Katerina hadnt lied
the space was extremely small, but it was clean and would suit her needs. Gabrielle
gave her a simple nod of approval.
"Eggzellent! Ze gud people of Higuchi vanted to be sure you vere provided
for on your journey, so zey left you some provisions. Mosht of ze zings are here
in your cabin. Ze resht iz below decks in ze shtorage area until you ready to
leave uz." She waited for a response, but when none was forthcoming, she
sighed silently and continued. "Now if you vill excuse me, ve vill get undervay."
Gabrielle nodded again and turned her back in dismissal, stepping over to open
the small porthole to allow the fresh air in. She heard the door closed and the
Captains footsteps grow fainter before her shoulders sagged and she slumped
onto the small platform cot.
No one heard her silent tears.
The next three weeks passed without much change in routine for either the ships
crew or its passenger. Gabrielle had not spoken a word since shed set foot
on the ship, and the crew had learned rather quickly to steer clear of her. She
spent candlemarks every day working with both the katana and her sais, though
the chakram never left her hip. Her body grew lean and hard even as her eyes became
more lifeless and dull.
The remainder of her waking candlemarks, Gabrielle spent staring out to sea
or meditating. The longer the voyage became, the more often she turned to meditation.
She found it soothed what was threatening to become an overwhelming rage. Her
urge to strike out at everyone and everything sometimes sent a red wash through
her veins. She found that meditating kept it manageable.
Strangely, the meditating and practice did wonders for her seasickness as well.
Though she was not particularly happy to be on a ship again, and despite the fact
that her appetite was minimal, she experienced only mild discomfort this trip
compared to previous ones.
Finally, on the morning of the twenty-second day, the lookout called out, "Land
ho!" and it wasnt long before the boat was in the shipping lanes pulling
in to the Shanghai port. Gabrielle went below decks to pack her few belongings.
Except for the samurai clothing, and some fresh fruit that shed shared among
the crew, she had touched nothing from Higuchi. She felt the boat slip into a
berth and gave an unconscious sigh of relief.
As she made her way topside, she was hailed by the Captain. "Little Dragon,
Gabrielle stopped, digging into her bag. She found what she was looking for,
and handed Katerina her small purse. Lihp recoiled as though it were a snake.
"NO!" she said vehemently. "Your money vill not vork viz uz,
Little Dragon. Ze people of Higuchi owed you a debt, and zis iz how zey chose
to make payment."
Green eyes studied hers and she fought to contain her shudder at the deadness
of them. Eventually she nodded her agreement and placed the purse back in her
bag. The Captain nodded back and exhaled in relief.
"Gud! Gud! Now vhat shall ve do viz your ozzer tings, hä?" Her
brow crinkled in confusion and he hastened to explain. "The gifts ve stowed
in ze hold."
Gabrielle shook her head and shrugged. Then she reached out and clasped Katerinas
arm briefly before turning and heading down the gangplank.
Captain Lihp watched her out of sight before muttering to herself. "Ze
gods vatch over you, Gabrielle of Potideia. Ve vill zee you in Greece." Then
she turned back to her boat and the business at hand.
Shanghai was a busy port of call, full of merchants, sailors and purveyors
of all types of things. Gabrielle took notice of little of it, not realizing the
people moved out of her way. She didnt notice the whispers as her samurai
dress was noted by the populace. Her senses were aware, but they were focused
for danger, not for whispered comments and the space of respect.
She stepped off the main path, looking for a quiet inn with a bath. The first
thing that actually got her attention was the sweet smell of opium, and she hesitated
in front of the door for a long moment. Gabrielle remembered well Xenas
stories from her first experience in Chin, though shed never shared much
from that part of her life. Xena had shared the reason for her reluctance to use
any sort of narcotic to dull her pain.
Now Gabrielle found herself seriously contemplating the need to lose herself
as she had lost Xena. To fill the void Xenas death had caused with mellow
joy, even if only for a little while. She put her hand on the door and pushed
it open slightly, allowing the wafting sweet scent of the opium to escape. Then
she let is close as her shoulders dropped and she turned to journey farther up
"No. I will keep the memories and the pain. Its all I have left."
Gabrielle found what she was looking for on the outskirts of the town. The
Labrys hanging near the door reminded her of the Amazons, and she knew that she
would be safe for the night. It occurred to her in passing that she would need
to check on her sisters if she lived that long. She would make it back to Greece...
she had promised Xena long ago to take her back to her brother. But Gabrielle
had no definite plans beyond getting Xenas remains to Amphipolis. After
With a sigh, she pushed open the door, welcoming the relative quiet after the
marketplace. She stepped to the bar and dug in her purse, withdrawing a gold coin.
She slapped in on the bar in front of the proprietress and raised a brow. She
gave silent thanks for Xenas training when the woman started speaking rapid-fire
"For that... dinner, bath, bed, breakfast and supplies for the road."
Gabrielle nodded agreement, and took the mug of ale placed before her. "Everyone
calls me Ling," the woman introduced herself. "Come, and I will show
you to your room."
Gabrielle hefted her bag and lifted the mug. Then she followed Ling down the
small hallway. She opened a door and Gabrielle noted it was a clean, sparse room.
She nodded her satisfaction and set down her things. Ling crossed the hall, and
opened another door. Inside was a huge pool, much like the one Gabrielle had used
in Higuchi. Except this one had other women in it. They all turned to look, and
Gabrielle bore the stares stoically.
Ling turned to her and asked, "You want to bathe now? I will wash the
outfit, samurai... no extra charge."
Gabrielle stepped into the room and stripped out of her clothing, this time
acutely aware of the whispers behind her. A collective gasp fell from the lips
of those gathered when her bare back was exposed. When she turned around, she
noted that all the women had moved to the far end of the pool. Shrugging to herself
she moved towards the pool.
Ling handed her a cloth and a towel. "They moved to show respect, Little
Dragon. Women warriors are very rare here and samurai not at all." She offered
a cake of soap.
Gabrielles eyes had widened at Lings use of her nickname, but she
took the soap and began bathing the days at sea away from her body. When she was
done, she rose and wrapped the towel around herself and left the room. Not a word
had been spoken while shed been in there, and the low murmur of voices now
sounded like so many angry bees.
Dinner was rice and vegetables and a flagon of wine that Gabrielle found sitting
on the low table when she stepped into her room. She ate, pleasantly surprised
by the mixture of flavors. Then she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
It was late when she awakened and only then because Ling was knocking. Gabrielle
pulled the sheet around her, and wiped the sleep from her eyes as she rose. She
scrubbed her hand through her hair and then opened the door.
Ling offered her a tray and a package. Gabrielle could tell from the feel it
was her clothing, and she bowed slightly in thanks. Then she shut the door, and
began to prepare herself for travel.
Ling had given her a small map, and Gabrielle had decided to follow the Yangtze
River while she searched for Eve. She knew it could take a while for her to find
Eve, but figured when she started hearing Elis message, the messenger would
not be too far away.
It was shortly after midday when Gabrielle was stopped by a small group of
men demanding payment for walking along the road. The Gabrielle of old, being
a skilled bard and negotiator, would have tried talking her way out of the situation.
The new Gabrielle didnt hesitate, and in the blink of an eye held her katana
in one hand, and the chakram in the other.
The men laughed amazed at the boldness of the woman standing before them. Not
knowing she understood them perfectly, and not just the crude gestures they had
demanded payment with, one man commented to the other just what he was going to
do to teach the impudent woman a lesson.
His words werent out of his mouth before his head hit the ground. His
body remained upright a beat or two longer before it collapsed. In the silence
that followed, the five remaining men gauged the situation and the lone woman
warrior. Deciding she could not beat them as a whole, they attacked enthusiastically,
trying to bury her under the onslaught.
Gabrielle shifted the katana forward and across, glorying in the sweet, coppery
smell of blood as it sprayed over her mostly bare skin, and licking its
tangy saltiness from her lips. She had resumed her red velvet number when shed
left the inn, and now she was glad she had... for several different reasons.
With her left hand she swung the chakram in a wide arc, catching the third
man across the throat. He gurgled his last breath.
The three remaining men looked at Gabrielle as though she were a demon possessed
and tried to back away. Gabrielle felt the bloodlust sing through her veins and
grinned. "Problem, boys? One woman a little too much for you?" said
in a whisper that sent skitters across their collective spines.
They didnt understand her words, but her intent was clear. Before they
could decide between fight or flight, Gabrielle descended upon them, unleashing
the pain and fury she felt. It didnt take long, and in the end, six Chinamen
laid dead, and the blood-covered warrior wiped her weapons before continuing her
When evening came, Gabrielle found herself searching for a place to make camp.
Shed encountered two other sets of highwaymen, and each encounter ended
the same. She wanted to feel sadness for the unnecessary deaths, but all she could
manage was a sense of fulfillment. Strangely, she wasnt particularly hungry,
though shed missed lunch.
Shrugging her shoulders, she found a quiet spot off the beaten path near a
still pool. She checked the water, and when she was satisfied it wasnt stagnant,
she stripped her clothes off and stepped in to wash.
It took her a few minutes to wash the blood away, but she did so rather nonchalantly,
then took up her red velvet outfit and scrubbed it clean. She rose from the water
and shivered a little in the light breeze. She took a shift from her bag and slid
into it, then laid her clothing on the nearby brush to dry. Gabrielle started
a small fire, appreciating the warmth more than the light. She heated water for
tea, and wrapped herself in her sleeping furs, never even realizing when she passed
from wakefulness into sleep.
The next few days started a pattern that would continue for the next few moons.
Gabrielle rose early and ate, then moved on down the river path. Some days, she
would encounter brigands, and she found herself oddly full after decimating each
roving band. Other days she would spend in the small towns or villages she ran
across, helping where she could... building a barn, taking care of the sick, cleaning
up after a raid. Simple things that reminded her she was still alive, and there
were always people in need of help.
Slowly, the days passed into weeks and the weeks became one moon and then two.
Finally, after nearly three moons of travel across the land of Chin, Gabrielle
was certain Eve was not in the country. She had reached the mountains with no
hint of the message or the messenger.
Studying the map, Gabrielle realized that India was on the other side of the
mountain range, and she decided she was tired of Chin. So she prepared herself
and her gear for a trip over the mountains, and into India.
It was an arduous journey, but Gabrielle welcomed the challenge. It took all
her focus, and that was especially good when her bloodlust returned in full measure.
She hardly had time to wonder at the cause of it, much less its satisfaction.
Soon, the cold and lust overwhelmed her and when she stepped into a world that
seemed to be a figment of her madness, she surrendered to it.
When she first opened her eyes, Gabrielle was almost sure shed crossed
into the Elysian Fields. Instead of the cold, whipping wind and stinging bite
of snow she expected, the temperature was mild and the climate moderate. Blinking,
she realized that she was indoors on a soft bed. She sat up, and noticed for the
first time that she was clean and naked. It didnt really concern her, but
it did make her curious, so Gabrielle gathered the sheet around her and padded
to the window. She opened it, and stared out into... green eyes blinked several
times. The grass was lush and green and the flowers burst with fragrance and color.
Well-dressed people walked along a market area filled with all manner of interesting
Gabrielles forehead crinkled in confusion. She didnt recall the
Fields having a marketplace. A knock on her door interrupted her contemplation.
A curly head poked in after the second knock, and for a moment Gabrielle thought
it was Ephiny. She shook her head trying to clear the confusion while motioning
for the woman to come in.
"Hello, young one," the cheerful voice greeted. "Welcome to
Gabrielles brow furrowed again. The name seemed so familiar, but she
couldnt place it. Was it a myth she had heard? A story on the road? She
shrugged mentally. It would occur to her eventually. It usually did. Gabrielle
turned her attention back to the woman.
"... Manassa, so you let me know if I can help you dear, all right?"
Without waiting for an answer, Manassa continued. "Here is your clothing.
Its been cleaned and repaired." Gabrielle reached for her purse. "Oh,
no charge, dear. We can settle your bill later. Are you hungry?"
Gabrielle thought about that, then nodded.
"Good, Ill let you get dressed, then well see about feeding
you." The woman was gone before Gabrielle had a chance to register her leaving.
The next few days passed in something of a blur for Gabrielle. The people had
made her very welcome, expecting nothing more from her than what she offered.
There was a lassitude, a peace that pervaded all life here, and Gabrielle found
a part of herself wishing she could stay and enjoy it. The larger part of her
was growing antsier, trying to control an urge she still didnt understand.
On the morning of the ninth day after her arrival in the small village, Gabrielle
packed up her kit. She knew she had to leave before the burning in her blood manifest
itself physically. Manassa looked at her with great sadness.
"I hope you find your peace, young warrior," she said softly as she
accepted a small amount of money from Gabrielle. Theyd argued about this...
Gabrielle with silent, harsh motions and Manassa with quiet, simple words. They
had reached an accord they could both live with, and now Gabrielle was anxious
to leave the small village before she visited her raged upon the innocent people
Gabrielle nodded an acknowledgement of her words, and unexpectedly leaned forward
to brush her lips on Manassas cheek. Then she stepped out the door without
a backward look, and headed for the Southern mountain range and India that lay
Once again, the severe cold overcame every thought and focus she had, and Gabrielles
last thought before she succumbed was that she would never get to tell Eve about
When she awakened this time, it was to the familiar scent of curry, and a firm
straw mattress beneath her body. She sat up and looked around, hoping to find
a clue of where she was, wondering if her previous experience had been the imaginings
of a madwoman.
Her stirrings alerted the young man who was tending to her and he nodded to
the young woman who was in the room with him before handing her a cup and bidding
her to drink. Then he spoke softly in Hindu words Gabrielle recognized from her
travels twenty-six full cycles previously.
"Rest, Dragon Warrior. The messenger has been summoned."
Gabrielle relaxed, hoping that the hard part of her journey was almost done.
Shed fallen into a light doze and didnt rouse when Eve stepped into
the room. Tears filled Eves eyes, noting the pallor and almost skeletal
leanness, knowing that Gabrielles solitary state could only mean one thing.
Eve nodded her thanks to the young man, and he took it for the dismissal it was.
Then Eve settled into a chair by Gabrielles bedside, and waited for her
to awaken again.
Slowly, slower than she expected, Gabrielle felt herself rising toward the
light again, and was at once eager and fearful to awaken. She was fairly certain
that Eve was the person in the room with her, and now that she actually had to
tell her about her mother, Gabrielle felt the tears that had been dry for three
moons begin to flow.
Eve sensed Gabrielles distress, and moved to kneel by the bed. She didnt
speak, but merely held the hand of someone who could have been another mother
to her if Fate had treated them all just a little differently. She wondered if
Gabrielle would consider her a friend.
Things had always been slightly strained and awkward between them though they
had tried to work through it due to their love for Xena. Now it was that love
that would pull them together or push them apart forever.
Gabrielle felt Eve take her hand, and the gentle kindness in the gesture made
the tears flow even faster. She curled into herself and Eves eyes welled
with sympathetic tears. Without thought, she scooped the small woman into her
arms and held her tightly until Gabrielle had stopped trembling.
Eve kissed the blonde hair lightly before setting Gabrielle next to her and
taking the calloused hands in her own smoother ones. She recognized the weapons
patterns, and closed her eyes. Only one thing would have prompted her to choose
a sword, after all this time, Eve thought seriously.
"Gabrielle," she said softly, not understanding the flinch that passed
through the other womans body at the sound of her name. Gabrielles
eyes closed as she tried to regain her equilibrium. "Gabrielle, I know you
came here to tell me Mother is dead... didnt you? It is the only reason
I can think of you would be here alone."
Gabrielle nodded her head, for a long moment unable to look into the blue eyes
that reminded her of just how much shed lost.
"Can you tell me what happened?" Eve paused, reading the agony so
clearly in the dead green eyes that finally met her own. "I know... I know
you loved one another, Gabrielle, more than anything, just as she loved you."
Gabrielles shudder was visible, but Eve continued. "If things had been
different, we would have been a family. I loved her, because she was my mother,
and I knew she loved me in return. And Ill miss her, but more for what could
have been than what was."
Gabrielle understood what Eve was saying. It was almost what shed expected,
given the limited amount of time mother and daughter had had together before Eve
had journeyed eastward. They had bonded and even become friends, but her grief
was not the overwhelming loss of a soulmate that Gabrielle was living with.
Gabrielle was quiet for so long that Eve felt compelled to speak. "Gabrielle,
I cant begin to understand how you feel, but I am here if you need to talk.
For now, though, Id like you to drink this and get some rest." She
handed a cup to Gabrielle. "We can continue our discussion later."
Gabrielle complied without protest, and it was then that it occurred to Eve
what was so odd... beyond the obvious. Gabrielle had yet to say a word.
Eve waited patiently while Gabrielle finished the draught the healer had left
for her, then sat beside her until she felt the small warrior slip into a deep
sleep. Then she rose and went to her own room, closing the door before calling
on Gabrielles goddess friend.
"Aphrodite, goddess of love and friend to my mother and Gabrielle, I beseech
you to grant me an audience."
"Yo, babe! Whassup?"
Eve turned from the window and looked at the goddess now standing in a ring
of rose petals in her barely-there pink outfit. Dite grinned and shook her curly
"Hey, Eve! Long time, no talk to. You still doing the one God gig?"
"Hi, Aphrodite! Yeah, I am, so thanks for coming."
"Too bad!" The goddess flopped on Eve bed, frowning in supreme discomfort.
"Ew! Grody!" She snapped her fingers and was instantly on her own comfortable
divan. "Ah, much better," she sighed. "Now whats up that
you call for me instead of Eli?" her tone serious.
"I asked you to come because of Gabrielle. She once told me that you were
Now Eve had Dites full attention. "Id like to think I still
Eve took a seat on the couch beside the goddess and looked directly into her
eyes. "Good. Then you can tell me what happened to my mother, and why Gabrielle
no longer speaks."
Aphrodites eyes grew wide. "Whaddya mean what happened to...."
Her voice trailed off and her gaze went inward. "That would explain Ares...."
she muttered to herself, then reached for Eves hand. "Cmon, babe.
Weve got things to do."
"Uh... but... Aphr...." But that was all she got out as the pair
disappeared in a shimmer of sparkles.
Her last visit to Olympus had been such an unmitigated disaster, Eve wasnt
real comfortable when she figured out where they were. Aphrodite caught that clue
"Chill, babe." There was sadness in her gaze before she focused on
Eve. "We arent going to the audience hall. None of us have been there
Eve laid a gentle hand on Dites arm and looked at her compassionately.
"Aphrodite, I am sorry. What happened...."
"What happened to them was totally their fault. Ares and I tried to warn
them... tried to stop them, but they so wouldnt listen. They paid for their
arrogance to the max. Maybe one day theyll get it." Eve looked at her
in confusion, but Dite continued. "This is my scrying bowl," motioning
towards the object. "We can see what rocked her world for ourselves."
She looked at Eve. "Do you know when this happened?"
Eve shook her head. "No, but it has to have been a couple moons or so.
She is nothing but muscle and bone. And her hands are rough as though shes
been fighting for a while."
"Well, it for sure didnt happen around here or I would have seen
it. Let me hook this gnarly thing to the worldwide god web. This will let us scan
for her anywhere, anytime."
Dite did some adjusting and jiggling, looking back and forth between the back
of the scrying bowl and the wall where the picture was being reflected. "Eve,
keep an eye on the picture will you, babe? I dont have to do this often
and I never remember...." The love goddess ducked her around the back, mumbling
"Hold it!" Eve shouted, causing Aphrodite to smack into the wall.
She lifted up her head to glare at Eve. "Sorry, but that is perfect."
Dite eased away from the bowl, rubbing her head gingerly as she moved to take
a seat on the large bed. She waved a hand and a tray appeared, and she poured
them each a goblet of wine. "Now, how far back do you think we should go?"
"Um, Aphrodite, shouldnt we start at the here and now first?"
"Oh, like duh!" She looked around, then snatched the small box of
the bedside stand. She pointed it at the scrying bowl, but nothing happened. Dite
peered at it closely, then aimed again. "This is so uncool! Never let a man
play with the toys, babe, especially a god. They never work right after that."
She rapped it against her hand, pleased when the picture shifted to Gabrielle,
then appalled when she saw exactly what shape her friend was in. "Oh, my...
Tears flooded Aphrodites eyes and she raised a hand to cover her mouth.
"Oh Gabrielle," she said softly. "Lets see what we can do."
She looked at Eve, "Two moons, you said?"
Eve nodded. "At least, I think. What happened to her takes time."
"All right, that would make it...." She pointed the box, and Eve
watched a blur of images fly by in reverse. The images stopped. "... about
here." Dite clicked the box but nothing happened. She clicked it twice more,
but still nothing. Frustrated she gave it a good smack, and the images stared
to play forward in slow motion.
"Um, Aphrodite, I dont wanna question your methods, but why not
just wave or snap or something? Wouldnt it be easier?"
"Yes, but the instructions to using the wwgw say to use the box, so I
do." She shook it, and the picture resumed normal speed. Then she almost
wished it hadnt. Gabrielle was surrounded by highwaymen, and yet she cut
them down as callously as thought they had been so much brush wood. Dite cleared
her throat. "Maybe we should look for her and Xena together."
The images once more moved backwards rapidly, and Dite missed the final interlude
on Mt. Fuji. Instead, she caught them at the teahouse, just as Xena was teaching
Gabrielle the pinch.
"Stop," Eve said quietly. "This is important."
So they watched, experiencing Gabrielles horror first hand. When they
got to Xenas headless body, Eve whispered, "No more, please,"
and stunned, Dite complied. She shut off the scrying bowl, and the worldwide god
web marked her place, a factor which would become crucial as time went on.
Eve had tears streaming down her face when she looked at Aphrodite. "My
God... how horrible. No wonder Gabrielle was nearly destroyed by this. I barely
knew my mother, and I feel like my guts are being ripped out. They were everything
to each other."
"That was way uncool of Xena," Aphrodite commented flippantly, wiping
the tears from her eyes. "There is gonna be some radical payment for this
screw-up," she muttered. "Lets get back to Gabrielle. I have something
that may help until I can find a solution to this totally fubared situation."
They disappeared, leaving only a trail of rose petals in their wake.
Gabrielle woke to the soft feel of fingers gently combing through her hair,
and for a long moment lost herself in memories the feeling stirred in her. Then
she realized that the touch was wrong, and reality crashed on top of her once
more. She opened her eyes and saw tears in the blue eyes regarding her.
"How ya doing, kiddo?" Aphrodite asked softly. She stopped stroking
as Gabrielle sat up, but kept her hand on the muscular arm. It took all she had
not to flinch at the obvious changes Xenas death had wrought in her friend.
"Im sorry, Gabrielle. I just found out, or Id have been here
Gabrielle didnt answer and she didnt cry, but she did throw her
arms around the goddesss neck and hug her for all she was worth. Dite spared
a moments thought to be thankful for her immortality... the strength of
the hug would have been painful otherwise.
Gabrielle clung to her for quite some time, and neither woman noticed when
Eve slipped out the door to give them some privacy. Finally, they separated, and
Aphrodite put two fingers under Gabrielles chin, raising the green eyes
to meet her own. This time she did flinch, and closed her eyes briefly when the
depth of Gabrielles pain met her gaze.
"I have a totally radical present for ya," the goddess said lightly,
but Gabrielle could feel the effort Dite was putting in to maintain her facade.
She reached up a trembling hand to Dites face and smiled forlornly. Two
tears spilled from Aphrodites eyes and fell unnoticed to the bed. The goddess
reached out her hand and a ring appeared in it. She presented it to Gabrielle.
"Ive seen a little of what brought you here. Id like you to
wear this. Its my talisman... it will mark you as my chosen and offer you
protection as you travel." She watched Gabrielles face closely and
Gabrielle slowly took the ring from her fingers. She looked a question at Dite
and the goddess answered. "You never needed it before now."
Gabrielle shook her head and tried to hand it back. Aphrodites hands
folded Gabrielles closed over the ring. "Please. You have to let me
help. This is wrong, and I need time to find the answers!"
The bard had never seen Dite so adamant or so distraught. She gazed into the
goddesss eyes for a very long time before finding the answer she was seeking.
Then she nodded her acquiescence.
Aphrodite smiled. "Thank you, girlfriend. Now, would you like a radical
lift back to Greece or...?"
She broke off and it took Gabrielle a moment shift gears and realize the Dite
had reverted to form to deal with things on a less serious level. She more than
most understood Aphrodite hid the depth of her feelings and intelligence behind
the airhead blonde mentality. Gabrielle shook her head, and Aphrodite nodded in
"Cool! Ive got some research to do, so you chill with Eve or whatever
and Ill see you in Greece shortly, k?"
Gabrielle just nodded again, almost sure shed understood what Dite had
said. Time would tell.
"Keep the ring on babe! See ya!" And the goddess disappeared in a
shower of petals.
Gabrielle picked one up and rubbed it between her fingers, shaking her head
with a smile. She slid the ring onto her middle finger, then shifted, scowling
when something hard pressed into the soft flesh of her leg. A knock on her door
made her look up, and then she returned her attention to the cot, searching around
with her hands to find what was poking her.
Her hands hit the objects just as the door opened, and she closed her fist
around them and glanced up at Eve whos stuck her head in hesitantly. They
stared at each other a long time before Eve broke the tableau and walked over
to Gabrielles side. She didnt take a seat on the bed, but rather knelt
on the floor at Gabrielles feet.
She studied the hands in her lap, then gazed into Gabrielles eyes. "I
know what happened," she said softly. "Some of it anyway. But Id
like to hear the whole story from you. Do you think you could...?"
Gabrielle studied her, clenching her fists in memory before looking down and
opening them, realizing what had been aggravating her. Aphrodites tears,
she mused, staring at the two large diamonds now resting in her palm. She looked
back at Eve, whose face bore a patient, understanding countenance. She deserves
to know the whole truth, Gabrielle decided. She nodded her head.
Eve sat up on her knees and brushed her lips across Gabrielles cheek.
"Thank you. Ill leave you to get dressed, and then perhaps youll
join me for dinner?" She waited for Gabrielles nod. "The bathing
room is next door if youd rather have a warm bath first." She saw a
tiny sparkle enter Gabrielles eyes. "Ill come get you in half
a candlemark or so then, all right?"
"Thank you, Eve." There was no sound, but they were the first words
Gabrielles lips had formed since just after Xenas death. It was a
tiny, tiny step, but it was a step in the right direction.
Gabrielle spent almost a full moon with Eve. It was far longer than shed
planned to stay, but she found the retelling of Xenas story so draining
that Eve would only allow her to whisper short bits of the tale before sending
her off to rest and recuperate.
Gabrielle spent much of her off time with Eve meditating or drilling. She tried
to keep to a schedule that wouldnt disturb the others in the compound, but
many were the nights that Eve would wake in the middle of the night to find Gabrielle
in the courtyard moving her katana with deadly accuracy.
After eleven straight nights of this, Eve decided to take action. Knowing Gabrielle
was sleeping little and eating less, Eve decided to go with her own strengths
and make sure that Gabrielle finally got the rest she so desperately needed.
That morning, Gabrielle had reached the part in her story where shed
found Xenas headless body, and shed left the room abruptly with hot,
angry tears coursing down her face. Eve made no immediate move to find her, reliving
the awful sight that had plagued her since seeing it with Aphrodite. She could
only imagine how magnified Gabrielles feelings were, having actually lived
through the trauma.
Instead, Eve went to her chamber and sought answers through prayer and meditation.
Eli manifested himself to her and for several candlemarks they talked, until Eve
was prepared to take the necessary action to help Gabrielle. Eli blessed her and
bade her to rest, which she did, until darkness fell. Then she took up the sword
Eli had left for her, and moved into the courtyard to await Gabrielles arrival.
Gabrielle did not disappoint. Just as the moon reached its zenith, she stepped
from the shadows of her doorway and into the middle of the soft grass. The katana
made the merest whisper of sound as it left its sheath, and Gabrielle immediately
flew into a furious frenzy of moves.
Eve watched from the shadows and waited patiently, choosing carefully the precise
moment to enter the fray. Gabrielle didnt even blink when her imaginary
foe coalesced into a live human being before her eyes. She simply stepped up her
intensity and a feral light entered her eyes.
Eve shuddered when she saw the familiar but forgotten expression enter Gabrielles
eyes, and she knew then that this battle was all too real. Eve tapped into a side
of herself that hadnt seen the light of day in a very long time, and felt
the part of her that was Livia responding to the challenge Gabrielle put forth.
The battle went on for several candlemarks, and it was only because of Eves
better physical condition that she finally managed to knock Gabrielle to the ground
unconscious. She rested herself for quite a bit before moving her sweat-soaked
hair from her eyes and rising to stand on wobbly legs.
Unexpectedly, Eli appeared before her, and knelt down to lift Gabrielle into
his arms. Eve picked up the katana, and followed him to Gabrielles room.
Gabrielle slept for two days while Eve watched and waited. When she woke on
the morning of the third day, it was like shed turned a corner. She ate
decently, and though she still did not speak, except to relate more of Xenas
story in whispers to Eve, she walked the gardens a bit before returning to sleep
Eve did get a bit more sparring out of her, but quickly realized that shed
been very lucky Gabrielle had been exhausted that first night. Gabrielles
skill had surpassed her own, and the only reason she didnt end up bleeding
or dead was because Gabriele turned killing blows aside. She did end up with some
nice bruises though.
At the end of her third quarter moon, her story was told and she was ready
to move on. She was still single-minded in her determination to get Xenas
remains to Amphipolis, but she was now thankful for the time spent with Eve. The
awkwardness was gone, and they had forged a friendship that they would both cherish
despite the distance between them.
Gabrielle packed her bag and slung it over her shoulder, then headed out to
find Eve. Eve was waiting for her at the compounds kitchen.
"Thank you for being here, Gabrielle, and for sharing that story with
me. I know it wasnt easy, but I think we both needed to hear it." The
bard didnt answer, and Eve continued. "Cmon," she said,
picking up a large bag. "Ive got something for you."
Gabrielle followed Eve out the door and to the stables. There sat a horse that
reminded her so much of Handsome it nearly made her cry. She turned shocked green
eyes to Eve. The Messenger shrugged.
"He wandered in just before you did. He wouldnt leave and he wouldnt
let anyone ride him either. After our fight the other day, he kept watch over
you. I think he came here looking for you."
Gabrielle stepped over to the horse who greeted her almost familiarly. She
crossed back over to Eve and held out her arms, stepping into Eves embrace
simultaneously. "Thank you," Gabrielle whispered into the taller womans
ear. "For everything."
"Be safe, Gabrielle. I love you."
Gabrielles answer was another brief hug, then she moved back to the horse
and mounted him. She clucked her tongue and tightened her legs, and Handsome started
out the compound. Gabrielle paused at the entranced and turned and gave Eve a
wave. Then she left down the road without another backwards glance.
Aphrodite meanwhile, returned to Olympus to find some answers. The first thing
she did was watch the whole tragic story from beginning to end. Then she learned
what had brought Xena and Gabrielle to Japa, and she went back and did some research
on Akemi. What she found infuriated her, and she made a quick trip to visit her
Dite explained her dilemma, and they discovered that Xena really wasnt
in their underworld. They did decide that Akemi would need to be punished for
her duplicity, and Dite was satisfied that justice would be served to the extent
it could be. She wasnt sure Gabrielle would agree though, especially since
Xena seemed to have completely disappeared.
The love goddess popped back to Olympus, and started on a god hunt. She went
searching for Hades first.
"HADES!!" She waited a beat, then bellowed again. "Uncle Hades!!"
She popped into Hades domain, but he was nowhere to be found. She scratched her
hands through her hair and opened her mouth, but was stopped by a soft voice behind
"Hes not here, Dite. He spends his time in Rome as Pluto now. You
"Hey, Persephone. What are you doing here?"
Persephone shrugged. "I come back from time to time just to make sure
things here are all right. We cant really go back to Olympus, at least not
for a while, but this will always be more home to me than Rome. Hades judges Greek
and Roman souls from Rome now and hes not real happy with the added workload."
"Do you think he could spare a moment for me? I have a problem."
"Dite, wed be glad to have you come stay in Rome. We miss having
Aphrodite smiled sadly. "I miss you guys too, but someone needs to stay
here to keep an eye on things. Besides, I really hate Rome. I do manage to get
there occasionally; I just cant stay very long. Its not home."
"Oh, girlfriend that is so very true."
Dite giggled when she heard the words flow from her rather proper cousins
mouth. "Careful there, Seph. Theyll accuse you of totally radical
blondish tendencies." They laughed together.
"Cmon, Dite. Lets go see Hades."
"You mean Pluto?"
The chamber echoed their laughter as the disappeared in a swirl of sparks and
"Psst... Ha... um, I mean, Pluto. Could I see you privately for a moment?"
Persephone questioned softly. The god of the underworld nodded and rose.
"Judgment will continue in one candlemark," he said, and moved back
into his private living area. He took his wife into his arms and kissed her before
the cooing and chuckling of Aphrodite made them separate, blushing.
"Hello, Uncle. You two are just so cute together. A real walking ad for
the love connection."
"Ahem, yes. Well, as glad as I am to see you here, Im sure you didnt
come to discuss our love life. What can I do for you?"
Aphrodite became serious instantly. "Uncle, have you seen Xena?"
"Have I seen Xena what?" Hades asked blankly. "She hasnt
come through for judgment, if thats what youre asking."
Dite sighed, and her shoulders slumped slightly. "K, thanks. Guess
Ill have to keep looking."
"Looking?" Hades stopped when Persephone put a hand on his arm.
"Ill explain it to you later." She turned to Dite. "Can
you stay for a while?"
"I wish I could. Let me figure out what happened here, and Ill come
back for a longer visit. If you hear anything, let me know, will ya?" She
disappeared before they could say a word.
She checked with Odin next, who though no friend of Xena, promised to let Dite
know if the warrior passed through his realm. She even dropped down to Egypt and
had a talk with Isis. Finally, covering all the bases she could think of, Dite
returned to Olympus and went to talk to Ares.
Gabrielle continued her trek westward, moving slowly across the deserts and
plains of Kashmir, Mesopotamia, Persia and Assyria, headed for the Mediterranean
Shed found the ring Aphrodite had given her was actually awkward to adjust
to with her weapons, so she took it off and put it into her bag next to Xenas
Almost immediately, she felt a change in her demeanor, but she attributed her
heightened senses and wariness to being alone on the road. Her first encounter
with thugs left her heart racing and her blood pounding. And it left seven decimated
men lying at her feet.
After several more experiences that left her bloodlust burning higher than
the last, she found a quiet inn where she could rest and try to recoup her lost
equilibrium. Gabrielle spent almost a whole day meditating before she remembered
the ring and dug it out of her bag. She slid it onto her finger and literally
felt her blood calm and settle. She sat down and resumed her meditation, and was
able to focus to the point that she was centered again.
Gabrielle ruefully acknowledged to herself that she was going to have to adjust
her fighting technique to include wearing the ring. Whatever protection it provided,
it was going to keep her from losing herself and her mind before she got home.
Days turned into moons before Gabrielle reached the Mediterranean Sea. Shed
made the decision to cross to Greece on boat. She wasnt looking forward
to it, but it was the quickest way to get there. And more than anything, Gabrielle
was ready to go home.
"ARES! Ares!! Where are you?" Dite stood in the middle of one of
his remaining Greek temples and stamped her foot in impatience. She figured her
brother would have at least some of the answers she needed.
He popped in with less than his usual theatrical entrance. "What is it
Dite? I was in the middle of a skirmish on the Roman border." He tried to
act angry, but she could see the tiredness and profound sadness behind his question.
She took his hand. "Cmon, bro. We need to talk."
Aphrodite popped them into her boudoir on Olympus, and set out a tray of goodies
and a flagon of wine. "You wanna level with me Ares? I know you had something
to do with Xenas disappearance. Do you know where she is?"
His shoulders sagged, but he didnt answer immediately. She curled up
beside him and took his hands. Then she looked him in the eye and softened her
"Cmon, bro. Level with me. I know that being both a Greek and Roman
God is exhausting. I have to do it too, remember? In that way the rest of family
got off easy. The Twilight came to Greece and Xena killed them so
the one God concept could take root. They went to Rome and we, well, too bad no
one but us understands the real truth of that, huh?"
That got a small smile out of him. "Yeah."
"So level with me, huh? There arent many of us left in Greece, and
we need to stick together. Especially you and me." She bumped shoulder with
him. "We learned that the hard way, didnt we?"
Ares shuddered at the memories that question invoked. He cleared his throat.
"Oh yeah. Not one of the more pleasant experiences in my long life."
Dite smiled. "You were a cute farmer."
He tried to glare at her, really he did, but the smile on her face and the
twinkle in her eyes was irresistible. "Hmph!" was all he said, but he
poured them each a glass of wine and Dite placed the tray on the nearby table.
"Get comfortable, sis. This is a little hard to explain."
"Does someone want to explain to me why *I* am considered the ditzy one?"
Aphrodite muttered to herself when Ares was done speaking. She scrubbed her hands
over her face and turned to look at him.
"So you dont know where she is? Or when she is? Or if she is alive
"Um, no?" Ares hurried on with his explanation when Aphrodite sighed
loudly. "Look, I just wanted to bring her back to life. It should have worked.
No muss, no fuss."
"And you thought they woulda owed you something, right? A favor you could
Ares didnt even get to start explaining when he felt the smack rock the
back of his head. "Cmon bro. That is way uncool and so not true and
you know it. Xena would never have paid a debt like that." Dite looked at
him as the truth dawned. "But Gabrielle might have, huh?" She raised
her hand to strike him again, but stopped at his warning glare. "That is
He shrugged. "It would have been fine if it had worked. It should have
brought her right to us. Instead... I dont know what I did wrong."
"I have spent these last moons going over and over everything that happened.
It should have worked."
Ares snapped his jaws together so quickly he almost bit his tongue. "It
doesnt matter right now. What matters is Gabrielle."
"Gabrielle. Gabrielle. What *is* it with her?"
Serious blue eyes seared into his deep brown ones. "Tread lightly, Ares.
Shes a good person, and she is my friend."
He raised his hands in surrender. "All right. All right. I wont
mess with the irritating blonde. Look, I got things to do. Ill catch up
with you later, okay?" Ares disappeared before Aphrodite could answer.
"Grrrr... he makes me so totally nuts sometimes." She waved her hand
and the food and wine disappeared. The she picked up the wire-rimmed glasses shed
developed an affinity for and slid them on her face while searching for her little
"All right, Gabrielle," she mumbled, clicking on the worldwide god
web. "Lets see how long youll have to suffer alone, my friend."
Gabrielle reached the sea, and was able to arrange passage on a small merchant
ship headed to Greece. She still didnt speak much, but the men on board
quickly learned that she was not to be trifled with.
Every morning she spent time in meditation and drills, and in the afternoon
she would take a turn at the wheel, or in the crows nest. By the fifth day,
they were making good time, and the captain was pleased with their progress. In
the late afternoon, however, their luck took a turn for the worse.
Gabrielle had been sitting in the crows nest, when a thin, dark line
at the horizon captured her attention. She wouldnt have given it much thought,
except the stirring in her gut made her uneasy, and she shimmied down the mast
to find the captain.
Archus took one look at the band of clouds, and cursed. "All hands, man
your stations. Shes gonna be blowin rough tonight. Raise the sails,
and angle us away from its path. I dont wanna be caught in the middle of
Archus turned to Gabrielle. "Best if you get below decks, warrior. This
is a sailors battle."
A smile almost reached Gabrielles eyes as she looked down at her hands.
Then she walked to the mainsail and began helping the men hoist it in an effort
to outrun the coming storm. The captain shook his head and turned to steer them
away from the dark clouds.
Candlemarks passed and darkness fell and still the crew rushed feverishly to
keep the ship afloat. The storm had moved in quicker than expected, and theyd
had to scramble to get things tied down. The waves were rolling the ship sickeningly
from side to side, enough to make it necessary to work tied to ropes. It meant
each person could only work a very small area of the ship, but there was far less
likelihood of anyone falling overboard either.
All night they fought and struggled, and with the daybreak came exhaustion
and a calm that was almost unnerving. There was no sun, no rain, no wind, and
no waves, and for a little while, everyone was grateful for the chance to rest.
It wasnt long though, before it made the crew restless, and the captain
was the first to stir, with Gabrielle right behind him. The eeriness was making
her jaw ache and her hair stand on end, and all she wanted at that moment was
a bit of a breeze and the sight of home.
The captain keep looking at the water beneath the ship and back up at the sky,
searching for answers. Then the man whod taken his turn in the crows
nest hollered down to them, and they looked out to see what was causing him such
concern. The captains eyes widened and he shook his head in disbelief. Then
he ran to get his maps and charts from his cabin.
He spread them out, his large hands tracing the paths and patterns on the parchment.
"This isnt possible."
"What isnt?" Gabrielle whispered behind him. Archus turned
and looked at her, seeing her strength of mind and will in the green eyes now
boring into his. He made his decision and nodded to himself.
"Our position." Archus watched her brow furrow and hastened to explain.
"Look... this was where we left Assyria headed for Greece," he said,
pointing to the first map. "But the storm blew us off course. I expected
that. It was a nasty storm."
Gabrielle nodded her understanding and waited for him to continue.
"What I didnt expect was to get blown to here," Archus added,
indicating a spot on another chart. "If I am reading the land indicators
right, we are close to Pompeii." Gabrielles eyes widened, and Archus
bobbed his head. "Exactly. There is no way we should have come this far that
quickly. And something peculiar is happening with the tide... we are being drawn
towards land... almost dragged there."
Gabrielle turned her eyes toward the water, then chanced a look at the land
that was coming closer. "Oh my gods," she whispered to herself, then
tugged on the Captains sleeve. "Look!"
Her whisper was more unnerving than a shout would have been, and Archus glanced
up to follow the direction her arm was pointing. His eyes grew large, and he looked
down at Gabrielle. "Is that
She nodded. "Vesuvius," she whispered again, her eyes never leaving
the horizon. Even from this distance, they could see the fire spewing and spitting
toward the sky, filling the air around with the darkness of ash and smoke.
"Raise the sails, lads, and man the oars. Weve got to make time
away from here now." Even as he spoke, day became like night, and the air
was stifling with ash and the scent of sulfur. Without warning, the ship was pushed
away from the landmass, and Gabrielle began searching for the cause, knowing what
she would find.
Her voice was rough from lack of use, and she took Archus by surprise when
she screamed. "Pull in the oars!!" He looked at her, then past her to
see exactly what caused the almost silent warrior to issue such a forceful command.
"Merda dell'OH!! he muttered, staring for a long moment at the fifteen
foot wall of water rapidly approaching the ship. Gabrielles shove caused
him to come out of his trance and moved him towards the stairwell to repeat the
order. Archus motioned to his first mate, but before the man could move towards
the mainsail, Gabrielle had unhooked the chakram from her waist and hurled it
at the lines, slicing them all neatly, and causing the sail to drop.
"Tie everythin off and hang on down there, boys! This uns
gonna be nasty."
The four people left topside tied themselves to the ship and the first mate
began praying to Neptune. Gabrielle closed her eyes, and whispered her own prayer
to Aphrodite. It was enough to pull the goddess away from her frenzied research.
"Oh, this is so radically uncool... its creepy. She died... they
both did. So when did...? How...?" Aphrodite continued to mumble to herself.
Shed been skimming Gabrielles lifeline, looking for her death. It
wasnt something the goddess normally did, especially about a friend. But
she felt the need to know how long Gabrielle would have to suffer alone, and she
didnt like the way things looked.
In all honesty, shed expected to see Gabrielles lifeline end shortly
after her return to Greece. For all the talk of the greater good,
Aphrodite understood better than most that Xena and Gabrielle were each others
greater good. Without her soulmate, Gabrielle would be merely existing, and Dite
wouldnt wish that on anyone, especially someone as sensitive as Gabrielle.
What she found however, was that Gabrielles lifeline extended far past a
Gabrielle was an immortal.
So now Aphrodites mission, in addition to her usual love gigs, was to
find out exactly what had caused the change, and when it had happened. She started
with their crucifixion and ascension into the heaven of Elis god. It made
the most logical sense. She was in the middle of her review of that time when
a whispered plea from Gabrielle caught her attention.
Dite changed the view on her scrying bowl, bringing Gabrielle and the present
sharply into focus. "Gnarly wave, man!" was her initial response. Then
she saw the tiny boat being lifted in the walls not-so-tender embrace, and
realized what Gabrielles prayer was about. "Oh, that totally sucks!"
Closing her eyes, Aphrodite sent a wave of comfort to the bard that cascaded
through Gabrielles veins like warm wine. Dite felt the change in Gabrielle
and smiled, then turned her attention back to her research, keeping one eye on
the tiny ship.
She wondered if Gabrielle would one day turn this adventure into a story.
Gabrielle felt herself surrounded by love, and she unconsciously relaxed, even
as the wall of water grew ominously closer. Suddenly, it lifted them up, and pushed
the small ship forward with great velocity and strength.
Ash was inches thick on the deck and coated the four people still standing
topside. Gabrielle found herself wishing for a way to rid herself of the itchy,
smelly mess, then rescinding that wish as the wave began to cascade over the ship.
She heard men screaming in terror and closed her eyes, willing it to be over
quickly. Im sorry, Xena, she said in her mind, but Im not
gonna make it to Amphipolis. I did try though. Im so tired, Xena. I just
want a little bit of peace for us, but that's never really been our destiny, has
it? I love you.
Those were her final thoughts, before the pressure of the water forced her
When Gabrielle opened her eyes, the first thing she saw wasnt the Elysian
Fields or Tartarus or heaven or hell, and it certainly wasnt Xenas
face looking back at her. The pain of her reality both physical and emotional
hit her so hard she almost crumpled to her knees. Her first sight was of a sludge
covered ship and a captain who was seemingly unconscious. There was no sign of
the first mate or the steersman.
The boat was gently rocking, aimlessly drifting in what she hoped was the right
direction. Slowly Gabrielle loosened herself from the bonds that had secured her
to the mizzenmast. Her body ached as though it had been beaten, and the stench
from the sulfuric ash was indescribable.
She trudged through the sludge, loosening the ropes tied around Archus and
easing him to the deck. She patted his face, pleased when his eyelids began to
"Oh my gods... I feel like a chariot ran over me, repeatedly," the
captain mumbled as he rolled over and sat up. He looked around and smiled at Gabrielle.
Then his face fell when he realized they were alone on the deck. "Cmon,
warrior, lemme go see whats left of the crew, and get ourselves to Greece.
Im in the mood for dry land, a hot bath, an ale and a woman."
Gabrielle nodded, and walked back to the mainsail and began sorting through
the lines. It was going to take a bit of work to run the ropes again, but the
chakram had seemed the most expedient way of dealing with the problem at the time.
She sighed soundlessly. Given how far the storm had blown them off course, and
the fact that they were now in the middle of only-gods-knew-where, she figured
they had plenty of time to clean, fix and repair, and still be done well before
they arrived in Greece. A lot would depend on how far the tsunami had pushed them,
but she didnt expect to see land anytime soon.
Her shoulders slumped. She really was tired, right down to her very soul. Gabrielle
had been selfishly hoping that the storm would be then end for her. Was it wrong
to feel that way, she pondered. She decided it probably was and she really didnt
care. Being unselfish was what had gotten her in this predicament in the first
The crew came bounding up the stairwell, glad to be alive and out of the hold,
and Gabrielle smiled in sympathy. She could well remember the times shed
been thrilled to set foot on deck, breathing in the fresh, salty air with relish.
Without much ado, the men fell to work with a will, each one anxious to reach
Greece and dry land.
Nightfall enabled the captain to study the stars and his charts, and he did
so enthusiastically. He was glad to note that the wave had done little physical
damage and had actually pushed them as good ways back towards Greece.
He noticed Gabrielle come up beside him, and he motioned to her. "Ah warrior.
The gods were kind to us. If the winds continue to be favorable, we should see
the shores of Greece in less than a quarter moon."
Gabrielle nodded and turned her attention to the vast darkness of the sky and
Aphrodite was biting her nails, frantically searching through Gabrielles
history on the worldwide god web. Her research had shown her that they had not
actually died on the cross. They were already immortal by that point, and their
physical bodies were using that time to regenerate. Dite debated briefly on whether
she would tell Gabrielle on just how Elis god had manipulated them into
doing his dirty work.
In fairness, he had offered them absolution for their sins. But it seemed a
moot point, especially since Xena rejected that forgiveness in lieu of sacrificing
herself yet again on Mt. Fuji.
Not that it mattered at this juncture. The questions now were when had Gabrielle
become immortal, and what about Xena? If she shared Gabrielles immortality,
then she was alive out there... somewhere. Aphrodite went back to her research.
She was fairly sure that at least part of this news was going to be an unwelcome
She pulled off her glasses and rubbed her eyes, then scrubbed her hands through
her hair. "This is soooo not cool." Then she clicked the remote box
and watched the screen fly backwards through time, looking for the moment when
Gabrielle crossed into immortality.
Katerina von Lihp guided her ship into the dock with easy skill, and blew out
a sigh of relief. They had been almost a year at sea coming around Africa to get
to Greece, and she was glad to see what had become home for her. She and the crew
immediately began unloading the hold.
"Hey, Capn... what bout all this stuff?" The mate indicated
the crates still neatly stacked and sealed boxes that had traveled with them from
Katerina scratched her head thoughtfully. "Leaf zem for now. I villl see
if I find out vhere zey need to go. Go enjoy some time ashore. I know vhere to
find you when I need you."
The Captain left a small contingent of guards on the ship, then made her way
to the nearest temple of love. She really didnt know who else to turn to,
and hoped the goddess might have some answers for her.
Aphrodite wasnt surprised to find worshippers in her temple. She was
one of the few remaining active gods in Greece, and love was the strongest force
in the world, after all. What caught her attention was the mention of Gabrielles
name and her new moniker, Little Dragon Warrior.
She listened to the plea of this sea captain who had befriended Gabrielle,
and who showed such concern for her. Then she decided a break from her research
was in order, and popped down to have a chat with Captain Lihp.
"Yo, babe! Whassup?"
The Captain spun on her heels in surprise, not expecting such a personal greeting
from the goddess. She swallowed hard a couple times before she could speak.
"I beg pardon, Aphrodite, but I haf a dilemma you might be able to help
"Oh yeah? Vha... I mean, whats that?"
"You know of the Little Dragon Varrior, the bard names Gabrielle, hä?"
Katerina saw the truth in the blue eyes facing her. "I haf a favor to ask."
"Lay it on me, babe," Aphrodite said.
Katerina told Aphrodite the bit of Gabrielles story she knew from her
own point of view, winding up with the things still locked in the hold of her
ship. "I didnt know vhat else to do vid her tings. I thought perhaps
Aphrodite looked at the Captain seriously for a long moment. "Why did
you come to me? Why not some other god?"
Katerina shrugged. "I do not know. You seemed like ze best choice."
Aphrodite chuckled. "Of course I am the best choice, babe. Love is totally
a good choice. It just takes some people a lifetime to figure it out." She
chuckled again. "Tell ya what... Ill make a place for it and pop it
in, k? Ill hang onto it until Gabrielle is ready for it."
"Tank you, Aphrodite."
"Ya done good, Captain Lihp. Totally gnarly job."
Katerina wasnt exactly sure how to take that, so she nodded and smiled,
and headed out to have a bit of fun.
Aphrodite was as good as her word, and with a wave of her hand the crates were
moved into a storage area of the temple. She briefly considered moving them directly
to Olympus, then decided Gabrielle might not appreciate the assumption. She tapped
her nails on her teeth, then disappeared in a cascade of flower petals.
Gabrielle was happy to see land again, though surprisingly it wasnt seasickness
that made her ready to walk on flat earth. She glanced again at the ring Aphrodite
had given her, and wondered if that was the reason behind her lack of seasickness.
Gabrielle shrugged. Whatever the reason, she was glad for it. It had made this
part of her voyage at least bearable. She shuddered when she thought about how
intolerable the trip would have been if shed been physically ill on top
of everything else.
Now they were pulling into port, and Gabrielle sighed. She had finally reached
the last leg of her journey, and she was anxious to be done with it. The crew
lowered the gangway into place, and waited for permission to disembark. Archus
turned to Gabrielle.
"Thank you," he said sincerely. "Without your help, Im
not sure wed have survived."
She smiled at him, and squeezed his arm, then stepped off the ship and headed
north without a backwards glance.
Katerina spotted her as Gabrielle set foot on solid ground, and raced to catch
her before she disappeared in the crowd. "Little Dragon!" she called,
hoping to be heard above the din of the marketplace.
Gabrielle looked around, knowing no one here knew of that particular title.
When she spotted Captain Lihp, she stopped and waited for the other woman to approach.
Katerina was appalled at the harsh changes the year of travel had wrought in
the younger woman. There was still no light in her eyes, and her body was all
hard muscle and bone. Her hair was still short, though carelessly cut, as though
it was kept short because it was easier to manage, and not for the way it looked.
Gabrielles skin was a deep bronze, and she bore a few more scars than shed
worn in Higuchi.
"I am glad to see you, Little Dragon. I haf someting zat belongs to you."
Gabrielle held up a hand, but the Captain continued speaking. "Not ze crates
and boxes. I haf stored zose vis a friend until you vant zem."
She extended the arm shed held behind her, and Gabrielle could not contain
the sharp gasp that rose from her lips, nor the stab of pain that accompanied
it. Hesitantly, she reached forward to take the object from Katerina. Xenas
sword. It would make the final journey with her.
"Thank you," she whispered, but the words and the tone spoke volumes
to the Captain. She nodded to Gabrielle.
"Gods speed you on your journey, varrior." Then she disappeared into
the crowd, leaving Gabrielle alone with her private grief.
Gabrielle began making her way towards Amphipolis at a fast, steady place.
So near her goal, she was ready to be done with it. So each day she was up before
the sun, and she walked with very few breaks until the sun had set. Nights were
used for sparring and meditation, and the rare bit of sleep she could get before
waking in a cold sweat. Time was supposed to make it better... make it hurt less,
but still all she felt was emptiness.
Occasionally she encountered the odd roving band of thugs, but after decimating
the first few of them, they began to steer clear of her. She wondered if they
had some sort of relay system to let others know of her and smirked. Then it occurred
to her that they should have had one of those full cycles ago. It would have saved
she and Xena a lot of trouble. Her smile faded at that thought.
Days passed, and after nearly a moon of steady travel, she entered the outskirts
of what had once been the thriving town of Amphipolis. Gabrielle shuddered a little,
remembering the last time they had been there. Not much was left. The inn was
in ruins, and empty shacks that had once been living households now toppled in
on themselves in decrepitude. Gabrielle followed the road past the inn, to where
the family crypt stood silent sentinel.
She took a deep breath, and opened her pouch, removing her flint and striker.
She found several small torches at the entrance and lit one carefully. She moved
around the room lighting the others, before coming to stand next to Lyceus.
"Hello, Lyceus," came her whispered voice. "You probably dont
remember me, but this is Gabrielle. Ive come to keep a promise to your sister."
She waited a moment, until she felt like she had his blessing to continue, then
moved to where Solans ashes had been placed.
"Hi, Solan. Its your turn to look after of your mom, since I cant
do it anymore, okay? Make sure she eats her vegetables." She wiped the dust
off his urn and moved to Cyrene. "Im sorry, Mom. I did my best, but
it wasnt enough. Take care of her, Cyrene. Shell need you to keep
an eye on her."
Gabrielle wiped the tears from her face before moving to an empty slab. She
laid the sword across the top then gently placed the chakram on its hilt. She
set her bag down, and removed the pot, tenderly unwrapping it from its cloth covering.
Gabrielle set it in the middle of the slab and took a step back.
"Goodbye, Xena. I dont think we will meet as soulmates again. I
havent felt you since that day, and I think that is our punishment. This
wasnt your destiny, and your choice to stay with Akemi has thrown our karmic
cycles out of kilter. Perhaps one day, we will cross paths, but I dont think
the gods will be that kind. Good rest, my love... youve earned it."
The rending of her soul as she surrendered to the inescapable made her keen
in agony. She welcomed the darkness when it came.
Gabrielle was curled into a tiny ball beside Xenas remains when Aphrodite
The goddess reached out a hand to touch her, then recoiled at the pain that
emanated from the bard in waves. Dite steeled herself, then scooped Gabrielle
into her arms.
"Cmon, girlfriend. We gotta talk."
Gabrielle came back to herself slowly, fully expecting the emptiness of an
afterlife alone. It really didnt matter where she ended up. It couldnt
be worse than the tortures shed already lived through.
She blinked her eyes open, trying to focus enough to understand where she was.
Her first impression was pink. She was surrounded by pink. Her brow furrowed,
trying to recall this much pink in any afterlife shed seen.
Gabrielle raised a hand to rub her forehead, and noted that she was clean and
encased in some familiar pink pajamas. "Aphrodite?" in a bare whisper.
Sparkles and rose petals fell on the bed as Dite popped into being beside her.
"Hiya, sweet pea." She combed gentle hands through the short blonde
hair. "How ya doin?" Her blues eyes filled with tears at the aching
emptiness she saw reflected in the dull green eyes facing her.
Gabrielle fell into Aphrodites open arms and her slight frame shook with
silent sobs. Aphrodite felt tears of sympathy slide down her own face while Gabrielle
clung to her. How long they stayed in this embrace, Gabrielle couldnt have
said. But finally her crying slowed, and she eased back.
"Sorry," she said softly, wiping her eyes.
"Why, sweetie?" Aphrodite rubbed the muscular arm, doing her best
to offer comfort. She wasnt sure how Gabrielle was going to take the news
she had to give her, and she had already been through so much.
"I should be out of tears by now," came the answer, accompanied by
a watery smile.
"Oh babe... your heart is a lot like mine. Youll always have tears
to shed. Some happy, some sad, some angry, some relieved. Its the way of
Gabrielle pulled away, and her eyes became cold and distant. Even her whisper
went flat. "Well, no offense, Aphrodite, but they way of love doesnt
work for me anymore. The price is too high." She slipped from the bed and
went t stand at the window. "I appreciate your bringing me here, but I need
"Go where?" Dite asked softly, stepping up behind Gabrielle, but
not touching her.
"It doesnt matter now. Ive done what I set out to do."
"Then will you do me a favor? Please?"
Gabrielle turned, intrigued by the request. "If I can, sure."
"Stay and talk to me a little while. I get lonely here with just me and
Ares, and when Im in Rome, I have so much work to do that I rarely get to
visit with the other gods. Id just like a little girl talk between friends."
Gabrielle nodded. "Im not sure how much talking I will do, but I
can sure listen while you tell on about things. And you can start with that other
gods comment. I thought they were killed in the twilight."
"No, that is what Elis radical new god wanted everyone to think,
so he could get a better foothold here in Greece. Most of the family has like,
moved on under different names in Rome, though a few of us still work both gigs.
Let me tell ya, sister, it aint easy either. Why just the other day...."
Aphrodite talked until Gabrielle fell asleep again, and she tucked the bard
into bed. "Tomorrow, Little One, we have to have some serious conversation."
And she twinkled out of the bedroom, leaving Gabrielle soundly sleeping without
dreams for the first time in over a year.
"Rest well, my friend. Tomorrow is soon enough for this news."
When Gabrielle woke the second time, she wasnt surprised to see pink.
She was surprised to note she was almost hungry, and she noticed a trencher of
food on a table near the bed. Propped next to the still warm loaf of bread was
Come see me in the scrying room before you leave. We have something to talk
The note wasnt signed, but the little hearts and curlicues would have
been a dead giveaway regardless. Gabrielle took a portion of the bread and spread
some of the soft cheese on it, then took a bite. It was good, and she took a second.
She finished the bread and changed her clothes, then wandered out the hall
towards the only sound she heard. Strangely, it sounded as though Dite was talking
to herself, but Gabrielle shrugged. Shed find out soon enough.
As soon as she crossed the threshold, Aphrodite jumped and tittered nervously.
"Oh, hi Gab!" a little too brightly. She pulled the glasses of her face
and chewed on an earpiece. "Um, why dont you have a seat? Youre
lookin totally fab today. Love the tat. Did ya sleep well? How was your
Gabrielle sank into the chair Aphrodite pushed at her, trying to dissimilate
the conversation the goddess had just thrown at her. She shook her head. "Good
morning, Aphrodite. Would you repeat everything you just said very slowly, please?
Im pretty sure I missed something important."
Aphrodite dropped the glasses on her desk, and rubbed her face. Then she sat
down and took Gabrielles hands in her own.
"Okay, look. Youre an immortal...." She didnt get to
say any more. Gabrielle jerked her hands free and stormed out of the room.
Aphrodite scratched her head and blew out a breath. "Well, that went well,"
she commented to herself, before popping out to find the woman she called friend.
Aphrodite stood in the archway, just watching Gabrielle. The bard sat hunched
over on a bench in the rose garden, hands loosely clasped between her knees. Finally,
the goddess walked over to Gabrielle, and sat down next to her. She didnt
speak or touch Gabrielle, but waited for her to make the first move.
Dite lost track of the time they sat together silent and unmoving before Gabrielle
took a deep breath. And it was only because she was listening that she heard the
bare whisper when Gabrielle finally spoke.
"Aphrodite, we have been friends for a lot of full cycles, and never have
I seen you be deliberately cruel... until now." Gabrielle lifted her face
to the sky, and Dite tried not to take offense when she saw the depth of pain
Gabrielle still carried. She knew the reaction came from the shock as much as
grief, but the words still cut deeply.
"Gabrielle," Dite said softly. "Have I ever lied to you?"
Gabrielle dropped her head and closed her eyes. Aphrodite reached up and took
her chin, gently turning the bards face towards her own. "Gabrielle,"
she repeated. "Have I ever lied to you? Especially when it was this important?"
Gabrielle raised a hand and wiped the tears from her face, then shook her head
and opened her eyes. "No," she whispered, and cleared her throat. "No,"
she said again more firmly and just a little louder. "But Aphrodite, Im
not immortal. I cant be. I... I died." She closed her eyes and swallowed
hard before meeting Dites sympathetic blue eyes. "Xena had a better
shot at immortality..." she swallowed, "And we know that didnt
"But it did." A simple statement that fell into a wellspring of silence.
"What are you saying?" Gabrielle grasped Aphrodite arms so hard that
the goddess winced, knowing it would have left bruises had she been human.
She eased one arm from Gabrielles grip, allowing Gabrielle to retain
a firm hold on her other wrist and hand. She noted that Gabrielle was shaking,
and stood up. Aphrodite gazed into the tear-filled green eyes, seeing a spark
of hope for the first time in over a year, and she smiled.
"Cmon, babe. I got a totally wicked story to share."
They settled into the scrying room, which was actually part of Aphrodites
chambers, and Dite eased Gabrielle down onto the bed. She snapped her fingers,
and instantly Gabrielle found herself neatly encased in more pink silk and tucked
into the big bed holding a cup of something that smelled rich and sweet.
The goddess could tell Gabrielle was still in shock and motioned to her with
a little wave. "Try it. Itll make you feel radically better. I gotta
hook this in to the big screen for ya."
Gabrielle took a sniff of the beverage, then took a tiny sip. A brief smile
crossed her face and she took a larger swallow. Aphrodite caught the change in
her expression and smiled in return. "Great stuff, huh? Nothing comforts
like good hot chocolate. Ah, there we go. Now," she wiggled into place beside
Gabrielle, and lifted her own cup to her lips. "Im gonna give ya the
highlights. Ya know, show ya what happened and explain a few things. Then we can
talk, and Ill try to answer any questions youve still got, k?"
Gabrielle nodded, then watched a much younger version of herself dance into
view. She felt the seductive rhythm of the music, and her mind went back to that
cool fall Festival. She remembered clearly now the moment shed been bitten,
though it was nothing but a blur at the time.
"You remember this, right?" Aphrodite looked at Gabrielle when shed
paused the god web. The blonde head nodded. "Okay, do you remember drinking
the blood from the chalice?"
Gabrielle turned her gaze inward, and she started shaking as her memory cleared.
Aphrodite took the cup from her hands and started the scrying bowl again.
"Xena knocked the chalice from your hands, but only after youd had
your first drink. It was so intoxicating you were actually taking your second
swallow when the chakram knocked the cup away from your lips."
Gabrielle closed her eyes, and Dite stopped the picture once more. "Yes,"
Aphrodite took Gabrielles hands in her own and gently chafed them. "And
even though you and Xena werent lovers yet, you wanted to share that feeling,
and when she commanded you...." Aphrodite trailed off then continued. "How
many times once you were lovers did you draw blood?"
Abruptly Gabrielle jerked away and stalked from the bed. "Gabrielle,"
Dite said softly from her place on the bed. "I wasnt spying on you.
Its taken me moons of research to put all this together."
Gabrielle hugged her arms around herself. "It wasnt often. And never
deliberate. It wasnt something we talked about." She turned back to
Aphrodite. "But that wouldnt have made Xena immortal. She didnt
drink from the chalice."
"No, but she did eat ambrosia shortly thereafter, and that pretty much
sealed the deal for her. Your bite gave her the burning, and the ambrosia did
It was quiet for a while after that, as Gabrielle pondered the truth of Aphrodites
words. Finally she turned and went back to the bed, sitting down gingerly. Her
head ached from the thoughts running through it, her throat hurt from the now
unaccustomed conversation, and her eyes burned from both shed and unshed tears.
Aphrodite looked at her sympathetically.
"Im sorry, Gab. If there was an easier way to get you through this,
you know I would."
"I know," Gabrielle whispered. "Its just a little overwhelming,
and so many things still dont make sense. Especially since I havent
felt Xenas presence...."
"I know, babe, believe me. Here," handing the hot chocolate back
to the bard. "I added marshmallows. I think youre due all the comfort
you can get at this point."
Gabrielles eyebrow rose, wondering what a marshmallow was, then seeing
the tiny white islands floating in her cup. She tasted one and gave Aphrodite
a small smile. "Perks of being a goddess, huh?"
Dite chuckled. "One of them, yeah. You feeling any better? Ready to move
Gabrielle rubbed her face with her hands. "I dont know if Ill
ever be ready for this, but there are things I need to know. So lets do
Aphrodite nodded, and slipped the glasses back on her face, consulting the
notes she had written. "I guess your first question is about your lack of
bacchae behavior, huh?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Well, thatd be one of them, yeah."
Dite looked at her notes again. "Well, babe... what can I tell ya? Love
conquers all." She sighed at Gabrielles blank look. "The strength
of the love you and Xena shared eliminated a lot of the need for blood. Your passion
was focused in other directions." Aphrodite smiled at the blush that suffused
the bards features.
"Be glad, babe. The bond you two have is totally, radically, one hundred
percent the real deal and so rare that most spend their entire lives never having
seen it... much less lived it."
"And now youre asking me to spend eternity without it??" Gabrielle
clasped an arm to her chest trying to ease the pain to breathe. "Gods...
it would have been better to have never had it."
"No sweet pea. Gimme a chance here, k? Your story will have a happy ending,
promise." Gabrielle had to smile just the tiniest bit at Aphrodites
vehemence. Shed never promised the bard anything without delivering. Gabrielle
nodded her agreement, and the goddess sighed in relief.
"Okay, where was I?" She ran a finger down the page. "Oh yeah...
your focused passion. Anyway, there was still plenty of fighting to satisfy any
lingering bloodlust." She looked at Gabrielle seriously. "Didnt
you ever noticed that the fighting was always more violent and intense when you
two were at odds? There was a while there... girlfriend, even I had to look to
find the love."
She waved her hands. "Anyway, it doesnt matter now. We have the
present to worry about. You with me so far?"
"I think so. Our soul bond took care of a lot of the lust, and our fighting
took care of the rest."
"Okay, I can accept that, I guess. But it doesnt explain why we
died... why Xena is dead."
"Here, finish your hot chocolate, and let me tuck you back into bed. This
is gonna take a little while, and we may as well be, like comfortable."
Aphrodite settled Gabrielle into the big bed, and fussed about pouring up more
chocolate. Gabrielle absently wondered why she was making such a physical effort
instead of merely snapping her fingers. For her part, Aphrodite puttered until
she ran out of things to do. Then she took a deep breath. This was the hard part.
"The first time you died after you became immortal was when you took Hope
into the pit. Do you remember what happened?"
Gabrielle closed her eyes. Her memories of that time were blurred, and she
focused on the tightly. "I remember running," she whispered, "looking
into Xenas eyes... taking Hope over the edge of the pit, and then... searing
pain. I hit a ledge, I think. I...."
"Let me show you." Aphrodite turned back to the worldwide god web
and started the picture just as the bard and Hope toppled into the steaming fissure.
Gabrielle forced her eyes to watch, though she cringed to hear herself scream.
About halfway down, she did hit a ledge, and her bones shattered with a nauseating
crunch. Hope was swallowed up by the flame and it disappeared, and for several
days, Gabrielle remained unmoving on the ledge.
Finally, healed enough to move, she forced herself to climb from the pit. She
hadnt had enough time to recover her strength though, and when she reached
the edge, she fell out onto the floor near the altar.
A band of gypsies found her there, and took her to the nearest hospice, where
she spent almost another seven days unconscious. When she came around the second
time, she immediately left to find her agonized soulmate.
"You okay?" Aphrodite asked kindly. Gabrielle held her fist to her
mouth, and the goddess wasnt sure it if it was to keep from screaming or
throwing up. Gabrielle nodded once curtly.
"Yeah. I was just remembering...." she got out before bolting for
the bathing room. Aphrodite sighed, and popped in behind her. She ran a cool cloth
on Gabrielles neck, and held her when she was done.
"You wanna hear the rest, or you wanna wait til later? Its
not gonna get any easier til were done. "
Bloodshot green eyes looked at Aphrodite. "Lets get it over with."
Gabrielle rinsed her mouth, and Dite gave her some mint to settle her stomach.
Then they moved back to the bedroom, and the goddess moved the timeframe on the
"The next death I have for you both is your crucifixion on the Ides of
March. This was a fubar all the way around."
"How so? Heaven wouldnt have been a bad place to spend eternity."
"Yeah, if you coulda stayed there, but thats not why Elis
god brought you there and he had no intention of letting you stay. He was using
your souls to fight his battle while your bodies healed. Unfortunately, Eli pulled
you souls back into your bodies before they were ready, and you KNOW the fiasco
that caused." She gave Gabrielle a meaningful look.
Gabrielle gave her a rueful chuckle. "Uh, yeah. I think that was the start
of our make war, not love stage. We fought everything and everyone,
including and especially each other." She snickered softly. "When we
finally made up though...." Her face flushed bright red at the memories.
"Mmm hmm... no kidding. I *felt* that reunion. Talk about rocking the
world!" She grinned at Gabrielle. "You two were just so good together...
and you will be again." Gabrielle sobered.
"How, Aphrodite? How can you say that? Xena is dead, and even her spirit
is gone. She promised me she would always be there for me... that even death wouldnt
separate us, but I have not seen her or felt her presence since that day."
"Whoa! Hold on! Slow down just a little there, hot shot! Ill explain
it to you if youll give me a minute."
Gabrielle scrubbed her face with her hands. "Im sorry. I...."
Aphrodite embraced the bard, kissing the top of her blonde head lightly. "No
worries, babe. I really do understand."
Gabrielle gently returned the hug. "Thank you," she whispered.
"Now remember... in every instance so far, you and Xena have had a body
to return to. It has simply been a matter of letting the body regenerate and once
it was restored, your soul returned."
"Right...." Gabrielle trailed off, trying to follow Aphrodites
train of thought.
"When Xena had you burn her body, it was with the intention of restoring
it on Mt. Fuji. But it just made it impossible for her spirit to rejoin her body
when you missed the sunset. Because there is no body to renew, there is no place
for the spirit to live in."
"Okay, so her spirit just disappeared?? I am not seeing that happy ending
you promised me Aphrodite!"
"Shh... shh... calm down, babe. Im getting to that." She stroked
her hands through Gabrielles hair, willing her to peace. "Now, calm
down and just listen, k? This is where things get kinda screwy." She
took a deep breath.
"What Ares did, or tried to do, was to call her back... restore her body
and spirit. But it obviously didnt work... for a couple reasons, I think."
"Well, yeah," Aphrodite answered defensively. "Nothing like
this has ever happened before, and Im not totally sure what incantation
he spoke." She held up her hands. "Wait and let me finish, k?"
Gabrielle nodded and settled back down. Dite got up to pace.
The goddess pulled her glasses off and set the down, running her hands through
her hair in frustration. "From what I can figure out, it didnt work
for two main reasons... first, our power in Japa is negligible. He didnt
have the strength to pull it off. The second reason would be that he wasnt
totally prepared to perform the ritual correctly. Considering his frame of mind
that day, Im surprised he actually made it to you."
"Can you fix it?"
Aphrodite shook her head. "Its fixable, but I cant do it by
myself. But we might be able to together... you and me."
Gabrielle flung back the cover and stood on wobbly legs. "Lets go."
Aphrodite shook her head again, and Gabrielle wanted to stomp her feet in sheer
frustration. "No. Not yet. You are not strong enough, and I need to do a
little more research. So you get back in that bed, and go to sleep like a good
girl, and let Dite finish up the work I have to do, k? Then well see
about getting that totally radical warrior babe back in your arms where she belongs."
Gabrielle stared at the goddess for what seemed like candlemarks before acknowledging
the wisdom of this course of action. Ares had been unprepared to do whatever it
was he had done, and Xena had ended up who-knew-where with their bond broken.
Besides, she was exhausted in her very soul, and was ready to collapse.
Gabriele emitted a small sigh, and closed her eyes. "All right, Aphrodite,"
she said softly as she crawled back into bed. "Thank you."
Dite looked surprised. "For what, sweet pea?"
"Caring," came the mumbled answer before Gabrielles breathing
deepen into sleep.
"No worries, babe. I always have." She smoothed Gabrielles
hair away from her face, and let her touch linger on the bards soft skin
before disappearing, leaving only a trace of rose petals behind.
It could have been candlemarks; it could have been days. Gabrielle couldnt
tell how much time had passed when she awoke from her sleep. But for the first
time since Xenas death, she felt hope. She was still trying to process the
information Aphrodite had given her, but what stood out in her mind was the fact
that Xenas spirit was still alive and looking for a way to come home.
She pushed the covers back and wandered out of the room, following the muttering
to another room in Aphrodites chamber. The goddess sat at a huge desk, hidden
by scrolls. The floor was littered with discarded notes and even as she stood
there, a wad of parchment came flying over the top of the pile.
"She shoots! She...."
"... misses!" Gabrielle answered, as the paper ball hit the tip of
the overflowing basket, and fell to the floor. Dites blonde curls popped
up from the top of her desk.
"Oh, hiya, cutie. Howd ya sleep?"
"Very well. Morpheus was kind."
"Yeah, I asked him to be. Hes a good god." Gabrielle didnt
reply, though she looked skeptical, remembering her first run-in with the god
of dreams. "Anyway, ya look way better, and I think I have everything like,
figured out." She lifted up several scrolls, rummaging through them. "Soons
I find my notes. I know theyre in here I just had... ah hah!"
"Cmon, Gab. We can go over this stuff in the hot tub. I so need
to soak after all this. I havent worked this hard in like, ages."
Gabrielle didnt get a chance to respond before she found herself up to
her neck in warm bubbles. She closed her eyes, relishing the comfort. It was only
when Aphrodite popped in right next to her that her green orbs opened reluctantly.
"Ooooh," she groaned as she settled back into the water and closed
her eyes. "This is just what the goddess ordered. I feel better already."
Dite stayed that way for a few minutes before sitting up and reaching for her
"Okay. I got good news and I got bad news."
Gabrielle ran her wet hands through her hair, then covered her eyes. "Of
course you do. Give me the bad news first."
Aphrodite chewed her lip. "Well, the bad news is I dont know where
"Then how can we return her? We still dont have a body and now youre
telling me we dont have a spirit either!"
"Take a chill pill, babe. I think Ive found the solution to your
"YOU THINK?!? Whaddya mean you THINK??"
"Hey, Im doing my best here Gab! Cut me some slack, all right? I
wasnt the one who got you into this mess!"
Gabrielles head dropped. "Im sorry, Aphrodite. I know youre
doing me a huge favor, and here I am being a bitch. Go ahead."
The goddess took Gabrielles chin in her hand, and lifted Gabrielles
face until their eyes met. "No worries, k?" She smiled, hoping
to get one in return. She wasnt disappointed.
"Youre a good friend, Aphrodite."
"Thats probably the nicest real compliment Ive ever gotten."
"It is also the truth." Gabrielle paused. "So whats the
"Well, we have Xenas ashes. You have immortal blood. I found a ritual
that will allow you to use your blood to reform her body. The fact that youre
soul bound to one another should call her soul to you, and once her body has regenerated,
youll be a rockin couple again."
"So when can we do this?"
"I think we need to go to Macedonia. We dont want Ares finding out
about this and totally screwing it up."
"You really think he would?"
"Gab, I think hes a little... um...."
"Well, um... blind, maybe... where she is concerned."
Gabriele snorted. "Okay. Why Macedonia?"
"Couple reasons. Ares wont look for us there for one thing. And
Hephie had a radical hideaway there for another."
Gabrielle chewed her nails. "Okay, when can we go?"
Aphrodite smile sympathetically. "Anxious, huh?" Gabrielle just nodded.
"Lemme finish my bath and get a bite of something to eat, and well
go." She pointed a bubbly finger at the bard. "You have to eat too.
This is gonna take a lot out of ya."
They had stopped briefly at Xenas family crypt, and Aphrodite had offered
to go in to fetch Xenas ashes and weapons alone. Gabrielle had shaken her
head and smiled.
"Thank you, Aphrodite, but its my responsibility. Wait here. Ill
be right back." And she ducked inside before the goddess could answer. She
sat down, pondering the fortitude of her immortal friend.
Gabrielle lit the torch, looking around with new eyes. Hope had replaced despair,
and she moved with a light step towards where Xena remains had been placed. Reverently
she lifted the ashes, re-wrapping them before placing them in the bottom of her
bag. She picked up the sword and chakram, looking around her once more.
"If this works... *when* this works, we will come back and clean up here.
Youre all family, and you deserve better than to be forgotten. So wish us
luck, okay?" The bard felt her optimism returning, and it was with a light
heart and a lighter step that she exited the crypt.
"All righty, Aphrodite. Lets do this."
Aphrodite chuckled, hearing herself reflected in Gabrielles speech. Then
she waved her hand, and the two of them disappeared.
Hephaestus hideaway was, well... a little creepy in Gabrielles
opinion. Theyd had to walk from the hidden entrance, and there had been
a maze of hallways and corridors to traverse before theyd reached their
destination. Aphrodite had been careful to mark each passageway and booby trap
so they wouldnt have difficulties getting back out. She didnt figure
Xena would be in the mood to play games then.
"I asked Hephie about making a shortcut, but it was a total no go,"
Dite said as they walked through the maze. "He said the whole point was some
radical privacy," Aphrodite blushed, "which was a really good thing
sometimes. Ahem, anyway... we do have to be careful though. There are some wicked
triggers in here that could trap even a god."
Aphrodite chewed her nail for a minute before facing Gabrielle. "I dont
think Hephie was being completely honest with me about this place though."
Gabrielle turned to face the goddess, careful to keep her eyes on the route
they were taking. "How so?"
"Well, a lot of the surprises will lock you *in* here, not just keep ya
out, ya know. The Eye makes it impossible to pop in and out, which is why were
walking through this grody part. And Hephie didnt start building this place
til AFTER that whole thing with Dahok. You know."
Gabrielle most certainly did know, and she paled at the memories that name
"So anyway," the goddess continued. "Ive always kinda
wondered, in the back of my mind, what the real story was. Turn left. Ah... here
Gabrielle looked around the austere room, finding the Eye with no trouble,
and taking in the rest slowly. There were sconces around the room, and one wall
that seemed to double as a door. A large, flat altar sat beneath the Eye and a
few more traps were scattered randomly. There was no furniture to speak of, and
Aphrodite gestured to the altar. She got out her notes.
"Okay, you need to scatter Xenas ashes on the altar. Carefully,
though its not like there any wind here to blow them away."
Gabrielle hesitated, then lifted the lid. The scent almost made her gag in
reflex, and she stood very still clenching her jaw until the urge passed. "Does
it matter? I mean, do I need to form them into a pattern, spread them evenly,
Aphrodite ran her finger down the scroll. "Doesnt say. Id
have to say spread them evenly though. Not like you can tell what ashes go where,
ya know?" She turned her attention back to her notes, missing Gabrielles
Gabrielle gingerly shook the pot, trying for even distribution of the ashes
on the stone. It took a while, and Aphrodite was sitting on the floor in meditation.
When she was finished, Gabrielle walked back to the goddess and placed a tentative
hand on her shoulder. Dites eyes slowly opened, and she smiled up at the
"All done, sweetie?" Gabrielle nodded. "K, then, lets
see. Hmm, put the sword here," gesturing, and the chakram here," pointing
to another spot. "Oh wait... youre gonna need to use the chakram to
spill the blood." She wrinkled her face in distaste.
Gabrielle complied, putting the sword into place and separating the chakram.
She laid one piece on the altar, and kept the other in her right hand. She looked
back at Aphrodite, waiting for further instruction.
"Okay, um... this is the gross part. Youve got to... ew... um, make
a cut deep enough to bleed really well." She shuddered. "Youre
gonna have to share about half your bodys blood to make this work."
Gabrielles eyes got big, but she nodded her acceptance.
"Dont worry, babe. Ill be here to keep an eye on you."
Dite took a deep breath. "You ready?"
Gabrielle raised the chakram, and Aphrodite took the bards left hand
in her own. With her right hand, she stroked the inside of Gabrielles left
wrist. "Here," she said quietly. "This one leads from your heart."
Gabrielle bit her lip and closed her eyes, then lifted the chakram and sliced
neatly without a flinch. Blood began running slowly, and green eyes opened and
focused on Aphrodite for a minute, then she turned her attention to the ashes
that were very slowly becoming soaked red.
Ashes that were forming into the ghostly outline of a well-known shape. Gabrielle
felt her heart clench at the sight of the familiar form that she had missed with
aching intensity for more than twelve moons. She felt the tears flow, and watched
as they fell unhindered to the altar and mixed with the blood and ash.
At that moment, Ares burst in on them, disrupting the ritual causing everything
to halt. The ashes were scattered, and Gabrielle screamed in agony when the blood
tried to reinsert itself into her being.
Aphrodite touched a spot on Gabrielles neck, rendering her mercifully
unconscious. Then the goddess got up and slapped Ares, furious at this final interference.
"Gods damn you to Tartarus, Ares! We nearly had her!"
"What? Nearly had who??"
"Xena, you idiot. We were bringing Xena home, and you just totally screwed
"Well how was *I* supposed to know?? Not like you told me!"
"Exactly... I didnt tell you because I didnt want you here...
for this very reason. You have no sense where Xena is concerned, and everything
youve done lately has simply made things worse!"
"Go away, Ares. I dont want you here when Gabrielle wakes up. She
doesnt deserve the kind of pain youve inflicted, and I dont
think we can fix this. There arent enough of Xenas ashes left to work
with." She hesitated as a look of pain crossed his face. "Please Ares,"
she said quietly. "Just go."
He looked at Gabrielle, still lying mercifully unconscious near the altar.
He sealed the wound on her wrist, then leaned forward to brush a kiss across her
temple. "Im sorry, Gabrielle. You were a worthy opponent, but you didnt
deserve this. Neither of you did."
He didnt even glance at Aphrodite whose jaw was hanging open. He simply
turned on his heel, and left the way hed come.
Aphrodite knelt at Gabrielles side, and gently shook her awake. She wondered
how the bard would feel about the fact that Ares had managed to find them and
mess everything up but good. She wondered how hed managed to find them,
then the green eyes opened and her attention refocused on the woman who lay at
Gabrielle gasped, the return to consciousness abrupt and unexpected. In that
instant, she felt an intimate warmth flow through her soul, and she rejoiced.
She clenched Aphrodite's hand in her own, looking back at her with tear-filled
eyes and a bright smile. "I feel her, Aphrodite. She's alive!"
She looked around. "Xena? Xena??" Her attention came back to the
goddess. "Where is she, Aphrodite? I know shes alive... I can feel
her." She put Dites hand on her chest. "Here. Her heart is beating
Aphrodite smiled and clasped her hand, feeling the heartbeat in a steady rhythm
before pulling away and pinching the bridge of her nose with her fingers. "Well,
then... I have good news, and I have bad news."
Gabrielle clutched the hand she still held, causing Dite to wince in reflex.
"Careful with the merchandise, hon. Youre gonna leave a bruise."
She gently extracted her hand, and covered the bards own. "Now, the
good news is, shes alive, right? Thats a good thing."
"Riiiiiight... so whats the bad news?"
"The bad news is shes not here, and I dont know where she
"But we can fix that, right? We can do the ritual again?"
"Um, no. There arent enough ashes left to try again."
"WHAT?!?" Gabrielle jumped to her feet. "Where is he? Ill
kill him myself!"
"Whoa, whoa, Gab! Slow down. Hes gone. You cant kill him anyway,
remember? Hes a god again." She put her arm around Gabrielles
shoulders, holding tight when the bard tried to shrug her off. Then holding tighter
when the shoulders beneath her arm slumped in defeat. She cupped Gabrielles
chin and drew her eyes up to meet her own.
"You know shes alive, right?" She waited for the acknowledgement
to come. "Right... so you can use the connection you feel from her to find
her. Should be a piece of cake."
Gabrielle snorted in laughter through her tears. "Aphrodite, nothing has
ever been a piece of cake for us. Somehow I dont see this being any different."
Aphrodite chuckled sympathetically, and drew the bards head to her lips.
"Good point." She looked around and shuddered. "Lets get
out of here. This place is giving me the creeps now."
They exited slowly, following the markers Aphrodite had left, and now painstakingly
removed. "Heph didnt mark it for a reason. Im just trying to
respect that," Dite explained in answer to Gabrielles unasked question.
When they found their way out, Aphrodite replaced the shielding that had been
in place. Then she waved them back to Olympus.
Dite popped them right to Gabrielles room, knowing the effect of blood
loss would hit her hard and suddenly. She surmised correctly, and was just able
to catch the bard as she slipped to the floor. The goddess got Gabrielle tucked
into bed, then moved to her own room. This adventure had exhausted her more than
she was willing to admit, and she still had her regular love biz to take care
of. She decided to take a nap.
Green eyes opened slowly, the pert nose twitching at the scent of cinnamon
and sugar that wafted her direction. She stretched leisurely, smiling at the renewed
warmth she felt coursing through her soul, and marveling at the hunger gnawing
at her belly.
"Guess immortality didnt take away my appetite." Gabrielle
flung the covers from her and rose from the bed. She padded over the thick carpet
to the table, smiling at the steaming cinnamon rolls that greeted her vision.
She brought the plate back to the bed and sat down, her gaze turning inward.
The distinctive warmth that she knew was Xena was distant, but it was real. She
smiled softly, feeling a renewed hope.
"I will find you, Xena. Somehow, some way, Ill find you, and well
be together again."
It was still dark when the blue eyes finally opened and looked around, disoriented.
This wasnt the afterlife shed expected it to be. In fact, she felt
a distinctive hunger in her belly and a burning in her blood. It didnt seem
to be an afterlife at all. She poked at her belly and pinched her arm, concluding
that her naked flesh was real.
Slowly, she rose to her feet, looking around in confusion. She wasnt
in Japa, and it didnt look like Greece, Chin, Britannia or Egypt. The land
was flat, and as her eyes adjusted, she realized she could see a very long way.
There was a light in the distance, and heedless of her nakedness, the warrior
headed that way.
She tottered for a few steps, then stumbled, and she realized she was weak
from hunger and something else... indefinable.
She knelt in the grass, the stalks gently tickling her skin. She closed her
eyes, putting the sensation out of her mind, and focused on the sounds around
her. There was the brush of the grass, the whistle of wind and... she smiled.
Just to her left was the sound of an animal... wild hare from its scent.
Stealthily, she circled her prey, waiting patiently. It was over before the
rabbit understood it had jumped into a trap. The warrior grabbed the soft neck,
and sank her teeth into it with relish. She began to feel warmth and strength
seeping through her bones until she realized what she was doing.
She flung the hare from her in disgust and tried to retch, but there was nothing
in her belly to regurgitate. She lurched to her feet, strong enough now to move
towards the light at a steady pace.
It was just daylight when she stumbled into the small encampment. Everyone
stared at first, until an old woman approached her with a blanket. "Netonê_evehe,
ka'ê_kone? Tosa'e netao'setsêhe'ohtse?"
The warriors brow furrowed, not understanding the language. The old woman
wrapped the fur around the naked body slowly, gently brushing the wild, dark hair
from the planed face. Then she tapped her own chest. "Hotassa," she
stated and pointed to the warrior.
The blue eyes scanned the small village, noting the well-laid camp and the
patiently waiting tribesmen. They didnt seem to be threatening... merely
curious, and she decided that she would stay with them as long as they would allow
until she could figure out where she was and how to get home.
She looked back at the grandmotherly woman and smiled, eliciting one in response.
She jerked a thumb at herself. "Xena," she answered, and let the old
woman lead her to a spot by the fire.
To be continued
know where this bard lives
well, if I can find it again. <.g.>