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Author's Note: There are some times when I ask myself why I even bother to write Xena fiction at all. The praise is scant, and, frankly, the ranking of the stories can be downright discouraging. But, I guess it's for the love of Xena, and all the things that can be said through her. This story, much like the Greek plays of old, is a catharsis. Maybe a much needed catharsis. That being said, in the Xenaverse which I'm privileged to visit in my writings, there are characters not a part of the "official" Xenaverse. One is Gaia, a Great Goddess who, in fact, predated the Olympian gods in Greece. I have invented the Order of Gaian Warrior-Priestesses. Callisto was to have been one of them, but fate intervened.
There is a scene in this story, which, contrary to all of the rest of my stories, is "adult". In fact, it is even "alternate" - but it is necessary. If this is offensive please read elsewhere. There is no violence. There is little action, but much emotion. Thanks.
Author's Further Note: This story takes place, very loosely, after my story entitled "A Gaian Vacation"
Callisto cried out her rage. She was a god, but being a god was of no use to her. She was still trapped in the depths of a lava pit, with her hands tightly gripped around the throat of her immortal adversary, Velasca. If either of the two of them had been mortal, the molten fury of the lava flow would have reduced them to a fistful of cinders in less than a matter of seconds. But, for a god, there is no pain. Callisto sloughed off the heat of the fiery magma as if it were of no consequence. She could have freed herself from the lava in an instant if she were not engaged in this everlasting combat. It was a fight between two gods, equally matched, with neither willing to surrender for a second an advantage to her foe.
And then, in an instant, the heat, and fire, and stygian darkness of the lava flow were gone. Callisto gaped around, bedazzled by the unaccustomed light. Her fingers still clasped the throat of Valasca, and Valasca still had Callisto in her own unending death-grip. As the brilliance cleared, however, both contestants felt the overpowering presence of a third entity tearing them apart. To these gods, this presence was recognizable in an instant. To a mortal, it would have appeared as two frightening and malevolent, discolored eyes. For Callisto and Valasca, the presence was far more intense.
"Hera," simultaneously breathed the two gods Valasca and Callisto.
"Yes," was the unspoken reply.
"What do you possibly want of me? I am a god, the same as you," snarled the god Valasca.
"Of you, I want nothing. I will not even deprive you of your godhood," was the Answer. And then there was light, and a shriek of immortal terror, and Velasca disappeared, spinning out of control, through the uncharted dimensions of Time and Space.
Hera turned her attentions to Callisto, "Your friend was impertinent but, I may bring her back, once she's learned her place. Her hatred is to my liking. As is yours, Callisto. But, she is very wrong about one thing, my Little Child of Evil. She and you are nothing the same as me. I am powerful beyond your imagination, Callisto. A morsel of ambrosia has not made either you or her more than the merest of godlings. I can crush you with a thought, just as if you were still a pathetic little mortal. But I won't. I prefer to keep you around a while--if you do my bidding."
"It really doesn't look like I have much of a choice," replied the god Callisto. There was the slightest hint of a sneer in her voice, but there was also more than a hint of wariness.
"Don't be so distressed, dear Callisto," replied the Entity known as Hera, "I have plans for you. Now that you've become a god, I can reduce you back to your mortal state, and, just as easily, restore you to being a god. The possibilities are now limitless. You shall be my champion in the World. It'll be such fun."
"Why do you need me?" replied Callisto.
"Maybe I don't," Hera responded. "But, you are convenient. You see, Callisto, like you, I have an old enemy. She has had little to do with the Realm of the Gods until recently. With our growing power over the ways of mankind, however, she has made her presence more known. I can't imagine that she really cares for the pathetic little worms, but, for some reason, she insists on standing in the way of my enjoyment of their suffering and evil. You are going to help me destroy her, Callisto."
"And who is your enemy?" asked the god Callisto.
"Why, you really should know, fair Callisto. She has become the patron of your archrival Xena. That should be enough in itself to make you join me willingly. She is Gaia."
Callisto's unearthly blue eyes grew wider. Gaia! For a fleeting second - that is, if seconds have any meaning at all in the midst of Eternity - Callisto the god recalled Callisto the young girl. For, in the land of Callisto's forebears, there stands a mighty temple. That temple was dedicated to a great and ancient goddess, and was the home of a band of mighty Warrior-Priestesses. Callisto knew well of these Warrior-Priestesses, as she, in her girlhood, had trained with them. She was to have become one of the Warrior-Priestesses, as her grandmother had been before her, so many years ago. But, a terrible fate befell that young Callisto, as her village, Cirra, was destroyed by a ruthless and unforgiving warlord. Callisto's mother, father, and sister were killed--burned alive--by that warlord on that fateful day and ever since, Callisto lived only to revenge her destroyed kin. For the warlord was named Xena.
Maybe in some other lifetime, some other place, Xena would return and undo the evil that she did at the village of Cirra. But that, as it is said, would be another story. . .
"So it has come full circle," said Callisto.
"You are so like me," said Hera. "Such hate, such desire for blood and violence."
Callisto bristled. For some reason that she could not understand and could not fathom, Callisto despised the Great and Powerful God known as Hera.
"I'm nothing like you," spat Callisto.
Hera laughed. "Poor, sweet, innocent Callisto," she replied, "Surely you know that, by now, you are totally my obedient servant. You can have no other destiny."
There was a worried look on Callisto's face even if it was the face of a god. Deep within her, in that unspoken part of her soul, and despite her hatred and her lust for revenge, there was still this mere girl of fifteen summers, who had worked and studied and learned under the great Gaian Warrior-Priestess masters Cirice and Marte and Janith and others. But, then again, where were these so-called masters when she - and Cirra - needed them most?
Reluctantly, Callisto made her decision. Hera was the very essence of the Devil, and Callisto, for the sake of all she held close and dear, would make a bargain with her.
"I will do as you say," said Callisto. "Send me back to Earth, and I will destroy Xena."
"Pitiful Callisto," murmured the Greater God, "Do you think that you can just go back down there, and kill Xena? Listen, my child as I have already spoken, Xena is now the darling of that accursed goddess Gaia. She would not allow you - or at least not allow you as a god - to willy-nilly descent to the Earth and slay Xena. The answer is more subtle."
Callisto, again, snarled. She was not used to limitations. But, this time, she had no choice. She had to suborn herself to the Will of Hera.
"For now," said Callisto, "thy will be done."
"Good," said the Dark God, "Now, it is time you return to the Earth as a mortal. Your task will not be to destroy Xena, but to seduce her. That would be the ultimate irony to turn the mighty Gaia's champion to our side."
"Seduce her?!!" spat the incredulous Callisto, "What in Tartarus do you mean?"
"Why, dear Callisto, we're all adults here," smiled Hera, "seduce her means seduce her by any means necessary. Maybe your training as a Gaian. If I recall, Gaia's little "pets"--her so-called Warrior-Priestesses--are taught to bend people's minds. I'm sure, if you try hard enough, enhanced by your once being a god; you'll remember some of the techniques. How deliciously ironic that would be! To use Gaian means to destroy both Xena and Gaia! Of course, once you have Xena in your sway, we will use her to destroy Gaia. Then I'll turn Xena back over to you, so that you, as a god again, can torment her for all eternity if you wish."
Callisto smiled, but it was, somehow, a very troubled smile. "When do I begin?" was all that she could say.
"Why, right now," replied Hera, and then there was a blinding flash of the purest white light.
Callisto's mind was filled with changing colors and with sounds for which she had no name. It was all spinning, spinning mightily out of control. She had experienced things that would have blasted a sane mind - being a damned soul in Tartarus, an immortal, her godhood - but it had been a long time since her mind had been truly sane, or her soul totally uncrushed.
Then Callisto fell to the earth. Her vision cleared, and she looked up. Arising from her knees, she stared around - up at the darkening blue sky, away toward the deepening red of the setting sun. Then she stared at her hand, her arm. She could feel the blood coursing through her veins. She breathed. How long had it been since she had last breathed? She felt the beating of her heart, a savage joy--if Callisto could, indeed, feel joy--flooded the darkened corners of her mind. She was human again! Deaths, immortality, even godhood--such were mere trifles when compared to that of living and breathing.
"Curse you, Hera! I'll do your Will, as it pleases me, but I curse you - you and all your miserable godlings!" shouted Callisto. But, it was not a curse of hate instead it was one of triumph. It was a twisted, dreadful triumph, but triumph nonetheless. Callisto hauled out her sword, and, through lips that smiled but remained mirthless, she began to hum a wordless tune. Then she began to sing.
"I'm off to find Xee-na," sang Callisto, as she began skipping down the trail, "just off to find Xena, my good old friend Xena, and when I find Xena then my Will can be done."
Xena was sitting on a flat rock, closely inspecting the shine on her sword. The steel reflected the sun like highly polished silver, as it was Xena's wont to oil and scrub the blade every day. The edges of the sword had been sharpened past razor-sharp perfection, with the innumerable nicks and notches caused by the clashing of steel with steel expertly honed out. Xena's companion Gabrielle lay, belly-down, on the grass nearby, taking ink and quill to parchment. Gabrielle was busy chronicling the many adventures that she and Xena had shared throughout their seasons of sojourning.
Then, suddenly, in an instant, everything was changed. For, without any warning whatsoever, there stood before Xena and Gabrielle a third young woman. This woman was both tall and slender, although superbly muscled, and had hair of pure-spun gold and eyes the like of nothing less than fiery blue suns. This woman was Callisto.
"Why, Xena," giggled Callisto, " and, yes, our little Gabrielle. It's so good to see the two of you again. My heart is so warm for the both of you."
"But, that should come as no surprise. After all," Callisto snarled, "it's very warm at the bottom of a lava pit!"
"Run, Gabrielle, run--now!! It's me she wants!" cried out Xena.
Gabrielle had gotten to her feet, and picked up her fighting-staff. She, however, looked indecisive.
"Yes, little girl-toy, run," giggled - again - Callisto, "I just may be tempted to turn you into a toad."
Gabrielle's eyes locked fast with those of Xena. What she saw in Xena's eyes was a never-before seen urgency - something that she could not possibly ignore. Xena was telling her that, to Callisto, Gabrielle was totally expendable and that Callisto would expend her without even a second's hesitation. It was, indeed, Xena that Callisto wanted, but not for swift retribution. Every moment that Xena could delay Callisto was a moment that Gabrielle might still live and maybe, somehow, even get away. Gabrielle understood, and though every particle of her being shouted out that she should stand and fight with her friend, Gabrielle turned and ran.
"Good," tittered Callisto, "the brat would really be no fun at all to kill. It would be like stepping on a worm. A little, bitsy worm. But, you--you, Xena. That's a totally different story. Better be nice to me. After all, I am a god."
Xena stood legs apart, with her sword in her fist. She was trying to fight down the tendrils of fear. It is not true to say that Xena never felt fear. It was only true that no man could cause her fear. A god, on the other hand, might. Perhaps. And before a god like Callisto had now become, it was even likely that Xena would feel fear.
Callisto laughed and didn't even raise her sword. Then Callisto broke into a gale of uncontrollable laughter, nearly doubling over in her maniacal-like glee. Xena stood by, amazed. When the laughter finally abated, Callisto spoke again.
"The joke's on you, Xena and your pathetic little she-rabbit of a friend, hopping down the bunny-trail. The joke is - I'm not even a god! I'm not even immortal any more! Isn't that so deliciously funny? We're on equal terms, Xena. You and me. Face to face."
Xena raised her sword to strike a blow. Callisto, however, did not even try to raise her sword. Instead, she looked Xena straight in the eyes.
"Are you really in such a hurry to strike me down?" asked Callisto.
Xena felt confused. She knew for certain by looking deeply into Callisto's eyes, that Callisto was, indeed, again a mortal. But how had Callisto gone from being a god to being a mortal? And what was she after? She had always wanted nothing from Xena other than a fight to the death. Why did she now refrain from battle?
"Look into my eyes, Xena," spoke Callisto. "Don't you think I have pretty eyes?"
Xena was skeptical. Something strange was happening. But, as she gazed at her opponent, she had to admit, Callisto did have pretty eyes. Very pretty eyes.
"Yes," whispered Xena, even though she did not know why she was responding.
"And your eyes, Xena. They are so beautiful, too."
Xena felt herself being drawn to Callisto.
"Our eyes are so much the same," added Callisto, "eyes as the World has never seen or imagined before. So beautiful and powerful."
Xena wanted to agree.
Callisto took her sword, and sheathed it.
"Me first. Now you," said Callisto.
Xena seemed to remember a feeling of reluctance, but by now it was a small and far-away thing. A truly insignificant thing. She took her sword, and slowly slid it into its scabbard.
"Oh, so good," smiled Callisto and next, Callisto put out her hand. Xena seemed to hesitate, but, almost involuntarily, she reached out her hand as well and then, the two Warriors clasped each other around the forearm.
"And now, once more," said Callisto. Her eyes were shining, her lips just apart, and she breathed both rhythmically and slowly.
Xena and Callisto, with their free hands, again clasped each other's forearm. They now stood nearly face to face, with their mouths scant inches apart. Xena, now, was also breathing rhythmically and through her lips, and her eyes, too, shown.
"Why have we let such tiny things separate us in the past, my Xena? We are so much greater than that."
"Yes, we are," answered Xena.
And then Callisto slowly sank to her knees. With hands and wrists intertwined, Xena followed. Then Callisto released one of Xena's arms so that she, Callisto, could lay down, lay down and stretch out on her back. Xena, still holding her by the other arm, gazed down at Callisto.
"The grass is so very soft, Xena. Come join me. We have so much to talk about."
Xena found Callisto so incredibly, totally irresistible. Xena lay down on her side, propping her head with her free hand, as she continued to gaze down at the oh-so-beautiful, golden-haired woman. She could see the rise and fall of Callisto's breasts.
"Yes, Xena, how totally insignificant are our differences. How laughable, really, when compared to what we can do together."
"Yes," replied Xena, "we could do great things together."
Callisto smiled, and it was unmistakably a smile of rare, genuine pleasure.
"Great things?" she said, "Why, Xena, we could raise armies like the World has never seen. We could march across whole continents leading a million men. No one could ever stand in our way."
Xena agreed. "We would be irresistible. Rulers of the World."
"We will build statues to ourselves, together, all over the World, made of gold, ivory, and silver." spoke Callisto.
" And they will all be one hundred - no, two hundred cubits high, with us arm-in-arm, holding our bloodstained swords high," added Xena.
"No longer will you be the Warrior-Princess. You will be the Warrior-Empress. The World Empress. As will I."
Callisto's brilliant blue eyes bore into those of Xena. Both pairs of eyes glistened with what was by now an undeniable passion. It was as if their souls were locked, and were feeding greedily off of each other. Callisto rolled over and placed her knee between Xena's legs, and she reached through Xena's arms, placing her hands on Xena's shoulders. Xena then rolled on her back, allowing Callisto to be over her.
"Think of it, Xena," breathed Callisto. "The whole World will be our Empire. We will not only raise armies, but also build cities to our honor. Our capital . . . we can call it . . . let's see . . . 'Callistoxenopolis'. Or maybe, my dark-haired love, 'Xenocallistopolis' ."
"Or maybe," Callisto giggled as she continued, "we'll have one of each. Why not or maybe we'll build a thousand cities to our undying glory."
Xena sighed. She felt her hands, unbidden, caressing the flesh of Callisto's sides. Then Xena giggled herself.
"Whatever will we do with Gabrielle?" said Xena.
Callisto smirked, as her red lips hovered a scant inch from those of Xena.
"Gabrielle . . . Gab-ri-elle. Our little babe, lost-in-the-woods. Gabrielle--an Amazon Queen--imagine that! Isn't that so incredibly funny?"
"We'll raise up real Amazons," replied Xena, in a voice made both hoarse and low with unbridled passion, "and our Amazons won't be a gaggle of half-naked bush-girls, good for nothing but shaking their tails. Our Amazons will be clothed and shod in leather, iron, and steel. They will march in phalanxes, and smash the centers of our enemies' lines. They will be merciless. And they will be our Imperial Guard."
"Oh, Xena," said Callisto, as she wound her arms around the Warrior-Priestess's back, briefly brushing her lips with her own.
"I suppose," added Callisto, after a moment, "we can keep little Gabrielle. You know, I really did her a favor by slicing open that ox-brained so-called husband of hers. I saved her from a lifetime of slopping hogs and whelping brats. She should get on her knees and thank me for what I did."
Xena smiled a dreamy smile. "I guess we can keep her as a pet," she said. "She can wash our linen."
Callisto giggled, "And, every now and then, we'll let her kiss the toe of our boots. But - you've trained her so well to do that already."
Xena laughed. Callisto joined in and then, Callisto covered Xena's mouth with her own.
Gabrielle remained in the woods, less than fifty paces away from where Callisto and Xena lay. After running, as Xena had commanded, she could not help herself but to creep back and see if there was any way she could offer Xena assistance. Instead, she saw - this. She could hear their words, and see their caresses, and it made her feel so dirty as to cause her to avert her eyes. But, Gabrielle's averting her eyes did not stop the tears, which still ran slowly down her cheeks.
Then, she heard a sound. Gabrielle unconsciously grabbed the oaken pole that was her fighting-staff. She then turned around, trying to make out any shapes in the darkening night. And then, there was a hand on her shoulder.
Gabrielle, badly startled, instinctively twirled around to see, improbably, a woman - middle-aged but superbly conditioned - wearing a golden-colored dress with silver body armor. Across her shoulders was a cloak of what appeared to be purest gold. On her head was a silver helmet with a golden crest. Around her waist was a belt, and to the belt was attached a sword.
Gabrielle's eyes widened. She recognized this woman. For the name of the woman was Marte, whom she and Xena had met one day . . . it seemed not so long ago . . . while they were returning from an adventure in the faraway lands of the Indus. Marte came from the steppe peoples, and had straight black hair, streaked with white, and almond-shaped eyes. Marte was also one of the Twelve, leaders of the mighty Warrior-Priestesses of Gaia. Marte put a finger to her lips to insure Gabrielle's silence.
"Gabrielle, it is so good to see you again," whispered Marte.
Gabrielle was still speechless, but she slowly regained her voice.
"Marte it is good to see you again too."
And then Gabrielle fell into the older woman's arms, and began to weep anew.
"I know your pain, and its cause," said Marte.
Through her sniffles, Gabrielle was able to whisper out, "Can you stop them. Did you bring the Warrior-Priestesses?"
"But, Gabrielle, remember," replied Marte, "Callisto is - or can be - a god. Maybe she's in mortal form now, but she without doubt can return to being a god. We Warrior-Priestesses cannot stop a god. I am alone."
"Then," replied Gabrielle, "why are you here?"
"So that you will not be."
"But, if Callisto and Xena succeed, I may be alone for the rest of my life."
Marte smiled, "I doubt you have to worry about that. You just have to have faith. There are more players to this drama than you realize. It's all for a purpose and it will have an end. You will be part of that end."
"Patience, little one. You will find out. Now try to get some sleep. I'll watch over you."
Gabrielle felt her eyes getting heavy, and she lay down on the thick grass beneath the trees. Whereupon Marte removed her cloak of gold, and covered the young woman.
Callisto and Xena still lay intertwined. The sun was just beginning to appear in the east over the tops of the far-distant trees, and faint streaks of orange were beginning to soften the early morning darkness. Xena awoke, and Callisto stirred. Xena looked over at Callisto with indescribable, confused feelings. Her mind was not clear, and her thoughts were a jumble, just like in a dream. Part of her wondered what exactly she had done. Another part --a still distant part--wondered if she was being wise. The lust, the desire for ultimate glory . . . it was still there, if diminished, and it left both her body and her mind feeling distant and unreal.
Then Callisto awoke. She was smiling, and it was a dreamy, longing smile, without pretense or malice. This made Xena's heart ache. There was something beyond words that Xena felt, at this very moment, for this incredibly beautiful young golden-haired Warrior.
And then, everything changed. The early morning dawn was rent asunder in an instant with a flash of cold, hard light. It was an eruption of light with a brilliance such as that of a harsh and merciless sun, burning away all illusions and pride. Both Xena and Callisto gaped in frightened awe.
Then, there was a figure in the light. It was a god but not one of the Olympian gods. It was, in truth, a goddess - a Goddess - and one that Xena had seen once before. The Goddess was tall, and unapproachably beautiful, and robed totally in the hue of eternal and unmerciful white. The Goddess shone forth with the light of blazes unimagined and unimaginable. Xena had even once seen this Goddess smile, but she was not smiling now and for some reason beyond any explanation, Xena was scared. Xena, in fact, was more frightened than she had ever dreamed possible.
For the Goddess was Gaia. Kind, wise, compassionate Gaia--or so it appeared. A Goddess for which Xena had even dared hope to be a champion. That hope now seemed so much less than laughable.
"Children behave," said Gaia, and She laughed coldly and then She looked away from Xena to Callisto, and the gaze of the Great Goddess Gaia rested on Callisto.
"I have come for my daughter," Gaia continued, "my goddess-daughter. Only she can be important now."
As the eyes of Gaia and Callisto met, there was an incredible, indeed, incomprehensible transfiguration of the young woman. First, Callisto's eyes shone, and then her visage, and then her whole being. It was a light that could be blinding, and would not care. Callisto arose, and moved over to Gaia's side. She then wrapped her arms around the Elder Goddess, and looked up, adoringly, into Gaia's face.
"Mama," whispered Callisto.
And then Xena's mind was clear. She gasped in horror.
"You, you used me," gasped Xena, and she did not know whether she was crying out to Callisto, or to Gaia, or to both. And then Xena realized, finally and terribly, that it did not matter. They were both gods and she was nothing. Less than nothing.
"Of course I used you," replied Gaia, "I used you to return Callisto to me. That was my purpose."
"But . . . but," screamed Xena, "what of me??! What will become of me?"
Gaia looked down into Callisto's eyes, and there seemed to be communion between the goddesses. Gaia smiled, and spoke, without even deigning to look at Xena.
"Of you, my daughter's vengeance is complete. Her hatred has come full circle and is of no more consequence. As you are of no more consequence for her."
Xena felt a horror akin to doom. It was a horror totally beyond her comprehension. She could not understand what had happened, what was happening. She had been used and abandoned by a god. Not even abandoned - beneath being abandoned. Betrayed. Betrayed in the only hope that she had ever had.
And Xena fled in terror, not looking back.
And then there was another flash of light and Gaia and Callisto were gone.
Gaia and Callisto reappeared in a desolate land. It was the ruins of a village, by the name of Cirra, burned long ago. Both Gaia and Callisto shone with the blaze of uncounted suns, as is the way of gods. Callisto still gazed with adoration at Gaia.
Gaia lovingly ran a hand through the golden locks of her goddess-daughter. Smiling at her, she asked a question.
"Callisto, do you feel that your hatred and vengeance for Xena are complete?"
Callisto held Gaia tighter. "Yes," she said, "Your choosing me, and abandoning her, ended them. Xena is of no more consequence to me."
"If that be so, will you make of them a present to me, your hatred and vengeance for her, and give it to me?"
"A present that I can never give back?"
"Then your hatred and vengeance are no more, as is your need for godhood."
And Gaia released Callisto. And Callisto, once again, felt the blood flow through her veins and the air enter her lungs. Callisto stood amazed, and then dumbfounded. Her breath came in short, labored gasps. Her eyes were wide with shock and disbelief.
"I will protect you from Hera," added Gaia.
"You, you tricked me!!! You used me!!" wailed Callisto.
"As you were going to use Xena? No, Callisto. I only did what you and Xena desired. If I used you, I used you both for each other. In the end, the results are what they are."
Callisto felt an emptiness inside of her, and that emptiness was where her hate and her lust for vengeance had resided. She continued to wail.
"I want my hate back! I want my vengeance back!"
"They are already gone," replied Gaia.
"But I gave them to you because you chose me!!! You tricked me!!"
"I did choose you. And that will never change. You will always be my daughter."
And with that Gaia disappeared.
And Callisto dropped to her knees, wrapped her arms around herself, and screamed.
Xena sat on a rock. Her shoulders were bent and her face was in her hands. She was both weeping and shaking convulsively. Then, someone came up and sat down on the rock beside Xena. It was another young woman, and she had long, straight auburn-colored hair. This young woman took hold of one of Xena's hands. With her free hand she began stroking Xena's long, black hair. It took several agonizingly long minutes, but finally Xena looked up. Her face was completely wet with tears.
"You know, Xena," said Gabrielle, "this is the first time I've ever seen you cry."
For a moment Xena was silent, then she asked, "Why?"
Then Xena continued, and her voice trembled as she spoke, "Why, Gabrielle, why did she betray me? For once, just for a little while, I thought that there was some meaning . . . something, something . . . greater than all of this . . . this pathetic and hopeless madness."
"Do you speak of Callisto, or of Gaia?" responded Gabrielle.
Xena's eyes hardened. "Callisto. With Callisto I was a fool. She was so tempting, and I couldn't resist."
"The dark side of you couldn't resist," replied Gabrielle, "But is that your true self?"
"No" whispered Xena.
"Your true self wonders why Gaia deserted you. Why Gaia mocked you."
"Xena," continued Gabrielle, "Once Gaia told me that you were forgiven and that's true. But, you have never forgiven yourself. You cried out in unbelievable pain for punishment, and your punishing yourself was never enough. So, to set you free, Gaia punished you in the only way that would make a difference by making you feel abandoned. She didn't want to, but you were too stubborn or desperate to accept anything less. But, with punishment comes absolution. Your crimes are now of no consequence. Gaia has not, and never will, abandon you."
"How do you know these things?" Xena asked, in the tiniest of voices.
Gabrielle smiled. "An old friend told me."
Xena did not question this. Then, she said, again weakly and reluctantly, "But all of those people. Those people at Cirra?"
"You did them no lasting harm. As Callisto did Perdicus no lasting harm. They are all in a better place."
Xena, for the first time, seemed reassured. Hope was beginning to be born anew. Then she thought of something else.
"That dark part of me craved being a World-Empress with Callisto. And the frightening part is, there's no doubt we could have done it."
"Another old friend once said to me, 'What profit a man or woman to gain the whole World, and lose their soul?'"
Xena did not reply.
"Of course," grinned Gabrielle, "that's metaphorically speaking. I can't believe that Gaia would let anyone lose their soul."
For the first time, Xena smiled. "You know, Gabrielle, that dark part of me also craved being held by Callisto."
"There is a greater, stronger part of you that can be held, too."
And Gabrielle took Xena in her arms and held her.
Callisto was in a white hot, inhuman rage and it was a rage of madness both howling and unspeakable. It was her desire for Xena - for she truly desired Xena, as much as Xena had desired her - that had blinded her. It was also her desire for Gaia but that was, if she could ever admit it, a different desire. Now, all she wanted was to be a god again. She wanted to be a god solely to have the power to strike out, to slay and destroy. But, she was now forever deprived of her of her godhood and she was alone, here, amidst the desolate ruins of the never-rebuilt village of Cirra. There was nothing for her but to await her inevitable and solitary fate.
Then there was a faint rustling in the undergrowth behind her. Callisto whirled around, her sword in her hand. Her eyes, tormented with the flames and fires of madness, now blazed with a lust and desire for release. Maybe, if she could kill just one more time, maybe . . . maybe. . .
"Maybe the pain will go away?" spoke a voice not in the bushes at all, but now to her rear. Callisto whirled around again and before her, stood a woman. The woman wore a long dark cape, which was wrapped tightly around her. The cape had a hood, which covered her face in shadows. As Callisto raised her sword, the woman pushed back the hood and Callisto dropped her sword. Her eyes were wide with astonishment. For the face that she saw was her own. Or, it would be hers, if she lived another forty summers. The hair was graying, and there were wrinkles around the eyes, but, other than that, there was the same, fierce beauty. It was the face that belonged to the woman for whom Callisto had been named.
"No. It can't be. Grandmama?" spoke an amazed and shaken Callisto.
"Yes," was the only reply.
"But . . . but . . . you left the Temple long before Cirra. It was thought that you were dead."
"I remained a Gaian Warrior. As I am now."
"But where were you? Where were you when Xena came back then? Where were you when Mama died, and Daddy, and, and my sister?"
"I had other duties."
"Other duties?!!" spat Callisto, "Other duties??!! Do you know . . . do you realize . . . what Xena's men did to me, when I arrived at Cirra a half-day too late? The rapes? I was fifteen, damn you!! Damn you straight to Hell!! Did you realize any of this?!"
"I realized all of it, the day after it occurred. I have thought of little else these now more than ten years. Every day of those ten years I have wept for what I did not do. I had an awful choice to make on that terrible day. I could have stopped Xena, or I could have faced down a much more powerful warlord bent on destroying an entire city-state. I saved the city-state."
"That . . . that . . . was your choice??!! Not to save your own family . . . not to save . . . me?"
"And then, after that, you let me . . . let me. . . "
"I had to let you follow your own path."
"But . . . but . . . you could have . . . you could have . . . saved me. . . "
"It is still not too late for that."
Callisto screamed. Then, she reached down to the dirt and grabbed her sword. Shrieking in mindless rage, she raised the sword above her head, and swung it with all her might. And then the older Callisto, the grandmother of her namesake, raised up one hand, and caught the descending blow in mid-air. It would seem that such a feat would have required super-human effort. But, for the elder woman, it seemed to have taken no effort at all. She then removed the sword from Callisto's trembling hand, and looked at the blade.
"It's strange," spoke Callisto's grandmother, "that you still have this sword after all these years. I remember when I gave it to you, when you were thirteen. It was unsharpened then."
"What use is an unsharpened sword?" spoke Callisto but it was the voice of a little girl.
"It is of a great many uses to a Gaian Warrior. Like me. And like my granddaughter after me."
"But Gaia betrayed me, and left me here," sobbed Callisto, as tears streaked down her face.
The older woman reached up a hand to Callisto's face, and wiped away the tears. Then she showed her granddaughter the wetness on her hand. Then she took Callisto in her arms and looked her straight in the eyes. Their eyes, which were exactly the same brilliant and beautiful color of blue, were scant inches apart, and both pairs glistened with dripping tears.
"No, my little Callisto," she said, "Before, you could not cry. Now you can. Gaia has given you back your soul. What you do with it now is up to you. "
The scene dissolves to a latter day. We are now in a simple hospital room, and on the bed lies a tiny, ancient woman. Barely conscious, the woman knows, without any doubt that she's finally dying. But her mind, which should now be at peace, is troubled. She has tried so hard to do good, to serve the poor, and, to the World, she's wildly succeeded. Acclaimed by millions, already they call her Saint, and awards and commendations lauding her work are legion. She, however, is flooded with doubts. It did begin simply, but, now, at the final reckoning, she wonders and worries that these last years have been more for her own praise - and her vanity - than for all those she so much wanted to serve.
The tiny woman opens her eyes, and, incredibly, the room is empty. Gone are the myriad of doctors and nurses and Sisters and visitors. However, as her vision clears, she sees that there is indeed, one person in the room. The woman is tall, graying and middle-aged, but superbly conditioned. Strangest of all is her costume for she is wearing a golden-colored dress, with a gold cape and--almost unbelievably--silver breast armor and a silver helmet with golden crest. She also wore a great sword and had, slung over her back, a round shield.
"Are . . . are you an angel?" whispered the ancient woman.
"No," replied the woman, "that time is not quite yet. I am human, much as you."
"What is it you desire?"
"To be your companion, just for a moment."
The tiny woman was astonished to find herself, standing and without pain or suffering, on a great stone dais, in what appeared to be a mighty Temple. Before the dais, facing her, were what appeared to be hundreds of young, powerful, and incredibly beautiful women, dressed much as her companion, but with shorter skirts. These women also held long spears, thrust forward in salute and they were all smiling. These Warriors - as that was what they appeared to be - suddenly seemed to remind the tiny woman of her own Sisters. It was a very strange thought.
On the dais with her were twelve other older Warrior women, attired as her recent companion. They smiled, too, and then seemed, mystically, to disappear into the background. The old woman found herself alone, as even the one who had brought her here was gone. Then before her stood another woman, one who was tall and incredibly beautiful, but neither young nor old. She was dressed in a white so pure as to be dazzling, and there were golden sandals on her feet. Her hair was white with slight streaks of brown and black, and her smile was dazzling.
"Who . . . who are you?" asked the tiny, astonished woman.
"Little sister, I think you know the answer to that," was the reply.
"But . . . but . . . how?"
"In the Vastness of this and all the many other Worlds, the possibilities of Glory are infinite. But you already know that, too. You have seen - and served - Glory in the eyes of the desperate, the hopeless, the dying. You know the Great Secret that there is Glory in all things, that it is Eternal, and that it will overcome all Evil, no matter the circumstance."
The old woman bowed her head.
"I have something to give you before your final journey," added the Other, and she reached behind herself.
Back in the hospital room, the Sisters could no longer contain their grief. The woman that had been Mother to them for so long was now no longer breathing. But her smile seemed so incredibly grand. The Sisters then pulled back the bed covering so that the tiny, frail body could be taken and, to their complete and total amazement, held in Mother's small hands, was a great and mighty sword. An unsharpened sword.