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By: Dan A. Payne
... Xena, Gabrielle, and Mithres approached the Great Inner Hall of the Temple of Gaia. The entrance to the Hall itself was twenty paces wide and at least twice as many high, and it seemed to stretch on into the distance forever. The light for this passageway came from massive, flaming torches, placed in great iron sconces fastened high up on the walls. The walls and floor were made of gigantic flags of roughened stone, and the ceiling was made of soaring, vaulted arches...
The travelers walked between two long rows of inward-facing Warrior-Priest-esses. Each Warrior-Priestess seemed to be at least as large and tall as Xena herself, and all were in full battle armor and dress. There must have been at least a hundred of these warriors in each row, with each Warrior-Priestess standing two paces to the side of the next. All the Warrior-Priestesses had looks of supreme confidence...
‘Gosh,’ thought Gabrielle, ‘these women are big!’
The attire of these great warriors was the same for all... a short, golden-colored battle dress made of the finest linen, a full breast-plate with matching back armor, appear-ing to be made of solid silver and reflecting with a near-blinding brilliance the light cast from the overhead torches. They had long, knee-length capes, also of gold, and wore polished silver helmets, complete with towering, horse-hair crests dyed the color of their skirts and capes. The Warrior-Priestesses had long spears, held upright, and carried the unsharpened sword and plain round shield of the Order of Gaia. The spear and shield were ceremonial, but the sword was not... Gabrielle was surprised to see that the Warrior-Priestesses were not all yellow-haired Dacians. There were many with hair redder than hers, and a goodly number whose tresses were brown and raven-black. There were even many different races represented...
As the threesome passed, each pair of Warrior-Priestesses, facing one another across the breadth of the hallway, would thrust their spears out from the vertical to an angle of arm’s length, and then would hold them there... Xena was appreciative of the salute, but knew that a formal review and ceremony of the Warrior-Priestesses, especially for outsiders, was very rare indeed. She wondered what it might presage...
Xena and her companions reached the end of the hallway and entered into the Great Hall itself. There, standing on a large but low and unadorned dais, were thirteen additional Warrior-Priestesses. These appeared to all be older women, but just as tall and well-conditioned as the younger Gaians. Their attire was much the same as the Warrior-Priestesses that the three travelers had already passed, with the exception of their battle dresses, which were calf-length. Six of these Warrior-Priestesses stood on either side of the thirteenth, making a semi-circle. The woman in the middle looked older than the others, with streaks of gray in her hair and the handsome features of late middle-age. She was Cirice, the High Priestess of the Order.
Xena, Gabrielle, and Mithres came to a stop directly in front of the raised plat-form, waiting for the High Priestess to speak. She did.
"Mithres... I see you brought companions."
"This is Xena and her friend Gabrielle," Mithres replied.
"I know Xena. We have met before. It was many years ago."
"I’ve come to apologize for that meeting," said Xena.
"Xena... we have followed your life closely. There were many who argued that you should be stopped. I argued patience. My patience was rewarded."
"Thank you," said Xena.
"But it is not the past that causes me concern. It is the present... and the future. If we have one."
"The prophecy?" whispered Mithres.
"Yes. There were dark and disturbing signs which could not be ignored. They required your summons. But, while you were sojourning, the worst did occur. The gods, in their infinite foolishness, unleashed the Great Evil. The time is short... we have weeks now, at best. The gods have fled Mount Olympus, and the Evil is preoccupied with scattering them. But... soon it will turn its attention back to this World. When that happens... all will be lost."
Gabrielle nerved herself to ask a question of this great and impervious woman...
"How do you know of all these things?" she asked.
Cirice looked down at the young woman, and acknowledged her with a nod.
"Gabrielle, we are Priestesses as well as Warriors."
"But," continued Gabrielle, "what is this Evil?"
"It is known as the Ocean of Torment... the Eater of Souls. A mindless Entity more powerful... and more evil... than a thousand dark gods. The essence of each and every one of its victims remain forever inside it, being tortured and suffering beyond comprehension forever and for all time. It... is the Yy’Goth. That was why it was shut up, so long ago... It is the opposite of Gaia..."
Gabrielle shuddered... for all time.
"All in this World will be its victims if it is not stopped," Cirice continued.
"Can it be stopped?" asked Xena.
"I don’t know. But we can try. That is the reason for our calling of Mithres."
"What is it that I have to do?" asked the stonecutter.
"You must go to the East. You must find Saddhartha. Perhaps he can help us."
"Saddhartha?" queried Gabrielle.
"A holy man," was Cirice’s only reply.
"How can a holy man help?" asked Xena.
"How remains to be seen."
"Why don’t you send your Warriors instead of Mithres?" suggested Gabrielle.
"Hush, child," said Mithres, "I know Saddhartha and they do not. It was many years ago, but he’ll still remember me."
"You must leave now," urged Cirice.
"Then this is where we part... Xena, Gabrielle," said Mithres.
"No... it’s not," replied Xena, "I’m no stranger to evil, and maybe... in ways... you still are. You’ll need companions for such a journey... and besides, I have a feeling that if you’d not protected Gabrielle... us... from Ares back on the road from Corinth, things might be different."
"No, they would be the same," said Mithres. But he did not argue further with Xena. He seemed to be filled with a sadness that was beyond all understanding... He slowly nodded his head.
"There is a ship in the harbor of Bucca, at the mouth of the Great River. It sails for Tyre on the evening tide," said Cirice, "you can get passage."
... Xena, Gabrielle, and Mithres turned to retrace their steps through the ranks of the Warrior-Priestesses. Cirice’s eyes followed them, but rested primarily on Xena. There were things Cirice had left unspoken...
The three travelers, and Argo, were on the ship when it sailed later in the day. The barque was of Phoenician design, with large, square sails, dyed bright purple. These huge canvas sails allowed the vessel to ride swiftly with the wind. The crossing through the treacherous Hellespont was without incident, and the large craft fairly flew through the waves of the Ionic Sea on the breezes of the Southerly winds. Tyre was reached in a matter of days, with many leagues crossed on the way by both day and night...
Once at Tyre, Xena and her companions began a forced march south, stopping long enough only to rest Argo and steal a few hours sleep. On the seventh day they reached the small Semitic town of Iru’shaylim, and camped for the night on a small, rocky knoll outside the city gate. In the morning they joined a fast caravan south, destined for the Nabatian port of Ak’abas, which was nestled on the northern-most reaches of the bay leading to the mighty Eastern Ocean. Here they took passage on one of the great, wooden dhows that ply the Eastern trade routes...
The weather for the voyage was good, with more stiff winds hurrying them along their way. Gabrielle and Mithres took turns telling tales of both wisdom and adventure to the other passengers, and to the crew not engaged in trimming the sails. Their shipmates sat listening to the young bard and older stonecutter, with rapt attention not unlike that of children at story-time. Xena spent her time honing her sword with a whetting stone, again and again, until the blade could no doubt cut through tempered steel. She also spent her time below-decks, in the hold, commiserating with Argo, who thought even less than Xena of their present mode of travel.
Finally, the three travelers reached the broad, muddy mouth of the mighty river Indi, in the lands shared by the Dravidians and the Aryans. With the wind still at their backs, the huge ship was able to sail upriver to the ancient city of Dh’eli, in the foothills of the great snow-capped mountains beyond. It was a land of vast plains, searing heat, fabulous walled cities and great, domed temples, and gracious and hospitable people...
"I don’t know yet what to think of a people that worships cows," said Gabrielle.
"It’s not so much that they worship them, child," replied Mithres, "its just that they don’t eat them..."
... The rest of the journey had to be made on foot. Mithres, whose command of the languages of the folk of the Indi impressed even Xena, went in search of a guide to the uplands. It was there, rumor had it, where Saddhartha now dwelt. To Gabrielle’s great joy, Mithres returned with a mahout, leading a great elephant. The mahout’s name was Raf’jani, and he was a small, dark-skinned man with a smile that lit up his whole face. The elephant was a full twelve foot, and more, at the shoulder, and her name was Maya.
The travelers continued upstream, along the banks of the ever-narrowing Indi. Along the way, Gabrielle and Maya became fast friends. When the sun went down behind the hills, and a halt was called for the day, Gabrielle would tell Maya stories, with all the gesturing of the learned bard, and the great elephant, although probably not knowing a word of Attic Greek, would stand still, listening patiently and watching Gabrielle closely with her large, wise eyes.
Gabrielle even borrowed one of Xena’s linen shifts... Xena had two pair... and, with Raf’jani’s permission, took Maya out into the river, where the great elephant would lay on her side and Gabrielle would vigorously scrub her with a very-long handled rough bristle brush. Argo would feint jealousy... or maybe it was real... and would turn her rump to Gabrielle as she attempted to groom Argo with the curry-comb. Argo would even switch Gabrielle with her tail... Xena finally intervened, and gave her large mare a well-deserved talking-to.
Raf’jani was at first a little nervous about Gabrielle and the elephant, but was soon reassured. Gabrielle shyly - for her - asked Raf’jani if she could ride Maya, and he readily consented. Raf’jani had the mighty beast bow down onto her knees, and Gabrielle, with the help of an ear-hold or two, straddled the shoulders of the great Maya.
Gabrielle sat astride the broad and powerfully muscled neck of Maya like she was the Queen of the World. Alongside walked Xena, leading Argo.
"Yoo-hoo, Xena! So this is what it’s like to be tall. From where I sit, I get to see the top of your head for a change. And it looks to me like you’re getting a few gray hairs!"
"Harrumph," replied Xena, "if I’ve gotten any, it’s from looking after you, night and day."
Gabrielle scratched behind Maya’s huge and flapping ears... "Maya, Xena’s been such a good girl lately, give her a pat."
Whereupon the great elephant draped the entire end of her mighty trunk all around the top of Xena’s head. This resulted in a frenzied flurry of Warrior Princess hands and arms, accompanied with a most emphatic suggestion that Gabrielle take Maya’s trunk and accomplish a feat that would have been anatomically challenging in the extreme. At some other place and time, such talk might have even caused Gabrielle to blush.
"Careful what you ask for... I have taught Maya many things."
This was followed by the elephant lowering her trunk and teasing the nethermost portion of Xena’s short battledress. Which resulted in Xena turning around and giving the great beast a scowl that would have caused the fiercest of war lords to faint dead away in terror. This, of course, fazed Maya not in the least, and when Xena opened her mouth to utter yet another loud and fearsome oath, the mighty elephant gave Xena a very wet and sloppy long-distance kiss with the end of her proboscis.
"Gag, bleach, yuck, phew..." sputtered the Warrior Princess, "I’ve been kissed by an elephant!!!"
Gabrielle howled with laughter, doubling over and grabbing hold of Maya’s ears to keep from rolling off... tears streaming down her cheeks. Meanwhile, Mithres and Raf’jani didn’t utter a sound or move a facial muscle. They didn’t dare...
The journey, somehow, survived this happenstance, and the travelers continued on, climbing higher and higher along the winding road into the mountains. At times, silhouetted against the setting sun and the reddening sky, they made a singular sight... a tall woman, in battledress, astride a mighty war-horse, followed by another young woman atop a great elephant, and then, on foot, a giant of a man, deep in conversation with a diminutive companion, the latter not even coming up to the chest of the former... Such are those who set out to save the World.
The weather was getting much colder in the higher elevations. Raf’jani had long since unpacked the large carrying bundle strapped to Maya’s broad back, and had passed out to his fellow travelers thick, ankle-length cloaks of rough, undyed wool. But, the journey was nearing its end. Gabrielle had dismounted Maya and was talking to Mithres...
"Who is Saddhartha?" asked Gabrielle, " I’ve never heard of him before this time."
"He is a man I met many years ago, when I was young. He was older than I, and a great prince... a mighty ruler of the Indus. His lands covered fertile plains, from horizon to horizon, and he had many splendid palaces. He owned more than four thousand elephants. But, one day, he gave it all up. All of his lands and possessions were sold, and the money given to the poor."
"What happened to the elephants?" asked an almost-worried sounding Gabrielle.
"Don’t fret, child. They all found good homes."
"And Saddhartha became a holy man?"
"Yes. His wisdom has spread throughout the Indus and even now into the Eastern Lands. Some would say he is the holiest man in the world?"
"How should I address him... Your Holiness?"
Mithres suppressed a mild chuckle. "Oh, Saddhartha would be mortified if you called him that. Just use his name."
"Do you really think he can help us?" asked Gabrielle.
"I hope so, Gabrielle. I hope so."
... Presently, the travelers came to a small grove of stunted trees, just below the beginning of the snow line of the Great Mountains. Amidst the trees was a minuscule brush-arbor, made solely of sticks, branches, and leaves. Inside of the arbor sat a tiny man, cross-legged on the packed earth. This small man seemed incredibly old, with deep lines and wrinkles furrowing his face and hands, and long snow-white hair. He wore threadbare garments that seemed far too thin for this, inhospitable, clime. But, there was an expression of supreme peace on his face. When he saw the travelers, he arose and came forth with surprising dexterity.
Raf’jani ran forward and prostrated himself before Saddhartha... for this was who the tiny man was... whereupon Saddhartha quickly reached down, clasping Raf’jani’s shoulders with his hands, and lifted Raf’jani back to his feet. The Old One embraced the mahout, and whispered a few words in his ear. Raf’jani nodded, and moved back.
Saddhartha then looked up at the others... and a great smile broke out across his face.
"Mithres!" he said, surprisingly... to Xena and Gabrielle... in perfect Greek. "My old friend! It has been many days."
Mithres took the tiny man in his arms. The contrast of giant stone cutter and diminutive holy man could not have been more striking.
"It’s been far too long," replied Mithres, "far, far too long. But... these are my friends. This is Gabrielle. She’s a bard."
Gabrielle offered her hands to Saddhartha... this was the holiest man in all the World... and he took both of them.
"A bard you say? I once tried to be a bard. I certainly had the skinny legs for it. However, I could never seem to cultivate the great belly."
Gabrielle almost fainted... Saddhartha gave another great smile, and laughed like the ringing of a bell, and then reached down and kissed both of Gabrielle’s hands.
"I’m so very glad to see that the standards for bards has vastly improved over those of my day," Saddhartha added.
Siddhartha released Gabrielle’s hands and turned to the Warrior Princess... "And this is?" he said.
"Xena," she replied...
Brown eyes locked on blue eyes. "Xena. We will talk," said Saddhartha.
"I’d like that," she replied.
... Xena did not know what so attracted her to this small... but great... man. They sat on the ground, face to face, both cross-legged, and the conversation seemed to continue for hours. Except, it was hardly a conversation. Xena mostly listened. The others did not disturb the two.
"Xena," said Saddhartha, "you must understand the Way. The Sage does not contend. He lets things flow through him."
"Such is also the Way of the Warrior," Xena replied. A good warrior, she meant.
"And in all things," agreed Saddhartha, "All things are One. All things can flow through you, Xena. The Way does not strive... nor does it seek. But, it is there, always. It is the Path in which all things can come... and go... and be One. We are all Channels... and Vessels... for the One. This is sufficient."
Xena nodded in assent. "But there’s more?"
"There’s much more. But there is so little time."
... Darkness came quickly in these great mountains. The animals had been fed and tethered within the trees to protect them from the wind, and the travelers were bedded down in their woolen cloaks around a small and guttering campfire. Saddhartha slept in-side his brush-arbor.
... And the Yy’Goth came...
Saddhartha sensed the Yy’Goth in the midst of a dream. The Eater of Souls had come, and was attempting to enter the mind of the holy man. Saddhartha, however, was a Great Soul, and had the power to keep the Yy’Goth from passing. But... the power of the Eater of Souls, the Ocean of Torment, was strong, and Saddhartha had to strive mightily to push it back. Push it back, he did... but the effort was his sacrifice. He had bought his friends only hours... days, maybe. In the end, that was all he could do. The Great Soul entered the Way, and was gone. The Eater of Souls would not feast on the soul of Saddhartha. And for that, the Yy’Goth shrieked in a cosmic, unholy rage...
The morning came early in the mountains, and the travelers arose. Mithres then went into the arbor to awaken Saddhartha, and emerged, tears streaming down his cheeks, carrying the tiny body of his good friend... But, there was a look of almost unimaginably grand contentment on the dead face of Saddhartha.
"There is very little time," said Mithres, "the Yy’Goth has turned back to this World, and has begun to emerge. We must go quickly."
Mithres and the grieving Raf’jani, on the broad back of Maya, took the small body to a village, less than a mile away, and left it to be tended. Xena was in the saddle when they returned, and they stopped only long enough for Maya to kneel, and Gabrielle to climb up and join Raf’jani and Mithres. After which, Xena set out at a gallop, and the great elephant followed, running with the straight-legged gait of her kind that seemed so effortless.
Higher into the mountains they went, as quickly as the fast-vanishing trails would allow. Stops were made only to rest the animals... there was no time even to eat a meal. Higher and higher they went, far above the trees and up into the snow. They entered the clouds, and with the clouds, the gloom of eternal darkness.
Finally, by the last, feeble light of a dying sun, Xena and her companions arrived at their destination. Before them, at the top of a staircase carved out of the frozen, blackened rock, was a dark and ominous tower. The gates to this tower were standing wide open, and out of the depths of the tower came, like the crashing waves of an unholy storm, an overwhelming sensation of total despair and eternal doom... within that tower was where the journey would truly end.
The four companions dismounted. Xena looked up at the tower... so hell-blasted and horrible... and looked at Mithres. He met her eyes with his own, and with that, they knew they were in agreement on one very important thing.
"Gabrielle," Xena said, "you stay here."
Gabrielle’s reply was quick and passionate, "No, Xena... no, no, no!! We have always fought our battles together. This can’t be different. You need me, Xena!"
But this was very, very different. Xena looked at the young woman. She had never, ever felt so much love for Gabrielle as she did now.
"Of course I need you, Gabrielle. And when the time comes, you’ll be there, as you always have been. But you cannot come. You can show me how much you love me by staying here."
Mithres spoke to Gabrielle as well. "Gabrielle, if you love me, promise me you’ll stay down here..."
Gabrielle was in tears. She gave Xena a quick embrace, harder than she’d ever held her before. Then she took Mithres in her arms. "Of course I love you," Gabrielle said, "Oh, please, please come back."
"I will be with you always," he said. Gabrielle looked in his eyes through her tears, and felt a great sadness. But she released her friend.
Mithres turned to Raf’jani. "You are a brave man from a brave people, Raf’jani. But you must stay behind as well."
Raf’jani opened his mouth as if to object, and then closed his lips tightly. With eyes shining, Raf’jani lowered his head.
... Mithres and Xena began climbing the staircase. Xena looked back only once, to see Gabrielle, cheeks wet with tears, holding Raf’jani by one hand and the trunk of the great Maya with the other. Raf’jani held Argo as well...
... Xena and Mithres entered the tower through the wide-open doorway. The inner chamber was lit dimly, reflecting only the light of the dying sun. Snow had been blown in the chamber by the never-ceasing winds, covering the flags and piling in great mounds along the walls. The two walked silently toward the great Portal at the far end of the room...
... And then they saw it...
What was emerging from the Portal could not have been possible. It was a roiling, writhing darkness, far blacker than the empty wastes beyond the stars. It was a blasphem-ous obscenity of hell and corruption. It seemed far larger than the Portal... it seemed to stretch beyond both infinity and eternity. But what was worse than the mind-destroying sight of this unspeakable abomination were the hell-blasted emanations. They were the concentration of all the hatred, despair, agony, and torment in the Universe... multiplied a thousand times over. This was the Essense of the Yy’Goth...
Mithres gasped. Sweat was streaming down his face and arms in rivulets. He turned and looked at Xena with a look of utmost horror... It was if he’d just realized a great mistake.
"You... are... not ready for this!" Mithres cried, and grabbed Xena by both arms, flinging her without effort over thirty feet into the center of a deep snow drift. This left Xena both stunned and amazed.
Mithres turned back and faced the Yy’Goth. He closed his eyes, and with head lowered, lifted his arms out and above his head. There was a glow that surrounded the great man.
The Yy’Goth ceased its advance. It seemed poised, but it could not strike. Black tentacles of utter abomination reached and grasped from the wall-like shape of the Horror.
Sweat continued to run in rivers off of Mithres. His effort was supreme. But... it was not enough. The Yy’Goth advanced again, and it surrounded this good and wise man. Mithres’s face seemed to contain the agonies of all people, from the beginning of Time till its end. With that, Mithres disappeared.
... Xena had regained her feet. She was filled with shock, but she was also filled with an uncontrollable rage. She did not even realize it when she pulled her sword free of its scabbard. She stood before the Yy’Goth with her feet wide apart, head high... she cast off her long woolen cloak and stood there, more magnificent than any god, sword grasped in both hands and extended straight ahead, directly at the essence of the Yy’Goth.
"You... will not... eat... Mithres’s soul!!!"
And she began her attack, swinging her sword in great arcs, directly into the mass of the Yy’Goth.
... But, it was hopeless. The Yy’Goth was not of this World, and Xena’s sword rent through its form as if through a fog. And this was a hell-spawned and all-consuming fog, both hideously cold and unspeakably hot... and totally irresistible. It surrounded Xena, and she felt the complete and everlasting torment and despair. She continued to slash her sword, in final defiance, with her last ounce of strength and courage. The blackness, abominable and all-powerful was stealing her consciousness. As the darkness triumphed, Xena had one last thought... ‘So this is what it’s like to finally die. Well, if I’m to be dinner for this Eater of Souls, I intend to give the bastard one hell of an eternal belly ache.’
... But then... there was a vision, deep within the small part of Xena’s mind that was left her. She saw the face of Mithres, kind and good... Some part of him battled on as well! His sacrifice was not in vain... Xena heard the words he had spoken to her, so far away - "Xena, there are some things for which only those who have gone in the abyss and returned are worthy." And then she saw the face of the gentle, laughing Saddhartha, and heard again - "All things are one. All things can flow through you. The Way does not strive, but it is there. It is the Path by which all things can come... and be One." Then she heard her two friends, Mithres and Saddhartha, say together - "Open your mind, Xena. We will be with you."
And Xena did what she was told. She did not understand it, but, then, she did understand.
And then she began to hear the chanting. At first... far off, then louder, and then yet louder still.
"We’ll fight for you, Xena. We’ll die for you, Xena!"
... But it was not the voices of the ten thousand. It was the voices of the ten thousand million... and many, many more. It was the voices of everyone she’d ever known, everyone she’d ever slain... everyone she did not know. And the Power flowed through Xena. And the Glory. The Way was open, and the Path had arrived. And there was Light... Great Light.
And Xena opened her eyes, and raised her sword. And, held high over her head, it shone with the blaze of a million suns... And so did Xena. At that moment, a part of Xena went out, through all time, through all the changing ages, to any soul that cried out in the night for a hero. For Xena and Gaia were One.
Xena, with blazing eyes, gazed upon the Yy’Goth. With transfigured lips she laughed... then spoke.
"I am a killer. A filthy, blood-drenched, dirt-low killer... but I have been in the Abyss, and I clawed my way back. And you, Yy’Goth, don’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hades."
With that she swung her great sword, and this time it rent through substance. And she swung it again and again, slashing the Yy’Goth to tatters. The Yy’Goth fell back, seeking the safety of the Portal. Xena followed, continuing to rip apart the Eater of Souls. She battled the Yy’Goth... the Ocean of Torment... back to the very Gates of Damnation, and as it fled before her, disappearing within, she drew her arm back, sword horizontal over her head, and thrust it with all her might. And the Light overwhelmed the Darkness, and then there was the blackness of a hundred Hells being extinguished.
Gabrielle saw a Great Light flash from the entrance of the tower, and then it was gone. She began running up the stairway, leaving Raf’jani with the animals. She ran into the chamber...
Xena was there, on her hands and knees, shaking with unimaginable exhaustion. Her chest rose and fell in great shudders, and her tears splattered the snow beneath her face. In front of Xena lay her sword. Beyond that was only rock wall.
Gabrielle dropped to the ground beside her companion, and pulled Xena to her. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Xena and cradled her like a child. Xena buried her head in Gabrielle’s shoulder, and held on fiercely. Gabrielle stroked Xena’s long black hair and covered it with kisses.
"It’s all right, sweet Xena. I’m here with you. I’ll never leave you."
"Gabrielle," Xena said through her tears, "Mithres is gone. But he’s safe. We’re all safe."
"I know, sweetheart, I know..."
Xena and Gabrielle, with Argo in tow, were far along the road back to Greece. They had long ago said good-bye to Raf’Jani and Maya. Xena had her arm around Gabrielle’s shoulder, and Gabrielle had her arm around Xena’s waist. They were talking.
"Mithres and Saddhartha are not alone. They’ll be followed by other Great Souls," said Xena.
"I can’t doubt that," said Gabrielle, nuzzling her head against her friend’s side.
"It’s not the same with the gods. They were scattered. Oh... they’ll come back, and meddle some more, but their power’s broken. One day they’ll disappear."
"Oh, wise one," said Gabrielle, and felt like biting Xena’s ear to teach her a little humility.
"But, Gabrielle. I don’t know if I can kill again."
"You’ll do what you have to do. And it’ll be the right thing."
"There’s one other thing, one very important thing... I want you to listen very carefully."
Gabrielle looked up at her friend.
"You now have one hell of a story to tell at the Athens Academy for Performing Bards in the Eighteenth Year of the Reign of Pericles."
Gabrielle aimed the end of her staff at the toe of Xena’s boot...
[Writer’s Note: If you’ve gotten this far, my humble appreciation. We all have our own Xenaverses. Mine might be a little more... inspirational... than perhaps others, but the important thing is that they’re fun. And this was a very fun story to write. Again, thanks for the read! DAP.
P.S. No Universe Destroying Entities were harmed in the making of this story. But... if there’s ever a need, you betcha Xena can handle it! (-;]
... While I’ve still got you here, how about a scene from an upcoming episode? I think you’ll like it...
The brigands spurred their sweat-lathered horses, showing them no mercy. But... there was no mercy in these terrible and hard-bitten men. They were the scum of the peoples of their land. For years that had savaged the countryside, pillaging, raping, looting... killing. Their victims were their neighbors of a thousand years, and they drenched the Dalmatian vales and hillsides with the blood and tears of those they so conveniently called their ‘enemy’.
Now they were riding up a ridge... one hundred strong... approaching a pass that would lead them down to yet one more village. Motivated by lust, greed, and hatred, they whipped their mounts for even more speed. They had committed unspeakable acts of horror in the past... raping young women repeatedly before slicing open their bellies, using toddlers for practice with their spears, nailing the helpless to trees and watching them die... and they were eager to do such things again. They rounded a bend in the trail leading over the mountain, and then...
There were five figures in the way, silhouetted against the rising sun. These figures were tall and wore battledress. They were attired in short skirts and long capes that appeared to be of purest gold. Their armor and helmets shone with the brilliance of the finest silver. The two on either side of the one in the center had spears and round shields. All wore swords...
The brigands halted. There was an uneasy stir and chatter among them. Gaians! They did not know what to do...
Their leader was a giant monster of a man, clothed in filthy and bloodstained leather. He was know... and greatly feared... for his absolute lack of any human emotion, and for his obsession with the tormenting of his victims. He turned to his co-horts with a snarl and feral grin.
"Fools!" he spat, "these are only women!"
... With that he drew his great, curved sword, and brandishing the blade high over his head. Screaming his blood-curse, he dug his spurs into the side of his mount, and charged...
The four Gaian Warrior-Priestesses to the sides of the one in the center stepped back and away. Their companion stood in the middle of the road, but made no move to draw her sword. The rider came closer and closer, his weapon held high for the killing blow.
... But, as the galloping steed passed the woman, and before the brigand could make his thrust, the Warrior-Priestess reached out one hand and snared the horse’s reins, jerking it around... The rider tumbled over his horse’s head, landing flat in the dirt on his back.
He still had his sword in his fist. Using his free hand to steady himself, he sat up, and raised his weapon to defend himself...
The Gaian drew her unsharpened sword, and with one swift motion, swung it, shattering the blade of the brigand, and sending the pieces flying. She then put a booted foot on the man’s chest, and pushed him back into the dirt. After which, she pointed her sword at his throat.
"You will never pass this way again," she said.
The outlaw sputtered in dismay. Finally he said, "But... I thought you Gaians never killed."
She moved her foot and reached down, grabbing the jerkin of the fallen man. She then, in one quick move, yanked him to his feet. Looking into his eyes, she said "That’s true... but there are things worse."
The man began to feel very, very hot. He stared around and saw... flames. All-consuming fires licked toward him. The flames grew and grew, and began to cover him. The blazes ran up and down his face, legs, and arms, and he began screaming with a terror he never dreamed possible.
Suddenly, the vision ceased. The Warrior-Priestess then shoved him away, not gently.
"Remember that," she said.
Whereupon the brigand stumbled around, and fled back the way from whence he came...
Okay... maybe one more scene. But only because it’s my very favorite... it’s short.
The young Gaian Warrior-Priestess was slowly walking down a road that led to a village. She wore her silver helmet and body armor, and her long, golden cape stirred in the breeze. She carried only her shield, spear, and unsharpened sword... these were her only possessions in the World. The Warrior-Priestess had been walking many days and many, many miles, and she was weary. But her destination was just ahead.
She came to the village’s simple wooden gate, and spotted a low, marble bench. Throwing back her cape and smoothing the back of her dress, she sat down... Presently, she heard a tumult - an excited babble of children’s voices. Looking through the gate, she saw them... a dozen, or maybe more, very small ones, running in her direction. These children were no more than three or four years old, and were barefoot, little girls and boys wearing nothing but the rough sack-cloth dresses and tunics of the poor.
The children mobbed the Warrior-Priestess. She took two of the tiniest ones up on her lap, kissing the tops of their heads and stroking their backs. Tiny hands grasped her arms and dress.
The Gaian Warrior-Priestess sighed, and smiled with total contentment. It had been so very long, and the way so very strange at times, but at last she was finally home. She reached up and took off her helmet, and shook out her long, blond hair.
...For the name of the village was Cirra, and the Warrior-Priestess... Callisto.
I told you my Xenaverse was different. But... for anyone contemplating evil, be warned. The Gaian Warrior-Priestesses shall return. And... who knows? They may even be led by a great and mighty Warrior Princess.
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