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CHAPTER 7: "the way the rain comes down hard...."
Thank whatever for Ty, Anaria thought as she covertly trailed Xena and Gabrielle back to the apartment. He's always come through in a pinch for me. Anaria smiled, remembering the last time she and the elder god had chatted. Her attention quickly returned to the situation at hand. Xena and Gabrielle had reached the front door to the upper class apartment building they were currently inhabiting. Instead of going in, the Warrior Princess stopped suddenly and turned around. Her brilliant blue eyes seemed to locate Anaria's invisible form easily. Xena quickly put "the look" on her face and spoke.
"Okay Anaria, enough with your games. I know you're the one who's been tailing us all afternoon."
"Xena," Gabrielle touched Xena's bicep, "are you sure it's her? It could be one of Malevolent's minions in her form."
"Oh, I know it's her," Xena replied confidently, "I'd be able to sense her anywhere." Looking down at the bard, she said "Gabrielle, would you please go inside? I have something that I need to discuss with Anaria."
"This isn't going to be a sensitive chat. I'd prefer if you weren't around to hear it." Xena looked at Gabrielle again with a totally different expression. Instead of looking for a fight, she was looking at love. True love, the kind only given to a select few in each millennia. The kind that can bring you back to life in its many forms.
"Okay," Gabrielle replied. She knew that this wasn't a fight she could win. "Don't leave any of the details out for my benefit, okay?"
"Deal," Xena smiled and kissed the shorter woman on the head. Gabrielle turned and quickly entered the apartment building. Xena turned and looked at the invisible Anaria.
"People may think I'm crazy for talking to thin air," the Warrior Princess began, "but I know you're there. You make my skin crawl the same way Aries does."
This is going to be tons of fun, Anaria thought.
"You were right when you said you've changed. At first, I didn't believe it. The pure soul, the great champion for those who couldn't defend themselves. You proved me wrong once already when you hunted me, then hated me for giving Brieal to Aries. Now you're forgiving me for probably the worst thing I ever did as a warlord? I know you're saying "but I never hated you Xena, it was my duty to Greece to find you". Don't lie to yourself Anaria. You always were against me, right from the start. You saw in me something you could never be."
"And what's that," Anaria said quietly to herself.
"Free. You could never be free of your obligations to Greece. The expectations were so high for you, and for Brieal, that it made you crack. Don't shake your head at me, Anaria, I know it's true, because I've traveled that path in my own way as well. The difference is, I was evil trying to become good. You were good. Now you're becoming evil."
Anaria's anger got the best of her. She shimmered into view, seething. "How dare you say that to me? After what you've done, you have no right."
"Don't I? I have all the right Anaria. It's so easy to find excuses for your actions isn't it? That's what you told yourself when you helped Loki steal the spear in the first place. What's one small lie to Odin to get the spear back? It will accomplish your goal in the end, so it's okay. It's not okay."
"Xena, you have no idea what I've had to do just to survive in this form. Life without Brieal is only one of the myriad of problems that I've had to deal with." Anaria stepped out of the shadows being cast by the streetlight and into the bright lights of the apartment building. She stood in front of Xena, much the same way she had stood in front of Brieal many years ago.
"It's not too late Anaria. I know you think that in the end that everything will be okay, but it won't."
"It's the chance I'm willing to take to get Brieal back. If it was Gabrielle, you wouldn't be casting all these stones my direction. You'd do exactly the same."
Xena thought for a moment, "I probably would, but there's a difference."
"I'm a spot of light surrounded by darkness. I know that sounds strange coming from me, but thanks to some recent experiences, I've come to realize that. No matter how many good deeds I do, no matter how many lives I save, I'll always have that dark spot. It calls to me still, even now, even with Gabrielle. I've accepted that," Xena shrugged. "So I've made the best of it. I've made peace with myself."
"Whoopty do. Xena the Philosopher. Thank's for the illuminating tale of your soul."
Xena sighed, "Aries isn't the smartest of gods, but he does know how to pick his warlords. He's drawn to the ones who have the blackest spots within them. No one, not even me, can compare to you."
Anaria laughed bitterly, "Is that what he told you? Xena, you're too smart to still believe his lies. I suppose he told you about how I spent my childhood years didn't he? About how I was the youngest and most brilliant assassin in all of Greece. The Queen of Assassins if you will. But I was only a kid, using the skills the gods gave me. As soon as I realized what I was doing was wrong, I swore off that life forever."
"If only the older Anaria could be as smart as the young one."
Anaria crossed her arms, "Hey kid, I've more than made up for my five years of evil deeds. And that was just when I was alive."
"It's not just about deeds Anaria. It's about the path to redemption. You may have done all of those good things, but who was it really for? Was it because it was the right thing to do or was it because it brought you fame and fortune?" Xena gave Anaria a hard look, "I can see the answer without asking. You've never made peace with your past and it's eating you up inside."
Anaria balked. She looked around and said, "Are you talking to me?"
Xena smirked, "You went from being a cold blooded killer to a true hero, I'll give you that. I'll also give you all of the good things you did for people and all the lives you saved. You helped more people in fifteen years that I'll probably help in my lifetime. I know that the things your family made you do as a kid pale in comparison to the things I did as a warlord. And my warlord years made me a mess inside. Those scars are hard to heal."
"I still hear the jealously. You have always been like this, even now as the "Good Xena". You just have to be the best."
"It's not about whose the best, it's about the reason why you do things. You've never did a truly selfless act while alive and you know it. It's killed you inside, the guilt. That pain allowed the darkness to blossom. That, coupled with your new powers in death, have really torn you apart. The loss of Brieal took away the only thing that helped to keep the evil at bay. I know you care for her very deeply, but she was only a temporary fix for the old pain."
"I guess you're right," Anaria replied. Instead of killing the Warrior Princess where she stood, Anaria used a different maneuver. "You would be the expert on pain and evil deeds wouldn't you," she said lightly. "I don't have things like killing those who, say, betrayed me, or turned against me because they realized just how evil I was. That isn't hanging over my head."
Anaria had hit a sore spot, she continued to attack, her voice becoming harsher as she spoke. "And I never, never, left Brieal behind, or abandoned her, or dragged Brieal into a situation because of my lust for vengeance. I never abandoned her to a shady stranger. I never let her get raped by a demon. And I certainly never, ever, tried to kill her."
Xena's fist flew at Anaria's head at lightening speed. Anaria caught it with little effort. The older warrior dropped her voice into the lowest, most menacing, register, "Don't do it Xena. Don't test me. I've come to close to reaching my prize and I won't let your limited view destroy my dreams." She released Xena's aching hand. "I don't want to hurt you, or force you into something you're not ready for. But I won't hesitate if it will to get the job done. I know what the motivating tool for you is Xena."
Xena looked in disbelief at Anaria, "Who are you? The darkness is so consuming that it's blocked all of the light that once shined in you. Are you so sure that Brieal will want to come back to this new and improved Anaria?"
Anaria smiled evilly, "She's one of your kin Xena. You're all drawn to the night." The ghostly warrior turned and faded into the dark. Xena turned and entered the building, Anaria's laughter ringing in her ears.
MENUETTO: "yes I said, yes I will"
Brieal and Velaska looked out over the cliff to the deep blue water of the sea. Brieal had always loved the water. Her earliest memories were of her fisherman father taking her and her older brother out on his ship. They would spend the day helping pull in the night's net catchings, all the time Brieal's father telling sea tales. He was her inspiration to travel from their small village to Athens to become a bard.
"Hey there, are you okay," Velaska asked with a concerned look on her face.
Brieal smiled, "No, I'm fine. I was just remembering my father. He was a fisherman."
Velaska looked carefully at her friend, "Do you miss him?"
Brieal looked at Velaska, "Sometimes. He died about a year ago of old age. My older brother now is the fisherman of the family."
"I never knew my father," Velaska said looking back out at the sea. "It's the Amazon way."
"No, don't be," Velaska smiled to herself, "I think it was for the best. If the other Anaria and Brieal knew I had any surviving family, they would be dead by now anyway."
Brieal was about to comment when she say Velaska's second in command, Solari, approaching. Brieal, Velaska, and a small group of Amazons were on a scouting mission for Xena. The rebel leader wanted to weaken Anaria's hold on several key sea ports. It was the Amazon's job to assess the warlords' strength in the area and come up with possible attack strategies.
"Any news Solari," Velaska asked.
"None to report," the scout replied. "We've surveyed the town three times now. There's no sign of any threat."
Velaska shook her head. "This can't be right. Our sources are reliable in this area. If they say Anaria and Brieal have people stationed in the town, then they must be there."
Solari didn't respond. Brieal looked towards the town in question, "What if they've just left. Maybe there's a new threat further up the coast? Rome, Persia, the Barbarians?"
"I doubt it," Velaska replied. "Brieal traveled to Rome some time ago and spoke before the Senate. Those two have some sort of agreement with the Romans. It couldn't be them."
"What about the others?"
"The Barbarians aren't organized enough," Solari said. "They fight among themselves constantly."
"Which leaves Persia," Velaska considered Brieal's suggestion. "It's a possibility. There's only one way to find out for sure."
"Some one has to go into the town," Brieal said.
"I'll go," Solari volunteered. "I can take Eponin with me."
"It's against my better judgement, but okay," Velaska looked at the dark haired Amazon. "Make sure and look the part okay? Two Amazons would stick out like a sore thumb in a small town like that. No funny stuff either. Get in, get the info you need, and get out. Understand?"
"Yes my Queen," Solari replied. "Eponin and I will leave at dusk. The local tavern should provide all the gossip we need."
"Good luck," Velaska clasped arms with Solari. The scout turned and sprinted in the direction she had just come from. Velaska watched her go, praying to Athena that she would be okay. The patron goddess of the Amazons had been good to them so far. Hopefully they could stay in Athena's good graces until the was over.
"We have to talk Velaska."
The Amazon Queen turned around. Brieal gestured for them to walk further along the cliff wall, away from any prying ears. Velaska nodded and the two began the journey down the unfamiliar path.
"I was hoping we could," Velaska replied with a small smile. "I want to apologize. I had no right to do what I did."
"No, no," Brieal waved her off, "I'm just as guilty as you. What happened two nights ago was something that has been brewing for the past four months. I've been here almost a full year now, alone. I'm beginning to think that Anaria might not come for me."
"You can't say that," Velaska put a had on Brieal's shoulder as they walked. "What's a year in the scheme of things? From all that you've told me about her, Anaria sounds like someone who would defy death to come for you."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Brieal's tired blue eyes looked at Velaska. "If she's dead, or worse, she may never come. I have to let go of the past. I want to make a new life for myself here." Brieal paused, "With you."
Velaska stopped and looked at Brieal with a mixture of disbelief and joy. I have loved you since the day I first saw you, Velaska thought. She said, "It's all because of that damned kiss. Don't make a huge mistake because of my lack of control."
Brieal moved to stand in front of Velaska. She took the Amazon's hands in her own and said, "I'm glad you did. Don't deny the spark you felt, because I'm not. You have always held a special place in my heart, both in my Greece and in this one."
"But what if your Anaria comes? What will happen to us then? If we continue on this path, I'm not going to give you up so easily."
"We can't worry about what might happen Velaska. She could be waiting for me in that village right now, she could be trapped in Tarturus. The fact is that she may never come. If she does come in this lifetime, we'll face that challenge together."
Velaska looked at the ground for a moment, lost in thought. When she looked up again, she was met by the most beautiful blue eyes she had ever known. She felt as if she was soaring like a hawk through the sky. "I love you Brieal. You have brought a light into my life which makes me wonder how I ever lived without it."
Brieal circles her arms around Velaska's waste and pulled the Amazon close. The pair kissed for the second time and melted into the surrounding forest in pure bliss.
Chapters 8-9 (Conclusion)
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