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Disclaimer: In the past, I have failed to make the disclaimer that Xena is the copyrighted property of Universal etc, and that I’m not attempting to infringe on their rights. This is true. They can take and use all the ideas I’ve come up with in my stories freely (not, alas, that they ever will). There is reference to war herein, but no explicit violence. I could have put it in, but decided not to. There is also one little kiss between Xena and Callisto. It’s not meant to convey anything else.
Note: This story is entangled with my previous six "Gaia" stories. It is the last. It’ll make more sense if you’ve read the other stories, particularly "Sacrifice" and "Gaia’s Hero." The whole line of stories splits off from the "official" Xenaverse right after the episode "A Necessary Evil."
Twilight of the Gods
Gabrielle stood by the running waters. She was in the fullness of her strength, and both young and beautiful. But, as I said, she was alone. There was a small, sad smile on her face - it was, however, a strange and unreadable smile. She was thinking of all her adventures... the amazing twists and turns of the last three years. Now, she was alone. Xena was gone. Gabrielle had not seen or heard from the Warrior-Princess for over a month. It was not something planned. What had happened was that one night Xena and Gabrielle had gone to sleep, together on their horse-blanket spread wide on a thick bed of pine needles, and then, the next morning, Xena was gone. She had taken nothing with her other than her battle garb and her weapons. Gabrielle had searched the countryside for days, leading Argo, looking for some clue to Xena’s whereabouts. No one she’d met in her searching had either seen or heard from Xena. Gabrielle, of course, was not particularly worried that Xena had been abducted or been the victim of foul play... for, of course, Xena could take care of herself in those circumstances. But, it was not like the Warrior Princess to strike out without telling Gabrielle of her plans. No... Gabrielle was not worried. But, she was concerned - and lonely.
Gabrielle had tethered Argo in a small vale nearby where the great war-mare could easily crop the tender spring grasses. The sky was cloudless and clear blue, and the weather was warm. Gabrielle wore one of Xena’s white linen skiffs, as she had been washing her own clothes, and had just placed them on a tree branch to dry. Gabrielle, dressed as she was, looked far younger than her twenty seven years. She was barefoot, and had placed her oaken fighting staff against the same tree where her clothes were now drying. The staff was well within reach, if needed, but Gabrielle doubted she’d need it any time soon. The countryside here was at peace and well-patrolled by disciplined soldiers of the Athenian cavalry. She had met a troop of these horsemen earlier in the day, and they were polite and reassuring. No bandits had been encountered in this area in many months. Gabrielle had even allowed herself to feel a wistfulness in the presence of these young troopers. In a different time and circumstance, one of these young men could easily have become her life-long companion. She thought to herself... if Xena never returned, would she one day chose such? She didn’t know.
* * *
It was a dark and stormy night in the city, and the bitterly freezing winds seemed to blow both merciless and ill. There was snow on the ground, and there was the feel of pitiless devastation in the ice-cold air. And, it was dark - it was a pitch-darkness through which the street lamps shone feebly if at all. But... there was also something far worse than all of this. Far, far worse. For, in a large stone and brick house in a fashionable, upper-middle class neighborhood, there was Evil. The Evil involved an Ancient Force, and a young girl. The young girl was tied securely to a bed, on which she writhed as if upon a bed of red-hot coals. The face of the girl was twisted and sunken, and her mouth was contorted into an unearthly snarl. Worst of all were her eyes, which now shown with unholy light. For, the Ancient Force had taken possession of the soul of this young girl, and that Force was incapable of knowing mercy.
The mother of the young girl, after much trial and anguish, had finally turned to the Church, and there was a man in the room with the little girl. The man was a priest. He was a young man, brave and strong in his faith, and he’d been sent to attempt an exorcism. He had been at this tasks for days, and the days had turned to weeks. It was incredible that the girl was still alive. The Power that possessed her was strong, and that Power repeatedly mocked and reviled the young priest. Hideous, unbelievable occurrences had happened in that room, and the priest, after all his labors, was fearful of despair. He held firmly to his faith, but it was becoming more and more that of the grasp of a drowning man. He repeated the rituals over and over, and the Evil One just mocked him and continued to blaspheme his God. The young priest knew that he was dealing with forces beyond his comprehension, and that for all his training - for all his faith - he was now scared. Very, very scared.
The eyes of the young girl, not her own, locked onto those of the priest. There was a wild cackling from the mouth of the girl, and then a screech that was not meant for human ears. The Demon within the girl laughed a rasping, mirthless, unholy laugh, and then began to speak in a voice both low and terrible... "What now, priest? What now, little ‘holy man’?" And the laughter began again, and it was horrible, and it did not abate...
...There was a knock on the door of the large, Tudor-style home. The young girl’s distraught mother, who could no longer bear to even go near her daughter’s room, started at this unexpected knock. No visitor, other than the priest, had been to this house since the terrible nightmare had begun. Trembling, the girl’s mother opened the door. To her surprise, standing in the doorway, was a woman. This woman was wearing a long, dark cloak, and her face was completely hidden by a large hood. The woman’s voice, however, was both firm and pleasant, and she asked if she could enter.
The girl’s mother didn’t know how to respond. She had no idea who this woman was. But, her voice... it was so reassuring. The mother had not felt reassurance in longer than she could remember... The woman at the door, however, did not wait for a response. She entered the house, and, without stopping, went directly to the foot of the stairs.
"Your daughter’s room is the second on the right at the top of the stairs..." said the woman.
"Yes," answered the mother. But, how could this woman have known that?
"Forgive me for adding to your concern," said the woman politely, and she then climbed the stairs and walked down the hall. Once she reached the daughter’s room, with its closed door, she didn’t hesitate. She opened the door and entered, shutting the door behind her.
...And the mother wondered, but... she did not feel afraid...
...The priest jerked around in panic as the door behind him opened. The room was icy cold, and it seemed that a wind blew out of the room. He then saw the robed, hooded figure, and, it took more than a moment for him to realize that it was a woman. He did not know what to say. As he opened his mouth to speak, the woman waved for his silence with one of her hands. Then she, herself, spoke.
"You have done well... better than you know. But it’s now my turn."
The priest did not respond. He, truthfully, had no idea what to say.
The woman turned to the young girl. She again spoke, and addressed herself to the Demon within.
"What is your name?"
The Demon laughed its hell-borne, godless laughter... "What is it to you, bitch? What is it to you, cu-"
"I asked you your name," repeated the woman.
"I am Legion," was the reply, "You’ve heard that name before?"
"I have," she said... and then she added, "weren’t the pigs enough?"
The Demon screeched its rage. It wrenched the body of the young girl forward, pulling the bed with it. The bonds holding the little girl stretched, and seemed likely to, at any moment, snap... "I’ll kill you, you meddling bitch. I’ll feast on your puny, insignificant soul!" screamed the enraged Demon, its words spewing forth from the contorted, twisted mouth of the helpless little girl.
"I doubt that," she replied, and then she threw back her hood. Her face was beautiful, but neither young nor old. Her hair was long and as white as new-fallen snow, with small streaks of black, brown, and tan. She was smiling a grim, tight smile.
And the face of the little girl, so hell-bound and tormented, displayed a new emotion. The young priest gasped in total astonishment. For the face of the young girl now showed a look of complete and unmistakable terror.
The woman made a small gesture with one outstretched hand. This was followed by a screaming so unearthly, so hellish, that the priest both tightly screwed shut his eyes and slammed his hands over his ears. And out of the young girl came forth an cosmic, unholy obscenity.
"I cast you back from whence you came," spoke the woman, "and you shall never return this way again."
And the screaming reached a crescendo, and then was still. The room was no longer icy... and the young girl slept peacefully on her bed. When the young priest opened his eyes, he saw the woman easily removing the heavy bonds that were tied to the girl’s hands and feet.
"She will not remember a thing," said the woman, "but she will be hungry when she wakes up. Have her mother prepare her something to eat."
The priest tried to speak, but his voice failed. Finally, with a croak, almost inaudibly, he was able to say, "But... who...who are you?
The woman turned to him and smiled. It was a dazzling, disarming smile. "No one whatever to challenge your faith. After all, we’re both on the same side. But, if you do need a name, some call me... Gaia."
...And the woman disappeared in a flash of light...
* * *
Gabrielle sat down by the riverside. She was still in a wistful mood. She dabbled her foot in the water, making small ripples in the flow. She began to think a little about what she would have to do. She had no more money, and, although she could easily enough now live off the land, she knew that her life would have to consist of more than just that. She thought that maybe she could open an academy, where she could teach both her bardly and Xena-taught fighting skills. She also pondered over a return to Poteidia, where her father, mother, and sister still dwelt. But, she, for the moment, rejected that thought. She was confident, self-assured that she could take care of herself now, and a return to her birth-village seemed a step backward. She wished she could feel as confident that Xena would return. She still didn’t think Xena was gone from her life forever, but, Gabrielle was uneasy. And, when - not if - Xena came back, what would be their lives together. The sojourns and adventures couldn’t last forever. But how could Xena ever ‘settle down’?
There was then a rustling on the river-bank behind Gabrielle, and it was not unlike the sound of cloth on cloth. Gabrielle knew, instinctively, that it was a sound that wanted to be heard. She, for some reason, did not feel too concerned, and only slowly turned around to investigate. Then, at what she saw, her heart began to beat faster, and her legs felt a little weak and shaky. It was not fear that produced such a reaction from her, however. It was more - awe. For, standing behind her, dressed in a long gown of crystal white, wearing sandals of purest gold, was a woman. The woman had long hair of the whitest hue, only slightly streaked with black and brown. Gabrielle knew this woman, and that was the reason for her awe. For the woman was not really a woman at all... she was, instead, a goddess.
"Gaia!" exclaimed Gabrielle... Gabrielle’s excitement was clearly evident, for, although she had met this goddess at least twice before, she still found it incredible... unbelievable... that so mighty a goddess would single her out for company.
Gaia reached down and took off her golden sandals, then she sat down beside Gabrielle, putting her feet in the water. Smiling, she placed an arm around Gabrielle’s shoulders, and gave her a gentle squeeze. Gabrielle felt herself relaxing, if only just a little.
"Still find it hard getting close to a god?" said Gaia, "Believe me, I can understand that. And it’s all right. You can put your head on my shoulder, if you wish."
Gabrielle was reluctant, but, she was not too reluctant. She did ask she was asked. Gaia bent over and gently kissed the auburn-colored hair on the top of Gabrielle’s head.
"Good to see you again, little one," said Gaia.
Gabrielle remained silent. She had always found it hard to talk to the goddess.
"Okay," continued Gaia, "I know you’re concerned."
Gabrielle found her voice... "Do... do you know where Xena is?"
"Do you expect me to?" replied Gaia.
"You’re a goddess," said Gabrielle, "aren’t gods and goddesses supposed to be... what’s the word for it... omniscient?"
"And omnipotent and omnipresent," added Gaia, "what interesting, totally human, concepts. It’s amazing what the human mind can think up. Even things you can’t possibly understand. The Universe is a pretty amazing place, Gabrielle... But, I’m ignoring you’re question. I do know a lot, and I know Xena is safe."
"Where is she... when will she be back?" asked Gabrielle.
"Gabrielle," replied Gaia, "Xena is safe... for the present. I think that’s all you need to know right now. But, she is - or will be - involved in great and uncertain things. Things that might have ultimate consequences."
"What type of consequences?"
"This World is sometimes a battleground. We have powerful enemies, and they are often successful. So far, we have been fighting around the edges. A confrontation is inevitable."
Gabrielle looked down. She softly splashed the water with her bare feet.
"What’s the matter, little one?" asked Gaia.
"Oh... well, it’s just... it’s just that, at times, I get so tired of all the fighting and strife. It’s bad enough here, but, when the gods themselves are at war... well, what chance do we have?"
Gaia smiled... "It’s tough at times. I know."
"You’ve taught me that there is Glory in all things, and against it, Evil will not prevail. But... it just doesn’t seem so - at times."
"Glory is somewhat ephemeral, isn’t it? And, I have to admit, it doesn’t fill empty bellies or empty hearts. At least not directly, anyway. It’s hard to describe how something you can’t see or touch can be so, well, ‘overcoming.' Human minds can conceive it, ‘tho. In fact, they have to conceive it. It is part of what they are."
"Then... why all the strife?"
"We have powerful enemies... or, at least they are powerful on a certain level. And they are numerous. They have us on the defensive, too. All of the misfortune - the sickness, hunger, sadness, hopelessness - our enemies can blame them on our failure. In the end, of course, all misfortune is illusion. And even misfortune holds within itself the seeds of Glory. But, those are difficult concepts for anyone, much less, say, for the blind or the lepers, or for destitute mothers with starving children."
"Why... why don’t you do more?"
"That’s the Eternal Question, isn’t it? The Question with no answer. Or, at least no really simple answer. Mankind has always made excuses for their gods. I could give you the answer that we are all One, and in our Oneness, all suffering is ultimately irrelevant. But, I know... that sounds pretty lame. You and your kind, little one, are too unique to grasp the significance of that answer easily. What you are, what you desire, what you need, makes suffering inevitable. But you are Glorious, each and every one of you. And the gods, who know not suffering, are jealous of your Glory."
"Oh," said Gabrielle.
"Plus, that which is ultimate Glory does intervene. But ‘intervene’ is the wrong word. That which is ultimate Glory is realized - by those who seek it. But their search must begin neither from fear nor desire. Fear and desire are the tools of our adversaries."
Gabrielle remained silent, lost in thought.
"I know you’re still dissatisfied. That’s okay. That’s part of your Glory."
Gabrielle looked up and smiled at the goddess, crinkling her nose.
"We really ought to have these mother/daughter talks more often," added Gaia, smiling back.
Gabrielle tensed slightly, as if almost startled... "You... you are my mother?"
"In a cosmic sort of way. Your mother as a care-giver. A nurturer. That’s why you see me as a goddess. Such things are, quite frankly, more naturally - but not exclusively - female traits. But... there are other goddesses that are just the opposite."
"Gaia," replied Gabrielle, with just a little hesitation, "what do you really look like?"
"Your eyes and mind could not comprehend... at least not yet. One day, when you’re ready, I’ll show you. You’ll be pleasantly surprised."
Gabrielle put her arm around the goddess, and nestled up close to her. Then she did something that actually astonished her. She gave the Great Goddess Gaia a fierce and unrestrained hug. And, after a moment, the goddess gently released her.
"Time for me to go, little one. There’s much to do. Remember both your Glory and Xena’s Glory. I’ll need the help of both of you. And others."
... then Gaia was gone. This time, there was no flash of light...
* * *
The bitter winds howled. A young woman scrambled up a bleak and desolate mountainside. The sharp and naked rocks bruised and cut her hands as she pulled herself along. She was running... running for her life. There was fear on her face, but there was also a look of everlasting contempt. As the woman fled, she felt the grim and overpowering presence of her pursuer - it was a pursuer consumed by complete, eternal, and all-powerful hatred. The woman could fell long, bloody claws, reaching out for her, trying to snare her and flay her alive. The claws were attached to fingers that were both monstrous and impossibly long, and the only other features of the pursuer were a pair of enraged eyes, discolored and pitiless.
The woman felt as if she were at her last extremity. Her chest heaved and her legs were numb from pain and cold. She was stumbling now, and the claws were getting closer and closer.
"The sword," came a voice, "use the sword."
The young woman gasped at the sound of the voice. Then, she looked to her side, and saw... as if for the first time... the long scabbard and broadsword that she carried on her hip. She reached down, almost mechanically in her pain and fatigue, and slowly drew forth the blade. With her back up against the rocks and her feet planted wide apart to steady herself, she grasped the huge sword in both hands, and held it out in front of her. And then, an amazing thing seemed to happen. The blade seemed to glow. The sword also seemed light in her hands, and it was if her strength was renewed. She stared forth at her pursuer, and, with a cry of almost feral joy, began swinging the great sword. With each slash her strength increased, and the blade began to shine with a fierce light. Back and forth the sword went, as the young woman hacked with all her might. The pursuer, for the first time, seemed to hesitate. Then, it seemed to actually retreat, and the young woman became the pursuer herself, and continued to swing her sword with great and mindless shouts of pure and unending triumph...
...And then Callisto awoke. And the winds still howled. And Callisto pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders.
* * *
Xena stood on a wide ledge on the side of a great mountain, far above the clouds. She had traveled for many a day, mainly on foot, to reach this stark, uninviting destination. The winds moaned and shrieked, but Xena paid them no mind. She had been standing this way, wrapped in a heavy, undyed woolen cloak and supporting herself with a large walking staff of her own, for several hours. Her eyes seemed unfocused, and she was looking deep within herself...
...Xena stood on the portico of a gigantic, marbled palace. The ceiling of the portico, and the roof of the palace itself, were upheld by great gold, plated Corinthian columns, dozens of them, stretching for hundreds of yards, and each one much more than one hundred feet tall. This magnificent palace covered an entire hillside, and there were many other hills, and covering all of these hills were the palaces, stadia, and temples of a mighty city. The city stretched into the distance, as far as the eye could see. The name of the city was Xenocallistopolis, and it was the capital of a World Empire. It was the home of the Two Empresses.
Xena, dressed in armor of solid gold, looked down the two hundred steps from the portico to the great square in front of the palace. This square, the largest, was filled, from side to side and end to end, with the serried ranks of warriors. These warriors numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and, in their front, was the Imperial Guard. These, numbering twenty thousand, were all women warriors, dressed in armor and cloaks of gold much like Xena. These were the true Amazons, and there were no greater warriors on Earth. They had been led to the ends of the World, and had always conquered. The great empire of the Persians and Medes, those of ancient Aegypt and Chin, and even those of the great Indus lands had felt their heels. In all truth, there were now no lands worth conquering that did not pay their dual Mistresses homage. And these Amazons, along with all the warriors, were cheering and raising their swords.
On either side of where Xena stood, there were two great statues of two magnificent women. The statues were over one hundred cubits high, and made of gold, silver, ivory, and precious stones. The statues had upraised arms, with a sword held high. Xena herself now was raising her sword, much in the same manner. She then reached out her other hand to take the hand of a person beside her. She glanced over as their fingers met, and saw an unbearably beautiful woman, with hair like spun gold and eyes like the fires of two blue suns...
...And then Xena’s eyes cleared, and she was back on the windswept and desolate mountain ledge. She shivered in the chill air, for, even wearing a long and thick sheepskin cloak over her more familiar battledress, the undying winds cut like an ice-covered blade. Xena did not know her fate. She did not even know why she was where she was, other than to consider it a "calling." Xena had felt compelled to arise and leave her friend Gabrielle, and to travel east... ever eastward. Once she had reached this ledge, far above and overlooking the kingdoms of the World, she no longer felt compelled. The compulsion had not forced her to travel, but it was a yearning that she knew she couldn’t resist. She had been visited by gods before, and felt that this must be no more than the irresistible will of one or more of the gods. It might be Ares, or it might be Gaia. It could even be Zeus or Apollo. Xena did not like being used of the gods, but it had happened before. It was her experience that the gods led... or compelled... only to a certain point and then no further. After that her destiny inevitably lay in her own hands. If this was to be such a time, then, so be it.
There was the sound of the slight fall of stones from the further side of the ledge. Xena reached behind her left shoulder and unsheathed her great, Damascene-steel sword. The rasp of the sword as it was drawn from its scabbard reassured her. Holding her sword, she thought, meant that her fate was truly in her own hands. Preparing for grim work ahead, she threw off her long woolen cloak. Facing the source of the sound, she held her sword in front of her, firmly grasping the hilt with both hands. Her gaze did not go unrewarded, as, presently, Xena saw an arm rise above the rim of the ledge. And then, quickly, a figure pulled itself up and over that rim. The figure was dressed, as Xena had been, in an ankle-length sheepskin robe. This robe had a hood, and the hood and cloak hid everything about its wearer except for some fringes of gold-yellow hair. Despite this, Xena knew instantly the identity of her visitor. It was someone whose path seemed to eternally cross her own... someone who was intrinsically wrapped up in her own destiny. For the other was, of course, Callisto.
Callisto threw back her hood, revealing a wicked and mischievous grin. "Betcha weren’t expecting to see me again so soon, Xee-na," Callisto giggled...
"I see you’re not a god... again," answered Xena.
"I’m not a lot of things you once knew," replied Callisto, "through the intervention of my "goddess mother" Gaia. For instance, I don’t hate you any more, Xena. I don’t want my revenge. I gave all that away for a mere moment of godhood. But... I suppose Gaia was right to rid me of that. After all, hatred and revenge do so get in the way of much bigger and better things."
"What do you want?" asked Xena.
"Oh, Xena, don’t be so tiresome," spoke Callisto, and, with a smile that was not at all malicious, added, "let’s have some fun. I know. Let’s fight."
Callisto then threw off her own cloak, and pulled forth her sword. Her smile grew wider. She swung her weapon back and forth, and approached Xena without the least attempt at evasion or deception. This was to be a stand-up fight, blade on blade, and may the best warrior win. Xena also felt herself smiling at the thought of the challenge of a hard, clean, one-on-one fight with a worthy and dangerous foe.
The two warriors charged, and steel bit steel. The mountain-side rang with the clash of sword on sword, and the ringing echoes of metal on metal chased themselves down the mountain and into the valleys far below. There was thrust, parry, slashing, and stabbing, and it continued for long and exhausting minutes. Neither Callisto or Xena spoke a single word, and there was no sound of human voice except for the exchange of their ringing battle cries. Both of these women knew well that, against lesser foes, the battle would not have lasted near as long. But this combat went on and then on longer, and it seemed that at least a quarter hour had elapsed from the first exchange of blows. Both warriors expended their amazing strength to the fullest with each lunge of their swords, and the play of heavy steel was taking its toll on the two warrior women. Finally, to gain just an instant of wind, Xena raised her booted foot and kicked Callisto in the midriff, sending her stumbling away. Callisto regained her feet in less than the time it takes for the telling, but, herself tiring, she desired not to resume battle. Or, at least not to resume it for a couple of heartbeats.
"So," snarled Xena, "I see that being a god has not caused you to forget your swordsmanship."
"I had good trainers," giggled Callisto in return, "and, after all, it is my destiny..."
."..and yours too," added Callisto.
"You know nothing of my destiny," screamed Xena, and she threw herself forth to continue the combat.
Callisto was desperately parrying the massive blows of Xena’s great broadsword. Still, somehow, she found the breath to speak.
"Wrong, Xena. Your destiny is exactly the same as mine. This World has only one place for such as us."
"And...where...is...that?" replied Xena, each word falling in between a slash of her sword.
"On top. Together. The only other option is to be a slave."
"I am no one’s slave," spat Xena.
"You’ll end up exactly where your little girl-toy Gabrielle is headed. Slopping hogs and whelping brats. There is no in between."
"Gabrielle is not my girl-toy," snarled back Xena, and she increased most mightily the fury of her attack.
"No," replied a by-now gasping Callisto, "of course not. She’s too bland. Like eating curds every day. You need passion. Like me. With me."
Xena screamed her ululating battlecry, and then screamed it again. She then swung her sword in one massive and irresistible blow, and Callisto’s sword went flying. Callisto herself stumbled and fell on her back. In less than a second Xena was on her, straddling her, with her sword held blade edge-down on Callisto’s windpipe. Xena’s eyes blazed as if backed by icy blue fire. Her snarl had turned into a feral grin of triumph.
Callisto met Xena’s grin with a smile of her own. It was a smile without mirth, but it was not without some indescribable sense of emotion. Maybe even of primitive, elemental joy.
"Good fight," said Callisto, "and now you get to kill me once again. No regrets this time. But I have one final request."
"And what’s that?"
"Kiss me once before I die, Xena. Know real passion just one last time. Before you return to the path that leads to slopping hogs and whelping brats."
Xena stared into the eyes of her adversary. Callisto’s eyes met hers, but there was not the slightest feeling or sign of the bewitchment that Callisto had used on her not so long before. At that time Callisto had beguiled her and ignited her lust. It was a lust not only for power and glory, but also, undeniably, for... Callisto.
Xena turned her sword and slid it, blade flat, from Callisto’s throat. She then bent over and kissed her nemesis...
* * *
Xena and Callisto swiftly descended from the cloud-girdled mountains. They walked together and scarcely spoke. They both now had purpose, and they were both now in perfect accord as how to realize it. Once they were out of the mountains and back in the lowlands, they came across a caravan, heading east. It was Callisto’s desire to simply take the two fastest horses from the caravan, and, surprisingly, Xena agreed. The owners of these two beasts were mercenaries, hard-bitten killers who had joined the waggoners as paid protection. These mercenaries did escape their encounter with Xena and Callisto with their lives, which was a great deal more than they has any right to expect. The two women warriors rode off without so much as a backward glance...
Ever eastward, and then to the south, galloped Xena and Callisto. They crossed the hills and dales of northern Dalmatia, and the cutthroats and bandits of that grim land, warned by the thieves’ grapevine of their ferocity, gave them a wide and respectful berth. Xena and Callisto continued on their way, through the highland passes and out onto the grasslands of the Great Plain, and then to the Great River. A ferryman was convinced by the blade of a sword to give them their passage, and then the journey on horseback continued unabated. The two warriors once again entered the hills, as they approached the outlands of the Greeks. Soon they came to a huge and forbidding, walled city. This city was Pella, the capital of the surrounding provinces of Macedon, and the home of the great king, Phillip. Or, it would be more proper to say, the city was the former home of King Phillip, for old Phillip had recently been killed... murdered by his own generals... not long after leading his armies deep into Greece proper, where he had sacked and burned the great and ancient city of Thebes. But Phillip had a son, whose name was Alexander, and although Alexander was a young warrior of only twenty summers, he had already taken his revenge against his father’s killers. Alexander was now the hereditary commander of the superb phalanxes and magnificent cavalry of the Macedonians, and he was in need of better generals than those who had served his father. Xena and Callisto intended to be those generals... and, soon, very much more.
Alexander knew of Xena and had even heard tales of Callisto. So impressed with the deeds of the warrior princess, the youth Alexander had given his own mighty stallion the name of Bucyphelis, after Xena’s first great war-horse. Well-educated and a student of the philosopher Aristotle, Alexander knew of the greater World, and he knew that the long-haired Persians across the Hellespont had once been defeated by Xena and her Ten Thousand. He had often wondered why Xena had not followed up her great victory, and chased the beaten Persians into the desert beyond Babylon to their final doom. Legend was even now replacing fact, but it was said that Xena, returning to the Peloponesus, had personally led a small band of her soldiers against a recalcitrant village. Something happened in that village that changed Xena for all time. She never returned to the Ten Thousand, which had then disbanded, with some of the warriors even joining the armies of Macedon. Under Philip these armies had swollen to forty thousand strong, and they were now in need of a strong hand to wield them in battle. Alexander did not doubt that he could provide that strong hand, but for the time being he needed help. This help came most unexpectedly...
* * *
Gabrielle again sat by the riverside. Xena was still missing. It had been several weeks since Gabrielle had been visited by Gaia, and Gabrielle was still undecided what to do. She had earned a few dinars with her storytelling in the agoras of the nearby villages and towns, and she never lacked audiences for her tales of Xena and high adventure. At other times she would put her writing skills to work, drafting on sheets of papyrus or leather scrolls the correspondence and other documents needed by the unlettered. She was always welcome at any number of houses and huts, and did not lack for company and a good meal. She, however, spent her time alone whenever possible, still contemplating her destiny and the fate of Xena. The sky was darkening, and the stars were beginning to come forth. Near Gabrielle was a small campfire, prepared by her earlier for the cooking of a meal and now but guttering lowly.
Gabrielle had been looking into the fire for some time. The small flames writhed and rolled, and for long moments Gabrielle thought of nothing at all. The flames were golden and red, and occasionally a spark of blue would crackle through the blaze. The flames could be very mesmerizing... Gabrielle began to lose her feelings for the cares of the World. Soon, she began to feel nothing at all.
Then... it was as if she felt the fluttering of butterfly wings, fleetingly brushing through her mind. It was a light and gentle touch, and seemed to have no connection with the reality we all so vainly claim to know. There seemed to be the merging of colors, with tints and hues of amazing subtlety and promise. The colors changed and coalesced, and, after what seemed to be a time outside of time, there was the beginnings of a vision. Gabrielle sat spellbound, and felt herself far, far away from the riverside, from Greece... and even from the World itself.
There was someone else in this celestial place that had become Gabrielle’s mind. This did not cause Gabrielle the slightest concern... in fact, she felt as if she was expecting such a meeting. The image in front of her was that of a woman, tall and handsome but not young, and dressed all in white. This woman was not Gaia. But, she had been a servant of Gaia, for many years, and, for a time, a high priestess. Her name was Cirice.
"Hail, Cirice," spoke Gabrielle, calmly.
"Hail, Gabrielle, Amazon queen," was the reply.
"Have you come from the Elysian Fields?" asked Gabrielle.
"No," answered the image, "but from far away, nonetheless."
Gabrielle nodded. This was a satisfactory answer.
"I am not alone," added the woman.
"I know," replied Gabrielle, and she did, but she didn’t know how. She shifted herself around, and saw three figures. If she had not been feeling the Calm of Ages, her heart would have raced for joy. She would have leapt to her feet and embraced all three. But, she did not. Gabrielle smiled, and that was her only show of emotion.
"Hail, Gabrielle," said the first figure.
"Hail, Mithres, my beloved friend," Gabrielle replied.
"My greetings as well," said the second figure.
"Your greetings are always welcome, Siddhartha," answered Gabrielle.
... And the third figure became clear. For a fraction of a second, Gabrielle was flooded with joy and her eyes seemed to brim with unshed tears. The second passed, and it was Gabrielle who spoke first.
"I will be with you always, my daughter."
It was the image of Cirice that next spoke. She spoke directly to Gabrielle.
"Xena is gone, and you must bring her back."
"I know," replied Gabrielle. But, again, she knew not why she knew.
"That will be the first of your labors. There will be another, greater one."
Gabrielle nodded again.
"For all of us," added Cirice.
"So Gaia has told me," answered Gabrielle.
"Call on us when the time comes."
...In an instant, Gabrielle’s mind cleared. She was again before her little fire, alongside the riverside. Argo was nearby, her head hung low in sleep. Gabrielle arose and began to gather her few possessions. She then awoke Argo, and began to saddle and bridle her. Once Gabrielle had the saddle snugly on Argo and the reins in place, and once all of her effects were safely stored in the saddlebags, Gabrielle did something that she scarcely ever contemplated doing before. She put her foot in the stirrup and leapt up on Argo’s back, straddling the great horse. She then took the reins and turned Argo’s head to the north. The two of them galloped off into the darkness...
* * *
And, so it came to pass in the First Year of the reign of Alexander III of Macedon, son of Phillip, that a sea-change in the history of the World began. Alexander, to one day be known as "the Great," whilst engaged in training on the wind-swept plain of Pella with his heavy cavalry and phalanxes of hoplites, was approached by two mighty warriors. It was Alexander’s fondest dream to fulfill the wish of his father and wrest from the Persians a mighty empire. He lacked only generals... or generals loyal to him, unlike his father’s great commander Pausanias, who had murdered Phillip and been in turn slain, along with all of his followers, by Alexander. It appeared as a gift of the gods that Xena and Callisto would appear just at the moment of Alexander’s greatest need, and Alexander offered a hecatomb of a hundred oxen to Athena and the other gods in appreciation of his good fortune...
As Xena had led the Ten Thousand, Alexander offered her the command of his cavalry, which she accepted. Alexander had heard well the tales of Xena’s heavy cavalry breaking the lines of the Persian hosts not so many years before, and he wished her to do so again. Callisto was given command of the hoplites, each one armed with a twenty-foot lance known as a sarrise. The hoplites, in their unbreakable formations known as phalanxes, would be the anvil upon which the Persian tide would break, with Xena’s horse soldiers being the hammer doing the breaking. It would all be very simple...
And so it was. The forty thousand Macedonians and their Greek allies rode and marched over the Hellespont and into Asia Minor within days of the arrival of Xena and Callisto at Pella. As they made their way south along the Aegean coast, they were met by the first of the armies of Darius, King of kings... shahinshah... of the far-flung Persian Empire. This army was routed at the Battle of Granicus, and Darius fled. Alexander moved swiftly, at the urging of Xena, and the army crossed Lydia and the rest of Anatolia, sweeping south into Syria Major. This is were Darius had assembled all his armies, outnumbering the Macedonians and the Greeks ten to one. This disparity may have dismayed Alexander, at least a little, but it did not concern Xena. She had fought such odds before, and knew exactly how to nullify them. She counseled Alexander to make his stand at the River Pinarus, as she had once, where the hills and the very narrowness of the river valley would favor the smaller force.
Alexander wisely took the advice of the Warrior Princess. The result was the Battle of Issus. The phalanxes, under the command of Callisto, not only held off the rush of the Persian masses, but was actually even able to outflank them. Xena, accompanied by Alexander, held the cavalry in check until the decisive moment - when the Persian infantry had been engaged and checked, and could not easily retreat and reform. Xena had divided her horsemen into two wings, and they fell, at exactly the right time, on the flanks and rear of the Persians. The Persians broke, and the slaughter was horrendous. Far greater were there losses then even those of more than ten years ago, when Xena had first challenged them. The dead and dying Persians carpeted the entire valley of the River Pinarus, so thickly that the ground could not even be seen. How many Persians died? Nobody took the time to count. But many of them died slowly, where they lay, their wounds finally taking them. The cries of the dying never ceased, throughout the entire day, and long into the night... there was no solace, no hope for them at all.
...For this is war... and all the while, there was a lone rider following in the wake of the armies.
* * *
... In Heaven so as it is on Earth.
There had to be a reckoning, and Gaia knew it. She had put off this day, if, in the Realm beyond Time and Space such things as days matter, for far too long. She had to face her adversaries, and justify herself, one way or other. Or she had to be overwhelmed, and leave no legacy other than the victory of hopelessness and despair. But, she knew that this battle would not, and could not be hers alone... So, she went forth, and challenged all that opposed her. And her challenge was accepted, and her foes came out of the Darkness.
Hera stood before her eternal foe - the great goddess Gaia. With Hera stood all her minions of the god-world... alongside her was the Dread Moloch, Eater of Souls, and the Great Underlord Shattan, Destroyer of Worlds. Ares, Bloody God of War was there as well, and there were thousands of others - demons and gods both high and low. Gaia stood alone. She was unarmed.
"The mighty Gaia!" spat a leering Hera, "We are gathered here for a Final Accounting... not in battle, but in judgment! We are here to establish for all time your endless guilt... and your bottomless hypocrisy."
Gaia looked at her accusers. She felt their strength - and their purpose. It is not meant for a god to be afraid, and Gaia showed no fear.
"What of my hypocrisy?" countered Gaia.
Hera laughed, and it was not pleasant... "Your hypocrisy is the greatest of all. You claim power over time and space, yet you let your precious little pets... mankind... suffer and die. You have never had dominion over them... they are ours, and shall be forever. You are nothing but a cruel joke."
"And you are incapable of understanding anything."
"I understand this. Your pets are always fighting - lying - cheating - stealing - killing. They serve us, and do so willingly. We have a great tool which we hang over their heads, and that tool is Fear. You can do nothing about it, yet you pretend to be their friend. They despise pathetic weaklings like you, Gaia. You offer them nothing, and threaten them in no way. You are too weak even to use their fear."
"Their fear is a fact. It is part of what they are... what they arose from. But it is ultimately of no consequence."
"That is where you delude yourself, Gaia. Their fear is everything. Every waking moment it gnaws at them, and it torments them even in their dreams. And for good reason. How many are starving and in want right now, Great Goddess? How many curse their lives because of the pain and cruelty? That is where we come in. We tell them to be afraid, and let them fear us. Or placate us, if they can. Beg our forgiveness, as, of course, all the sin is theirs. We will even let them try to love us, or let them pray that what they feel is love... to avoid our wrath and damnation. We even promise them love and peace - if they bow down in the dust before us and worship only us. What do you promise them, oh, Great Gaia? We listen to their pleas... even if we laugh. We know them, and they are of us. There is no goodness in them, only desire."
"It is you who delude yourself, Hera. Man... and woman-kind... are vessels of Glory. Even those who fail."
"It is you who have failed!" screeched Hera, "You have failed about everything! The World will forget you, Gaia... as you give it nothing. We give it many things - the glory, the inevitability, of the strong triumphing over the weak. A focus for their fears, so they can forget them for a moment as they grovel."
"I can give them only what they’ve always had inside themselves."
"That is nothing but a fool’s answer! What they have inside themselves is what causes them to bow to us. What causes them to pray to us for both our favor and forgiveness!!!"
And then the Dark Gods attacked Gaia, with a fury to spell her complete and eternal annihilation...
* * *
The night was dark, lit now with only the faraway fires of the stars. Gabrielle sat astride Argo. She had ridden the great war-mare for many a league, following in the wake of Xena, Callisto, and Alexander. She had followed them to Macedon, and through Thrace, and across the great Hellespont, past the ruins of Troy, across all of Asia Minor, and now to the Valley of the River Pinarus. Gabrielle had ridden Argo past the great field of battle, and she had wept. Now, she rode on, up into the hills beyond the battlefield. Many weeks earlier, along the banks of a small river in the Peloponesus, she had been visited by the spirits... if that was the right word... of great and mighty friends. They had told her to call on them, when the time came to pass. Now was this time... Throughout all her travels, beginning before she had even first saddled Argo, she had felt a difference grow within her self. She had wondered why Xena had left her, and now she knew the reason. She had looked deep within herself, and wondered how she, Gabrielle, had failed her friend. For Gabrielle had sought companionship and Xena’s love, and she now knew she’d made a mistake. For she had not given Xena her love... not as Xena had really needed it, and that was Gabrielle’s greatest failure.
Gabrielle looked to the heavens, and therein saw four faces. She knew what she had to do, and she made the call.
* * *
Xena stood alone. She had ridden her new war-mare high into the hills above the narrow valley of the River Pinarus, scene of so much recent death and destruction. She had left Callisto and Alexander to the reforming and rallying of the army and the looting of the enemy’s camp. Darius had fled, but royal captives had been taken, and Alexander had to see to their comfort and safety, as is the way with kings. Callisto, the last Xena had seen of her, still had blood-lust in her eyes. Xena, too, had felt the blood-lust, but now the feeling was gone. The undeniable realization of all the killing - and her part in this killing - had compelled her to leave her squadrons of cavalry, now camped on the battlefield, and seek the refuge and peace of these empty, barren hills. Xena had hobbled her horse to let her graze the best she could. Xena herself had found a large rock to sit on, and rested there, looking out to all the stars. Far below and miles away, she could see the yellow glow of her army’s campfires against the night. Some of the glow, she knew, came not from her army’s fires, but from the burning of the enemy’s camp and baggage. Only gold and other loot was being spared. Xena could also hear, or so she thought, the yells of triumph of the pillagers, and the piteous screams and cries of the wounded and dying... Xena pondered on how easily she was now referring to Alexander’s army as ‘her’ army.
There was a sound. Xena instinctively knew the source of the sound, and, in her heart, dreaded to turn around and face that source. But, she did. There she saw a young woman with long, straight, light red hair, dressed in a peasant blouse and ankle-length skirt...
"I haven’t seen you wearing those clothes in a long, long time," spoke Xena.
"These are the clothes I’d wear... to feed the animals and take care of the village children."
"Whelping brats and slopping hogs," added Xena, but in a voice so low as to almost be as if she were talking to herself.
"Is that where Callisto said my path would end?" asked Gabrielle.
"And mine, if I continued to follow you," replied Xena... For a second, Xena thought her reply quite strange. Her following Gabrielle, and not the other way around.
Gabrielle, surprisingly, smiled at her friend, crinkling her nose just a little as she did... "And you believed her? About yourself, not me."
"Of course not."
"Then why are you here?"
"I... don’t think I now know... Gabrielle, I wouldn’t have left you forever. I can promise you that. But... I cannot escape my destiny."
"It doesn’t matter at all that you left me for a little while. We both know that we can never be truly separated... But, what happened here matters."
"I can explain what happened here..."
"Then," said Gabrielle, "there are two others to whom you can make your explanation. I must go for now."
"Gabrielle," said Xena, but, already, her young friend was gone. And the night seemed to lose its clarity, and there was a mistiness to all things. Xena seemed not to be on her hilltop any more, or, if she was, it scarcely seemed to matter. She looked in one direction, and then another. And then... there were two figures beside her. Xena turned to her right, and then to her left, and what she saw left her amazed and a little fearful, but also filled with great joy. Gaining her voice she then spoke.
The image of the tall and great man known as Mithres... he who had once been a stonecutter, and he who had accompanied Xena into the mountains above the Indus in a quest to stop a Great Evil - an Evil which had ended his life - then spoke.
"It’s been ten years since we were both on a Persian battlefield."
Xena nodded. She remembered how Mithres, never a soldier, had risked his life to comfort the dying Persians on a long-ago day. They were Persians, like now, that she and her men had been responsible for killing... Xena turned away from Mithres, her eyes moistening. Then she saw Siddhartha. Siddhartha, too, had sacrificed himself fighting the Great Evil.
"Siddhartha," spoke Xena, "you were... my greatest teacher."
"Our lessons lasted but a single afternoon," answered the tiny Master.
"And this is how I repaid you... the both of you."
Siddhartha took Xena by the hands and looked her in the eyes. Then he released her hands. Unexpectedly, he smiled.
"Xena," he said, "Your path has always been more difficult than ours. Much has always been expected of you. Your destiny has always involved human behavior with which we have not been tested. There was a time, if we’d both been tempted, that we would have made the same decisions as you have."
"There have always been armies," added Mithres, "There have always been kings and emperors. You chose to mold one such king. A king whose destiny is overpowering. You wanted the inevitable battles to be over quickly, and then order to come. You may have succeeded."
Xena felt a tiny anger arise within her, and this anger at her two mentors shocked her as much as the cause of the anger. Still, she spoke.
"You make excuses for me when I don’t want them! You make excuses that I don’t deserve. Maybe... maybe if I’d been able to learn more from the two of you - shared your strength - I would have been strong enough to... to..."
"To what, Xena? To accept the forgiveness that has always been there? To accept the understanding?" asked Siddhartha.
"I had my afternoon with you as my student. I should have taught you how find the tranquillity to accept your destiny and to become One with all things. In that you would have found your understanding and forgiveness. In all these things, I have failed."
Xena shook her head... "You, and Mithres, cannot have failed in anything."
"That is untrue, Xena," spoke Mithres, "I desired charity and compassion all the days of my life. Who is to say that if I’d accepted the uncertain and awful burdens of leadership and strength, like you have Xena, that the charity and compassion might have been greater. Instead, I hid behind what was easiest... a meal to a passerby, a few dinars to an unfortunate family, a story in the marketplace. You have had by far the greater responsibility. You did your best."
Xena bowed her head before the great man... "You try to make me a saint... I have never been such, and never will be," she said.
"That is of no consequence."
"Mithres," asked Xena, "may I touch you?"
"Of course, child," he responded.
"And you, Siddhartha?"
Xena put one arm around each of these two Great Souls and held them tightly. Then she let go...
"I know you want me to come with you," she said, "I’m ready to go."
* * *
Callisto was back within her high-roofed and silken field tent, sprawled loosely across her canvas folding-chair. The sweat and blood of the day’s battle had dried on her face and limbs, staining her battledress and leaving behind thin white streaks of salt and beads of filthy gore on her flesh. She had just dismissed the several commanders of her hoplites, sending them back to their respective phalanxes to prepare for the morrow’s pursuit and final destruction of the fleeing remnants of the Persians. Callisto relaxed her sore, aching muscles, and smiled once again at the day’s dark and grim deeds. She had never before led such a mass of soldiery as the hoplites of her heavy infantry, and the experience had been for her beyond any previous understanding. The screams of the men, both suffering and victorious, still rang in her ears, and the smoke of the fires was still in her nostrils. Hundreds and thousands... tens of thousands... had died. This was no small destruction of an insignificant village... this was an army, well-trained, equipped and led, crushing the very life out of a far greater army! Death Itself had been sated this day, and had cried ‘no more.' For such things Callisto had been born... or so, maybe, she thought. Her eyes grew weary and the shadows lengthened.
...And then, there was a small sound. Callisto jerked up, snapping out of her somnolence. She reached to her hip where she still wore her sword, blood-encrusted in its leather scabbard. She pulled forth the blade without a second’s hesitation, pointing it in the direction from whence came the sound. Then, from behind her, was whispered her name...
Callisto jerked around, and, for a heartbeat, stared with mouth agape. For, there stood a young woman, not quite Callisto’s height, wearing the golden dress, boots, and cape, and the silver breast armor and helmet, of a Gaian Warrior Priestess. Callisto immediately recognized the costume from her three teenage years of training with the Gaians... a training which ended abruptly with the sacking of Cirra. Callisto suddenly recognized the face of her visitor, and grinned broadly. She then began laughing as if with great amusement.
For the visitor was Gabrielle.
"Aren’t you a little old to begin training with the Gaian Warrior Priestesses?" remarked Callisto, once the laughter had stopped.
"I have always been a Gaian. As have you," was the reply.
"A Gaian?! You don’t have the first idea what it takes to be a Gaian," Callisto retorted. And, as quick as a she-panther, Callisto was on her feet, sword at the ready.
"I’ll show you a little about being a Gaian," Callisto added, and she raised her sword high in attack. Her visitor reached over her back, and drew forth the unsharpened sword of the Gaian Warrior. Callisto screamed a battlecry and charged. Once, twice, and a third time she swung her great sword, with utmost ferocity, and, each time, her opponent expertly parried the blow - but did not return the thrust. After the fourth swing was parried as well, Callisto abruptly stopped her attack. She then brusquely sheathed her sword. Facing her foe without so much as a smirk, she spoke.
"Why did you come to spoil my fun, little Gabrielle? Why do you want to ruin my glory? Don’t tell me that you still hold a grudge about your boyfriend?"
"He was my husband. And I haven’t forgotten him. But I have long since stopped blaming you."
"Who do you blame? Xena? She and I are going to rule the World together, you know."
"Xena was wrong and you were wrong. And what you’ve done here will not lead to either your, or Xena’s, destiny."
Callisto began to show anger. There was still within her a rage... and with the rage, pain.
"This is my destiny, little girl. On the battlefield leading armies. Don’t try to take away my glory."
"This has less glory than Cirra, Callisto. Less glory than the murder of Purdicus. If I could have stopped it, I would have. Do you want to see what your glory here really is?"
Callisto snarled, and then she heard the cries. The cries came from all around her, growing louder and louder. The cries came in the myriad languages of all the fighting men of the Persians, and of the Greeks, too. And the cry was "mater... mama." They were all vainly crying for their mothers... as Callisto had, too, once, so many years ago at Cirra... The cries would not go away, and continued to grow louder still. Just as had her own cries grown, every night, in her never-ending nightmares.
...And then there was a second figure standing by Gabrielle. This figure was a woman dressed exactly like Gabrielle, except that her golden battle-dress reached her ankles. The instant Callisto saw her, Callisto’s screams abated. But her hands shook. For the second figure was a Warrior-Priestess which Callisto recognized... and whom Callisto knew was dead. In the last days of her girl-hood, there at the Temple of Gaia, this woman had been her trainer and teacher. Callisto had learned much of her fighting skills from her. Now, Callisto could only stare, and her breath came in shallow, labored gasps.
The name of the woman was Cirice, once High Priestess of the Order of Gaian Warrior-Priestesses.
"Callisto," spoke Cirice, not unkindly, "you sought justice for your family and the restoration of your soul. You failed."
A single tear trickled down the cheek of Callisto. Finally, in the smallest of voices, she spoke.
"But it was not your failure alone. It was mine. I sought the leadership of the Gaians, and order in all things. I believed that the order of all things required you to follow your own destiny after Cirra. I was gravely, gravely mistaken. I failed to lead you back to the Way, and, in that, my failure as a leader was complete. I understood nothing of the order of all things. In that, I failed as well."
"What of it, now... what difference can it make now?" replied Callisto.
Gaia has taken away your vengeance and hatred of Xena. But she did not take away the pain. That pain gnaws away inside you every moment of every day. No ‘glory’ on any battlefield will take away this pain."
Callisto had sat down on her field-cot, her head was bowed, and she had encircled her legs with her arms like a small girl...
"Please take the pain away..."
It was Gabrielle that next spoke... "I have a friend who lived and died to take the pain away. He even took away some of Xena’s pain. He can help you."
...And then there was a third figure in the tent. He appeared to be a middle-aged man, not much taller than Gabrielle and otherwise totally unremarkable, and he smiled a small, forgiving smile...
"My name is Yosh’va," he said, "and, in a small way, I was favored. I was allowed to give healing, and I sought mercy. But, Callisto, I failed as well. In my final journey in this life, I brought suffering to many others, and took away their mercy, simply because there was one who knew no better that wished me dead. But... I can help you, Callisto. I would be honored to help you, if you allow."
Callisto nodded weakly, and allowed the man to touch her.
Yosh’va placed his hands on Callisto’s temples, and closed his eyes. And, presently, the pain was all gone.
Callisto’s breathing was regular now. She looked from one face to the next of her visitors.
"Why?" she finally said.
"Because we need you. We always have," answered Gabrielle.
* * *
Gaia was on one knee, her hand to the ground. As mortal eyes could see her, she was dazed, bruised and bleeding, with her garments torn and soiled. How she appeared, or what her condition was in the realm of the gods is beyond the powers of our imagination. The Forces of Darkness were all around her, beating her down, forcing her into Everlasting destruction. She was not fighting back...
...Then, on the darken plain that was Forever, there appeared seven figures. Four of these were female, and three male. They shown with a light of their own, and they moved forth, approaching She who was Gaia. Gaia looked up, and, with blackened lips, she smiled. This smile caused the Forces of Darkness to withdraw, if but only slightly. Then, the seven figures halted. The first one spoke...
"My name is Cirice," she said, "and I sought leadership and order. I failed."
The second figure spoke... "My name is Mithres. I sought compassion and charity. I failed."
Then the third figure... "My name is Siddhartha. I sought tranquillity and Oneness. I failed."
The fourth figure... "My name is Yosh’va. I sought mercy and healing. I failed."
Then the fifth figure, a tall, slim blond-haired young woman spoke... "My name is Callisto. I sought justice and restoration. I failed."
The sixth figure was a smaller woman... "My name is Gabrielle. I sought love and companionship. I failed."
...Hera, Lord Mistress of All the Dark Gods, laughed. The laughter reflected all of the cosmic coldness of the indifference of all the infinite universes. "Then," she spat, "Your failures are complete."
"No," replied a voice, and it was the strong clear voice of Gaia. For Gaia was no longer on her knees. "There is one other."
And then the final figure, standing in the middle of the seven, came forth from the rest. She was tall, fierce, and beautiful. She spoke... "My name is Xena. I sought forgiveness and understanding. And I did not fail."
And Gaia came forth and stood before Hera. For Gaia was no longer battered and bleeding. Instead she stood tall, and beautiful, and blazed with the light of uncounted suns... "Thus, from their failures has come their triumph. For, in their failure they have brought redemption... and they have learned... to have no fear... of you!"
And the Dark Gods, each and every one of them... screamed.
* * *
Xena and Gabrielle were back in Greece, sitting by their campfire, not far from the latest trail they were traveling. The meal was finished, and they were both looking at the sunset. Gabrielle was the first to speak...
"And where is Callisto now?"
"She is back with the army of Alexander," replied Xena.
"And maybe with her new-found understanding, she’ll curb some of his - and her own - excesses."
"That would be a noble hope, but..."
"I know," said Gabrielle, "I’ll applaud it when it comes to pass, and not before. She is still finding her way on her path, and it will lead to her own destiny. As are we..."
Xena did not respond. As the sun had set, she went over to the horse-blanket, and lay down with her back to the fire. Soon she was asleep.
"And out gods can be our guides," whispered Gabrielle, to herself...
"But only to yourselves," spoke a small, quite voice, "the Glory you all seek is within you, and all around. It only takes opening your eyes..."
Gabrielle was not surprised by the voice.
"Gabrielle," said the voice.
"Yes," answered Gabrielle.
"It’s time. You are ready to see me as I truly am."
Gabrielle nodded. There was no fear within her whatsoever.
"Then turn around."
Gabrielle did as she was told. And tears rolled down here cheeks in the utmost, unimaginable joy...
Bard’s Note: As mentioned above, this concludes what started out as the Xena Parables but what I’ve come to call "the Gaia Chronicles." It’s been a fun year writing them, and they have allowed an outlet for adventure, humor, emotion, fantasy, and even a little bit of changing spiritual expression. I have grown with Xena, Gabrielle, Gaia, Callisto, and others, and I may explore if called, one day, a different Xenaverse. If there has been anyone out there that have read these stories, I offer only the greatest thanks. Good bye.
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