Rome burns. And atop his palace Nero, Emperor of the Roman Empire, dances in delight. The acrid smoke of the burning city is like perfume to his nose. The screams of those suffering like music to his ears. The hellish conflagration a fine painting to his eye. And watching the emperor’s glee, Praetorian Sexton Afranius Burrus shares in his happiness. The long over due purging of Rome is at last underway. The city will be cleansed by this fire and rebuilt in a new glory that will soon spread across the Empire. The enemies of the Empire in the city have already felt its wrath. The Praetorian Guard stand ready at his order to bring more of those enemies to swift Roman justice. He needs only to give the word. But he will wait just a while longer. The fire is after all… beautiful.
Nero ceases his dancing to focus his attention on a particularly intense blaze not far from the palace itself. He is entranced by the dancing colors accompanying the all-consuming fire. He begins to sing in his boisterous voice an ode to the gods thanking them for their favor. Thanks are given to Jupiter, Mercury and many others in Nero’s words. Sexton greatly encourages the emperor’s love of the arts and pleasures. Since the ascension of Cladius’s great- nephew to the throne, Sexton has done nothing but fed the appetites and desires of the Emperor. Nero’s gluttony for food and drink, his lust of carnal pleasures and his love of theatre have served Sexton well to keep the man’s mind away from the business of the Empire. This has left Sexton free to rule from the shadows. It is where he is most comfortable.
As Nero finishes his song, he begins to gesture wildly and speak in his booming voice. It takes him a few moments to realize that the Emperor is quoting from some obscure Greek tragedy. He finds it laughable but somehow appropriate.
“Sexton!”, a voice from behind him exclaims. The voice is familiar and quite unexpected. He has not expected her return for several days or more. With a warm and welcoming smile that hides his misgivings about her presence, he turns.
It would be strange for any woman regardless of her station to address one of his rank in such a tone of voice. Stranger indeed is it for a woman to be armored in the Roman lorico segmentata, wearing the helmet of a Roman general and armed with a Roman gladius. In truth since Livia no woman had. But the woman before him is of an extraordinary nature indeed. The truth be told, she is a living legend. Decades ago she and another woman of a similar extraordinary nature were crucified by Julius Caesar himself. More amazing that the fact that she survived her execution is that she has seemingly not aged in the intervening thirty five years.
She removes her helmet and long blond hair cascades about her shoulders like shimmering strands of gold. Seeing her exquisite features framed by her hair and her perfect body practically poured into the custom armor reminds him of why he has taken her into his arms and his bed so many times. His eyes, as always, are drawn to the scar on the right side of her neck that he has kissed so often. Before he can say anything in greeting to her, Nero has observed her arrival and is beaming with a child like joy at the sight of her.
“Gabrielle!” he shouts opening his arms to receive his friend.
It is now that Sexton sees the shocked disbelief in her eyes. “What’s wrong Gabrielle?” he asks.
Her look of disbelief turns to one of anger as she points out into the city. “Sexton! The city is on fire! The Praetorian guard are walking the streets ignoring the cries of the people! Men, women and children are crucified on the road coming into the city! What in the hell is happening? Why are the two of you just standing up here?”
Nero answers before Sexton can say anything to calm her. “ It ‘s beautiful, isn’t it?” he announces gesturing to the flames. “Worry not for those dead and dying upon the trees of woe. They are all traitors, thieves and fiends. And those troublesome Hebrews along with those annoying followers of Eli. They will not be missed.”
Gabrielle’s look of anger turns to abject horror as the helmet drops from her hand to bang onto the palace roof. It looks to Sexton as though she is on the verge of vomiting. He isn’t entirely surprised by this reaction from her. She has served Rome dutifully this past year but he knows she is not an advocate of the Empire’s more extreme forms of justice having experienced it first hand. But certainly she must see that these actions will only strengthen the Empire. “I can understand that you may be upset,” he states.
“Upset!” Gabrielle exclaims more shocked by these words that she ever thought possible.
“It is for the good of Rome,” Nero says matter-of-factly.
“You’re insane,” she says with a dawning realization that pains her greatly.
Nero reacts as if insulted. “No need for name calling,” he retorts and crosses his arms in a manner more accustomed to a spoiled child than the most powerful ruler in the world.
Ignoring the Emperor’s words she turns her gaze to Sexton. “You’re all insane.”
Sexton reacts to this accusation as though he has been physically struck. To hear such words of treason come from the lips of this woman. He quickly recovers as his pride takes issue with those words. “Even you are not allowed to speak to me in that manner!” he shouts.
She lowers her gaze and sighs loudly. The words that come next from her mouth makes Sexton’s blood boil. “This entire empire is built on insanity.”
Sexton trembles with rage. How could this woman, his lover and a loyal soldier of Rome, speak such seditious words? Nero’s reaction is that of the spoiled child once more. He points at Gabrielle and says, “Take that back!”
“I’m beginning to wish that it had died with Caesar,” she says in a voice thick with exasperation and a little grief. She draws her gladius and takes a step forward.
Sexton draws his own weapon and steps in front of the Emperor certain that she intends some harm upon him. “Be sensible, Gabrielle.” The warning is clear in his voice.
She continues to stride forward with the short sword held loosely in her hand and her head hung low as if in shame.
“You don’t actually think you can best me?” he asks.
She doesn’t seem to hear him.
“Don’t make me kill you. I’ve enjoyed your company.”
The words have no effect on her advance.
“I’ve trained with this weapon since I was old enough to hold it. You’ve trained for a little over a year. Who do you think will be victorious?”
As Gabrielle closes to within striking range Sexton readies himself for battle. But as she draws up to him she tosses the sword aside. Sexton, shocked by the action, takes his eyes off her for a moment and watches the blade hit the tiled flooring of the palace roof with a minute spark. It is all she needs. In that brief moment when Sexton eases his defense, she closes with him and slams extended fingers into the vessels in his neck that supply his brain with blood. The gladius remains clutched in his grasp for a moment before Sexton drops it to seize his throat in a vain attempt to halt the deadly process Gabrielle has initiated. He drops to his knees an turns his face up to hers. Reaching up to her he discovers that his arms do not answer his brain’s commands. He wants to plead for his life but finds that his vocal capabilities no longer exist. He can feel blood flowing from his nose and even his eyes. His vision wavers in and out then darkness creeps into his view. He can hear the pumping of blood in his brain beginning to taper off. The motor functions of his body start to go haywire and he falls onto his side in a massive seizure. His back arches so violently that he hears joints popping, muscles tearing and bones breaking. For a moment he is glad of the paralysis that numbs his body. His neck cranes up involuntarily and his last sight is her cold eyes staring down at him.
Nero stares down at the body of the man who has been his mentor since childhood. Then he fixes his gaze on the woman he has called friend for over a year. Since coming to Rome she has taught him how to improve his writing and even given him ideas for plays. She has taught Roman soldiers who seemed hardly able to throw a javelin five feet to be superb warriors. She had lectured before the Senate and explained how Rome could expand her boundaries but still keep a lasting peace. She has even been the lover of the man who now lies dead at her feet. How could she do this? Didn’t she understand that Rome’s enemies must be dealt with? “How dare you?” he explodes. He is filled with rage and takes a step forward.
She hardly seems to move but in an instant Sexton’s gladius is in her hand and its point is touching his throat. Her eyes meet his and he is surprised that she looks sad. “I thought you would be like Octavian,” she says in a hollow monotone. “He was a good man. But you…you are as insane as Caligula.”
Nero realizes that she intends to kill him just has she has Sexton. Not surprisingly he finds that he does not want to die. Tears start streaming down his face and he feels he may lose control of himself at any moment. “Please don’t kill me,” he blubbers loudly. Despite the sword at his neck he drops to his knees and reaches out and grabs at her legs intent on begging for his life if he must.
Gabrielle steps back in disgust from this worm of a man who somehow claims the title of Emperor of Rome. “You’re nothing but a puppet,” she states with dawning realization that she is dismayed has taken her so long to come to. “Dancing on Sexton’s strings. Gods! How could I not have seen this?” She tosses the sword aside.
“Thank you!” Nero mutters through tears and some incoherent ranting.
She looks down on this madman she had served and tries to find some pity for him. “I’m not going to kill you. You will suffer enough in life.” She turns and walks away. Behind her she can hear Nero crying and babbling like an infant.
Gabrielle finishes the braiding in her long hair and ties it off with a short piece of leather. She looks into the mirror and studies the way the long braiding drops over her shoulder. She had not known Brunnhilda long. But in that short time she had grown to love the valkyrie as a dear friend. She wears the braid in remembrance of the woman who had give up her physical existence to protect her from harm.
She turns to the bed and begins to fit on the last of the leather armor she had made some time back. She does not rush for she is certain she has time. The chaos in the city will keep the Praetorian guard occupied. They shouldn’t be looking for her anytime soon even if they do find Nero atop his palace.
She inspects herself in the mirror to see how everything fits. The leather bodice and kilt are similar to Xena’s. But Gabrielle has had this dyed a dark crimson. The bronze filigree over the chest is simple in design and not as fine in craftsmanship. Neither does it reveal as much of her as her friend’s did. She recalls the time she had worn Xena’s armor. It had been too big for her and had to be painfully strapped onto her. This armor has been tailored to her needs. The studded kilt is slightly longer but still allows for the full range of movement. She takes hold of two leather strips hanging from the top of the bodice. Hanging from them is a leather collar with several metal plates woven into it. She buckles on the collar then goes through some movement to see how it moves. Several months ago a Gallic swordsman had come close to parting her head from her body. Only quick reflexes and a bit of luck had left her with only a scar. The collar should help to reduce the chances of it happening again.
Onto her left arm she fits a studded leather bracer and an armlet that is all that remains of the garments she wore in Jappa. Lastly she slips an elbow length gauntlet onto her right arm and flexes the fingers to test its give. She looks at the gloved hand to study the strip of bronze made into the palm. She can still recall that day in Jappa when she had defeated the samurai by using the chakrum for the first time. Like a fool she thought that one throw of the weapon had given her mastery of it. Several scars across her palm are proof of that small bit of arrogance.
On the bed lies the two weapons she has chosen to take with her. The first is the curved blade of the katana she had used during that last adventure with Xena. Next to it is the chakrum.
She picks up the chakrum with reverence and remembrance for the warrior it belonged to. In an instant, the memories of that person she had loved more than any other surge to life within her heart and soul. It rapidly threatens to overwhelm her. Then a sensation not dissimilar to having jagged hooks driven into her spine and racked from the small of her back to the base of her neck causes her to convulse. She is uncertain what is happening until she is aware she is not alone anymore . “What do you want?” The words pass over her lips like venom when she realizes he is here.
Behind her there is a flickering of brilliant, blue light and a sound of rushing air. “Impressive,” Ares says clapping his hands mockingly. “I thought only Xena and Hercules could do that.”
“Your presence hangs in the atmosphere like a sulfuric cloud, Ares. It’s impossible not to feel it,” she spit’s the words out as she turns to face the black-clad god of war.
Ares assumes that casual stance, arms crossed and leaning his frame slightly to one side, that she had seen him use almost every time he talked with Xena. He looks her over appraisingly in a way that makes her sick to her stomach . His whole face is a self satisfied smirk as he comments, “I like the hair.” He points at her in a playful fashion. “ And the outfit.”
Gabrielle groans with exasperation as she turns back to the bed. She hooks the chakrum onto her belt and picks up the katana. She doesn’t have the time or inclination for this. She slings the baldric over her shoulder and fits it snugly across her body. “I have more important things to do, Ares” she informs him as she moves past him and towards the door.
“Oh I’m sure,” he says in his oh so arrogant voice. “What happened on the roof of the palace looked pretty important.”
More than anything Gabrielle wants to leave but his words make her realize something. Turning slowly she levels at gaze at him that recently quelled a Roman Legion into silence. “You’ve been watching me.” It is not a question. “For how long?”
“Quite a while actually,” Ares replies casually stroking his beard. “It goes without saying that I felt Xena’s …”
Gabrielle cuts him off. “Don’t Ares!” Her hand slips down to the chakrum at her waist in a warning.
If Ares perceives it , he takes no notice of it as he continues. “Since then I’ve kept my eye on you. You can imagine my surprise when you met Sexton in Alexandria.”
“I should have stayed in Thebes,” she says. “Or gone back to Chin. It was a mistake to join Rome. It was stupid of me to think I could change things.”
Ares grins and begins to walk around her the way he always had when chatting with Xena. “You joining the armies of Rome. Who would’ve imagined it? You became a Roman general. You taught their soldiers to fight. You made speeches before the Senate.” He stops his circling of her to stand before her again. “ You! Who sent Crassus to his death! I mean, come on! You joined the very people who had you executed. You and …”
Gabrielle cuts him off saying, “No! I don’t want to hear any more Ares!”
The God of War is pleased with the anger he has brought to the surface. “You know she was mine before she was yours.”
The chakrum is pulled loose from her side and moving in a blinding arc before Ares can react. The movement is so swift it takes him a second to realize what has happened. He looks down to see that not only is his vest sliced but also his chest. Black, iridescent blood oozes from a sizable gash. His eyes go wide with shock and it is only his respect for what she has just done that keeps his anger in check. “That’s pretty impressive.”
“Go away!” Gabrielle demands through gritted teeth. The hand holding the chakrum trembles and her heart is racing fit to burst.
“Not many have drawn blood from me.” AS he speaks the wound seals itself as if it never was. “Counting Achilles and Xena, you make three.”
“I said get out!” Gabrielle shouts feeling an anger welling up in her she has not felt in years.
“This isn’t over,” Ares says before disappearing in a blur of light and sound.
Ares rematerializes on Olympus an instant later standing at the base of the dais where the throne of Zeus rests in the Great Hall. And discovers that all is not as it should be. First he is certain there are person or persons unknown standing right beside. And he is sure someone was speaking as he materialized. When he turns he finds no one there. He turns his attention back to the throne and finds the sight that greets himself most definitely not to his liking.
Aphrodite is standing before the throne itself dressed in not her usual revealing garments but in a white gown that shimmers with its own radiance. Except for the color it reminds him of what she wore for some time following the death of her husband, Hephaestus. It is , however, not this change in apparel that makes him reach for his sword. It is the presence of the two creatures flanking her.
Both wear armor hammered from beaten gold and cloth spun like glimmering silk. But their similarity ends with their attire. Aside from that they are dissimilar that it would be difficult to believe they are essentially brothers.
The first has a visage that would make artists from the Mediterranean to the North Sea envious. Eyes the blue of the ocean stare out from his beautiful face. His blond hair seems spun from the same golden thread as his garments. He is perfect of form and body. A radiance having nothing to do with the lit braziers in the Great Hall surrounds him. Black, iridescent wings that glisten like gemstones extend from his back Ares takes not of the golden great sword at his hip.
The other looks like it belongs in the nightmares of man not striding about the waking world unopposed. His face is a black, distorted mass of flesh that might give Medusa pause. Yellow eyes filled with hate and scorn look upon the world around him. No hair crowns his head. Instead twisted horns protrude from his misshapen skull. His skin is as black as night and seems to try to absorb the light exuded by his companion. Leathery wings , each tipped with wicked talons, hang from his back. Ares takes not of his weapon as well; a curved scimitar that dangles from his waist.
They are the Arch Angel Michael and the Hell King Lucifer. And they should not be able to set foot in Olympus. Unless…
“You allowed them entrance?” he roars pointing at her.
The trio upon the dais look mildly surprised by Ares’ appearance. It is obvious they had not been expecting him. With his attention fully on them , he takes notice of the way that Lucifer stares over hi s very shoulder. Like there is someone standing behind him. He chances a momentary glance over his shoulder but finds no one.
“Yes. I invited them here,” Aphrodite says in a pained voice.
“There is something we must discuss,” Michael informs him in a tone that is more akin to song that speech.
“We?” Ares says turning his glare on the angels. The very presence of these messengers that serve the will of Eli’s God sickens him. “Whatever they want has nothing to do with us.”
“It will soon,” Aphrodite informs hm.
“Oh it will, will it?” Ares says mockingly. “I don’t have time for this. I have more important matters to attend to.”
“I assure you that your voyeuristic attention of the reborn can wait,” Lucifer snarls like an animal.
“The reborn?” Ares inquires. He has only encountered these beings a handful of times but nothing they say ever makes any sense. Not unlike the man who died on the point of his sword some years back.
“He refers to Gabrielle.” There is reproach and warning in Michael’s tone. Ares does not care for it.
“What I do on the mortal plane is my business.” Ares says, trembling with renewed rage.
“Gabrielle is no longer your concern!” Michael exclaims. His wings spread and the otherworldly glow that encompasses him intensifies.
“I beg to differ!” Ares screams. “Gabrielle is a warrior. And thus she is my concern.” Over the years Ares finds himself tiring of explaining this. “ As are all warriors. I am the god of war. Why can’t anyone understand this is the reason for my existence?”
“Please don’t bore us with your excuses for why you do what you do,” Lucifer says sarcastically. “In the past, you have engaged in campaigns that were far beyond the scope of your station and your purpose.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Ares asks in contempt but as soon as the words leave his mouth he knows of what Lucifer speaks.
“May we remind you of your involvement with Dahak and bastard goddess Hope,” Michael reminds him. “Surely you remember. You! Who sought to conceive the Six Destroyers of Dahak!”
“Please stop,” Aphrodite shouts pushing past the angels towards her last surviving kin. “Ares, I’m leaving.”
“Fine! Go!” Ares begins to dematerialize.
“Forever,” she says in a solemn voice.
Ares is almost gone when the word reach him. He pulls himself back. “Excuse me.” He looks at her incredulous at her meaning. “What do you mean forever?”
“I mean that soon you will be the last Olympian.” The words hurt as Aphrodite says them. “Alone. One god where once there was many.”
“Why are you doing this?” he demands seizing her arms in his hands.
“I feel tired. Alone. Our time is over,” Aphrodite says. “Our Twilight has come.” She glances momentarily at Michael as she speaks. “Ironically it is a Twilight we brought upon ourselves.”
“No! I refuse! Do you hear me!” Ares screams so loudly that Olympus shakes. “ The others ran headlong into their own oblivion. I will not go quietly into my own.” He looks at Aphrodite’s face. “And neither should you.”
“Your consent is not sought,” Michael says. “Whether you remain or not she is leaving.”
“We are here to aid Aphrodite in her transition,” Lucifer says, walking closer to the two Olympians.
“Transition?” Ares is confused. “What is he talking about?”
“I’m not just leaving Olympus Ares. I’m leaving this world all together and going to whatever and wherever lies beyond.” Aphrodite’s voice trembles the more she speaks. Her eyes begin to well up with tears. “To wherever gods go when they die. And hope it leads me to Hephaestus.”
“Fine! Leave! Find him! I don’t care!” Ares starts to dematerialize again.
Michael swoops down and seizes the war god by his throat bringing an abrupt and surprising ending to Ares’ attempt to leave. Through physical contact Ares can feel the rage and the power possessed by the archangel. It is a power he recognizes from the time he had laid his hand on Eli after the man had brought Xena and Gabrielle back from the dead. “Mine is the power Xena wielded to kill gods! Mine is the power that can crush nations and slay immortals! Mine is the power to call down the wrath of God! Now by that power you will remain until you have given leave to go!”
“Stop it,” Aphrodite says her voice thick with sadness. “Please.”
Michael looks from the face of the god of war to the goddess of love. He nods and releases his hold on Ares. It is all Ares can do not to fall to his knees gasping like a throttled child. He manages to keep his footing and his dignity. Michael steps away.
“Why are you doing this, Ares?” Aphrodite asks of him. “You gave up your immortality to save Eve and Gabrielle. You helped save me from Caligula. I had hoped all that had happened might have changed you. But it seems I was wrong. You are still only concerned with yourself.”
Ares stares deeply into her eyes. “I did what I had to do to survive. As I always will. I’ve been in existence too long to just surrender and let it all slip away into the ether.”
“But you were perfectly willing to allow a force of evil from outside our reality to come here and lay waste to the world?” Lucifer points out.
“That’s enough!,” Aphrodite cries out in anguish. She lays her hand on his cheek. “I wanted to say good bye. And that I will miss you.”
Ares reaches up and touches her hand. “I’ll miss you too,” he says. “Good bye.” He finds that he will indeed miss her.
“It’s time,” Michael says walking back onto the dais. He extends his hand and where Zeus’s throne sits there is an explosion of light. A vortex of intense white light swirls like water before them all.
Aphrodite’s eyes linger on her last remaining kin for a moment before she turns and walks up the dais to stand before the vortex. She looks deeply into the miasma of light and finds that she is a little bit afraid. As a goddess, very little remains hidden from her sight. But she cannot see what lies beyond his doorway of light. She hopes and even prays that there will be someone waiting for her on the other side.
As soon as she enters it, Ares feels as though some part of him is ripped away. Just as it had on that day when Hercules had killed Zeus and in the days that followed when Xena’s rage had claimed the others. Lucifer glares at Ares with contempt then he vanishes in a cloud of darkness that reeks of the grave.
Michael looks to Ares and says, “If you wish to go…”
“Don’t’ bet on it,” Ares grumbles.
Michael looks at him with a mixture of contempt and pity. A shaft of light descends from above to shine brightly upon the angel. He is gone an instant later.
The god of war looks around as if half expecting the whole of Olympus to crumble to dust. Nothing happens of course. Although they are all gone Ares cannot shake the idea that is still not alone. A presence hangs in the air. Behind him there is a roaring coupled with an eruption of reddish orange light. He turns to find his suspicions validated.
“No need to be afraid, Ares.” The voice that speaks to him is commanding and sensual. He draws his sword to face this new intruder. Before him stands a woman dressed in a black flowing gown with long obsidian black hair shot though with streaks of crimson red. Wound from her wrists to her elbows are gleaming bracelets fashioned to resemble snakes. “Did you think Olympus would collapse with the departure of the erstwhile goddess of love?”
“I guess I need to get the locks changed,” Ares says. First the angels, now this woman. Can just anybody walk the halls of Olympus now. He prepares to demand the identity of this woman when he sees that the strange bracelets she wears are in fact not jewelry at all. As she moves closer he can see that they are writhing on her arms. One uncoils from her left arm to slither up and encircle her neck like a choker. The serpent rears its head and hisses at him in such an odd way that he is certain it is greeting him in some animalistic fashion. Her identity is no longer a mystery. “What do you want, Medea? Bored now that Jason is dead and you’ve got no one to torment?”
The Priestess of Hecate and former queen of Argos do not respond to his question. Instead she performs a curtsey worthy of a supplicant beseeching aid from her ruler. The serpents, too bow their heads. “I’m not here to ask anything of you, Great Ares. I come to grant aid.”
Ares sheathes his sword and seeming to ignore the witch turns to look at the dais where moments before Michael’s vortex had existed. It is gone and now he can see the throne upon which Zeus and then Athena sat. He walks slowly towards it. After ascending the dais he stares down at the marble throne where once the mighty Olympians held sway. He lays a hand on the back of it. He hesitates only momentarily before seating himself on it. Why not? he thinks. Am I not the last? Is this throne not now mine by right? “What aid could you possibly give me?” he asks his sense of loss now pushed aside by the heightened sensation of power he feels sitting on the throne.
“I can give you what you are being denied,” she says walking to the bottom of the dais. She bows to one knee and remains in the submissive posture as she speaks with her head down and in a very meek voice. “Xena was yours. The Destroyer of Nations. You tried throughout her life to make her your instrument. But you were thwarted by interference from every corner of the world. So many botched your prized warrior’s development. From Caesar to Borias. Lou-Ma and Alti. Then Hercules and Gabrielle.”
“Are you purposely trying to anger me, witch?” Ares says. Already he is growing tired of her presence.
“Xena belonged to you,” Medea continues. “And so by right of her training by Xena, you see Gabrielle as yours. Am I right?” She raises her head to look up at him seeking confirmation of what she already knows to be true.
Ares is taken aback by Medea’s knowledge. “Even if you are correct…she has already rejected me on several occasions” he informs her. He cannot see what she could have offer to make that any different.
“Indeed,” Medea agrees. She stands and walks up the dais to kneel before the throne. “But her innocence and purity of spirit is all but gone. You must have sensed this or you would not have tried to make her yours. All those she cared for and who cared for her are gone. Xena’s spirit has moved on. The warrior princess no longer guides Gabrielle. All her friends are dead. Ephiny. Joxer. Eli. She is no longer the starry eyed girl that Xena found in Poteidaia. Her soul has become dark and twisted beyond even her understanding. Since the day she drove the dagger into that girl in Britannia she has undergone an inevitable alteration that has led her down so many paths that she is now coming to a crossroads that may well remove her from the path Eli set her on. Her road to reincarnation is no longer certain. She can yet be your new Destroyer of Nations.”
“This is preposterous!” Area exclaims rising to his feet. With ease he kicks her down the steps. She rolls onto the floor. “And how could you help me do this? Last time I checked your patron, Hecate, met oblivion years ago at the hands of vengeful gods from the east. Your power is gone.”
Medea stands and Ares watches with some disgust as the serpent on her right arm slithers off her arm then down her leg to disappear under the hem of her gown.
“The aid I can render is the help of one other Olympian whom all seem to have forgotten.” Medea’s submissive demeanor and pattern of speech are gone as she feels some personal triumph in knowing something the mighty Ares does not.
Area can find no words to retort this statement.
“There is another god of Greece. Defeated yet not dead. He alone has the power to give you Gabrielle.” The smile on Medea’s face portrays nothing less than madness.
She is insane. Ares is sure of this now. There are no others. He would feel them.
“As to my power!” she cries out. She extends her arms and flames erupt all around her. The heat can even be felt by Ares. “While it is true Hecate was destroyed, I made a pact with another far more powerful goddess. One who has given me knowledge and power far beyond any mortal understanding.” With those words she pulls down the top of her gown to reveal a blackened scar in the shape of a triumvirate flame.
Ares stares at the brand with a mix of disbelief and fear. It is a symbol he has not seen in over thirty years. The symbol of a power he had thought erased from the world by Xena, Gabrielle and Hercules. “That is not possible.”
Medea laughs then begins a writhing movement of her hips that soon travels up her whole body. The flames around her take the form of nude women and begin to dance about in an obscene parody of Medea’s own movements. “My goddess is not the bastard of Titans! She is not the fulfillment of mortal desire and faith! She is the daughter of evil and the corruption of innocence! Her physical form can be killed but her ethereal power is infinite! There is no end to her power! She will never rest until the dream of Dahak is fulfilled! Don’t you understand Ares? Hope is eternal!” Her dance comes to an abrupt halt before him. The dancing flames are extinguished and she extends one hand to him. “Take my hand God of War and you shall have all that you desire!”
Gabrielle keeps her eyes on the road before the horse so she can’t see the bodies on either side of the road. The beast runs at a thundering gallop out of Rome bearing northeast. She drowns out the groans of the dying by saying aloud verses of poem by Sappho that Xena had given her. But in her heart and mind she is cursing herself for these past eighteen months. She’d been a fool. A blind, stupid, ignorant fool. To serve the same government that had once put her to death!
Tears form as she remembers those many years ago when she and Xena had died. And then how their spirits has ascended to Heaven. If only they could have stayed there in peace. But they had wanted to live again. Hadn’t they? It was part of their greater destiny. A grand destiny that had led to Callisto’s redemption and Eve’s birth. All part of what Eli had called the Way. He had died for it. Murdered by the very god who later saved her life. How she misses the man who had taught her the true meaning of love . How she misses them all. Joxer. She smiles a little as she remembers the young warrior with the skills of a slug but a heart of gold. The Amazons. There are still times she regrets not accepting her title as their queen. Eve. The reincarnation of Callisto. Sometimes that fact is still hard for her to comprehend. Callisto had taken the life of the only man she had truly loved. Now her soul resides in a woman who is like a daughter to her.
But it all seems gone now. Joxer…dead. Eli…long dead. Eve…far away. The Amazons…all but extinct. She should go to them. Perhaps she will feel at home with them. Though she does not desire to be queen.
The cobblestones give way to dirt and she looks ahead at last. The long road stretches out before her. She must decide where to go. She ponders for a moment then decides that before she can take the next route in her life, she has to visit one last time. “Amphipolis,” she says aloud.
The dragons which draw Medea’s chariot roar as they leap into the sky carrying away the God of War and the High Priestess of Hope.
After they have left a voice calls from the darkness in words neither of the departed would understand. Where there had been no one now two stand. Their presence would have been as unwelcome to Ares as the angels. The man is tall with blonde hair and beard dressed in furs and armor. His companion, a lithe woman with red hair and clad in burnished armor , watches the strange steeds and the passengers sail through the sky .
“That was close,” the woman says. “Given Ares’ reaction I was not certain you had spoken the rune of invisibility in time.”
“I believe he sensed us regardless but his mind was too preoccupied with other things,” the man says as he too watches the dragon drawn chariot ascend.
Grinhilda and Odin had arrived with Michael and Lucifer to speak with Aphrodite regarding her passing. Now they have been witness to Ares and Medea’s conspiracy.
“This is not good,” Grinhilda says. “Gabrielle will be broken by those two. There must be something that can be done”
“Michael was right in what he said to me. I have placed myself in Gabrielle’s affairs more than enough in the past. It nearly cost me my life. I should learn from my mistakes.” Odin says staring into the sky where the chariot is now no more than a speck.
“But surely you cannot sit back and allow this to happen.” Grinhilda accuses her lord. “Michael could not have foreseen the involvement of Medea in all this. They forbade you to interfere, it is true. But I made no such covenant.”
Odin looks upon his valkyrie in disbelief and anger that she would say such a thing. “You shall not involve yourself in this! I forbid it.”
She meets his gaze with an equal portion of anger. But she concedes. “So there is nothing we can do?”
“Perhaps,” he says. “Or just maybe…” He whistles a strange tune. A raven appears from the shadows to land upon his shoulder. He turns to the bird and speaks to it in it own language. The dark bird listens with rapt attention. Once Odin has finished speaking, the raven nods then flies off into the darkness beyond Olympus.
“But you said…” Grinhilda starts.
“I said that I would not interfere in Gabrielle’s affairs,” he retorts. “And I shall not.”
In a desolate expanse of low hills and marshland along the border between Greece and Thrace, the dragon-drawn chariot of Medea begins it descent. Standing beside Medea, Ares speaks for the first time since their departure from Olympus. “Can I guess what you want from this deal?” he inquires, thought he already knows the answer. “Ambrosia.” It is not a question.
Medea smiles back at him as she directs the dragons in their descent.
“Why does everyone want to be a god?” Ares asks rhetorically.
He does not expect an answer but Medea replies anyway. “I want to be more than just a god. I want to be queen of the gods. And I want you to be my king.”
“What!” Ares says in shock.
The chariot lands in a fallow field covered in dead grass and twisted trees. “ Think about it Ares. Zeus. Hera. Athena. All gone. You and I can be mother and father to a new pantheon,” she says.
“A pantheon that follows the will of Dahak?” he says suspiciously. “But why do you need Gabrielle?”
“Hope can be reborn using Gabrielle,” Medea explains. She steps from the chariot and begins to walk towards a jagged cave mouth carved into one of the hills. “But it can only be done now when her body and soul have been corrupted utterly. When that has been accomplished we will be able to resurrect Hope.”
“And I still don’t see how this benefits me.” Ares walks from the chariot to follow her still unclear of her plans. But as he strides this desolate place he does feel something. A sensation of evil he has not sensed in some time. He cannot place it.
“I’ll have my goddess and you’ll have your Destroyer of Nations,” Medea tells him. “Hope will be reborn in Gabrielle’s body and all will fall to the will of Dahak.” She turns as they near the cave mouth. “Do you begin to see what I am saying my lord Ares?”
Ares finds that he is beginning to comprehend this twisted scenario of Medea’s. King of a new pantheon and co-author of a world under the rule of war and strife. How he would love to see the look on Xena’s face if she could see what will soon befall her precious Gabrielle. He points to the cave. “But how does this fit in?” he inquires. He still fails to see how any of this is relevant to some unknown Olympian.
“Here is to be found one who long ago laid claim to Gabrielle’s blood.” Medea stands with her arms wide as if referencing this place with benediction. “Defeated by Xena and left for dead. But he merely slumbers. Awaiting a new destiny. A new future.” She steps closer and walks into the cave. “Follow me, Ares, and embrace your new destiny.”
She leads him inside and just like outside he can feel the ambient power in the air. And the ambient darkness and evil. A thought comes to him and he actually hopes that he is wrong. But each sight that greets him in the cave only reinforces what he knows is the truth. Scattered about are numerous corpses in various states of decay. All of them are female. In the center of the cavern displayed like an altar in a temple is an immense cauldron setting on a pedestal of rock that has shifted over the years. Its hideous contents are spilled onto the floor. A thick, black ichor is pooled on the floor and some still remains in the cauldron itself. Large quantities of it have dried in a tacky, foul smelling paste. Ares turns from the sight and finds his attention drawn to the far end of the cavern where another corpse lies. This one is male but anyone without prior knowledge if his existence would be hard pressed to guess that from what remains. Cloven feet, horns protruding from his head and enormous teeth speak of its inhuman nature. Medea stands over the heap of bones and rotting flesh looking down at it reverently.
“Bacchus,” Ares says not so reverently.
Medea walks back over to the cauldron and rights it. The stench of the contents are revolting even to him but she seems to not even notice as she examines the interior then nods. “Come, Ares,” she says beckoning him. As he steps closer she draws a dagger and holds it out to him handle first. “Your immortal blood is needed.”
“This had better work,” he says holding out his hand. She smiles as she hands him the blade. He holds his wrist over the cauldron and cuts open his veins. He winces as his blood flows into the cauldron to mix with the dried vitae within. The viscous ichor seems to liquefy as if it is being rejuvenated.
“That’s enough. Step back.” Medea holds out her hands and begins to chant in a strange dialect. Suddenly an unearthly flame appear beneath the cauldron and in seconds the contents are boiling. She walks about the cave in search of something. She returns with a metallic cup that has laid undisturbed for decades. She takes a draft of the still bubbling liquid and walks over to stand over the grotesque corpse. “I beseech your attention for another task, Ares.” She points to the chest cavity. There Ares sees an enormous bone shard protruding between the ribs where one might stand a mortal through his or her heart. He knows what to do. As he pulls the bone free, the decomposing remains shudder as with blasphemous life. Medea smiles when she sees the reaction. Just as she knew to be true, as the voice of her goddess had whispered to her. Bacchus merely slumbers in an unloving torpor. She pours the bloody infusion onto the skeletal face and into the open mouth. Stepping back she holds the cup high and begins her incantation. “Bacchus! God of Wine! Lord of Debauchery! Tyrant of bloody hedonism! Take this! The blood of your veins and your kin! Grow strong once again! Reinvigorate your undying flesh! Feed on immortal blood and be whole once more! Rise up! Be a god once more!”
Ares watches with anticipation as nothing happens. Bacchus does not rise up. His flesh remains a moldering pile of offal. There is no life in him now. Nor will there ever be. He is dead. He turns to intent on making the witch pay for wasting his time. A liquid sphere of destruction forms in his hand. She , however, pays him no heed. Her attention is still on the corpse. He is drawing back his hand to send her to join her deceased goddess in the afterlife when he hears a sound akin to entrails pouring from a gutted warrior. His attention returns to Bacchus and he observes as what had been a jumble of dried blood and viscera resting under the skeletal remains begin to liquefy then writhe around. Muscles start to reform from dried bits of flesh clinging to bone. Organs reconstitute themselves and flesh grows anew. Liquid wells up nowhere to swirl in previously empty eye sockets. The detached jaw bone rejoins the res of the skull and snaps shut loudly. One arm slowly rises up as muscle, sinew and skin once dead reform to immortal life. The mouth opens and closes like Bacchus is trying to speak but the resurrecting god still lacks the necessary organs. Both of the cloven hooves stomp the ground causing the cave to vibrate and rocks to tumble loose from the walls and ceiling. The rejuvenating corpse suddenly stands bolt upright so that its hulking mass towers over both Ares and Medea. The witch, Ares is amused to see, is visibly startled for an instant. She quickly recovers.
Bacchus throws back his head and erupts into a cacophonous howling of unearthly sound that make even Ares take a step back. When his cry is complete, Bacchus stands as tall and as strong as Ares remembers. He had only few occasions in the past to stand in this beast’s presence. Now he remembers why.
The god of wine turns his gaze upon the two beings watching him so intently. He recognizes the god or war but the female is unknown to him. When he speaks his voice sounds thunder and gale force winds. “Where is she? Where is Xena?”
Ares stares at the newly risen god then to Medea. He is in awe of, and bitter unnerved, that even dead Hope has the power to instill an earthly following with the knowledge and ability to do what he has just witnessed.
“He will need to be further rejuvenated with blood,” Medea says aloud.
“ Don’t think you’re going to get any more from me,” Ares states. He tosses the dagger back to her. “Cut yourself if he needs more.”
“Patience, my lord,” Medea says in the most flattering tone she can. She must tread carefully. Even her goddess’s blessing will not save her from Ares should he decide to vent his wrath on her.
“What are you two babbling about?” Bacchus demands. His booming voice shakes the cave like an earthquake. “What is going on? Where is Xena? I will rip her head from her body and drink from her quivering corpse.”
Ares chuckles at the irony. “You’re a little late.”
“Be calm, lord Bacchus,” Medea says. “There is much to explain.”
“Explain to me after I have fed!” Bacchus roars. “I sense that I have been asleep for many years. Bring me blood so that I may grow strong.”
Ares sees Medea stow the dagger into the folds of her gown before it can be seen by the hungry god. He smirks at the knowledge that she doesn’t want to contribute her blood to this endeavor.
Medea holds up a hand. One of her serpents coils around her arm and stares at her. “Go to the village. Bring my lord Bacchus sustenance.” The snake sticks out its forked tongue rapidly before uncoiling from her arm to slither out of the cave.
“Now, Ares,” Bacchus says giving the war god his full attention. “Explain to me why I feel your presence but not any of the others.”
Far to the north, below the vast expanse of the frozen wastes, a lone raven completes its long journey. It descends into a thick wood and wings its way between the trees. It continues until it comes upon a small grove in which rests a huge, vine covered rock that rests within. It lands on the rock and turns its head in all directions as though seeking something. When it cannot find its quarry, it hops into the air repeatedly letting out its angry, baleful cry. It continues for several minutes before it received an answer.
“Herald of Odin,” a voice from nowhere addresses the bird. “Why are you here?” The voice is sad but content in a way that the simple messenger can’t comprehend. It beings screeching loudly once more delivering its message. “She’s in danger?” the voice asks the bird. It screeches a reply. “I don’t know if I’m strong enough.” Confused, the raven cocks its head to one side. It admonishes the voice with its harsh call. “You are right. For Gabrielle…I will try. I would do anything for her.” There is a brief eruption of hear that causes the air around the rock t waver. Then the raven realizes it is alone. It takes wing and is gone from the grove.
Ares watches with a mixture of curiosity and disgust as Bacchus tosses aside the fourth village girl that Medea’s serpents have brought him. Like the previous three Medea drags the unfortunate girl over to the cauldron. Using the cup she dips out a draught of the liquid within and proceeds to pour it into the gapping mouth of the senseless girl. The other three, already Bacchae and adorned in dark clothing, take the girl from Medea. She begins convulsing and screaming wildly as she is led deeper into the cave to prepare her for her new existence.
Bacchus groans in joy as he savors the essence of the girl. Her blood drips from his mouth and stains his teeth. The god of wine mortals call him. Festivals are held in his honor. Theater is performed in his name. How they would fear him if they knew his true nature. That the wine he and his Bacchae drink is indeed the “wine dark vintage of mortal veins.”
The grotesque god leers at Ares. “So we are the last.” He laughs maliciously. “How I would have enjoyed seeing Athena die. It was Zeus’s bastard daughter that banished me from Olympus.”
Ares can’t help but smile. “Ironic that you and I, despised so by our kin, should be the only ones left.”
“Indeed,” Bacchus agrees. “And it allows us the perfect opportunity to bend this land according to our will.”
“And the will of Dahak.” Medea comes to stand beside both gods.
“Correct,” Bacchus says laughing. “Through Gabrielle we will all get what we want.” His laughter echoes throughout the cave.
Gabrielle lays her right hand on the urn containing Xena’s ashes and fights back the cascade of despair she feels building within her. She will not cry. She will be strong. Xena’s urn sits atop the casket that contains the body of her brother, Lyceus. This is where she had wanted to be laid to rest. All around Gabrielle are more caskets containing the remainder of Xena’s family, including her mother, Cyrene, and her younger brother, Tarus. Surrounded by death yet again, Gabrielle thinks. Not for the first time since Xena’s spirit moved on , she wonders if her soul mate has gone on to her next incarnation.
She bows her head and prays that it is so.
“Gabrielle?” a voice from behind her says her name with an inquisitive tone.
Gabrielle draws her katana and wheels around quickly to face…”Eve!” she cries out in a startled voice. While serving Rome she had inquired numerous times throughout the Empire of Eve’s whereabouts but could no find her. To see the woman standing here before is a shock to say the least.
Xena’s daughter, who is ironically Gabrielle’s physical age, rushes forward to embrace her. As she is held her mind is flooded with images of the girl’s past. Her birth at the very instant of Zeus’s death at the hands of Hercules. Holding Eve for the first time. The sadness of having to aid Xena in Eve’s appropriation by Octavian to save her from Athena and the other Olympians. The horror of awakening after being encased in ice for thirty years later to find Eve calling herself Livia, a brutal and merciless Roman general. Joxer being impaled on Livia’s sword. With the onto set of that memory , Gabrielle steps out of Eve’s embrace. A dark part of her soul still can’t forgive Xena’s child for the murder of her dear friend. How easy it is to forget that this is Callisto reincarnated, Gabrielle thinks.
Eve looks over this woman who is so dear to her heart. She is mildly surprised by her manner of dress and appearance. Before she can speak, Gabrielle asks, “What are you doing here?”
Gesturing behind her towards the town she asks a question in response. “Didn’t you notice that the inn and much of the town has been rebuilt? We’ve been restoring Amphipolis for the past year.”
“We?” Gabrielle inquires.
Eve looks a little uncomfortable as she answers. “Virgil and I. Some others. Meg is living here too. She runs grandmother’s tavern.”
Meg and Virgil. Joxer’s wife and son. She remembers watching helplessly, bound and screaming, as Livia rammed her sword into Joxer’s chest with as little care as she would stomp an insect. She physically shudders at the memory. “No,” she says. “I didn’t see. I came in from the east.”
“I see,” Eve says. Then she notices the scar which the collar doesn’t totally obscure. “Oh, my god. What happened to you?” She reaches up to touch the wound but Gabrielle seizes her wrist. That same part of her that can’t quite see past Eve’s past life as Livia doesn’t want the woman to touch her either. She applies more pressure to her grasp than she intends. Eve’s hand quickly turns red but in keeping with her current nature and purpose she makes not attempt to resist or fight. “I’m sorry, “ she apologizes.
Gabrielle, shocked to find she is hurting Eve, releases her. “I was fighting in Gaul,” she explains. “A warrior nearly took my head off.” Unconsciously she strokes the collar protecting her neck.
The part of Eve that still knows what it means it be a warrior is impressed and says, “The collar is a good idea then. Offers some protection.” Her attention turns to the gauntlet. “Still haven’t mastered the Chakrum?” Before Gabrielle can answer she points to the armor. “Wearing that you almost look like her.”
Hearing that is like a physical blow. Gabrielle stumbles backwards colliding with Lyceus’s casket. Images of everything she done in service to Nero’s mad empire rushes through like a whirlwind. It collapses the emotional dam that has been holding back her grief and shame.
The reaction so stirs Eve that she stands motionless as Gabrielle drops the katana and slumps to the floor weeping like a child.
“Gabrielle?” Eve says in shock. She drops to Gabrielle’s side and wraps her arms around her. This time Gabrielle makes no move to move away or stop her.
“If she were alive…” Gabrielle mutters. “…if she were…she would never forgive me…oh, god!. I’m glad she isn’t…alive to see what I’ve become.”
Eve can hardly believe that statement. She has been away in the east since leaving Xena And Gabrielle after what happened in the Amazon village with Varia. She starts to ask what Gabrielle is talking about but is cut off by the response.
“Do you know what I’ve done for the last year and a half?” Gabrielle asks turning her tear stained face to meet Eve’s gaze. “I’ve been a general in Rome.”
The confession stuns Eve. Never in her wildest dreams, or nightmares for that matter, would she have imagined Gabrielle in service to Rome. She and Xena both loathed the Roman Empire so that they had on numerous occasions enmeshed themselves in activities that had but one purpose…to thwart the machinations of that empire.
“I trained their soldier. Led Legions into battle in Gaul, Britannia, Syria and Persia. I even had a praetorian guard for a lover.”
That last statement is the greatest shock. During a fireside chat with her mother one night she had asked about Gabrielle’s past. The subject of Perdicus was discussed briefly. And for such a beautiful woman Eve had been a little puzzled to learn that Gabrielle had not had a single lover since the death of her husband at the hands of Callisto. Eve stutters out a response. “In Heaven’s name why?”
“I thought I could change Rome. Make it better. But the longer I stayed the more I fell in with the ideality of the empire. I became just like Caesar. Like Brutus. Like you were.”
The memory of her life as Livia makes Eve almost sick to her stomach.
“I led troops into the very lands that I had fought alongside Xena and Bodecia to keep from Caesar’s grasp. I had traitors executed for deserting. And each night I was in Rome I rutted in the bed of Sexton Burrus like a whore.”
Eve hopes that the look of horror at that last confession on her face goes unnoticed by Gabrielle. During her life as the Bitch of Rome, as the Amazons had so perfectly put it, she had been with other lovers besides Octavian. Sexton Afranius Burrus was one of them.
“It wasn’t until I saw that Nero had crucified Hebrews and Eli’s followers along the road outside Rome that I realized what I was doing. Even Ares was proud of what I had become!”
Eve feels that she is on the verge of tears now after hearing all of this. She pulls Gabrielle to her feet. “Come on,” she says. “You need to rest.” Gabrielle nods in response. As she leads Gabrielle from the crypt Eve can sense that something wrong. Once whenever she was in the presence of her mother’s soul mate, she could feel only love, strength and compassion emanating from her. Now instead she senses confusion, fear and self-loathing. She silently prays to Eli and all the forces of Heaven that she can in some way aid Gabrielle.
“She’s back,” Ares refers to a black clad woman walking into the cave carrying a slab of stone. She is as pale as marble with blood red orbs set into her eye sockets. A dozen other young women of similar countenance are gathered around Bacchus. Until this evening they were simple village girls. Now they belong to the god of wine. They are Bacchae.
“Set it over there.” Medea points to one especially dark corner of the cave. The Bacchae places the slab where indicated. Then she returns to gather with the others around Bacchus. He laughs loudly, taking time to appreciate the presence of the beautiful women fawning over him. “Go my Bacchae,” he says, pointing to the cave opening. “Hunt. Feed. Kill.”
The Bacchae unanimously cry out like wild animals. With preternatural speed they exit out the cave and into the night. “As they grow in number my strength grows. Soon I shall command an army of Bacchae once more!” Bacchus states aloud.
“What is that?” Ares asks Medea as she kneels over the slab to examine it. She runs a finger over the piece of rubble tracing unseen symbols upon its surface.
“Some years ago there was a pit to Hell that opened under Amphipolis,” she explains as her fingers continue their enigmatic work. “It drove the town mad and led to the death of many including Xena’s mother. It corrupted anyone who came near it and neither her soul nor Gabrielle’s was immune. They may have sealed the riff but the blight on their souls wasn’t completely expunged. That will aid us in our efforts with her. As will this. It is a stone from the courtyard. It still carries any unholy taint. Using that blight I can consecrate an alter to Dahak.”
“You’ve really thought this out,” Ares says. While he will never admit it , he is impressed with the witch’s planning.
“I’ve waited decades to serve my goddess and to welcome her back,” Medea says. “I will not fail in this. Before the sun rises I shall look into the eyes of Hope and receive her blessing in the flesh.”
“Then perhaps we should begin,” Ares proclaims. He turns his attention to Bacchus. “Can you do it now?”
Bacchus sneers. “There is no need to doubt me, Ares. She has known my touch before. She will know it again.” He reaches out with his clawed hand as if to grasp something. His fingers curl in and tightly grip the air as he says in a tone bordering on the orgasmic, “Gabrielle…”
Gabrielle is sitting at a corner table drinking a tankard of water and trying not to look at Meg as the woman goes from table to table talking to her patrons. She has avoided her since arriving with Eve the previous night. She is certain she will break down again if she talks with the woman who is virtually Xena’s double. Despite having slept most of the day away she feels tired again since it is dark once more.
“Gabrielle,” Virgil calls to her as he and Eve enter the tavern. Their proximity to each other tells Gabrielle that the young man may have at last forgiven Eve for what she did and that they have become friends. They sit across from her and he asks, “Feeling better?”
“A little rested,” she replies. “Thanks for letting me stay.”
“It’s as much your home as ours,” Virgil replies.
Gabrielle remembers the last time she had been in Amphipolis. The memory of Mephistopheles crawling around inside her body certainly works against the idea of this place being home. “I won’t trouble you much longer,” she says.
“What? You’re leaving?” Eve asks. “You just got here. Where will you go?”
“Maybe India or Chin,” Gabrielle replies. She is certain no one in Rome knows what she has done. Why would they? Was she not a loyal servant to the Empire? She will avoid Roman held territory regardless.
As she is about to speak again she is seized about the throat by some unseen force that lifts her to her feet and throttles her. As she feels the blood flow to her brain being closed off by this invisible force her vision swims as if she is under water. Around her the inn dissipates to be replaced with a vista that includes a ruined Amazon complete with piles of smoldering debris that looks sickening like bodies heap one on top of the other. She tries to move towards it but finds herself seized and restrained by screaming women in black. Each grabbing a limb that slam her to the ground. As she lies there writhing another woman steps from behind the black pile beyond. Screaming to be let go she struggles with all her might. This new woman is dressed in black as the others. She stands over Gabrielle like a victorious conqueror claiming her spoils. The dark woman kneels down to straddle to straddle her then leans over to stares into Gabrielle’s eyes. It is Xena! But she is horrifically altered. Her eyes drip blood and her hair is a mass of writhing serpents. The monstrous visage twists itself into a smirk so like the real Xena it pains her. The serpents crowning that leering face shoot out to bite her in intimate places. Gabrielle cries out in a voice too much like the child she once was. Xena opens her mouth. All her teeth are misshapen, jagged and as black as obsidian. When she speaks her voice, however, is like a siren’s call. Beckoning with promise and heavy with a seduction that makes her feel hot in the places the serpents are gnawing at. Blood drips from the dark Xena’s mouth as she speaks. “Come to me, my Amazon princess!”
“Gabrielle,” a voice says to her. She opens her eyes to look into the altered face of Xena. She shrieks and back pedals away in terror. Eve is at Gabrielle’s side attempting to calm her as the patrons in the tavern look on in confusion.
“What’s wrong?” Meg asks in a voice that is thankfully nothing like Xena’s.
Gabrielle looks about trying to understand what has just happened. She has never before had a waking nightmare. She sees the people in the room looking at her. They must think she is insane.
“I think she had a seizure,” Eve replies. “Gabrielle?”
“Are you all right?” Virgil asks.
Gabrielle cannot get that horrific image of Xena out of her mind. Her heart is racing and there is a warmth spreading through her that has nothing to do with the heat of the night. It sickens her that some part of her was aroused by what was happening. She pushes Eve aside and gets awkwardly to her feet. With their voices calling her to her Gabrielle stumbles towards the door without saying a word to any of them.
Bacchus laughs. After all these years the bond of blood is as strong as he knew that it would be. He draws back his hand and swings it before him like a backhanded slap.
Gabrielle is almost to the door when something strikes her across the face with ungodly force. It unbalances her and she falls back onto the dust covered floor of the tavern in a heap. But before se can strike the floor she feels as though she is lifted to her feet painfully by her wrists. It takes her a moment to realize that she is bound between two posts in the ground. She pulls hard on the ropes binding her wrists. So hard that the course rope cuts into her hand. What seems an inordinate amount of blood flows from the wounds.
“Gabrielle.” A voice filled with pain calls her name. her eyes seek the source of the voice and she is horrified to find it. Before her a man crawls in the dirt at her feet. He is covered in blood and a trail of thick, glistening gore marks his pained progress to her. A blood stained hand reaches up for her. She looks down at him wishing there was something she could do for him. Then his head rises and his face turns up towards her. She gasps in horror. The face is a twisted amalgamation consisting of the bloodied features of two men ; Perdicus and Joxer!
“Help me Gabrielle,” the Perdicus/Joxer things begs her. Even the voice is a combination of the two men’s.
“And where do you think you’re going?” a woman’s voice that sounds somehow both familiar and alien.
Gabrielle looks up to see yet another horror approaching her. The woman is clad in a ludicrous mixing of plate Roman armor, bits of shining chain mail and dark leather. Her hair is a striped mane of dark and light. But it is her face that makes Gabrielle scream. Like the dying creature before her it’s face is a combining of two ; Callisto and Livia!
The Callsito/LIvia thing pays no heed to Gabrielle’s screaming as she draws a sword from behind her back. She places a boot into the back of the Perdicus/Joxer thing and raises the sword point down before her. The twisted, malignant face looks up at Gabrielle and smiles.
It drives the sword downward and Gabrielle screams again, ”No!”
When the blade impales Perdicus/Joxer he explodes in a fountain of blood that covers Gabrielle from head to toe.
Eve and Virgil are holding her down. She hears the scream that she had begun in the nightmare still echoing in the real world. She thrashes wildly. “Let me go!” she demands. The two of them release her immediately.
“Calm down,” Virgil asks of her.
Gabrielle wipes a hand across her face and looks at it. There is no blood. None. Then why does she feel like her skin is coated with it? Why does she still feel rivulets of the blood winding their way down the courses of her body? She manages to turn her head from Eve and Virgil before she vomits.
Several patrons jump from their seats while some stare it utter disbelief. Meg moves away and tries her best to calm her customers.
“Gabrielle. You aren’t well. Please lie down. I’ll summon a physician.” Eve is worried sick by what she is seeing. Worse still she has no idea what to do. The awful memory of what occurred here years ago rushes unbidden into her mind. Gabrielle writhing manically in a voice not her own.
“I’m fine!” Gabrielle exclaims in a voice that seems to dare them to challenge her words. Their pity is not something she wants right now. She manages to get unsteadily to her feet again and move awkwardly to the door.
Bacchus chuckles once more. He extends his arm forward with a snapping punch.
Gabrielle gets two steps outside the tavern when she doubles over from a crushing blow to her gut that causes her to be sick again. A third image assaults her senses.
She feels the wood against her back , arms and legs. She feels the cold of the snow and high mountain air. She can feel the ropes around her wrists and ankles. Worst on all she can feel the cold iron of the spikes driven through her palms. She is on the cross again! Caesar himself drive the last nail through her feet with glee. He hammer them down to the hilt and laughs as he does so.
She moans is pain as she did that day decades ago. She turns her head to her left in the hopes of seeing Xena once more. She sees only bare, snow covered ground. Caesar grips her face and turns it to face his. “Sorry little girl. Yu die alone this time.” He steps back to admire his handy work. As the cross is raised, she sees that he is not alone to watch her suffering. Caligula and Antony with blood still running from the wounds that killed them point at her and laugh. Crassus and Pompeii holding their severed heads by the hair leer at her with bloodied eyes. And Brutus with blood cascading from where she had cut his throat jeers at her. She turns her head once again looking for Xena. There is another cross beside her but it is not occupied by Xena. Instead it is a doppelganger of her dressed in the long skirt and loose fitting garments she wore when she had first met the warrior princess. This Gabrielle is weeping blood and crying out in the voice of a little girl for her mother. “Mommy! It hurts! It hurts!”
She averts her gaze and finds another cross to her left. This one is occupied by her as well. This Gabrielle is dressed in the short skirt and revealing top she had worn during their early exploits in Greece. She is not nailed to a cross. Instead her arms are broken so to be bound over and around the staff Ephiny had given her upon their departure from the Amazon village. Bone protrudes from the fractured arms and blood seeps out around the wounds. Her face is heavily bruised and one eye is swollen shut. Blood is flowing from her nose and mouth. “Xena! Help me! Xena!” this Gabrielle calls out. As she does blood sprays from her mouth.
She turns her eyes forward to avert her gaze once more and it greeted by another macabre self image. This Gabrielle is naked and her stomach is heavy with child. She has no eyes and her mouth hangs open to reveal black, diseased teeth., Her hair dangles past her feet and is matted with dirt, leaves and blood. Her legs are nearly severed at the knees and hang my shreds of muscle and ligament. Her hands caress the swollen flesh of her pregnant body. She is giggling like a maniac. It takes her a moment to realize that this Gabrielle is not crucified but impaled between her legs! Blood streams down the pole piercing her. Her bloated midsection begins to writhe. Hands press against the flesh from within. Then a face presses there as well smiling in a visage nightmarishly like her own.
“Gabrielle!” Virgil shouts at her.
She is screaming like a mad woman. Eve kneels beside her and embraces her. She begins praying softly and reverently. Meg, Virgil and a few others encircle the two women as Eve asks for aid to Gabrielle’s soul. It takes some time before she is calm enough for Eve and Virgil to get her to her feet. Meg moves away to get some water.
They are moving her towards a table when Eve gasps. “What in Heaven’s name?”
“What is it?” Gabrielle mutters.
“Your neck. You’re bleeding. That wound in your neck has reopened,” Eve explains.
Gabrielle puts her hand to her scarred neck and can indeed feel blood weeping from the wound. She just begins to remember something. An event she thought insignificant in her life with Xena. Something to do with blood. Blood. She remembers all of the blood in each of those waking nightmares. She is just about to come to a startling realization when she faints.
When Bacchus returns his attention to the cave he is smiling with delight. His Bacchae have returned from their night’s hunting. And in that dark corner of the cave Medea has managed to summon a substantial fire from the rock slab. For a moment, the god of wine tries to contain himself but he can’t. Soon he is laughing heartily.
Medea ceases her chanting and turns to him. “You have been successful?” she ask smiling wickedly.
“My hold on her blood is as strong as ever,” he replies. “ As I knew it would be. Soon she will come to us.”
Ares, who is leaning against the cave entrance and staring out into the night, makes a derisive grumble.
“You disapprove of my tactics?” Medea asks. “Having second thoughts?”
“I learned over many years not to underestimate Gabrielle,” Ares says strolling back into the cave. The Bacchae glare at him but when he turns his gaze on them they all flock back to their lord and master. “Everyone applauds Hercules for taking Xena away from me. Saying it was he who removed Xena from the path I’d set for her. But they were wrong.” Ares wanders closer to Medea. He stares at the unnatural flame that burns on the stone for a moment before he continues. “Hercules nudged her off that path. She’d have returned to me eventually If it hadn’t been for that annoying blonde from Poteidaia. I’ve only just come to the realization in the last few years of how strong she is. So many times I nearly had Xena again. But Gabrielle pulled her back. It only now occurs to me that in order to bring Xena back to me I need only have done one thing. Kill Gabrielle.”
As he says he utters that last statement, the flame Medea has conjured blazes higher and brighter for several moments. Ares’ eyes are drawn to it. He studies it for a moment and understands what it truly is. “The Fire of Dahak,” he mutters with some trepidation.
“You need not fear,” Medea says. “Dahak holds no grudge against you for past failures. He is, if nothing else, patient.” Medea’s eyes suddenly go wide and she doubles over retching. She convulses violently and then she is as rigid as a statue. Her mouth opens.
A voice so like Gabrielle’s but filled with hate and rage speaks through Medea though her lips do not move. “But I am not!”
Bacchus stares curiously at the possession. Ares takes a step back. His eyes darting from the possessed witch to the searing fire. “Hope…” he stammers. He recalls the day that Hope’s dream of bringing her father into the world had been thwarted by her mother. He also remembers that he had saved Gabrielle to use as a bargaining chip with Xena but had done nothing to save Hope. A fact he hopes she is unaware of.
“Bring me my mother, War God!” Hope’s voice commands. “I grow tired of this immaterial existence! Bring her to me tonight! And do not fail me again!”
Ares rounds on Bacchus and screams, “What are you waiting for?”
“You’ll have to be patient a little longer,” Bacchus replies.
“My patience is fast evaporating!” Ares says in response.
The two Olympians start at each other in challenge for several moments before Bacchus points to the cave entrance. The smile is again on his face. “Go my Bacchae. You know what to do.”
The Bacchae make a unanimous, high pitched outcry of glee as they exit with unnatural speed and agility. Bacchus sits back onto his throne and closes his eyes. “I will need silence to concentrate. Within the hour she will be here.” He begins to mutter in his rumbling voice.
Ares turns back to Dahak’s fire and beings to contemplate the serious repercussions of what will happen this night.
Gabrielle awakens to the sound of a haunting chorus of voices. It is a song she has heard before. It is, she discovers strangely, a song she has longed to hear for years. A litany of hunger. An aria of desire It fills her with a remembrance of fellowship and belonging. She rises from the bed and sees Eve asleep in a nearby chair. For a moment, she is curious what has brought the Messenger of Eli here.
The moment is gone when she hears the chorus rise into a crescendo. Eve remains slumbering as she does not hear the ethereal voices lifted in song. Swiftly and quietly Gabrielle dresses in her red leather and as she has done so many times out of reflex hooks the chakrum to her side. She makes her way out of the inn and into the town square. There is no one in sight. The full moon is at its apex and Amphipolis is bathed in its soft glow.
Gabrielle looks about fervently searching for the source of the song that calls out to her. At the far end of town she spies a lone figure dancing in time to the song. She jumps and twirls, writhing to the eerie refrain that thunders in Gabrielle’s ears but which is silent to the sleeping town. She finds something familiar in the way the mystery woman moves. It is a seductive movement of her body that is primal and wild. And so as the dancer pirouettes from the streets into some nearby woodlands, Gabrielle follows.
Eve dreams of a time when her faith was tested. Of a time when a messenger of the God Of Eli had come to her. He had asked for her sacrifice. Her blood spilled to stop the living god Caligula. She had agreed without hesitation. Her faith was her life and she would gladly give it up.
Eve dreams of her mother’s rage. Of her mother battling that messenger, the arch angel Michael. Her mother had the power to kill gods and angels. But what her mother did not know at the time was that she was battling the very being that bestowed that gift upon her. And so it was removed.
Eve dreams of the blinding light that stole away the power granted her mother to protect her. Of the arch angel Michael laughing at the arrogance of the warrior princess. But now in this dreams she sees something she had not in that moment before Michael had vanished from sight. She sees the face of the arch angel turn towards her. Sees the fire behind his eyes that had burned in her mother as the god slayer. And she sees that fire leap from his eyes as he vanishes to touch her for an instant.
A rushing of hot air and a breathy voice calling her name awakens Eve. She leaps from her seat seeking the source of the disturbance. She is about to relegates it to a triviality when she sees that Gabrielle is gone. She rushes out of the inn just in time to see Gabrielle enter the woods surrounding the town.
“Gabrielle!”, she calls out. Somehow she is not surprised when there is no response. She starts after her friend and stops abruptly. She turns to look behind her. No one is there. But she is certain she is not alone. She strains her eyes to see anything. And in the moonlight she does see something. A distortion in the air similar to the way air ripples from the heat of a fire.
“Who are you?”, she asks. She extends a hand toward the anomalous form. “I know you are there.”
The shimmering air rushes towards then past her. She is inundated by feelings of love, compassion, redemption and a desire to protect. For an instant, she wonders if it is her mother’s spirit. “Mother?” she even says in a hopeful voice. But something tells her that isn’t possible. She has been certain for some time that her mother’s spirit has moved on. It is only a daughter’s hope that makes her believe in that instant it could be her. “No,” she says. “You’re not Xena. You’re someone else that loves Gabrielle. You want to protect her as you did once before?” she inquires not quite understanding who this is. The shimmering spirit moves off rapidly towards the woods Gabrielle had entered moments before.
Eve turns and looks into the inn. She should wake Virgil. Bring him and others to search for Gabrielle. She does not. Instead following the spirit she runs into the woods.
Gabrielle enters a clearing in the wood and finds the dancer she has been following and the source of the siren call she has heeded. A group of women, girls really, all dressed in revealing clothing that is hardly more than strips of black cloth are dancing and singing in the center of the clearing. Their red, blonde and black locks of hair swish as they twirl about. Their pale limbs are wrapped about each other as they embrace and dance erotically to the melody they sing.
She leans against a tree and watches with fascination as they move their hands suggestively over each other’s bodies in an arousing rhythm. Frequently their lips caress the others in suggestive ways and places that make her recall the first of the waking nightmares. The way that nightmare Xena had touched her in obscene ways. She finds that same warmth she felt then rushing through her. One of the girls stops her dancing when she sees Gabrielle watching them. She separates from the others moving towards Gabrielle with acrobatic grace and poise. With a flourish she bows, as if to a dance partner, then holds out her hand to Gabrielle. Their eyes meets and Gabrielle cannot help but be transfixed by the obsidian gaze. She remembers a night long ago when she had joined a group of girls similarly attired for a dance just as wild and gratifying. How she had felt her blood pumping and her senses grow so acute. She had smelled the sweat on their bodies as they danced. She had seen every movement of each inch of bared flesh.
She takes the girl’s hand and allows herself to be led into the milling group of dancers. When she is among them, they encircle her and begin a new dance. They welcome her to the fold with a new song. This is a hymn to lust and carnal desire that she has heard before. A hedonistic ballad which tells her that self-control and her conscience are unnecessary burdens to be abandoned and forgotten. Their hands caress her with wanton lust. Their eyes leer at her with open desire. She joins the song with her own resonant voice. She joins the dance with her own seductive movements. She feels at home. At peace. She doesn’t take notice as one girl unbuckles her protective collar. Or as another rips it from her armor. She now remembers what it was about the blood weeping from her wound that was familiar. She has been bitten there before.
A blonde presses herself against Gabrielle’s back. She wraps her arms around Gabrielle like a lover. A brunette dances forward to undulate against her chest. Gabrielle sways with the movement of the two she is pinned between. Their bodies pressed against her feels wonderful. The girl behind her turns her head down to press her lips against the scar on her neck. Gabrielle reaches back and wraps one hand around the girl’s neck. The girl before her places her hands on Gabrielle’s chest and leans in close to brush lips with her. Gabrielle puts her other arm around this woman and draws her close. The girl behind her opens her mouth to reveal the enlarger upper canines and sinks her fangs into the fleshing she had just been kissing. The girl before her turns her head and sinks her teeth into flesh on the opposite side of Gabrielle’s neck.
Gabrielle moans in the throes of this blasphemous passion. She feels her blood running down the sides of her neck and onto her chest but doesn’t care. This is what is meant to be. She belongs with them. She needs to be with them. To feel their flesh against hers. A voice cries out her name in horror but she ignores it. The other Bacchae take flight and leave the clearing. With a smile on her face she rises into the air to join them.
Eve comes to the edge of a clearing and is shocked to see Gabrielle singing and dancing amidst a group of scantily clad young women. Before she can react to the situation, two girls pin Gabrielle between them. She watches as the girls kiss Gabrielle before biting her on both sides of her neck. Blood is spilled and she screams, “Gabrielle! No!”
Suddenly Gabrielle and the others soar into the night and disappear over the tops of the trees. “Bacchae,” she mutters in horror. She had read in Gabrielle’s scrolls of their meeting with them long ago. Of how first she then Xena had been turned into those unearthly creatures of the night. Of how they defeated Bacchus in his own lair. Some part of her had hoped and prayed that they might merely been a legend. Merely a tale from Gabrielle’s mind.
Eve leaps into the air and lands on a limb in a nearby tree. With practiced ease, she climbs higher then beings jumping from tree to tree. She manages to keep the flying group in sight. She dashes across the upper branches for what seems like forever until she is nearly exhausted. It is near dawn when the tree line breaks and she drops to the ground among low hills. Her quarry sails over nearly hills and she races off after them. She tops the first hill and watches the group descend through the air to land before a cave in a hillside. They enter the cave and disappear from sight.
Eve runs down the hill and is almost overcome by the foul sensation that boils out of the cave. She falls to her knees and tries not to be sick. The evil that seeps from the cave is unlike anything she has ever felt. It is as pervasive if not more so than the rift to Hell had been opened in Amphipolis. “Eli protect me,” she says. Then she senses two other presences. Close to her she can feel the same spirit that was being drawn to Gabrielle. Looking around she spies the shimmering in the air that denotes the spirit’s presence. The other is within the cave. His very presence disgusts her. She speak his name as if it were a curse. “Ares.”
All eyes turn to the cave entrance as the Bacchae return. The three of them smile when they see that Gabrielle is among them. The Bacchae all move away to stand against the cave walls, leaving Gabrielle in the middle of the cave. Her eyes are blood red. Her skin is pale. And blood covers her chest staining her leather armor. She looks longingly at the other Bacchae but them spots Bacchus upon his throne. She moves towards her lord and master and is taken aback by the strange flame which burns in the corner.
Ares and Medea step from the shadows. The god of war is shocked by Gabrielle’s appearance. He sees the blood. But it is Medea who voices her displeasure. “Bacchus,” she growls. “If she’s been hurt…”
“She’s far more malleable,” the god of wine explains. “Look at her. I don’t think she even recognizes you, Ares.”
Ares makes sure that Gabrielle can see him. The blonde warrior’s gaze passes over him as if he were a complete stranger. He turns to Bacchus and smiles. “I do believe you’re right.”
Medea stands before Gabrielle and places her hands on the young warrior’s shoulders. “Hello, Gabrielle,” she greets her. “I have longed to meet you. I am Medea. High Priestess of the goddess Hope. Your daughter.”
Some recognition flashed in her eyes and Gabrielle backs away, her eyes staring at the Fire of Dahak.
“No,” Medea says. “It’s all right. There is no need to worry. It…” her voice trails off as she feels a tangible presence enter the atmosphere of the cave. The place seems to vibrate with an otherworldly power she has never experience before. “What is that?” she asks.
A young woman with dark hair dressed in the simple clothes of a villager enters. Medea knows it cannot be real but she is sure the miniscule amount of light in the cave has gotten brighter.
“Ares!” the woman bellows in rage.
Ares reacts as though he has been hit. “Eve!” he cries out in shock.
“Perfect!” Bacchus exclaims with a laugh.
“What?” Medea and Ares reply in unison.
“You need Gabrielle corrupted body and soul,” Bacchus replies. He points to Eve and says, “Here is the instrument to complete that task.”
Medea backs away from the newly turned Bacchae Gabrielle as Eve approaches. There is a power in the girl she cannot abide being close to. It hits her in waves. She feels ill from it. Even the Fire seems diminished by this Eve’s very presence.
Eve moves closer to Gabrielle. She is not entirely sure what has happened to her. It terrifies her that she may be too late and her friend has been turned into one of the creatures that serves the horrible god who holds sway here. She reaches out a tentative hand towards her friend’s shoulder.
“Look, Gabrielle! It’s Livia!” Bacchus proclaims pointing with clawed hand to the woman behind Gabrielle.
Gabrielle snaps her head around to glare over her shoulder at this newcomer and snarls loudly. Eve is horrified to see Gabrielle staring at her with eyes that are as red as blood. Her open mouth reveals two enlarged upper canine teeth that gleam maliciously.
Eve holds up her hands reflexively. “Gabrielle,” she says in a clam, soothing voice. “It’s me, Eve. Xena’s daughter.” Bacchus chuckles. The sound holds no hint of joy or happiness. Just evil. Eve turns her attention to Ares. “Why are you doing this? Is your love for Xena so obsessive that you will try to conquer anything of hers? It was never meant to be. Why can’t you understand that? Xena was never yours. I was never yours. Gabrielle will never be yours. Stop this insanity. I know that you understand the evil here.” Her eyes dart to the flame. Again she recalls reading Gabrielle’s scroll. More terrible than any god of Greece or elsewhere was the entity known as Dahak. Once when she had asked Gabrielle about Dahak , her mother’s companion had simply looked at her ad walked away from the campfire they were sharing. Her mother had advised her no to bring up the subject again. She too remembers the pained look that would come over Gabrielle’s face anytime the word “hope” was aid. “You know what it is capable of.” Her face softens. Her tone is calm once more. “Please. Don’t do this.”
Ares stares at her. He looks to the Fire, then back to Eve. Can it be true? He asks himself. Is it just my damned ego and Xena’s constant refusal that is causing me to do this?
“Once before you sacrificed your godhood to save Gabrielle and I,” Eve says. There is a pleading look in her eyes. “Was that just a mistake? Or are you truly so bitter and evil that you would ally yourself with that?” She point to Medea and the Fire.
Ares’ stern features twist with conflict. “You don’t understand. You can’t understand. I am Ares. I will not just slip away into oblivion.”
Eve understand now. He is alone now. He escaped the Twilight. Aphrodite must be gone. And Bacchus isn’t even kin in his mind. Alone he feels that he will drift into obscurity and be forgotten. In him she can see the conflict of warring emotions. Survival versus morality. Before she can speak to him more, Bacchus roars.
“She killed Amazons!”
Saliva drips from one of Gabrielle’s fangs.
“Don’t listen to him,” Eve pleads.
“She killed the followers of Eli!”
Gabrielle begins to slowly turn. Her body sways rhythmically. Her head tilts to one side as she studies Eve curiously.
“Stop this,” Eve says both demanding it of Bacchus and begging it of Ares.
Medea smiles. Something is about to give.
“She killed Joxer!”
Gabrielle moves with superhuman speed and slams Eve to the ground. She growls like an animal.
“No,” Eve pleads.
“Yes!” Medea exalts.
Gabrielle drives her fangs into Eve’s neck. She wails and wrights as she feels her lifeblood being drained by her friend. The Fire of Dahak erupts and baths the cave in its crimson glow. Ares watches the two women on the cave floor and smiles with triumph and satisfaction. All doubt is gone. Bacchus rises from his throne clapping. Gabrielle unclamps her mouth from Eve’s neck and throws back her head to unleash a howl that should come from a rabid, wild beast and not a human being. Medea convulses and goes rigid again. She welcomes the intervention of her goddess. She walks to where Gabrielle kneels over he senseless Eve. She extends her arms to Gabrielle. Her mouth opens and a voice issues forth, “Well done, mother.” The Fire becomes an inferno behind her. “Now, Bride of Dahak. Come to me so that I may live again.”
Gabrielle stands over Eve and looks towards the possessed sorceress. She hardly feels any sense of herself anymore. Just a dark, bloody rage that wants nothing more than to consummate the malevolent nature she has been nursing since the departure of Xena’s soul.
Bacchus looks down at Eve’s body and wonders what it was about her that so disturbed Ares and Medea. She feel easily enough to his Bacchae.
Ares watches as Gabrielle walks slowly to Medea’s waiting arms. In mere moments it will all be over. “Are you watching Xena?”
There is a rush of super heated air and a brief explosion in the area between Medea and Gabrielle. Brunnhilda materializes from nowhere. She tackles Gabrielle and the two of them slam into the group of Bacchae standing against the wall.
Eve opens her eyes and stares up at Bacchus. Her eyes are neither blood red nor pitch black . After being bitten by Gabrielle this woman should be in the throes of her transformation into a Bacchae. But her eyes are blue. Just as they should be. “What?” Bacchus blurts out. “Why aren’t you a Bacchae?” Eve stands and the god of wine blinks when he sees the aura that surrounds her. “This is impossible! What power do you possess that can balk mine?”
“A power you can never understand, Bacchus,” she states. The dream replays in her mind again. The eyes of Michael on her. The power to kill gods burning within him reaching out t touch her. And she knows what to do. She reaches out and lays her hand on his chest. There is an explosion of light and Bacchus is hurled against a far wall.
Medea stares down at Gabrielle and this mysterious interloper. She turns her gaze then to Ares and Hope’s voice screams, “Kill her!”
Ares rushes, sword drawn, towards the two blond women.
The valkyrie holds the writhing Gabrielle as tightly as she can. Her beloved friend hisses and snarls at her. Brunnhilda sees both the Bacchae and Ares closing in on her. But she can do nothing to stop them. It took every bit of her energy to become corporeal and stop Gabrielle from embracing the witch. It amazes her beyond all reason that she had the strength to do it at all. But then Gabrielle had always lent her a strength that she could not fathom. But now she has no strength to fight. The Bacchae seize her and drag her away from Gabrielle. Ares closes on her and draws back his sword to run her through with it. She turns her gaze to the almost inhuman face of Gabrielle. A face she still loves above any other. I wanted to save you but I couldn’t, she thinks. As Ares sword begins to drive forward, she prays, “Odin protect us.”
There is a detonation of thunder and lightning between Brunnhilda and Ares. “Enough!” a thunderous voice proclaims. At the same time, spheres of burning hot light arc out and engulf all the Bacchae except Gabrielle and reduces them to piles of bone and gore. Ares is thrown to the ground. And all eyes turn to the source of the disturbance. Standing in battle armor with sword in hand is Odin, All-Father of the Norse Gods.
Ares stares in disbelief. Medea and Eve are shocked. Brunnhilda races to embrace Gabrielle tightly to keep her from running to Medea. Bacchus roars in defiance, “You dare come here, Norse God!” Like an enraged animal he charges Odin.
Odin turns to face Bacchus just as the god of wine gets to within striking distance. The Aesir hammers Bacchus to his knees with a punch that reverberates through the came and causes dust and rocks to rattle free of the walls.
Ares watches in stunned silence as this most loathsome of the Greek gods laid low with a single punch. The god of war is not stupid and he realizes that with the arrival of the most powerful god in this part of the world, their cause is now hopeless. No matter how powerful Medea thinks she is, backed by the might of Hope and Dahak, they will not prevail. He scrambles to his feet and races for the cave entrance determined that this insanity he has foolishly allowed himself to be a part of will not claim him. He survived the Twilight, he will not meet his end here at the hands of the very being who golden apples his godhood to him. As he reaches the cave opening, he glances back to look at Gabrielle. The blonde warrior is enraged and trying to fight off the woman who appeared out of thin air moments before.
He runs out of the cave and concentrates his power to begin his travel to Olympus. But his efforts are disrupted by the sounds of hoof beats. He turns around and is hit then trampled over by a white horse that has descended from the sky! Ares swears loudly as he gets to his feet. A red haired woman in silver armor and a winged helmet dismounts and draws a sword from her saddle scabbard. “Going somewhere, Warmonger?” Grinhilda inquires as she rushes in to assault him. Ares barely gets his sword up in time to block her strike. She attacks like a berserker but all her blows are precise and in no way random. Ares fends off her attack with only instinct and survival in his mind.
He finds that as he defends himself, he is being driven back into Bacchus’ cave. “What the…” Ares exclaims as he battles the leader of Odin’s Valkyries.
“Are you stark, raving mad, Ares?” Grinhilda shouts as he continues her unrelenting assault. “Or just stupid? Michael told you she is no longer your concern!”
First Eve. Then that blonde. Then Odin. Now this woman. How many gods and demigods are there that watch over Gabrielle? Of course he knows that she may be right. He may indeed be mad or stupid. But it’s better than the alternative, he thinks. I will not just go quietly into nothingness, like Aphrodite. Around him he can hear screaming and the sounds of combat. He is once more inside the cave. Fine, he thinks. Destiny seems to desire that I fight here for my existence. So I shall. He seizes upon his anger and uses it to fuel his strength.
Brunnhilda knows that she is losing. Her transformation into a Bacchae has granted Gabrielle supernatural strength. She can still hear the witch speaking in a voice that doesn’t belong to her. “Come to me mother.” The voice issuing forth from Medea’s lips is dripping with malevolence and passion. “I can ease all your pain. You don’t have to suffer anymore.”
And with one sweep of her arm, the Bacchae Gabrielle removes the obstacle that stands between her and Hope. Her mind a boiling cauldron of blood and rage, she slams Brunnhilda to the ground. She stands and stares at Medea holding out her arms, writhing with serpents, the hellish fire of Dahak behind her.
“I am your destiny, Gabrielle,” the voice of Hope calls out to her. The empty and dark emotions within her say that the voice of her daughter speaks the truth. “I have always been your destiny. You were born to bring me into the world.”
Gabrielle steps forward and Brunnhilda is too weak now to do anything but scream. “No! Gabrielle!”
Bacchus rises from his knees with blood streaming from his eyes, nose and mouth. He doesn’t care about the pain. All he wants is to destroy this upstart god who would dare to interfere in his affairs. But while he may be an Olympian he has never been a fighter. He has never had to be, thanks to his power and his Bacchae. And driven by his own blood rage he is truly even less of a threat to a god who has known war and combat since the day he first came into existence. Besides, Odin already knows the day of his death. This is not it. As the wine god slashes at him with huge talons, Odin back steps then slams the pommel of his sword into the side of Bacchus’ face. The immortal bones of his face shatter under the impact and his left horn is broken off at the base. Bacchus crumples to the ground once more and the Aesir kicks him savagely.
Bacchus cannot help but be amused. Odin can do as much damage as he likes but he cannot kill the god of wine. Thanks to a bargain struck with Cronus long ago only a Bacchae can kill him. And while Xena had the willpower to overcome her transformation into a Bacchae there is no warrior princess here to defeat him. He laughs as he rises to his feet once more. He did not come back from to lose to the likes of this Norse fool.
Eve, looking down at the hand she touched Bacchus , wonders what just happened. She isn’t entirely sure why she had done that. It just felt like the right thing to do. She turns her attention from Odin and Bacchus to the cave entrance to see Ares battling a woman clad in silver. The woman’s face is etched with resolve while Ares looks almost mad. Then a piercing scream draws her attention back to the reason she came to the cave originally. The woman who had materialized before is lying on the cave floor, seemingly too exhausted to even rise, reaching out and screaming Gabrielle’s name. The sensation of love and anguish coming from the stranger is unlike anything she has ever felt. For an instant, she realizes this must be what her mother had felt that day in the temple when she had said the words, “Eli. Save my daughter for I cannot.” The woman is mere inches away from whom she loves most but is helpless to do anything. Eve races towards Gabrielle who is moments from taking Medea’s outstretched arms and loosing an unparalleled evil upon the world.
As Gabrielle takes Medea’s hand, the serpents around her arms uncoil and sink their fangs into her flesh. “In my name and in the name of my father, I claim my mother’s flesh for my own. Now and forever!” the voice of Hope intones.
In that same instant Eve reaches Gabrielle. She lays her hands on her friend’s shoulders and prays, “In the name of Eli and all the powers of Heaven, I cast this evil back to the dark void from whence it came!”
Gabrielle awakens into a darkness dripping with blood. “Where am I?” she howls in rage. She can still taste Livia’s blood in her mouth. She casts her gaze about for her prey. She longs to wrap her hands around her neck and strangle the life from the bitch of Rome.
“She is the daughter of Xena. And her name is Eve,” a strangely, familiar voice whispers in her ear. A flicking light illuminates the darkness. Gabrielle turns to the light and comes face to face with herself clad in robes of crimson and black.
“Hello, Mother,” Hope says.
Bacchus surges to his feet once more this time throwing himself at Odin with all his might. His shoulder collides with the Aesir’s mid-section and they go to the ground. Odin’s sword slips from his grasp and he finds his opponent atop him. Bacchus seizes him about the throat and beings to squeeze.
Grinhilda increases her efforts to defeat Ares. She takes a two-handed grip on his war blade and begins to hammer at his defense. She thinks she may have the upper hand when Ares drops down to avoid a decapitating strike. He sweeps out with his legs and takes hers out from under her. She falls flat on his back. Before she can react in any way, Ares drives his sword into her. The stab shatters her left collar bone and essentially destroys her shoulder joint as it pins her to the cave floor. Ares smirks as he stands staring down at her. She is still staring at him defiantly when he stomps down onto her head rendering her unconscious.
Brunnhilda watches helplessly as these two women, one a messenger of light and the other a harbinger of darkness, wage war for the soul of Gabrielle. The warrior bard that she loves more than her own existence trembles violently. She wants to help but is too weak. She can barely even move. Though she knows it is in vain she reaches out again towards Gabrielle. With horror she sees that her hand is transparent. She is beginning to fade back into a non-corporeal state. “No,” she mutters. “I’m sorry, Gabrielle. I failed you.”
Gabrielle is confused. She looks about like a trapped animal. “It’s all right, mother,” Hope says. The fires of Dahak burn lot and bright behind her. Hope knows that soon she will be able to work her father’s will on Earth. “This is how it was meant to be. As I said, this is what you were born to do. I was the reason you were conceived. Your life led up to the moment you killed the priestess in my father’s temple. Since that day I have been a blight that has corrupted your soul further and further. You couldn’t stop it. Xena couldn’t stop it. Nothing could stop it. You thought I was dead but I am always with you. Corrupting your soul more and more. And now that the corruption of your body mirrors that of your soul it is finished. Come to me.” She opens her arms to embrace Gabrielle. “Let us become one. Become the Destroyer of nations that Ares and my father both desire.”
Hearing Hope’s words and knowing them to be true, Gabrielle steps forward to embrace her daughter.
Bacchus is reveling in his victory when he realizes that he cannot hold the Norse god. Odin reaches up and simply pulls Bacchus’ hands from his throat. He seizes the thing before him by his own throat. He rises to his feet then slams Bacchus to the floor with the force of an earthquake. Bacchus feels his body explode in pain. He did not think it possible to hurt this much.
Odin steps back. Bacchus doesn’t care about the pain. He will kill Odin! He staggers to his feet and moves forward with his claws outstretched. Odin stomps on the ground, a move that puts his sword in reach. “Time to end this,” he says. He swings the sword in a tight arc before him. Bacchus’ head slips from his shoulders and fall to the ground. For a moment the headless body of the wine god stands erect as though unaware it has been decapitated. Then it falls.
Ares pulls his sword from the valkyrie. He prepares for the final blow but hears a sickening thud behind him. He turn to see Odin facing away from him and standing over the decapitated body of Bacchus. That’s impossible, he thinks. Only a Bacchae can kill him. But is doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Odin’s back is to him.
Gabrielle is about to embrace her daughter when she feels a hand on her shoulder. With that simple touch the bloody darkness dissipates. Her hate, her rage melt away in a wave of love. All the evil she has felt welling up in her heart is driven away by a light which emanates from behind her. The Fire of Dahak erupts and seems to take on some kind of amorphous shape in challenge to whatever has arrived.
Gabrielle steps back and looks to see who is behind her. “Eli,” she says in shock at seeing the Avatar with his hand on her shoulder.
“Hello, Gabrielle,” the bearded man wearing robes that seem made of light greets her then embraces her.
“What’s happened?” she asks. “I felt such hate and darkness. Oh, my god. Eve? Is she all right?”
Eli smiles. “My messenger is fine,” he replies. “Bacchus is dead. His claim on your blood is forfeit. Your body is no longer tainted by his corruption.”
“No!” Hope cries out. “She is mine. She renounced your way of love long ago.”
Eli turns his attention to Hope. And while Gabrielle’s daughter does not react to him, the Fires of Dahak seem to shrink back and diminish. “Her path is different from mine. But it is still a path on the Way. She renounced my way of love to save the one she loved the most. She made a sacrifice that cost her dearly but that gives you no claim on her.”
“I will not accept this!” Hope shouts. “I have suffered too much. You will be mine!” Hope rushes forward but is blocked when another materializes between them. Michael holds his sword before him and Hope stops just short of impaling her throat on the blade.
“It’s over!” the archangel proclaims. Since Medea’s appearance on Olympus he has awaited the time when he could enter this battle. And at last with Gabrielle’s soul free of Bacchus and Hope’s taint he can act. The Fires of Dahak seem to flicker with rage at the angel’s presence. Michael draws back his sword to strike.
“Michael! No!” Gabrielle exclaims.
The black winged angel turns in surprise to her. He meets her determined gaze then looks to Eli. The Avatar nods. Michael lowers his blade and steps away.
“I’m sorry, Hope,” Gabrielle says.
“You’re sorry?” Hope says dumbfounded. “Oh, please. I don’t care. You think that this has anything to do with our relationship?” The Fires of Dahak grow once more and begin to take on some blasphemous form that defies explanation and reality.
“You’ve been saying I was born for the sole purpose of giving birth to you,” Gabrielle replies. “So, yes. I think it is about our relationship.”
“You’re pathetic, mother!” Hope spits out the last word like it was a curse. Then she lashes out with her power sending Gabrielle to the ground and pinning her there. Eli and Michael remain silent and still. Dahak’s unworldly laughter fills the space in which they stand. “I don’t give a damn about ’us’, do you hear!”
“I do. You say you’ve suffered. So have I. And what we have both suffered has been my fault. All the pain we’ve both endured is my fault alone.”
“Spare me your preaching!”
“I betrayed Xena. Do you understand that? I betrayed my soul mate time and time again for you. In Britannia right after you were born, I ordered Banshees to attack Xena. In that moment I wanted Xena to die! Because I wanted you to live!”
“Shut up! You abandoned me! Left me floating on a river. If a wandering group of traders hadn’t found me and brought me to the centaurs I probably would’ve drifted into the ocean.”
“Xena would’ve killed you. So I lied to her. And then when I found you again I was so happy.”
“You’re lying! You hardly even took notice of me until I killed Xena’s brat! And what did you do? You poisoned me! Murdered your own daughter! Then you were too cowardly to take your own life!”
“Because I knew I would face retribution from Xena. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to suffer for what I had done to you.” The invisible force holding Gabrielle down weakens.
“What?” Hope stammers.
“You’re right,” Gabrielle continues. “My soul was corrupted. Because of what I did to you. When you returned again, I decided I was going to stop you but that I was going to die with you.” The force holding her down is too weak to hold her and she rises to her feet.
“No!” Hope says. “I won’t believe this!”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t feel pain for it all.” Gabrielle steps forward. She stands face-to-face with her mirror image daughter. “ I’ve suffered the guilt, the pain and the betrayal in my heart and soul every day since that day in Britannia when I gave you up. I named you Hope. I did everything I could for you. Everything to make your name your reality. I failed.” Tears are streaming down Gabrielle’s face as she speaks. “ I tried my best and I failed as a mother.” She holds out her arms. “Please forgive me.” She encircles her daughter in her embrace.
Eli smiles as the atmosphere around them explodes in an ethereal light that would be blinding to any physical eyes. Dahak roars in impotent rage as the malevolent force knows what has happened. As the light fades Gabrielle still clutches onto Hope. But both are transformed. Gabrielle’s soul, purified by the love and compassion for her daughter, has been transfigured into the angelic form she held once long ago in Heaven. Hope’s soul, purged of the inhuman aspect of her birth by her mother’s desire to atone, has become the blond child she should have been. Both are crying.
“I’m sorry.” Gabrielle kisses her daughter’s forehead and smiles.
“ Mother,” Hope mutters as she sniffles. “I killed them. The centaurs. Solon. All those horrible things I did.”
“Shh…” Gabrielle says patting her daughter’s head. “It’s all right.”
The Fires of Dahak surges forward intent on engulfing them all her on this metaphysical plane. But Eli steps between them with his arms outstretched. And the Dahak is balked by the Avatar that is anathema to its very essence.
Gabrielle wipes the tears from her daughter’s eyes and kisses her forehead. To her right, the atmosphere changes and it parts like an eye opening. Mother and daughter turn to look. Beyond it they see a small boy no older than Hope herself. He is familiar to them both. Behind him are green fields bathed in warm, soothing light. The boy looks to Gabrielle with a smile then turns his eyes to Hope. The young girl is shocked when the boy extends an inviting and welcoming hand to her.
Hope turns her eyes up to Gabrielle and hesitates for a moment. Then asks, “Can I?”
Gabrielle smiles as tears stream down her face. More than anything she wants to spend time with her daughter. To be the mother she always thought she would be. But Hope’s time on this world is long past. And it would be selfish to deny her the peace she deserves. “Yes. Of course you.”
Hope sees the trepidation in Gabrielle’s eyes. “Will I see you again?”
It is a question Gabrielle cannot readily answer. She has already seen some of her future in India. She knows that like Xena her soul will be reincarnated once perhaps numerous times. But she cannot believe the same power that brought her and Xena back from the dead would deny her the joy of seeing her daughter again. “Yes. You will.”
Hope smiles and Gabrielle knows a joy she didn’t think possible. Hope hugs her tightly once more then walks forward. She looks back over her shoulder one last time. “I love you, mommy,” she says.
“I love you, too,” Gabrielle replies, still crying with joy . Hope takes the boy’s hand and he leads her into the beautiful fields beyond. The opening disappears. Though only a boy when he died Xena’s son is possessed of a strength she could not have imagined. Through Illusia he brought the two of them back together after a rift of lies and rage nearly tore them apart. Now he has given peace and friendship to the very person who murdered him. “Thank you, Solon.”
Gabrielle stands to her feet, the wings sprouting from her back unfolding and glistening in the light produced by Eli, Michael and herself. The Fire of Dahak roars in defiance.
“Your anchor to the world of the living is gone!” Michael shouts.
“The corruption you planted in my soul all those many years ago is gone!” Gabrielle tells the evil that violated her and produced her daughter.
“Hope is your daughter no more!” Eli says in calm and soothing voice that Dahak finds as abhorrent as anything else it has heard.
The three of them join hands and as one they begin to chant. “In the Name of Heaven! Return to the void from whence you came!” The Fire roars in impotent fury at the three.
“In the Name of Heaven! Return to the void from whence you came!”
The Fire squirms as though in pain.
“In the Name of Heaven! Return to the void from whence you came!”
The Fire begins to diminish.
They intone the exorcising words once more. “In the Name of Heaven! Return to the void from whence you came!”
The Fire tries to fight back but an instant later it is sucked away , indeed, back to the void from whence it came.
Still crying, Gabrielle looks at the armor of Heaven she is clad in and the black wings sprouting from her back. “Now what?” She asks Michael and Eli. “Does this mean my time on earth as Gabrielle is over?”
“I think not.” Eli smiles as he lays a comforting hand on her shoulder.
Michael waves a hand and an image appears in mid-air. In this vision she see herself between Medea and Eve. And lying not far from them is…”Brunnhilda, she gasps. After their adventure in the North had ended she never thought to see the woman again. It sends a sudden jolt through her heart to see the valkyrie again. But as she studies the image it appears that Brunnhilda is partially invisible. “What’s happening to her?”
“She summoned every ounce of her being to become corporeal again in order to help you,” Michael answers.
“Her love for you is that strong,” Eli says.
“But now she is fading away.” Michael continues. “Not into a non-corporeal existence but into nothingness.”
“No,” Gabrielle says. She thinks of the loss she has felt since Xena’s departure. It is that sense of loss and despair that aided in Medea’s plan. She cannot give into it again but neither can she contemplate the idea of Brunnhilda ceasing to exist. She takes in the rest of the scene. Odin standing over Bacchus’ decapitated corpse. At the cave entrance, Grinhilda lay bleeding. And there is Ares staring intently at Odin’s vulnerable backside. She wonders if Odin could die if Ares stabbed him in the back. She also remembers that Odin has not exactly been her friend in the past. But clearly he is here to help. “I can’t let this happen.”
“I didn’t think you could,” Eli says smiling broadly. “Now listen carefully. Here is what you must do…”
Medea cries out in loathing as the Fire of Dahak is extinguished and the slab of stone that had held it cracks in half. Her outcry dies on her lips when she focuses on what now stands before her. Gabrielle is no longer a Bacchae. Instead Medea, along with Eve and Brunnhilda, see Gabrielle in her angelic glory. Eve can feel the power of the Heavens flowing through her hands where they now rest between her friend’s wings. Brunnhilda gasps seeing the awesome sight of the warrior bard as an arch angel. It would never have occurred to her that Gabrielle could be more beautiful. It almost hurts her eyes to look upon the object of her affections.
Gabrielle shoves Medea back towards the wall with one hand while sweeping her other arm out as she turns around knocking Eve aside. She dives toward Brunnhilda’s fading form praying that Eli is right.
She grasps the valkyrie’s hand and in an instant releases the glory she has regained into the woman. There is a loud impact to the air like thunder without sound. Brunnhilda screams in a mixture of pain and joy as the very essence of Heaven residing in the arch angel Gabrielle courses through her every bone, muscle and organ. Then it is over. Gabrielle is once more in her red leather armor and Brunnhilda is once more flesh and blood. Gabrielle is weak as a newborn kitten but knows there is one last thing she must do. She unhooks the chakram from her belt and remembering vividly all the times she had seen Xena use the weapon, throws it with all her might towards the far cave wall.
Ares is momentarily distracted by Medea’s screaming. He stares in disbelief as Gabrielle is transformed and Dahak’s fire goes out. He observes that Odin is distracted as well and has yet to notice him. He closes in for the kill.
Medea reels. Her magic is gone. The triumvirate branded tattoo on her chest evaporates from her flesh. And there can be only one explanation. An impossible explanation. Hope is dead! “No!” she screams. She sees Eve, this woman who has thwarted her heart’s desire, lying before her. She draws her dagger. “Bitch!” She moves towards this woman who has ruined her destiny. She was to receive the blessing of her goddess! She was to be the queen of the gods! “Die!” She raises the dagger.
Gabrielle’s chakram impacts the far wall and after rebounding off splits into it two components. One half deflects off the walls two more times then hurls straight towards Odin. He leans back out of its path and it thuds into Ares’ chest. The god of war stumbles barely keeping his balance. Odin puts the point of his sword to his foe’s throat. “Coward. Drop your sword.” His disgust of the Greek god is evident in his voice and tone. Ares growls his anger at this humiliation. But does indeed drop his sword.
The second half deflects off of every wall in the cave before burying itself between Medea’s breasts. The dagger slips from her grasp and falls to her knees. She stares at the weapon imbedded in her with confusion. The she pulls it out. Blood flows from her chest in torrents. She opens her mouth to speak or scream or to curse everyone. But no sound issues forth as she falls with a thud unto her side. Medea, daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, wife of Jason and priestess of Hecate and Hope. Is dead.
To the surprise of Eve, Gabrielle and Brunnhilda, who witnesses the witch’s death, as she falls back two small forms appear to both sides of her. They are indistinct but Gabrielle is sure they are children. Both of them turn their misty eyes to the warrior-bard and say, “Thank you,” before vanishing.
“What was that?” Brunnhilda asks.
“Jason and Medea’s children,” Eve answers as she get to her feet and studies the macabre scene about them. “She murdered them out of hatred of Jason. She’s held their soul in bondage all this time. Now that she’s dead, they’re free to move on to the Elysian Fields.”
“Just like Hope,” Gabrielle smiles. She stands to her feet and extends her hand to Brunnhilda.
“Who’s Hope?” Brunnhilda asks. She takes Gabrielle’s hand and were she to try to she could not express the happiness she feels at being able to touch the bard again.
Gabrielle chuckles. “I’ll tell you later.”
Eve picks up one half of the chakram that killed Medea. She looks at Brunnhilda and Gabrielle as they continue to hold each other’s hands. “You gave up your glory for her,” Eve states.
“In the past I’ve sacrificed for the people I love,” Gabrielle says looking from Eve to Brunnhilda.
“Thank you.” Brunnhilda smiles and still feels a little giddy at having a body once more.
Grinhilda regains consciousness and curses herself for letting Ares get the better of her. The pain in her shoulder is excruciating. She holds a hand tightly against the wound to stop the flow of blood. There will be time to heal it later. She spots Ares under guard from Odin and makes her way over to him.
“Are you all right?” Odin asks with some concern.
She looks at her bloody shoulder. “I may not be wielding a sword for a while but I’ll be fine.” They are soon joined by Gabrielle, Eve and Brunnhilda. She smiles at her fellow valkyrie. Odin had told her what Brunnhilda had done to save the ring and Gabrielle.
Gabrielle looks at Bacchus’ body. “I thought only a Bacchae could kill him,” she says in confusion.
“That would be the case if he was a god,” Eve begins. She looks at the hand she had touched the Olympian with and recalls the dream once more. “But when I touched him I took that from him . He was nothing but a monster when Odin killed him.”
Ares is suddenly filled with fear as he gazes at Eve.
A flash of light and Michael is among them. “It is a gift, Eve,” he says. “I gave it to you when sadly your mother proved no longer worthy of it. It is different from hers because you are not meant to kill. Use this gift wisely. And I hope you never have to use it again.” He turns his attention to Odin. “You were told not to interfere.” he exclaims pointing at Odin.
“I did not interfere in Gabrielle’s affairs,” Odin retorts. “I was merely helping one of my own.” He nods towards Brunnhilda. “One of my valkyries asked for my aid and I gave it. And Bacchus did attack me.”
Michael looks at him incredulously then bursts out laughing, realizing that he has been outwitted. He is still laughing when he vanishes from sight.
“Was it worth it, Ares?” Gabrielle asks the god of war who has caused her so much pain and tribulation over the years
Ares tries to seem uninterested but is distracted for a moment as Odin pulls the chakram half from his chest and hands it to Eve. He gasps in pain. That is the second time in days that Xena’s weapon has drawn his blood. He’s getting tired off it. Not for the first time he wishes he had never presented I to the warrior princess.
“Was all the pain and suffering you and Medea caused tonight worth trying to have me as your ’Destroyer of Nations’. Was it?” Gabrielle demands.
“Please,” Ares begins saying. “You can’t understand. It’s all gone. I’m the last. I just wanted to continue as I always have.”
“You’ve given me this speech before,” Gabrielle reminds him. She doesn’t remind him of when. She doesn’t need to. Eve reminds him anyway.
“Murderer of Eli,” Eve says biting back the spite in her voice. “Tell me why I shouldn’t.”
Ares keeps his composure as she speaks. “I’m the last. I refuse to give in to the inevitable. I survived the Twilight. I exist where all the others are now gone.” His eyes to go Bacchus’ rapidly decaying corpse. Then he fixes his stare on Gabrielle and Eve. “And besides, you owe me. If it weren’t for me neither of you would be alive.”
“You’re not fit to be a god,” Brunnhilda informs him.
“But he’s right,” Eve says. She eyes her one time mentor. “Debt repaid. But if you ever do something like this again. I will find you.”
Odin lowers his sword. “Leave now before I decide to kill you regardless.”
“Ares,” Gabrielle says. “I don’t ever want to see you again in this lifetime.”
Ares disappears without another word.
Odin sheathes his sword and puts his arm around the wounded Grinhilda.
“Michael told you to stay away from me?” Gabrielle asks.
“Yes,” Grinhilda replies. “But we learned what Ares and Medea were planning.”
“So you told me…” Brunnhilda begins.
“With the hope that you would call for me,” Odin says with a grin. “Then I would be able to circumvent my promise and help Gabrielle.”
“Thank you,” Gabrielle says. She knows that the Norse god once ordered her dead and that he strove with all his ability to get the Rheingold Ring. But he seems different now. She sees the way he keeps Grinhilda close and can guess what has changed him.
“You and Xena helped me. ” Odin says looking t the valkyrie beside him. . “How could I not do otherwise?”
Gabrielle frowns at the mention of her name. It hurts still to think of Xena. “What would she say if she saw me now?” she asks them all.
“I think she’d be proud of you,” Brunnhilda answers.
“Indeed,” Odin agrees.
“You defeated Ares,” Grinhilda says. “And thwarted Medea’s plan.”
“And you redeemed Hope,” Eve adds.
Gabrielle feels as though she may cry again. “But not alone. All of you helped me.”
“No need for tears,” Eve says. “I doubt Xena or Hope would want you to cry for them.”
Gabrielle forces a smile though the tears continue to fall. “You’re right I suppose.”
Grinhilda winces at the pain in her shoulder. “I think we can go now,” she informs Odin.
Odin nods. He looks to the other valkyrie. “Brunnhilda. You are welcome to rejoin the ranks of the valkyrie.”
Brunnhilda looks from Gabrielle to Odin. “If it pleases you, my lord. I’d prefer to stay here with Gabrielle.” She turns to Gabrielle. “If that’s okay with you.”
Gabrielle wipes the tears from her face. For an instant she isn’t sure if she wants to travel with anyone again. But some part of her decides that she has been alone long enough. She finds herself saying, “Of course.”
Odin chuckles. In Brunnhilda’s youth she had been so eager for his approval that she was willing to do almost anything. Bit now she seeks his approval for nothing. She seeks only the love of this Greek girl. He looks at Gabrielle. “I must have your word that you’ll watch over her. She is headstrong with much to learn. But I think that you’ll make a fine teacher.”
“You have my word,” Gabrielle smiles as she replies. The former valkyrie beams. Gabrielle recognizes the expression. She wore that same expression some thirty years ago when Xena agreed to let her travel with the warrior princess.
“Daughter of Xena,” Odin addresses Eve. “Your strength and courage do your mother proud.”
“Thank you,” Eve replies.
Odin and Grinhilda vanish from sight.
Brunnhilda observes the carnage about them. “It’s over?”
Eve hands the chakram to Gabrielle.
“With Bacchus dead, his hold on my blood is ended,” she says. How ironic it is to her that an event in her life she had forgotten nearly spelled disaster for them all. “But then I wouldn’t have been able to give Hope peace,” she say aloud.
“Who is Hope?” Brunnhilda asks again.
“My daughter,” she replies, happy for the first time in a long time to speak of Hope.
“It’s a long story,” Eve says at Brunnhilda’s aghast look.
“But now with a happy ending,” Gabrielle says. She will keep the image of Solon leading Hope into the Elysian Fields with her forever.
Eve moves towards the cave entrance. Brunnhilda support Gabrielle as they exit behind her. “As cliché as it sounds to ask it. “Where do you go from here?”
“Well, I had talked about going to Chin,” Gabrielle replies. She also remembers her desire to see the Amazons again.
“Sounds good to me,” Brunnhilda says. “After being insubstantial in that grove for a few years I could use a change of scenery.”
Eve and Gabrielle laugh. Gabrielle looks down at herself. She see her armor covered in dirt and blood. She grimaces and says, “I think before we can go anywhere I need a change of clothes.”
They walk out of the cave laughing. And for the first time in what seems an eternity Gabrielle walks forward with a sense of hope.
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