The Twilight of The Gods might not look so very Olympian. A little rundown of what might happen in the break between seasons five and six. So yes, major spoilers for our favorite TV show. If you dont think religion should ever be the subject of a joke, you might want to pass on this one, although its not intended to poke fun at anyones deeply held spiritual beliefs. On the other hand, if you are offended because I left out your brand, I am truly sorry, but you know how it is-- so many Gods, so little time.
Thanks to Rocky for slicing and dicing, and to the pups for all their feedback.
The sun was blinding, and the heat was aggravated by the smell of asphalt, gasoline and automobile exhaust. A few dusty palm trees poked up out of the cracked concrete sidewalk at irregular intervals, but gave no shade. Smog shimmered in the valley, obscuring the distant, house-encrusted hills. Three women in very short skirts were sauntering down the broken sidewalk. The tallest was leather-clad and dark-haired, and she had her arm around the cloth-covered shoulder of her shorter blond companion, while an almost equally tall teenager with her mothers dark hair slouched behind them.
"Gabrielle, are you sure were in the right place? I dont see anything around here that looks like a stable. Or smells like one," The tall woman was saying.
"Xena, I know my dream pointed us in this direction. I remember seeing something that reminded me of Argo somewhere right around here." The blond gave the tall womans waist a little squeeze. "Im sure well find her."
"Well, I hope so." The teenager chimed in. "Im getting really tired."
"Eve, you were the one who picked this alternate universe," Xena reminded her. "You wanted to come to LaLa Land on the break, so here we are. Although if Id known it was going to make you 16 again "
"Hey, whats wrong with being sixteen?" Eves voice had taken on a distinctly whiney edge, but neither of the older women wanted to mention that.
"Nothing, Eve, nothings wrong with it. We were just getting used to you as older, thats all." Gabrielles voice was soothing, as much for Xenas benefit as Eves.
"Its not my fault you cant find your horse--horses," Eve pouted. " never thought wed be walking. I dont know why we have to wait to find the horses. We could take a couple of these metal boxes that move so fast."
"NO." Xena said. "I want my horse and I wont be happy on anyoneanythingelse."
"Well find her," Gabrielle said firmly. "Im so glad were alive this year, and dont have to stay in that dreadful cliffhanger hotel. I was really getting sick of the limbo lounge."
"You just dont appreciate Karaoke, thats all. Being on the fringes." Xena said. She smiled and then, seeing that Gabrielle was at the edge of her tease-level, decided to lighten up. "But I prefer your original scrolls any day."
"Thanks. It helps to have good material." Gabrielle looked up at her. "Even after all weve been through, youre the best."
"Dont mention it."
Behind them Eve made a gagging noise, but they ignored her. A small wind like a draft from a blast furnace blew back their hair and ruffled their skirts.
Gabrielle wiped her forehead. "Even the wind is hot here, Xena. And everything is soso Shiny. Unnaturally bright. Unreal. This place reminds me of somewhere."
Xena sighed, moving her arm from her friends shoulder where their perspiration had stuck their skins together. She surreptitiously wiped her hand on the fabric of Gabrielles top, saying, "I was thinking it was actually a little cooler in Hell. We had better fans, anyway."
"Not Hell, Xena. That weird vision I had on the docks. The bright colors, the nausea "
"No, I said Docks, not Rocks. Maybe I need to clean out your ears for a change. The other weird vision with bright colors. The one where you didnt drag me over half of Greece behind your horse."
"Im going to be hearing about that one forever, arent I?"
"Its okay, Xena." Gabrielle gave her another little squeeze, "It was understandable under the circumstwhat?"
Her companion had stopped dead, and Eve almost plowed into the two of them from behind. "What?" she echoed.
"Look at that." Xena gestured to a large lighted sign above their heads.
The three women stared up at it.
ARCO it said. A full service gas station. The pained look on Xenas face was fast sinking into a scowl.
"Oh, no. Weve been on a wild-horse chase all this time? Xena, Im sorry."
"Your dream, you said. Something reminded you of Argo, you said. Gabrielle "
Gabrielle tried to wipe the sweat off her face with the under side of the leather on Xenas skirt, but Xena caught her playfully by the scruff of the neck. "What are you doing?"
"You think I didnt notice? What did you think Im wearing, a dishrag? You owe me a laundry."
"Hey, you were the one who packed the hankies in the missing saddlebags."
"I wasnt the one who let go of the bridles in the midst of the time-tunnel either, Ms. I wear leather to everything. "
"Gabrielle, your problem is, you are too easily suede. Alright, I owe you laundry, but this is dry-cleaning. Its not the same thing.
Gabrielle sighed. "Xena, enough with the leather jokes. Im sorry. I mis-directed us again, and"
Eve interrupted. "Mom"
"Yeeess?" Xena and Gabrielle replied in unison.
" Look over there." Eve pointed to a corner lot that took up most of the rest of the very long block.
Amid fluttering multi-colored pennons was an enormous banner:SALS USED GOD LOT and in smaller print below: CHEAPEST PER-DIEM DEITIES IN LA! A smaller sign to one side exhorted: Take One for a FREE Test Drive Today! while another advertised: Special GROUP RATES on Polytheism
Gabrielle gave a little smile. "Looks like Salmoneus has got religion."
Without any warning at all the little round man popped up next to them.
"Xena!" he beamed. "Have I got religion? Have I got religion for you! Are you buying, or selling? Im running a great special on female deities this week. I can get you followers like youve never had followers before. Used to be you couldnt sell em, even with free appliances, but nownow everybody wants a goddess. I wont even have to give away toaster ovens with you! Youll be great! Youll be stupendous! Youll be"
"Id be excruciatingly bored, Salmoneus. If I wanted followers, Id have kept my army. No deal."
"Oh, come on, Xena! Cant I interest you in a little merchandising opportunity? T shirts? Air fresheners? Theres one in every chariotyoull see. How about a few refrigerator magnets? Ive got lots of these!" He waved the box and a pile of magnets with Xenas picture and the slogan "Worship me like the Goddess I am" flew out and attached themselves to Xenas sword and chakram.
"Nope. Besides, Im not a god. I just kill them on TV." Xena began picking the magnets off her person as if they were particularly repulsive ticks.
Salmoneus gave a nervous giggle, "Shhhshhhnow Xenawe dont mention that around here. I assure you, all the gods on this lot have been perfectly restored. Sure, some of them have a few miles on them. But every one is in full working order. Classical, Neoclassical, Indo-Aryan, Pacific Rim, over the edge, Ive got em all. And in perfect condition! I have a complete body shop."
"Sal" Gabrielle interrupted.
"Hi cutie!" he cut her off. "You want to buy? You always were a sucker I mean a sticklerI mean you have GRReeat taste in weird religions! Buy a Cargo Cult, Ill throw in a free backpack! I know, I know-- you think youve tried them all? Ill bet you six dinars Ive got a model you havent driven yet! Cmon, bet you cant worship just one," he teased, tripping over Eve. "And whos this?"
"This is our daughter, Eve," Gabrielle said.
"YOUR daughter? That was fast work." Salmoneus squeaked.
"Well, actually shes"
"Drop it Gabrielle." Xena gave her the look.
For once in his life Salmoneus jumped in at the tactful moment. " Hey, Ive got fertility symbols on special toogreat for the garden, the bedroom, the "
"Not interested." Xena cut him off bluntly. "Were looking for Argo, andwhat the--?" the rest of her comment was cut short by a roar of engines as a car pulled up alongside them.
It was a convertible, driven by a band of men with electric guitars, the lead eyeing Eve with obvious intent. "Mars needs women!" He intoned.
"Mars?" Eve asked dubiously
"Name of our band. Wanna go for a ride? How about it? We could take you all the way to the Big Apple, whaddya say?"
"Er," Eve began to refuse when her mother cut in with a resounding "NO!" That was enough for Eve.
"Mom. Dont be soso"
"You are not going to the Big Apple with anyone. Period."
"You cant stop me."
"ErXenaEvedont---" But Gabrielles words were lost as Eve and Xena began to turn their argument into a real fight. When Xena pulled out her chakram, Gabrielle sighed and turned to Salmoneus, who was gaping as Eve and her mother batted the two halves of the chakram back and forth at each other like a game of Ping-Pong played with razors. Traffic had begun to build up behind the band and they drove on in a roar of honking horns and blue exhaust fumes.
"Wow. How long has this been going on?" Salmoneus queried.
"More or less since we woke up. Its really kind of a drag."
"So how about getting a few peaceful deities to calm things down? Ive got a few of them on special too. They could really brighten up a yurt you know."
"Really? I got peaceful. I got wrathful. I got weather, I got rhythm, who could ask for anything more? Cmon, just take a look. Buy a beanie?"
"Oh, what the heck. May as well check out Elis competition, right? But no beanies. Ive been already been beaned enough for one season."
Leaving Eve and Xena to their battle, Gabrielle wandered after Salmoneus. He really did have a huge selection, she realized. Pyramids and sphinxes jostled Celtic crosses and temple columns; altars and sacrificial fires were piled almost on top of one another, while sparks of light from constantly appearing and disappearing deities made her blink.
Salmoneus grabbed the leash as a sphinx swiped its paws in the air and attempted to eat one of the Norse Gods Ravens. "DOWN, girl! Not you," he added, as Gabrielle turned to glare at him.
"Hoenir, No!" Sal shouted, dropping the leash and waving his arms as the raven swooped back to attack. "How many times have I told you, no eyeballs until after you finish your bird chow." The sphinx almost scratched him and would have knocked him off his feet if Gabrielle had not intervened and grabbed the leash. She opened the door of the cage behind her, helping him push the hissing sphinx in and locking the door.
"Thanks, " Salmoneus said, wiping his brow. "This place is a zoo sometimes. I should have been able to retire by now. Instead, its nothing but settle this dispute, soothe that cultural identity crisis-- And the competitionOy! Why am I still in business?"
"Competition? You mean there are more gods on the loose than this?"
"Oh yeah," Salmoneus answered. "Look over thereHarry Krishnas Gods R Us; he specializes, but hes got a certain clientele. Webers God Lot cheap foreign knock-offs. You lose an arm off of one of them, just try to find parts! But his prices are breaking my heart. And no refunds. You buy from them, next day youll be back here looking for a replacement. Theres the Home-Deity Depot, G-Mart, Crazy Mary Baker Eddys. And down the street in the Phenomenology districtMerlot-Pointys having a steak-and-whine-tasting, luring away all my customers. And dont even get me started on the atheists. Retail is Hell."
Xena and Eve had finally succeeded in knocking each other to the ground. Winded, they stared at each other for a long moment. Finally Xena said, "Im hungry. What do you say we go get something to eat?"
"Sure, Mom. Uh, Mom?"
"Whats a Big Apple?"
"Heck if I know. Maybe some kind of store? Your other mom will probably know. But I do know one thing."
"Its not worth fighting over. Okay?"
"Okay. Im kinda winded, actually. Where are we going?"
Xena eyed the neighborhood, an expanse of Mylar catching her eye a few lengths up in the direction from which they had come. "Er Kals chicken shack is close."
"Awww, cmon, Mom. How about we hit the golden arches?"
"Right there, see?" Eve pointed to a red and yellow arcade across the street. Xena had missed it in the confusion of colored signs and flags.
Next to the arches a large blue marquee announced: "Aidans Frozen Yoga"
"Okay," Xena said, eyeing the neighborhood. "But mmmm lets not mention it to Gabrielle. I know youll be hungry again later anyway." Xena got up and extended a hand to Eve, who wiped her brow and let her mother slip an arm around her, after making sure no one was looking at them.
They looked for a crosswalk, but finding none, they crossed the street by the simple expedient of back-flipping from car to car at high speed, stopping midway to high-five each other some ten feet in the air above a mini-van.
"You should get walking tickets! Im calling the cops!" the driver yelled at them, fumbling with his cell phone as he swerved from lane to lane.
Xena smirked. "No one could possibly accuse us of walking, mister."
They dropped to the sidewalk together, suddenly in much better spirits.
"Here we are. McLightenment. Hmm. Well, its fast," Xena commented. Entering the establishment, however, she pulled Eve to a stop. "Forget it. Were leaving," she growled.
"But why, Mom?"
"Hello, Xena." A melodious voice interrupted. "Here for a light meal? Have you abandoned Gabrielle again?"
"No, Najara. Not that its any business of yours."
"Mom??" Najara laughed. "Dont tell me you expect me to believe youre passing off your new babe as your daughter? Although she is quite fetching." Najara reached out to rearrange a lock of Eves hair.
"Cmon, Eve," Xena muttered, dragging her daughter away by the hand. "Were blowing this Djinn joint"
They turned and left, the mocking question, "You want fries with that?" echoing in their ears.
"Mom, who was that?"
"No one you should be concerned about."
"But she sounded like she knew you. And she thought I was your girlfriend."
"Ancient history. Your mother and I split up for a while; we were having some problems she needed to find herself. No big whoop."
"Mom cheated on you with--- HER??"
"Eve, I told you. Ancient history. Now drop it."
"Do you want to eat or not?"
Eve sighed and trailed after her mother. Adults. Sheesh. They act like just going for a ride with a few attractive strangers is a big deal and then you find out they had a whole thing going on themselves. Ill never understand them she thought.
Gabrielle was watching a game that some of Salmoneuss clients ("I have to call them clients," hed muttered. "they hate to think of themselves as merchandise.") were playing in the sandy reaches of his back lot. Nine muses standing on flat pieces of marble were tossing a hard round ball back and forth, while an equal number of Valkyries ran between them.
"Whats that?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well, Its a game Calliope invented. At first they were going to call it Throwing Muses, but then they started using the bottoms of the broken columns as safe zones, so now we call it baseball."
"Mmmm, " Gabrielle acknowledged. As they watched, a Valkyrie, annoyed as the ball curved in its path and followed her around the pillar, destroyed ball and pillar together with a blast of fire, while the Muse jumped clear. As both teams converged around the smoking pit, Gabrielle commented, "I dont think it will ever catch on."
Salmoneus waved over one of the rain gods, while some of the spectators broke out cooking equipment and began roasting a goat over the red-hot remains of third base.
"Hey, you never know. Corn dog?"
"Er maybe not" She eyed the greasy object with some distrust.
"Well, come on, come on, you havent seen my Aztec dancers yet. They do a mean two step. And a Jag never goes out of style, if you know what I mean." The little man dragged her along, continuing his spiel. They passed a somberly clad group waving signs that said "Down with Fun" and "No Doom without Representation."
"Who are those people?" Gabrielle asked.
"Them? Oh, those are Protestants. They protestbut they have sectslots and lots of sects. Practically brand new! Only 400 years on them, most of them driven only on Sundays Im telling you, great bargain. Want some?"
"No thanks. Really were just here to try and find our horses."
"Yeah, yeah, these days everybody wants durable gods. Horses Hmmm maybe in the shaman sectionway in the back, behind the slot machines. Ill be right with you" he ducked as a water balloon sailed in their direction and hit the dust with a splat"I just have to settle another little dispute first." He got between the water-balloon bearing Baptists and a stout woman holding a sign saying "Womens Christian Temperance Union Demands a Dry Country"
Gabrielle sighed. "Well, I guess it cant hurt to look."
Eve and Xena sauntered back to Sals Used God Lot feeling a lot more peaceful.
"Ya know kid," Xena said, "there are very few disputes that cant be settled with ice cream. Im glad you picked this universe after all. Now lets get Gabrielle and see if we can find Argo before it gets dark."
"Xena!" Salmoneus greeted them. "I knew youd be back. Best deal in town, what did I tell you?"
"Actually were just here to collect Gabrielle, and then were moving on."
"Thats all very well, but shes not here." Salmoneus had to raise his voice over the squabbling deities in the background.
"Not here? Where did she go?"
"Im not sure, but I think I saw her getting into a red Plymouth Fury with one of my mechanicsshe said something about horse powerthey went that way." He pointed in the direction of the setting sun.
Xena ignored him and tilted her head, as if listening to something beyond the range of normal hearing. "Eve, do you notice some thing unusual about all these gods?"
"Beyond their all beingwellodd? No, what?"
"Call it a theory." Xena reached into her bracer and pulled out a dinar. When she tossed it up into the air it almost seemed to float as it turned over and over, every eye following it, and the whole valley fell strangely silent. "Its just as I thought" she said. "Theres only one God in this land. No matter what their costume, their origin, their pantheon, everyone in this valley worships Denarius, the god of money." She clapped her hand down over the coin and looked at her daughter. "Call it, Eve."
Xena held it up. "Tails it is. Horsetails, if Im not mistaken. Hold your ears!" and she gave a piercing whistle. As the sound spread out they began to hear a distant rumbling. The noise grew and grew, until they could see that it was coming from the east, where four shadowy forms were racing towards them.
"Is that ?"
"Yep. You found some pals, didnt you Argo? But I knew youd come back to me in the end." As the four large horses galloped toward them, Xena said, "Alright Eve, be ready. Im going to toss you up on the first one. When I do, grab for the mane. We dont have much time."
"But what about Mom?"
"Gabrielle is heading right for us. See?"
And sure enough, Gabrielle was already astride her own dark horse, between Argo and a rider-less stranger, galloping down the freeway toward them.
"I see her. How come ?"
"Denarius has no power over horses, Eve. They always tell the truth. In a world of corruption, no horse will ever lie to you. Ready?"
The steeds bore down on them. Xena tossed Eve up on the first beast, and then as she passed, swung herself up on Argos back. Gabrielle drew her mount up level with her partner.
"Xena! Am I glad to see you!"
"Likewise. Whos the other horse for?"
"I dont know, she just followed us from the back lotapparently some of the gods had set up a steeple-chase."
"So you found them. Good hunting, Gabrielle."
"ThanksI found Argo, and Argo found you. I had a bit of an adventure with one of the Furiesand a convertible"
"Never mind that now; tell me later. Ready to get out of here?"
"You know it."
They galloped down the streets, their horses hooves striking sparks that lit the dusk. They kicked out the headlamps of a thousand automobiles, letting the darkness flow behind. The horses breathed Apocalyptic fire, which engulfed the signs and banners, reducing them to ash. The neon faded, the gods dissolved. Far behind they could hear a last faint pitch from Salmoneus: "Come back tomorrow for the White Light Special!" but they rode like the wind past the tawdry stores and gas stations and shopping malls, which evaporated like the illusions they were. As the twilight of the gods fell over LA, they slowed to a trot. Soon the pavement ended and they came up into dry hills dotted with olive trees. Ahead on the trail they saw a glimmer of light, and reigned in.
"Mom, whos that?" Eve asked.
The candle-lit figure glided forward, her feet not touching the ground, her movement unnaturally smooth. "ThatsI think itsCelesta, what are you doing here?" Gabrielle stuttered.
"There are some constants even here, Gabrielle. Xena, you stole my tears, and now youve taken my horse?" the goddess reproached her gently.
"I should have known the pale horse would be yours, Celesta. Well met."
The rider-less horse trotted over to Celesta and she was somehow instantly in the saddle. "Taxes! How Ive missed you!" she exclaimed. "Thank you for bringing her to me, Xena. We have work to do down there." She indicated the smoking valley behind them.
"Youre welcome, Celesta." Xena chuckled as the pair went back down the trail to the valley. "Come on, Eve. Gabrielle."
They trotted up through the hills, the air becoming fresher and cooler.
"Thanks, Xena," Gabrielle said quietly, as the dusk settled around them.
"Letting me find my way."
"You know Id follow you anywhere. I I, er, think its going to be time to have that little chat soon."
Xena gave the slightest gesture in Eves direction with her chin.
"Oh, you mean the sensitive chat."
"We ran into Najara today."
"How was she?"
"Running a fast-light franchise."
Gabrielle snorted. "Some things never change. Did she-- In front of--?"
"She said a few things It was awkward."
"You want me to tell Eve? About that? And about her other mother-- Callisto?"
"I think itll come better from you."
"Okay. But not tonight. Soon."
Dry grass swished underfoot. There was a faint sound of water, and cicadas sang around them. They slowed their steeds, gradually falling into a walk, as the moon rose above a spicy-scented canyon. At last Xena came to a stop, Eve on one side of her, Gabrielle on the other.
"Were home." She said.
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