Disclaimers: USA Studios owns these characters. Thank you to Rob Tapert, Lucy Lawless, Renee OConnor and a cast and crew of favorites for entertaining us for 6 wonderful years. I wouldnt have ended things THAT way. I would have done it this way as, hopefully, youll read. We never really die because we were never really born I think Gabby put it best. This is the final story in the Bonding of Souls Series set after Friend In Need. Let me know your thoughts if you would.
Bonding of Souls: Friend Indeed
By CN Winters
"You have to eat Gabrielle. You need your strength."
Xena had been urging the bard repeatedly to take nourishment but it continued to fall on deaf ears. She always loved Gabrielles independent nature but at times like this when they would butt heads it was also what she liked the least.
"Im not hungry," the bard answered. She rolled away from Xena on the small bed shed been laying on in the cabin, the urn tight in her grasp.
"Gabrielle, its been three days."
"Stop telling me how to live!" The bard darted from the bed coming nose to nose with the warrior. "You are the LAST person to offer advice on survival!"
Xena sat in a chair in the ships cabin, unmoving. Besides, what could she do? What could she say? As always, Gabrielle had a point. Who am I to offer tips on living? She made the choice not to return in her solid form to the bard. Once more she chose the greater good of others over herself; over Gabrielle.
"I guess I deserve that," Xena muttered.
Gabrielle didnt reply. She simple clutched the urn tighter and made her way above deck. As Gabrielle walked to the rail Xena appeared in front of her, startling the bard.
"Listen to me Gabrielle. Please."
"Stop doing that! Quit popping up in front of me!"
A few of the shipmates looked on as Gabrielle talked to the wind. They noticed on the first night of their journey to Chin that the young woman sat up all night talking to herself laughing and crying, her voice rising occasionally but becoming even again. But just her voice no one else. The small warrior woman didnt seem to be a threat at first but on this last leg of the journey, the more yelling they heard, the more they feared for their safety. It was obvious that the young woman had lost her senses.
One of the deck hands pointed this out to the captain who now took an interest in what his sailors had told him. He watched Gabrielle carefully as she paced his deck, having a heated conversation with no one but herself.
"Im worried about you," Xena told her.
"Whats the worst that will happen if I dont eat Xena? Death? Obviously death cant be too awful. You seem to be handling it just fine!"
Gabrielle turned to see the captain walking toward her. Her mood calmed a bit. "Yes, captain. Can I help you?"
"Well that depends my men have noticed that you often talk to yourself. They fear for their safety. Since the first night-."
Gabrielle stopped him by holding up a finger. She knew where he was going with the chat but she turned to Xena first. "You see this? They all think Im nuts. Are you happy now?" The captain looked to see to whom the bard was speaking but saw no one. Gabrielle quickly turned to the captain. "My bondmate was killed on Japa," she told him.
"Im sorry," he answered quickly.
"Well dont be," Gabrielle answered. "Shes dead but shes not gone. I had the chance to restore her but because of some misplaced guilt for an ACCIDENT years ago," Gabrielle said, making sure to flash Xena her look of displeasure, "she decided death was the best route for her. Of course when I accidentally killed someone in Africa it was perfectly FINE to see that I stayed alive. But SHE, however, has to be the MARTYR, choosing the greater good over US yet again. She told me years ago she was DONE paying for her past. She said I was all that MATTERED. But OBVIOUSLY she still has debts ALL OVER the world she feels the need to repay!" Gabrielle calmed down a moment after her rant, closing her eyes. When she opened them she turned back to the captain, "I know you might not believe it but please tell your men not to worry. Im no threat to them. Im only a threat to myself at this moment."
"Well thank you young lady. I hope you work through your grief."
The captain didnt add more - he just walked away. Gabrielle turned toward the railing to watch the waves sailing by. "You see that? Youve got everyone thinking Im a nutcase."
"It wasnt my intention, Gabrielle," Xena answered.
"No, but leaving me a widow was," Gabrielle retorted.
Again, Xena couldnt argue so when Gabrielles stomach began to grumble the warrior changed the subject. "Now I know youre hungry. Will you please eat? For me?"
"Oh for love of Eli .Fine!" Gabrielle yelled up to the captain. "Got any food around here for the slightly insane? My ghost friend thinks I should eat," she added pitching a thumb to Xena, totally aware of the fact that no one could see her. No reason I cant have a little bit of fun with my descent into madness.
The ship docked not more than a few hours later. Gabrielle walked through the port. Any other time she would have stopped and haggled here and there, rounding up supplies along with some things they didn't really need, much to Xenas frustration. Theyd laugh, theyd banter. But this time Gabrielle made her way through the marketplace in silence until she came to a merchant stand.
"Excuse me," she began.
"Yes, maam. Care to trade today?"
"No. Actually Im wondering if youve heard of someone. Her name is Eve, shes the messenger of Eli."
"Gabrielle," Xena warned. "Dont do it."
"Well, perhaps, if we make a trade I could tell you," he answered.
Gabrielle ignored Xenas comment and concentrated on the vendor. "Ill make a trade if you tell me what I want to know," Gabrielle retorted.
"No. First you buy. Then we talk."
Gabrielle turned heel. "Thanks anyway."
"Hold on! Hold on!" he said starting after the bard, who had turned toward the next stall.
"What do you know?" Gabrielle asked.
"Tall woman? Long dark hair? Very pretty eyes? Your nose."
"Youve seen her?!" Gabrielle answered.
"Came through town two days ago. Headed North she said."
"Do you have the name of a town?"
"Look, we make a trade and Ill give you towns name. Deal?"
Gabrielle considered it a moment. "Deal."
When all was said and done she had the name of a town and a beautiful red silk scarf around her neck. Of course she was sure it cost her more than what it was worth but if his information was correct on finding Eve then it was worth it.
"Im not sure this is a good idea," Xena interjected as they walked along.
"Oh I think its a very good idea. I think Eve should know how her mother senselessly martyred herself."
"You know, I promised that even in death I wouldnt leave but Im starting to wonder if I stayed too long," Xena quipped.
"Then go," Gabrielle answered. "Go fly off with all the other souls you freed. Go find your first poet love Akemi. Not like youre doing much good here besides making everyone think Im crazy."
"Do you really mean that?" Xena asked sincerely, not taking a step further.
Gabrielle stopped and faced Xena as she considered the question. "Im not sure. I love you Xena but this hurts so much. Having you here but NOT here Besides, how do I know youre not just a figment of my imagination? How do I know that Im not really crazy with grief here? Its obvious that Im the only one who can see you. What if youre just an illusion?"
"Im not an illusion Gabrielle. Im still very real."
"Oh yeah. Then take your Chakram back," Gabrielle said pulling it from her hip.
Xena looked at it sadly and then the bard. "You know I cant touch anything in the physical world except you."
"Then you cant be as real as you claim."
A small silence passed between them. "Im hurting here too, Gabrielle. I did plan on growing old and gray with you, as idealistic as that sounds."
"Yeah I remember. But I also remember people in our line of work dont live to be that age...I guess Im just not ready to travel alone. And dont tell me Im not alone Xena because thats how it feels sometimes."
Xena heard the pitch in her bards voice and she knew better not to argue. Gabrielle was close to her breaking point.
"Fair enough," Xena nodded. "Should we continue then?"
Gabrielle gave a small grin and put the Chakram on her hip. "Come on warrior princess. Lets go find the messenger."
The bard started to walk, heading north. At nightfall she made it to a little tavern where the town seemed to be gathering for a meeting. Quietly she crept inside and heard a man asking a question.
"So youre saying you should just walk away?" he asked.
As Gabrielle moved deeper into the candle lit room she watched her daughter on a small stage.
"Yes," Eve answered. "Its far too easy to let your rage make your decisions. But sometimes the best form of action is to turn the other cheek." As Gabrielle took a seat, Eve noticed her. "I would love to continue this but I have an unexpected visitor. But please feel free to see me tomorrow. I'll be happy to answer any questions you have then."
As Eve moved from the stage over to her smiling mom, the townsfolk went back to their conversations and their meals. She rushed over and wrapped herself in Gabrielles embrace.
"I cant believe it," Eve began. "You came all the way to Chin to visit me?"
"Well, not exactly, but since I was in the area I thought I should stop by."
Xena watched the two embrace and for the first time since her death she realized just how truly distant she was from the real world. Eve couldnt see her. That was obvious. Xena couldnt talk to her. She couldnt hug her or kiss her. She was an outsider, looking in and for the first time she ached for her mortality.
Gabrielle knew the question would come up. "Shes here," Gabrielle told her beginning to tear up. " In spirit," she added. Without saying more she pulled the jar from her travel bag, setting it on the table.
"I dont understand," Eve said starting to whimper.
Gabrielle knew that Eve understood but couldnt bring herself to say it. "I dont think I understand it all yet myself, Eve," the bard offered. "But shes gone. This jar is whats left."
Eves fingers covered her mouth in shock. At first she didnt cry. She was too floored by the news. Her mother was the best of the best. How could she be dead? But soon the fact Xena was dead took hold of her and she began to sob. Gabrielle pulled Eve into her arms and kissed her on top of the head.
"Its okay sweetheart," Gabrielle told her. "You have me. Youll always have me. And a part of your mother will always be with us."
Xena couldnt touch Eve no matter how much she tried. Her hand just slipped transparently through girls head so Xena did the only thing she could. She put her arms around Gabrielle and wept softly into her back.
Later that night, as Gabrielle dressed for bed, she heard Eve call out behind her.
"Did you get that in Japa?" she asked.
At first Gabrielle wasnt sure what Eve meant but then she remembered. Ahh, the tattoo. Yes, my artistic scar for life to remind me of losing Xena.
"Yes, it was a gift to help me in my task Do you like it?"
"Its very interesting. Beautiful in fact," Eve said stepping closer to examine it.
"Thank you," Gabrielle answered.
After a small silence, Eve spoke. "So you can still see her?"
"Yes, I see her. I can hear her. I can touch her."
"Tell her Im here Gabrielle," Xena coached from one of the beds.
"Shes here now actually," Gabrielle replied. "Shes sitting on the bed."
Eve looked over. "I cant see her Hello mother."
"Hello Eve. Youll look beautiful sweetheart you glow like youve found your calling."
"She says youve found your calling. You look beautiful," Gabrielle answered.
"Thats amazing," Eve replied excitedly as she smiled. "Think of all the people that lose those they love. Those that never see each other again. Its a gift Gabrielle. Its a gift that you can see her in your times of trouble."
"Glad you have such an optimistic appraisal of the situation," Gabrielle sighed making her way to the bed.
"What? You dont?"
Gabrielle considered the question. "I suppose theres a benefit to having her with me but I still miss her Its not easy to describe. And the looks I get when I speak to her," Gabrielle chuckled. "I wonder if everyone else is right and Im wrong. I wonder if Im losing my mind."
"I believe," Eve answered.
"What?" Gabrielle chuckled. "That Ive finally flipped?"
"No," Eve responded in like with a small laugh. "I believe you can see her The love that mother has for you is undying Gabrielle. It will always be that way."
Gabrielle sighed. "I suppose so."
"You dont seem convinced," Eve remarked.
"At some point Ill be without her. I guess Im just waiting for that time to come and not being sure when that will be so it makes it difficult."
"But thats true with everyone Gabrielle. We never know when were going to lose the ones we love."
"Well for most people death is the answer. But for me Im in limbo Xenas dead. But shes not gone and I have the feeling that one day Ill wake up and shell be gone. Shell never return again and Ill spend my time wishing and hoping for something Ill never have again. Like I said before, its difficult. Its like theres no finality to it and there should be."
"So youre not glad shes here?"
The question stung Xena because it took her back to the conversation in the marketplace. Maybe I should go. Gabrielle could live her life in peace; perhaps move on with her life.
"No," Gabrielle answered. "I do want her here. I just want to know when Im going to lose her for good."
"Well, like I said Gabrielle, no one knows that for sure."
"I suppose youre right Evie Look its late. Well talk more in the morning before I head out."
"Youre leaving so soon?" Eve replied.
"Yes, I was going to head to Egypt but I think Im just gonna go home instead. Maybe visit Lila and Sarah Goodnight sweetie."
Eve could see that Gabrielle was exhausted so she didnt press. "Night Gabrielle."
Eve and Gabrielle bid a tearful farewell to each other but promised that somehow, someway they would get together again in the next year. Before she left, Gabrielle wrapped her new scarf around Eves shoulders and kissed the girl goodbye twice; once for her and once for Xena.
The warrior and bard walked all day long arguing, laughing, teasing just like old times. But still, something was missing. Gabrielle couldnt put her finger on it. She didnt understand but she couldnt shake the feeling that Xena SHOULD be alive. Night was beginning to fall and they decided to search for a place to make camp.
"You were right," Xena admitted.
"Telling Eve. Im glad you told her. She deserved to know."
A small silence passed between them. "You know Xena," Gabrielle answered. "Shes a lot stronger than you give her credit for."
"So are you," Xena replied. "I have to say Gabrielle youve been taking all this better than expected. I honestly mean that."
"Yeah well, life goes on, right?" she replied bumping her shoulder into the warrior.
Suddenly a glittering shower appeared in front of them and Gabrielle grinned as she saw the shape form within.
"Aphrodite!" she called as she ran up the path to greet her. The bard and Goddess embraced.
"Oh sweet pea, Ive been looking for you. I knew you headed east but I wasnt sure where. I got the god thing going on but it doesnt click quite as well in parts where Im not widely known. But Im glad I found you Hey there warrior princess, whats shakin?"
Xena and Gabrielles happy expressions dropped and they looked at each other.
"You can see her?" Gabrielle asked.
"Well duh! Im not blind you know."
Xena smiled. "See?! Youre not crazy Gabrielle! Its just other mortals who cant see me."
"Why? You a ghost or something?" As soon as Dite said the words a torch lit behind her eyes. "Thats it! The tremors I felt! I knew something really bad had happened to you but I couldnt pin point what it was. Thats why I started looking for you Gabby. But I had no idea that "
Dite stopped as Gabrielle pulled out the urn. "Xenas in here. But her spirits stayed at my side."
Dite got a little misty eyed. "Awww that is soooooooo sweet. You promised her huh? That even in death you wont let her go? Thats just so romantic."
"Well, her demise was far from pretty," Gabrielle answered. "And the reason she CHOSE to stay dead is another story altogether."
"You know the love goddess IS on the clock so you can tell me all about it. So grab an elbow toots were outta here."
Gabrielle and Xena both hooked Dites arms and moments later they were in a temple in Greece.
"Ah, home sweet home. So," Dite began. She snapped her fingers and suddenly a huge bed appeared. She transported herself onto the bed getting comfortable. "Tell me alllllllll about it."
"Well, one night we talked about leaving Greece when a monk showed up .."
Having to tell the tale of Xenas death, yet again, drained Gabrielle emotionally and physically. The bard slept with a light snore that brought a grin to Xenas face. Dite noticed as the warrior, ever watchful, kept a close eye on the bard.
"You never struck me as an idiot Xena. But after that story tonight," Dite began, "I have to wonder just WHERE you see your guilt in all this."
"Its for the best," Xena answered.
"For whom? For you? For her? For those 40,000 souls?"
"You wouldnt understand," Xena answered.
"Well make me understand. My best mortal bud is in tears here. She might not show them on the outside Xena but I can feel her pain far worse than you are imagining at the moment. But she loves you, so she supports you. She puts on a brave front So tell me how you could feel responsible here? Those townsfolk that attacked you got what they deserved. That man was a monster that your friend Akemi killed. Im surprised they didnt have a banquet in her honor instead of stopping you from your task. And how are all those souls on your shoulders when you were just defending yourself against them? Now call me the dumb blond if you like, but it doesnt add up. It doesnt make sense. You freed the souls so I still cant see why you couldnt return."
"Lets just say I died for Gabrielle and leave it at that, okay?"
"No, its not okay. You know why? Because Gabrielle is dying inside, Xena. Every day. Every hour. Shes dwindling away. She needs you in her life, not just in your death. Do you understand?"
"Do you understand that if I could come back I would?!" Xena hissed. "I couldnt let her revive me on that mountain Aphrodite! She wouldve .It wouldnt have worked."
Dite knew the warrior well. She knew she was hiding something and her eyes scrunched in examination. "Out with it," she ordered.
"Out with what?" the warrior replied evasively.
"Theres more to this story than what youre telling me. And more than youve told her. So what is it?"
"I cant tell you," Xena answered. "I dont want her to know."
"I wont say anything," Dite answered. Xena didnt look convinced. "Goddess honor," she said holding up her hand.
"The honor of a god means little to me," Xena replied.
"Oh come on Xena. Whats the catch? You can tell me. Perhaps I can find a way to help."
Of all the gods they dealt with Xena had to admit that Dite was the most honest. Sure she made a few mistakes here and there but never anything that was malicious. Xena sighed, What the hell.
"When I died, the ghost killer asked if Gabrielle would give her life to save me, like I had done for her by battling the army alone," she began. "Her answer of course was yes but he failed to give her all of the information. I found out later from Akemi, after Gabrielle and I parted ways, that if Gabrielle revived me, her soul would perish. She would live the rest of her life with me but after that her soul would disappear And I couldnt let that happen."
"So, in truth, you died twice for her. Once when you faced the army and the second time by not letting her bring you back," Dite remarked. "You decided to stay dead because it wasnt about 40,000 souls. It was about Gabrielle."
Xena nodded sadly. "If she knew it was just about her she might have done it. She would have dumped those ashes. But if I made her believe it was about someone else, about helping the innocents, shed honor my choice. So I -."
"Lied to her?" Dite interrupted.
Xena hung her head. "Yes, I lied to protect her To save the one spirit that means everything to me. I love her so deeply and one lifetime is not enough to show her how much. Ill need thousands more."
"Im touched Xena," Dite answered honestly. "Truly You really died for her."
"No greater gift a teacher can give a student Ive been told . Well anyway, I need her spirit to go on. Her spirit deserves more than just this life and her past lives. THATS the greater good in all of this insuring that Gabrielles spirit keeps going and going, brightening the world."
Dite paused taking it all in. "So let me make sure I understand this. Those souls are free-no strings attached?"
"Gabrielle couldnt bring you back because it would mean her end - literally?"
Xena nodded again.
"But theres nothing to say you cant come back by other means .correct?"
"Im not sure. I suppose so but without a set of lips its not real easy to eat ambrosia," Xena grinned.
"Hmm," Dite considered. "You gals stay put. Ill be back in a flash." She prepped herself to snap her fingers but Xena stopped her.
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"Well I cant bring you back. I dont have THAT kind of power. Besides, if I tried you might come back missing a leg or an arm or an eye. I think I might have someone that could lend a hand, though. Therere lots of deities around Xena. And you came to the right goddess because Ive got connections. Let me do some diggin. See what I can find, okay? I owe you guys that much. Agreed?"
Xena smiled. "Thank you, Aphrodite."
"No trouble. But no promises either Xena. Im a goddess but I cant do ALL miracles. Athena could but we both know what happened to her, dont we?"
Xena looked guilty as she played with her fingernails.
"It was a joke, relax. Ive gotten over it. They went after my gal after I asked them not to. They got what they had coming to them. But like I said, I know lots of gods so give me a few. Ill be back by morning. Toodles!"
Without waiting for a reply Dite snapped her fingers and vanished leaving the warrior to sit with the sleeping bard.
Aphrodite transported herself to a grand banquet hall. Casually, she strolled up to the large table.
"Oh no! Not you!"
"Ohhhh come on," Dite began. "I need a favor, goatee god. It wont take long. Its about Xena."
"No," the god rumbled, rising from his throne.
"Just a few moments of your time Odin. Thats all I ask," Dite said following him down the length of the table in front of his dinner guests.
Grinhilda overheard the conversation and walked over to Odins side. "Perhaps you should hear her out," she suggested. "After all, Xena did help both of us, you know."
Odin gave a reluctant sigh. With the two of them ganging up on him he knew his options were limited. "What is it?"
"Xenas dead and I need to bring her back to life. Got any of those room things that might do the trick?"
"Runes. Theyre called Runes," he corrected her. "I might. Wheres her body?"
"In a little jar," Dite replied with an unsure grin.
"You mean shes been cremated?" Odin asked.
Dite gave a quick nod.
"Sorry. Cant help," he answered, starting to walk away.
"Hey look pal!" Dite said angrily. Odin stopped and turned around as the room grew quiet. "I owe her and I owe Gabrielle. If Im not mistaken she lent you and winged hat gal over there a hand, too."
"Shes got a point," Grinhilda told Odin.
"Youre darn right I got a point! If you cant do some RUINES then perhaps you can lead me to some other gods who might have more expertise with reviving the dead from ashes." Dite was actually breathing hard as a result of her anger. Damn this is turning into much more work than I expected. "Are you gonna help or not?"
"There might be someone who can help," Odin finally answered. Dite watched as Odin and Grinhilda conversed quietly between themselves. Grinhilda nodded and turned back to the love goddess. "Grinhilda will accompany you but first youll need Xenas ashes."
"Where are they?" Grinhilda asked.
"Back in Greece with Gabrielle. Shes crashed at my pad. Huge temple on the highest hill in Athens. Cant miss it. Big statue of yours truly out front."
"Okay," Grinhilda nodded. "Let me round up my steed and Ill meet you there in the morning. Okay? Its not more than a few hours travel by air."
"Well I can just zap you there," Dite offered.
"We might need my steed for this mission but Ill make sure Im there before the sun is high."
Dite gave a sigh of relief. "Thanks so much. Really. I mean that."
"They mean a lot to you. I can see that," Grinhilda smiled. "Lets try our best, okay?"
Dite gave a giggle and in a matter of seconds disappeared into a glittering shower.
Gabrielle sat up with a yawn as she rubbed her eyes. "Wheres Aphrodite?" she asked Xena.
Xena walked to the bed to sit beside Gabrielle. "She had some goddess things to take care of," Xena replied with a grin. "She should be back shortly How did you sleep?"
"Cold," Gabrielle answered. "You always kept me warm. I miss that."
Xena could have sworn she heard her heart break at the confession. They learned the first night that spirits dont generate much body heat and they dont require sleep either.
"Im sorry," Xena whispered sincerely.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior and mustered a grin. "I know you are Xena. I know."
A brilliant flash filled the room. "Okay, I got things in motion," Aphrodite announced walking over to the bed. "Glad Sleeping Beauty is up Now, an old friend of yours will be stopping by today and were going to see if we can get this whole ghost warrior thing taken care of for ya."
Gabrielle was obviously confused. "What do you mean?"
"Well, Ive been sworn to secrecy," Dite told the bard. "I promised Xena I wouldnt say anything so I wont. However, theres nothing that says SHE cant explain things to you. You got a few minutes to kill tall, dark and dead So you better give her the low down," she added motioning to Gabrielle.
"Aphrodite!" Xena hissed. "You said youd keep your mouth shut."
"I did," Dite answered. "And I will because youre gonna tell her not me."
Gabrielle rose from the bed. "Tell me what?"
Aphrodite made a zipping motion over her lips and folded her arms across her chest, not saying a word.
"Son of a baccaee," Xena swore. Gods, I KNEW I shouldnt have trusted her.
"Ah, but trust me you did Xena," Dite replied reading her thoughts. "And believe me, it wont be a mistake." The goddess walked over and put her hand on Xenas shoulder. "She deserves the truth the whole truth," she added sincerely.
"What is going on?!" Gabrielle was past the point of playing games.
"Well I gotta bolt. Catch ya later!" Dite vanished without a trace.
Gabrielle spun Xena around to face her. "What is she talking about?"
"Calm down Gabrielle. Ill tell you I didnt want to tell you but she hasnt left me much choice."
"Tell me what Xena?"
"Those souls are free Gabrielle. I chose to stay dead."
"Please hear me out Gabrielle," the warrior answered.
The bard began to pace back and forth shaking her head. "Why?" she asked. "Why didnt you choose to come back to me?"
"Because if you dumped the ashes then your soul would have been condemned. You would have lived out your natural life with me but then youd never exist again because you revived me. I couldnt let you do that so I tried to protect you the best way I could."
"By lying to me? By making me think your soul was trapped?"
"Be honest Gabrielle. If you knew it was about you and you alone would you have dumped the ashes anyway. Be honest."
"Why should I be honest? You werent," Gabrielle retorted.
"Dont be evasive. Please answer the question. Would you have dumped them anyway?"
Gabrielle was still mad but she considered the question a moment. "Honestly, I dont know Xena."
"Well I dont know if you would have done it or not. But what I do know is that I want more than just this life with you. I want as many as I can get. But if you brought me back I would lose you forever. I couldnt take that chance."
"So you died for me?" Gabrielle answered.
"I died for you. And Id do it in every life from here to eternity if need be."
Gabrielle didnt know whether to kiss her or slap her. She sat down on the bed. "Why didnt you say anything?" she asked.
"I didnt want you to live with any guilt over it. I didnt want you to think that you had the power to bring me back but didnt use it."
Gabrielle wrung her hands together in frustration. "Im not sure if I should feel honored that youd sacrifice your life for me Xena or if I should be devastated by your not trusting me to make the right choice."
"I do trust you Gabrielle," Xena answered. "Please dont doubt that."
"Then you should have told me the truth Xena. You should have trusted that I would have made the right choice and live out this life alone until we could meet in the next one."
"Well hindsight is perfect vision," Xena answered. "I see that now At the time I was just too worried that youd "
"Do something stupid?" Gabrielle offered.
"Do something out of love," Xena replied. "I dont think youve ever done anything out of stupidity."
Gabrielle gave a small grin of thanks and was about to say as much but the doors of the temple opened. They both looked over to see Grinhilda enter.
"Looks like I finally made it," she told Gabrielle as she walked inside.
"Grinhilda! What are you doing here?" Gabrielle said, giving the woman a hug.
"Aphrodite came to see Odin. She said you had some problems with Xena." She looked over at the urn on the nightstand and pointed. "Im assuming thats her," she grinned.
Gabrielle gave a nod and watched as Grinhilda picked up the urn carefully. The bard wasnt sure why the Valkerie had a smirk on her face.
"Dont worry," she told Gabrielle. "Well find a way to fix this. Wheres Aphrodite?"
"Im not sure," Gabrielle answered. "She was here but-."
Before she could finish Dite reappeared behind them, making them turn.
"Nice timin toots," the goddess told Grinhilda. "Are we ready to roll yet?"
"Just say the word," Grinhilda said, handing Gabrielle the urn.
"Awesome," Dite winked. "Just tell me what you need."
Grimhilda nodded. "We need someone to stake things out. Kristnas palace is heavily guarded. Very few make it passed Maras soldiers that he has in place out front. Well have to find a back way inside. Thats where my steed will come in handy. Ill get Gabrielle to the top and we can work our way in from there."
"What should I do?" Dite asked.
"Check it out and wait for us a mile due south. Well see you there and you can tell us what to expect how many men, where they are located, everything."
"Check!" Dite answered. "You take blondie and Ill bring the warrior with me. Got it?"
Grinhilda looked at the urn.
"Shes still here," Gabrielle answered pointing to Xena who was standing beside the goddess. "Her spirit hasnt left me but she cant look its a long story. Just trust us. Shes still around."
"Okay then," Grinhilda answered. "Give us about two days to travel. Well meet you by sunset tomorrow night," she told the goddess.
"Good luck," Dite nodded.
Grinhilda started to make her way out but stopped when Gabrielle didnt follow. She turned and watched as Gabrielle wrapped her arms in a wide circle, resting her head to one side.
"Take care," Xena told her, kissing her on the forehead.
"I will," Gabrielle told her. "And dont worry. We will succeed. I promise."
"I know you will. You were trained by the best," she said with a wink as she pulled back.
Gabrielle broke away and began to follow Grinhilda. "Lets go. Weve got a warrior to revive."
That night Grinhilda and Gabrielle made camp in a secluded area. Gabrielle released a long sigh as she poked the fire with a stick.
"Whats on your mind, warrior bard?" Grinhilda asked.
"Warrior bard, huh? How did you know I write?"
"Oh, therere plenty of stories around about you, you know. They call you the battling bard in some parts," Grinhilda smiled.
Gabrielle returned it with one of her own. "Yeah and it always surprises me when I hear that. I'm not sure why. I wanted to be a warrior and I loved being a bard guess I got everything I always wanted."
Gabrielle looked far from happy and Grinhilda knew what was weighing on her mind.
"Well not everything," Grinhilda replied. "But were working on getting your warrior princess back," she added.
"Do you think it will work?" Gabrielle asked with sincerity. "Do you think Kristna will help?"
"Im not sure," Grinhilda answered. "But based on what youve told me it sounds like if anyone CAN help it would be him. I dont think its Xenas time and if Kristna thinks thats the case then Id say yes. He should restore her But getting there will be the problem."
"What do you know about Mara?"
"Mara means death in that region. Hes an evil demon with an equally evil following. Ive heard that some of his soldiers are hideously grotesque with thousands of eyes. Their mere appearance has been known to scare men to death. He tried to battle Budda but failed So now hes after Kristna."
"Well Ive seen some scary stuff in my time. I dont frighten easily," Gabrielle grinned.
"You dont think youll get scared, huh?"
"No," Gabrielle answered firmly. "I know what I fear most - losing Xena. And Im living with it now."
"Im glad youre confident. Make sure you keep that mind set when we go in there tomorrow."
"Good Because youre gonna need it."
The concern in Grins voice made Gabrielle falter for a moment but shed never let it show. Grin rose and walked over to the woodpile, throwing another log onto the fire.
"Lets get some rest. It will be a long day tomorrow," Grin offered.
As they both climbed into their bedrolls, Gabrielle cleared her throat. "Thank you," she said softly. "Thank you for helping us."
"Its my pleasure," Grin answered. "I just hope it wont be our deaths."
Gabrielle didnt answer and Grin didnt add more. The bard stared at the flames dancing in the fire until sleep finally over took her.
Gabrielle and Grin sat under cover in the trees watching Kristnas temple. Maras demons surrounded the place like locus drinking, eating, and laughing.
"It looks like theyre having a good time," Grin gave a light chuckle. "Think we should crash the party? I havent seen Aphrodite around yet."
"Lets give them a little more time."
As soon as Gabrielle spoke the words Dite appeared beside her.
"Whats shaken, toots?" she grinned at the bard.
"Just planning a route."
"Your warrior babe is on the roof top now. Shes found a way in but that pesky problem of not being able to touch the physical world has left her unable to get a solid grip on things," she answered. "She thinks the south is the best option least guarded."
"Now explain why you cant just zap me in," Gabrielle said.
"Told you. My god thing doesnt work that well in other lands. Id never get past Kristnas mystical block. I can only walk in like you guys. And since thats the case, Xena thinks its best I wait out here until you ladies come out. So who am I to argue?"
Gabrielle smiled. "Well thanks for everything youve done so far Aphrodite."
"Hey, Im always here for ya. Youre one of my favorites you know," the goddess smiled.
"Are we ready?" Grin asked the bard.
"Yeah," she answered. "Lets get that steed and do some traveling"
They climbed out of the tree and walked a short distance to where Grins flying horse was waiting. After they both mounted, Grin motioned the horse onward. They took off through the air as quickly as possible. As they made their descent toward the top of the building Gabrielle spotted Xena. But the demons had also spotted them. They tried to move into position up the walls to stop them from entering. Gabrielle directed Grin on where to land. Once on the roof top and dismounted, Grin sent the steed away to safety. She pulled her sword as Gabrielle pulled her sais.
"Wheres the entrance?" she asked Xena.
Xena motioned her over as Gabrielle called to Grin.
"Down here," she answered as she pointed. It looked like a trap door but it was securely fastened with a lock. "It must have a magical power or these ghouls would have busted in."
"Stand back," Grin told the bard. With a mighty swing her mystical sword she severed the lock in two. But before either of them could open it five of Maras demons managed to make it up to the wall and charge them.
Gabrielle sucked in a breath at their appearance. Grin wasnt kidding. They were uglier than Gabrielle imagined and she heard Xena call out behind her to focus. With that she tightened her grasp on her sais and charged to meet them. They had thousands of eyes with warts and moles all over their faces. Their hands were made of fur with the sharpest claws shed ever seen. And they were tall, too. The smallest one of the group had to be as tall as Xena, if not taller.
Three of them surrounded Gabrielle while the two others went to take on Grin. She took them down with ease and went to aid Gabrielle. The bard took on the first one head on charging into him until she landed on top of him. Her sai plunged deeply into his chest and a green goo erupted from the wound.
"Eghhh," the bard exclaimed jumping off of him. The smell was disgusting. And she thought she might actually vomit for a moment but Xenas word came back to her focus. As she began to focus she realized .these monsters could be killed. They werent just evil spirits but actual beings.
Seeing that Gabrielle had things in hand, Grin went to the ladders where more were trying to make their way up. She used all her strength to tip the ladders back, making the climbers tumble to the ground.
As the second demon charged Gabrielle she dropped on her backside. As he tried to grab her she rolled back and kicked him over the ledge to his comrades below. Only one remained. He wasnt about to fall for the same trick as his fellow demon and he used his reach to his advantage. He swung out, slashing open a gash in Gabrielles arm.
The bard cried out in pain and dropped one of her sais to clutch the flesh wound. He reared his hand back and backhanded her across the face. That move sent Gabrielle flying into Grins path, knocking the two of them down. Grin scrambled to her feet first and charged him.
More were coming up. They could both hear them and Gabrielle struggled to her feet. As Grin went blow for blow with the demon Gabrielle used all her strength to pull open the door.
"Grin!" Gabrielle called out. "Now!"
Grin tried to work around the demon but he clotheslined her with his arm, sending her flat on her back. Gabrielle knew she had to go back out as he raised his hand for the deathblow. Without thought to her own safety Gabrielle jumped onto the demons back. But before she could get the sai around to slice his neck, he tossed her over his shoulder. Grin and Gabrielle now lay next to each other, each trying to catch her breath and move. And all Xena could do was watch.
As the demon closed in he seemed to taunt them, flicking his razor nails and giving off what could be considered a laugh. Gabrielle managed to rise to her elbows and reach one of her sais but she still couldnt get a grip on it.
Youre too damn close to give up now, she told herself.
Xena had enough of watching. She closed her eyes and summoned up all the energy she could. As the monster reared back to strike the deathblow she grabbed his arm and swung him around with such force that he lost his balance. He teetered close to the edge but didnt fall. Xena fell instantly to her knees. Her spirit was totally spent. Gabrielle couldnt believe that Xena could actually touch something but she soon pushed her surprise aside to finish the job. Scrambling to her feet she jumped up in the air delivering a solid kick that sent the demon over the edge. She landed hard on her hip and Xena winced as she watched her fall.
"You okay?" Xena asked short of breath.
"Lets get inside," Gabrielle said hauling herself to her feet. Grin managed to get her footing at this point and pulled Gabrielle along until they were inside the temple.
"Weve got to block it," Gabrielle answered. "Otherwise theyll get it."
"I considered that," Grin answered. She reached into her boot and pulled out a lock and chain. Odins lock. No way would they be able to break it. They tied the inside latch to the frame with the chain and she secured the lock. Seconds later they could hear the banging on the door but it wouldnt budge. "Thatll hold them," she said hopping down from the table.
Grin took in her surroundings. "Its beautiful in here," she commented.
Silk of many brilliant hues lined the walls as candles burned throughout the temple. A small statue of the god Kristna sat in the middle of a table. They walked deeper into the room taking it all in when suddenly they heard a voice behind them.
"And to what do I owe this visit," they heard.
They turned to see a man, blue as the sky and the sea, watching them. There was merriment on his face as he held a wood wind instrument.
"Lord Kristna?" Gabrielle bowed.
He didnt reply at first. He gave a simple bow and a grin. "You are under much distress. I can see."
"Ive lost my soulmate Kristna and Ive come to ask you to restore her. Her name is Xena and you helped her many years ago. I ask-."
"Are you the one who killed her? Did you bring about the death of your soulmate and came here in remorse to change it?"
"No!" Gabrielle answered. "I would never harm Xena. She was killed by a Samurai and -."
"Told she could not return to the land of the living. She trusted a woman who did nothing but betray her in times past. I sense this woman has betrayed your soulmate again."
"What?!" the three women said in harmony.
"Yes. Shes a selfish woman. She wanted your soulmate to stay with her. She was the first bard you loved, was she not Xena?"
"But she is not the bard you love best?" he said with a teasing grin.
Xena gave a broad smile in response. "No Lord she is not She told me Gabrielle would be lost if she restored me."
"Did you ever think that this girl had lied to you yet again? Just as she had done during your first journey with her?"
"I did," Xena answered. "But I wasnt going to take that chance with Gabrielles soul."
Kristna studied them a moment. He strolled around the three of them. "It is not your time," he told Xena. "Where are your remains?"
"Here," Gabrielle said opening the pouch she had on her hip.
"Lightweight. Compact. Easy to carry," Kristna teased as he took the bag. "Ill restore your soul to your body Xena."
"Thank you," she sighed.
"But know this when its your time to go you must accept it. You must both accept it," he told Xena, as well as Gabrielle. "If not your Karmic cycle wont continue and you could be lost to each other forever. Do you understand?"
"But how will we know when that time comes?" Gabrielle asked.
"Trust me," he grinned. "You will know."
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