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A fine mist danced in the dappled sunlight, turning the air into millions of tiny prisms. In the middle of this shower of fractured light stood Gabrielle, her head thrown back, mouth open, arms held wide. A few yards away, a towering waterfall roared with primal power, throwing rainbows into the lush green forest. A symphony of songbirds filled the sky with their music as paradise stretched beneath them into infinity.
"Bliss..." Gabrielle murmured.
"Yeah, yeah, bliss," said Xena, frustrated and pacing, a cloud of butterflies performing an aerial ballet around her head. With a sneer, she grabbed one by the wings and flung it over her shoulder. The butterfly, apparently unharmed, fluttered back to the throng. Xena waved her arms maniacally, scattering them momentarily. But as soon as she stopped, they returned to their posts, making a Technicolor halo around the warrior's head. "Gods-be-damned flying worms."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "They're butterflies, Xena, not worms, for Gaia's sake.
And they're amazing. Like a living crown or something."
"Great. Xena, Queen of the Bugs."
"You're in quite a mood."
"It's this place! There's nothing to do. There's never anything to do. No wrongs to right, nothing to work and strive for, no goals or desires or hopes or dreams. This is it, Gabrielle. This is eternity and it's boring!"
"Would you have preferred Tartarus?"
"What happened to that karmic cycle thing? I thought I was supposed to be reborn as a middle-aged Hindu peacemaker."
"You can't be reborn middle-aged."
"You figured out what I meant."
"Yes, but technically, your statement made very little sense. As a bard, I have to pay attention to these things."
"Oh, ya do, huh? Been practicing your craft? You writing down our adventures in Snoresville here? Filling up parchments with tales of standing around, shrill birds and flying pests?"
"Actually, I haven't been able to find any parchment. It's not like animal products are readily available. I mean, dead things aren't acting all that dead here, are they?" Realizing that Xena's mood was catching, Gabrielle shook off her momentary displeasure, recapturing her euphoric smile. "But it doesn't really matter. Even you have to admit that this place is stunningly beautiful."
"Yeah, and that was nice the first week or so. But there are only so many roses I can stop to sniff before I start ripping their smelly heads off." Xena stopped her pacing, her frown deepening. "And yet, that doesn't really work because even plants can't be destroyed here in furkin' paradise."
"Must everything be about destruction? Xena, count your blessings! We're here, we're together, we can live forever in peace and beauty."
"Gabrielle, you know I love you, but I need more than just standing around gaping at gorgeous vistas. I need to do something. I need to feel useful. To contribute."
"But our days of 'contributing' are done. Now we're reaping our just rewards!"
Xena sat sullenly for several moments. Occasionally, she'd grab a butterfly and shoot it away with a flick of her finger. It always returned. She looked at Gabrielle, a pathetic expression on her face. "What in hades did I do to reap this damn moth problem?"
"I heard that all the heroes get those."
"What about sidekicks? How come you don't have to put up with this?"
"Sidekicks get a far greater reward."
Xena could feel it coming, but asked anyway. "Yeah? What?"
"They get to watch the heroes deal with being infested."
"Ha. Ha." Xena shook her head violently, trying to scare away the butterflies with her whipping hair. "Go get her. Go get Gabrielle," Xena exhorted the insects. They merely waited for her to finish her fit, then returned to circling her head.
"Maybe we should go for a walk. Get your mind off things for awhile."
"Maybe we should go yell at Hades. Tell him our karmic cycles are busted and would he please repair them."
"You tried that two days ago. He told you it would take a few years, remember?"
"Was it only two days? Feels like an eternity," Xena said with false honey in her voice.
Gabrielle glanced away and frowned. "Great. Here comes Marcus. Again. Why can't he get it through his head that you're taken?"
"Cuz he's bored, too, no doubt. Hey, Marcus."
"Hi, Xena. Gabrielle." Marcus smiled adoringly at Xena and managed to keep a civil expression on his face when he glanced at the bard. "So, Xena, do you want to see the jeweled caves with me? They're pretty deserted this time of day, and nice and dark, if you know what I mean..."
"She's busy," broke in Gabrielle.
"Doing what?" asked Marcus.
"She was in the middle of declaring her undying love for me again. Weren't you, Xena?"
"Oh, yeah. I'm very mushy now, Marcus. I just sit around in Paradise, talking about love. You'd hate it."
"I don't know, it sounds rather charming to me. I wouldn't mind hearing some of that." Marcus tried to get a little closer to the warrior, but her butterflies kept diving into his eyes. With a sigh, he moved back. "Is she a bug trainer or something?" he asked, jerking a thumb at the bard.
"I have many skills," replied Gabrielle. Quickly, she pressed herself against Xena's body, her height keeping her below the level of the butterflies, who appeared to welcome her presence.
"That's original," said Marcus, rolling his eyes.
"All right, that's enough," said Xena. She gave Gabrielle a quick squeeze then motioned for Marcus to take a few steps away, for a private chat. "Look. I explained things before. Yes, I loved you. Yes, we had some great times. But you can't expect a girl to sit around forever, waiting to die in order to get another date! I'm with Gabrielle now."
"But I was here first."
"Yeah, but she is the 'one', Marcus. The real deal. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to accept that. Even the damned bugs figured it out."
He shrugged his shoulders, giving her his best pathetic expression.
"Go find yourself a lovely young corpse who'll want to spend eternity with you. Hades knows there's enough of them around here."
"They're all so pure and good and sweet. I like my women a little... edgier."
"I can't be the only chick with a dark side in the Elysian Fields. C'mon, Marcus, do the legwork. What else have you got to do? Now get."
"Okay. But I haven't given up on you yet."
"Yes, you have. That's just the way it is. Now, be a man and start searching for a skirt with flaws."
With a sad nod of his head, Marcus turned his back on the waterfall, the warrior and his love.
"I hate being so rough on him," Xena murmured when she heard Gabrielle come up behind her.
"I know. But you had to. He wouldn't leave us alone."
Xena nodded sadly, watching his retreating figure. "Thank the gods Borias didn't make it in here."
Gabrielle glanced away.
"What? What do you know?" Xena asked suspiciously.
"Well... when we were hanging out with Solan yesterday, he and I had a little chat. He said that there's this place way over in those mountains where most of the centaurs hang out."
"And... Borias is with them?"
Xena smiled. "That's gonna be fun."
"Xena! You wouldn't!"
"Eternity is a long time, Gabrielle. I doubt we'll avoid him forever."
"Why is it you have so many ex-boyfriends in the Elysian Fields? I thought they were all going to be in Tartarus!"
"I was a good influence," Xena said angelically.
"I was! Compared to me, they all looked like saints!"
Gabrielle laughed. "Okay, I'll buy that. Hey, are you still bored?"
Xena looked at her friend and saw a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Why? What do you have in mind?"
"Let's go create Illusia for Minya and her sweetheart!"
Xena grinned. "Great idea! They've been having one spat after another because Minya lost the lead in that new show by Aristophanes to her thespian girlfriend."
"This will be great. I hope they can sing."
"Well, if not, at least we'll get a good laugh."
"Very true. C'mon, let's go."
Xena grabbed Gabrielle's hand and together they ran happily away from the waterfall, heading toward the large Illusia-R-Us facility in the commercial district of the Elysian Fields. Giggling like schoolgirls, the warrior and the bard figured they could mess with the lives of all their friends for years. Sure, it wouldn't take an eternity, but it was something to do until the karmic cycle spat them out again.
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