Disclaimers - The following story uses characters owned by Renaissance
Pictures for MCA/Universal and thus I'm not sure anything I write can belong to anyone but
them but since I'm doing this for fun and no monetary profit, I'm not sure it matters.
Goddess Of Truth
by G. L. Dartt
She came here the same time every year.
Below in the valley green with spring growth beside a river that flowed sparkling in the late afternoon sun, the ruins of a village could still be recognized under years of growth. Black posts jutted from the ground bearing mute testimony to the fire that had swept through like a wind of death, killing those villagers who had cowered within their homes, more afraid of the army waiting outside their doors than they were of the fire. More afraid of the warlord named Xena who led that army.
Xena no longer led an army, no longer was a warlord. All her crimes had come home to haunt her and this one in particular. The burning of Cirra had long lasting repercussions. Even now they affected her life and the lives of those she loved.
"I won't be too long," she said. Statuesque with long flowing dark hair, eyes the deep blue of the seas surrounding Greece, she made an imposing figure there on the ridge, her black leathers almost glowing in the sun. A palomino mare stood slightly behind her, the snowy mane and tail stirring gently in the light breeze.
"Oh no you don't. Remember last time?" Gabrielle said. "This time, I'm going with you." She was an irrepressibly exuberant woman a few inches shorter than her impressive companion, compact with green eyes and strawberry blond hair. A bard by nature, she had left her small village to join the reformed warlord, the two traveling through the land seeking adventure and redemption respectively. She was dressed in a sawed off top and brown skirt that left her midriff bare to reveal abs muscled from wielding the long staff dangling casually from her hand.
Xena opened her mouth to argue, hesitated, then closed it, shaking her head slightly. She had learned not to argue with that tone. Though she did want to. The memories stirred by the village below were not pleasant and she didn't want the other woman to see how much they disturbed her. But the bard was right. The last pilgrimage to this place had resulted in Gabrielle's capture by slavers, Xena's death, resurrection and subsequent encounters with the maddened Amazon, Valesca. And with Callisto.
It all came back to her, didn't it. One of the survivors of the village below, the blond had sworn her entire existence to destroying Xena and everything she loved. That she had not succeeded was in no way due to a lack of effort on the young woman's part. Their encounters had been bloody and deadly with deep soul searing pain inflicted on all. The last time they had seen Callisto, the blond had been aiding them in their battle against Valesca. Not out of any great sense of benevolence, as it were, but because Callisto, already immortal from eating an apple from the Tree of Life, wanted to get her hands on the ambrosia that Valesca had used to turn herself into a god. Despite Xena's dislike of the idea, she had been forced to ask for the immortal's help in fighting the Amazon and Callisto had readily agreed. Callisto had managed to consume some of the ambrosia but as she and Valesca exchanged lightning bolts, Xena was able to cut the rope bridge they were on, sending them plummeting to the fiery lava flow below where hopefully they would remain for eternity.
Xena stifled a sigh. It was true Callisto had been more than a plague upon her and Gabrielle. The maddened warrior had even killed the bard's husband, Perdicus, the day after they were wed. But the warrior princess could never forget it had been her own actions that helped create the monster Callisto had become. It had been her dark past as a warlord that had originally brought her to this place. And it was her sense of guilt and responsibility that kept her returning.
"C'mon, let's do this then," she said resignedly, pulling Argo forward. "I don't want to have to camp tonight down there."
Gabrielle followed silently, her face concerned as she snuck an occasional glance at her tall friend. The bard knew how much things like this tore Xena up inside and nightmares for weeks after were usually the result. But she also knew Xena truly felt she had to do this so she said nothing and tried to be there for the repercussions.
The singing of the birds and cheerful buzz of insects made the ruins seem so much sadder as they reached the edge of what had been a peaceful, prosperous town, walking down what had once been the main thoroughfare of the hamlet. Lining the street to each side, the crumbled remains of what had been homes and shops guided them to the center square where the town's main well still stood, the stone scarred and blacked.
Suddenly Xena's hand whipped out to grasp her companion's arm, stopping her dead in her tracks. Both stared at the large black horse which grazed contentedly on the grasses that had reclaimed the cobblestones. It bore a beautiful black saddle with intricate silver inlay which matched the metal on the carefully crafted bridle. Beyond, obscured by the bulk of the beast, they could just make out a hooded and cloaked figure sitting cross-legged on a large bolder which sat in what used to be the front yard of a small home.
Xena's sword made a metallic rasp in the peaceful solitude of the dead town as she drew it from the sheath on her back, Gabrielle hefting her staff before her in a defensive manner. The figure did not move, showing no sign that it had heard. Or if it had, then was totally unconcerned. Warily, the two walked forward, spreading out slightly as they approached and they could see as they got closer that the figure was drinking from a golden goblet, several bottles of wine scattered about, not a few of them empty.
"Hello there," Gabrielle hailed, the sight of what appeared to be a long bender relaxing her some.
The figure, who was turned away from them, straightened and rested the goblet on the top of the stone before reaching up to pull back the hood. Blond-white hair caught the rays of the sun to reflect brightly and elegant features raised proudly to regard the two as she looked over her shoulder.
"Hello Gabrielle," Callisto said. "Welcome to the old homestead."
It seemed as if time had stopped, the singing of the birds ceasing as if cut off, but in fact it was the sudden dose of adrenaline and fear that exploded within the two friends, the rush of hearts pounding in their ears drowning all outside stimuli. Xena, mouth instantly dry, crouched defensively, sword held before her, eyes darting anxiously about. Beside her, Gabrielle was frozen, much as a rabbit caught in the lighting of a torch might be.
Callisto observed them quietly, a bitter smile playing about her mouth. She reached back and picked up her goblet. "I'd invite you in, but as you can see, Xena burned the place down." She turned back to face front, eyes resting on the rubble before her. She gestured with her wine at a corner where growth crawled over the collapsed beams. "My sister and I had our room right there. I remember the sun used to come in through the window right into my eyes but I could never make my sister switch beds with me."
Her tone was gentle, her eyes, no longer the blue-white of ambrosia induced power, but instead dark with memories and pain. Involuntarily, Gabrielle took a step forward, hand outstretched as her heart stirred within her, forgetting who this was for a moment. Xena gestured her back abruptly, looking at her as if she had lost her mind. The bard did halt but it was clear from her expression that she still could not help feeling for the slender figure that looked so forlorn on the rock.
"What are you up to?" Xena asked harshly after long moments determining that their enemy was indeed alone.
Callisto's features tightened in anger. "I'm here to grieve," she said. She turned once more and glared into Xena's eyes. "Or has the great Xena decided I don't have that right?" She straightened suddenly, sliding off the rock. "What are you here for? Come to gloat over your victory of Cirra?"
"No," Xena said shortly and did not elaborate. She really could not figure out what was going on. Callisto had made no threatening moves despite her bitter tone nor could the warrior princess tell if Callisto still had her powers or if she were still immortal. Callisto didn't even seem to be armed. It was confusing and intensely disturbing. "How did you get out of the lava pit?"
Callisto looked away as if bored with the conversation. "Valesca and I were summoned to the Hall of Judgement to be considered for godhood. Valesca wouldn't shut up, going on and on about being the Goddess of Chaos. Artemis had her stripped of her powers for trashing one of her temples and dumped her somewhere down south."
"And you?" The irrepressible bard could not be kept out of any conversation for very long.
Callisto favored the bard with a smile that did not reach her eyes. "Me, I'm on probation," she explained. "They think they might have a job for me but I have to keep my nose clean for awhile. No interfering with mortals, no opposing other gods, no demolishing of any icons, that sort of thing."
There was a silence, then slowly Xena straightened. Callisto may have been her greatest enemy, but Xena could never remember the blond ever lying to her before. "So I guess that means we can go on our way in peace," she said dryly.
Callisto shrugged. "I don't know why you stopped by in the first place," she said. She picked up the goblet and drained it, peering into its depths in disappointment. "You know, I never drank intoxicants before because I wanted to experience life in all its awful detail. Now I need some numbness and the damned stuff doesn't work on me." She shook her head mournfully.
Carefully Xena slid her sword back in the sheath on her back and looked at Gabrielle. She motioned with her head for them to back away but the bard's natural inquisitiveness got the better of her. She just had to know.
"Can I ask you a question?" she asked, ignoring Xena's frown and emphatic gesture. She actually stepped forward, closer to Callisto.
Callisto gazed at her, raising a delicate eyebrow. "I don't understand you," she said, baffled. "Didn't you get enough of asking questions last time."
Gabrielle looked her full in the face. "I believe, deep down, you're sorry for the things you did," she said. "Am I right?."
Callisto stepped forward, her eyes taking on a distinctive glow as she circled the bard. Xena grabbed at her chakram, heart quailing as she figured Gabrielle's curiosity had finally took her one step too far. But the immortal merely came to a stop behind Gabrielle, leaning forward slightly as she talked in her ear.
"Gabrielle, let's have no mistake here whatsoever. I hate Xena. I hate everything about her. If my powers could make her feel the pain she caused me, I do it in a heartbeat. I am not sorry for anything I did in trying to make her suffer," she said deliberately. Then, after a bated pause, added, "Except for one thing."
"What's that," Gabrielle asked in a husky voice.
"I am truly and very deeply sorry that I killed your husband, what'isname, the pretty boy," she said. And with that, she returned to her rock and gestured at the pile of bottles, one stirring and shaking, finally rising to fly through the air to smack into her hand. She popped the cork with her thumb, pouring the ruby liquid into her goblet.
Gabrielle remained where she was, frozen in shock and remembered horror. Xena glared at Callisto and went over to the bard.
"Gabrielle," she said, resting her hand on the redhead's shoulder. "Don't let her do this. You can't believe anything she says."
Callisto snorted then and raised her goblet. "That's where you're wrong, Xena," she said evenly. "Apparently that's what the Olympians think I'm best at, digging out what people don't want to acknowledge. And as the next Goddess of Truth, I am bound not only to speak it, but to make anyone who comes before me recognize it for themselves."
"Goddess of Truth? You? And you want me to believe you're sorry for killing Perdicus?" Xena said acidly.
"Well, of course I am, Xena," Callisto said, drawing her legs up beneath her as she relaxed on the rock. "As I said, everything I did was intended to make you suffer. My killing the muscle brained oaf didn't make you suffer at all, did it? In fact, deep down, you were thrilled to pieces that I got him out of the way. It brought the bard back to you, didn't it Xena?" Callisto shook her head in sorrow. "I was such a fool. The perfect tool in my hands and I destroyed it. Gabrielle could be vegetating somewhere popping out brats instead of walking around singing the glories of a reformed Xena, Warrior Princess. And you, my old enemy, could have been in some bar right this instant, trying to drown the passion you feel for her and slowly dying a little bit at a time. If you hadn't already found a way to get yourself killed. Such exquisite pain you would have felt and instead, I gave you the opportunity to play Gabrielle's big, strong protector." She slapped herself in the head in total disgust at herself.
Gabrielle was looking at Xena with an expression the warrior princess could not identify. "You were glad Perdicus died," she said in an oddly choked voice. "I always wondered... oh, Xena."
"I wasn't glad," Xena retorted. "It almost killed me that you hurt."
"Actually, the truth is, it almost killed her to watch you marry him," Callisto offered helpfully. "If she had acted out what was in her heart, she would have killed him herself and taken you right there in the church."
"Shut up," Xena stepped towards her, taking her chakram from her waist and raising it threateningly.
Callisto looked at her sardonically. "Even if you could kill me," she said. "Which you can't, you can't kill truth, Xena. And once released, it cannot be shoved back into where it was imprisoned. It has a way of hanging around too. It can be ignored, and denied, but it won't go away. Eventually, it will be recognized."
"Xena." Gabrielle looked at her friend with dismay. "Perdicus was so sensitive, so gentle. How could you wish harm on him?"
Xena could only reach out helplessly. She wasn't good with words and this was beyond anything she could say to make it right. The most cursed thing was that Xena could not honestly and believably refute any of it. Callisto was right. Everything the goddess said was true.
Gabrielle turned and walked away, heading for the edge of town, not looking back at the stricken woman who dropped her outstretched arm in defeat, head bowed. Finally she looked over at Callisto who was observing her with interest.
"I thought you said you weren't allowed to interfere with mortals," she spat bitterly.
Callisto spread her hands out. "Hey, I was sitting here minding my own business," she said innocently. "I didn't ask you to stop by and I certainly didn't make you petition for my attention. Gabrielle is the one who asked for truth. I am bond by the rules to honor that. Oh, by the way, tell her that next time she has to make an offering of sorts. It's a requirement. This one was on the house. My treat. Next time it'll cost."
"It already has," Xena said flatly and started after the bard.
Callisto watched the warrior stalk away in the deepening dusk, head tilted slightly to the side until the two figures disappeared in the distance. A slow smile spread over her features, an expression of wicked delight. Throwing her head back, she laughed to the stars that were slowly appearing in the deep blue darkening to black.
"Oh Xena," she said into the night. "And I thought being the Goddess of Truth was going to be boring. I would not have believed I could hurt you so much more this way."
She took a sip from her goblet, her eyes becoming the cool blue-white. She wondered when she could legitimately run into the pair again, purely by accident of course. There was still Gabrielle. How self-righteous the little bard was being. But Callisto knew the bard had agreed to marry Perdicus, not because she truly loved him, but because she felt sorry for him. She also knew it had been a little test of her friend, attempting to goad the warrior princess into revealing her true feelings for the bard. It was a gamble lost. Xena hadn't co-operated, instead wishing them well and sending Gabrielle off with the big lummox. . It would be incredibly entertaining to see how Gabrielle handled her own truth. And how Xena would feel about being manipulated like that.
Callisto laughed again with malicious pleasure as she leaped off the rock and gracefully mounted the big black stallion, reining him around and heading in a direction which would bring her in contact with another old enemy. Who knew what truths were hid within Hercules? What a weapon truth was, she thought.
It could create such a rift when used properly.
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