THE LAST TEMPTATION OF XENA
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29 June 2001
Product disclaimer: The characters belong to what is left of RenPics; whereas, the plot is mostly mine. My apologies to Nikos Kazantsakis. Commentary, as always, is welcome at email@example.com
"STOP! Stop what you're doing right now."
Xena came to an abrupt halt when a small yellow figure with an opaque bubble for a head appeared right in front of her. The warrior briefly stared quizzically at the odd apparition, then shifted her stride to the right. She continued her march toward destiny with Yodoshi's army, which was encamped near Higuchi. Just as she thought she had passed the stranger, it ran in front of her and dared lay its gloved hands on her exposed abdomen. It tried to hold her back.
"I said 'stop'. Are you deaf, woman?"
Xena looked down at the cold clammy gloves clinging to her stomach and growled, "I have work to do. Get out of my way." She swept her gauntleted arm to knock the bubble headed idiot away, when the bubble fell off to reveal a woman with long blonde hair and her soul mate's face.
Xena drew her katana. She didn't really have time to fight Gabrielle's murderous offspring, much less wonder what she was doing there. She was about to slice Hope into two when an energy force swept her backwards. She landed with her back against a tree about twenty feet from where she was standing.
Bands of energy wove round and round her wrists and held them fast against the trunk. She was completely immobilized as Hope approached her.
"Now that I have your attention and that's really all I want from you, please listen to what I have to say," Hope said.
Please, she has learned to say please, Xena thought. Well, this was different. "Okay, I'll listen," she said.
"If you keep marching that way," Hope said as she pointed toward the sound of distant taiko drums pounding out their war cry, "you will die an honorable death. But Mother will find your body in a horrible state, butchered and bloodied. She will fight for your soul and lose. She will lose you forever, Xena. I am here to keep all that from happening."
"Since when have you ever cared about Gabrielle?" Xena's voice dripped with skepticism.
"I care because the second time my body died at her hands, my soul emerged from the darkness to stand at Father's side. Then he showed me his true nature." Hope looked away and sighed.
"He punished me. I could not stay with him after what he did to me." She unconsciously soothed a phantom pain in her gut.
"So I crossed over to this world. After Xena killed Hades, the boundary between the living and dead became permeable. I wandered over the whole of Greece looking for Mother. I need to feel her goodness and her warmth again, so I can heal. I consulted an oracle to find her. She gave me this device." Hope held out a gray metal box encrusted with dials and levers.
"She told me of your present." Hope looked directly at Xena again. "And of your future. Gabrielle's heart will grow cold and harden after you die, Xena. She will become the hero you could never be, but she won't be capable of truly loving anyone again. Not me. Not anyone."
"So to save yourself, you have to save me," Xena said.
"No," said Xena.
"No, I must die to fulfill an obligation to others I have wronged. I honestly had no idea there were so many. Nonetheless, it's my duty to set right what went wrong," Xena said.
"If you could see an alternative future of life with Gabrielle, would you reconsider martyrdom?"
Xena leaned back against the tree. Hope wasn't going to let her go any time soon. That was obvious. Even though Yodoshi was waiting for her on the other side, she realized he was not getting any older either.
"Fine. Show me."
With an ungloved hand, Hope reached out to stroke Xena's cheek. The world went black.
"Where are we?"
They stood in a green pasture overlooking a fast moving clear stream. A water wheel house and a small farmhouse stood next to the bubbling water. A wooden bridge spanned the stream and just beyond that lay orchards and vineyards that disappeared behind the hills.
"You're home, Xena." Hope said, "This is where you and Mother finally settled after your travels."
"It's so beautiful here." Xena breathed deeply. The air smelled of citrus, of wet wood, of life.
Xena took off in a dead run toward the farmhouse. Her feet barely touched the ground. In fact, she could not feel the ground at all. When she reached the foot of the bridge, she stopped. She wondered why she wasn't winded. All she could see when she looked down was a heavy mist swirling around where her ankles ended. Hope glided to a stop next to her.
"What happened to my feet?" Xena said, "I can't feel the ground."
"In this realm, we are not entirely corporeal beings."
"You mean we're ghosts?" Xena said.
"No, I'm not a ghost. You are, of a sorts. Have you noticed my outfit?" Hope ran her hands over her yellow slicker and rapped her bubble helmet with her knuckles. "This protects me from contaminating this time line and being contaminated by it. You don't need protection because you're not actually here. What you see is a projection of a possible future. You cannot interact with anything here; whereas, I exist both now and later. I walk along a movable interface of what is and what could be. Understand?"
Xena shook her head. All she knew for sure was that Hope was telling the truth. She could not touch anything in this world. She watched her hand pass through the base of the wooden bridge.
"Where are my future self and Gabrielle? I assume they are why you brought me here. To see them," said Xena.
"They are probably in the house. Look, the sun is setting. The workday is over and the harvesters should be returning to their bunks soon. Don't worry; they can't see us."
Hope and Xena watched a procession of farm workers walk across the bridge toward the water wheel house. The workers wore simple brown tunics, plain except for a crest embroidered on the back. Xena recognized the swirling brass design of her old familiar leathers.
"Do they work for me?" Xena asked.
"Not exactly. You own them."
Xena looked at Hope incredulously. "How can that be? I would never hold slaves."
"Perhaps I spoke too hastily. They actually belong to Gabrielle, but you own them in kind since she is your mate. Let me explain. Many years passed before you and Gabrielle sailed back to Greece after your adventures in Japa. She received word that her uncle left her this land when he died. The farm was already well-tended. All you had to do was maintain it. You and she were able to do just that for the first few years. But it became very obvious that it was too much work for just two people. Especially after you became ill."
"I was ill? From what?" Xena said. When she ended her warlording days, she had few personal vices except for pride. Xena was proud of her body and what she could make it do.
"Years of battle were hard on your body, Xena. Even you eventually succumbed to age and attrition. A young Amazon challenged you one day. You were just a little slower than she was. She scored a deep gash on your leg. It became infected and had to be amputated."
"Oh my god," Xena exclaimed.
"Oh, you adapted. You fashioned a prosthetic limb and lashed it to the stump. You could hobble around the farm and help out. But Gabrielle did most of the work. The amputation took more than your leg. It took a toll on your constitution. Your endurance dwindled steadily over the next few months. Eventually, Gabrielle had to get some help."
"She left you alone while she traveled to the nearest town. She wanted to hire some laborers. What she encountered along the way instead were a dozen Gauls held captive by the Romans. They were on their way to fight in the gladiator's ring. Out of the kindness of her heart, Gabrielle offered to buy their freedom. She traded your chakram for these slaves since she had not enough dinars to satisfy the slave master."
"She told the Gauls they were free to go wherever they pleased, but they wouldn't leave her side. She could not speak their language nor they hers. Finally, one showed her his brand. The Romans branded each of the slaves on the back of the thigh. If any of them were in a Roman-held territory, they would be hunted down and killed as runaway slaves. Since they were in the midst of Greece, a Roman protectorate, they could not get far."
"Gabrielle took them to her farm. She gave them room and board. In return, they worked the fields and the orchard. As the farm grew and became more prosperous, she needed more workers. Instead of hiring free laborers, she bought slaves destined for the gladiatorial games. She called it rescuing. Eventually, she 'rescued' enough would-be gladiators to become one of the largest slave owners in Greece."
"Your Gabrielle is and always will be a compassionate woman, Xena. She never abused any of her slaves. They are happier here than being free men and women. She looks after their every need just as she looked after yours, until the very end. Because of you, she was happy."
"You will die in your own bed, Xena. She will be by your side as you take your last breath. In your last moments, it will be her face you see and her hand you hold. This future I offer you is what you always wanted."
Xena murmured, "Gabrielle is supposed to be a hero. Countless people are in need and expect her to do the right thing."
"Don't be silly. She gave up that hero stuff and became a success instead. Besides, not everyone is cut out to be a hero. The savior-and-hero business requires personal sacrifice and the career is short-lived. Gabrielle is not Eli. She is not you. Why even worry about the countless nameless masses in need? She was and always will be there for you when you are in need. Gabrielle would end the world for you. Find it in your heart to return the favor."
A vague memory of another Roman Empire, another Caesar, another crucifixtion entered Xena's mind. Gabrielle destroyed that entire world so she could live again. How many more sacrifices would have to be made on her behalf?
"So, shall we go over to the house and take a look at the happy couple?" Hope said.
"No, no, you've already told me enough. I don't need to see them. I don't need to see any of this any more. Take me back," Xena said.
"But Xena, you are everything to Gabrielle. You are the only thing to her. The world can go to hell as long as you are with her," Hope pleaded.
"I know. That's the problem," Xena said. She turned back toward the hill where they first appeared.
"But I brought you here specifically to see them. You must see them. You must be with them," Hope insisted. She made a grab at Xena's arm, but her fingers clasped empty air. She had forgotten only she was partially corporeal. Xena's physical form was still back in Japa. Flustered, she fumbled with the device on her suit and finally managed to activate it. When she returned to Japa, she was going to drag Xena into the future. Kicking and screaming if necessary. Hope did not want to disappoint her father and lose 40,000 delicious souls.
Xena came to an abrupt halt when a small yellow figure with an opaque bubble for a head appeared right in front of her. The warrior briefly stared quizzically at the odd apparition, then drew her katana and sliced the stranger in two. She continued her march toward destiny with Yodoshi's army, which was encamped near Higuchi. Hope had set the time traveling device fifteen minutes too early.
"You failed me again, Daughter."
Dahak's voice echoed through the subterranean gloom of his temple. Hope shivered in the presence of her father since his fiery essence only emitted a cold blue light. He glowed a cheery yellow-red only when the living, breathing warmth of life satisfied his hunger.
"I'm sorry, Father." She stared down at the marble floor.
"Your mixture of truth and lies was not clever enough to fool Xena. The feast of souls Yodoshi prepared for me is now forever beyond my reach."
"Yes, Father." She noticed the blood crusting in the fine cracks of the marble.
"You know what I must do."
She shot her head up. "Not again -- Daddy, please."
A finger of flame tossed Hope on to the sacrificial altar. More flames sprouted to spread and bind her limbs tightly to the far corners. She screamed as the cold flames crawled over her skin. A tongue of blue fire filled her mouth and muffled her cries. Dahak whispered in his daughter's ear, "You are so not like your mother."
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