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Disclaimer: This little story takes up the challenge left to all of us by the ending of Sacrifice II. The title comes from the rumor afoot that all the events of Season Three will be explained away with either Xena or Gabrielle, or both, waking up, rubbing their eyes, and saying ĎOww, I really need to water the wine a little more, I just had the most disgusting dreamí. There is no sex or violence here, except some of the latter inflicted on Ares, and that doesnít count...

Not Necessarily A Dream

By Dan A. Payne
Dan.A.Payne@sam.usace.army.mil

 

XENA stood at the edge of the fiery bottomless pit, gazing straight down into its depths. There was little or no expression of grief or sorrow on her face, nothing but a blank and faraway stare. Xena had always controlled her emotions well... all excepting, of course, the blood red lust of battle... and now, there was nothing that a scream, or a cry, or even a tear could change. For the briefest of moments the thought came unbidden to her mind that she should take a single step forward, and join her closest of friends - maybe her only friend - in death. But the moment passed, and Xena turned away. In the chamber with her were only two others, as all of Dahokís worshipers, and his dark priests, and even the innocent sacrificial victims had fled. One of the two was Joxer, who, except for a small whimper, still seemed to be in a state of total shock. The other one was Serafin, a childhood friend of Gabrielle, and she sat on the stone floor, huddled in the corner, not making even the tiniest of sounds...

___________

THE colors seemed to mix and swirl... they were such pretty colors, so very, very beautiful. They seemed to come from everywhere and go everywhere at the same time. She herself seemed to follow the colors, and even become one with them... to become one with the magnificence of their light. So this is peace, she thought. Iíve always wanted to be at peace... itís not been easy these last many months. First she had plunged a dagger into the heart of another, and this had robbed her of her innocence and made her a course, common thing. Then she had been violated - mind, body, and soul - by an abomination so horrible she now wondered if it hadnít driven her insane. Then there was her daughter... a daughter of her flesh, but not of her spirit. What evils had she brought to the World through the birth of her daughter. Then it became easy to feel hate and betrayal, and sheíd journeyed far with these feelings in her heart. At the time sheíd thought her journey was being made for the right, but she knew now that it was for nothing more than to strike back - to lash out - at her friend. Her friend? Her companion. Her soul-mate. Well, that had almost cost her friend her life. Then another life was taken... that of her friendís son. Then there was infinite sadness, and then utmost brutality, and then - maybe - reconciliation. But, still, something inside of her had died, and she had grown harden because of it. She had killed again- once in battle, and then in judgment. And her daughter had grown up, unnaturally and with a force - a horrible, malevolent force - that both twisted minds and fed on human souls. Maybe she had stopped her daughterís evil. Maybe not. It now seemed so very far away...

And then the light began to clear, if not to lose its brilliance. She could see objects... incredible things, really. They came and passed like the circling of the Universe itself, glorious beyond imagination, but, really, only trifles. And next it was as if she flew over a great and mighty expanse, stretching from eternity to eternity, beautiful and unchanging, but also ever changing. Then, it was if her mind cleared, and she sat on a small rise. Stretching forth from her were fields of thickest grass, more dazzling in color than a polished jade. Above her was a sky of the brightest cobalt blue. She did not see the sun, but there was a glory that lit the scene with a light not conceivable by either human eyes or mind. She felt strong, and alive, and filled with joy. She was dressed in a simple, gossamer gown that enclosed her throat and covered her arms, and which reached all the way to her ankles. The gown was of the utmost white, and she had sandals of gold on her feet.

"Welcome," said a voice, quiet but calm and reassuring.

"Thank you," answered the young woman. For she was Gabrielle.

"You do not know me," replied the voice, "but at other times and places, we have met."

Gabrielle found this statement somewhat odd and confusing, but she knew that it was true. She did not know how she knew.

"Am I in the Elysian Fields?" asked Gabrielle.

"Oh, no, nothing at all like that," replied the voice, and the voice seemed to be tinged with the slightest touch of gentle merriment... "You are on the Plain known as Forever. You are beyond both time and space, Gabrielle. You are even beyond the infinite."

Gabrielle didnít answer. She lowered her head, as if in pensive contemplation.

"You arenít alone, Gabrielle. I am here with you... turn around."

Gabrielle did as she was told... and, quite unexpectedly, she saw a woman, dressed identically to Gabrielle herself. This woman was incredibly beautiful, but she was neither young nor old. Her hair was as white as new-fallen snow, with small streaks of brown, black, and tan. She was smiling, and her smile could only be described as dazzling.

"Who are you?" asked an astonished but not frightened Gabrielle.

"Why, Iím your Mother, of course."

"My Mother?" replied Gabrielle, "But... my Mother - sheís back home in Poteideia..."

"Why," came the reply, "then Gabrielle has two mommies."

"Huh?"

"Just a joke, Gabrielle. Youíll understand it before too long. But I really need to lighten you up. Get you to relax and laugh... have some fun, maybe even be just the least little bit mischievous. After all, you did me a favor not long ago. I owe you."

"What favor?" queried Gabrielle.

"Remember back, when Aphrodite got mad at Xena and cast a spell on one of your scrolls, and everything you wrote down on it came true?"

"Yes"

"Well, you were generous to the Sisters of one of my orphanages. And, by the way, out of that whole fiasco, their obtaining that sword you gave them was the one thing that remained unchanged at the end... Do you know who I am now?"

"Youíre..."

"Another clue, speaking of Aphrodite. I most definitely did not marry Attis the Ape Man, the story on her temple walls to the contrary notwithstanding. Oh, and when Xena launched Charlie the Tuna into low-Earth orbit, I helped out there, too. Not to mention, of course, Illusia..."

"I do know who you are. Youíre the Great Goddess... whoís Charlie the Tuna?"

"Solaris. You will understand it better by and by."

"That was... strange, now that you mention it. Just how would we shoot a fish so far way up into the heavens? I thought it was all part of Aphroditeís spell... Her second spell, I mean."

"Itís not important now... if it ever possibly was. But, my little Gabrielle, there are things that are important. Some of them are very important. You know what Iím talking about?"

"Dahok?"

"He certainly is a loose end, isnít he?"

"Could you stop him from entering the World?"

"Maybe I could drop-kick him clean out of the Universe, if I wanted to... but I want something else even more."

"Whatís that?"

"Gabrielle, there is a reason why I have orphanages and hospices, and places of healing in my name. And why I have no temples. Temples are for gods that demand... gods who want mankind to know fear. I can give my children certain things, and certain things I cannot. But, no matter who they are, or how desperate their lives have been, they all have Glory... no matter the circumstance, no matter what may befall them. In the end, Gabrielle, all else is of no consequence whatever. But it must be your Glory. It is you who must understand why. It is you who must act."

"How can I act now... I gave up my life."

"Wrong. You didnít. I pulled you out before you got scorched.

"Iím alive?"

"And well and kicking. Now, are you ready to go back and face Dahok?"

"How can I oppose Dahok? Iím just..."

"Just what? A young girl from Poteideia? So, if I help you, will you promise to have a little fun?"

"Fun?"

"Youíll understand later. I promise. But it wonít all be fun. Thereíll come a time, and soon, when much will be expected of you. Maybe more than you think you can bear. That, Iím afraid, will not be fun at all."

Gabrielle again looked somewhat pensive, but the Great Goddess sat down next to her and put an arm around Gabrielleís shoulders. She put a finger under Gabrielleís chin and smiled at her again, most broadly.

"Ready, kid?"

"Yes, I think."

"First, thereís something I have to give you. Itís really important."

And the Great Goddess gave Gabrielle a soft, linen-covered bundle...

"What is it?" asked Gabrielle.

"Your laundry. It was getting pretty ripe as of late, with all your running around the countryside and riding on horseback. But, thatís what a mom is for..."

Gabrielle laughed, and so did the Great Goddess. And she touched Gabrielle with one finger on the tip of her nose, and there was a great cascade of blinding colors that covered Gabrielle from head to toe. For the slightest fraction of an instant Gabrielle seemed bewildered and astonished, but then she smiled at the Great Goddess with a grin both broad and totally irrepressible.

"So, do you understand my tiny jokes about having two mommies and Charlie the Tuna now?" asked the Great Goddess.

"Of course," replied Gabrielle.

"Then bye... and be careful."

And Gabrielle disappeared in a flash of light...

___________

XENA still stood in the great chamber of Dahok, with Joxer next to her. For them, not a second had passed. Then, Xena felt a pair of hands rap around her eyes...

"Guess who?"

Xena spun around, reaching, without thought, over her shoulder for her great battle sword. But, by then, there was no one there...

"No. Over here, Xena."

And Xena spun around again... and there, right before her, was a familiar figure dressed in knee-high red boots, a brown skirt, and a green top, with midriff bare. Xenaís face at first showed a look of utmost astonishment, and then, as if recognition dawned all at once, a deep and thunderous scowl.

"Hope," spat out Xena, holding her sword out before her, level and battle-ready.

"I would certainly hope not. Do I sound like Iíve been smoking stinkweed for the last twenty odd years? Do I look like I just popped out of some giant, rubbery, gyrating, helluva messy cocoon that looked all the World like... like Jabba the Hope?"

"What?!" replied Xena.

"Just a joke, my special sweetheart, just a joke..."

"Then... then, who are you?" added Xena.

"Why... Iím Gabby - Gabby the Goddess!"

___________

JOXER looked like he was going to faint. Since the appearance of Gabrielle he had been backing up closer to Xena. He had just noticed that Gabrielleís eyes seemed more brilliant than usual, and that there was a noticeable albeit subtle corona of soft light glowing all around her frame. Then Gabrielle... Gabrielle the Goddess... noticed Joxer. She smiled. And then she spoke...

"Joxer. Thereís been something Iíve been meaning to tell you for a long, long time."

"Wha, wha, wha..." babbled Joxer.

"Youíre not my type."

"Not... not, not your type..." added a now terribly crestfallen and still babbling Joxer.

"No. Iím just a simple, peace-loving country girl from Poteideia. Youíre a warrior. And, if what Meg says is right, one bull of a warrior. You need to be mated with a like warrior. Someone like... like... Xena!"

"Gabrielle?" queried Xena.

"So, by the Power invested in Me as a Goddess, I now pronounce you, Joxer the Mighty, and you, Xena, Warrior Princess, man and wif-"

"Gabrielle!!! Stop it! Right now!! I mean right now!!!" screamed Xena. And Joxer did faint, falling over squarely into the arms of Xena. Not the least bit pleased, the Warrior Princess then shook Joxer hard enough to rattle his eye-teeth loose, and he quickly regained consciousness. Xena pushed him away, again not at all gently. She scowled, but she didnít know who she was scowling at the most - Joxer or Gabrielle.

"Just a joke, Xena, just another little joke... jeez, lighten up a little bit for once. Please... Well, at least you did call me Gabrielle."

"You are... Gabrielle. Gabrielle! You are Gabrielle! But, but... how?" exclaimed Xena.

"All in good time. First I need to tie up a few loose ends before I really get started. Okay... we really, really have to do something with Joxer."

"With... with me?" squeaked Joxer.

"Oh, donít worry. Itíll be something good - for all of us. Letís see... I can make you a god, too! Nothing too risky, íthough. Okay, Iíll allow you teleportation... and, what else... invulnerability, and weíll turn up the strength a notch or two - still, not too high. But no re-arranging of matter at the sub-atomic level, and we wonít even begin to try to figure out anything about omniscience."

And Gabrielle pointed one finger at Joxer, and there was a beam of light, and his familiar garb with itís garbage-can lid armor disappeared in a flash, to be replaced with a snow-white mini-toga ending way too high above the knees, and with a laurel wreath resting squarely upon his brow...

"I... I... am a god. A real live, honest-to-gosh god!!!" exclaimed a both transfigured and transfixed Joxer.

"But," replied Gabrielle, "there is a catch. Itís not forever. And... youíll need the company of a goddess to keep you in line, and Iím really going to be way, way too busy. I know. I owe Aphrodite big time. She hangs pretty close to Hercules. So... for the duration of your godhood, starting sometime here around the autumnal equinox and lasting, oh, about twenty two fortnights, youíll be helping Hercules on his legendary journeys. And, all that time, you and Aphrodite can be great pals."

And Joxer began to sing.

"Iím Joxer the godly,

Iíll transport where I wanna be,

With Aphrodite by my side,

Discord and Ares better hide,

Iím Joxer, Joxer the godly!"

"Goodbye, Joxer," said Gabrielle, and she pointed her finger, and Joxer was whisked away at the speed of light, if not quite at the speed of Joxerís sound.

"Goodbye, warrior chuuuuuuummmssssssss..."

"Well, thank Gaia for that," said Xena.

"Now youíre starting to catch on," answered Gabrielle. She looked around and then saw Seraphin, still curled up in the corner on the floor. Gabrielle then pointed a finger at Seraphin, and spoke to her.

"Serrie, itís way past time you got your buns back to Poteideia where you belong. And next time, use the brains the Great Goddess gave you before you get mixed up with the likes of Dahok."

There was a flash of light, and Seraphin was gone...

"And pleeaze do something about your hair," added Gabrielle, as Seraphin disappeared into ethereal nothingness.

Gabrielle then turned back to Xena...

"Do you like the new me, Xena?" Gabrielle asked.

"I... I still donít know what to say," replied Xena.

"Iím really just the same, Xena, deep down... but now let me ask you, Xena - why have you never kissed me?"

"Kissed you... youíve... youíve never asked. But, I did kiss you once. When you came to me in Tartarus."

"It was very close, I agree. But - it was not real. And, for my never asking, I suppose Iím bolder now. If... if I were to turn myself into someone like, say, Ulysses, would you kiss me then?"

And Gabrielleís shape began to shimmer ominously...

"No, Gabrielle, no, donít, please!! Not Ulysses! Especially not Ulysses!" cried out Xena... and then she added, "I - I love you for what you are."

And Gabrielleís shimmering ceased. She again spoke to Xena, but her voice was now serious.

"Maybe you will kiss me... someday when it has real meaning."

Xena opened her mouth as to speak, but Gabrielle turned away. It was then that Gabrielle saw something... something that maybe sheíd willed herself not to see before. Hidden behind the altar to Dehok, there lay a crumpled form. Gabrielle walked over to the body and knelt down beside it.

"Callisto," whispered Gabrielle, "You killed her, didnít you, Xena?"

"She laughed when... you died, Gabrielle. I had to kill her. She was your enemy."

Gabrielle gently closed Callistoís eyes, and also closed her own. She then softly said... "Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you."

"What are you saying, Gabrielle?" asked Xena.

"Just words. Words that sometimes seem so long ago forgotten. I should have loved Callisto, Xena."

Xena was silent, lost in her own thoughts. Gabrielle had gotten on both her knees, and taken both of Callistoís hands in her own. Gabrielle then bowed her head, and next she seemed to be silently mouthing many words. And then there appeared all the colors of the rainbow, with a light that was both soft and gentle, and then the body of Callisto was gone.

"Where did you send her?" asked Xena.

"To a place where sheíll find peace and joy. To the hearts and minds of those who love her."

"But, who would love Callisto?"

"You would be surprised, Xena. You would be very, very surprised."

___________

XENA and Gabrielle were now outside the Temple of Dahok. Gabrielle, almost like old times, was sitting on a rock, a scroll in one hand and a quill in the other...

"Okay, Xena, let me check my list," said Gabrielle, "Joxer taken care of, Seraphim taken care of... now, what about the coneheads and all those villagers?"

"Coneheads?" asked Xena.

"The priests of Dahok. It looks like theyíve taken off for parts unknown. I guess the villagers which were rounded up for sacrifice have escaped."

"You donít know for sure?"

"Youíre right, Iíd better check." Gabrielle closed her eyes and seemed to be concentrating. Then she looked up and spoke... "Yup, they all escaped. And Iím not worried about the coneheads right now. When this is all over theyíll be looking for real jobs."

And Gabrielle made two more ticks on her checklist.

"What now?" asked Xena.

Gabrielle studied her list and then smiled... but it was a smile that could have frozen water.

"Oh, this is going to be fun. Real fun. Really, really big time fun."

"What?" asked Xena.

"Iíll letcha know later... Mind the store for us, Xena. Iíve a little trip to make."

And before Xena could say another word, Gabrielle had disappeared in a blaze of light. Sheíd taken her fighting-staff with her.

___________

Ares sat brooding on his great throne deep within the dark and mighty Halls of War. Ares, leaned forward, his head resting on his fist. Discord pouted at his side, but, right now, Ares had no interest in her or her little moods. Ares had more serious matters to ponder... Things had not gone exactly as heíd planned these last few days, but - of course - all was not lost. He still had his alliance with Dahok, and surely Hope would find a way out of the lava pit. Hope was made of the same godly stuff as Dahok, and no mere lava pit could keep such... power... contained for long. Ares actually shivered at the thought of such power - power far beyond that of any Olympian god. But Ares didnít know whether his shiver was one of admiration, pleasure... or fear.

Then, mysterious and unexpected, coming out of the dank gloom of the Halls of War, there appeared a figure. Ares, as he saw the figure, sat up straight, placing his hands on the arms of his throne. Then he smiled, and it was a malicious, self-centered smile. For the figure was that of a young woman wearing a brown skirt and green top, with her belly exposed. Ares actually laughed out loud.

"Hope. I see our setback was minor, and our victory not at all long delayed. But we still have much to do. And much to... enjoy."

The figure stepped closer to Ares, and stood, stock still, before him. There was no expression on her face whatever... Then Ares noticed a very subtle difference from the Hope he knew.

"Er, Hope, is that your motherís fighting stick?"

The figure pointed one finger at the lounging, pouting Discord. Then she spoke.

"Itís way past your bedtime, ya little spoiled brat. Youíre outta here."

And Discord disappeared in a flash of light, a look of astonishment on her face.

"Hope?" queried Ares.

"Wrong lady, buster."

"Then who are you?" asked Ares, and not without a hint of nervousness.

"Iím the big, mean green mama from outer space!!" roared Gabrielle, and she thrust her staff between Aresís legs. With an effort that definitely would have launched another Solaris, Gabrielle catapulted Ares back over her head and far into the vast depths of the Halls of War. She was rewarded with a mighty smash and crash that shook the whole place and almost brought the walls down.

Ares slowly slid down the shattered wall in a sitting position, legs splayed wide apart. Instantly, as he hit the floor, there was Gabrielle again.

"That," spoke Gabrielle, "was for all the hell you put me through with Xena. And this..."

Gabrielle rammed her fighting stick between Aresís legs again...

"...is for all the hell you put me through with my daughter Hope."

Ares was launched anew, flipping tail over teakettle the entire length of the Halls of War, not stopping until another very thick stone battlement got in his way. The crash was sufficiently resounding, and this time part of the wall did cave back. Ares slowly slithered like a giant rotten egg down the part of the wall that remained, again ending up on his rear in pretty much a sitting position. This time, however, he did hold his legs tightly squeezed together, with primly crossed ankles and inward pointed toes. Gabrielle again appeared before him. But, she just stood there, doing nothing...

Ares sat on the floor, shaking his head back and forth to get out the cobwebs. Slowly he returned to normal. Then, he looked up... and there was Gabrielle. A look of horror came over his face, but, as Gabrielle just continued to stand there, it soon passed. Then, quite unexpectedly, Ares threw back his head and howled with laughter. Still Gabrielle did nothing. Eventually, Aresís laughter abated, and, after he wiped the tears of mirth from his eyes, he spoke.

"This is just so incredibly delicious. Gabrielle, I donít know where you got your powers, but this opens up a whole new... universe... of possibilities. Oh, if I can get you on my side - as a god. That was really a very impressive display. Of course, I feel no pain as a god, but you did make me... well, at least a little dizzy. Such beautiful anger and violence, too. You know how you really feel, Gabrielle. Join me, and we will rule the World together."

Gabrielle reached down and grabbed Ares, jerking him to his feet. She had a smile on her face, and, even if she was our Gabrielle, no one could have called it pretty. She looked Ares straight in the eye, and laughed a cold and short laugh.

"There are things, for you, worse than pain..."

And then Gabrielle and Ares disappeared...

They reappeared on a rocky ledge on the side of a mountain. Gabrielle released Ares, and then, with one foot and one hand, she tripped him and shoved him flat on his back. When he tried to rise, she planted a foot squarely on his chest and pushed him, not at all gently, back into the ground, keeping him pinned down with her foot. Next, Gabrielle closed her eyes and lifted her hands, outstretched, to the heavens. Then, in a glow of light, there appeared in her hands a length of golden chain, with a manacle on one end and a long rod attached to the other. Gabrielle placed the rod end down on the rock and hit it with her fist, smashing the rod deep and secure into the ledge. Then she took the manacle and snapped it shut on Aresís ankle. Only then did she back away.

"This chain is forged with power greater than that of any Olympian god. It should hold you for about, oh, a thousand years," said Gabrielle.

Ares just sneered... "A thousand years is but a single day for an Olympian god."

Gabrielle nodded, and then said, "but, Iím sure youíll agree, some days can be much, much longer than others. Behold!"

And the heavens rolled back, and there appeared, in a vista before them... the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singing in all its glory as it had always sung before!

"And He shall reign forever and ever!!"

"No," said Ares, his eyes wide and sweat popping out on his brow.

"Forever, and ever and ever, and He shall reign forever and ever."

"No!!!" screamed Ares, frantically pulling at his chain.

"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!!!"

"This is the part where you stand up," said Gabrielle, jerking Ares to his feet.

"Noooooo!!!!!"

"Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!!!"

"Noooooooo!!!!!! Noooooooo!!!!!!"

Gabrielle stepped back... "Enjoy the next thousand years. Maybe youíll even learn a little something, but I doubt it. See you tomorrow... and, have a nice day."

And, with that, Gabrielle disappeared in a flash of light.

___________

XENA had convulsed and almost rolled with laughter when Gabrielle told her of the terrible and awful fate of the Great and Mighty Ares, God of War. Xena really had little idea what a tabernacle choir was, and no idea whatsoever what tribe the Mormoni were... it sounded to her a little bit Gallish... but she more than got the gist of Aresís miserable plight.

Gabrielle was back on her rock, quill and parchment scroll in hand, and, with a most dramatic flourish, made her check mark.

"Ares... yes, check!" she said.

"And maybe... checkmate!" added Xena.

"Verily," replied Gabrielle...

...Then, unexpectedly, Gabrielleís face hardened. It was almost as if a great wave of sadness had descended upon her. She put aside her quill and parchment and turned, looking Xena straight in the eyes...

"The easy part is over now, Xena."

Xena sat down next to her friend. She spoke to her...

"Thereís a lot you havenít told me, Gabrielle. You havenít really even told me if... if youíre still alive or dead."

"Iím alive, Xena," said Gabrielle, "I was saved by the Great Goddess Herself. She gave me this... this power... to right the wrongs weíve had to live through."

"The Great Goddess..." mused Xena to herself.

"And now, there are two tasks remaining. One of them is Dahok. We have not stopped him from coming into the World. After all that has happened - all the changes - he does not now require blood sacrifices, or priests or worshippers, or even the help of his daughter. Maybe he really never did."

"And the other task... it involves Hope, doesnít it?" asked Xena.

"Yes," answered Gabrielle.

"Will you have to destroy her?"

"I donít know... it will be hard, either way."

"Can I help?" asked Xena.

"No. These are to be my tasks. Both of them."

Xena did not answer. But she did look closely at her friend. Gabrielle broke eye contact and looked down. Finally, Xena did speak.

"Gabrielle, Iím very worried about you."

But Gabrielle did not reply. For there was a gentle shower of golden light, and then she was gone.

___________

GABRIELLE stood in a cavern not far from the Centaur colony, staring down into a pit. With one hand, she was bouncing, slowly, a large ball. She seemed to hesitate for a second, and then, catching the ball on the rebound, she lifted it high over her head and threw it, overhand, with all the force she could muster, deep into the pit...

And there arose from the pit a form. Even expecting what she would see, Gabrielle was still taken aback. It was if she were looking straight into her own soul. She was looking at a duplicate of her own body, right down to the very clothes she wore. And the figure had a small, almost mischievous, smile.

"Hope," whispered Gabrielle.

"Mama," replied Hope.

Gabrielle did not answer. She could only continue to look at her daughter. It was as if she were seeing Hope for the first time, and with very different eyes.

"I knew you wouldnít abandon me, Mama," continued Hope.

"No," replied Gabrielle, softly, "I could not leave you where you were."

"Then we must finish it... you, me, and Dahok."

Gabrielle remained silent.

"We could be a family," added Hope.

"No," answered Gabrielle.

"Why not, Gabrielle?" replied her daughter.

"Because," said Gabrielle, "one of us, either Dahok or me, is doomed..."

And there was a flash of brilliant, blinding light...

And Gabrielle and Hope stood on a field that stretched all the way from eternity to eternity.

"Where are we, Mother?" asked Hope.

"This is a very special place," answered Gabrielle, "It is known to me as the Plain of Forever."

"Why are we here?"

"Because I love my daughter."

"You have never treated me as a daughter..."

"There is great evil inside you Hope," answered Gabrielle, "At first I didnít see it. Then, I didnít see anything else. But there is something else in you, even if you donít realize it. There is... me... inside you."

"You have great power now. It would be easy for you to kill me..."

"And very hard," said Gabrielle, "to cast the evil out. Even the power given me may not be enough. But I will try..."

And Gabrielle approached her daughter, and threw her arms around her. And then there were two great columns of light, one surrounding the other. The outer column was pure and bright, but the inner column was streaked throughout with angry, unclean, obscene stains of black and red. These impure colors snaked and writhed with utmost cosmic force, attacking again and again the great, pure column of light surrounding them. It was a great struggle, and it diminished the surrounding column. But eventually, finally, the stains began to fade, and then to dissipate. And then, they were gone...

And Gabrielle was on her hands and knees, her chest heaving and her face incredibly pale. Slowly, very slowly, she got to her feet. Out on the Plain of Forever, there was still light. It was a bright and pure light, and it contained all the colors of the rainbow... Finally, and with what seemed great weariness, Gabrielle spoke.

"Hope"

"Yes, Mother."

"You will stay here. There are many others here who will provide you with both love and companionship."

"I know, Mother."

"And, one day, I hope to return."

"Thank you, Mother."

Then Gabrielle disappeared. She had not promised her daughter that she would return, not even in death. And her daughter knew the reason why.

___________

XENA looked up, and there standing before was Gabrielle. Xena was shocked. Her friend, who had exuded what seemed so much like infinite power when Xena had last seen her, was both tired and haggard. Xena instinctively reached out a hand to steady her, but Gabrielle pulled back, and stood as straight as she could. Xena wanted to question her friend as to why she was so pale and exhausted, but she reluctantly held her tongue. There was a look on Gabrielleís face that seemed to preclude such a question as irrelevant. Then, Gabrielle herself spoke.

"Hope is safe."

Xena nodded.

"But there are things that you and I could never have known. About her father."

"Dahok," whispered Xena.

"Yes, Dahok. I never imagined his power. All of this heartache and torment which so many have suffered was no more than an illusion - or a convenience - to him. He is entering the World, and heís entering it now...

Xena felt an involuntary shudder... and Xena never shuddered.

"Gabrielle," said Xena after a moment of hesitation, "I donít think you can..."

Gabrielle stared hard at her friend... "I was given a second chance to undo the evil that Iíve become a part of. I have to."

"I donít want to lose you... yet again... Gabrielle."

"I guess its true that we donít always get our way. But, now itís time. Goodbye, Xena."

And Xena reached out to take hold her friend, but she was gone.

___________

GABRIELLE was in a dark and terrible place. She knew for certain two things - that this was the Realm of Dahok, and she was weary. Even... or maybe especially... for a god, she was incredibly weary. And she was flooded with memories, all of them hideous nightmares. But she stood her ground, and then screamed out...

"Dahok!!! I have come... on behalf of my people. All the people of the World."

And Dahok came forth...

What was Dahok? We could not understand, nor would we ever want to. At this point, maybe we couldnít even understand what was Gabrielle, either. But, to her, maybe Dahok was not unlike a great, shambling shape, terrible beyond belief to behold. He radiated a great and unholy, blasphemous, unclean fire, but he was certainly no mere pillar of flame...

"Yes," said that which was Dahok, "I remember you."

"And I, you," replied Gabrielle.

"I used you. It gave me immense pleasure."

"That is irrelevant."

"I will use you again. And again and again and again. And again and again and again, throughout all eternity."

"That is impossible."

"Why would that be?"

"Because from this time on, either you will not exist, or I will not."

And then Gabrielle charged the great, horrible shape that was Dahok with all the fury and rage penned up within her. She struck and struck and struck, and it even seemed that the terrible monster god may have been forced to retreat. But it only seemed that. For Dahok then cast Gabrielle back.

And Gabrielle charged again. And again she was cast back. And she charged again and again and again, striking Dahok with all her will to put him down. Maybe he was hurt... just a little. Or maybe more than a little. But, every time, Gabrielle was thrown back, scourged by Dahokís unspeakable flames. She got to her feet again. And Dahok laughed.

"Your power is almost gone. I think maybe you even wasted it, before you came here. Now you are to know fear."

And Dahok bore into Gabrielleís soul. And the fear did come. And Gabrielle crumpled to her knees, finally unable to ward off any more of Dahokís blows.

Dahok laughed and laughed and laughed.

And Gabrielle, with what little strength was still left to her, turned and fled. And Dahok took his time in following.

___________

XENA awoke, and instantly thought of the welfare of her friend. She was still gravely worried, but she knew that there was nothing she could now do. Then... Xena thought she saw a light.

___________

GABRIELLE lay on the ground, unable to move. She was in Limbo, halfway between the Realm of Dahok and the Plain known as Forever. Her eyes were closed tightly, but the tears still seeped out. Her arms were stretched out before her. She could go no further, and her fear was still within her. For the Fear of Dahok was a great fear indeed.

And then Gabrielle felt a presence beside her. She felt that someone was sitting next to her, cross-legged, and next she felt gentle hands lifting her up onto a lap, cradling her.

Gabrielle slowly opened her eyes, and, through her remaining tears, she saw... Xena. She smiled faintly, and then, in a very weak voice, Gabrielle spoke.

"I guess I really made a pretty sorry god..."

"There are much more important things than being a god," answered Xena.

Gabrielle closed her eyes again. She lay still in the arms of her friend for some time. Finally, she spoke once again.

"How?"

"You were not the only one to have a visit with the Great Goddess."

"I failed her, Xena," continued Gabrielle, "and I am so scared. So very scared."

"Of Dahok?"

"Yes."

"Then weíll have to do something about that, wonít we?"

"What?"

"Gabrielle, the Great Goddess gave you a task you could not possibly do alone. She knew that, but she wanted you to know that, too. Gabrielle... what casts out all fear?"

It was, for a moment, as if Gabrielle was searching within her mind for an answer. Then she looked up at Xena and replied.

"Perfect love."

"Earlier today you said that maybe Iíd kiss you, when it had meaning. It has meaning now."

And Xena brushed her lips against those of Gabrielle, and they became one... and they became one with all the power and glory of the Great Goddess as well.

Gabrielle opened her eyes and grinned. Xena grinned back. Then Xena spoke.

"Time again for us to have some fun."

Gabrielle laughed, and then she began to sing out just as loud as she could...

"My girlfriendís back so ya better start aírunniní...

oowah, oowah, my girlfriendís back."

Xena joined in...

"Sheís been gone for a really long time."

Back to Gabrielle...

"oowah, oowah, my girlfriendís back."

Xena threw back her head... "Ae ae ae ae ae ae ae ae ae ae!!!"

To which Gabrielle replied, "Yip, yip, yip, yip ye-haah!!!"

"Ye-haah?"

"Itís a Texas thang, Xena - oh, well, never mind that for now... Letís just go settle accounts with a really, really pissant little god."

And they went forth... and when Dahok saw them coming, he did start running. And heís never been seen anywhere near this Universe since.

___________

XENA lay on the horse-blanket. Gabrielle lay next to her, holding onto her hand.

"Xena," said Gabrielle, "It all now seems so much like a dream."

"Well, it was not necessarily a dream. Youíve got your check marks on your scroll to prove that."

"Xena?"

"Yes, Gabrielle?"

"I love you, Xena."

"Yadda, yadda, yadda, I bet thatís what you say to all your sweethearts."

And Gabrielle reached for her stick for a mighty attempt to bop Xena on her nose...

___________

THE scene shifts to a really, well... over-decorated... temple, someplace not too far from the city of Corinth. What we see is Hercules, leaning back against a pillar, arms crossed, and chuckling. Next to him stands Aphrodite, face pale as a ghost and eyes as big as saucers...

"Think of it as your ultimate challenge, little sister..."

As the credits roll...

"Iím Joxer the godly,
You really better be nice to me,
Or Iíll transport you across the sea,
Where Xena Teee Doubleya Peee,
The Third Season again youíll see,
With all those episodes starring meeeeee...
Iím Joxer, Joxer the godly!!!

THE END


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