Xena shut the shuttle door and set about organizing the elements of the ritual. There was so much that she had to adlib or substitute. It’s no wonder that there were no true Shamans left. They had nothing real to work with in this time. But she had to make this work. Gabrielle could only hold Alti off for a short time. Gabrielle had had the advantage last time.
She had all of Mars and all of Mars’ Marines to watch her back. This time she was on Alti’s playing field and Alti never played fair. Cowards seldom do play fair but they always play to win. She started the chant and the dance. She had to force other concerns from her mind. The ritual was proceeding as it should when all hell broke loose outside the shuttle. “Hold on Xena I’m going to have to take off.” The pilot called over the intercom.
“Like hell you are!” Xena left off and ran to the cockpit. She started yelling at the pilot to stop whatever it was he was doing when she saw what was happening outside the ship. From her point of view which was limited she could see hundreds of green faced men running towards the shuttle. The gunners in the turrets were firing for all they were worth and the Marines were firing as well and yet the number of the enemy did not diminish one iota. “Call in the Fighters and take off the second the door shuts.” She said as she turned to leave.
She stuffed the ingredients for her ritual into the small pouch that they had been in and left the shuttle. When she shut the door the thrusters ignited and the shuttle was air born. It’s sudden departure offered a bit of a distraction to the enemy for a fraction of a second and that was long enough for Xena to identify her first opponent. After that it was a free for all.
The Marines formed a circle and fought back to back like Spartans and as such they all took out more than ordinary men should have been able to. But one by one they were brought down until all that was left was Xena standing in the center of a horde of an enemy that never seemed to diminish. She knew that the Fighters were coming but she would be dead before they arrived. All she could think about was her precious beloved Gabrielle. It made her fight all the harder and she killed dozens and dozens more replaced them. Finally the swarm simply piled on top of her and while she was down one of them managed to hit her on the head hard enough to knock her out.
When she came too she was bound with her hands behind her back and she was lying on a cold stone floor. She stirred and tried to sit up. Rough hands grabbed her and brought her up to her knees. She looked up and saw Alti sitting on a huge ugly black throne. They were a perfect match the chair and Alti. Both were ugly and grotesque.
“Welcome Xena, so glad you could come to my party. I have already entertained Gabrielle and she has retired to take in some personal enjoyment.” She smiled a very devilish smile. “I’m sorry to tell you dear but your beloved is a slut. She’s cheating on you even now.” She flicked a finger at the monitor that sat off to one side of her throne. Xena could not see the image from where she sat. “As a matter of fact she’s had about a third of my personal guard so far and it looks like she’s going to have more before she just gives up and… well until she just dies.” Alti began to cackle.
“What have you done to her you filthy bitch!” Xena surged to her feet and charged Alti. She was stopped before she was able to reach the Devil but she got a look at the monitor. Whoever had grabbed her did not return her to where she had been. He allowed her to look at the monitor. She saw a man obviously having sex with someone that could not be seen beyond his massive bulk. Whoever was below him was obviously either unconscious or had been broken. It was a female that was clear by the size but other than that Xena could not tell. The woman’s arms were disfigured at the elbows and they lay at odd angles. It was the same with her ankles. But next to one hand was a Katana. It was Gabrielle’s Katana! She still wasn’t sure. Alti wouldn’t do this to Gabrielle… would she?
Finally the man finished his business and rolled off of the woman. Xena was inundated with amass of emotions. First there was shock, then came disbelief, next was compassion and love and finally came the anger. She launched herself at Alti again with the intention of chewing her face off with her teeth. But once again she was stopped.
“You can’t possibly still want that. She’s worthless, she’s a slut. Come back to me Xena I’ll forgive you and we can go back to what we were before.” She sounded loving and sincere, as if she had just opened the eyes of some lost soul and was leading them to the Promised Land.
“Ahhhhgh” Xena yelled. “Why would you do that?” It was not conscionable. She had gone back to disbelief. This had to be a trick… some kind of video manipulation. On the monitor another man was climbing onto her beloved. She screamed again and called out Gabrielle’s name.
From the throne Alti had lost her sense of humor and her patience. “After all the trouble that I went through to show you what kind of person that she really is you still callout for her. Now that’s gratitude for you. Lucifer is excited about getting his turn at her.” She delivered these comments with such a matter of fact tone that Xena was having trouble believing what she was saying.
But that didn’t stop Xena from trying to lunge at Alti’s throat again. “You bitch! Let her go!” If she pulled much harder against the men holding her they would pull her shoulders out of socket. Xena didn’t care.
Alti sat motionless except for her twitching hands. “I hate her Xena. No… that’s not right… hate is such a small word for what I feel. I loathe her, I despise her, I abhor her, there’s not a molecule of my being that is not repulsed by her. The strange thing is this… I’m not really sure why my hatred is so pronounced. It’s not like I really knew her. You showed her to me for the first time when you were trying to kill me. Maybe that’s it… I don’t know. But she really gets under my skin… even now. I look at her on the screen and she sickens me. I get no joy from watching because it’s just so hollow feeling.” Alti really was confused.
Xena really didn’t want to answer her. She didn’t want to give her the answer to her question but she felt that she owed Gabrielle this piece of acknowledgement. “You’re repulsed by Gabrielle because she is the light and you are the darkness. Her love cancels out your hate. Her light illuminates the darkness and you can’t stand it when people can see you for what you really are. She’s pure and nothing that you can do can take that from her. You’re filth Alti and I wouldn’t stain even my dirty soul with the likes of you for anything!” Xena was done talking to this Demon. Anything that had once remained of the woman that she had known had been burned away by the fires of hell and unlike Callisto Xena did not owe Alti any kind of spark of redemption. Alti had chosen the life that had led to hell. Callisto had been nudged in the wrong direction by Xena.
Alti’s face screwed up in such a mask of anger that Xena actually drew away from her. But her voice was calm and deadly. “Fine Xena, we all make our choices in life. I had so wished that you would join me… but there are others that will do just as well. You can join your beloved.” She flicked her wrist and Xena was hauled to her feet. Alti’s men took turns punching her and hitting her with small sticks. None of them touched her face. Alti had expected this reaction despite what she had said.
When Alti figured that she had enough Xena was dragged from the room. She seemed to be half unconscious so the men paid her little heed. They really should have been more attentive. Xena listened carefully to the sounds around her. She waited until she could hear a loud crowd of men and behind that sound was the sound of men cheering other men on as if in some competition beyond that sound was the sound of a man grunting and the faint sound of a woman’s breath being forced from her lungs and the sound of a broken bone rubbing against another broken bone. That is when she threw her weight into a spin and broke the grip of both men. She did one of her famous flips in silence and leapt over her own bound hands. Her shoulders had both been dislocated so the move was easy.
She landed a bit shakily but was able to spin on the ball of her foot and find the sword that was coming for her head. She gave it the metal bindings that held her wrists instead. The blade was dull and when it hit the bindings it did not cut cleanly and consequently her left wrist was broken but she was free. She quickly dispatched the men that had held her with a couple of well aimed kicks to the throat. She retrieved a sword and went after the rest of them.
All total there had only been nine men waiting in line and the two in the room that apparently liked to watch and the one on top. The first nine were easy. They had their minds on other things and they were taken by surprise. But the three in the room were not so easy. They saw her coming. She fought off the first two while the third was finding it hard to disengage from Gabrielle. The second that Gabrielle had seen Xena enter the room she had latched onto the man that was on top of her with her legs and despite the lack of ankle bones she was able to twist one foot around the other. It wouldn’t hold him for long but it was one less that Xena needed to be concerned with for a moment.
Xena used those precious few seconds to decapitate the man that had held her legs and shattered her arms and she skewered the other man. She was none too soon either because Gabrielle had lost her grip and the man that had been on top of her was now looming over her with his sword… the metal one… in his hand ready to impale her with it. Xena sent her sword through his throat and kicked his loose sword away from Gabrielle.
Xena looked down at Gabrielle. She was a mass of twisted joints, bruises and caked blood. She had been broken and torn but she managed a weak smile for her soul mate. Xena burst out in tears and fell to her knees. She reached for Gabrielle but didn’t know what she should touch. “Oh baby… I was too late.” She blubbered.
“Can you get this off my neck?” Gabrielle’s voice was weaker than her smile.
Xena had a purpose again. She had to free Gabrielle’s neck. She looked at the men. Surly one of them had the key but she didn’t want to take the time to search for it. She looked down at the Katana that was still lying by Gabrielle’s hand and picked it up and struck the lock with it. It snapped cleanly and the collar was easy to lift away. Xena knelt next to her and reached down to pick her up. Gabrielle screamed and she immediately stopped.
“I’m broken Xena. I’m only alive because of the water. It has some kind of numbing agent that keeps a person awake and it numbs the pain enough to keep them from being senseless but not enough to be completely numb. I would be dead right now from the pain alone if it weren’t for the water.”
“What can I do? How can I help?” Xena was nearly unintelligible she was crying so much.
“You’re dying too. I can feel it in my mind.” Gabrielle sighed and immediately regretted it.
“I know. Shall we die together?” Xena asked.
“Can’t you go into the spirit realm and fight her. Can we still win?” Gabrielle had a minor spark of hope.
Xena was shaking her head. “She took my stuff. She even took my new sword.” Her voice was sad.
“Don’t worry dear, we’ll get it back.” For a moment they just looked at each other. “Xena get something warm for me to lie on besides the floor and put it in that corner behind my left ear. Then lock the door and drag me to the corner and hold me. Let me die in your arms.” Xena did not waste any time. She was fading quickly. They had broken several of her ribs and those ribs had punctured several organs. She was bleeding internally. If she hurried they could die holding each other. It was a given that they would die within minutes of each other.
Xena stripped some of the clothing from the men that she had killed and in another room she found a fairly new blanket. It was thin but it was clean. She gathered everything and locked the door behind her. Alti would probably not bother with them anymore. She would be happy watching on her monitor but Gabrielle had told her to do it so she did. When she had it arranged the way that she wanted she went back to Gabrielle and quickly hit a few pressure points to kill the pain on the both of them. Then she put a jacket under Gabrielle’s backside and dragged her by her armpits to the corner.
It took some doing but she managed to get Gabrielle in her lap and she covered them both with the blanket. Xena placed a soft gentle kiss on Gabrielle’s abused lips and leaned back against the wall. Gabrielle was propped up against the other wall. They were positioned so that they could look into each other’s eyes without moving. They sat looking at one another for several minutes. They did not speak, it took too much effort.
Gabrielle graced Xena with another weak smile. “Xena… if I only had thirty seconds to live…”
Xena smiled in return.“… This is how I’d want to live them.”
“… looking into your eyes.” They finished together.
A little longer than thirty seconds later Gabrielle died, she had held on only to be with Xena. Xena closed Gabrielle’s eyelids over those once radiant hazel eyes, and put her beloved’s head on her shoulder. She laid her head back against the cold stone, and closed her eyes. Another minute went by before Xena passed away as well.