BY the time Erin caught up with them, there was only one Xena in sight. Clad in golden armour in the midst of battle with arrow after arrow piercing the skin of her neck, of her stomach, blood spurting from open wounds like water. She was making a show of fighting off the arrows, but Erin knew it was only a show. Xena was fast enough to dodge a thousand arrows, catch them and pluck them out of mid-air, and yet, she wasn't. She was just standing there and letting them rip her flesh as though she was a piece of meat to be skewered. And she was screaming, Gabrielle's name was tumbling again and again from her lips.
From her vantage point half a mile away, Erin stared in horror, tears running freely down her face. Then she broke into a run, wanting to do something, anything to help, but her running wasn't fast enough. Xena fell, crumpling to the ground in a pool of sticky scarlet. Triumphantly, one of the soldiers surrounding her raised his sword and sliced off her head. And that was when Erin threw up.
She didn't know which Xena it was and she didn't much care. All she knew was that she had witnessed a great evil. Both Xenas has said it was for the greater good, but Erin couldn't help but think that a greater good which cost Xena her life wasn't really worth fighting for.
Worse was to come. The soldiers dispersed, carrying Xena's head like a hideous parody of a trophy. Behind them, stumbling through the undergrowth, came Gabrielle. Her cry of grief was by far the worst thing to have happened in that place. And then she fell, sobbing, beside the body of her soulmate.
Erin felt a hand on her shoulder then. 'Come away now,' a quiet voice said.
She looked up and found Xena looking down at her, flesh and blood, and not a crumpled thing on the ground at all. 'Which one are you?' She whispered in a voice choked with tears.
There were tears on Xena's face too. 'I'm your Xena,' she said. 'I'm the old one, the one from Pawnee.'
'The other one, she caught me by surprise, knocked me out, took the armour. It shouldn't have happened this way, but it did. She's gone and I'm left.'
Erin couldn't help herself, she felt a wave of gladness which she was immediately ashamed of rushing through her, and she stood, throwing her arms up and around Xena's neck. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' she sobbed, not really knowing what she was apologizing for.
Xena had stiffened for a moment in her embrace, then her arms came up and around the sobbing girl, holding her close and stroking her back. 'It's ok, sweetheart. You shouldn't have had to see that.'
Erin pulled away slightly and looked at Xena. 'Why don't you go to Gabrielle? Tell her everything.'
Xena shook her head. 'Not yet. She has to grieve for her Xena. And, more than that, the other Xena needs to free the souls trapped in purgatory. Events in Japa need to play out exactly as they did before. And then I'll tell Gabrielle.'
There was silence for a moment as the two of them looked down at the scene on the forest floor below them. Gabrielle was still kneeling beside the body of that other Xena, a horrible, animalistic moaning sound coming from deep inside her. She looked broken. Then, as they watched, she seemed to gather herself together with an almost physical effort. She stood, sais in hand, an expression of cold fury on her face. For the first time, Erin saw that she truly was an Amazon queen, a creature to be feared.
'That's my girl,' Xena said from beside her, something approaching a smile on her face. 'Come now,' she said, turning to Erin. 'She'll be coming back this way and we can't let her see us.'
'Where are we going?' Erin asked.
Xena looked up at the mountain, rising high above their heads. 'To the top,' she said. 'We'll wait for them there.'
And they saw the whole thing; Xena's ghost fighting for the thousands of souls in purgatory, Gabrielle reviving her with a kiss and then the ghost fading away as she stopped Gabrielle from pouring her ashes into the volcano to save her. And, after that, they saw Gabrielle crumple to the ground, a weeping huddled shape at the top of the fiery mountain.
That was when Erin's Xena broke. She had been intending to wait for a little while, allow Gabrielle some time to recover, but she couldn't watch her soulmate in that much pain. With tears streaming down her own face, she turned to Erin.
'Will you go to her?' She said. 'Will you go to her and tell her everything?'
Xena shook her head. 'Not now. Seeing me would be too much of a shock for her. It needs to be you first. Can you do that?'
Erin nodded and stood up, coming out from behind the rocky outcrop where they'd been hiding. Slowly, she approached the kneeling and broken figure on the ground. Grief-stricken as she was, Gabrielle's reflexes were still sharp and her head snapped up at Erin's approach. For a moment, confusion clouded her features and then recognition dawned and she was on her feet.
'What are you doing here?' she asked, half in a fighting stance, hands drifting towards her sais and Xena's chakram, newly attached to her belt.
'Please can I talk to you?'
Gabrielle's hands had found the chakram now and were holding it in a half defensive position. 'Why did you follow me?'
'Xena sent me.'
At Xena's name, a sob seemed to choke Gabrielle. 'Xena's gone.' She said, raw sadness in her voice.
'There's another Xena…' Erin began.
Something like hope found its way into Gabrielle's eyes. 'What do you mean?'
Erin took a deep breath and told her everything. When she'd finished, Gabrielle was glancing wildly around her. 'Where is she then? This other Xena.'
At that, Xena stepped out from behind the rock. For a moment she and Gabrielle just stared at one another. Then Gabrielle took a shaking step forwards before stopping again, uncertain. 'You came to me,' she said. 'You came to me in the night near the Amazon village and you travelled here with me.'
'I'm sorry I had to deceive you.'
'That doesn't matter.'
Gabrielle came forwards again, one shaking hand reaching up to trace the contours of Xena's face. 'you're not her,' she said at last. 'She died. I watched her die. You can't take her place.'
'I know,' Xena said. 'I'm not her, but I am your soulmate. I would never try and take her place, but maybe you'd let me find a place of my own?'
For a moment, Gabrielle hesitated. Then she took Xena's face in her hands and kissed her deeply, just once. 'I love you,' she said. 'Always have, always will. I have to grieve for her, but I love you. And underneath the grief I'm feeling now, there's a part of me which knows only happiness because you're here.'
Xena's face was stretching into a broad grin. 'I love you too. And I want to love you and be with you in every way.'
'I want that too.' And with that, their lips came together again. All of a sudden, there was a bright flash of light and Aphrodite was standing beside them. She looked different to how she had looked when Erin had last seen her; this was Aphrodite at the height of her power, young and strong and beautiful.
'Welcome home, warrior babe,' she said and pulled Xena into a hug. 'The love goddess is back.' Then she turned to Erin and drew her into a hug too 'You did well, little queen.' She stepped back then and faced them all. 'You know, I've always wanted to make like a Greek tragedy and do the epilogue.'
'Aphrodite, what on earth are you talking about?' Xena said, trying and failing to sound annoyed.
'Well, I'm a god. In the theatre, the god always gets to turn up and solve everyone's problems at the end. There's even a word for it.'
'Deus ex machina,' Erin supplied.
'That's right, poochie. I'm going to deus that machina. And we'll start with you, tiny Amazon. What would you like for your life? Your world doesn't exist anymore I'm afraid, now that Gabby's back in the picture. Pawnee's a pretty nice place now. I could send you back there. Or I could send you anywhere you'd like. If you think you could live without wifi and Pokemon, you could even stay here. I had a chat with the three sisters and your fate's wide open. You can choose for yourself. They were very grateful for that whole saving the world business.'
Erin's head was spinning. She'd been so focused on saving the world that she hadn't stopped to consider the fact that saving the world would destroy her home. She wasn't sure she liked the idea of returning to a Pawnee she didn't know in a world which wasn't hers. Truthfully, the only place she wanted to go back to was the Amazon village. It was the only place she'd felt truly at home. She took a deep breath. 'I'd like to stay here,' she said. 'I'd like to live with the Amazons.'
'Then you shall. I'll take you there myself and I'll make you a Princess. We'll find you a family to live with in the village.'
'Thank you,' Erin said, a wide grin spreading across her face.
'As for you two,' Aphrodite said, turning to Xena and Gabrielle. 'The warrior babe here is immortal anyway. No one can take that away from her, so I've pulled a few strings and you are too now, Gabby. The two of you truly are bound together for eternity.' Aphrodite slung an arm around Erin's shoulders and began to steer her away from the other two. 'Now go,' she said to Xena and Gabrielle. 'Enjoy forever.'
For decades after that, Queen Erin, one of the greatest queens the Amazon Nation had known, would entertain the great warrior princess and her soulmate whenever they passed through Amazon Country. Abigail married and had children of her own, but her children chose to forgo the crown and find their own destinies and so, in the fullness of time, the Amazon crown came to Gabrielle.
She ruled the Amazons well for many years with her warrior consort beside her, and, when she and Xena wanted to see the world once again, they ensured that the Amazons had a good and fair ruler and the sisterhood of the Amazon Nation grew in strength and power, in joy and prosperity.
As for Xena and Gabrielle, they wore many names over the centuries, lived many different ways, but always they fought for good, protected those who were unable to protect themselves, always they were the heroes of their age. And always, they loved each other.