Xena Come Back
by Laesë
(L. M. Townsend)

Disclaimers: Xena and Gabrielle do not belong to me - morally, ethically and truly they belong to those who created them. The story, however, is mine. Deir el bahari is a real place in Egypt and the Temple to which I refer is the Temple of Hatshepsut - another very strong and powerful woman. What can I say? It just seemed appropriate somehow .... Also, some of the words in this story are not mine - you'll know them when you see them <G>

Subtext: I don't know ... what do you think? <G> In other words, if you're looking for it, you will find it, but I haven't deliberately added any.

This story takes place right after "Friend in Need", although I have yet to see these eps (I know, I know - but I read reallydetailed spoilers! <G>) and also contains spoilers for "The Reckoning", "Prometheus", "Locked Up and Tied Down", "Kindred Spirits" and "The Rheingold" trilogy.

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Gabrielle gazed out at the sea, the queasy sick feeling for once not caused by the gentle rocking of the ship. Experience had taught her that keeping secrets from Xena usually ended in disaster.

Not this time, thought the Bard. Please - whoever's still out there to hear, not this time!

When Xena had come to her and asked where she was going, no sign of reproach had been evident, despite the fact Gabrielle told her she was going to the Land of the Pharaohs - not Amphipolis to bury the warrior's ashes in the family crypt as she had promised.

If it doesn't work, Xena, I swear I will take you there, but oh gods, please let it work! If not ... I won't be far behind you.

The only thing keeping the Amazon Bard from plunging into the sea below her was the hope she clung to, tenuous at best and based on stories she had heard among the Amazons, but it was all she had ... now.

The ship gently eased into port at Alexandria. From here, Gabrielle was to catch a boat down the Nile. She would disembark and make her way to the Temple at Deir El Bahari. It was there she was told, she would find a certain Greek Priestess by the name of Medea.

Xena would freak if she knew what I was doing, thought Gabrielle, smiling a little, in spite of the situation. But it's the only way ....

Gabrielle walked through the crowded streets of Alexandria. The market stalls were colourful and exotic scents wafted past her nose, but for once, the Bard was in no mood for bargaining. She stepped up to a market stall where bread was sold and without a word, laid two coins on the counter. The proprietor picked them up, eyeing the blonde woman who stood before him. He looked carefully at her silver tokens - Amazon coins - then nodded, laying a loaf before her. Gabrielle nodded back once, picking up her loaf and walking back behind the stall with the man.

With a gesture, he indicated that she was to wait. Then he disappeared behind a curtain to another room.

"Gabrielle," the Bard turned toward the sound of her warrior's voice.

"Xena - what are you doing here?"

"Hey, I thought you'd be kinda glad to see me," said the warrior, grinning crookedly, a grin Gabrielle could never resist, and she returned it with a small smile of her own.

"I am - I just ... didn't expect - " Just then, the man returned with a woman. She was small and dark, her face serious. Three black cats followed her from behind the curtain and began twining themselves around the bard's ankles. At that, the woman broke into a huge smile and bowed.

"Welcome, Blessed One," she said.

"Gabrielle," said Xena, her eyes narrowed. "What are we doing here?"

"We should have come up with hand signals a long time ago, Xena," Gabrielle mumbled.

"Excuse me?" said the woman.

"Nothing," said Gabrielle, smiling slightly. Suddenly, she felt a warmth pervading her very being, almost like a soft blanket being wrapped around her, but from the inside. She remembered the last time she had felt that sensation - Xena was sharing her body!

Is this better? Gabrielle felt the warrior's chuckle like a deep tickling in her abdomen.

Actually, it is, she replied, unable to stop the smile which graced her lovely face, though she realised she would have to verycareful to keep her thoughts under absolute control while Xena was there with her.

"I understand you require transport to Thebes and Karnak?" said the woman, noticing how the Bard's smile brightened her sad demeanour considerably and wondering to herself what caused the sudden change. The sacred little brothers and sister seemed unaffected, whatever it was, and continued to bless the Greek woman with their affection.

"Yes," replied Gabrielle. "I can pay ..."

The woman waved her offer away.

"That won't be necessary - I will be going there myself tomorrow at dawn," she said. "My name is Nefrure."

"I'm Gabrielle," said the Bard. "And I thank you for your kindness."

"Not at all - you are obviously blessed by the great goddess Bastet - just look at them," said Nefrure, indicating the cats, which had laid themselves at Gabrielle's feet, all three looking up at the Bard. "Or, perhaps the goddess Sekhmet." Nefrure nodded towards the saissheathed in Gabrielle's boot.

"I ...." began the Bard.

Careful, Gabrielle, said Xena. I know how we both feel about the gods - but it's different here - there are strange powers - I feel them, especially now as a spirit.

With an almost imperceptible nod to her warrior, Gabrielle acknowledged the warning, and smiled at Nefrure.

"I am honoured to receive the blessing of the gods of this Land," she said.

Nefrure smiled and nodded, pleased with the Bard's reply. Gabrielle felt Xena's laughter again and smiled herself.

Yep - you can certainly kick some major butt with either sais or staff, but words are still your first and best weapon, Gabrielle, said the warrior.

"What is your destination in Thebes?" asked Nefrure.

"Djeser-djeseru," replied Gabrielle.

"The Sacred of Sacreds," said Nefrure, reverently. "And since Thutmosis III, the treacherous step-son of the great Hatshepsut, not a place that is well-known - or oft visited. Why do you go there, Gabrielle?"

"To pay homage," said the Bard, wary of Xena's presence which she felt acutely. "To pay homage to a great woman - and a great Queen. I know ... knew one very like her - it is in her honour I go there now."

Gabrielle, said Xena. Thank you - but I don't think -

Suddenly, Gabrielle felt Xena's presence weaken like a sudden chilly wind blowing over the Bard.

Xena? said the Bard.

Gabrielle ... I have to go - for now ... said Xena, and her voice sounded very faint to Gabrielle's mind. The longer I'm in your body, the weaker I get - it takes a lot of my energy. I have to go and ... regroup. I'll be back later ...

"Yes - Hatshepsut," said Gabrielle, distracted. She shook her head and tried to focus, but the emptiness within her now was stirring up the dregs of despair she had felt earlier when she had discovered Xena's remains. The Warrior Bard pushed away the raw agony which threatened to assault her anew. She'll be back - she promised; and Xena always keeps her promises, no matter what.... Gabrielle thought, allowing the meagre hope to which she was clinging with both fists to seep back in. "Is it not said of her, 'I raised up what was dismembered ... overthrowing what had been created... '"

"Yes," Nefrure nodded, solemnly. "That is said of her. Among other things. But come now, Gabrielle. Your journey is long and you must be tired. I will show you to where you may rest and refresh yourself. We leave at dawn tomorrow for Thebes."

Gabrielle lay down on the pallet in the tiny room appointed to her. Exhausted as she was, still sleep would not come to the Bard. Instead, she lay there thinking of what she was planning to attempt.

I wish Xena would come back, she thought. On second thought, I need to think ... to plan .. and I can't do that when she's here. Damn! I haven't had a chance to think this through. With all that's happened ... just seeing Xena... like that ...Oh, gods!

Gabrielle shuddered at the memory, then shoved away the threatening grief. No - it does not have to be this way ... I can do this ...

She lay on the pallet, her mind racing, unable to sleep though she was past exhaustion.

Nefrure's cats were in the small room with her, regarding her with an intensity in their emerald eyes which made the Bard want to squirm, yet the power of their gaze held her fast.

"What do you want?" said Gabrielle, sitting up in weary frustration.

The smallest of the three cats approached, gracefully placing her paws upon the Bard's shoulders and lightly touching her wet, black nose to Gabrielle's nose. Then the cat sat back, turning her head to the others and chirped. The other two cats sauntered out of the room and the remaining feline turned back to Gabrielle.

"We would help you," she said.

The Bard shook her head. "Okaaaay ... " she muttered. "I must be more tired than I thought."

The cat looked somehow amused. "Bard Queen of the Amazons, after all the wonders you have witnessed, all the strange and wondrous creatures you have encountered - and battled - can you truly doubt your senses now?" she asked.

"You have a point," Gabrielle chuckled, instinctively reaching out and scratching behind the cat's silky ears and under her chin. Two pairs of green eyes met for a moment, then the cat's eyes closed and a rumble of pleasure escaped from her feline throat. "So, do you have a name?"

The cat stopped purring as Gabrielle withdrew her hand.

"Aye, you may call me Nuit," said the cat. "My brothers are Ptah and Seker."

"You said you wanted to help me - you know why I am here?" asked Gabrielle.

"You seek that which you believe you have lost," said Nuit. "But you have not really lost it. The other half of your soul - she is always with you. She can never truly leave you."

Tears of true grief threatened the Bard's composure, tears and grief she had thus far managed to keep at bay - until now. Sobs tore at her throat and chest and she was powerless to prevent them. Raw grief possessed her and she did not notice when Ptah and Seker returned, all three of the cats huddled close to her offering what comfort they could.

"Hey," she heard, but was too overcome to respond to her warrior's voice. "Hey, Gabrielle, don't cry."

Gabrielle felt Xena's hands on her shoulders and for a minute instant, could almost believe ... hope .. that the warrior was shaking her awake from a bad dream. But only almost; Xena was still a shade and still only tangible to Gabrielle - and, apparently, to Nuit, Ptah, and Seker who stood back, their heads bowed respectfully to Xena.

Angrily, Gabrielle threw Xena's hands from her shoulders, ignoring the pain in those flame-blue eyes as she did so.

"Don't!" cried the Bard, hastily wiping her tear-stained face, and backing away from Xena. "Don't ... don't touch me again until you have hands of flesh and blood."

"Gabrielle, I - " began Xena, helplessly.

"No, Xena, I mean it," said Gabrielle, her voice breaking as more weeping threatened her composure. "It .. it hurts too much this way."

"Gabrielle, I'm sorry," said Xena, sitting next to her bard, though careful not to touch her.

"No, Xena, no 'sorry's'," said Gabrielle, firmly. "We've already had this argument - more than once. When Ares tried to frame you and you would have allowed those villagers to execute you for a crime you didn't commit - because of all the ones you did. And again, when you allowed yourself to be taken to Shark Island prison - again for a crime you didn't commit - and don't even get me started on you taking off to deal with Prometheus and Grendel - suicide missions! - all because you had to redeem yourself. How many times do you have to sacrifice yourself to pay for your past?"

"Gabrielle, you don't understand," said Xena quietly, afraid to look at her Bard for fear of losing control herself.

"No, Xena, I dounderstand - it's you who doesn't get it," said Gabrielle. "Xena, Akemi said those 40,000 souls had been redeemed, that yoursoul had been redeemed. Xena, you don't have to do this - you don't have to stay dead. Remember Joxer, Xena? Remember when the Amazons - "

"Gabrielle, I ... " Suddenly, Xena's voice grew fainter as she began to fade away. "Gabrielle ... I'm sorry ... I have to ...go ... now ... but I'll be back ... I promise ..."

"I'll hold you to that," said Gabrielle, softly as Xena faded from her sight.

The warrior wandered through the swirling mists of Limbo. She couldn't bring herself to move on and leave Gabrielle and she couldn't go back - could she? What was it Gabrielle had said about Akemi ...? Here in these mists, it was easy to lose one's thoughts, memories, focus ... no! One thing Xena had - had always had and would never give up was her focus. Almost, Xena could just ... let go. Drift, like the clouds of mist surrounding her ... almost, but she kept being pulled back by something. No, not something - someone- Gabrielle. Gabrielle, who had just broken her heart by telling Xena not to touch her anymore.

"Why do I keep hurting her?" the warrior asked aloud, to no one in particular.

"Why, indeed?"

Xena spun around toward the voice, reflexively drawing her sword. She saw a woman, tall, but slender with long black hair and emerald eyes.

"Who are you?" asked the warrior.

"Who are you?" countered the woman.

"I'm Xena ... of ... Amphipolis," replied the warrior, sheathing her sword as she remembered where she was - steel would have no effect on the inhabitants of this shadow land.

"You hesitate," said the woman. "Why is that?"

"Damn mists - they seem to wrap around my mind," said Xena, frowning in concentration.

"Nepenthe," said the woman, nodding. "Their purpose is to give forgetfulness to the souls who wander here, lest they mourn those left behind - but that is not your concern, is it Warrior Princess?"

"Why do you call me that?" asked Xena, painfully.

"Would you prefer 'Destroyer of Nations'?" said the woman, her voice low. "Or perhaps, Xena, Conqueror of Greece, Commander of the Greatest Army in the known world - "

"Stop!" cried Xena, covering her ears. "Why do you torment me?"

"Why do you torment yourself, Xena of Amphipolis?"

"Who areyou?" Xena asked again, lowering her hands.

"In the land where your Bard sojourns, I am called Maat," the woman replied. "Goddess of Truth. It is I who weighs the hearts of mortals, I who judges the souls of the dead and deem who is worthy and who is not to pass through the Portals of Paradise."

"Aren't you supposed to have a feather or something?" muttered the warrior.

Maat laughed, a sound like the tinkling of a hundred silver bells.

"A symbol for finite minds," said the goddess, then she grew serious. "I have a far more telling tool at my disposal." The goddess held up a silver mirror. "Look, Xena of Amphipolis, look at the reflection of your soul."

Xena tried to avert her eyes, but could not. Compelled by the voice of Truth, Xena looked into the mirror and saw Gabrielle, sitting in a boat which was travelling the Nile. Her blonde hair fluttered in the wind and tears streamed from her green eyes as she gazed out along the banks of the great river.

"Gabrielle," Xena said, her voice nearly breaking at the sight.

"Yes - the reflection of your soul," said Maat. "She goes to make things right - even as you taught her."

"I can't go back," said Xena, her voice filled with anguish. "Those souls - "

"Are free," said Maat. "I should know, after all."

"But Akemi - " began Xena.

"And on what grounds do you trust Akemi?" asked the goddess. "Has she not deceived you - more than once?"

"Akemi said that the souls were free," said Xena. "She did not tell me that their freedom was contingent on my staying dead."

"As it is not so - do you not think that perhaps her very silence on this is yet another device of hers? She must know you would discover that in the spirit realm. What she does not know is that it is not true - a bit of a deception, 'tis true, but a necessary one," said Maat.

"Why necessary?" asked Xena, suspiciously.

"Akemi is treacherous - more than even you ever were," said Maat.

"What?" said Xena, growing dangerously angry.

"Never mind that now," said Maat. "You do not have to remain dead to save those souls. But even if that were so, there is far more at stake."

"What?" asked Xena.

"Look again," said Maat, holding the mirror.

Xena gazed into the shining silver surface and saw Gabrielle, riding forward, commanding an army of Amazons even larger than Xena's army had been. All around the Warrior-Bard, warriors fell, Amazons and their opponents alike, until at last, Xena saw Gabrielle pulled from her horse and run through by an enemy.

"If your Bard dies - as she surely will without you, for your souls are bonded - the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents will be affected," said Maat.

"What do you mean?" asked Xena. "'Surely'? How can that be?"

"Your souls are bonded - Gabrielle shares your destiny," said Maat. "It is only a matter of time before she shares your fate as well."

"You mean ... if I am dead, then Gabrielle will die, too?" asked Xena, alarmed.

"Yes, she will die, as all mortals do," said Maat, with a sigh. "The question is when- and how - and how many will be affected by her death."

"If Gabrielle dies before her time - because of me - then many will be lost," said Xena, understanding.

"Yes," said Maat.

"Then I have to go back - for Gabrielle - andfor the Greater Good," said the Warrior, determined.

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Gabrielle sat on the deck of the boat, gazing out over the Nile. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but she no longer cared who saw - she could always blame the sun or the wind or something anyway. Nefrure seemed to understand her desire for solitude - which was more than could be said for Nuit, Ptah, and Seker. The cats twined themselves about the bard's ankles or jumped into her lap, seemingly distressed by her pain.

"We'll be in Giza soon, Gabrielle," said Nefrure, handing her a loaf of bread and a flagon of water. "We'll stop there for the night."

"Giza - that's where the statue of the Sphinx is, right?" said the bard, absently tearing at the loaf in her hands, never taking her eyes from the water.

"Yes, it is," said Nefrure, smiling fondly at the three cats, each casually draped over the oblivious Amazon.

Gabrielle nodded and sighed.

"Thank you, Nefrure, for allowing me along on this trip," she said. "I'm sorry I'm not better company."

"No, you're fine, Gabrielle," said Nefrure. "Truth? I am grateful you are here - your presence gives me some measure of security."

Gabrielle looked up. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"You are a warrior, are you not?" asked Nefrure.

Gabrielle turned her gaze back to the water, silent for a moment.

"Yes," she said, quietly, brushing the chakram with her fingers. "I suppose I am ... now."

"Then you would protect me and mine, would you not?" asked Nefrure.

"Of course," said Gabrielle, turning again to look at her.

"That would be all the thanks I will need - this is not a safe journey, my friend," said Nefrure. "We go to a place that even now many would prefer was forgotten."

"I don't understand," said Gabrielle. "Why? I thought Hatshep - "

"Say not that name here!" Nefrure said hastily, gently placing two fingers on the Bard's lips. She looked around, then sighed and sat beside Gabrielle. "I'm sorry - I thought you knew. The one you would speak of was a mighty queen - and the only woman ever to don the double crown and beard. Her reign was a time of golden peace and plenty and the people were well pleased. Even the priests stood behind her. But others, even more powerful, were angry and offended by a woman ruling in her own right. When her nephew took the throne from her, she disappeared and her monuments - including the temple we are going to - were desecrated. There are still those who tear it down completely if they dared the wrath of her divine father."

"You mean Ha - um, she was half-god?" asked Gabrielle.

"Yes - or so the legends say," said Nefrure. "They say so of all pharaohs, of course, but of her, I believe it to be true."

"She must have been something," said Gabrielle, wistfully.

"Oh, she was," said Nefrure, her eyes gazing far away. "She was as tall as a man, and when she wore the regalia of Pharaoh, she was beautiful, but dressed as a woman, she was breathtaking. Her eyes - when they caught you in their gaze could either turn one into a stone - or melt one. Her presence was powerful - you could feel strength and might radiating from her. She made one believe that nothing was beyond her skill ...."

"What...did you say?" asked Gabrielle, startled. She had been caught in the vision of this mighty Queen, but it was another face she saw.

Nefrure smiled a little sheepishly. "I'm sorry, but you will see for yourself - not all of her statues were destroyed," she said.

"Of course, statues. You were speaking as if you had seen her," said Gabrielle, allowing herself a slight smile. "But, of course, that's not possible."

"Of course," said Nefrure, her smile faltering. "But, come now, my friend - our Egyptian sun is hot - hotter than you are accustomed to. Come with me to the tented deck and rest."

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Xena continued to wander the realm between the living and the dead after Maat left her. She wanted to go back to Gabrielle, but she was not yet strong enough. Making herself tangible to her Bard took a great deal of energy.

Maybe it's better this way, thought the Warrior, sadly. I am hurting her. Maybe it's better to just stay away, let her move on with life.

"Yes, much better." Xena looked up to see Akemi standing before her.

"You," said Xena, her eyes narrowing.

"Tell me, Xena, did you love your Gabrielle as much as you love me?" said Akemi.

"I still love Gabrielle," said Xena, painfully.

"And yet, your honour would not allow you to return to her as you both desire," said Akemi. "You cause her such pain, yet you say you love her. Is that your way, Xena? To hurt all those you love?"

"Why you - !" Xena lunged at the ghost, but Akemi disappeared, then reappeared behind the warrior. Whirling around to face her tormentor, Xena drew her sword and began to advance. "You have no idea how I feel about Gabrielle."

"But I do," said Akemi, dodging Xena's blow. "I feel the same for you, Xena."

"Give it up, Akemi," said Xena, defeated. "I don't love you - not now."

"That's alright, Xena," said Akemi, smiling. "You have all of eternity here to learn. Only this time, Ishall be the teacher."

Akemi kicked out, her foot landing squarely in Xena's chest, throwing the warrior back.

"Remember our first lesson, Xena? Trust no one," said Akemi, fading away.

"Oh, I think you can count on me neverforgetting that one, Akemi," Xena muttered as she rose and dusted herself off.
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Gabrielle disembarked from the boat as the sun was setting over the Great Pyramids. The men had already put up tents, but Gabrielle and Nefrure would sleep on the boat with the cats.

"I just want to walk around for a bit," the Bard explained. The cats followed her off the boat as Gabrielle wandered about. "I wonder how far to the Sphinx?"

"Further than it looks," said Nuit, chuckling in her cat way. "I wouldn't advise the hike tonight - strange forces walk this plateau when Ra goes to rest."

Gabrielle nodded. "I suppose," she said. "But I still want to try."

"Gabrielle," said Nuit. "You must go back. Nefrure needs you."

The Warrior Bard heard shouts then and ran all the back to where the boat was docked. There she saw a group of men fighting the crew from the boat. Nefrure was no where in sight. With a yell not unlike Xena's battle cry, she drew her saisran into the fray. The attackers were mere bandits and not well-organised, certainly not accustomed to fighting a skilled warrior. Gabrielle and the crew men drove them off quickly, all but one. Gabrielle hesitated a moment, then jabbed two fingers quickly into the scruffy neck. She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering the first - and last - time she had done this. She took a deep breath to compose herself.

"Where is Nefrure?" she asked. The man looked panicked, quickly darting his eyes about at the assembled crewmen before gasping out a few words in Egyptian. Gabrielle glanced at the nearest crewman. "Ask him - quickly!"

The crewman repeated her question. The man shook his head and spoke further.

"He says he doesn't know - he thought we carried valuables," said the crewman.

"Gabrielle, what are you doing?" asked Nefrure, emerging from the shadows on the deck of the boat.

Muttering, Gabrielle removed the "Pinch" and sent the man off with a warning. "I thought you were in trouble," said Gabrielle, approaching the boat. She climbed on deck and followed Nefrure, sitting with her on a bench under the canopy set up on the boat's deck.

"No, not this time," said Nefrure, frowning. Then she smiled. "But it is heartening to know that if I ever am, you will be so quick to my rescue."

"Yeah," said Gabrielle, quietly. "I wasn't always so quick. I've learned, though." The Warrior Bard unclipped the chakram and let it fly. It bounced off the mast of the boat and came back. Gabrielle reached up and neatly caught it.

"So, tell me, Nefrure, is the Temple of Djeser-djeseru still attended by anyone?" asked Gabrielle, clipping the chakram back onto her belt.

Nefrure looked sharply at the Bard. "Why do you ask?"

"I'm looking for someone," replied Gabrielle.

"As far as I know, I am the only one who still goes to pay my respects," said Nefrure, softly.

"Oh," said Gabrielle. "Are you a priestess, then?"

"You could say so," replied Nefrure, with a slight smile.

"I'm looking for Medea," said Gabrielle.

"You do live dangerously, don't you?" asked Nefrure, shaking her head, but smiling. "Yes, I have heard of her. What do you need of her?"

Gabrielle sighed. "Okay," she said, looking up, intently into Nefrure's eyes. "I need to learn how to raise the dead."
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Xena started awake from a "doze" into which she had fallen, sitting on the fog-covered ground, her back up against a willow tree. She drew her sword as she leapt to her feet, looking around.

"Who's there?" she called. "It's no good hiding - I heard you."

A woman emerged from the mist enshrouded trees. She was old, bent, walking with a cane, but as she approached, a metamorphosis took place. She straightened and the wrinkles faded from her wise face, her silver hair darkening.

"Who are you?" asked Xena, eyes narrowed.

"That doesn't matter, Warrior," said the woman. "I come to warn you - your Bard is in danger."

"What?!" said Xena, looking around again. "What do you mean? Danger from whom?"

"She seeks that which is forbidden," said the woman. "She encroaches on territory which not meant for mortals to tread."

"Gabrielle going where she shouldn't?" said Xena, re-sheathing her sword, a slight smile playing about her lips. "What else is new?"

"Do not make light of this, Warrior," said the woman. "She does this for you."

"What ... what is she doing?" asked Xena, quietly.

"She goes to a forbidden place, seeking knowledge which no mortal may learn," said the woman.

"What knowledge?" asked Xena. "Where is she going?"

"Ask her yourself," said the woman, turning. As she walked away from Xena, the warrior noted that the woman once again began to bend over her cane, aging before her blue eyes until she disappeared into the trees and the mist.

"I hate this place," muttered the warrior. "No one will give a straight answer."

Xena sighed and closed her eyes, willing her spirit to Gabrielle.

The Bard lay on the deck, the bright stars overhead the only light on this moonless night. Xena's face softened at the sight of Gabrielle laying on the pallet, her saisdrawn and close at hand as Xena had taught her, the blond hair gently ruffling in the slight breeze, one hand tucked under her cheek, the other flung over her head.

Xena knelt beside Gabrielle, gently stroking the Bard's sunburned shoulder. Gabrielle's green eyes flew open and she sat up, grabbing one of the sais.

"Gods, Xena," she said, taking a breath. "Please don't do that."

"Sorry," said the warrior, grinning crookedly.

"Gabrielle, is everything alright?" said Nefrure, rising from her pallet across the deck.

"Yes, fine," said the Bard, shaking her head. "Just a dream. It's alright, Nefrure, go back to sleep."

Nefrure lay back down and Gabrielle felt a now-familiar warmth within her.

Okay, she won't be able to hear you talk to me now, said Xena.

Xena, about what I said - began Gabrielle.

No, it's alright, said the Warrior. You were right.

I - I was?

Yes, said the warrior.

Well, that's a first, grumbled Gabrielle, sitting back against a bundle.

Hey, I've admitted you were right before! said the warrior.

Yeah? said Gabrielle. When?

Lots of times, said Xena. But we have more important thing to discuss now. What are you doing here, Gabrielle?

Gabrielle fought to keep the knowledge from rising to her conscious mind, but Xena's presence was persistent.

Gabrielle, no! Xena cried in Gabrielle's mind. Gabrielle, you mustn't try that. There must be another way - Medea is dangerous.

So am I lately, said Gabrielle, grimly. Xena, I don't care - even if I die, at least I will be with you. I can't go on like this much longer, Xena.

Gabrielle, no,said the warrior, pain in her voice. You mustn't die.

Why not, said Gabrielle, bitterly. You did.

Gabrielle, you have to understand this, it's important that you stay alive - many innocent lives depend on you, said Xena.

And I depended on you, said Gabrielle, tears springing to her eyes. Gabrielle felt the warmth increase as a pair of strong "arms" enfolded her in a tight embrace. Xena, please ... come back to me.

Don't you think I want to? asked Xena. I ... I can't.

Xena -

No, listen, Gabrielle. It's no longer my choice, said Xena, painfully. I'm trapped here. Something .. or someone ... is holding me here. It's getting harder to come to you like this. And I can't stay as long .. I have to go .. I'll be back as soon as I can ...

Xena! cried Gabrielle, as she felt the warrior's presence wane. Xena wait .. I will get you back, Xena - no matter what it takes. Whoever is keeping you from me better be prepared for a fight.

Gabrielle was alone again, except for the sleeping Nefrure and the three cats. Unable to sleep now, the Warrior Bard arose and left the boat, walking towards the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.

"Gabrielle," said Nuit, running after.

"Yes?" said Gabrielle, not stopping.

"I'll go with you," sighed the cat, turning to the other two and issuing a half clicking, half growling sound. They ran back to the boat. "Seker and Ptah will guard Nefrure while we are gone."

Gabrielle nodded in acknowledgement and kept walking. As she walked, Xena's words returned to her.

I'm trapped here ... something ... someone is holding me here ...

Gabrielle felt her grief turn to a dull throbbing anger, even as she dared to hope again. Xena wanted to return to her! But some force was keeping her from Gabrielle.

As Nuit had earlier warned, the Sphinx was deceptively further away than it seemed, but Gabrielle did not seem to notice the distance. Her thoughts raced and she felt her grief slipping away, to be replaced by a fierce protectiveness for her warrior.

Whoever ... whatever .. it is had better be ready for a battle. No one keeps Xena from me - no one and nothing.

She walked quickly to the foot of the statue and stood defiantly between the paws, looking up at the benign face of the statue.

"I've got a riddle for you, Sphinx," she said, drawing her saisand throwing them down. "What's a warrior without weapons?"

"I don't know, Gabrielle, what isa warrior without weapons?"

Gabrielle whirled around and saw a lioness sitting there calmly, Nuit between her paws, purring contentedly. With a gulp, Gabrielle hastily bent and retrieved her sais, looking hesitantly from the lion to the little cat who sat so close to the massive claws, seemingly unafraid.

"Uh ... I .. um .." the Bard stuttered.

"Gabrielle," purred Nuit. "Meet your patron in this land, the Goddess Sekhmet."

The lioness began to change before Gabrielle's eyes until a tall, dark-haired woman stood before the Bard. She wore a white linen shift and a glowing golden breastplate. In one hand was a sword and the other carried a glowing shield. Bracers and a helm, also glowing, completed her armour.

"So tell me, Gabrielle, what isa warrior without weapons?" asked the amused goddess.

"I - I don't know," said Gabrielle.

"Oh, no, my dear," said the goddess. "You must never evertell the Sphinx a riddle to which you don't have an answer."

"I'm sorry," said Gabrielle. "I meant no disrespect."

"I know you didn't," said the goddess. "And that is why I will help you find the answers you seek."

"Nuit said you were my 'patron'," said Gabrielle. "What exactly does that mean?"

"It means I am empowered to give you certain 'gifts' to accomplish your mission, Gabrielle," said Sekhmet. "For example, how do you think you came so far in the dark? You now have the night vision of a cat."

"Oh!" said Gabrielle. "I didn't even think ... why would you want to help me?"

"Why not?" asked the goddess. "Did you not ask assistance from 'anyone still left out there to hear'? I heard, and I answered. Many of us heard your plea, dear Gabrielle. Not all of the gods here will help you, but many of us will. It all depends."

"On what?" asked Gabrielle.

"On you - what are you willing to give in exchange for the knowledge you seek?" said the goddess.

"I would give my life," said Gabrielle, quietly.

"Little One, what sacrifice is your life when you no longer wish to live anyway?" asked Sekhmet, kindly.

At that Gabrielle dropped her head to hide the tears which sprang to her green eyes.

"Please," she said, her voice breaking. "I will give anything to get Xena back."

"What do you have to offer that is worth the sacred knowledge which is usually forbidden to mortals?" asked Sekhmet.

"Knowledge," said Gabrielle, hopefully. "An exchange - I know stories - a lotof stories. I will tell them in exchange for the knowledge I need."

Sekhmet smiled and nodded. "Excellent!" she said. "Immortality lasts a long time - many of the gods grow restless as time passes. We will value your stories, Gabrielle. A fair bargain, indeed."

Gabrielle smiled and stretched, opening her eyes to the bright Egyptian sun. Blinking, she looked around, at first unsure of where she was. She looked up and saw that she had curled up between the paws of the Sphinx. Nuit lay on her chest, but awoke as Gabrielle began to sit up, jumping to the ground. Gabrielle leapt to her feet and began to run toward the boat. She saw to her relief that the boat was still docked, the crew loading up their tents and making ready to leave. She ran faster, stopping only to scoop up Nuit, saving the little cat's paws.

"Gabrielle, I was worried," said Nefrure, smiling her own relief at the sight of the Bard, panting as she boarded the boat.

"I'm sorry, Nefrure," said Gabrielle, taking the cup of water Nefrure offered her. "I had .. a restless night. So I went for a walk - ended up a lot further than I thought and fell asleep. I didn't mean to worry you."

Nefrure smiled. "Just be careful - Nuit was with you, so I knew you would be fine, but the desert can be a very dangerous place. Tell me, Gabrielle, where did you sleep?"

"At the foot of the Sphinx," said Gabrielle, taking a piece of fruit, actually feeling hungry for the first time in weeks.

"Really? And .. did you rest well there?" asked Nefrure, frowning.

Gabrielle frowned. "Yeah - weird dreams though," she said. "I can't quite remember what they were, but I woke up feeling .. better, somehow."

"Then that is well," said Nefrure, smiling brightly. "We will be travelling on now - with the winds in our favour, we should reach Saqqara by mid-day. We will come to Djeser-djeseru before the next phase of the moon."

Gabrielle smiled and nodded. "That's good, she said. "Nefrure, would you care to hear a story ÷ or two÷?"

Xena wandered through the misty Shadow Land, twirling her sword. She wished there were someone to fight here- she was spoiling for a good battle. The fact that she was being held against her will made her angry - veryangry and she would love to tear the head off of that someone right now. She looked up and saw the old woman approaching her again.

Damn! I can't beat up an old woman!

Even though, once again, the woman's age slipped off of her as she grew near to the warrior, Xena sheathed her sword.

"Xena," said the woman, frowning in concern. "Gabrielle has made a serious mistake."

"What can Ido about it?" snarled the warrior.

"Nothing, I'm afraid," sighed the woman. "She made a deal with Sekhmet."

"Sekhmet?" said Xena, raising an eyebrow. "Who is that?"

"Sekhmet is the goddess of righteous causes - she fights for the `underdog', but she is a goddess of battle nonetheless," said the woman.

"Sounds like Gabrielle's kind of god," chuckled Xena.

"Yes, that is why she is your Bard's patron," said the woman, still looking worried. "But there is more to it. Gabrielle offered to trade her stories for the secret knowledge."

"And?" asked Xena, growing impatient.

"Gabrielle does not realise what she has offered," said the woman. "The gods will take her stories from her. They will no longer belong to Gabrielle."

"Wait, wait - how can they do that? She wrote them - they are hers," said Xena, frowning, feeling rage begin to build within her. "No one is gonna take that from Gabrielle!"

"It has already begun." said the woman, sadly shaking her head.
Gabrielle sat with Nefrure, telling her of the early years with Xena.

"You should read the scrolls," chuckled the Bard. "They're scattered all over Greece, now, stashed in this Temple and that for safekeeping - Xena insisted. That way, they will be kept for all the generations, she said. Gods, I miss her."

"I know you do," said Nefrure, kindly, gently laying her hand on Gabrielle's arm and smiling. "And Xena is right. Your stories are beautiful and should be preserved for all generations to come. Your mission here reminds me of a tale of our gods. Would like to hear it, Gabrielle?"

"Yes," said Gabrielle, eagerly. "I love stories - you can probably tell, huh?"

"Yes, I can," said Nefrure, still smiling. "That is why you are such a great storyteller. The greatest I have ever heard, in fact. I hope that you will remember this tale and tell it when you return home - I think you are just the Bard to tell this."

Nefrure's dark eyes took on a far away look and her voice grew stronger, somehow. It resonated with a power Gabrielle would not have guessed the diminutive woman possessed. The Bard was transported back to a time long, long ago ÷

"Only the ocean existed at first. Then Ra, the sun, came out of a flower that appeared on the surface of the water. Ra brought forth four children, the gods Shu and Geb and the goddesses Tefnut and Nut. Shu and Tefnut became the starry over-sky. They stood on Geb, who became the earth, and raised up Nut, who became the blue under-sky. Ra ruled over all. Geb and Nut later had two sons, Set and Osiris, and two daughters, Isis and Nephthys.

"Osiris was born in Thebes in Upper Egypt. Upon his birth, his grandfather, Ra, pronounced him heir to his throne, and when Geb retired, Osiris assumed this role and took his sister, Isis, as queen. He built the first temples and laid down fair laws for his people. He left Isis to rule Egypt when he decided to spread his rule around the world. He returned only after civilizing the entire earth. He found that Isis ruled wisely and his kingdom was still in perfect order. All of his subjects prospered and were happy.

However, there was one who was not satisfied. His brother, Set. Ever jealous of Osiris and wanting the crown for himself, Set began plotting against him. He held a lavish banquet and invited Osiris. There was every good thing to eat and drink. Exotic dancers from far away lands entertained and expensive resins from Punt and India scented the feast hall. Set spared no expense, for after all, when he ruled, he would have all the wealth in the land at his disposal - or so he thought. After the festivities were over, Set produced a magnificent coffin and offered it as a gift to whomever it fitted best. Of course, it had been built for Osiris and when he got in it, Set shut the lid and threw it in the Nile river. "

Nefrure's voice grew cold with anger and Gabrielle shuddered at the change in the gentle woman.

"Set took Osiris's place as king while the grieving Isis searched for Osiris's remains. She didn't have time to be angry with Set - yet. So deep were her sobs, the very earth shook and even Nut wept bitter tears. But the tears of the goddess caused the Nile to swell and so it was that Isis found the body of her king. It was in a far away place called Byblos, and Isis brought it back to Egypt, where she hid it in the marsh until she could work her magic to resurrect Osiris.

"Unfortunately, Set found it first. He tore the body in pieces, throwing them again into the river, thinking he had ensured his place as king. Isis collected all the pieces and bandaged the body together again. This was the first mummy. This mummy then transformed and this form of Osiris travelled to the underworld to become king over and judge of the dead. Horus, who was the son of Osiris and Isis, later defeated Set in a great battle and became king of the earth."

Gabrielle was mesmerised by the tale. Isis's anguishwas so like her own. "And Isis succeeded," she said, quietly.

"Yes, she did," said Nefrure. "But as always, there was a price - Osiris resides in the Underworld, the benevolent god of the dead. It's true, Isis brought him back to life, but he was not the same. Still, she loves him and with no regrets, she would do it again. In fact, they say she does just that every year, just when the Nile is at the lowest, the priests say that Isis is searching the world for her beloved. When it rises, they say Nut weeps and when the land is fertile and the crops are growing, they say it is because Isis is working her life-affirming, life-creating magic."

"How did she bring Osiris back to life?" asked the Bard, thoughtfully. Nefrure smiled sadly.

"Alas, that is part of the secret knowledge which is forbidden to mortals," she said. "In her quest to find Osiris's body, Isis encountered Ra - Ra had been bitten by a poisonous snake and was dying - although I suspect it was no accident. Set would try anything to ensure his rule was unopposed."

"But if Ra had died ÷" began Gabrielle, frowning.

"Exactly," said Nefrure, nodding, pleased with the Bard's perceptiveness. "If the Sun goes out, all existence on this earth goes out, too - but Set had no thoughts beyond removing all obstacles to his ambition."

"I've known men like that," said Gabrielle with a sigh.

"Unfortunately, that trait is not limited to mortals, but to the gods as well," said Nefrure, darkly.

"So what happened?" asked Gabrielle.

"Isis was clever," said Nefrure, smiling. "She had no intention of allowing Ra to die, but he didn't know that. In exchange for saving his life, Isis made him tell her his secret name, which no one but the god himself knew."

"She tricked him?" asked Gabrielle, incredulous, for she had come to admire this goddess for whom she felt a sort of bond.

"Not exactly," said an amused Nefrure. Gabrielle listening to her story had such a childlike innocence and eagerness that was missing most of the time. Nefrure believed she was catching a glimpse of the Gabrielle who lived before Xena was taken from her. "In truth, she needed to know his name in order to work her magic to heal him of the poison. And in giving her that secret name, he also gave a part of his magic to her, making her the most powerful goddess in the Egyptian pantheon. She is the Great Mother of this Land."

"Oh," said Gabrielle, eyes wide. "I have ÷ met gods before. I'm even friends with Aphrodite, but your Isis - I would really like to meet her."

"Well, Gabrielle, our gods do not as readily interfere in the lives of mortals as your Olympians do," said Nefrure, her black eyes unreadable, though a slight smile graced her lips. "In fact, they are quite distant, but I daresay you of all the mortals in this land have a chance of encountering Isis."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Xena confronted the woman standing before her.

"They can't take Gabrielle's stories from her," said the warrior, her voice quiet, but with an edge which betrayed the fierce anger boiling up inside of her. "There must be some way to stop this."

"There is but you have to be alive to do it," said the woman.

"Fine," said Xena. "I was getting pretty tired of being a ghost anyway."

"It's not that easy," said the woman. "You don't even have a body this time."

"Who are you, anyway?" said the warrior.

"I am Medea," said the woman.

"The one who - ?"

"Yes," said the woman with an irritated sigh. "That one."

"So you're dead," said Xena. "And Gabrielle is looking for a ghost to help her."

"I'm not exactly dead," said Medea. "Remember, I serve Hecate, the Goddess who holds the key to the door between life and death."

"I see," said Xena. "So this knowledge that Gabrielle hopes to learn from you is ÷.?"

"How to restore you back to life," said Medea.

"And you know how to do that?" said Xena, one eyebrow raised, doubtfully.

"Of course I do," snapped the priestess. "But I can't tell her that now can I?"

"Why not?" asked the warrior, arms crossed over her chest.

"Because she already made a deal with the Egyptian gods - and I don't want them angry with me. You think the Olympians are bad! You get these guys on you and there's torture involved - eternaltorture," said Medea, shuddering. "Makes Tartarus look like - "

"Okay, okay," said Xena. "I get the idea. Still, there has to be a way."

"Gabrielle does have a very powerful ally," said Medea.

"Who?" asked Xena.

"Nefrure, the woman she's traveling with," said Medea. "She's not who she seems."

"Yeah, nothing ever is," said Xena. "So what's yourinterest in Gabrielle?"

"You know my story, Warrior?" asked the priestess.

"Yeah, I've heard a few versions," said Xena. "Your father was the king of Colchis. You betrayed him and helped Jason win the Golden Fleece. You killed your own brother when he - "

"I did not!" exclaimed the priestess. "Jason killed Aspyrtus - and only because he would have killed everyone on that accursed boat had he caught up with us - including me."

"Okay, okay," said Xena. "But you did kill King Pelias."

"His stupid daughters did that," said the witch, annoyed. "I told them what to do - is it my fault the idiots couldn't follow simple instructions?"

"Okay - so you are completely innocent, right?" said Xena. "You didn't kill anyone? What about your children?"

"I did not kill my children," said Medea quietly and Xena saw something dangerous in the witch's eyes - something which people used to see in Xena's eyes just before she killed them. "But I did use them to kill Glauke."

"Glauke - the Corinthian princess that Jason threw you over for," said Xena - what the Tartarus, she was already dead.

"Yes," said Medea. "The bastard - I gave up everything - my home, my family - and he chose a more 'politically expedient' marriage - and to insult me further, offered to 'keep' me on the side! I - a princess of Colchis in my own right and Priestess to Hecate. So, I used my magic to curse a wedding robe and sent it with my sons to present to their 'new' mother. I knew the Corinthians would exact their revenge on them, so I sent them to the Temple of Hera where they were protected until they came of age. By then, so much time had passed they were safe from the Corinthians' wrath - and besides, the people of Corinth had another threat to worry about at that time - didn't they, Xena - 'Destroyer of Nations'?"

"Yeah, I guess they did," said Xena, quietly. "You still haven't told me - what's your interest in Gabrielle?

"She's a Bard - I want her to tell the true story of what happened - that I did not murder my own children," said Medea. "I don't care what else people believe of me, but that ÷ that is unbearable."

"Gabrielle would do that for you for no other reason than it is the right thing to do," said Xena. "You don't have to bribe her, and I think you know that, Medea. So what's reallythe reason you're so willing to help us?"

"Gabrielle won't live to tell the tale if you don't go back, Xena," said Medea. "It's not about convincing her. This is about making sure she's ableto do it."

Xena nodded. "Alright," said the warrior. "So where do we start?"

"You have to talk to Gabrielle," said Medea. "Tell her what's happening - warn her what's at stake."

"I can't," said Xena, quietly, looking down. "I can't reach her anymore. I tried ÷"

"That complicates things," said Medea. "There must be an entity holding you back. Someone who stands to lose if you return÷."

"Akemi," Xena growled. "She's the only one I can think of with enough motive to hold me here."

"Don't be too sure about that," said Medea. "The gods themselves stand to lose if you return before they have all of Gabrielle's stories."

"What do they want with them?" asked Xena. "Why take them from her?"

"Gabrielle's stories mainly revolve around your travels over the years, do they not?" asked Medea.

"Not all of them," said Xena, defensively.

"But most?"

"Well, yes, but - " began Xena.

"And how many times have you made the gods of Olympus look foolish?" asked Medea.

"More than I can count," said Xena, smugly.

"You even killed some of them, didn't you?"

"Yes, but - "

"The gods depend upon mortals' faith in them for their existence," explained Medea. "Now, if mortals hear stories of foolish gods - and even worse, gods who can be killed and by a mortal, no less, people will cease to worship them and eventually, people will stop believing in them. The gods will cease to exist."

"The true Twilight," said Xena, softly.

"Yes," said Medea, smiling.

"Why are you telling me this? You are a priestess - of Hecate," said Xena, frowning, suspiciously.

"My patron does not fear the Twilight," said Medea. "Night follows twilight and she is the goddess of the night. In fact, she is a goddess of many skills - of magic, of Transition - and because she stands at the centre of the crossroads, she stands for choices and free will - as long as mortals possess that, she will exist."

"So she has to more to lose by allowing the other gods to continue control the destiny of mortals," mused Xena.

"Yes," said Medea. "She does."

"Alright," said Xena. "Since it's to our mutual benefit, I'll ask - will she help us?"

"What do you think I'm doing here?" asked Medea.

Day after day, Gabrielle traveled with Nefrure. Each night, the boat would stop and anchor - since Nefrure was a woman of some influence - and apparently wealth - it would not be "proper" for her to sleep in a boat filled with men like a commoner or a slave, so the crew would drop anchor and make camp each night, and Gabrielle and Nefrure - and the three cats - would remain on the boat, laying out their sleeping pallets on the deck.

Each night, though, Gabrielle would experience the same restlessness. After Nefrure slept, she would leave the boat and wander, almost as a sleepwalker, returning just before dawn to lay down on the pallet and sleep dreamlessly.

Only Nuit followed her, the little cat growing more and more dismayed at what was occurring on these nightly excursions. Gabrielle would wander until she came to a Temple or a shelf of rock, even a depression in the sand, she would sit down, smiling and nodding as if to an invisible audience, then she would begin, "I sing of Xena, the Mighty Warrior Princess; In a time of ancient gods, warlords, and kings, a land in turmoil cried out for a hero ÷."

Nuit frowned in her cat way, watching as the Bard's face lit up when speaking of the Warrior Princess. Obviously, the two shared a very deep bond, for Nuit had sensed the Warrior trying to reach the Bard while she was in this state. The following mornings, the Bard would have no memory of these journeys - nor of the stories she had told.

"Gabrielle, remember when you and Xena took on those Titans?" Nuit had asked her.

"No," said Gabrielle, frowning. "We never met any Titans, Nuit. But wouldn't that have been a great story?"

Nuit had sighed. "It was," said the little cat, walking away from the puzzled Bard.

Xena, too, watched the nightly excursions from the boat with growing alarm, though she showed nothing of her anxiety to Medea.

"How are we going to stop this?" she asked through clenched teeth.

"We have to wait until she reaches Djeser-djeseru," said Medea. "There's something we need from the Valley of Kings which lies just beyond the Temple."

"What's that?" asked Xena.

"A body for you - and I know just the one," said Medea, smiling grimly.
 

"To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again÷.."

Gabrielle stirred in her restless sleep and began to rise. Nefrure looked at the Bard, who had grown paler, though more serene over the days of the voyage. Gabrielle no longer told Nefrure stories to pass the time as they neared their destination. Nefrure frowned.

"Gabrielle," said Nefrure, gently shaking the Bard. "Gabrielle, wake up."

"Not like that," said a rich low voice behind her. "Here."

Nefrure turned and saw a dark, leather-clad warrior woman of some stature standing there holding a bucket.

"Go on - it's the only thing that works - otherwise, when Gabrielle wants to sleep, there's no waking her."

"Thank you," said Nefrure, taking the bucket and gracefully dipping her fingers in the cool water, sprinkling Gabrielle's face gently.

"Not like that," the warrior said, taking the bucket back roughly. Nefrure had just enough time to duck before the contents hit the sleeping Bard.

Gabrielle sat up, eyes wide, shaking droplets of water from her blonde hair.

"Nefrure!" she gasped.

"I ÷ I didn't - " stammered Nefrure, turning to see that the warrior had disappeared, the empty bucket rolling on the deck where she had stood. "Gabrielle, I didn't - "

"No, I know," said the Bard, frowning and shaking her head. "It must have been her."

"Who?" asked Nefrure.

"The woman in my dreams," said Gabrielle, rubbing her face. "The warrior. Sometimes, the dreams seem so real, it's almost as if she has followed me back."

"What's her name?" asked Nefrure.

"I don't know," said Gabrielle, frowning. "It seems as if I should know it as well as my own. But I ÷.can't remember now."

"Gabrielle, we will be in Djeser-djeseru in a few moments," said Nefrure, frowning in concern.

"Oh, great," said Gabrielle, standing and stretching. "What are we going to do there?"

"You don't remember?" said Nefrure, alarmed.

"I was going there ÷ to meet with someone ÷ I think?" said Gabrielle, scratching her head.

Nefrure shook her head. "Well, hopefully, it will come back to you when we arrive," she said.

"Probably," said Gabrielle.

"You can go and wash up before the crew comes back on board - there's another bucket and some towels over there," said Nefrure, pointing.

"Oh, okay," said Gabrielle, smiling. "Thanks."

As soon as the bard was under the canopy, out of sight of the men, Nefrure spoke.

"Come on out now," she said, wearily. Xena stepped out from the shadows. "She can't see you anymore, can she?"

"No," said Xena, quietly. "Why is it that you can?"

Nefrure looked up at the warrior and smiled. Suddenly, Xena saw the soft glow hovering about the woman, the shadow of a headdress in the shape of cow's horns, the golden disc of the sun settled between them, resting on her head. Nefrure seemed taller, more ÷ just more somehow.

"Who are you?" asked the warrior.

"Isis," said the goddess. "And the only reason you can see me this way is because you are dead. You must be Xena."

"Yes," said the warrior, displaying none of the surprise she felt. "So, what do I do now?"

"Stick around," said Isis, smiling. "I like Gabrielle - and I do not like what my family is trying to do to her."

"Well, we agree on that at least," said the Warrior. "What - ?"

"Shh, she's coming back," said Isis.

"She can't hear me anyway," said the warrior, glumly.

"Don't lose hope, Warrior," said Isis/Nefrure, gently placing one hand on Xena's shoulder. "We're not finished - you both have powerful allies." Xena nodded and faded from the boat as Gabrielle approached. "Come, Gabrielle, we are anchoring - this is Djeser-djeseru - and behind that is the Valley of the Kings - not many know about that, but it is where many of the Pharaohs - including Hatshepsut - are buried. We have much to see - and do - here."

The two women disembarked from the boat and began the trek to the Temple of Hatshepsut. Nefrure led Gabrielle into the chapel of Hathor and began to read the inscriptions.

"÷ Amun-Ra spoke these words: "The time has come for me to father a great king, who shall govern over Egypt, Syria, Nubia and Punt, so that all lands may be united under her rule. Worthy must the maiden be of her great dominions, for she shall rule the whole world ... and Amun visited himself upon Ahmose, wife of the great Pharaoh Thutmose I in the guise of her husband. He told her that she was to bear a daughter, Hatshepsut and that this daughter would be the greatest of the Kings of Egypt. A great king shall I make of her and honor and power shall be hers all the days of her life÷and all the goddesses stood as midwife at the birth of this, the daughter of the king of all gods. And when she was born, Hathor took the newborn and presented her to her father Amun-Ra, So overwhelmed is he with love for his daughter, Amun-Ra kissed his daughter and spoke: 'Come to me in peace, daughter of my body, beloved Maatkare, you are the king who takes possession of the diadem of the Throne of Horus of the Living ...'"

"So was she?" asked Gabrielle.

"What? The true daughter of Amun?" said Nefrure. "Yes, she was."

"She was a demi-god," mused Gabrielle. "Then how did she die?"

"Come, Gabrielle," said Nefrure, taking the Bard by the hand and leading her through the Temple. "Look upon her face - is it not as I told you? She was most beautiful - and powerful."

Gabrielle was drawn to a life-size statue of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut. She gently ran her fingers across the face of the statue.

"By the gods, it's as if I know her," she whispered. "But that's not possible."

"Indeed it is possible, Gabrielle," said Nefrure, standing back in the shadows of the chamber. "Remember the lessons of India - it is very possible you knew her ÷ once."

"India?" Gabrielle frowned. "Was I there?"

"Yes, with Xena- remember?"

"Xena? I don't - "

Just then, there was crash in one of the outer chambers. Grabbing her sais, Gabrielle motioned for Nefrure to remain hidden as she dashed out to the disturbance. Three men stood there laughing. A painted panel lay in pieces on the stone floor.

"What are you doing?" asked the Warrior Bard.

"Ah, wouldn't you know it," said one of the men, shaking his head. "See what I mean, guys? Let one woman run amok and they all want to. This one thinks she's a warrior."

Suddenly, the men were advancing on Gabrielle.

"You don't want to do this," said the Bard, her hands outstretched, each holding a sai.

"Sure we do," said the first man. "This place is an aberration - as was its builder. Blasphemy! She actually claimed to be the daughter of Amun!"

"Maybe she was," said Gabrielle, shrugging - but the shrug was a deception as one of the men lunged for her, Gabrielle ducked her head and lashed out, hitting him in the head. As he fell the other man rushed her with a yell of anger. Gabrielle kicked out, catching him solidly in the middle. He doubled over with a loud "Oof!", as the first man looked on coldly.

"Never mind," he said quietly. "We have done what we came to do - we have removed her cartouche, and when we have her mummy, we will destroy it, thereby destroying her ka - her soul. She will not come back."

He turned and left, the other two staggering out behind him.

Gabrielle ran back to where she had left Nefrure. She found the woman gently wiping dust from the statue of Hatshepsut. A broom stood in one corner of the chamber.

"Nefrure!" Gabrielle cried. "We have to stop them - they are going to destroy Hatshepsut's mummy! They have already removed her ÷ cart ÷ car ÷"

"Her cartouche?" said Nefrure, frowning. "That is serious." Nefrure set down the soft cloth with which she had been dusting. "Come then, we must beat them to the tomb. They probably do not know the way, but I do."

The two women moved quickly, but cautiously out of the Temple, Gabrielle keeping her saisdrawn as they walked. Nefrure led Gabrielle through a winding path into the Valley of the Kings behind the Temple. They reached an opening in the rock and Gabrielle looked deep into the darkness beyond.

"We'll need torches," she said grimly, looking around for suitable objects to light. Nefrure bent for a moment and produced two reed twists. "Here," she said. "This is what I use when I come here."

Gabrielle took her flint and lit the torches, hastening down the dark tunnel after hearing the voices of the men behind them. "Which way?" she whispered.

"Gabrielle, what are you going to do when we get there?" asked Nefrure.

"I'm going to ÷ I don't know," said the Bard. "But we can't let those men get to her - I have to save her!"

"Gabrielle, Hatshepsut has been dead for over a thousand years," said Nefrure. "What are you trying to save her from?"

"You don't understand - I failed her - I won't do that again!" cried Gabrielle, running ahead.

"Gabrielle!" cried Nefrure, as the Bard ran out of her sight. "Alright, this has gone on long enough - Sekhmet!"

"My Queen," said the goddess, bowing as she appeared to Isis/Nefrure.

"What was the bargain you struck with the Greek Bard?" asked Isis.

"In exchange for her stories, we would give her the secret knowledge to bring the dead back to life," said Sekhmet with a singularly catlike grin.

"Her stories," mused Isis. "Not her memories?"

"They are much the same, my Queen," said Sekhmet.

"You have taken the stories - and her memories of them from her," said Isis. "This will not do."

"But she struck the bargain - there is no way to undo her word," said Sekhmet.

"She offered to tell her stories - not to give them away - they are a part of her ka - you cannot take that from her," said Isis, sternly.

"It has already been done, my Queen," said Sekhmet, bowing her head.

"Then it must be undone," said Isis.

"We have already imparted the sacred knowledge to her," said Sekhmet.

"That is moot - since she already had the power to bring her Warrior back," said Isis

"She didn't know that," said Sekhmet. "What's more, she also has the power to destroy us with those stories - this is our survival at stake."

Isis frowned. "Maat," she called.

"Yes, my Sister?" said the goddess appearing beside Sekhmet.

"You are the embodiment of truth, of justice and fairness - what say you?"

"A bargain was struck - a fairly binding agreement," said Maat, twirling a feather thoughtfully. "Yet, the Bard did not, in all fairness, intend to give her stories away - only to share them. We must return what belongs to her."

"That is not possible," said Sekhmet. "Mortals will hear those tales deriding the gods and will cease their tributes - then what will we do?"

"Perhaps we should give Gabrielle reason to tell tales of gods who are more merciful and just," said Isis. "When mortals hear of our compassion, perhaps they will again turn to us - already, even without hearing her stories, our people have turned from the old ways - look to the Temple Hatshepsut built for us - just now it was being desecrated."

"Which is exactly my point - mortals have no respect, no reverence for the gods as it is," said Sekhmet, angrily.

"And what reason have we given them to revere and worship us?" The goddesses looked down to see Nuit. The little cat changed and stood as a woman before them.

"Bast," said Sekhmet, shaking her head. "You have an entire city founded in your honour. What would you know of this? As long as your little representatives run about killing vermin and making themselves useful to mortals, you will ever have worship."

"And does it not strike you, Sister, that is precisely what our queen was just saying?" said Bast/Nuit. "It is a compromise, to be sure, but then I love the mortal children of this land - it is no hardship to me to ensure that they are healthy and happy."
 

Gabrielle ran aimlessly through the dark passages and winding corridors, seeming almost instinctively to find her way at last to a burial chamber. She raised the torch and looked at the inscription on the sarcophagus. "Gods, I should have learned to read Egyptian!"

"The King's Daughter, God's Wife, King's Great Wife, Lady of the Two Lands,
Hatshepsut, says "Oh my mother Nut, stretch thyself over me,
that thou mayest place me among the imperishable stars which are in thee, and that I may not die."

Gabrielle looked around for the owner of that familiar voice, but saw no one. All of a sudden there were shouts and angry voices. The three men ran into the chamber, each carrying torches.

"You!" growled the first man.

"You're not touching her," said Gabrielle, throwing the torch she held into a bare corner of the room and drawing her sais.

"Try and stop us!" yelled one of the other men as he drew a sword on the Bard. Gabrielle glanced around for a more suitable weapon - with the sword, the man had the advantage of greater reach on her. In the corner, by the spluttering torch, was a broom. With one swift move, Gabrielle re-sheathed the saisand grabbed up the broom, snapping off the brush end and using the handle as a staff. Her body moved of its own volition, blocking and hitting and swiping. Suddenly, a brilliant flash hit Gabrielle behind her eyes - there was the warrior from her dreams! She stood, clad in dark leather, arms crossed over her chest, watching a younger Gabrielle practicing with a staff against a group of Amazons - all were smiling except the determined young girl from Potidaea, who strove to make the warrior proud of her with her staff skill. Suddenly, there she was, the Amazons backed off laughing as the warrior borrowed one of their staffs. She began to spar with Gabrielle, her face betraying nothing as Gabrielle parried every one of her blows- except the last one, which had knocked Gabrielle flat. The warrior stood over her, then, blue eyes filled with concern - and amusement, which only served to annoy the blonde Bard. Gabrielle had leapt to her feet and began to fight the warrior in earnest until the leather-clad woman, backed off, laughing.

"Not bad, Gabrielle," she had said, and Gabrielle had beamed with pride.

Now tears blurred her vision as she fought off the would-be ghouls who sought to desecrate this tomb.

"No!" she cried. "I won't let you hurt her again!" She beat the men back with a fury, but one got past her guard, knocking her into the sarcophagus. The lid broke open and Gabrielle smelled spices and linen. With a swift move, she was on her feet again, fighting like a Harpy. The men looked into her fierce eyes and ran, but Gabrielle knew they would be back another time.

"I've got to get you out of here," she said, looking around. "I can't let them ÷ I can't let you be torn up again."

"Gabrielle."

The Bard looked up, tears blurring her vision and saw a figure approaching. Wiping her eyes, she saw that it was Nefrure, smiling gently, Nuit at her feet, meowing. Nefrure carried a large black jar in her hands.

"Nefrure, you've got to help me ÷ help me get her out of here," said Gabrielle, choking back a sob.

"Gabrielle, I will help you," said Nefrure, gently. "You will need this." She handed the urn to the Bard.

"What ÷ what is this?" asked Gabrielle. "Is this mine?"

"Yes, it is yours," said Nefrure, lifting Gabrielle's discarded torch and re-lighting it. "Come now, Gabrielle, we have work to do, you and I."

Gabrielle set down the jar and helped Nefrure move the broken sarcophagus cover aside. Nefrure bent and began unwrapping and re-wrapping the mummy within. Gabrielle saw her anointing the body with various oils and resins. Nefrure hummed to herself as she worked, and Gabrielle could just make out the words.

"Let the blood of Isis, and the magical powers of Isis, and the words of power of Isis, be mighty to protect and keep safely this great daughter of god, and to guard her from him that would do unto her anything which is abominated ÷"

"Gabrielle, the urn," said Nefrure, gesturing to the Bard. Gabrielle handed it to her.

"You know, those men could be back any minute and -" began Gabrielle.

"They won't be back," said Nefrure, smiling.

"How ÷ how do you know that?" asked the Bard, as Nefrure lifted the lid of the urn and began to pour in the same oils and resins with which she had anointed the mummy, still humming.

"Because, dear Gabrielle, I drove them off - no one likes desecraters of the dead," Gabrielle looked up and saw Sekhmet.

"Oh! I know you! Nuit said - " Gabrielle began as Nefrure looked sharply at the little black cat. "Oh, that's crazy - cats don't talk."

"I know one who talks too much," said Sekhmet.

"Never mind that now," said Nefrure. "Help me here, Gabrielle, open the mouth."

"What?" said Gabrielle. "Nefrure, what are you doing?"

"Gabrielle, there's no time to explain, we must be done with this by sunset - please don't ask why - open the mouth - use one of those knife thingys of yours, here," said Nefrure.

"I - okay," said Gabrielle, grimacing. She reached in with her saiand pried open the mummy's mouth, as Nefrure scooped the contents of the urn into the mummy.

As the sharp resinous scent of the contents reached her, Gabrielle shook her head, as if just awakening. "Nefrure! What are you doing? That's - "

"Not yet, Gabrielle!" yelled Nuit, even as she jumped down from the sarcophagus and stood, eye to eye with bard as a woman. "Don't say the name yet - wait. You'll spoil the spell!"

"'To speak the name of the dead is to make him live again ÷'" mused the Bard, setting the urn down on the stone floor.

"Yes," said Nefrure, rewrapping the head of the mummy. "And it is not yet time to speak that name. Your warrior has a battle of her own to fight first."
 

Xena stood, twirling her sword, waiting. She felt a jolt and quickly turned to face Akemi.

"You cannot go back, Xena - think of those souls. They must be avenged," said Akemi.

"They have been, Akemi," said Xena. "I was killed - and horribly. There is no code which says I must remain dead. I should have remembered that."

"Xena, you can't leave me again," said Akemi, drawing a katana . "I won't lose you again."

"Akemi, you lost me the very first time you betrayed me - the only reason you think differently is because I let you do it again - and again," said Xena, bitterly. "Don't think I will make that mistake again. The whole thing was a set up - you sent that monk to find me - it was a deliberate act to get me back to Japan and to get me killed - why?"

"I wanted you here with me, Xena," said Akemi, bowing her head.

"Don't play that 'demure, walk ten steps behind me' crap with me, Akemi," snarled Xena. "I know better - you will never fool me that way again. You weren't forced into getting souls for Yodoshi - you were a volunteer - and I was the reward for helping him, wasn't I? You get souls for Yodoshi, he lets you keep one - and you picked me, right?"

"Very well, Xena," said Akemi, raising her eyes to meet the warrior's. They were steely and cold. "If I kill you here, in this place, you will have no choice. If you will not stay with me, then no one shall have your company."

Xena rolled her eyes. "Come on - you want me, Akemi? Come and get me!"

With a snarl of rage, Akemi rushed in, the katanadrawn and ready. Xena sidestepped and Akemi's momentum drove her far beyond the warrior. Akemi recovered quickly and began to advance swiftly behind Xena. Rolling her eyes, Xena flipped her sword up and back, impaling Akemi, then sneering, Xena gave the hilt a little twist and thrust.

"Just making sure this time," muttered the warrior, as she pulled her sword from Akemi.

"Xena," the warrior heard a voice and turned. There stood Maat, twirling a feather between her fingers.

"Yeah?" said the Warrior, raising one eyebrow as she cleaned her sword on Akemi's silk kimono.

"You have battled the demon and won, " said Maat. "Now I offer you a choice."

"What?" said Xena, looking the goddess in the eye.

"You may move on to the next life or you may return," said Maat.

"Return?"

"Return to the life you left and to your Bard," said Maat.

"What do you think?" said Xena, grinning as she sheathed her sword. "Take me to Gabrielle."

"Ah, but I cannot," said Maat. "She must call you to her."

"And if she doesn't remember me?" said Xena, quietly.

"Don't underestimate her, Xena," said Maat, smiling. "Her will and her love for you is very strong. You two are a part of each other - she cannot forget that. Perhaps all she needs is a gentle nudge to remind her conscious mind."

Gabrielle stood, waiting with little patience.

"Nefrure, what will happen when ÷?" she asked anxiously.

Nefrure smiled. "You will see," she said.

Gabrielle sighed and began to pace. Suddenly, the chakram hanging from her belt grew warm, uncomfortably warm against her bare leg and Gabrielle grabbed it, burning her hand.

"Ouch!" she cried, flinging it away from herself. The chakram flew, separating and bouncing from the stone walls, sending sparks out with each hit before coming back together and flying directly back into the Bard's hand, slicing a neat, but small cut in the palm.

"I always wondered how she did that without cutting herself," said Gabrielle, looking at the small drop of blood on the shiny disc.

"Gabrielle, come here," said Nefrure, beckoning her to the sarcophagus. Gabrielle clipped the chakram back on her belt and went to Nefrure. Nefrure took her hand and held it above the mummy. "It's time, Gabrielle. Speak your heart's desire, now."

"Xena, come back," said Gabrielle, tears, filling her bright green eyes as blood from her cut hand dropped three times on the white bandages covering the mummy. "Come back to me, please."

Suddenly a brilliant light filled the chamber and a flash appeared over the mummy. The body sat up slowly, and began pulling at the bandages. Gabrielle looked on in terror.

"Nefrure, what - ?" said the frightened Bard, stepping back, until the bandages pulled away from the face revealed a pair of piercing blue eyes. Gabrielle melted into sobs and ran back to help pull the bandages off. "Xena!"

Gabrielle pulled out her saiand began to frantically cut away the linen strips until her warrior was free. "Xena!" she cried, throwing herself into the warrior's arms. Xena held her close to her, rare tears slipping from her blue eyes.

"Xena," said Gabrielle, stroking the beloved face, the Bard weeping freely as she had not been able to do before. "Do notever die on me again! I can't ÷ take it."

"Gabrielle," said Xena, releasing her just long enough to pull herself out of the sarcophagus, then embracing her again. "Gabrielle, don't you know? I will always come back to you ÷ somehow."
 

(The Beginning ... of the "New" Adventures of the Warrior Princess and the Amazon Bard)



Notes: I have taken a little creative license with the Ancient Egyptian religion - okay, a LOT <G> - but the religious concepts are incredibly esoteric and complex, and this is merely a story, fiction, a tale for entertainment - and hopefully resolution (at least in my own mind) of grief (for a TV SHOW, no less! How goofy is THAT? <BG>) In particular the concept of the ka - for the purposes of this story, I have made "ka" merely synonymous for "soul".

However, according to "Egypt: A Complete Guide" at

http://www.touregypt.net/Osiriscu.htm

"There were three forms of spirits to each being: the akh, ba, and ka. As mentioned above, the akh was the name given to the form that the dead existed in. This form was immortal and unchanging. It is this form that traveled to the underworld. The ba, represented as a human headed bird, was the form released at death. It is often called the soul, incorrectly. It was actually considered a being's personality or character. Finally, the ka was the form considered to be the double of a being, both spiritually and physically. The ka was created at birth by the god Khnum on his potter's wheel. The ka could be released in dreams while a being was alive, but was finally released at death. It is symbolized by a pair of upraised arms. At one's death, the ka and the ba traveled to join each other in the next world. Once this was done, the being could become an akh, and take the form of the dead that existed among the gods."

The story of Isis and Osiris is derived from the web site, "Egypt: A Complete Guide" at http://www.touregypt.net/Osiriscu.htm and "The Religion of Ancient Egypt" by Robert H. Dyson, Jr. at: http://www.emayzine.com/lectures/egyptian.htm

Also, I have researched the Goddess Maat from "Maat" by Tore Kjeilen, article in the Encyclopaedia of the Orient, Oslo, Norway. Last modified Jul. 19, 2001.
URL: http://lexicorient.com/cgi-bin/eo-direct.pl?maat.htm
 

Thank you for reading!


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